Company at the bottom for faulty market forecasters: Terry Ryder

Company at the bottom for faulty market forecasters: Terry Ryder
Company at the bottom for faulty market forecasters: Terry Ryder

The latest doomsday forecasts for Australian real estate call to mind the shameful history of overseas spruikers and local economists in getting it spectacularly wrong on house prices.

There’s nothing new in individuals with ulterior motives (usually seeking publicity for a seminar tour, new business venture or a book launch) getting acres of free mileage by predicting our markets will collapse. The 60 Minutes debacle is merely the latest.

I note that the nation’s worst forecaster of property trends, academic Steve Keen, has publicly admitted recently that he got it “hopelessly wrong” with his price forecasts. It’s about time - Keen famously predicted in 2008 that Australian house prices would fall 40% in 2009. Prices rose that year and in the years since Keen has rehashed his predictions in various guises with different time frames but with the same result – he’s been wrong every time. Now he has written a column for Business Spectator which says: “I was hopelessly wrong on house prices. Ask me how.”

But Keen has lots of company at the bottom when it comes to faulty forecasting, sometimes perhaps for dodgy reasons. 

One of the worst examples was US doomsday specialist Harry S Dent who came to Australian in 2011 for a seminar tour and sought (and received) publicity by predicting our home values would fall 40% in 2012. He advised Sydney owners to “sell their excess real estate”. We all know how well that forecast worked out.

But Dent was back in Australia two years later for another lucrative seminar tour and again went to the media for some free mileage. He said house prices would crash “some time in 2014”, with values falling at least 27% in Sydney and Melbourne. The market made a fool of him again.

Given the state of Australia media, I have no doubt that if Dent shows up again next year, he will make the same style of prediction and will be handed another round of massive national publicity.

Many others have come to our shores and used the Armageddon formula of generating publicity for their venture.

Little-known US spruiker Jorgan Wirsz suddenly became well-known in 2012 by forecasting a “bloodbath” in Australian real estate, with home values tipped to fall 60% in 2013. He also said land values would drop 90%.

Think for a moment what that means. He was suggesting that residential land in Australia would be almost worthless. Nothing remotely like has ever occurred in the history of the world, not even in the worst basket-case economy post-GFC. But Australian media chose to give these ridiculous claims credibility. And of course they were subsequently shown to be nonsense.

There have been many others, including another US spruiker called Jeremy Grantham who claimed in 2010 that the “Australian housing bubble” would burst that year. 

There also have been plenty of local commentators, mostly economists who don’t understand the dynamics of Australian real estate, who have forecast significant declines.

Morgan Stanley’s Gerard Minack said in August 2010 that property was 40% over-valued and the bubble was about to burst.

AMP’s Shane Oliver, who regularly calls it wrong on real estate prices, claimed in 2005 that homes were grossly over-valued and there would be no growth anywhere in Australia for the next decade. Those 10 years have come and gone, and I have to ask: How did that one work out for you, Shane?

Oliver was in the media again in June 2012 claiming that house prices were “over-valued’ and “chronically weak” and were heading for “a sharp fall”. Ooops, again.

Commonwealth Bank chief Ralph Norris said in November 2011 that the sovereign debt crisis in Europe had put Australian house prices at risk.

Prosper Australia claimed in August 2011 that Melbourne was about to experience “a US-style property crash with price falls of 30%”. (Those who suggest Australia must decline because it happened in the US appear to be unaware that US markets dropped for clear reasons, and those circumstances don’t exist in Australia. 

Michael Power of Investec declared in September 2012 that Australian house prices would fall by up to 20% by the end of 2014.

The Herald Sun ran the headline “Prices could fall as higher interest rates bite” based on comments by CommSec’s Craig James. (This notion that rising interest rates means a market crash is quite prevalent, but there is historical evidence to support the idea.)

Citibank economist Josh Williamson said in June 2013 that house prices would peak in March 2014 and fall thereafter. Propell National Valuers put out a media release in June 2014 declaring the end of the Sydney boom and, around the same time, Morgan Stanley analyst Malcolm Wood also called the end for Sydney, saying:” If you’re an investor, you’ve missed the boat.” 

Fringe dweller Leigh van Onselen, who has a lifetime of raging against real estate, stated in February 2012 that the “slow melt” in Australian house prices would continue. 

Another guerilla-style opponent of all things real estate, Kris Sayce, shouted in March 2011 that “the value of your home could fall 61% the minute interest rates start rising”.

The list goes on. And there’s a clear pattern. Since the start of the 21st Century, claims of markets collapsing, bubbles bursting and prices disintegrating have been an almost weekly occurrence. Journalists never seem to tire of doomsday stories.

They’ve all been wrong. And they’ve been wrong for clear reasons. Australia is not in recession, it does not have high unemployment, we don’t have a vast oversupply of dwellings nationwide and our banks don’t lend recklessly. We would need all of those circumstances to fall into alignment, as they did in the US around the time of the GFC, before our property markets would be in danger.

Property Observer would welcome a response from any of those named to give the context on their call.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au. You can email him or follow him on Twitter.

Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

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

Tags: 
Recession Property market

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