Is the bridging market due a shake out in 2014?

2014 will see lenders in the bridging market start to consolidate and could even see some lenders go to the wall, predicts Fincorp.

The claim from Fincorp director Matthew Anderson comes after intense competition in the short-term finance market has seen bridging rates drop dramatically and loan to values rise.

“Bridging has gone bananas in the past five years,” says Anderson. “There is still the core market which is good quality loans for development and refurbishment but the short-term market that has grown around that in recent years is feeling the pressure to get business in. And we think that it’s compromising the sector. There are those of us still putting robust underwriting and sensible pricing as first priority. There are others who are competing so hard they’re going to run themselves into the ground.”

Since the financial crisis took hold savings rates have been languishing, barely keeping up with inflation as interest rates have been kept on hold at 0.5%. Returns on offer to investors have been struggling with volatility in the stock markets ricocheting as unexpected event after unexpected event fuelled uncertainty.

With this backdrop, the property market in the UK has been remarkably resilient. House prices are recovering across the country and in London and the South East values are beyond previous highs.

Anderson says: “Short-term finance secured on property offers investors very attractive returns given the current environment. As a result the market has seen a flood of money being offered to bridging lenders and they in turn have taken that to the market. We’ve seen competition become increasingly fierce as a result and our sense is that some lenders are widening their credit appetite in order to get deals done.”

The fallout will be an “inevitable shake-out in bridging” suggests Fincorp. And the lender thinks that this will be driven by loose underwriting. It says it has already seen examples of other lenders doing bridging deals where multiple properties are “packaged” into one loan where the loan to value on part of the deal is low enough that it brings the average loan to value across the whole deal down to reassure investors.

“This is a dangerous game to play with investors’ money though,” warns Anderson. “We have been around for 25 years in this market and slicing and dicing deals like this is a hiding to nothing. It will come back to haunt them.”

He says the result will be that some lenders will go bust when poorly underwritten deals go south.

“The market is now very overcrowded with lenders seeking a slice of the returns on offer,” says Anderson. “And the problem is that some of the lenders who’ve joined the short-term finance sector since 2009 have only ever seen it going in one direction – up. There is no way we’re not going to see some of them come a cropper as a result and I think we may even see some pretty well known names fall by the wayside as early as next year.”