Australian housing finance approvals pull back: Westpac

Australian housing finance approvals pull back: Westpac
Australian housing finance approvals pull back: Westpac

EXPERT OBSERVATION

After holding relatively steady through most of 2017 and early 2018, Australian housing finance approvals showed a notable pull back in the March month. The total number of owner occupier approvals declined 2.2% to be down 3.5%yr – below market expectations of a 1.5% fall but a touch better than industry figures that had pointed to a 3% decline.

The real weakness was around the value of investor approvals which dropped 9%mth to be down 16.1%yr. Estimates of investor approvals ex refi are down over 26%yr and just over 30% vs their 2016 peak. That puts the 2017-18 slowdown on a par with that seen in response to the macro-prudential tightening in 2015-16.

Combined, the total value of approvals ex refi fell 4.6%mth to be down 6%yr.

The detail on owner-occupiers showed a broad based decline.

The number of owner occupier construction approvals fell 4.4%mth to be down 4.3% on a year ago and 11% over the last two months alone. The number of owner occupier approvals for the purchase of newly built dwellings declined 1.4%mth but is still up over 5% on a year ago.

The number of approvals to first home buyers (FHBs) fell 4.6%mth but is still up 25%yr due to strong demand in NSW and Vic where state governments have increased assistance for first time buyers. The decline suggests the peak of this boost is starting to cycle through.

The state data showed owner occupier approvals ex refi down in most major states, the biggest fall in SA (–9%mth) with more modest declines in NSW (–2.6%), Vic (–1.6%) and Qld (–1.1%). WA (1.2%) and Tas (+1.5%) recorded slight gains. Owner occupier finance approvals ex refi are down on a year ago basis for every major state except Vic (–2.8%).
Other, more recent, housing data suggests there has been a slight further softening in auction markets in April-May with price growth continuing to slow, in Melbourne in particular.

Overall, the March update points to a renewed weakening in demand. More slippage looks likely near term as lenders tighten loan criteria and borrowing capacity assessments – with more stringent assessments also potentially slowing loan processing times. Notably, the average value of owner occupier loans rose in the month and over the year to March, suggesting the softening in approvals to date does not reflect a tightening in borrowing capacity (although this may have been a factor in the investor loan decline).

To read the full report, click here.

Matthew Hassan is senior economist with Westpac.

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Housing Approvals Matthew Hassan

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