Australian Property

Australian property is one the widest and deepest asset bubbles in the history of capitalism. Any objective assessment of this “market” can lead to no other conclusion.

With a long history of commitment to home ownership, Australians have always been prepared to structure their finances around property. This showed up in a total dwelling stock to GDP ratio that persisted around a very high 150% from 1960 to 1990. In the late 1990s that shot up to 200% and then embarked on near ceaseless climb to 360% today.

There are many other guides to the extreme overvaluation of Australian property. The ratio of household debt (overwhelmingly mortgages) to disposable income is the highest in the world at 186%. Median price to income multiples are anything from 12x in Sydney, to 10x in Melbourne, down to still immensely unaffordable 6x in smaller capitals, up from 3-4x times in all over the long run for all. The extent of overvaluation is plain.

What makes the Australian property bubble unique is the degree to which it has warped the nation’s political economy. Once a diverse and vibrant resources and manufacturing economy, over the twenty years that the Australian housing bubble grew that shape changed completely. An huge proportion of the debt underpinning Australian property is borrowed from offshore, almost $1 trillion, mostly by its big four major banks. This perpetually inflated the local currency, as well as input costs like land prices, which dramatically diminished Australian competitiveness and drove tradable sectors like manufacturing offshore. From 14% of output in the 1970s, manufacturing hit 5% of output in 2016, the lowest in the OECD.

Moreover, the centrality of Australia property to the wealth of the national polity increasingly distorted policy and even elections. In the 2008 global financial crisis, the then Labor government bailed out the the big four banks with guarantees to their offshore loans, rewriting the entire rule book for Australia’s financial architecture in one panicked afternoon. Public subsidies poured into demand-side stimulus, as well as RMBS markets. Any notion that Australian property was a “market” evaporated. Australian property was, and remains, a kind of asset quango, a public/private partnership in support of the retirement plans of its pre-dominant Baby Boomer generation.

MacroBusiness cover all elements of Australian property daily.

These guarantees exist to this day and reached their peak distortion to the political economy in 2016 when the ruling Liberal/National Party Coalition government fought and won an election in the singular defense of “negative gearing”, the principal tax policy most responsible for investor’s favouring property over other asset classes.

Contemporary Australia does not just have a property bubble, it has morphed into Propertocracy in which the primacy of house prices determines who leads the country, what policies are chosen and which generations prosper.


Construction loans dive on HomeBuilder’s end

Friday’s lending indicators data posted a sharp decline in loans for new dwelling construction, which fell for the second consecutive month by a combined 21% from February’s peak: Nevertheless, they remained 72% higher year-over-year. According to the Housing Industry Association: “This is the first ABS data to show that we are past the peak in


Melbourne lockdown pulls auction clearances down

CoreLogic’s preliminary report on the weekend’s auctions reported a lower clearance rate courtesy of Melbourne’s second weekend of hard lockdown. The national preliminary clearance rate fell to 73.5% from 75.7% the prior weekend. This was off 2,691 auctions, down from the prior weekend’s 2,930. Sydney continued its strong run recording a preliminary clearance rate of


Mortgage market signals unprecedented property boom

On Friday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released data on new finance commitments, which showed booming growth in both owner-occupied and investor mortgages. As shown in the next chart, owner-occupied mortgage commitments soared 70% in the year to April 2021, whereas investor mortgage commitments surged 63%: As regular readers know, the growth in new


Buying a high-rise apartment is Russian Roulette

Buying a high-rise apartment has become a game of financial Russian Roulette. Over recent years we witnessed a proliferation of building faults and flammable cladding infernos at sites including Lacrosse, Neo200, Opal, Mascot, Zetland, Campsie, among others. In 2019, Four Corners aired a segment entitled Cracking Up, where building law expert Bronwyn Weir encapsulated the


CoreLogic weekly house price update: rinse & repeat

In the week ended 3 June, the CoreLogic daily dwelling values index surged another 0.48%: Sydney’s led the way again, with dwelling values rising another 0.60%. All other major capitals also rose strongly in value: Quarterly price growth remains turbo-charged at 7.05% across the five major capitals. Sydney (9.19%) continues to lead the way, followed


Auction market fades into winter

CoreLogic released its final auction report for last weekend, with the final clearance rate falling to 73.5% from 77.0% the prior weekend. It was the lowest final auction clearance rate recorded in 2021. As usual, Sydney led the market recording a final clearance rate of 76.0% (down from 76.9%), whereas Melbourne’s final clearance rate fell


Lending growth in all the wrong places’s David Hargreaves has posted the below stunning chart showing that Kiwis have leveraged big time into non-productive housing lending, whereas consumer lending has also rebounded hard. By contrast, lending to productive areas of the economy – businesses and agriculture – continues to fall: While the mortgage borrowing has been mounting and mounting, business lending


Investors set to pounce on property market

The latest mortgage data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that investors are beginning to take-over from first home buyers (FHB) in driving property demand. Investor mortgage commitments surged 29% over the first three months of 2021 and are now clearly crowding-out FHBs: Investor mortgage growth is now turbo charged, as illustrated by the


Rental vacancies collapse to record low

Domain has released rental vacancy data for May, which shows that the national rental vacancy rate has fallen to its lowest level since Domain records began in 2017: Vacancy rates have fallen particularly hard across the smaller capitals, with Brisbane (1.3%), Adelaide (0.6%) and Darwin (0.5%) all posting record low vacancies. Vacancy rates across Sydney


Banks overwhelmed by rabid mortgage demand

RBA Governor Phil Lowe last year endorsed Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s proposal to axe responsible lending rules, telling the Standing Committee on Economics that Australian mortgage restrictions had become too strict and were constraining the economy: “We can’t have a world in which, if a borrower can’t repay the loan, it’s always the bank’s fault. On a


Houses boom, apartments bust

Never has there been such a strong divergence between the construction of detached houses and apartments. Yesterday’s dwelling approvals data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that 14,072 detached houses were approved over the month – a 58% increase year-over-year and the highest monthly count since the series began in 1983: It is


Rebooting immigration will deliver monster housing shortage

The AFR is running an article claiming that “Millennials are a time bomb for the NSW property market”. Citing a NSW Productivity Commission (PC) White Paper, The AFR claims that Peter Costello’s Baby Bonus generation will soon need their own housing, which will drive a chronic shortage of homes across Sydney in the second half


Real estate agents starve amid property boom

An interesting development is happening across Australia’s real estate agencies. Despite Australia experiencing its strongest synchronised property boom in decades, real estate agencies are duking it out to secure the limited number of listings on offer. The situation has become so extreme in Tasmania that the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania is literally “begging” agents


No winter cooling for red hot mortgages

CoreLogic’s leading property indexes remain red hot. On the supply side, for sale inventory is still very low despite resurgent listings: On the demand side, we are yet to see any seasonal slowdown for winter mortgage issuance: Remember that this index only covers owner-occupiers and investors are also on the move now. In terms of


Victorian lockdown likely extended

The latest virus shite from VIC: Reported yesterday: 9 new local cases and 2 new cases acquired overseas (currently in HQ). – 20,484 vaccine doses were administered – 42,699 test results were received More later: #COVID19Vic #COVID19VicData — VicGovDH (@VicGovDH) May 31, 2021 Reports now are for a likely extension to two weeks.


Auction market fades into winter

CoreLogic’s preliminary report on the weekend’s auctions reported a lower clearance rate on another big weekend of volumes. The national preliminary clearance rate fell to 75.7% from 78.2% the prior weekend. This was off 2,930 auctions, up slightly from the prior weekend’s 2,845. Sydney continued its strong run recording a preliminary clearance rate of 81.0%


Regional property boom a COVID blip?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been lots of discussion claiming that Australians are fleeing from capital cities to the regions, which is helping to fuel the region’s rapid price growth. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) latest internal migration data shows that Australia’s capital cities lost around 22,000 residents over the


Auction market gets winter chill

CoreLogic released its final auction report for last weekend, with the final clearance rate to 77.0% from 77.0% the prior weekend. It was the lowest final auction clearance rate recorded in 2021. The result came off the year’s fifth strongest auction volumes (2,834). As usual, Sydney led the market recording a final clearance rate of


Saul Eslake: Morrison mortgage reforms “crazy”

More than 33,000 Australians and 125 community groups recently signed an open letter against the Morrison Government’s legislation to abolish responsible lending laws, which are currently sitting in limbo in the Senate. As we know, the Hayne Banking Royal Commission’s very first recommendation was to maintain these responsible lending laws, which came after observing multiple


Are property investors really “back”?

Earlier this month I wrote an article entitled “Investors storm back into property market” which cited NAB survey data and ABS mortgage statistics showing that investors are rapidly increasing demand for Australian property. My one disclaimer was that the value of investor mortgage commitments was still running 22% below its 2015 peak, suggesting that the pick-up