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CEO AllenWargent Property Buyers, & WargentAdvisory (institutional). 6 x finance author.

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Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Housing finance weaker in January

Commitments soften

January is never a reliable month for identifying mortgage trends, with volumes always falling sharply from December due to the Christmas break. 

As such a large seasonal adjustment is applied to the original Housing Finance data to arrive at a notionally comparable result.

The original survey figures showed that both the number and value of housing finance approvals were up solidly from the previous January, but after the application of seasonal adjustments the result showed a pullback from December. 

The split between owner-occupiers and investors remains murky, but total seasonally adjusted housing finance of $31.9 billion was down by 3.4 per cent from December, although in historical terms this is still a very high figure.

Investor finance has been clipped back sharply by the the APRA regulatory intervention, with the trend figures now showing investor lending lower than it was one year ago. Whether or not the regulator eases back on the pressure applied on this sector of the market remains to be seen. 

As if to underscore this point, loans outstanding to investors have somewhat dubiously declined by $22 billion since July 2015, having never happened before. Who would've thought, eh?

The number of owner-occupier commitments has been trending up for 5.5 years, but lately many of the commitments have been of the refinancing variety, making the macro picture a little less lucid than it would otherwise be.

State versus state trends

The trend number of owner-occupier commitments has increased strongly year-on-year in New South Wales (+14 per cent) and Victoria (+13 per cent).

That Queensland has also recorded solid year-on-year growth in home loan commitments (+5 per cent) is remarkable given the parlous position of so many of the state's regional resources economies. 

This is being reflected in solidly rising house prices in parts of Brisbane, certainly in the sub $1 million price bracket, yet utterly dreadful dwelling price performance in a number of Queensland's resources regions.

Elsewhere, South Australia (+4 per cent), the Australian Capital Territory (+9 per cent) and Tasmania (+5 per cent) have also seen owner-occupier commitments increase over the year, but at the national level this has been offset by declines in the other resources locations of Western Australia (-8 per cent) and the Northern Territory (-5 per cent).

Western Australia's property markets will come back into equilibrium in time, with the mothballing of several planned apartment projects reported. 

Perhaps the most interesting figures to come out of this release related to the average loan size, which has pulled back by $13,900 from an all-time record high of $386,300 in November, although the average loan size is still up by +11.3 per cent or $38,500 over the past year.

As a very general rule, I expect to see median or lower priced dwellings within their respective sub-regions fare somewhat better than the pricier and premium dwelling types over the year ahead. 

To some extent this is reflected in the trend total value of owner-occupier commitments by state, which rose dramatically through 2014 and 2015 in the two most populous states, but has softened in the last two months. 

The year-on-year increases in New South Wales and Victoria are still enormous, granted, but slightly less enormous than they were two months ago.

Queensland scores a solid gain on this metric too.

The wrap

While it's not wise to read too much into a January housing finance survey, we can see that although home loan approvals and dollar values are well up from January 2015, the big picture is that 2016 will be a steadier year for dwelling price growth than the calendar year which preceded it, particularly as new supply comes online.

The uncertainty of a looming election may also steady the market in 2016, which may be no bad thing.

On the ground experience tells me that Sydney's inner suburbs are faring considerably better than the outer suburbs or the harbour city's variously oversupplied apartment hubs. 

In Brisbane, house prices in the inner 10km are evidently rising. I don't venture to the outer, so have no worthwhile insights thereinto.