"A swap rate is the notional cost of exchanging a Libor-level floating income stream for a fixed stream. But simply looking at the swap rate does not account for the fact that not all lenders will be able to raise funds at interbank rates (Libor), especially in the current environment.
"It is relevant to take account of the cost of the underlying variable rate funding, as well as the swap rate. And some funding is raised directly at a fixed rate (two year commercial bank rate, for example), where recent spreads against a two-year fixed mortgage rate have narrowed markedly, telling a very different story to swap rates.
"In sharp contrast to the early 1990s, lenders have very limited discretion to vary rates on their existing loans or ‘back book’, with half of all mortgage lending on a fixed-rate basis, a further significant tranche contractually tied to bank rate, and political pressure to reduce standard variable rates. While lenders need to treat all their customers fairly, both new and existing, there are very real pricing pressures that the lack of discretion on ‘back book’ rates creates for the sustainable pricing of new business.
"Lenders are facing a range of higher costs, including the costs of showing increasing forbearance to more borrowers, the increased costs of holding more liquid assets and more capital as required by the FSA, the relatively higher funding costs incurred as a result of the competition for savings business, scarce and expensive wholesale funding, the high cost of funds that the authorities made available through the Credit Guarantee Scheme, and the reduced returns to lenders necessarily arising from a very low interest rate environment.
In conclusion, the CML said: "As lenders will face increasing costs for some time, upward pressure will remain on mortgage spreads on new products. There is no single measure of lenders’ funding costs, which will vary. Spreads on wholesale or retail funds, or against swap rates, are all various pieces of a complex jigsaw. It is misleading to assume that higher fixed rates simply reflect a desire to increase profitability."
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