Be careful of “The Adani Boom” hype: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

Be careful of “The Adani Boom” hype: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder
Be careful of “The Adani Boom” hype: Hotspotting's Terry Ryder

EXPERT OBSERVER

State Government approvals which appear to green light the Adani coal project represent a clear and present danger for property investors with poor research and short memories. 

I was alarmed to see News Ltd media publishing stories with headlines like this: “Adani impact: Mining towns on cusp of a housing boom”.

This article was repeated in various forms of media across the nation, with content like this: “After years of poor property price growth, cities like Gladstone, Rockhampton and Emerald are poised to become an investors’ paradise following the State Government’s decision to give the green light for the Adani mine in the Galilee Basin.

“Home prices in towns like Bowen, Longreach and Moranbah, which are up to 73% below their peak, could be on the cusp of a major rebound with work on the Carmichael coal mine set to start immediately.”

Investors’ paradise? Seriously? This is the pinnacle in irresponsible journalism. Anything goes, it seems, in the interests of creating clickbait.

And Longreach to experience an Adani related boom? It’s about 600km south-west of the mine site and, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the project or its alleged benefits. (There have been some concerns expressed by Longreach farmers about negative impacts on water resources).

Let’s get some perspective. Mining towns have shown themselves in the recent past to be more of a fool’s paradise than an investor’s paradise. They’re at the extreme danger end of the risk spectrum for property investors. More people have lost money than made fortunes investing in places like Moranbah and Gladstone.

There’s no doubt that many of these places have shown exceptional price growth at times in their history and have also delivered periods of very high rental returns. But the booms have been followed by disastrous busts.

At one point, during the last resources investment boom, Moranbah’s median house price topped $700,000. It had an annual average growth rate around 30% - that’s 30% per year over 10 years. Weekly rents around $1,500 were common.

But what happened next is the core lesson for investors: the major mining companies became fed up with paying those sorts of rents and prices for very ordinary houses. And they came up with a new model that cost them less – they constructed temporary workers’ camps to accommodate fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers.

The median house price of Moranbah dropped to around $150,000 and vacancies went above 10%, with a dramatic negative effect on rents.

In the past year or so, the market there has started to recover. Vacancies have come down to below 2% and prices are rising again (from a very low base). 

But will the opening of major new mines create a new housing boom? It’s unlikely, because the mining companies have established a successful model of FIFO workers and workers camps. Those crazy booms of the past won’t be repeated. Any peripheral upsurge in values will be temporary.

Right now, the long-term growth rate for Moranbah prices (the average annual change over the past 10 years) is -3% per year. That’s minus 3% per year. Which means the current median price – around $205,000 – is considerably lower than it was 10 years ago.

The Moranbah story has been repeated in mining-related locations elsewhere in Queensland, including Gladstone, Emerald and the towns of the Surat Basin. It’s also happened, spectacularly, in resources centres in Western Australia, like Port Hedland and Karratha.

Gladstone had a big property market slump while three huge gas plants costing $60 billion were under construction. The market in Newman in the Pilbara region of WA dived while Gina Rinehart was building a $10 billion iron ore mine near the town.

All suffered from the same syndrome: while developers built lots of new dwellings in anticipation of a property boom, the resources companies built workers camps and many of the new homes sat empty, creating a property downturn.

The notion that a big new mine means a housing boom for nearby towns is no longer valid.

And, when you read a little deeper into the News Ltd article, you find this:

CoreLogic senior research analyst Cameron Kusher said it was hard to say what the approval of the mine would mean for the surrounding regions because there was still a lot of contention around how many local jobs would be created.

“If you assume job creation is significant, it will increase demand for housing both from a purchase and rental perspective,” Mr Kusher said. “The challenge will be that since the end of the mining boom these areas have seen very low demand for housing so, if demand exceeds supply you would expect rents and prices to increase, however, I can’t say with any confidence whether that will or won’t be the case.”

I agree with those sentiments. And I would go further – the big property booms in mining towns are history, unless the miners’ modus operandi changes.

There will be some benefits to property markets from the Adani mine, if it goes ahead (it still has some federal regulatory hurdles to get over). Townsville will benefit from having the project HQ, Bowen is close to the export port and may get some spinoff - and Mackay may benefit through proximity and the ability to provide workers, perhaps.

I regard Mackay as a growth property market, because it is benefitting from the revival in Central Queensland mining plus – and this is the key factor – it has other growth elements to its economy. It’s not solely reliant on a buoyant mining sector.

Investors seeking to exploit the Central Queensland mining revival would be better off considering the larger, more diversified regional cities like Mackay, rather than the small towns near the mine sites.

Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au

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Terry Ryder

Terry Ryder

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

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Terry Ryder Mining Boom

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