Have dwelling approvals reached a turning point? Matthew Hassan

Have dwelling approvals reached a turning point? Matthew Hassan
Have dwelling approvals reached a turning point? Matthew Hassan


Dwelling approvals posted a much smaller than expected 0.2% dip in Dec, following a sharp 10.9% jump in November. The Consensus had been looking for a 5% pull back. Annual growth lifted to 2.7%yr, the first positive since June 2018, albeit with monthly comparisons flattered by base effects. Measured on a quarterly basis, Q4 saw a 6.1%qtr rise but approvals still down 8.3%yr.

As noted in our preview, the previous month's gain was heavily concentrated in NSW, which posted a 50%+ rise, approvals ex NSW down 0.9%. We attributed much of this to a delayed effect associated with regulatory changes rolled out in October with December expected to see the spike reverse.

Have dwelling approvals reached a turning point? Matthew Hassan

The December detail confirmed this with a sharp reversal in NSW (–30%mth) but the impact was negated by an even sharper high-rise-driven spike in Vic (+34%mth). Our initial take is that this is again largely a temporary effect relating to the lumpy high rise project pipeline. That said, Vic is showing a decent lift in non high rise approvals as well that may be an early sign that the wider market upturn is starting to flow through to non high rise segments.

Outside of NSW and Vic, approvals across the rest of Australia fell 3.6%mth on a combined basis and are tracking a much weaker profile. For the December month, approvals fell 5.7% in Qld, slumped 20% in SA but rose 5.4% in WA.

The segment breakdown nationally showed an estimated 11% pull back in high rise approvals which followed a 40% jump in Nov. 'Low-mid' rise approvals surged strongly, up an estimated 19% in the month and 22%yr. Private house approvals dipped 0.1%mth to be down 7.1%yr. On a combined basis, non high rise approvals were up 4.1%mth but still down 0.8%yr.

Renovation approvals continued to fall sharply into year end, the total value of approvals down further 1.8% in December to be down 5.5% for Q4 as a whole – the fastest pace of decline since 2016.

Non residential building approvals pared back some of their recent weakness, jumping 35% in the month but still down 17.5% for Q4 as a whole – the segment can be extremely volatile month to month but has moved into a fairly clear downtrend since August.

Overall the December update shows a complex mix with one off factors likely again exaggerating strength but some hints of firming elsewhere. As always, housing-related data should be treated with extra caution through the December-January period as seasonality can amplify volatility. On balance we continue to expect approvals to show a muted and slow response to rate cuts with a gradual lift in non high rise approvals coming through more strongly by mid-2020 (overlaid with a slightly boost from bushfire-related rebuilding) but high rise holding broadly flat. While the monthly profile for total approvals may be shaping into a sharper turning point the detail suggests the underlying cycle is turning more slowly. Either way, its likely to be a few more months before we get a clear read.

MATTHEW HASSAN is a Senior economist at Westpac

Housing Approvals Dwelling Construction

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