Boon for retailers as court eases up on credit regulations

Business

Boon for retailers as court eases up on credit regulations

Shoppers no longer need bank statements, payslips and financial statements before credit can be extended

Ann Crotty

The Department of Trade and Industry will not be appealing the recent Cape Town High Court judgment that sets aside a critical affordability regulation linked to the National Credit Act (NCA). Lionel October, director general of the department, told Times Select on Thursday that instead of appealing the department would “fix the clause” that had prompted the legal challenge.
In mid-March the court set aside Regulation 23A(4), which requires the presentation of bank statements, payslips and financial statements before credit can be extended to a consumer. The judge ruled that the regulation discriminates against consumers who are informally employed or self-employed and/or those without bank accounts.
October acknowledged that the judge’s view on informally-employed consumers was accurate but he is concerned about the effect of the ruling on formally employed consumers.“It could enable over-lending to consumers who are formally employed,” said October. He said the Department of Trade and Industry would work on making the regulation more flexible but stressed that banks and other credit providers must be aware of the obligation to “verify that borrowers are not over-indebted”.
The NCA still requires credit providers to ensure consumers can afford the credit they receive. Unaffordable credit is deemed to be reckless and is a contravention of the act.
In mid-March the National Credit Regulator said it was seeking advice on whether or not it would appeal the judgment. This week it did not respond to queries about what, if any, decision it had made.
The action was launched by Mr Price, TFG and Truworths in response to the introduction of the regulation in 2015, which the NCR said was necessary to avoid reckless lending.
Critics said it demonstrated the NCR’s typically heavyhanded approach to a complex problem and that it in effect allowed for reckless lending to be codified. “If you were able to tick the boxes by providing payslips you could access reckless amounts of credit,” said one critic who described the regulation as well intended but badly thought through.It had a significant impact on the performance of retailers during financial 2016 and 2017. TFG reported a 5.4% decline in active accounts in financial 2017 and Truworths’ active store account based shed 4.4%.
Alec Abraham of Sasfin Securities said that potentially the biggest beneficiary of the court ruling was Truworths given its relatively high exposure to credit sales. Some 72% of Truworths sales are on credit compared with TFG’s South African 55% credit sales exposure and Mr Price at 20%.
The ruling is expected to underpin the significantly stronger investor sentiment towards the retail sector evident since late 2017. The Truworths share price, which dipped 2% on Thursday to R102, is now getting back to levels enjoyed in early 2016. TFG has also enjoyed a strong run since the end of 2017 and recently broke through the R200 level for the first time since early 2015.
Although it did not take the same sort of hefty knock, Mr Price has also enjoyed a share price surge in the last six months. The benefits of the ruling accrue to more than the three parties to the legal action. In its recent results Shoprite referred to the adverse effect of the affordability regulation on sales at its furniture division OK.
Furniture group Lewis, which has been going through a torrid time since 2015, has also benefited from an uptick in consumer demand and investor sentiment. At R47.79 the share price is back to levels seen 12 months ago although it is still at half the level it was trading at in 2015. In its 2016 annual report the chairperson said the affordability regulations “have had a profound impact on the group and contributed directly to the muted merchandise sales growth of the past year”.

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