December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

GUEST OBSERVER 

Dwelling approvals posted a slight 1.2 percent decline in Dec in line with expectations (Westpac –1 percent, market –1.5 percent).

The Dec dip follows a 7.5 percent gain in Nov that was a partial rebound from a sharp 23 percent drop over the previous 3mths. 

That earlier move marked the first definitive sign that Australia's high-rise driven building boom was starting to turn down.

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December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The Nov bounce and Dec stablisation scales back the pace of the decline but leaves the downtrend intact – trend approvals are now down 13%yr.

The Dec mix showed further weakness in private sector houses (–1.6%mth to be down –9.6 percent/yr) with ‘units’ up slightly (+0.9 percent/mth but still down –13 percent/yr). Our estimates suggest high rise approvals were up about 4%mth with 'low rise' broadly stable.

High rise is still at the epicentre of the slowdown although the softer picture on non high rise approvals is notable particularly for construction activity in 2017 (the longer time frame on projects means the high rise impact falls more into 2018).

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December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The state detail suggests the high rise downturn is more abrupt for NSW and Qld with Vic approvals in this segment more volatile around a milder downtrend. For ‘non high rise’ approvals the weakness is much more pronounced in Qld and WA with approvals flattening out in NSW and Vic rather than trending materially lower.

Given the aforementioned timing differences, that suggests the path for construction activity will be very different across states with near term weakness concentrated in the mining states, and the high rise slowdown having more of an impact on NSW and Qld in 2018.

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December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

The value of renovation approvals surged 15.2 percent in Dec to be up 12.3 percent/yr. The renewed uptrend and detail suggests there was a 'pause' in activity in NSW and Vic, possibly relating to election uncertainty.

The value of non res building approvals edged up 0.7 percent but were down 6.7%yr. Extreme lumpiness makes it difficult to be sure of the underlying trend although the value of approvals for Q4 as a whole was down across most segments with a notably sharp fall in NSW.

Overall, aggregate approvals continue to track in line with our expectation of a significant high rise driven slowdown. The mix has been a little weaker for non-high rise approvals though suggesting construction activity may be a touch softer in the second half of 2017.

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December dwelling approvals decline: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

As we highlighted in a several pieces last year, the long lags on high rise projects mean the downturn in this segment will not impact construction activity until well into 2018 with work done still relatively well supported in 2017. We will be expanding on this research in coming months to provide a clearer view of the likely path for construction activity and completions across the major states. 

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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Housing Market Dwelling Approvals

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