Housing construction may have a brighter future than a softening trend in building approvals suggests.
That in turn means the case for lower interest rates, fashionable among economists right now, might not be as strong as it appears.
New figures show the trend in residential finance is still rising, especially lending for new housing.
The value of approved housing loans – including refinancing of existing loans – rose by one per cent between September and October, to $29.2 billion.
That is now $2.9 billion a month higher than it was a year ago.
The scene for the rising trend was set by low interest rates.
And the motivation for the Reserve Bank to set that trend in motion was to lift economic activity, not to enrich property owners or to encourage speculation.
Part of that economic lift was always going to come from the enrichment of existing owners, who would then feel more inclined to go shopping – the so-called wealth effect.
But the main game is building.
And high prices encourage more building.
Nothing else can explain why the RBA has flirted with a housing price boom and all the risk of a price crash it entails.
The good news from the latest lending figures is that it’s working.
The value of lending for new and to-be-built housing, including investor loans earmarked for new housing, rose to $3.64 billion in October.
That’s 13 per cent, or $406 million, a month more than October last year, and $1.36 billion a month higher than the low point reached three years ago.
And the trend, according to the bureau of statistics, is upward at 22 per cent each year.
At that pace, monthly lending for new housing would surge by a further $800 million by this time next year.
That’s good news for the economy, and it’s an antidote to the apparent bad news from the bureau’s monthly building approvals figures.
The current trend for building approvals is downward, at a rate of 12 per cent a year.
The combination of falling building approvals and rising finance approvals is unusual.
In the past, it has typically been resolved by a turnaround in building approvals – in other words, building has turned upward in a delayed response to a rise in finance.
If that happens again, then the housing industry might retain its status as the sector leading the economy’s stuttering transition away from mining-dominated growth.
That in turn would quell calls for more interest rate cuts.