Real Incomes Go Backwards

The ABS published their Wage Price Index to June 2014. In seasonally adjusted terms, both the Private and Public sector wage price indexes rose 0.6%. The rises in indexes at the industry level (in original terms) ranged from 0.1% for Accommodation and food services, Public administration and safety, and Arts and recreation services to 0.9% for Mining. The trend index and the seasonally adjusted index for Australia rose 2.6% through the year to the June quarter 2014.  Rises in the original indexes through the year to the June quarter 2014 at the industry level ranged from 2.0% for both Wholesale trade and Professional, scientific and technical services to 3.2% for Education and training.

We see a consistent falling trend in income growth, since 2010.

Income-Growth-to-June2014Looking at the impact after adjusting for inflation, real effective incomes are now falling.

Adjusted-Income-Growth-to-June2014This is significant and serious. Many households have taken on the burden of large mortgages assuming that whilst they will experience short term pain, their incomes would grow, so easing spending pressures. This however is just not happening. Consider this updated data on household Loan To Income ratios (LTI). Some households have an effective LTI about 5 times. This is very high.

LTIAllStatesUpdatedIn our surveys, we find that some segments are particularly exposed. The worst is in our Growing segment, these are younger families, many of whom are first time buyers, or recent up graders. As a result mortgage stress is high, and growing in this group, even at current low interest rates.


These pressures help to explain why many households are not feeling very confident, and are reacting to rising energy, child care and school fees, falling real incomes, and rising mortgage stress. The most affluent households are least impacted.

House Price Momentum Slowing As Value Reaches $5.2 Trillion

The ABS released their latest data on Residential Property Prices today. The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $5,196,355.9 m at the end of June quarter 2014, rising $112,598.5 m over the quarter. The mean price of residential dwellings rose $9,900 and the number of residential dwellings rose by 37,600 in the June quarter 2014. The price index for residential properties for the weighted average of the eight capital cities rose 1.8% in the June quarter 2014 and rose 10.1% through the year to the June quarter 2014. The capital city residential property price indexes rose in Sydney (+3.1%), Melbourne (+1.3%), Brisbane (+1.8%), Adelaide (+1.0%), Canberra (+0.8%), Darwin (+0.7%) and Hobart (+0.3%) and fell in Perth (-0.2%). Recent data suggest momentum is slowing, a little.

ResidentialPricesQOQJune2014Annually, residential property prices rose in Sydney (+15.6%), Melbourne (+9.3%), Brisbane (+6.8%), Adelaide (+5.6%), Hobart (+4.3%), Perth (+3.6), Darwin (+3.4%), and Canberra (+2.2%).

ResidentialPricesYOYJune2014The median price of established houses exceeds $700,000 in Sydney. Hobart and Adelaide have the lowest values. Looking at the rest of the states, beyond the capital cities, NT has the highest value, and QLD exceeds NSW and VIC. Note this data is to December 2013 only, as the ABS does not yet reprot the latest data for the past 6 months.

MedianEstablishedPricesDec2013Looking at attached dwellings, again Sydney is highest, on average, at over $550,000, whereas away from the capital cities, prices are higher in NT and QLD.

MedianHousePricesAttachedDec2013Looking at the number of transfers, momentum is clearly in Sydney and Melbourne. Brisbane is showing signs of upward movement. Note again this data is to December 2013.

NumberofTransfersDec2013Property is too highly priced, compared with income measures, and international comparisons. The long term chronic problem of poor supply, easy loans and high demand continues to be a brake on the broader economy. Household confidence is not buttressed by rising prices. Many continue be be excluded from the market.

Australia’s Unemployment Rate Increased to 6.4 per cent in July 2014 – ABS

According to the ABS, in data released today, Australia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased by 0.3 percentage points to 6.4 per cent in July 2014. We also note that female and male unemployment rates have converged.

UmeploymentJuly2014The seasonally adjusted labour force participation rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 64.8 per cent in July 2014. The number of people employed decreased by 300 to 11,576,600 in July 2014 (seasonally adjusted). The decrease in employment was due to decreased part-time employment, down 14,800 people to 3,499,200. This was offset by increased full-time employment, up 14,500 people to 8,077,400. The monthly seasonally adjusted aggregate hours worked series decreased in July 2014, down 14.8 million hours (0.9%) to 1,610.7 million hours. The seasonally adjusted number of people unemployed increased by 43,700 to 789,000 in July 2014.

Looking at the state data, the average unadjusted rate  unemployment rate increased 0.1 pts to 6.1%, based on unrounded estimates. ACT still has the lowest rate, whilst TAS has the highest.

StateUnemploymentJuly2014Whilst there are some statistical reasons for the result (changes in the sample this time), the fall in aggregate hours worked indicates this is a concerning result. As such, we expect unemployment to be a drag on momentum, and it will curb enthusiasm for property amongst some segments. In our household survey results however, the largest changes in unemployment were amongst those who were classified as property inactive, closely followed by those who have purchased recently. Given the high loan to income ratios in this group, any unemployment impact may be magnified in this highly leveraged group.

Property Investors Get A Second Wind – Latest DFA Survey

The latest DFA Survey results indicate that momentum in the property investor segment is set for an upswing, as we move into the spring season. When we last reported on our survey results, there was a dip in intentions, quite strongly linked to budget uncertainly. This has largely evaporate now other than continuing concerns about potential benefit cuts. Today we summarise some of the recent results which points in this direction.

First we look at prospective purchasing intentions across our segments. We see first time buyers still languishing, whereas solo investors, portfolio investors and uptraders are showing an increase in momentum compared with results from June.

SegmentIntentionsAug2014House price expectations are pretty similar to earlier in the year, more are thinking prices are set to continue to rise, than fall.

SegmentPriceExpectationsAug2014Sole investors are being motivated by the prospect of appreciating property values, and better returns than deposits. They also continue to be attracted by tax breaks associated with investment purchases.

SoleInvestmentAugust2014Superannuation investors are still in the market attracted by the tax efficient nature of this investment class, and backed by expectations of rising prices. They are also responding to lower deposit rates.

SuperIvnestmentAugust2014Looking that those SMSF funds with property, we see that most have 30-40% of their super aligned to property, but there is a wide spread. Absolute numbers of SMSF’s with property remain quite low, but it is growing.

SMSFPropertyDistributionAugust2014So what is driving the resurgence of investors? We see that that overhand from the budget has mostly gone now, and funding is readily available. We also see that those who already bought, are coming back for more.

InvestmentBarriersAugust2014Finally, when we look at the budget factors in particular, we see that the high income levy still has an impact, whereas fears of changes to negative gearing has fallen, along with fears of changes to superannuation rules. We note though that concerns about reductions in benefits remains.BudgetInvestorsImpactAugust2014So, putting that all together, we think that investment lending will continue to outstrip owner occupied lending, and reach new records in coming months. We will incorporate this latest data into our models, and plan to publish an updated edition of the Property Imperative later in the year.

Retail Turnover Up In June – ABS

The latest ABS Retail Trade figures show that Australian retail turnover rose 0.6 per cent in June 2014, seasonally adjusted, following a fall of 0.3 per cent in May 2014. Turnover rose in household good retailing (1.7 per cent), food retailing (0.5 per cent), other retailing (0.9 per cent) and clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (1.4 per cent). These rises were partially offset by falls in cafes, restaurant and takeaway food services (-0.6 per cent) and department stores (-0.5 per cent).

RetailSalesTurnoverAllStatesJune2014Seasonally adjusted turnover rose in New South Wales (0.9 per cent), Victoria (0.6 per cent), Western Australia (1.1 per cent), South Australia (0.5 per cent), Tasmania (1.3 per cent) and the Northern Territory (0.3 per cent). Queensland was relatively unchanged (0.0 per cent). There was a fall in the Australian Capital Territory (-0.5 per cent). RetailSalesMonthlyChangeByStateJune2014Through the year, Australian retail turnover rose 5.5 per cent in June 2014, seasonally adjusted, compared to June 2013. The trend estimate for Australian retail turnover rose 0.1 per cent in June 2014. This follows a 0.1 per cent rise in May 2014. Through the year, the trend estimate rose 5.3 per cent in June 2014 compared to June 2013. In seasonally adjusted volume terms, turnover fell 0.2 per cent in the June quarter 2014, following a rise of 1.3 per cent in the March quarter 2014.

Looking at spend per capita, we see it fell a little in June, to $2,887. Looking at the changes over time, we see the trend still dropping, so households are not yet showing strong growth in retail spend – this is because for many, the costs of housing, child care and utility bills are blotting up more of their wallet.RetailSalesPerCapitalAllStatesJune2014

Building Approvals Fall In June – ABS

The ABS published their data today on Building Approvals to June 2014. The number of dwellings approved fell 1.1 per cent in June 2014, in trend terms, and has fallen for six months. The seasonally adjusted estimate for total dwellings approved fell 5.0% in June following a rise of 10.3% in the previous month. The seasonally adjusted estimate for private sector houses fell 2.2% in June following a rise of 1.4% in the previous month. The seasonally adjusted estimate for private sector dwellings excluding houses fell 10.5% in June following a rise of 26.7% in the previous month. Clearly the data is volatile month by month, so the trend series tells is more about what is happening. Overall, in seasonally adjusted terms, numbers are down, compared with the peak in January 2014.

Dwelling approvals decreased in trend terms in the Australian Capital Territory (15.2 per cent), New South Wales (1.8 per cent), Victoria (0.8 per cent), South Australia (0.7 per cent), Western Australia (0.7 per cent) and Queensland (0.4 per cent) but increased in the Northern Territory (9.2 per cent) and Tasmania (2.7 per cent). In trend terms, approvals for private sector houses fell 0.4 per cent in June. Private sector house approvals fell in trend terms in South Australia (3.7 per cent), New South Wales (0.6 per cent), Western Australia (0.4 per cent) and Victoria (0.2 per cent), but rose in Queensland (0.3 per cent).

The value of total building approved fell 2.6 per cent in June, in trend terms, and has fallen for seven months. The value of residential building fell 0.5 per cent, while non-residential building fell 7.1 per cent in trend terms. The seasonally adjusted estimate of the value of total building approved rose 3.7% in June and has risen for two months. The value of residential building fell 3.7% following a rise of 14.7%. The value of non-residential building rose 17.9% and has risen for two months.

ValueBuildingWorkJune2014Continued signs that low interest rates are not translating to strong growth in construction. We still are not building enough properties to meet demand, so expect house prices to continue to rise in some areas at least.


Australian Population Now 23.3 Million

The ABS today published its latest population data, to December 2013. The preliminary estimated resident population (ERP) of Australia at 31 December 2013 was 23,319,400 people. This reflects an increase of 396,200 people since 31 December 2012 and 85,100 people since 30 September 2013. The preliminary estimates of natural increase recorded for the year ended 31 December 2013 (160,400 people) was 0.9%, or 1,400 people lower than the natural increase recorded for the year ended 31 December 2012 (161,800 people). The preliminary estimates of net overseas migration (NOM) recorded for the year ended 31 December 2013 (235,800 people) was 2.2%, or 5,400 people lower than the net overseas migration recorded for the year ended 31 December 2012 (241,200 people).

PopulationAustralia’s population grew by 1.7% during the year ended 31 December 2013.  Natural increase and NOM contributed 40% and 60% respectively to total population growth for the year ended 31 December 2013.  All states and territories recorded positive population growth in the year ended 31 December 2013. Western Australia continued to record the fastest growth rate of all states and territories at 2.9%. Tasmania recorded the slowest growth rate at 0.3%.

Population-DriversOverseas migration continues to be a major driver to population growth, contributing nearly twice that of local births. However, it is down 2.2% from the year before. We have updated our housing demand modelling accordingly.

Why Enticing First Time Buyers With Super Is A Bad Idea

We know that first time buyers are sitting on the sidelines, as shown in our recent surveys. The biggest barrier is price. Many are desperate to enter the market and would jump at any additional incentive.

FTBDFAJun14No surprise then to see proposals popping up from time to time to try and assist first time buyers. Often they are tactical and shorted sighted. The latest is from Nick Xenaphon, the Independent Senator for South Australia “Home affordability: a Super idea“.

Independent Senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon, will introduce legislative changes in the Spring session of parliament to allow first home buyers to access their superannuation savings to pay a house deposit. Such a scheme successfully operates in Canada, called Home Buyers’ Plan, leading to improved housing affordability. At a Senate Economics References Committee hearing in Adelaide today, the Inquiry heard from HomeStart Finance (an arm of the South Australian Government) outlining the Canadian scheme. In Canada up to $25,000 can be accessed for a first home, and it’s made a dramatic difference for housing affordability there. However, Senator Xenophon will be moving for changes to Superannuation Act 1976 to allow the release to superannuation funds for a first home, with similar safeguards to the Canadian scheme. In Canada the amount has to be paid back into the super fund within 15 years. “With more and more Australians finding it difficult to break into home ownership, adopting the Canadian scheme would make a difference to many thousands of Australians each year,” Nick said. “As HomeStart Finance said today, there’s something strange about being able to access your super fund if you are about to default on your housing loan, but you can’t access it to put a deposit on a home in the first place.” Housing affordability in Australia has fallen for the past three decades, as house prices outstrip income growth. An annual affordability survey by Demographia this year found Australia had the second-worst housing affordability in the world, behind Hong Kong. All 39 Australian housing markets surveyed were “seriously” or “severely” unaffordable, defined as having average house prices more than four times average income. Senator Xenophon gave credit to his state colleague, John Darley MLC, who has been a long-time advocate for releasing super funds for home buyers.

At least he recognises we have a serious problem in the housing sector. Here is the recent data on the percentage of first time buyers transacting, its pretty much as low as its ever been. OOFTBMay2014However, we do not think his suggestion has merit. In fact it would be a disaster. His proposal would be, in effect an additional first time over grant, by another name, and we have already shown the first time buyer incentives merely lift prices in the short term, and do nothing to assist long term. You can read our earlier analysis “First Time Buyer Incentives are Bad News” here.

Two additional points, Canada’s housing market is overheating, as shown in our recent comparisons, based on the recent data from the IMF, which we reported here. So their policy settings are not correct.


IMFJun14-1In addition, there is additional risk, especially when prices are higher than they should be, that households will be exposed when rates rise. First time buyers are already highly exposed.  It they also have their hard earned super locked into housing, this is an additional and concerning exposure. The interim FSI report highlighted concerns about super flowing into property. It is a risk too far.

If the politicians want to address the housing issue (and that means recognising there is a problem, which needs attention – RBA please note), then there are alternatives they should consider. Tackle negative gearing, work with the states on land supply, and bring in macroprudential controls on lending. Read my suggestions in detail in the submission I made to the Senate Inquiry into Affordable Housing. My policy suggestions were:

  1. Australia should develop a strategic housing plan which guides ongoing development, be it in current centres, or expansion into new towns. Current tactical plans are not sufficient. The plan should specifically address the supply of affordable housing.

  2. Strategies should be devised to increase land supply. State governments should reduce the current high levels of access fees for new development and revise planning criteria and processes. This has the potential to create considerable economic growth.

  3. Overseas investors should not be able to access first-time buyer incentive schemes, and the Foreign Investment Review board rules should be strengthened to reduce the impact of foreign investors on the local market.

  4. The RBA should have a direct multi-segmented housing affordability metric within its measurement framework. Affordability should be targeted at trend average, not rates experienced since the debt explosion of the 2000 onwards.

  5. Macro-prudential policies should be employment to control the growth in lending. In line with the recommendations from the Bank of International Settlement debt to income servicing ratios should be employed as the policy tool of choice.

  6. Negative gearing should be tapered away and removed for new transactions.

  7. Joint equity schemes like the UK’s Help to Buy Scheme  should be considered as a tactical step to assist some of the “Want-to-Buys.”

Bloomberg’s Summary Of The Australian Housing Market.

Bloomberg Australia has published a compelling overview of the housing market in Australia. They underscore the relatively myopic stance of the regulators. DFA was cited in the article.

Australia has the third-most overvalued housing market on a price-to-income basis, after Belgium and Canada, according to the International Monetary Fund. The average home price in the nation’s eight major cities rose 16 percent as of June 30 from a May 2012 trough, the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index showed.

In Sydney, the most populous city, where price growth has been strongest, values soared 15 percent over the past 12 months. That compares with a 5.4 percent increase in New York City in April from a year earlier and a 26 percent jump in London prices in June quarter from a year ago.

“There’s definitely room for caps on lending,” said Martin North, Sydney-based principal at researcher Digital Finance Analytics. “Global house price indices are all showing Australia is close to the top, and the RBA has been too myopic in adjusting to what’s been going on in the housing market.”

Worth recalling the chart we published recently on Loan to Income By Post Code.


If The Worm Turns, What Happens To Household Mortgage Stress?

The wind appears to be changing. First the new head of APRA warned at a CEDA event they were watching the mortgage lending of the banks closely, “The Australian banking system clearly has a concentration of risk in housing. If anything was to go wrong in the housing market it would have very severe impact on the viability and health of the banking system, so it’s naturally something we watch very carefully.” Meantime in London, Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson spoke to Chatham House where he mused on the low interest rate strategies being adopted by many countries, the limits of monetary policy and the potential for macroprudential measures. Locally, whilst fixed rate mortgages are being offered at record lows below 5%, the consensus appears to be shifting towards a lift in rates in Australia, partly as a result of rising inflation, although timing is not certain. So, what is the potential impact of a rate rise on Australian mortgage holders, bearing in mind that the average loan to income is stretched? How far would rates rise? Where would the pain be felt most?

To answer these questions, we have examined interest rate trends, and incorporated a rising rate scenario into our mortgage stress models. First, let’s look at rate trends. This is a plot of the RBA target rate since 1990. If we take a linear average, we see that currently we are well below the “neutral” range. An RBA rate of 4-4.5% would on this basis be a neutral rate. This is the first assumption I have made in my stress modelling.

RateTrendThen we have to estimate the spread above the target rate the variable rate mortgage will be coming in at. We still have most households on a floating rate, although 15% are locking in fixed at the moment. This plot shows the target cash rate, against the spread between a CMT deposit account and a standard variable mortgage. Lets assume an average uplift of 300 basis points. That would put the mortgage rate at about 7%.

RateSpreadTrendNow, we will assume rates will be lifted to this level in the next 12-15 months. We will also assume that income rises at the level it has in the past 2 years, and that unemployment stays at 6% (to isolate the effect of the rate movement). We then calculate for the 26,000 households in our survey the impact on their income/expenditure if their mortgages do rise. The impact is of course immediate, unless households are on a fixed loan. This is incorporated in the modelling. Now, we calculate the proportion of households which will be in mortgage stress in 18 months time (see the definitions we use here). Lets take Sydney as an example.  This geo-mapping shows where the main movements are in terms of increases in mortgage stress. The blue postcodes are worst hit. Many of these households are in the western suburbs, and are typically younger, and on lower incomes. Many are first time buyers.

SydneyStressChangeMortgage stress does not mean an immediate crisis, but households hunker down short term, and it is a warning of trouble ahead because many households who get into difficulty are ultimately forced to sell. My read on this modelling is that if rates rise, the impact on the property market could be quite profound. This in turn does indeed lay potential bear traps for the banks, because of their high leverage into property. There is a strong case to lift the currently relatively low capital rules for the big four, to provide a buttress against rising rates, and to avoid financial stability issues. The recent FSI interim report touched on this. If rates do indeed start to rise, we will need to be alert to the issues. Actually, the regulators should have been acting sooner, as the genie is now out of the bottle. We will publish data on this scenario for other states another day.