Monday 1 February 2010

Australian Property Market – February 2010 Update

I intend to keep a close eye on Australian house prices as I build my retirement portfolio. This is because Australia is a very likely retirement possibility (if not sooner) for me.

The first chart shows the quarterly Real (adjusted for the Consumer Price Index) Brisbane and Real (again adjusted for CPI) Australian Eight Cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart, Darwin & Canberra) House Price Index with data taken from the Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue 6416.0 since 1991. This Index was reset in 2003/2004 and so I have “corrected” pre March 2002 data by taking the ratio’s of the pre and post September 2003 to June 2004 data as a multiplier. This chart carries data only until December 2010 and clearly shows a nice dip at the start of 2009 before the latest data point has taken house prices to new record real highs.

My second chart shows Real Annual Changes in price from 1995 to present. In Real terms over this period Brisbane has seen average increases of 5.3% (up from an average of 5.2% last quarter) and the Australian Eight Cities has seen average increases of 4.9% (up from an average of 4.8% last quarter). Unfortunately for me though the trend lines (particularly for Brisbane) continue to head upwards.

In non-inflation adjusted terms over the period Brisbane prices have seen average increases of 8.1% and the Australian Eight Cities prices have seen average increases of 7.8% (up from an average 7.6% last quarter). Unfortunately if you don’t already own a property you continue to be priced out when compared with average earnings. Using the Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue 6302.0 (extrapolating the last quarter as the data is not released to the 25 February) which looks at average weekly earnings shows that while house prices have had their long run averages increase this quarter, Total Weekly Earnings have stagnated at a yearly 3.8% and Total Full Time Adult Earnings at 4.3%.

My third chart shows what happens when house prices continue to rise at a rate greater than salaries. Over this period affordability of Brisbane houses when compared to Adult Full Time Weekly Earnings has gone from a low of 0.063 to 0.121 meaning affordability has halved and the Median Eight Cities houses have gone from a low of 0.064 to 0.112 which is a huge reduction. This type of shift is just not sustainable but when/if will the market return to a more sustainable equilibrium.

Looking at the big increases this quarter I can’t help wonder if the data is ‘reliable’ and I would like to see how the histograms have changed since 2008. This is because the government has brought forward demand and changed the dynamic in the market by offering first home buyer grants with changing values depending on the date. If I had have bought before 14 October 2008 I would have received $7,000. Using this as a 5% deposit would mean I could borrow $140,000. If I had have bought a new house between 14 October 2008 and 30 September 2009 I would have received $21,000 which again with a 5% deposit would mean I could borrow $420,000. That has to change the supply and demand dynamic in the market. This ‘stimulus’ has now been gradually withdrawn with first new home buyers being reduced to $14,000 between 01 October 2009 to 31 December 2009. Finally, since 01 January 2010 first home buyers are back to $7,000 meaning we’re back to that $140,000.

So if I was a first home buyer I would have bought between October and September with first home buyer stragglers buying also in October to December. I would now be out of the market. I think the Housing Industry Association (HIA) may have seen in this when they reported that new home sales are down 4.6% in December 2009.

It will be very interesting to see what happens next. Australia has rising interest rates and if supply and demand works (assuming no government intervention) second home buyers may now struggle to sell without reducing prices as their pool of buyers has been reduced, along with the pool that remains having smaller deposits. This should reduce prices going forward. This should then flow through the rest of the market. Interesting times ahead...

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