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.


Housing finance rolls over in November

By Leith van Onselen The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released housing finance data for the month of November, which registered a seasonally-adjusted -0.5% decrease in the number of owner-occupied finance commitments over the month. Analyst’s had expected a seasonally-adjusted rise of 0.5%: Arguably, the most important figure in the release is the


A FHB bounce for new housing?

By Leith van Onselen Over the weekend, the Australian Financial Review (AFR) ran an article suggesting that a recovery in first-home buyer (FHB) new home sales is afoot following the changes to FHB grants in New South Wales and Queensland, which in October 2012 ended the FHB grant on pre-existing dwellings in return for more


Despite pick-up, housing construction remains in the doldrums

By Leith van Onselen New home sales and dwelling approvals data released this week has been hailed by some commentators as signs that Australian housing construction has finally turned the corner after experiencing recessionary type conditions over the past few years. While the uptick in both sales and approvals over the past few months is


Fitch: Australian housing still least affordable

By Leith van Onselen In a clear broad-side to the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), which argues that Australian housing values are not out of line with many comparable countries, Fitch credit ratings agency claims that Australian housing remains amongst the most expensive in the world. From Property Observer: Australian housing affordability has improved markedly


Apartment surge drove dwelling approvals higher in November

By Leith van Onselen The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has just released the Building Approvals data for the month of November. At the national level, the number of dwelling approvals rose by a seasonally adjusted 2.9% to 13,307, driven predominantly by a 10.1% increase in approvals for private sector units and apartments. Consensus was


New home sales lifted in November but still lowest annual sales on record

By Leith van Onselen From the Housing Industry Association (HIA) today comes news that new homes sales are staging a tentative recovery, particularly in the detached house segment. Total new home sales rose by 4.7% in November driven by 7.7% lift in detached house sales, whereas sales of multi-unit homes (apartments) fell by 6.9% following


2013 housing outlook

By Leith van Onselen On 7 January, Today Tonight provided a surprisingly good report on the outlook for the Australian housing market in 2013. The video, which is provided below, provides a good summary of the year end RP Data-Rismark house price results and contains interviews with Professor Steve Keen, RP Data’s Cameron Kusher, APM’s


Construction contracts again

The performance of construction index for December is out this morning and, as expected, it’s not the best. Despite some encouraging signs, the national construction sector finished 2012 in negative territory according to the latest Australian Industry Group/Housing Industry Association Australian Performance of Construction Index (Australian PCI®). The seasonally adjusted index was 1.8 points stronger


Melbourne’s dour RE market

Our own Unconventional Economist was warning of the coming trouble with the Victorian real estate market throughout 2012 due to delayed supply response that is seeing large amounts of new product coming into the market as prices begin to fall. In addition, sales in new housing developments have fallen rapidly  and the bearish trend in mortgage data


House prices fell again in 2012

RPData just released their end-of-year housing data for 2012 and it confirms what many MB readers already knew. 125bps over the last 12 months still hasn’t been enough to get traction under the market and as we roll into the “fiscally responsible” new year 2013 isn’t looking all that great either. The latest uptick in


Residex sees no housing recovery in 2013

  By Leith van Onselen Residex CEO, John Edwards, on Monday gave an interesting video interview on Switzer where he discussed the outlook for the Australian housing market in 2013. In a nutshell, Edwards does not believe that the overall housing market will rebound next year (rather it will mirror 2012’s performance) because housing affordability


Job vacancies decline continues

DEEWR’s job vacancy report is out for December and it makes some pretty doomy reading for those New Year job prospects. The Internet Vacancy Index (IVI) decreased by 3.5% in November 2012 in trend terms. Over the year, the IVI has fallen by 23.0% and is now at its lowest level since the series began


The housing bull’s chartbook

Find below the ANZ Housing Chartbook. It’s full of fascinating data. I suggest taking the affordability and underlying demand data material with a grain of salt, given both are full of questionable hidden assumptions, but this is still well worth a read. Australian Housing Chartbook December 2012


QLD mortgages retrace after FHOG boom

By Leith van Onselen The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) has released data on housing transfers and mortgage lodgements for the month of November. According to DERM, the number of housing transfers and mortgage lodgements fell by -7.9% and -7.2% respectively in November 2012, but were up 9.9% and 4.9% respectively on


A confidence hit to housing construction

By Leith van Onselen Yesterday’s unexpected fall in the Westpac-Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index, from 104.3 in November to 100.0 in December (see below chart), has dealt a potential blow to the RBA’s plans for housing construction to fill the void as the mining boom unwinds. As discussed by Houses & Holes yesterday, there is


Consumers get bullish on housing (or do they?)

As the Unconventional Economist has previously described, there is a strong historical correlation between the headline rate of Consumer Confidence and mortgage as well as house price gains: So today’s falls in consumer confidence are not so good for property. But, although this morning’s confidence number retraced its November gains, in the area of savings and


RP Data sees housing market recovery

By Leith van Onselen RP Data has released its December housing market update, which is always worth a watch for the significant amount of property-related data on offer. This month’s report includes the following collection of charts that track the health of the market at the national level. First, sales volumes have recovered somewhat, up


RBA proves itself wrong on macroprudential

By Leith van Onselen Back in October, the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) Head of Financial Stability, Luci Ellis, gave a speech in which she played down the need for macroprudential policy tools in Australia, such as loan-to-valuation (LTV) ratio limits, loan serviceability limits, and the like. In the speech, Dr Ellis made the spurious


Stock on market jumps in November

By Leith van Onselen SQM Research has today released Stock on Market data for the month of November, which registered a 4.9% monthly increase in overall for sale listings, but no movement in year-on-year terms: According to SQM: This month’s data is particularly interesting when compared to the corresponding period of the previous year (November


NSW pulls down FHB finance approvals

By Leith van Onselen Following on from yesterday’s housing finance release from the ABS for the month of October, the below chart compares the growth of first home buyer (FHB) housing finance approvals following the latest round of interest rate cuts (-1.75% since November 2011) to the average of the four prior interest rate-cutting cycles