Older Australians face housing crisis

From The New Daily.

Australian retirees will face a housing crisis within 15 years unless urgent action is taken, according to the Council on the Ageing.

The lobby group for seniors hosted a policy summit in Canberra in recent days where it drew attention to the impact on older Australians of rising prices, rising rents, huge mortgage debt and the scarcity of suitable homes.

The assumption that Australians retire in a home they own underpins the nation’s superannuation and pension systems, but summit attendees heard this could be under serious threat in as little as 10 to 15 years.

Keynote speaker John Daley, CEO of the Grattan Institute, warned that the looming housing crisis is a “ticking time bomb” for this demographic.

“We must address these issues immediately if we want to stand a fighting chance to mitigate the severity of the looming housing affordability crisis and to safeguard the future of older Australians before it is too late,” Mr Daley said.

The summit heard a key threat is that more Australians are entering retirement with mortgage debt, which they typically pay off in a lump sum from their superannuation.

Others enter retirement while still renting, which radically increases the amount of disposable income they need to cover monthly expenses.

The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, which represents both for-profit and non-profit funds, has estimated that couples who rent for life in the eight capital cities will need at least $1 million to retire comfortably.

In Sydney, a renting couple would require a lump sum at retirement of $1.16 million, almost double the $640,000 a couple who own their home debt-free would need, ASFA found.

The huge disparity is due solely to the ongoing costs of renting. For example, a 65-year-old Sydney couple who own their home will spend — if they live comfortably — about $60,000 a year, compared to almost $80,000 for a renting couple.

The problem is even worse for age pensioners. The 2017 Rental Affordability Snapshot report by Anglicare Australia found only 6 per cent of the market was affordable for a single older person living on the age pension.

The forum also discussed the growing incidence of homelessness among older people, especially women; and the implications for age pensioners of unaffordable rental properties in the cities.

COTA chief executive Ian Yates said older Australians are increasingly disadvantaged by the lack of supply of affordable housing that meets the physical needs of older residents.

“Older Australians are increasingly falling through the cracks in the growing housing affordability and supply challenge, with a growing number of older Australians needing to rent, rather than owning a home outright,” Mr Yates said.

“We are already starting to see rates of home ownership by older Australians decline, and this is forecast to drop even further in the next 10-15 years.

“This trend is already exerting extra pressure on the rental market and on many older Australians who are struggling to pay their rent, while also juggling other rising expenses like energy.

“There is a whole group of people currently in their 50s and 60s who will be retiring as renters, or if they are lucky enough to own a house, facing the prospect of retiring with a mortgage.”

An Australian researcher has estimated that anyone who doesn’t have a mortgage by the age of 45 will probably be renting in retirement, due to price growth outpacing savings, the risks of sickness and unemployment, and the difficulty of convincing a bank to provide a home loan.

The COTA summit also heard from Dr Ian Winter at the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute; Judith Yates from the University of Sydney; Jeff Fiedler from Housing for the Aged Action Group; and Paul McBride from the Department of Social Services.

Many of the same themes were covered in a recent report by consulting firm KPMG. It confirmed that it will be very difficult for older Australians to be debt free in later years, largely because of housing costs.

Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return

From The Conversation.

Investing in regional cities’ economic performance makes good sense. Contrary to popular opinion, new researchout today shows regional cities generate national economic growth and jobs at the same rate as big metropolitan cities. They are worthy of economic investment in their own right – not just on social and equity grounds.

However, for regional cities to capture their potential A$378 billion output to 2031, immediate action is needed. Success will see regional cities in 2031 produce twice as much as all the new economy industries produce in today’s metropolitan cities.

Drawing on lessons from the UK, the collaborative work by the Regional Australia Institute and the UK Centre for Cities spotlights criteria and data all Australian cities can use to help get themselves investment-ready.

Build on individual strengths

The Regional Australia Institute’s latest work confirms that city population size does not determine economic performance. There is no significant statistical difference between the economic performance of Australia’s big five metro cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) and its 31 regional cities in historical output, productivity and participation rates.

So, regional cities are as well positioned to create investment returns as their big five metro cousins. The same rules apply – investment that builds on existing city strengths and capabilities will produce returns.

No two cities have the same strengths and capabilities. However, regional cities do fall into four economic performance groups – gaining, expanding, slipping, and slow and steady. This helps define the investment focus they might require.

For example, the report finds Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay), Sunshine Coast-Noosa and Gold Coast are gaining cities. Their progress is fuelled by high population growth rates (around 2.7% annually from 2001 to 2013). But stimulating local businesses will deliver big job growth opportunities.

Rapid population growth is driving the Gold Coast economy, making it a ‘gaining’ city. Pawel Papis from www.shutterstock.com

Similarly, the expanding cities of Cairns, Central Coast and Toowoomba are forecast to have annual output growth of 3.2% to 3.9% until 2031, building on strong foundations of business entries. But they need to create more high-income jobs.

Geelong and Ballarat have low annual population growth rates of around 1.2% to 1.5%. They are classified as slow and steady cities. But their relatively high creative industries scores, coupled with robust rates of business entries, means they have great foundations for growth. They need to stimulate local businesses to deliver city growth.

Get ready to deal

Regional cities remain great places to live. They often score more highly than larger cities on measures of wellbeing and social connection.

But if there’s no shared vision, or local leaders can’t get along well enough to back a shared set of priorities, or debate is dominated by opinion in spite of evidence, local politics may win the day. Negotiations to secure substantial city investment will then likely fail.

The federal government’s Smart Cities Plan has identified City Deals as the vehicle for investment in regional cities.

This collaborative, cross-portfolio, cross-jurisdictional investment mechanism needs all players working together (federal, state and local government), along with community, university and private sector partners. This leaves no place for dominant single interests at the table.

Clearly, the most organised regional cities ready to deal are those capable of getting collaborative regional leadership and strategic planning.

For example, the G21 region in Victoria (including Greater Geelong, Queenscliffe, Surf Coast, Colac Otway and Golden Plains) has well-established credentials in this area. This has enabled the region to move quickly on City Deal negotiations.

Moving past talk to be investment-ready

There’s $378 billion on the table, but Australia’s capacity to harness it will depend on achieving two key goals.

  • First, shifting the entrenched view that the smart money invests only in our big metro cities. This is wrong. Regional cities are just as well positioned to create investment returns as the big five metro centres.
  • Second, regions need to get “investment-ready” for success. This means they need to be able to collaborate well enough to develop an informed set of shared priorities for investment, supported by evidence and linked to a clear growth strategy that builds on existing economic strengths and capabilities. They need to demonstrate their capacity to deliver.

While there has been much conjecture on the relevance and appropriateness of City Deals in Australia, it is mainly focused on big cities. But both big and small cities drive our national growth.

You can explore the data and compare the 31 regional cities using the RAI’s interactive data visualisation tool.

Author: Leonie Pearson, Adjunct Associate, Regional Australia Institute

The Property Imperative Weekly – 24 June 2017

More pain for property investors this week, with lenders continuing to lift mortgage rates and trim maximum LVR’s. And more pain for banks as their credit ratings are trimmed, the federal bank tax becomes law; and South Australia imposes an additional levy on the big five. Welcome to the Property Imperative Weekly to 24th June 2017.

The regular pattern of mortgage interest rates hikes continued, with NAB lifting interest rates for all interest only loans by 35 basis points or 0.35%, whilst cutting principal and interest owner occupied loans by 8 basis points.  Westpac lifted interest only loans by 34 basis points reduced principal and interest loans by 8 basis points. The impact of these changes according to Macquarie will be net positive in terms of bank returns. AMP Bank also lifted investor rates by 35 basis points and reduced the maximum LVR on investor loans to 50%.

These changes are making life difficult for some property investors currently with interest only loans. Do they switch to a principal and interest alternative, thus lifting their monthly repayments, or wear the lift in rates on their current loans, thus lifting their repayments? It’s a prisoner’s dilemma. Either way, it is less likely the current rental on the property will cover the costs of the loan repayments and we know from our surveys about half of all investment properties are underwater when it comes to covering the repayment flows.

More data this week to show that some major lenders are dialling back investor loans via brokers to try and manage their portfolios to within the current APRA guidelines. This trend, which we have highlighted before, was confirmed in the AFG Competition Index.

Mortgage stress was in the news again, with surprising results from Roy Morgan’s survey which showed that from their 10,000 mortgaged household sample, in the three months to April 2017, 16.8% or 666,000 mortgage holders can be considered to be ‘at risk’ or facing some degree of stress over their repayments. This compares favourably with 18.4% or 744,000 mortgage holders 12 months ago. It is worth noting their definition of stress though – “Mortgage stress is based on the ability of home borrowers to meet the repayment guidelines currently provided by the major banks. The level of mortgage holders being currently considered ‘at risk’ is based on their ability to meet repayments on the original amount borrowed. This is currently 16.8%, which is well below the average over the last decade”.

The DFA approach to mortgage stress, which looks at total household cash flow, not the theoretical repayment profile, indicates that mortgage stress is continuing to rise as incomes are crushed in real terms, costs of living rise, underemployment stalks many, on top of a series of mortgage rate rises. Data from Canstar showed that basic variable rates jumped by almost 30 basis points as increasing number of borrowers go for fixed rate loans so trying to control these escalating mortgage costs, but of course, many fixed rates already have higher costs wired in.

We looked at the correlation between mortgage stress and bank loan losses, which we expect to rise in coming months. Indeed, the latest data from Standard and Poor’s showed that home loan delinquencies underlying Australian prime residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) increased from 1.16% in March to 1.21% in April. They link the rise to higher mortgage rates.

But whether you take the 666,000 households from Roy Morgan, or 794,000 from DFA, both are big numbers! There are many households in mortgage pain, and all the indicators are things will get worse in the months ahead.

We expect APRA will demand the banks hold more capital, US rates were lifted by the Fed, and Moody’s downgraded the long-term credit rating of 12 banks including Australia’s big four, after pointing to surging home prices, rising household debt and sluggish wage growth. They said “elevated risks within the household sector heighten the sensitivity of Australian banks’ credit profiles to an adverse shock, notwithstanding improvements in their capital and liquidity in recent years”.

There were state budgets in NSW and SA. In NSW Stamp duty makes up a huge proportion of the State’s income, at $10 billion, with revenues jumping 10% over the past year and are expected to grow 6% each year for the next three years. From July 1 stamp duty for FHBs will be abolished for new homes up to $650,000 with discounts on properties of up to $800,000. Additionally, grants of $10,000 will be available for new homes of up to $600,000 and for FHBs who build their home. Stamp duty will no longer be charged on lenders mortgage insurance.

South Australia surprised by adding a local bank tax to the big five. They plan to charge a levy on the major banks bonds and deposits over $250,000 but will exclude mortgages and ordinary household deposits. The tax, to be introduced 1 July, is expected to raise $370 million over four years. The banks responded, including threats to pull jobs from SA, but then the banks are easy targets, and we would not be surprised if other states followed suite.

Meantime the federal bank tax was passed after a brief senate review. Now the Treasurer has announced plans to change the way eligibility for a credit card is assessed, shifting it from the ability to pay the minimum repayment to being able “to repay the credit limit within a reasonable period”.

Australians’ wealth is overwhelmingly in our housing. Our housing stock worth valued at $6.6 trillion. That’s nearly double the combined value of ASX capitalisation and superannuation funds.

Housing is strongly linked to financial stability as highlighted in excellent speech by Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer. He said there was a strong link between financial crises and difficulties in the real estate sector. In addition to its role in financial stability, or instability, housing is also a sector that draws on and faces heavy government intervention, even in economies that generally rely on market mechanisms.

Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) published a report this week on housing policies across the nation. They argue, rightly, that Australia needs a federal minister for housing, a dedicated housing portfolio, and an agency responsible for conceptualising and co-ordinating policy. The current fragmented, ad-hoc approach to housing policy seems poorly matched to the scale of the housing sector and its importance to Australia.  There is no clear systematic policy framework for housing across the nation, just piecemeal bits of policy, which are not fit for purpose.

Finally, the ABS released their residential property price data to March 2017. They said overall, prices rose on average 2.2% in the quarter. The price rises in Sydney (3.0 per cent) and Melbourne (3.1 per cent) were partially offset by falls in Perth (1.0 per cent) and Darwin (0.9 per cent).

Through the year growth in residential property prices reached 10.2 per cent in the March quarter. Sydney recorded the largest through the year growth of all capital cities at 14.4 per cent, followed closely by Melbourne at 13.4 per cent.

This ongoing rise may go counter to some recent data, although we note the CoreLogic data this week also shows rises in most centres, after recent softer data. The next ABS series, due out in 3 months will be the one to watch.  Auction clearances last weekend were quite strong, if on lower volumes, so as yet, signs of a real slow-down remain muted.

And that’s it for this week. Check back next week for the next installment.

Not in their interest: The home loan borrowers that have been left out to dry

From The SMH.

There is a hidden and worrying risk lurking for a particular set of mortgage borrowers, whose level of financial stress is about to get a whole lot worse.

It’s those home owners with interest-only loans that are now increasingly under the pump – with National Australia Bank the latest of the big four to announce big hikes in rates on these types of loans.

While banks, the media and the government regularly characterise those that have interest-only loans as wealthy property investors, the fact is that there are many owner-occupiers that have used this method to finance the family home.

Ironically, regulators have pushed the banks to reduce interest-only lending to improve the overall risk of consumers’ debt to the financial system. But for those investors with interest-only loans, the chances of being unable to service them creates a new and unintended risk.

These hikes have not attracted the ire of the government, which has put the banks on notice that any move to increase mortgage rates will be intensely scrutinised. Again, because it is not seen as hitting the political heartland of the average voter with a mortgage to finance their own home.

But these borrowers are particularly vulnerable because many of them took out their interest-only loans because they didn’t have enough cash flow to repay interest and principal.

The banks have been under regulatory pressure to herd these interest-only borrowers into interest and principal loans – offering little or no fees to change over to principals, and interest rates that are now around 0.6 per cent lower.

The catch though is that monthly repayments will be higher in most cases because the borrower also needs to repay principal.

Those that can afford to switch will do so, but there will be many that will need to remain on interest-only and have to wear the rate increase.

For owner-occupiers who have an interest and principal loan, interest rates have not fallen by much in this latest round of adjustments.

National Australia Bank and Westpac customers will see their rate fall by 0.08 per cent while ANZ customers will benefit to the tune of 0.05 per cent.

It is better than nothing, but won’t have a really meaningful impact to the weekly household budget.

For banks, the positive effect of the far bigger increases on interest-only loans will significantly outweigh the negative impact of the small fall in rates on interest and principal loans.

Indeed Westpac – which has a higher proportion of interest-only loans than the others – could boost its earnings by 3.5 per cent, according to research from Macquarie. This is calculated on the basis of all other things being equal.

But Macquarie takes the view that this earnings benefit will be eroded to some degree by some customers switching to interest and principal loans – the caveat being if they can afford it.

Martin North from industry consultant Digital Finance Analytics believes that some investor/borrowers that have interest-only loans would have less incentive to switch because the tax effectiveness of this type of borrowing could be negatively affected.

Young families, investors most at risk

The bottom line is that regardless of the kind of borrower, the overall effect of this latest round of interest rate resets will be to improve bank earnings, because in aggregate borrowers will pay more.

North said the two segments most at risk for mortgage stress are younger families that are more typically first home owners that pushed their finances to get into the property market over the past couple of years and at the other end of the spectrum a more affluent group that took advantage of the rising property market and low interest rates to buy one or more investment properties.

Both North and analysts at Macquarie warn that the flow-on effects from increased rate rises even on just interest -only loans, and the potential for some to switch to interest and principal, could be damaging for the wider economy.

“The increase to IO (interest-only) loans combined with the increased likelihood of customers switching to P&I (principal and interest), in our view, will ultimately lead to further reductions in disposable incomes and put even greater pressure on highly indebted households. We estimate that a 50 basis point increase in interest rates has a 4 to 10 per cent impact on disposable income of highly indebted households.

“While it would rationally make sense for many households (particularly for owner-occupiers) to switch to P&I, …. many of these households would not have capacity to do this,’ Macquarie said in a note to clients this week.

‘Deadly combination’

In analysing the reasons for an increased level of stressed households, North noted that “the main drivers are rising mortgage rates and living costs whilst real incomes continue to fall and underemployment is on the rise. This is a deadly combination and is touching households across the country, not just in the mortgage belts.’

Against this, the incentive for banks to massage rates higher is greater than ever, given they have been hit by the Federal Government’s bank levy and this week by an additional tax from the South Australian government that many fear could be adopted by other states down the track.

On the other side of the household ledger, the lack of any real growth in wages is only exacerbating the squeeze.

A report from Cit this week that analyses the industry segments in which jobs are growing provides insight into the problem.

“Not only does Australia have an underemployment problem that has been highlighted by the monthly labour force series, but the quarterly data shows that the economy is creating mostly jobs that are below average in terms of earnings,” it said.

The shift to solitary living is massively inflating property prices

From The New Daily.

Australians increasingly choose to live alone, and this huge demographic shift is going to push up prices and sprawl our cities further into the fringe unless we accept higher density living.

According to the Victorian government, by 2025 up to 51 per cent of Melbourne households will be ‘no child households’.

‘No child households’ are those that are pre-child, post-child or have no intention of ever having children.

The numbers are similar for all of Australia’s major cities, although slightly lower in Sydney as it attracts a slightly higher percentage of families.

Worst still, the fastest growing segment of the Australian housing market is the single person household. Single person households may reach 44 per cent of all major city households by 2035.

What does this mean for communities and for housing prices?

According to the Grattan Institute, 84 per cent of Melbourne’s housing stock is made up of detached or semi-detached family homes. Only 16 per cent of the housing stock is aimed at non-family residences.

By 2025, 51 per cent of our population could be in non-family units with only 16 per cent of our housing stock aimed at this demographic.

There will be a shortage of non-family medium and higher density living with people forced to bid for family homes leaving bedrooms empty. Fewer people will live in each housing unit, putting massive upward pressure on housing prices.

As the average number of people per household shrinks we will need more residences for the same amount of population. If we do not radically increase density then these new houses will continue to be built on our urban-fringed farm land.

It is not just me calling for a re-think on planning demographics. Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, speaking in Brisbane earlier this year, identified “the choices we have made as a society regarding where and how we live … urban planning and transport” as significant impacting factors on property prices.

Property, like all markets, is impacted by changes to both supply and demand. While demand can be impacted by a range of economic factors, supply is restricted by planning rules and the availability of land, as well as economic factors.

Some people think all will be okay with housing supply as they think Australia’s housing density has increased. But this is not true. Whilst the last decade has seen an uptick in density, a longer-term view tells a very different story.

Inner city suburbs, prior to ‘gentrification’, used to house one, two and sometimes three families per house. Now days the inner city houses often have just one, two or three people.

Melbourne, for example, has seen a huge drop in its density from 20.3 people per hectare in 1960 to around 14.9 people per hectare today.

This change in demographics means that, even if our population stays the same, our cities don’t grow ‘up’ then they must grow ‘out’.

This decreasing density is eating up farmland on the urban fringe and putting huge strain on infrastructure spending as the cost per person per kilometre of infrastructure sky rockets.

It is dangerous and will continue even if the population remained exactly the same – let alone if we continue to grow our it.

As single person households age and get ill, will we see more horror stories of people falling ill or dying at home and remaining undiscovered for days or weeks as ‘friends’ wonder why they have not been online?

With decreasing family sizes, growing numbers of childless households and growing numbers of single person households, our housing supply is becoming more out of sync with our housing demand.

The result will be increased pressure on housing prices.

‘Canberra to blame’ for next month’s sky-rocketing energy bills

Household budgets, already under pressure from flat incomes, underemployment and rising mortgage rates, face further cost of living pressures with the latest hikes in power prices, as highlighted by the New Daily.

Power bills will soar by hundreds of dollars next month in east coast states, and experts blame policy uncertainty in Canberra.

Two major retailers, Energy Australia and AGL, have announced they will hike prices substantially from July 1. A third, Origin Energy, is expected to follow soon.

Energy Australia will increase power bills by almost 20 per cent, roughly $300 more a year, for households in South Australia and New South Wales. Gas prices will go up 9.3 per cent in NSW and 6.6 per cent in SA, adding between $50 and $80 to annual bills.

Queensland customers will be least affected, suffering only a 7.3 per cent ($130) increase to residential power bills. This is due mainly to the Palaszczuk government forcing the state government-owned distribution network to take a hit to profits.

A week earlier, AGL, the country’s third-biggest energy provider, said it would push up electricity by 16.1 per cent and gas by 9.3 per cent next month in NSW, QLD, SA and the ACT.

Victorians and Tasmanians have escaped bill shock for now, but only because their prices operate on a different schedule. Annual price changes in those states will be announced in December, kicking in on January 1.

Dylan McConnell, energy expert at Melbourne University, said years of policy uncertainty resulted in barely any new generators being built to replace the withdrawal of ageing coal and gas-fired power stations.

This has forced the National Energy Market (which supplies to NSW, QLD, SA, VIC, TAS and the ACT) to rely more heavily on expensive gas-fired generators to fill gaps in supply.

“We’ve had an effective ‘capital strike’, where policy uncertainty has resulted in a lack of investment and delays with respect to upgrades, maintenance and new installations – whether that’s new renewables, new storage, new anything – forcing us to rely on older, gas-fired technology,” Mr McConnell told The New Daily.

“At the same time we’ve had the gas market open up LNG exports, which has put substantial pressure on gas prices.

“These higher gas prices have flowed through to electricity prices, mainly because of the way the price-setting mechanism works in the wholesale market. Basically, gas is the marginal generator a lot of the time, and it’s actually become more of the marginal generator. That means the effect is more acute.”

energy prices australia

If the sun stops shining on solar panels, the wind stops blowing on turbines and demand exceeds what traditional generators can supply, gas-fired turbine generators are fired up to plug the gap – at great expense to consumers.

Energy Australia and business groups have implored Canberra to embrace the recommendations of Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, who published an energy policy review last week.

Energy Australia chief customer officer Kim Clarke said the Finkel review was a “good, solid blueprint” for Canberra to follow.

“A sensible next step is for governments to engage industry and other stakeholders on the Finkel package of reforms to discuss the best way forward,” Ms Clarke said in a statement.

The Finkel review confirmed that policy uncertainty has constrained the building of much-needed ‘dispatchable’ energy sources – that is, the kind of generators that can be switched on and off quickly to meet the increasingly more volatile energy usage habits of Australians.

“Uncertainty related to emissions reduction policy and how the electricity sector will be expected to contribute to future emissions reduction efforts has created a challenging investment environment,” Dr Finkel wrote.

In the absence of reliable power sources (which, Dr Finkel notes, could have included battery-stored solar and wind energy), generators have had to rely more heavily on gas turbines to create electricity, with the result that consumers pay more.

“Ageing generators are retiring from the NEM, but are not being replaced by comparable dispatchable capacity. Policy stability is required to give the electricity sector confidence to invest in the NEM.”

While Dr Finkel was at pains to say he was “technology neutral”, he predicted the future belonged to solar, wind and battery storage, not so-called lower-emission fossil fuels.

His main policy recommendation was his Clean Energy Target – effectively a watered-down carbon price – that would facilitate “an orderly transition to a low emissions future” and encourage investors to build new generators.

“It puts downward pressure on prices by bringing that new electricity generation into the market at lowest cost without prematurely displacing existing low-cost generators. It further ensures reliability by financially rewarding consumers for participating in demand response and distributed energy and storage.”

Dr Finkel’s report has sparked a war inside Coalition. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg are locked in a bitter debate with an estimated 20-25 anti-renewable Coalition MPs led by former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Other contributing factors to price hikes, noted by many experts, has been heavy investment in poles and wires, opportunistic price gouging by retailers, and the fact that many companies are both retailers and wholesalers (which has dried up liquidity for energy derivatives, especially in South Australia).

Sydney public housing evictions a policy success?

From The Conversation.

Three years after New South Wales’ housing minister announced that all 579 public housing tenants in Millers Point, Dawes Point and the Sirius Building would be moved within two years and their homes sold, only 24 tenants are still resisting the move. So far, 151 properties have been sold for A$400.89 million, with a median sale price of $2.44 million.

One 90-year-old said others looked out for him in the Sirius Building. In his new housing, he feels utterly isolated. Ben Guthrie/AAP

The NSW government would argue that these statistics indicate the displacement has been a great success. But, drawing on 40 in-depth interviews I conducted with tenants, the displacement has been a monumental policy failure on various levels.

Let’s begin with the justifications for the displacement. The NSW government’s main justifications were that the homes were expensive to maintain and that the escalation of house prices in Millers Point represented an opportunity to raise $500 million that would be used to build 1,500 additional social housing dwellings.

Tenants interviewed were adamant that maintenance was negligible. Many spoke about maintenance requests being ignored or the work done being so shoddy that the problem was not fixed or promptly recurred. Many felt that a deliberate policy of neglect had been one of the key strategies to encourage tenants to move.

Doing the sums

The high cost of maintenance certainly cannot be used to justify the planned sell-off and destruction of the Sirius Building.

The age and concrete structure of the building mean that the maintenance costs per unit are probably lower than for many other public housing complexes. It is 35 years old – the average age of social housing properties in NSW is 45 years – and in good physical condition.

The government’s promise to use the sale proceeds to build 1,500 social housing homes has been its central justification for the displacement. On the surface, this appears reasonable. However, there are a several issues with this argument.

First, the actual number of additional homes will be closer to 1,100 as at least 400 homes have been lost in Millers Point and the Sirius Building.

Second, tenants posed the obvious question: why should public housing be financed by the sale of public housing? The massive increase in house prices in Sydney has resulted in a stamp-duty bonanza for the NSW government – around A$9 billion in the 2016-17 financial year.

The government is awash with cash. A surplus of around $4 billion is predicted for this financial year. Surely some of this money could have been used to reduce the scandalous public housing waiting list of more than 60,000 people.

Another question tenants raised was: why the rush? Why was it necessary to sell all the homes as soon as possible? It is highly likely that property prices in the area, within walking distance of the Sydney Opera House, will continue to increase.

If we accept this proposition, then the government could have compromised. It could have allowed tenants who were vehemently opposed to moving to stay, and sold off the homes of tenants who did not mind relocating.

‘Like leaving your family’

The main argument against the displacement is not so much the questionable financial justifications, but the devastating human cost.

Although some tenants were happy to move, the removal process and subsequent displacement has been traumatic for many. Tenants who had strong social ties in Millers Point and Sirius have been moved to areas where they know no one.

I interviewed a tenant who was moved out when he was 90. In the Sirius Building he knew a couple of people and his fellow tenants looked out for him. In his present housing complex he is totally isolated.
Another tenant interviewed was 85 when he was moved. He said that leaving Millers Point “was like leaving your family”.

The actual removal process was seriously flawed. Tenants were aghast that it was to be a blanket removal – those who were born in the area, were frail or had lived in the area for most their lives were to be forced out. Tenants had no choice but to move.

They were told that if they did not accept two “formal offers” of alternative accommodation, their public housing status would be terminated. This would have rendered most tenants homeless.

The total lack of consultation was particularly unfortunate. Tenants had no warning prior to the announcement. After making the announcement, the minister responsible, Pru Goward, refused to meet the residents. Her successor, Gabrielle Upton, also ignored requests for a meeting.

To his credit, Brad Hazzard, who replaced Upton in April 2015, met the working party representing the tenants and spoke to some of the older tenants. He was reportedly “persuaded, over scones and cream in residents’ homes, by their argument that it would be ‘a huge challenge’ for the elderly to move out of the area”.

The minister managed to persuade the NSW Treasury to fund the refurbishing of some existing properties. In November 2015, 28 apartments were made available for the 90 or so Millers Point residents who had not yet moved.

Unfortunately, yet again there was no consultation; 24 of these apartments are small one-bedroom apartments that are not suitable for most of the older residents who need an extra room for a carer and/or family visiting.

Social harm is irreversible

The displacement is also destroying an area of great historical significance. In 1999, the whole of Millers Point was declared a heritage site. The statement of significance said:

Its unity, authenticity of fabric and community, and complexity of significant activities and events make it probably the rarest and most significant historic urban place in Australia.

The displacement has exacerbated an already deep and growing spatial divide between rich and poor in Sydney. The social mix that was a feature of Millers Point has been obliterated along with its rich history.

The 24 remaining tenants are still hoping that the government may show some compassion and let them age in place. It’s a long shot, but it would be a marvellous and humane gesture.

Home Ownership and Work Redefined

In a new report, CBA says the Australian dream is still alive and well, as new goal posts emerge.

As the quarter acre block is becoming a threatened species and backyards are replaced by patios, just under half of Aussies (48 per cent) believe that the property dream is still alive and well, and for others (52 per cent), the Australian dream is being redefined.

In one of the largest national surveys since the Australian Census, with more than one million responses, the Commonwealth Bank has asked Australians about how they perceive their future, investigating attitudes around the property market, adapting to a changing workforce, and future proofing younger generations.

Partnering with demographer and futurist Claire Madden, the CommBank Connected Future Report examines national, economic and social trends that have emerged from the data.

According to Claire Madden, “The remarkable insights emerging from the CommBank ATM data overall is the resilience and tenacity Aussies have in the face of economic uncertainty. As a lead example, while the Australian property dream looks markedly different in 2017, the majority of Australians either fully own or are paying off their home. This has remained constant over the past five decades, so despite uncertainty, the Australian dream has clearly lived through time.”

The research shows while Millennials (Gen Y) are delaying traditional life markers like getting married or having a child, the average age of a first homebuyer has remained relatively constant over the last two decades, sitting at around 32 years of age.

The research has found that despite rapid digital disruption, increased global connectivity and the emergence of artificial intelligence, resilience seems to be a common trend amongst Australians. Almost half (49 per cent) believe our businesses are ready to face the future and 49 per cent believing our kids have the skills they need for tomorrow.

Key findings from the CommBank Connected Future Report include:

The architecturally designed dream

The Australian ‘dream home’ is no longer a weatherboard standalone house. It is an architecturally designed product, as the quality of dwellings has risen over time. Whilst 74 per cent of those living in cities and 81 per cent of those outside capital cities currently live in a stand alone house, 48 per cent of new residential approvals over the past year have been for medium or high density housing. CommBank data reveals 68 per cent of first home buyers purchased a house in the last year, 16 per cent desire to build their architectural dream home after purchasing vacant land, and 15 per cent purchased an apartment or townhouse.

Living in your state of optimism 

The data relating to the Australian property dream reveals that the state you live in impacts your state of optimism. The least optimistic were people residing in New South Wales (53 per cent) and Victoria (54 per cent), and this was significantly high with younger generations (57 per cent in both states). Those in Queensland (51 per cent), South Australia (53 per cent), Western Australia (54 per cent) and the Northern Territory (57 per cent) believe the dream is more attainable.

The ‘options’ Generation 

Gen Y have prioritised global travel, lifestyle experiences, stayed longer in formal education and attained the name KIPPERS (Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings) for staying in the family home longer. Yet now they are in their prime career building and family forming years, they, like their predecessors, are finding a way to overcome the obstacles, respond to new realities, and see the (re)defined dream come alive. Even though the dream has taken a different form, the data reveals property ownership remains high on the aspirational list (average home buying age remains consistent at 32).

Gen Z and Gen Alpha 

According to the research, rapid digital disruption, increased global connectivity and the emergence of artificial intelligence are converging to reshape the business landscape and the way future generations define work. With high job mobility and the increased casualisation of the workforce, Gen Z (8-22 years old) will have 17 jobs across five careers in their lifetime.

As Gen Z and Gen Alpha (born 2010-2024) complete their schooling and enter the workforce, they will need to be adaptive and agile in order to integrate job roles with rapidly advancing automated systems and handle changing employment markets and organisational structures.

Women leading the way

Women are most optimistic about our kids being skilled up for the future with 52 per cent believing they are future ready, compared with 48 per cent of men. This is particularly evident amongst younger age groups, with the greatest gender gap amongst Gen Ys (25-39 year olds) with a 5 per cent differential between males and females.

Culture and society

With almost 3 in 10 Australians (29 per cent) born overseas1, and a quarter (27 per cent) of the population’s labour force born overseas2, immigration has significantly contributed to Australia’s workforce and economy. In the midst of this diversity, CommBank data reveals that almost half of Aussies (49 per cent) believe that our society truly embraces everyone.

Understanding the labor productivity and compensation gap

From The US Bureau of Statistics.

Increases in productivity have long been associated with increases in compensation for employees. For several decades beginning in the 1940s, productivity had risen in tandem with employees’ compensation. However, since the 1970s, productivity and compensation have steadily diverged.1 This trend, which will be referred to as the “productivity–compensation gap,” has received much scrutiny from both academics and policymakers alike.

Although research on the productivity–compensation gap has existed for some time, most work in this field has been conducted at the total nonfarm business sector or similar aggregate level.2 However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) publishes a wealth of detailed industry-level labor productivity and compensation data. Industry data can be used to look at this topic from a fresh perspective in order to see what is driving trends in the broader economy. This Beyond the Numbers article studies underlying trends over the 1987–2015 period in 183 industries that are driving some of the widening gap between labor productivity and compensation observed in the nonfarm business sector.3 Most of the industries studied had increases in both labor productivity and compensation over the period studied; however, compensation lagged behind productivity in most cases.

Labor productivity, defined as real output per hour worked, is a measure of how efficiently labor is used in producing goods and services. There are many possible factors affecting labor productivity growth, including changes in technology, capital investment, capacity utilization, use of intermediate inputs, improved managerial skills or organization of production, and improved skills of the workforce. In this article, all references to labor productivity are labeled as productivity for ease of reference. In addition, labor compensation, a measure of the cost to the employer for securing the services of labor, is defined as an employee’s base wage and salary plus benefits. All references to labor compensation are on a per-hour basis and are adjusted for price change but are labeled as compensation for ease of reference.4 Measures of hours worked and compensation cover all workers including production, supervisory, self-employed, and unpaid family workers.

The productivity–compensation gap by sector and industry

To understand the productivity–compensation gap at an industry-level, it is helpful to first consider this relationship in different sectors of the economy. Each sector referenced below in chart 1 represents the combined activity of many individual industries that perform a similar type of activity.5

Productivity outpaced compensation for the 1987–2015 period in all sectors with significant industry coverage except for the mining sector. (See chart 1.) Some sectors including information, manufacturing, and retail trade exhibited major gaps between productivity and compensation, while other sectors such as accommodation and food services and other services showed slight differences. Compensation in chart 1 has been adjusted for inflation with the BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI).

As mentioned earlier, there have not been many studies of the productivity–compensation gap at the industry level. BLS industry productivity data allow for a deeper analysis by providing information on industries that make up each sector in the panels of chart 1. When examined at a detailed industry level, the average annual percent change in productivity outpaced compensation in 83 percent of 183 industries studied. (See chart 2.) The distance of each industry (represented by a dot) to the equal growth rates line indicates the size of the productivity–compensation gap. Industries above the equal growth rates line saw productivity outpace compensation and those below saw compensation outpace productivity. The largest differences between productivity and compensation occur in Information Technology- (IT) related industries such as computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, and semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing.

Does the type of price adjustment matter?

As mentioned above, compensation is calculated in real terms by adjusting nominal values to exclude changes in prices over time. The price indexes that are used to adjust dollar amounts for changes in prices are referred to as “deflators.”

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is typically used to adjust compensation as it measures how the prices of a basket of consumer goods change over time. Thus, using the CPI shows how changes in workers’ purchasing power compare to productivity within their respective industries. In most cases, productivity gains did not equate to a proportional rise in workers’ purchasing power of goods and services. (See chart 2.)

However, the CPI might not be the most appropriate deflator to use when comparing compensation to productivity. Workers are compensated based on the value of goods and services produced, not on what they consume. Using an output price deflator, a measure of changes in prices for producers, instead of the CPI is an alternative that better aligns what is produced to the compensation that workers receive. Each industry has its own unique output deflator that matches the goods and services that are produced in that industry.6

If the output deflator is used to adjust compensation, a different story emerges. Chart 3 shows that the compensation workers are receiving is rising more in line with productivity than when CPI deflators are used to adjust compensation. The largest gaps from chart 2 shrink considerably once this adjustment is made. In fact, the size of the gap decreased in 87 percent of industries that previously showed productivity rising faster than compensation.

Charts 2 and 3 show an interesting contrast in employee compensation—employees are both consumers and producers. Using the CPI as a deflator is appropriate for analyzing the purchasing power of employees. However, from a producer perspective, using the output deflator is more appropriate for comparing the compensation workers receive for the goods and services they produce in their industry.

Components of the productivity–compensation gap

The gap between productivity and compensation can be divided into two components: (1) the difference between compensation adjusted by the CPI and by the output deflator, as detailed in the previous section and (2) the change in the labor share of income.7 The labor share of income measures how much revenue is going to workers as opposed to the other components of production—intermediate purchases and capital.8

Using the power generation and supply industry as an illustrative example, chart 4 shows how the overall gap in labor productivity and compensation within an industry can be divided into these two components. In this case, the decline in labor share and the difference in deflators contributed equally to productivity rising faster than compensation over the period studied. The composition of the gap, however, varies by sector and industry. For example, the software publishing industry posted a 42-percent decline in its labor share while the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry experienced a 22-percent increase in its labor share. All 183 industries are affected differently by current economic trends, which would explain why the labor share and difference in deflators vary by industry.

Chart 5 shows the composition of the productivity–compensation gap at the sector level, which varied significantly. The difference in deflators contributed to the gap in seven of the sectors and was particularly large in the information, wholesale trade, and retail trade sectors. The change in labor’s share of income also contributed to the gap in seven of the sectors and was most important in explaining the gap in manufacturing. In the mining sector, an increase in the labor share led to hourly compensation growing faster than productivity. Both of these components are important in explaining the widespread existence of productivity–compensation gaps among U.S. industries.

The composition of the productivity—compensation gap at the detailed industry level shows 79 percent of the 183 detailed industries had an output deflator that increased slower than the CPI. This means that the rate of change in the productivity–-compensation gap grew faster when adjusted by the CPI than by an output deflator. This difference in deflators contributed to the overall gap between productivity and compensation. The median difference in growth rates between the output deflator and CPI was -0.6 percent per year.

The labor share of income declined in 77 percent of industries studied. This means that a growing share of income was going to factors of production other than employee compensation over the period studied. Factors of production include labor, capital (e.g. machinery, computers, and software), and intermediate purchases (purchased materials, services and energy that go into producing a final product). The median growth rate in the labor share of income was -0.6 percent per year. The median effect of the change in labor share was the same as that of the difference in deflators.

High productivity—wide compensation gaps

Industries with the largest productivity gains experienced the largest productivity–compensation gaps. (See chart 6.) This group of high productivity industries experienced huge technological advances during the IT boom. All of these industries saw compensation rise much more slowly than productivity over time. This was mainly due to the difference in deflators. The prices of the electronic components used in production for these industries fell substantially over time. This is in contrast to the CPI, which rose steadily over the same period. The change in labor’s share of income was a much smaller contributor to the gap for these industries but still declined in each one.

The strong correlation between productivity and the productivity–compensation gap was primarily due to the difference in deflators. The relationship between productivity and the change in labor share was much weaker, yet it still existed. The difference in deflators was the stronger effect among high productivity industries while the change in labor’s share of income was the stronger effect among most other industries.

What about the 17 percent of industries that saw compensation rise at least as fast as productivity?  These tended to be industries with low productivity growth or even productivity declines. (See chart 7.) The median change in productivity of these industries since 1987 was 0.4 percent per year. In contrast, the median change in productivity of industries that saw compensation rise slower than productivity was 1.9 percent.

Industries in which compensation grew the fastest relative to productivity include the water, sewage, and other systems industry; the golf courses and country clubs industry; and the newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers industry. The first industry had a large difference in deflators, the second industry saw a large increase in the labor share, and the third industry had a combination of these two components affecting the gap. All three of these industries had productivity declines over the period.

Why the decline in labor share?

Although the difference in deflators explains much of the gap, as mentioned earlier, the share of income going to workers has declined in 77 percent of industries since 1987.

This raises the question: if not for labor compensation, what were the revenues used for?9 Industries divide their income amongst three broad groups: intermediate purchases, capital, and labor compensation. Relative changes to both intermediate purchases and capital can affect labor compensation. It is likely that numerous factors are responsible for recent changes in the labor share.

Using the information sector as an example, we can see in chart 8 that some industries had significant declines in labor’s share of income while others had modest declines or even increases from 1987 to 2015. The largest declines in labor share were in newer, information technology-related industries such as software publishing and wireless telecommunications carriers, where labor share declined by 23 and 16 percentage points respectively. These industries also saw a large rise in output and productivity in this period. In contrast, labor share increased by 7 percentage points in the more established newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishing industry, which declined in output and productivity.

It is important to note that the reason for declining labor share will likely vary significantly by industry. Here are some plausible explanations:

Globalization – Some of the income that might have gone to domestic workers is now going to foreign workers due to increased offshoring (i.e. the outsourcing of production and service activities to workers in other countries). This could have caused intermediate purchases to increase and labor compensation to decrease.10

Increased automation – It is possible that increased automation has been leading to an overall drop in the need for labor input. This would cause capital share to increase, relative to labor share as machines replace some workers.11

Faster capital depreciation – It is possible that the capital used by industries is depreciating at a faster rate in recent years than in the past. These assets include items such as computer hardware and software that are upgraded or replaced more frequently than machinery used in prior decades. This faster depreciation could require a higher capital share to cover upgrade and replacement costs.12

Change over time

The American economy is dynamic and changes over time. These changes appear in the productivity–compensation gap and its components. Chart 9 shows the components of the gap in each sector for the 1987–2000 and 2000–2015 periods. These periods roughly divide the data in half and use an important point in the business cycle as a breakpoint. Several observations can be made based on this chart.

First, the average productivity–compensation gap among the sectors grew faster in the first period than in the second. This was mainly due to changes in the utilities and wholesale trade sectors.

Second, the difference in deflators accounted for most of the gap on average in the first period, but had a smaller effect on average in the second period. This was particularly true in the utilities, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing sectors.

Third, there are large changes in labor’s share of income happening in the mining and manufacturing sectors during the two periods. The manufacturing sector’s drop in labor share during the 2000–2015 period was the largest decline observed in any sector and time period. Conversely, mining experienced the largest increase in labor share during the 2000–2015 period.

What about changes over time in detailed industries? Chart 10 shows how the components of the gap changed over time in industries with the highest employment in 2015. These 10 industries, ordered by employment, made up about 39 percent of the total employment of the 183 industries studied. The first three industries in the chart had component effects that flipped direction from one period to the next. Other general merchandise stores industry, which includes warehouse clubs and supercenters, had a very large drop in labor’s share of income in the first period and a much more modest drop in the second. Charts 9 and 10 show that the productivity and compensation dynamics of sectors, and the industries within them, are changing over time and will likely continue to do so as the economy evolves.

Choosing the right tools, focusing on industries

Studying the productivity and compensation trends of industries can help us better understand the productivity–compensation gap observed in the broader economy. It can show which industries have the largest gaps and the extent to which gaps are widespread. It is important to choose an appropriate deflator for compensation when comparing to productivity. Failing to do so can exaggerate the gap, especially for high productivity industries. A full 83 percent of industries studied here had productivity–compensation gaps when the same deflator was used for output and compensation. These gaps came from a declining labor share of income. Sectors with the strongest declines in labor share included manufacturing, information, retail trade, and transportation and warehousing. Although the causes of the decline in labor share are still unclear, focusing on industries may help to isolate and understand the causes unique to each industry.

1 See Susan Fleck, John Glaser, and Shawn Sprague, “The compensation–productivity gap: a visual essay,” Monthly Labor Review, January 2011, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/01/art3full.pdf.

2 For example, see Barry Bosworth and George L. Perry, “Productivity and Real Wages: Is There a Puzzle?” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 1:1994, https://www.brookings.edu/bpea-articles/productivity-and-real-wages-is-there-a-puzzle/.

3 The detailed industries in this article include all published industries at the 4-digit NAICS level as well as some industries at the 3-, 5-, and 6 digit level for cases where the 4 digit is not published. There is an exception for NAICS industry 71311, which is used in place of NAICS 7131. This was done because NAICS 71311 is published back to 1987 while NAICS 7131 is only published back to 2007 and the more detailed industry makes up most of the 4-digit industry.

4 The measure of real hourly compensation used in this article differs from the labor compensation measure typically published for the industries examined. Measures of labor compensation typically published are not adjusted for inflation or on a per-hour basis. The measures of real hourly compensation calculated here are available upon request.

5 The sectors in this article are 2-digit NAICS sectors. The detailed industries, defined in the third endnote, are components of these sectors.

6 Industry output deflators are mostly based on Producer Price Indexes (PPIs) unique to each industry. PPIs measure price change from the perspective of the seller. Consumer Price Indexes (CPIs) for individual products are used to deflate output in some industries (e.g. industries in retail trade).

7 The rates of change calculated in this article are compound annual growth rates. One must use logarithmic changes for the components of the gap between productivity and real hourly compensation to equal the total gap in all cases. For most industries, the components sum up to the total gap using either method but may differ by 0.1 percent due to rounding.

8 Intermediate purchases include all of the purchased materials, services, and energy that go into producing a final product. Measures of the labor share included in this analysis are not directly comparable with the labor share measures of the nonfarm business sector, business sector, or nonfinancial corporate sector. The difference has to do with how output is measured at the industry and major sector levels. Measures at the industry level exclude intra-industry transactions but include all other intermediate purchases. Output at the major sector level is constructed using a value-added concept and subtracts out all intermediate purchases. Thus, industry output can be divided between labor, capital, and intermediate purchases, whereas major sector output can only be divided between labor and capital.

9 For another BLS discussion of the labor share of income, see Michael D. Giandrea and Shawn A. Sprague, “Estimating the U.S. Labor Share,” Monthly Labor Review, February 2017, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2017/article/estimating-the-us-labor-share.htm.

10 See Michael W. L. Elsby, Bart Hobijn, and Aysegul Sahin, “The Decline of the U.S. Labor Share,” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Fall 2013, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/2013b_elsby_labor_share.pdf. A number of possible explanations for the declining labor share were examined. Analysis showed that offshoring of labor-intensive work is a leading potential explanation.

11 See Maya Eden and Paul Gaggl, “On the Welfare Implications of Automation,” Policy Research Working Paper, No. 7487, World Bank Group, November 2015, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2015/11/25380579/welfare-implications-automation. Some of the decline in labor’s share of income can be linked to an increase in the income share of information and communication technology (ICT). ICT effects may have had a larger impact on the distribution of income among workers.

12 See Dean Baker, “The Productivity to Paycheck Gap: What the Data Show,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2007, http://cepr.net/publications/reports/the-productivity-to-paycheck-gap-what-the-data-show This is one of many articles that documents the fact that a rising share of GDP goes to replace worn-out capital goods. Income going towards replacing these goods should not be expected to raise living standards.

Aussies expect mortgage rates will keep rising

From The Real Estate Conversation.

Despite most economists predicting the Reserve Bank board will leave rates on hold at today’s board meeting, many Australians expect mortgage rates will rise this year, and are considering switching to fixed rate loans.

Despite most economists predicting the Reserve Bank board will leave rates on hold at today’s board meeting, many Australians expect mortgage rates will rise within six months, and are considering switching to fixed rate loans. The trend towards fixed-rate mortgages was strongest amongst young Australian homeowners.

A new survey by Gateway Credit Union shows that almost one in five respondents with a variable or split-rate home loan are considering making the switch to a fixed-rate loan.

Gateway CEO, Paul Thomas, said the results could reflect increased household financial pressure.

Household debt is at all-time high, said Thomas, adding that “a rise in home loan interest rates may very well tip some households over the edge financially.”

“Borrowers might be seeking the certainty of a fixed rate home loan,” said Thomas.

The research revealed that men were more likely to switch to a fixed-rate home loan than women (22.4 per cent compared with 14.7 per cent).

“Traditionally women tend to be more risk averse than their male counterparts when it comes to investment decisions. However, it seems like men may be more conservative when it comes to home loan repayments, opting to hedge their bets,” suggested Thomas.

Younger Australians were most likely to be considering shifting to fixed-rate loans. Of survey respondents aged between 18 and 29, 32.6 per cent were considering switching, compared with 20 per cent of those aged between 30 and 49, and only 9 per cent of those aged 50 or older.

Thomas said the fact that Australians are considering shifting to fixed-rate loans indicates that homeowners are feeling cautious.

“The fact that mortgage holders are looking to switch their home loans to fixed rate products over the next 3–9 months just goes to show that there is a sentiment of concern. Factors such as out-of-cycle rate hikes, the new bank levy, stagnant wage growth, and high levels of household debt are all converging to create an environment where borrowers need to act with caution,” he said.

Fixed-rate loans “secure certainty and help households avoid financial distress”, said Thomas.