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Monday, 26 December 2016

The year that was 2016

2016 draws to a close

As 2016 draws to a close it's interesting to look back at what played out.

Politically there were some pretty big surprises. 

An experienced gambling friend of mine made a huge killing by backing both 'Brexit' and a Trump victory. 

Annoyingly he'd explained to me in advance in both cases why the prevailing narrative was an easier sell to voters, but alas I only really saw how right he was after the event.

Back home, one of the things that was nice to get right this year was the rebound in population growth, when plenty of people had thought that population growth would drop off a cliff.

That said, although international student visas will break more records in 2017, as things stand labour markets outside Sydney and Melbourne don't appear strong enough to sustain much in the way of net overseas migration, at least not yet, and nationally the uptrend looks set to stall.

Wages growth looks likely to grind along the bottom in 2017, too.

With residential construction sector looking peaky, the economy will face a twin headwind next year from this plus the resources construction sector bottoming out, so although there will be an ongoing move towards road, rail and other infrastructure projects it's likely to be a year where the economy might grind out 2 per cent growth but not much more.

Looking further ahead and into 2018, the outlook is a bit brighter since resources construction will eventually plateau as we move into the next investment phase of the mining boom, being that required to maintain production volumes as iron ore reserves are depleted. 

Private new capital expenditure is now rising in New South Wales, Victoria, and most notably Queensland, but Western Australia and the Northern Territory still have some way to travel before finally reaching the nadir. 

Sydney housing dominates

Louis Christoper of SQM Research was once again a front runner in housing market forecasts in 2016.

He explained here how in inner ring Sydney the market was phenomenally strong in the second half of the year, with examples of properties reselling at 15 to 20 per cent higher prices in the space of just a few months in the face of chronically low stock levels. 

I saw the same thing around Pyrmont, and although it's not my 'patch' the northern beaches clearly experienced some outsized gains too. 

Louis notes that the outer suburbs and north west were weakening earlier in the year, while stock on market shortages led to prices rising in most areas by the end of the year. 

Elastic fantastic

In 2006, Cyclone Larry destroyed more than 90 per cent of Queensland's banana crop, some 200,000 tonnes of fruit.

Since Queensland produced about 95 per cent of Australian bananas, the price of bananas went through the roof, rising by 400 to 500 per cent. 

Later in 2006 as the devastation receded, growers councils warned producers not to attempt to recover costs through a production flood.

It's an example of the immutable laws of supply and demand working pretty much as you'd expect.

It's tempting to think that housing markets work like bananas, but they don't - at least not in the short term.

For example, for some years it's been argued that Sydney's housing market must peak imminently because it takes first homebuyers too long to save a deposit for a median priced house.

But while this could be one of the fundamentals which might theoretically drive a market's 'fair value', being only one sector - and a presently diminishing one at that - it only really has a marginal impact on housing market momentum.

Louis Christopher believes that Sydney will see price growth of 11 to 16 per cent next year, incidentally. 

The reason for this is that although higher prices in theory should deter buyers, in housing markets this can instead lead to a a fear of missing out, while the rising price of housing gifts homeowners with more equity. 

Household wealth passed a record $9 trillion this year, with more credit sloshing around the system than ever before. 

Hence, unlike in the banana market, prices can continue to rise even as developers bring more supply onto the market.

A lot can happen in twelve months, but the first half of the year is likely to see more price gains in Sydney.

Beyond this, markets remain convinced that interest rates will fall no further than they have already.

The next inflation figures aren't due until the day before Australia Day, so we'll have to see what those figures bring.


With the changing face of Australia's housing markets I did a lot of work with various international hedge funds in 2016, which in turn both directly and indirectly led to some geographical changes in my blog readership, garnering much more interest from the US in particular. 

Indeed, the monthly readership passed 65,000 hits for the first time in the last quarter of this year, so thanks for reading and for sharing.