Australian Housing Market Continues Upward

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Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
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Australia’s housing market, led by Sydney, continues to fly high.

The figures at the start of last week went a long way toward explaining why.

Lending for housing in September was up by 17 per cent from a year before, putting an extra $3.65 billion a month into the housing market compared with September last year, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed.

But the money is only trickling through to new housing.

Housing Industry Association senior economist Shane Garrett said the figures “demonstrate how restrictive lending is one of the factors holding back activity”.

Restricted supply means more upward pressure on prices.  There is a significant group missing out, though.

The flurry of investor activity over the past few months has seemingly come at the expense of first home buyers, who the Real Estate Institute of Australia referred to as “an endangered species”.

Still, the market is running hot even without the help of the newbies.

RP Data’s weekly report on auctions estimated a clearance rate of a fraction under 70 per cent in the state and national capitals, in line with the previous week.

Melbourne was close to the national average but Sydney was at 78 per cent.  Again, the average annual price rise came in at just over eight per cent, with Sydney at 12.5 per cent.

The national average rose another 0.3 per cent in the past week.  While arguments about whether or not the market is in a bubble continue to rage, it’s clear that prices are still heading upward.

If unchecked, prices will at some point either reach a level, or start rising at a pace that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) finds uncomfortable.

When booms become bust, especially when the financial sector is entangled, economies suffer.

And the RBA has said repeatedly that it doesn’t want to cause a bubble – an unjustified and unsustainable surge in prices.

Across the Tasman, the Reserve bank of New Zealand is using what’s known as macroprudential policy to fine-tune the economy.

It’s using rules normally used to keep the banks stable, in this case, by regulating the size of loans relative to the valuation of the property, the so-called loan-to-value ratio.

“Inflation still is benign, but the housing market pushed into dangerous territory earlier this year and the currency is higher than what would be desired from an external balance perspective,” JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman said in a commentary.

“It is hoped that macroprudential policy can improve these trade-offs, with LVR restrictions on new mortgage lending having been introduced on October 1,” he said.

It’s early days yet, but there is some evidence that demand for home loan funds in NZ has weakened in response.

So far, the Reserve Bank of Australia has shown no enthusiasm for this idea, but it could change its mind if the “rebalancing” of the economy becomes unbalanced and the housing market continues to boom.

By Garry Shilson-Josling
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