Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

GUEST OBSERVER

Dwelling approvals came in weaker than expected in Aug, with a fall in units dragging total approvals down 6.9% vs expectations of a 2% dip.

That said, the decline comes off a higher base with the Jul gain revised up from +4.2% to +7.9%. The net result is that the level of approvals in Aug is only 1% lower than the consensus forecast implied off the old base.

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Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

It's becoming an all too familiar refrain for monthly housing data, but volatility continues to cast major doubts over underlying trends. Some sort of slowdown is underway with approvals passing a clear peak back in Mar. The extent of the slowdown is proving difficult to pinpoint though.

Current trend figures show declines running at a 5–10% annualised pace but only a month or two ago the decline appeared to be running more in the 10-15% range. The monthly volatility is such that this trend pace could easily move again once another month's data is incorporated.

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Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The detail shows the Aug decline was concentrated in ‘unit’ approvals which were down 11.4% following a 14.6% surge in Jul. Our estimates indicate that, within this segment, 'high rise' approvals have driven all of the Jul-Aug variation with the smaller 'low rise' sub-segment showing a more consistent downtrend throughout.

Private sector houses posted a surprisingly strong 4.9% gain in Aug, a relatively big move for what is usually a more stable segment. Note that private sector houses held flat throughout the most recent surge in approvals (since late 2014) which has entirely driven by units.

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Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The state breakdown shows the Jul-Aug volatility centred on NSW where unit approvals spiked 98% in Jul, reversing 66% in Aug to be back below their Jun level.

Three month averages smooth the state level volatility somewhat. For 'high-rise' they show continued strength in NSW but signs of a fairly sharp downturn coming through in Vic (we have noted in previous bulletins that this is likely being accentuated by a pull forward in approvals associated with the new Vic state government levy introduced in July).

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Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

For non-high rise, the state figures suggest strengthening approvals in NSW vs a moderation in Vic, flat-lining approvals in Qld and declines in WA.

The value of renovation approvals pulled back sharply in Aug, down 7.9%mth, with the 3mth rolling average growth rate slowing abruptly from 9.3% in Jun to –1.7% in Aug.

The value of non residential building approvals also fell 10% in Aug although that followed a similar-sized gain in Jul and is well within the range of volatility for this segment. Approvals are still on a reasonable rising trend.

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Watch for a lift in the 'drop-out' rate between unit approvals and construction: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Overall, the Aug detail is a little less downbeat than the surprisingly weak headline number would suggest. The main takeaway though is that a downturn of some sort is underway, the extent of which remains highly uncertain.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac. 

Tags: 
Property market Dwelling Approvals

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