IMF published staff report and selected issues report under the 2019 Article IV consultation with Australia. The IMF Directors agreed that the current macro-prudential policy stance remains appropriate and encouraged the authorities to continue improving the readiness of their macro-prudential toolkit. The Directors highlighted that Australian banks remain adequately capitalized and profitable. They supported the plans of authorities to further enhance the loss-absorbing capacity of banks. The Directors emphasized that reform priorities should include implementing the recommendations of APRA Capability Review and reinforcing the financial crisis management arrangements, as highlighted in the 2018 Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP).
The staff report highlights that Australian banks are adequately capitalized and profitable. However, the banks are vulnerable to high household debt, exposed to residential mortgage lending, and dependent on wholesale funding. Major banks’ common equity tier 1 capital ratio averaged 11% in September 2019, above the 10.5% "unquestionably strong" threshold required by January 01, 2020. The capital framework for banks has been further strengthened. APRA announced, in July 2019, the requirement for domestic systemically-important banks to strengthen their total loss-absorbing capacity by lifting their total capital by 3 percentage points of risk-weighted assets by January 01, 2024. With this, the four major banks in the country will be expected to maintain a total capital ratio of nearly 17.5%. APRA has also proposed revisions to the capital framework for banks to ensure that the capital held against assets is more sensitive to their riskiness and aims to reduce the concentration of residential mortgages on bank balance sheets. Also indicated is the likelihood of setting a countercyclical capital buffer at non-zero default level.
Macro-prudential policy, working in tandem with stricter enforcement of prudential regulations, has been effective in reducing riskier mortgage loans. The tightening of macro-prudential policies over 2014-17 helped address high-risk mortgage lending. The assessment suggests that APRA should continue to expand and improve the readiness of the macro-prudential toolkit to allow for more flexible and targeted responses to persistent and new systemic risks. Staff concurs with the recommendation of the APRA Capability Review to further strengthen transparency and public communication on macro-prudential policy. Continued implementation of the recommendations of the 2018 FSAP should remain a priority. Banking and insurance supervision is being strengthened through new enforcement, governance, and risk management approaches for APRA and by the adoption of a supervisory model incorporating stress testing. Strengthening systemic risk oversight of the financial sector and reinforcing financial crisis management arrangements should remain priorities. The authorities should complete the resolution policy framework, expedite the development of bank-specific resolution plans, and introduce statutory powers for bail-in.
Furthermore, important challenges remain in energy and climate change policies. Uncertainty around the climate change mitigation policies in Australia may impact investment decisions and sustainable growth. Developing and implementing an ambitious, national, integrated approach to climate change policy, including long-term goals and strategies, and clarifying how existing and new instruments can be employed to meet the Paris Agreement goals, would help reduce policy uncertainty and catalyze environmentally friendly investment in the energy sector and the broader economy.
Keywords: Asia Pacific, Australia, Banking, Insurance, Article IV, FSAP, TLAC, Macro-Prudential Policy, NPLs, CCyB, Climate Change Risk, ESG, Governance, Systemic Risk, Resolution Plan, APRA, IMF
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