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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Appetite for construction!

Approvals figures released

The ABS released its Building Approvals data yesterday which captured some attention for all of a few seconds before the media moved on.

What of use can we learn from yesterday's figures, if anything?

Let's take a look...

Appetite for construction

2015 kicked off with the highest number of building approvals we have ever seen in Australia.

Since the beginning of the year, things have pulled back a little, with the headline result declining twice in the past three months,

Nevertheless, on a rolling annual basis building approvals are as high as has ever been recorded in this country at more than 214,000.

Units and apartments account for more than 98,000 approvals, also comfortably a record high.

The most heartening part of this release was that although the number of detached house approvals appears to be rolling over in the above chart, the 10,264 houses approved in April was the strongest result in well over five years since February 2010.

Summarily then, April saw a five year high for house approvals, offset by a 15 per cent decline in units and apartments.

With just a smattering of luck this may be the beginning of a rebalancing towards detached housing approvals.


Some rare bright news for the economy is that the value of residential building jobs approved has surged across all sectors.

There is finally some compelling evidence that low interest rates are encouraging renovations work outside Sydney, with $7 billion of building jobs approved in that sector over the past year.

The value of detached housing jobs has picked up strongly, while the attached dwelling sector is firing on every cylinder it has, with the industry probably now approaching somewhere close to full capacity (skill shortages have already been noted in some areas).

On a rolling annual basis the value of residential building jobs has surged to $63 billion, more than 14 per cent higher than a year ago, and the highest level on record.

This will provide a strong employment uplift and associated multiplier effect to the four most populous capital cities.

Unfortunately, the gloomy predictions of building activity decline in South Australia have proven to be on the money to date.

In chain volume measures terms building activity actually softened in South Australia in the first quarter, and there was scant evidence in yesterday's data series of any improvement in that regard.

Approvals by capital city

Of course, what most property owners and prospective buyers want to know is where the new supply of dwelling stock will actually be constructed.

The trend in detached house approvals in Perth has lagged behind the commodity cycle somewhat, but is now clearly in decline and sits well below the July 2014 peak. 

This is welcome news for the local housing market since net interstate migration to Western Australia has evaporated and the previously very rapid rate population growth in the state has pulled back sharply.

Greater Sydney has seen a much-needed pick-up in the number of detached houses approved, while Melbourne continues to be the undisputed king of detached housing construction.

Adelaide...? Well, Adelaide is kind of on life support.

A level of common sense may or may not be prevailing now from developers with regards to apartment approvals.

Over the past year, as the above charts show Australia has already seen apartment approvals aplenty, so it has been good to see attached dwelling approvals wound back steadily from 10,122 in January 2015 to a more sustainable 8,451 in April.

Greater Sydney saw a very significant decline from 3,250 unit approvals in March to just 1,289 in April, which takes rolling annual unit approvals back down to 27,332.

Brisbane - which has also seen a surfeit of unit approvals over the past year - saw unit approvals decline from 1,784 in March to just 862 in April.

On a rolling annual basis Brisbane has seen 14,335 unit approvals, which is comfortably greater than underlying demand.

In plain English, there will be more units built in Brisbane in the next few years than people who want to rent them, which will see rents decline in some inner suburban areas in particular.

In turn this implies that on average townhouses and houses will likely see stronger capital growth than generic apartments.

Ultimately property prices are a derivative of the underlying land value, and thus it will be the properties with high and rising land value content which perform better through this cycle in Brisbane.

While Sydney, Brisbane and Perth each pulled back on apartment approvals in April, Melbourne continued to smash out another 2,937 approvals in the month taking the rolling annual total to an astonishing 30,243.


More concerning, in the six months since November 2014 Melbourne unit approvals have accelerated to be tracking at an annualised pace of more than 35,000.


A clear oversupply of apartments will eventuate in Melbourne.

Look out...

Rise of the high rise...or pie in the sky

While yesterday's data was overwhelmingly positive, I still believe that the sector is quite unbalanced, with far too many high rise style apartments being approved for construction.

Developers unwittingly stumbled upon a "perfect storm" environment, encompassing supply shortages in certain capital cities (both perceived and otherwise) encouraging development approvals to be passed more easily, record low financing costs and a ready and willing market of offshore buyers.

The number of approvals of high rise apartments is at levels which would have been considered unthinkable only two decades ago.

Interestingly, this is now not only a capital city phenomenon.

On my travels I have seen signboards sprouting up for "skyhomes" in the most unlikely of secondary and regional locations.

One can only wonder what the brochures say.

Those like me grew up in UK cities which experimented with new high rise communities - whereby very few of the component units were held by owner-occupiers - will know that history has generally not been kind to such largesse.

More questions are raised than will be answered in this blog post.

How many Australians will actually want to live in these new shoebox apartments? 

What will these "investor blocks" look like 20 years from now? 

Who will attend the strata meetings in unit developments which are predominantly foreign owned?

These questions and others to be answered in a follow up blog post later in the week...


Reserve Bank to hold interest rates with an easing bias today.