What consumer sentiment is telling us about the housing downturn: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

What consumer sentiment is telling us about the housing downturn: Westpac's Matthew Hassan
What consumer sentiment is telling us about the housing downturn: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

EXPERT OBSERVATION 

The deepening market downturn is starting to weigh more heavily on consumer sentiment towards housing. Both the complexion of this impact and the extent to which market weakening has outstripped weakness in housing-related sentiment provide important clues about some of the dynamics at play.

Consumers’ housing-related sentiment has deteriorated since November with negatives around price expectations and elevated risk aversion more than offsetting the boost from improving affordability. While sentiment overall is downbeat, the market performance has been markedly weaker than sentiment over the last year, suggesting that other factors are impacting. In particular, a tightening in loan standards from some lenders may have compounded what were already negative market dynamics following a drop in investor activity and initial price correction.

Nationally, the Westpac Melbourne Institute ‘time to buy a dwelling’ index has slipped 1.8% since November but is still up 8.6% year on year. Improving affordability continues to see a lift in NSW and Vic, the latter reaching a five year high in Feb. However buyer sentiment is still sub-par in these states while it has become a little more unsettled in other states.

Price expectations have been the big mover. The Westpac–MI Consumer House Price Expectations Index posted a sharp 11% drop over the three months to February, hitting a new historical low since we began compiling the index in May 2009. Weakness remains more pronounced in NSW and Vic, with just over half of consumers in these states expecting prices to be lower in a year’s time. That said, the more positive views in other states are also starting to show signs of softening with notable pull backs in Qld and WA.

These two aspects of housing-related sentiment highlight the ‘dynamics’ of the housing cycle. Price declines are currently dominating with negative expectations around prices likely to continue feeding into investor weakness and encourage buyers to delay purchases. At some point though, improving affordability should generate a bigger lift in buyer sentiment and a pick-up in demand that stabilises the market – exactly where that point is and how we get there remain more open questions.

What consumer sentiment is telling us about the housing downturn: Westpac's Matthew Hassan

Matthew Hassan is senior economist at Westpac. 

Read the full report: Westpac Housing Pulse

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Westpac Consumer Sentiment

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