Australian housing bubble risk “overblown” with prices to peak in March 2014: Citi

Forecasts of a sharp rise in Australian house prices creating a housing bubble are “overblown” new modelling by Citi Research suggests.

Under its expected baseline scenario, which assumes no further rate cuts until the second quarter of 2014, Citi Research expects nominal house prices to rise 3% between now and  March 2014 and then start to fall slightly, driven downwards by among other things a slowing Chinese economy, a weaker Australian dollar and reduced Chinese migration.

Even under the most bullish scenario - the cash rate dropping to 2% by March 2014, Chinese growth above 10%, the dollar to remain elevated and the non-FHB loan size to lift significantly over the forecast period – the forecast is for house prices to rise by around 8% from current levels or 5% relative to the peak in June 2010.

“Hardly the definition of a housing ‘bubble’,” say Citi Research analysts Paul Brennan and Josh Williamson, who created the modelling and authored the report.


Under the expected baseline scenario, they say the initial house price increase will be the result of sustained low interest rates which in turn causes increased borrowing.

However, “the downward pressures created by a slowdown of the Chinese economy, lesser appetite for capital inflows as reflected in a lower Australian dollar and reduced Chinese immigration will eventually overtake the upward momentum from positive domestic factors, causing prices to fall slightly” say Brennan and Williamson.

In the short term, they say the main driver for the Australian housing market will be the low interest rate, “which will likely remain low in the foreseeable future”.

“We maintain our view that the official cash rate will remain at 2.75% until second quarter of 2014.

“This implies that the variable lending rate will also stay at current levels over the same period, easing households’ (particularly non-first home buyers’) concerns over mortgage pressures and consequently stimulating the demand for housing.

“We also assume consumer confidence rises gradually later this year. We have allowed for the non-FHB loan size to grow at higher than the historical average rates, which we think is reasonable in response to the record-low cash rate.

“The auction clearance rates in Sydney and Melbourne have been hitting the 70% to 80% mark for the first 5 months of 2013, coinciding with the RBA cutting rates to lows of 3% in December 2012 and again to 2.75% in April this year."

What will be holding back growth in house prices in the longer term are a number of factors, including the “lower growth outlook in China, slowdown of Chinese immigration and reduced appetite for offshore capital inflows associated with the lower Australian dollar as the mining capex boom winds down".

“We expect the nominal house price to peak in March 2014, by which time it will have increased by 3% from its current level," say Brennan and Williamson.

“However, we expect the slowdown in China to flow through to the Australian housing market during 2014, causing downward pressure on house prices.

“Our Chinese economists are of the view that Chinese industrial production (IP) growth will moderate to below 10% over our forecast period, a significant reduction from the double digit growth rates seen not too long ago. 

Under a bearish scenario, a combination of factors - Chinese IP growth to drop between 9.5% and 8.5%, non-FHB loan size growth to reach negative territory over the forecast horizon, a much sharper drop in the Australian dollar and an earlier cash rate hike than the second quarter of 2014  as well as a drop in consumer confidence to below neutral levels - would give rise to a weak housing market where prices drop on a year-on-year from December 2013.

"By the end of our forecast horizon the nominal house prices would have fallen by around 7% from their current levels," they say. 

Brennan and Williamson claim their modelling has “strong predictive power” with an 85% correlation to house price movements incorporating domestic factors impacting on the housing market as well as international factors including Chinese immigration growth, changes in Chinese industrial production as well as the weakening Australian dollar.

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger

Larry Schlesinger was a property writer at Property Observer


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