Housing's puzzling strength: Matthew Hassan

Housing's puzzling strength: Matthew Hassan
Housing's puzzling strength: Matthew Hassan

Australian housing finance approvals beat expectations again in November, the number of approvals for owner occupiers up 2.1% vs expectations of a flat result. Approvals ex refi rose 2.4%mth to be up 9.2%yr.

The value of housing finance approvals to investors also posted a rise, up 1.5% but is down –8.3%yr.

The Nov detail showed continued strength in first home buyer loans (+4.5%mth, 36%yr) concentrated in NSW and Vic where state government stamp duty concessions are giving a big boost and activity is coming from a very low starting point.

Construction-related approvals were up 2%mth, 7.6%yr.

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Housing's puzzling strength: Matthew Hassan

By state, gains in NSW (+1.9%mth), Qld (+4.3%mth) and SA (+2.1%mth) offset falls in Vic (–0.3%mth) and WA (–2.7%mth). Annual growth remains strongest in Vic (+16.8%) and NSW (+10.9%) bearing in mind that this is owner occupier approvals only (ex refi) and that the slowdown in investor activity has had a more material impact in these two states, NSW in particular.

Overall, the total value of finance approvals ex owner occupier refi was up 2.1%mth, and 1.7%yr. That compares to turnover, down around 16%yr, auction clearance rates, down over 13ppts, and an abrupt slowdown in price growth, down from a double digit pace mid-year to a sub-5% annual pace currently.

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Housing's puzzling strength: Matthew Hassan

While the pull back in investor finance approvals is broadly consistent with macro-prudential tightening measures impacting this segment, the continued strength in owner-occupier activity has been surprising, particularly given material slowdown in wider housing market activity evident in other measures. Overall, the total value of loan approvals including investor loans and ex refi has firmed over the last year, up 1.7%yr.

The comparison with the previous macro-prudential tightening episode in 2015 is also intriguing. This resulted in a similar slowdown in wider market measures and a sizeable 10%+ decline in the total value of finance approvals.

The differences are puzzling but may be an indication that weaker foreign buyer demand – evident in the wider housing market performance but not captured by finance approvals – may have had a greater hand in the 2017 slowdown.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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Housing Finance Matthew Hassan

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