Housing Lending Gives Boost To The Economy

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
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Investors and home-buyers are pumping $4.7 billion a month more into the housing market than they were a year ago.

If sustained over a year, that would amount to 3.6 per cent of gross domestic product.  And the housing market may be getting even more of a boost than that.

The numbers, updated with October figures by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday, don’t include cash that may be filtering in from the newly rich of China.  Nor do they include lending through foreign branches of Australian banks.

But even if the unknown contribution from those sources turns out to be negligible, there’s still a heck of a lot more money being funnelled into the housing market these days.

Investors are leading the charge.

They make up only a third of the market, but their borrowing has risen by the same dollar amount as borrowing by home-buyers.

The growth rates are strong, 17 per cent for homebuyers and 29 per cent for investors over the past year.

But in recent months the investor component has surged even further ahead, with the latest ABS trend estimates showing monthly growth an at annualised pace of over 40 per cent.

There’s a good side to this.

The Bureau’s figures show lending for construction or purchase of new dwellings is rising at a rate of 20 per cent a year.

That’s just what the doctor – or rather the central bank governor – ordered.

But Glenn Stevens and his colleagues at the RBA are keenly aware of the risks of a surge in housing prices beyond what’s needed to prompt increased building activity.

Such a surge would be unsustainable and lead to either a crash or a long period of deflating housing prices.

Either way it would drag on the economy and introduce an element of instability to the banking system, which is heavily exposed to housing.

It’s a fine line the RBA has to tread, but it has to be trod nonetheless.

As the mining boom fades, with the economy only growing at thee-quarter pace, it needs all the help it can get, and housing construction will be vital.


By Garry Shilson-Josling, AAP Economist
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