Australian housing finance March 2016: Matthew Hassan

Australian housing finance March 2016: Matthew Hassan
Australian housing finance March 2016: Matthew Hassan


The March housing finance approvals came in largely in line with expectations, with essentially steady owner occupier activity and a slight firming in the value of investor loans.

The number of owner occupier finance approvals dipped 0.9 percent mth in line with Westpac’s –1 percent call. Ex refi, the number of ‘new loans’ was a bit softer, down 1.6 percent mth.

Note that the abrupt slowdown in Australia’s housing markets in the second half of last year was mainly driven by a rapid cooling in investor activity following a tightening in credit conditions and rates for investor loans in response to a tightening in prudential guidelines and increased capital targets from regulators. Owner occupier activity was a lot steadier through this period with the number of loans still growth in annual terms, up 3.8 percent yr.

Accordingly there continues to be more focus on the investor lending numbers in the finance approvals data. Although these are not included in the headline figure on the number of approvals, the value of investor loans is recorded and included in estimates of the 'total value' of housing loans. For March the value of investor loans was up 1.5 percent mth after a 3.1 percent gain in February.

Though still down 13 percent yr, investor activity has clearly firmed a touch in early 2016. This may account for the firmer tone in other housing market indicators such as auction clearance rates and price growth. Buyer sentiment lifted following the RBA's rate cut in May but remains at a subdued level compared to previous years. Notably, the pick up in price growth in April appears to have accelerated in May with the month to date figures from CoreLogic RP Data showing surprisingly strong gains.

Elsewhere in the finance approvals detail, construction-related finance approvals were again weak, down 5.9 percent mth and 11.7 percent over the last 3mths. Within this segment, finance approvals for the purchase of newly built dwellings, which covers owner occupier purchases of 'off the plan' units, are down 11.1 percent mth and 23 percent since Dec. Although this could reflect shifts in demand it may also be an indication that buyers of 'off the plan' units more broadly are starting to encounter financing difficulties.

Approvals were a mixed bag by state. Owner occupier approvals ex refi were down across the board but showed slightly bigger falls in NSW (–2.2 percent), Vic (–2.7 percent) and Qld (–2.5 percent). Note that only owner occupier state figures are available at this stage with investor data due out May 13.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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