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This week in Mortgages

It’s been a busy week of news in the mortgage market as the down-time that is the summer months is now a
distant memory.

But it is worth first reflecting on last week’s Government request for the mortgage market to develop more green products as that is likely to become an increasingly hot topic over the coming years, given the mortgage market’s apparent apathy to the topic. Such a call is hardly a surprise given the focus on the environment that almost every public figure such as Tony Blair, David Cameron and Richard Branson have come out with recently.

Yet reading some opinions you would think the mortgage industry has no responsibility for the environment. Why not? Everyone has a responsibility from every reader reading this blog to every business, to every politician to tackle climate change.

If the mortgage industry is struggling for ideas as to what a green mortgage is, as is apparent from recent public statements from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, then it only has to look at its friends from the general insurance industry where motor insurers such as the Co-op and More Than offer products that either give discounts to those with low-emission vehicles or donate money to climate for every motor
policy sold.

That is an industry that has stolen a march on the mortgage market, although the environmentally-conscious Co-op does offset CO2 emissions for every mortgage sold to a company called Climate Care which aims to reduce carbon emissions, given our homes are among the worst culprits.

So why should the mortgage industry be any different to other businesses? Yes, there is more responsibility on the likes of energy and transport firms, as well as the Government, of course. Though many, including the writer of this column, will snigger at Westminster’s spin put on the Hips debacle to turn the issue from one of buying houses into an environmental issue, to dismiss the Government’s call to at least try, however hollow that may seem, would be a shame.

One broker this week told Money Marketing that the first thing the industry should do to help the environment is use less paper, which brings us on nicely to the subject of regulation, as many, including AMI chairman John Gummer recently, have bemoaned the mountains of paperwork involved.

The FSA says its regulatory regime, with endless disclosure documents is working well where firms are compliant. And other than a few niggles such as the amount of documentation a customer has to read, no-one is likely to argue too much.

The caveat to that is that the FSA has only looked at the prime market where consumer detriment is considered less likely, and who knows what it will find next year when looking at sub-prime, equity release and arrears management.

It did, however, raise concerns that too many prime customers are failing to budget for introductory offers that then soar in cost, no doubt temped by cheap-looking deals from lenders.

It also put figures to what we know already – namely the rise in exit and set-up fees due to regulation, and in average APRs as a result – though base rate rises have also played their part.

The FSA also went public on detailed results of its mystery shopping into the equity release market. While we already knew the headline announcements of the past have slammed advisers that dabble in the market for poor practices, looking at individual examples of poor service must have been painful reading for the good guys out there.

Finally, and Edeus chief executive Michael Bolton was in the news again this week, having a pop at high commission fees paid by some prime lenders. Not all of what he said on the record was suitable for printing, but it will be interesting to see if the regulator picks up on his calls for high fees and non-disclosure of fees received by packagers to
be probed.


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On the home front

The coup in Thailand came at an unfortunate time as far as I was concerned. There I was in a television studio, with the first interview completed. I was awaiting the next opportunity to share my opinions on what the market might be about to do when the news broke and my thoughts on Footsie behaviour became relegated to the cutting room floor. Not that the coup appears to have had any great implications. With tourism such an important element on Thailand’s economic mix, the army generals went out of their way to explain that their intervention was a temporary necessity and that everything would be returned to normal as swiftly as possible.

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Wacky baccy

Banks and retailers look attractive but tobacco stocks are trading at around 14 times earnings


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