It seems Australians took a break from the property market over the festive season, sending home loan approvals to a seven-month low.
The number of approvals slumped by a sharper than expected 3.9 per cent in January, with falls in loans to both owner-occupiers and investors.
AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said weaker home lending in the first month of 2016 followed several strong months, and wouldn’t be overly concerning to the Reserve Bank.
“The big surprise was the pullback in owner-occupied lending,” he said.
The value of owner-occupier loan approvals declined 4.3 per cent, which ANZ economists said reflected the dampening impact on housing sales of mortgage rate increases late in 2015.
The value of investor lending also fell, down 1.6 per cent in January, and down almost 15 per cent from a year earlier.
“We are now seeing a general cooling in housing market activity,” the ANZ economists said.
But Dr Oliver said December and January housing market data tends to be less reliable due to the holiday season.
He said more timely indicators like auction clearance rates and house prices suggest the market has perked up in the early part of the year.
“We really need another month’s worth to see whether this is a new trend or just a bit of statistical noise,” he said.
JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman expects the housing market to experience a moderation rather than a downturn, predicting annual price growth to slow to two to three per cent nationwide.
“In our forecasts nothing particularly nasty happens to the housing market, given the very positive financial and cash-flow position of households,” he said.
“The strengthening in business credit, after a long lived malaise since 2007, is helping to offset the effect of weaker mortgage credit growth.”
The value of total housing finance was down 3.4 per cent in January to $31.9 billion.