RBA Downplays Foreign Home-Buying 1

Friday, June 20th, 2014
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A report from the RBA has downplayed the effect of foreign investment on Australia’s property market.

The RBA published the report, based mainly on Foreign Investment Board (FIRB) approvals, in the central bank’s monthly bulletin on Thursday.

The FIRB figures are volatile from year to year, but they show the value of approved foreign investment in residential property rose from around $6 billion annually in the 1990s to over $17 billion in 2012/13, the report said.

But dwelling prices and market turnover have risen too, meaning foreign residential approvals have fluctuated between five and 10 per cent of total market turnover in the past 20 years.

And in 2012/13 it was still in the middle of that range.

The FIRB figures have their limitations, according to the report’s authors, Maurice Gauder, Claire Houssard and David Orsmond from the RBA’s economic analysis department.

Not all approvals lead to sales, with some developers obtaining blanket approvals just in case, and some buyers failing to win auctions.

Nor do the FIRB figures measure sales of properties by foreign owners to local residents.

Also, something the report did not mention, there is the possibility of significant numbers of purchases being made by local residents acting as proxies for foreign buyers, although there is nothing more than sparse anecdotal evidence of that.

But despite the problems with the data, and aside from a more prominent role played by foreign investors in some areas, the RBA’s researchers found that they have made up a “relatively steady and fairly low” proportion of the overall market over the years.

And, the RBA economists said, that means foreign buyers are unlikely to have been the driving force behind recent price rises.

In particular, they did not appear to be squeezing first-home buyers out of the market.

“The data and liaison suggest that foreign residential investment is concentrated in some parts of the housing market, though not generally in the parts where first home buyers have a major presence,” Gauder, Houssard and Orsmond said.

As well, they found that although their effect was hard to determine, it was likely that demand from foreign investors had probably had a positive impact on the overall supply of housing in Australia.

By Garry Shilson-Josling
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  1. David Chandler OAM

    One wonders what rock the Reserve Bank lives under. Yes foreign investment is important to Australia's economy and the current off-shore interest in property has helped fire up the post mining boom economy. But to play down the impact of this investment in Australian property with benign reports such as those discussed here does not serve the domestic housing market well. This week we saw the frenzy at release of the Darling Park apartments in Sydney. Last week the 62 level Golden Apartment development in Melbourne was reported. For these projects the retail prices will exceed $15,000/m2. That's $1.2 million for an 80m2 dwelling. While record low interest rates are masking the affordability index for now, judgement day is coming.