After a lot of angst over whether Singapore's property market faces a crisis, the city-state's efforts to rein in household debt and home prices appear set for their first test as local rates begin to rise.
"Consumer demand has been quite weak already, weighed by the household debt issue," said Michael Wan, an economist at Credit Suisse. "Any incremental rise in interest rates will be more negative for private consumption demand."
Local rates have already started ticking up. Sibor, or the Singapore interbank offered rate, used as the basis for setting mortgage and other loans, climbed around 15 basis points in early January, to its highest since April 2010 after years of stability, Maybank-Kim Eng noted in a report this week.
The bank estimates a one percentage-point rise in Sibor increases monthly mortgage payments by 12 percent, under certain conditions. It expects Sibor will rise to 1.0 percent by the end of this year and 2.0 percent by the end of 2016, compared with 0.46 percent at end-2014.
While the rate is still relatively low -- the three-month Singapore-dollar Sibor was at 0.639 percent Thursday -- analysts expect it could continue to push higher. They lay the rise at the feet of U.S. dollar strength against the Singapore dollar spurring fund outflows from the city-state, a situation unlikely to reverse anytime soon. Once the U.S. Federal Reserve begins a rate hike cycle, Sibor is likely to push even higher, they said.
Mortgage payment test
Whether most households can handle a big bump in mortgage payments will be a key policy test. Singapore's central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), introduced a total debt servicing ratio (TDSR) in mid-2013 to help contain property prices and limit how much debt households could take on.