Sydney's population growth set for abrupt Covid-19 induced halt

Sydney's population growth set for abrupt Covid-19 induced halt
Sydney's population growth set for abrupt Covid-19 induced halt

Sydney’s fast pace population growth is set to come to an abrupt halt. The recent closing of borders and after the restrictions that will follow the COVID-19 pandemic will stop most of it.

For the past half century demand for housing and the accompanying property price growth has been driven in part by population growth.

The latest government estimates suggest the key driver is going to fall sharply over the next year or so.

The disruption will show up in many ways.

Short term tourists have disappeared, but will return.

The weakness in short-term tourist arrivals will hit the domestic tourism industry, though will likely be offset in part by more Australians travelling at home when domestic travel restrictions are lifted in stage two.

Large numbers of temporary residents from overseas have departed, but only a trickle will return any time soon. Ditto temporary working visas.

The fall in numbers of international students on visas will likely not see a return to recent levels anytime over the coming year.

The downward pressure on rental price growth that landlords have seen in recent weeks will likely be extended unless Australia’s sustained comparative advantage as an education and tourism destination returns quickly.

The Government estimates long-term migration arrivals could fall by around 300,000 over the next 18 months, with a drop of 72,000 in the first half of this calendar year and another 204,000 in the 2020/21 financial year.

According to UBS Australia's population growth is forecast to slow to just 0.5 percent in 2020.

This is the slowest pace since 1916, according to economists.

The recent average has been between 1.5 percent to 2 percent per year.

Scott Haslem at Cretonne Wealth Management says at the positive end a temporary pullback in migration flows could provide some time for infrastructure works to "catch up" over the next 18 months.

But for residential housing, the weakness in migration is a significant headwind.

UBS estimates there will be a fall in underlying annual housing demand from around 200,000 to only around 130,000 in the near term - before recovering towards 190,000 by the end of 2022.

This drop in dwelling commencements will mean fewer tradies in work which spells wider problems for the economy.

Construction has continued during the shutdown so employment has not yet been impacted like many other industries.

Lower population growth, from fewer arrivals from overseas, will be accompanied by an emerging drop in the nation's fertility rate currently averaging 1.7 children per couple.

Births falling by 2 per cent to 91,376 in NSW last year.

We are set to enter an ongoing debate especially on the role of temporary migration.

Temporary migration is certain to look different over the next few years than it has over past few.

That’s its purpose – to adapt to changing circumstances, Monash academic Gabriela D'Souza recently noted.

But the Investec fund manager Graeme Katz recently warned pushing back against immigration as a “seriously short sighted view”.

“Our country needs to send a signal that we’re open for people, we’re open for capital, and we’re open for business, and provide the productive environment for job creation and growth,” he said.

“Only growth will provide the environment for job security, which in turn creates a confidence of consumers to spend and the multiplier flow on ... will provide a tax base to support a well-balanced economy and society,” he said.

This article first appeared in The Daily Telegraph

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor

Jonathan Chancellor is one of our authors. Jonathan has been writing about property since the early 1980s and is editor-at-large of Property Observer.

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Sydney Migration

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