Australian housing finance rout continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Australian housing finance rout continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Australian housing finance rout continues: Westpac's Matthew Hassan


Housing finance approvals posted a further decline in Jan, albeit a slightly milder one than in previous months for owner occupiers.

The total number of owner occupier loan approvals ex refi declined 1.2%mth, slightly better than the consensus forecasts of a 2% decline. As always, January housing data should be treated with caution due to the summer holiday disruptions. Approvals are still weak on a year ago, down 13.6%. Notably, what was initially an investor-led cycle is now seeing clear weakness in owner occupier activity – both the value and number of loans.

The value of investor loans ex refi posted a larger 4.1%mth fall, this component showing no real moderation, the decline in line with falls over the previous five monnths. The monthly value of loans to this segment is now down 28.6%yr.

The combined total value of housing finance approvals across both owner occupier and investor segments (and excluding refi) declined 2.1%mth to be down 20.6%yr.

Construction finance approvals fared a little better, dipping just 0.2% in the month but still down over 15%yr. Approvals for the purchase of newly built dwellings, including 'off the plan apartment sales' were down sharply though, –9.5%mth, –27.6%yr and a 4yr low.

By state the number of owner occupier approvals excl refi showed the biggest falls in NSW (–4.9%mth, –18.3%r) and Qld (–2.4%mth, –16.6%yr), with approvals down only 0.7%mth in WA and SA, and up slighly in Vic (+0.4%mth, –15.4%yr) and Tas (+2.4%mth, +10.6%yr), the latter the only state seeing gains on a year ago.

Overall, the January update was soft but not quite as soft as expected for owner occupier activity. However, given the less reliable nature of January housing data this is not enough evidence to signal a shift in the clear weakening trend over the second half of 2018.

Other more recent market indicators suggest weak conditions have extended into the new year. Auction clearance rates have been around the low 50s for Sydney and and high 40s for Melbourne. As noted in our recent article, both markets are seeing abnormally high pre-auction withdrawal rates at the moment.

Adjusting for this (and allowing for preliminary and seasonal bias), the latest weekly clearance rates are around 48% for Sydney and 46% for Melbourne. While low, these are somewhat improved from reads late last year which were in the 30s and low 40s respectively.

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior Economist for Westpac

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