Dwelling approvals face weakness: Matthew Hassan

Dwelling approvals face weakness: Matthew Hassan
Matthew HassanDecember 7, 2020


Dwelling approvals came in below expectations with a 1.6% drop, weaker than both the consensus view of 0.0% and Westpac's view of a 2% gain. The fall comes after dwelling approvals surged in July by 12% from an 8yr low in June. Approvals are still tracking at subdued levels overall, with monthly approvals still down 14.6% vs December 2019.

The July result represented a catch-up, as approvals delayed by the initial nation wide lock-down were eventually processed by city councils. This raised the risk of an unwinding leading into August results.

Westpac's forecast noted uncertainty over varied COVID effects, with Victoria moving into a 'second wave' lockdown but other states continuing to re-open. Additionally, we saw support for approvals from the Federal government's HomeBuilder scheme – a stimulus programme that provides $25k grants to eligible owner-occupiers buying a new home (or renovating an existing home). The HIA reported a sharp jump in new home sales through June - August (+60% for the three months combined compared to the three months to May).

Private detached house approvals were supported by the scheme, posting a 4.8% increase which marked a 12.4% improvement on year.

The 11.1% fall in private unit approvals led the decline in August, with 'high rise' approvals down 11%, and 'low rise' unit approvals down 12%. This fall partially offset a 23% rise in July, with significant month-on-month volatility expected due to the bundling of unit approvals.

Across the states, NSW approvals continued a volatile trend, posting a decrease of 14.2% in August after approval delays contributed to a 32% increase in July. Tas (-26.2%) and SA (-4.8%) also declined. Gains were particularly strong in WA (+33.8%) and QLD (+8.1%), though broadly across the states approvals compared to a year ago.

As we expected, the impacts of the Vic lockdown beginning early August were not reflected in this release. The state posted a moderate increase of 1.8% due to the time lag, though impacts will surely be seen in coming months.

The value of alterations and additions to residential buildings reported a strong result of a 7% increase, the highest level recorded since April 2016. This segment is seeing support as the 'work from home' trend continues, and workers change their discretionary spending habits.

Large public projects in QLD and NT boosted the value of non residential building approvals by 40.7% in August. However, big double-digit swings in recent months continue to make discerning an underlying trend difficult.

In the near-term, there is the potential for another round of weakness - albeit concentrated in Victoria (which accounts for 35% of national approvals), which has been hit by the second lock-down. Other headwinds will challenge housing approvals into 2021, notable is the sharp slowing of population growth as net overseas migration plummets due to the closure of our international border.

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior economist at Westpac

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