OSFI to Reconsider 4% Limit?

According to reports in The Cover and The Covered Bond Report, Canada is considering whether to increase the 4% limit imposed on covered bond issuance. This limit was imposed by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) at the inception of covered bond issuance by Canadian banks in 2007 and remains unchanged today. While the limit is the most stringent currently applied in the covered bond world, Canadian banks have nevertheless been active issuers of covered bonds as can be seen by the table below.

US$ EUR GBP CHF A$ C$
Issued (mm)*71,60044,0374,3752,0757,4504900
Outstanding (mm)*39,60038,6134,3751,4005,1003,300

Source: www.us-covered-bonds.com/cdn_issue_details
* As of January 28, 2016.

The current 4% limit is measured as the Canadian dollar equivalent amount of covered bonds outstanding divided by total assets. The table below shows the covered bond issuance capacity remaining for each Canadian covered bond issuer as of December 2015.

BMO BNS CCDQ* CIBC NBC RBC TD TOTAL
Total Assets (mm)**641,881856,4971,318463,309216,0901,074,208862,5324,115,835
Maximum Amount (mm)26,10033,6007,40018,2008,30043,50042,400179,700
Outstanding Amount (mm)11,60022,2005,40010,7007,30031,30020,900109,400
Used Capacity44.3%66.0%73.1%*59.0%87.8%71.6%60.9%60.9%
Remaining Amount (mm)14,50011,4002,0007,5001,00012,40021,50070,300

Source: CMHC, Covered Bond Business Supplement, September 2015.
*Note that CCDQ is subject to a different limit, which is set by Autorité des marchés financiers at EUR 5.0 billion.
** As of October 31, 2015.

In most major covered bond issuing jurisdictions there are no limits on the issuance of covered bonds. Some jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands adopted issuance limits at the inception of their covered bond issuance, but have subsequently removed fixed limits. In both jurisdictions today the issuance limit is determined on a case-by-case basis by financial authorities based on the condition of the issuer. A few jurisdictions still retain a fixed limit: Australia at 8%, Greece at 20% and New Zealand at 10%. No other country has a limit as stringent as that of Canada. See, ECBC, European Covered Bond Fact Book, 1.4 Factors Affecting Asset Encumbrance (2014) at pages 54-55.

That all other issuers of covered bonds have the benefit of more accommodating regulation of covered bond issuance limits and Canadian covered bond programs have grown for nearly ten years without evidencing any problems, suggests that OSFI may be willing to increase its 4% limit. The 4% limit increasingly appears overly restrictive.

Even under the existing tight limits on issuance, CMHC reports that covered bonds have become increasingly important as a source of funding for residential mortgage loans for Canadian banks. Covered bonds have grown from funding 5% of residential mortgage loans in early 2013 to nearly 8% by mid-2015.

With the growing use of covered bonds as a funding source for supporting mortgage loan origination, it is not surprising to see that OSFI is considering changing the current 4% limit. If OSFI were to change to limit for issuance of covered bonds to 6% or 8% or 10%, the maximum capacity of each of the issuing banks would be as follows:

BMO BNS CCDQ* CIBC NBC RBC TD TOTAL
6% limit (mm)38,51351,38911,00027,79912,96564,45251,752246,950
8% limit (mm)51,35068,52014,80037,06517,28785,93769,003329,267
10% limit (mm)64,18885,65018,50046,33021,609107,42186,253411,583

*This assumes that the limit set by Autorité des marchés financiers is increased comparably.

If OSFI were to raise the limit for covered bond issuance to 10% of total assets, that would create the potential for an additional C$320,683,000,000 of covered bonds outstanding based on current outstandings.