The fall in home-building approvals in November was bad news, but probably nowhere near as bad as it looked.
The number of homes given the go-ahead fell by 13 per cent – that’s after adjusting for the regular seasonal pattern – to a 14-month low, according to the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
But almost all of that was accounted for by a slump in approvals for multi-unit buildings – apartments, semi-detached homes, townhouses and the like.
Because they involve a relatively small number of large projects, development applications can make the monthly series very “lumpy” – the term economists use.
In the past 12 months approvals in this multi-dwelling category rose seven times and fell five times.
If just the rises had been strung together they would have more than doubled approvals.
The falls, if chained together, would have cut approvals by more than half.
But falls typically follow rises and vice versa in this saw-tooth series.
The end result was a modest – for this data series – fall of 15 per cent that could easily turn positive with the December figures next month.
So one month’s move, even a big one, is no guide to the underlying trend.
And the drop in November was not only confined to multi-home buildings, it was concentrated in just one state – Victoria.
Whether that’s because of the particular lumpiness of the Victorian housing industry, or some processing delays at the local council level is anyone’s guess.
But it’s an extra warning not to take the numbers too seriously.
It does seem that the investor-dominated slice of the housing industry is levelling out, and that the housing construction industry will make less of a positive contribution to growth through 2016 as the pipeline of work to be done gets shorter.
But it’s way too early to hit the panic button.