New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history
New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

The building approvals in the current cycle began to rise from mid-2012, according to HIA’s latest report.

It took until late 2015 for the cycle to peak and approvals have subsequently maintained very high levels from a historical perspective.

Australia’s latest new home construction cycle, for which building approvals formed a very accurate lead indicator, is the longest and largest in the nation’s history.

This has produced very healthy outcomes for the broader Australian economy.

The December 2016 numbers for ABS Building Approvals (the latest available data) confirm that we have passed the peak for this cycle.

However, actual residential construction activity will remain healthy throughout 2016/17 and into 2017/18 due to the continuing gap between building approvals and new dwelling commencements (starts).

In monthly terms building approvals peaked in October 2015 at a level of 21,546.

The annual peak for building approvals was a staggering 241,561 over the 12 months to November 2015.

In calendar year 2016 building approvals reached a level of 230,813 compared to 240,009 in 2015.

A gradual decline in building approvals in the early stages of the down cycle provides an important signal for the Australian economy.

This trend is consistent with continued healthy levels of new dwelling commencements and residential work being done in 2016/17 and into next year.

This situation in turn provides positive impacts on economic growth and employment.

For example, construction absorbs 9 per cent of the workforce and is the third largest employer, after health (12.8 per cent) and retail (10.5 per cent) in the Australian economy.

Record levels of residential construction and related jobs have in recent years offset job losses in other sectors.

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New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

There was considerable variation in the evolution of dwelling approvals among the states in 2016 compared to 2015.

This is not a surprising finding – this building cycle has been marked by larger than normal divergenes in housing conditions around Australia given that the up-cycle began before Australia’s largest ever resources investment boom had peaked.

In original (i.e. not seasonally adjusted) terms three out of eight states recorded increases in total building approvals in calendar year 2016.

The strongest increase occurred in the Australian Capital Territory (+44.6 per cent), followed by South Australia (+3.8 per cent) and New South Wales (+1.2 per cent).

Total building approvals declined in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (-23.4 per cent in each instance), Tasmania (-23.0 per cent), Queensland (-5.9 per cent), and Victoria (-1.3 per cent).

Comparing the December 2016 quarter to the December 2015 quarter, there was a decline in approvals nationwide of 14.2 per cent (in unadjusted terms, see chart below).

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New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

Different jurisdictions played varying roles in this overall result.

The main drivers of this annual change in the December 2016 quarter were New South Wales (-6.4 percentage points) and Queensland (-4.9 percentage points).

Contractions were also evident for: Western Australia (-1.5 percentage points); and Victoria and South Australia (-0.9 percentage points in each instance).

Tasmania had a minor - 0.1 percentage point result.

In terms of the number of building approvals, the decline in NSW (-3,884) acted as a large drag on the national outcome (-8,560).

The following analysis provides greater detail on developments in approvals for different dwelling types.

This breakdown of building approvals – separating out semi-detached style product from medium/high density (MHD) units, for example provides important ‘colour’ to the building approvals landscape and is often forgotten in generalised commentary regarding detached houses ‘versus multi-units’.

Let’s start from the top with the aggregate profiles to provide the necessary background.

The chart below shows monthly changes in seasonally adjusted approvals.

There were 51,173 total seasonally adjusted building approvals in the December 2016 quarter, a level 15.2 per cent lower than approvals in the September quarter.

As previously noted, building approvals were 3.8 per cent lower in 2016 than in 2015.

Seasonally adjusted building approvals for detached houses totalled 28,275 in the December 2016 quarter, a level 2.2 per cent lower than in the September quarter of 2016.

Total approvals for ‘other dwellings’ – usually referred to as ‘multi-units’ numbered 22,900 in the December 2016 quarter.

That level was 26.9 per cent lower than the approvals in the September quarter of 2016. In the 12 months to December 2016 approvals were 5.5 per cent lower than in 2015.

The overall profile for detached house approvals in 2016 suggests this segment of the new home building market remains in relatively healthy shape in early 2017.

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New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

Drilling down from this aggregate profile we consider five categories of residential building approvals.

Comparing the December 2016 quarter to the same period in 2015, all of the five categories of dwellings recorded a decline in approvals: detached houses (-5.8 per cent); semi-detached, row, terrace or townhouse homes (-10.1 per cent); flats or units in 1 or 2 storey buildings (-21.9 per cent); flats or units in 3 storey buildings (-25.8 per cent); and flats or units in 4 or more storey buildings (-27.4 per cent).

All the categories combined recorded a national decline of 14.2 per cent.

In terms of last calendar year, all categories except semi-detached, row or terrace dwellings posted a negative change.

Building approvals in the ‘semi-detached’ category increased by 3.8 per cent in 2016.

The remaining categories posted declines in 2016 of: detached houses (-1.9 per cent); flats or units in 1 or 2 storey buildings (-27.1 per cent); flats or units in 3 storey buildings (-7.7 per cent); and flats or units in 4 or more storey buildings (-7.5 per cent).

The chart below shows how approvals for each of the different dwelling types have been contributing or detracting from total growth in the number of building approvals in a quarter over the same quarter a year ago.

Clearly, up to the December 2016 quarter, approvals for all categories have driven declines in aggregate approvals, but to a widely varying extent.

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New home building approvals in longest and largest cycle in Australia's history

Detached house approvals

  • 51.2 per cent of total building approvals in 2016 compared with the decade average of 60.9 per cent;
  • A significant 5.8 per cent decline during the three months to December 2016 to reach a (non- seasonally adjusted) level of 27,610. This level is 13.8 per cent lower than in the December 2015 quarter;
  • Average monthly approvals of 9,735 dwellings over 2016 in unadjusted terms;
  • Eastern seaboard states the primary geographical drivers of growth in 2016.

Semi-detached and townhouse approvals

  • 14.6 per cent of total building approvals in 2016 compared with the decade average of 13.5 per cent;
  • Average monthly approvals of 2,781 dwellings over 2016, in unadjusted terms;
  • Strong 3.8 per cent growth in 2016, driven by the eastern seaboard states;
  • Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Victoria contributed to aggregate growth nationally;

Approvals for units in 1 or 2 storey buildings

  • 1.4 per cent share in 2016, compared with the decade average of 2.9 per cent;
  • Average monthly approvals of 271 dwellings over 2016, in unadjusted terms. Growth driven by South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, but declines elsewhere.

Approvals for units in 3 storey buildings

  • 2.2 per cent share in 2016, compared with the decade average of 2.5 per cent;
  • Average monthly approvals of 426 dwellings over 2016, in unadjusted terms;
  • Decline of 7.7 per cent in 2016;
  • Annual decline a result of pull-backs in New South Wales and the Northern Territory. Growth in Victoria and South Australia was insufficient to offset the declines.

Approvals for units in 4+ storey buildings

  • 30.5 per cent share in 2016 compared with ten year average of 20.1 per cent;
  • Average monthly approvals of 5,826 dwellings over 2016, in unadjusted terms;
  • Some slow-down in 2016, driven mainly by Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory. The Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales were the two star contributors to growth.

Australia’s new home-building boom looks set to taper off from 2017.

Building approvals for new housing have faded (moderately) in the past year, but they didn’t tank.

ABS building approvals figures show that the number of houses and ‘other dwellings’ approved in 2016 were lower than in 2015 by less than 4 per cent.

This outcome is not a precursor of any serious declines in new dwelling commencements in the first half of 2017.

The steady trend in detached house approvals suggests that actual activity will similarly remain reasonably healthy in the short term.

A slightly more positive short term outlook applies to semi-detached type approvals.

Overall, we retain our long held outlook for continued healthy levels of new home construction in 2016/17, and to a lesser extent in calendar year 2017:-

Detached house construction will remain healthy in the short term, but the volume of building will be lower than last year;

The semi-detached market has some further growth to it in the first half of 2017 – a tick in the box that shouldn’t be missed;

The pipeline of work in progress is substantial, particularly in terms of medium/high density dwellings.

HIA Economics will shortly be releasing their latest forecasts for dwelling commencements.

This release will include updates for the subscription products of: dwelling starts composition forecasts; regional building approvals forecasts; and long term forecasts.

For further information go here.

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Hia Building Approvals

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