The economy needs more than a housing market recovery

The economy needs more than a housing market recovery
The economy needs more than a housing market recovery

According to the CoreLogic RP Data Home Value Index results in October 2014, combined capital city home values have increased by 8.9% over the past year. 

The rate of growth is now decelerating after reaching a peak annual growth rate of 11.5% in April 2014.  The two cities which have been the real driver of value growth, Sydney and Melbourne, are also now seeing the rate of value growth slowing.

The RBA has previously stated that as the economy transitions away from mining investment that it was specifically looking for a pick-up in residential property.  To date there has been a pick-up, in buyer demand, as well as home values and dwelling construction however, with value growth having peaked and dwelling approvals now -15% lower than their recent monthly peak will the pick-up in the residential segment of the economy be enough to offset mining?  It is beginning to look increasingly unlikely.

As we have showed, the residential housing sector is still quite strong but is slowing from its peak.  Although approvals have dropped there remains a strong pipeline of housing construction which should continue over the coming years however, the spike in construction could be somewhat short-lived overall.  If we look at the other sectors of the economy, economic data appears to be increasingly turning more negative than positive.

According to Westpac and the Melbourne Institute, consumer sentiment has been mired in higher levels of pessimism than optimism for the past nine months.  The last time pessimism had outweighed optimism for this long was in the middle of the financial crisis.

Last week we learned that wage growth remains benign.  According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) the wage price index has increased by just 2.6% over the year to September 2014.  With inflation recorded at 2.3% there is very little real growth in wages at the moment.

With wage growth so low, we are also seeing the highest unemployment rate the country has seen in more than decade.  According to ABS data, the unemployment rate was recorded at 6.2% in October and sits at a level not seen since early 2003.  If employees can’t negotiate a decent pay rise it is not as if businesses are actively seeking employees.

Commodities, which were previously a key driver of the Australian economy have seen prices drop significantly over the past year.  According to the Reserve Bank’s (RBA) monthly index of commodity prices, Australian commodity prices are -16.9% lower over the past year and -38% lower than their July 2011 peak.

Earlier this year Australia had recorded international trade surpluses for three consecutive months.  The monthly trade surplus reached as much $1.4 trillion however, in September the trade deficit had sunk to $2.3 trillion.  This $2.3 trillion figure was the largest monthly trade deficit since November 2012.

According to the National Australia Bank, business conditions have improved sharply.  Their index of business conditions rose by an all-time high 12 points in October to reach its highest level since February 2008.  Although business conditions may be up, confidence across the business sector continues to fall.  In October business confidence fell by a point to its lowest level since August of last year.

Retail trade recorded a somewhat surprising bounce of 1.2% in September.  Although this was the strongest monthly increase since February last year it comes following relatively light increases of 0.7%, 0.4% and 0.1% over the previous three months.  One wonders if it is an outlier. 

In fact, Westpac and the Melbourne Institute asked respondents to their consumer sentiment survey about their spending intentions this Christmas.  The survey results indicated that 38% of respondents were going to spend less and 50% were going to spend the same.  Westpac reported that the net balance (more minus less) of -26% was the worst since 2008 in the middle of the financial crisis.

The latest read on population growth shows that population growth is slowing.  Although growth in the number of new Australians remains strong, population growth over the year to March 2014 was at its lowest level since the year to June 2012. 

Furthermore, the more up-to-date overseas arrivals and departures shows that net long-term and permanent arrivals over the 12 months to September 2014 were at their lowest level since the 12 months to October 2011.  This data would indicate a further slowing of net overseas migration, particularly within the mining states where the slowdown in both overseas and interstate migration has been the most substantial.

The strong rate of population growth has been a significant driver of gross domestic product.  Over the 12 months to June 2014, the Australian economy grew by a quite healthy 3.1%.  Although this headline figure is quite good, on a per capita basis the economy grew by a much lower 1.6%. With population growth slowing we would expect GDP per capital to also slow.

While there are a lot of negatives here, one of the positives recently has been the declining Australian dollar.  At the end of October 2014 the exchange rate with the $US was 88 cents which is much lower than it has been of late.  A lower Australian dollar should help our manufacturers, exporters and tourism however, that will take a while to flow through.

With the housing market and housing approvals seemingly topping out we need some other industries to help with the heavy lifting as commodity prices remain low and the pipeline of larger infrastructure projects related to the resources sector continue to taper away. 

We aren’t sure who or what these industries are but a further devaluation of the Australian dollar would certainly help some of the prime candidates such as tourism, manufacturing and education for overseas students. 

The Reserve Bank has stated that monetary policy has largely done all it can to assist and now it’s up to the government to manage fiscal policy in such a way that can assist the transitioning economy. 

In my mind this can’t come quick enough because the economy is softening and the housing market needs help to manage this transition.

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher is senior research analyst at CoreLogic RP Data.

Economy Cameron Kusher


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