New home sales lift sharply: CommSec's Craig James

New home sales lift sharply: CommSec's Craig James
New home sales lift sharply: CommSec's Craig James

GUEST OBSERVER

The latest economic data raises even more questions about the ‘funk’ happening on financial markets, in particular the Australian sharemarket. Consumers are seemingly happy with life while new home sales lifted sharply in the latest month. When viewed together with other recent economic data, it shows that recent falls in the sharemarket don’t have fundamental underpinnings.

Recent earnings results, including the record result from Commonwealth Bank, further highlight the strong position of the Australian economy.

The lift in consumer confidence appears surprising. But one of the key factors affecting consumer confidence is the Aussie dollar. Late last week the Aussie dollar lifted towards US72 cents from US70 cents. Most consumers see a higher currency as a ‘good’ thing – it means cheaper overseas travel and cheaper overseas goods. At the same time stable interest rates and a lower petrol price are serving to offset global sharemarket volatility and thus support confidence levels.

Why do people perceive that their finances are in stronger shape than a year ago? There are two key factors – the lower petrol price and lower interest rates. At the same time most homeowners would have witnessed their home increasing in value over the year, buoying spirits.

It’s important not to ‘over-think’ consumer confidence. For most punters, the Aussie dollar, interest rates, petrol prices, home prices and the job market are the key factors determining whether someone is positive or negative on supposedly ‘economic’ issues.

What do the figures show?

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New home sales lift sharply: CommSec's Craig James

New home sales

New home sales rose for the first time in four months up by 6.0 per cent in December. Sales of multi-units rose by 21.1 per cent while detached house sales increased by 2.2 per cent.

New home sales previously fell by 2.7 per cent in November, fell 3.0 per cent in October and fell by 4.0 per cent in September. New home sales are now up 2.5 per cent for the year.

The Housing Industry Association reported: “In the month of December 2015 detached house sales increased in three of the five mainland states: Queensland (+5.2 per cent); Western Australia (+5.0 per cent) and Victoria (+1.1 per cent). Sales declined in South Australia (-2.1 per cent) and in New South Wales (-0.1 per cent).”

Further, the HIA noted:  “Key leading indicators of new home building such as HIA-ACI New Home Sales and ABS Building Approvals and new housing finance are consistent with very healthy national construction volumes persisting throughout the first half of 2016. These indicators are also signalling a continuation in 2016 of very large differences in new housing conditions across the states.”

Consumer sentiment:

The Westpac/Melbourne Institute index of consumer confidence surprisingly rose by 4.2 per cent in February to 101.1 after falling by 3.5 per cent in January. The confidence index is up 0.6 per cent on a year ago.

The current conditions index rose by 6.5 per cent while the expectations index rose by 2.5 per cent.

Four of the five components of the index rose in February:

The estimate of family finances compared with a year ago was up by 11.3 per cent;

The estimate of family finances over the next year was up by 3.8 per cent;

Economic conditions over the next 12 months was down by 0.6 per cent;

Economic conditions over the next 5 years was up by 4.0 per cent;

The measure on whether it was a good time to buy a major household item was up by 3.1 per cent to a 6- month high of 124.0.

What is the importance of the economic data?

The Housing Industry Association releases data on the sales of new homes each month. The HIA collects the data each month from a sample of Australia's largest 100 home builders. The survey covers around 14 per cent of the home building industry.

Westpac and the Melbourne Institute release the Index of Consumer Sentiment each month. According to Melbourne Institute: “The survey of consumer sentiment was first undertaken in 1973 and was conducted on a quarterly basis until 1976, a six-weekly basis from 1976 to 1986, and has been conducted monthly ever since.”

Confident consumers may be more inclined to spend, especially on major items.

What are the implications for interest rates and investors?

The latest data supports our view that interest rates are likely to remain stable in coming months.

The good news is that volatility on the sharemarket hasn’t yet spooked consumers. As a result, there are still reasons for optimism amongst retailers. The reading on whether it was a good time to buy a major household item stands at a 6-month high

Click to enlarge

New home sales lift sharply: CommSec's Craig James

 

Craig James is the chief economist at CommSec.

Craig James

Craig James

Craig James is the Chief Economist at CommSec, interpreting ‘big picture’ economic and financial trends.

Tags: 
Property market New Home Sales

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