Najib says no risk of sub-prime crisis in new scheme

By Lee Wei Lian, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 9 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak said today that there is no risk of the market being flooded by cheap loans from the new first-home ownership scheme and causing a US-style sub-prime crisis in the country.

The prime minister said in a press conference that the sub-prime crisis in the US was caused by lax lending practices and the central bank will ensure that Malaysian banks will not repeat the same mistake.

“No. That’s because they didn’t take into account the capacity of the borrowers to pay back and they were over-lending in a very irresponsible manner,” Najib replied when asked if the first-home ownership scheme will risk triggering a US-style sub-prime crisis. “In our case, there will be very tight supervision by Bank Negara.”

The government’s My First Home Scheme launched yesterday will enable young adults aged up to 35 and earning less than RM3,000 to get 100 per cent financing to buy houses worth between RM100,000 and RM220,000 with a repayment period of up to 30 years.

The US sub-prime crisis, which helped usher in the global financial crisis, was caused by the widespread availability of easy loans that were hit by high default rates once the US property bubble burst around 2007.

Low interest rates coupled with loose terms and conditions, such as no down payment, had encouraged borrowers to assume mortgages that were larger than what they were able to service once the property bubble burst.

Analysts were mixed on whether the first-home ownership scheme would risk creating sub-prime conditions.

Dr Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist at RAM Ratings said that there was little risk as the parameters for the loans — such as a maximum mortgage value of RM220,000 — are well defined unlike in the US.

“In crisis-hit countries, there was no limit,” he noted.

He added that the scheme would serve a useful social function as the cost of housing has spiralled beyond the reach of many, if not most, young adults.

He suggested, however, that the government and banks ensure that the houses bought under the scheme are by genuine buyers and not for speculative purposes.

One economic analyst told The Malaysian Insider, however, that the scheme comes with risks of a debt default crisis as a property loan is a large commitment and many young adults have trouble even handling their credit card debt.