Joe Hockey is right, 'bubble' chatter is lazy analysis

Joe Hockey is right, 'bubble' chatter is lazy analysis
Joe Hockey is right, 'bubble' chatter is lazy analysis

At last, some informed comments about Australian real estate by someone in a position of authority.

Joe Hockey isn’t my favourite politician, but the Federal Treasurer has a better handle on residential property than all of our chattering economists, the overseas analysts who appear obsessed with Australian prices and the twits at the Reserve Bank who speak to the public about real estate as if they were lecturing primary school students.

Hockey has criticised offshore commentators looking at Australian real estate through a very long and out-of-focus telescope. He has accused them of “lazy analysis”. He might have pointed the figure equally at the RBA.

Glenn Stevens continues to fret about “soaring real estate prices” and has pumped out a series of Real Estate #101 lectures to the public; such as this platitude: “People should be aware that real estate prices do not always rise. Sometimes they fall.”

Hockey’s absolutely right about lazy analysis. It’s just too easy to look at a single average figure for one-year price growth across our major cities and rush out a press release claiming a bubble in the hope of some cheap publicity– and media always obliges without ever thinking to ask a question or two.

Hockey has made it clear he’s not interested in taking action on what one newspaper termed “spiraling property prices”. That’s because we don’t have spiraling prices, other than in Sydney, which is playing catch-up after 10 years in which average price growth barely kept pace with inflation.

Hockey pointed out that big growth has been limited to only small parts of the national market. “It's primarily in pockets of Sydney, pockets of Melbourne and, to a lesser degree, in Brisbane," Hockey said.

The Federal Treasurer has done something that 99% of economists haven’t done. He has looked behind the average growth figure for the 12 year (about 10% or 11%, according to most research sources) and discovered that none of our capital cities have had growth that big, other than Sydney.

It’s not rocket science - indeed it’s the most basic of analysis that would take approximately five seconds - but incredibly most economists haven’t done that.

Hockey said this week many parts of Australia had experienced no significant increase in property prices, therefore any action to cool the market must be "very targeted and it needs to have some capacity to be time-limited".

Here’s the bottom line, based on price data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Annual growth in prices has been 2% in Canberra, 3% in Darwin, 4% in Perth and in Hobart, 5% in Adelaide, 6% in Brisbane and 9% in Melbourne.

There is no Australian property boom. There has been, so far, a Sydney property boom.

Does that constitute a Sydney price bubble? Well, no. This is the first major growth in Sydney prices in 10 years. ANZ chief executive Phil Chronican commented: “Sydney has been playing catch-up.”

Despite the growth of the past 18 months, the average annual rise in house prices in most Sydney suburbs has been 3% to 4% in the past decade. Prices have barely kept pace with inflation.

Even with the most vivid imagination, it is impossible to construct a bubble from those facts.

Shakespeare almost got it right. First thing we do, we get rid of all the economists.

You can contact Terry via  email or on Twitter. 

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au.

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