Australian housing finance December 2015: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

GUEST OBSERVER

Australian housing finance approvals firmed in Dec. The number of new approvals for owner occupiers rose 2.6%, broadly in line with market expectations and consolidating on a 1.9% gain in Nov to be up 9.8%yr. Ex-refi, the number of 'new' loan approvals was up 1.6%mth, 4.6%yr.

Note that changes in lending criteria and borrowing rates for investor loans is indirectly boosting owner occupier activity. Although the bulk of the initial ‘switching’ effect seemed to come through between June and Sep. On the other side of this effect, the value of loans to investors dropped 19% between April and Oct but stabilised in the closing months of 2015, rising 1% in Nov and a further 0.6% in Dec (though still down 13.6%yr).

The total combined value of loans – our preferred gauge of housing demand at the moment given the aforementioned category switching – was up 0.8%mth, 6.4%yr. Growth is significantly flatter once refinance is excluded – the value of refi approvals surged 36% over the year to Dec 2015, accounting for almost all of the growth in the total value of new loans (ex refi, the value of loans is up just 0.2%yr).

Construction-related finance approvals posted a particularly strong month, up 5.2%mth led by 12.4% jump in approvals for the purchase of newly-built dwellings, which incudes 'off the plan' purchases. Note that many of these loans will be post the completion of building rather than a forward indicator of future work. That said, loans for construction were also up 1.8%mth, suggesting a degree of resilience outside the 'high rise' segment that has driven the declinein dwelling construction approvals to date.

Unfortunately, the state detail from the report is of limited use as the value of investor loans and total loans is not available until additional data is published next week. That said, the number of owner-occupier loans ex refi is showing strong gains across both NSW and Vic, with WA the only state showing material weakness.

Overall the picture is of some stabilisation after a sharp investor-led softening over the second half of last year. This weekend’s auction results will be the first meaningful reading on how much this may have carried into 2016. This week's update on consumer sentiment showed assessments of 'time to buy a dwelling' at still weak levels, albeit with some improvement in NSW & Vic. Price measures hint at some firming in recent months although the summer holiday hiatus makes this and other housing data notoriously unreliable over Jan-Feb period.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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Housing Markets Housing Finance

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