Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham
Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

Australia's housing boom has cooled after five years of expansion. Sydney housing prices have stopped rising and price growth is slowing in Melbourne. The housing construction boom is past its peak. Thankfully, this is arriving just as the drag from falling mining investment and commodity prices is coming to its end.

Importantly, the mining decline was much bigger, so the net effect should still be growth-positive. We see any negative 'wealth effect' from the end of housing boom as negligible. We see growth lifting in 2018 and expect it to be more broad-based across industries and regions than it has been in at least a decade.

Australia's housing boom has helped to fill the gap left by falling mining investment over the past five years, as the economy has needed to rebalance. Now, the housing boom is coming to its end (Chart 1). House prices have levelled out in Sydney since April and house price growth has slowed in Melbourne. The housing construction boom is also past its peak. Dwelling investment has already levelled out and is set to be a drag on overall growth from the second half of 2018, as the pipeline of apartment construction is completed.

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Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

Thankfully, the fall in dwelling investment is arriving just as the mining investment drag is coming to its end and, importantly, the drag from mining was much bigger. The mining investment decline is set to go from a maximum drag of around 1.5ppts of GDP in mid-2016, to no drag at all by mid-2018 (Chart 2). By comparison, the dwelling investment contribution to growth, which was a maximum of around 0.5ppts of GDP in mid-2016, is forecast to be a drag of around 0.25ppts by 2019. The collective effect from these two sectors is that a net drag on GDP of around 1ppt in mid-2016 is set to be almost no drag at all in 2018 and 2019.

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Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

Of course, there are also other forces at work. Falling commodity prices, between 2011 and 2016, were a large drag on national incomes. The lift in commodity prices from their trough levels in early 2016 is now supporting growth in national incomes. There has also been a ramp up in investment in urban infrastructure, largely funded by state government asset sales, which is supporting local growth and is set to continue to ramp up through 2018. Finally, tourism and education exports, supported by a much lower AUD in recent years and rising middle class incomes in Asia, are helping to fill the gap left by falling mining investment.

Nonetheless, some observers have argued that the end of the housing boom may have a strong negative effect on the economy, which could weigh on overall growth over the next couple of years. The argument is that households will be less inclined to spend as the cooling of the housing boom means they are no longer seeing wealth gains. However, in our view, there has been little evidence of a positive wealth effect in recent years, so we see a large negative wealth effect as unlikely. 

The more downbeat observers point to the fall in the national household saving rate as evidence of a positive wealth effect. We disagree. Although the national household saving rate has fallen in recent years, the state-level numbers show that the saving rate has not fallen in the states which have had housing prices boom (NSW and Victoria) (Chart 3). If the rise in wealth had driven households to consume more, surely it would have happened in the states where wealth has been rising? Instead, household saving rates have only fallen in the mining states (WA and Queensland), after rising during the mining boom.

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Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

The moves in household saving rates therefore appear to reflect the impact of the resources cycle on incomes, not a wealth effect. Estimates of housing equity flows also suggest that households have been injecting equity into their dwellings in recent years, rather than withdrawing it, which is further evidence that there has not been a wealth effect. With no positive wealth effect, a negative wealth effect from the end of the housing boom seems unlikely.

Rather than wealth changes, the critical factor that has driven trends in household consumption in recent years has been household income growth. Weak growth in household consumption has been due to the slow growth in household incomes, reflecting weak jobs and wages growth at the end of the mining boom. However, as the mining sector starts to stabilise, we are now seeing the strongest growth in employment is coming from the mining states (WA and Queensland) (Chart 4). This should start to lift household income in those states and support consumption growth.

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Australia's housing boom finished, but so is the drag from mining: HSBC'S Paul Bloxham

What we have not seen yet is a pick-up in wages growth. This is the final stage of the 'rebalancing act' at the end of the mining boom. The cyclical factors are now supportive of a pick-up in wages growth, although there are also structural factors weighing on wages. On the cyclical story, commodity prices have lifted, corporate profitability has improved, business conditions are at high levels and, critically, the labour market is tightening up. However, the structural factors weighing on wages growth include, the changing nature of work, due to technology, offshoring, as a result of globalisation, decreased unionisation, and, increasing casualization of the workforce, amongst others.

 

Our central case is that the cyclical factors, particularly the tightening of the labour market, will see a pick-up in wages growth in 2018, which will complete Australia's 'great rebalancing act'. We also expect growth to be more broad-based across industries and regions than it has been in at least a decade, which should help to see a pick-up in wages pressures as spare capacity from across the economy is absorbed. Of course, the clear risk is that this process takes longer than we have factored in, as the structural factors continue to offset the impact of the positive cyclical forces. The outlook for wages growth remains the main focus of the story.

Tags: 
Housing Boom Mining Boom

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