Melbourne and Sydney drives big rebound in land values

On Friday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released its 2019-20 Australian System of National Accounts (ASNA) data release, which provides a detailed presentation of annual national accounts data.

Locked away on Table 61 is my favourite section of the release: data on aggregate land values at the state and national levels. This year’s release confirmed that, at a national level, the land values underpinning the Australian housing bubble rebounded when measured against GDP, lead by Victoria (Melbourne) and New South Wales (Sydney).

The below chart summarises Australia’s aggregate land values by use relative to Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) since 1989, which is as far back as the data goes:

Whereas aggregate Australian Commercial and Rural land values have remained fairly stable over the past 26 years relative to GDP, residential land values skyrocketed, rising from 1.1 times GDP to a peak of just below 2.71 times GDP in 2016-17. However, Australian residential land values deflated to a trough of 2.34-times GDP in 2018-19 before rebounding to 2.49 in 2019-20.

When the aggregate residential land values data is combined with the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) dwelling values data – which combines both residential land values and structures (buildings) – it becomes clearly evident that the uplift in Australia’s housing values over the past 20 years was due almost entirely to increasing land costs, rather than higher building costs (see below chart).

Whereas the structure values to GDP – calculated by deducting the ABS’ residential land value figures from the RBA’s dwelling assets data – was 0.89 times GDP in 1988-89, it was only 0.95 times GDP in 2019-20 and has remained fairly stable throughout the entire 29-year period.

Not surprisingly, given the correction in land values, the total value of Australia’s housing stock (land plus structures) also rose to 3.43-times GDP in 2019-20, but remained below the all-time high 3.67-times GDP in the 2016-17 financial year.

Reflecting the fact that residential land has risen in value relative to buildings, the land component of Australia’s housing stock rose from a low of 54% in 1990-91 to a peak of 74% of GDP in 2016-17, and stood at 72% of GDP in 2019-20:

The below chart tracks the change in nominal residential land values at the state and territory level over the 2018-19 financial year:

Victoria (read Melbourne) and NSW (read Sydney) drove the rise in land values nationally over 2019-20, driven by the huge surge in values in the nine months leading up to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. It sure would be interesting to see what the NZ ratios are in comparison.

    According to CoreLogic earlier in the year, as I recall, NZ residential (incl land) total stock value was $1.3 trillion, with further substantial inflation since.

    This would suggest that its gone from a whopping 4 times GDP to a whoppinger 5 GDP.

    The Matthew Pottinger Live Graph (data The Economist) you wrote about some time ago, illustrates New Zealand’s long sorry housing inflation history …

    Australia takes silver medal in global house price race … Leith van Onselen … MacroBusiness Australia

  2. I’d like to point out that building costs may not have increased because the quality has likely gone down. A big thing is the move to cheaper and more fragile waffle slabs for example. Plus maybe its not counting some inclusions which may have been standard before.

  3. It’s funny that it doesn’t matter which new statistic is presented that Australian land and housing values need to fall by 1/3 in order to bring things back to a healthy normal level. In line with loooong term trends and to restore normality.