Dwelling construction forecast is weak: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Dwelling construction forecast is weak: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
Dwelling construction forecast is weak: Westpac's Matthew Hassan


Dwelling approvals fell 15.5% in February, unwinding a 19.1% jump in February that reflected a big spike in high rise approvals. That was in line with Westpac's forecast but a touch weaker than the consensus view of a 12.5% decline.

Headline moves over the last two months have been driven by 'high rise' units with approvals in the segment more than doubling between January and February and nearly halving again between February and March. Approvals in this segment are still well above Jan's extreme low and about 10% above the average level over the three months to January.

Outside of the high rise segment, the underlying trend looks to be weak. Total approvals ex high rise (covering both detached houses and mid-low rise) looks to be down a further 2% in the month following a 4% fall in February and down around 19% year. Private detached house approvals declined 3.2% month, to be down 18.3% year. Mid-low rise unit approvals look to have risen slightly by around 1% in the March month but are still down by around 20% year.

The state detail also points to a soft underlying tone. The unwinding high rise spike was concentrated in NSW (–27% month, –23% year) and Vic (–27% month, –36% year). Excluding high rise, NSW posted a 10% month gain in the month but was coming off a much weaker January with approvals still down 7.7% on their Dec level. Vic approvals ex high rise declined 1.9% month but is down a milder 3.5% compared to Dec. Approvals declined the other major eastern states, the slide over the last year now looking brutal in Qld (–2.4% month, –35.9% year); much milder in SA (–2% month, –11.5% year). WA bucked the wider trend this month, posting a surprisingly strong 4.8% month gain to be up 20.7% year, very much against the odds.

The total value of renovation approvals fell 8.7% month to be up 3.6% on a rolling three month average basis, a reasonable uptrend still in place. The state detail continues to point to gains coming through more strongly in Qld and WA.

The total value of non res building approvals rose 2.1% month but is still down 0.5% year on a rolling three month basis. Conditions remain mixed across both segments but the state split points to slowing in NSW and Vic partially offset by gains in Qld and WA.

Overall the March dwelling approvals update again points to weakening underlying momentum, highlighting downside risks to the near term outlook for new dwelling construction. So far the weakness mostly just cancels out the lift from the February high rise spike. However clearly there are downside risks to the outlook if the weak momentum continues in coming months, particularly if we also start to see approved high rise projects get put on hold.

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior Economist for Westpac.

Download the full report: Australian dwelling approvals March' (PDF 327kb).

Westpac Home Construction

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