High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Dwelling approvals outstripped expectations again in August, with a small 1.8 percent pull back coming well above the consensus expectation of a more material 6 percent decline and a slight upward revision to July's big jump.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The number of approvals in July was the second highest month on record. Even with a dip, the August reading is still the fourth highest month on record with approvals now up 10.1 percent/yr.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Expectations for a pull back centred on high rise approvals. This segment saw a spectacular 39.8 percent jump in July that was expected to largely reverse in August. Approvals instead held up much better than expected with our estimates pointing to about a 10 percent drop in seasonally adjusted terms in the month. This still leaves high rise approvals 25 percent above their June level.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The rest of the detail showed mixed moves. The small ‘low-mid rise’ segment saw a solid 7.8 percent gain in the month but the larger and more stable detached house approvals segment recorded a 1.3 percent dip. Combined, approvals ex high rise were up slightly, about 1.2 percent/mth but down 4.1 percent/yr. To the extent that this measure is more reflective of underlying conditions it is pointing to a modest trend decline running at about 1-1.5 percent a month.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
By state, approvals dipped 2.3 percent in NSW but were up slightly in Vic and Qld with big monthly declines coming in WA and SA. Notably, within the NSW estimates ‘unit’ approvals were still the second highest monthly level on record.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The value of renovation approvals also softened in August, down 0.9%mth, but up slightly on a year ago (+1.2%). Both moves are fairly small for what is typically a much more volatile monthly series.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The value of non residential building approvals recorded a large 24.3 percent fall in August to be down 12.9 percent/yr. Monthly reads have been extremely choppy over the last year but approvals appear to be tracking and underlying downtrend. Falls in public sector work, private accommodation, and private sector education, health and office approvals drove the August decline.

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High rise boom continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan


Overall, the continued high level of dwelling approvals points to a dwelling construction upturn holding up stronger for longer. Both tightening lending conditions and a surge in new apartment supply have had little or no impact to date but are expected to rein in 'high rise' approvals over the next year. But even allowing for a potentially sharp reversal lower in coming months, the pipeline of dwellings under construction is set to continue expanding strongly throughout the rest of 2016 and is likely to continue rising in the first half of 2017.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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Westpac Dwelling Approvals

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