Housing in Australia is severely unaffordable, and despite the growth in jobs, unemployment in some centres is rising. We look at the evidence. Welcome the Property Imperative Weekly to 27th January 2018.
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Today we start with employment data. CommSec looked at employment across regions over the last year. Despite the boom in jobs, the regional variations are quite stark, with some areas showing higher rates of unemployment, and difficult economic conditions. Unemployment has increased in several Queensland regional centres in recent years. Queensland’s coastal regional centres such as Bundaberg, Gympie, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay, known more broadly as Wide Bay (average 9.0 per cent), together with Townsville (albeit lower at 8.5 per cent) have elevated jobless rates. Unemployment also increased along the suburban fringes and city ‘spines’ such as Ipswich (8.1 per cent) in Brisbane and the western suburbs of Melbourne (9.0 per cent). In Western Australia, Mandurah, south of Perth, experienced a significant decline in the jobless rate to an average of 7.0 per cent in December from 11.2 per cent a year ago. Higher income metropolitan areas, especially in Sydney’s coastal suburbs, dominate the regions with the lowest unemployment rates. However, the corridor between Broken Hill and Dubbo has Australia’s lowest regional unemployment rate at 2.9 per cent, benefitting from agricultural, tourism and mining-related jobs growth. You will find there is a strong correlation with mortgage stress, as we will discuss next week.
The Victorian Government has reaffirmed their intent to shortly accept applications for its shared equity scheme known as HomesVic from up to 400 applicants. We do not think such schemes help affordability, they simply lift prices higher, but looks good politically. This was first announced in March 2017. The $50-million pilot initiative aims to make it easier for first-home buyers to enter the market by reducing the size of their loan, hence reducing the amount they need to save for a deposit. The initiative targets single first-home buyers earning an annual income of less than $75,000 and couples earning less than $95,000. Eligible applicants must buy in so-called “priority areas” which include 85 Melbourne suburbs, seven fringe towns and 130 regional towns and suburbs. In Melbourne, the list includes suburbs around Box Hill, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Epping, Fishermen’s Bend, Footscray, Fountain Gate, Frankston, LaTrobe, Monash, Pakenham, Parkville, Ringwood, Sunshine and Werribee. Regional centres on the list include Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Geelong, La Trobe, Mildura, Seymour, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga. The state government said the locations were chosen in growth areas where there was a high demand for housing and access to employment and public transport. Some of these locations are where mortgage stress, on our modelling is highest – we will release the January results next week. The scheme is not available in most of Melbourne’s bayside suburbs, the leafy inner eastern suburbs or some pockets of the inner north.
Overseas, the US Mortgage Rates continue to rise, heading back to the worst levels in more than 9 months. Rates have risen an eighth of a percentage point since last week, a quarter of a point from 2 weeks ago, and 3/8ths of a point since mid-December. That makes this the worst run since the abrupt spike following 2016’s presidential election. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that rates will continue a linear trend higher in the coming months, the trajectory is up, reflecting movements in the capital markets, and putting more pressure on funding costs globally.
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has published an important report “Structural changes in banking after the crisis“. The report highlights a “new normal” world of lower bank profitability, and warns that banks may be tempted to take more risks, and leverage harder in an attempt to bolster profitability. This however, should be resisted. They also underscore the issues of banking concentration and the asset growth, two issues which are highly relevant to Australia. The report says that in some countries the 2007 banking crisis brought about the end of a period of fast and excessive growth in domestic banking sectors. Worth noting the substantial growth in Australia, relative to some other markets and of particular note has been the dramatic expansion of the Chinese banking system, which grew from about 230% to 310% of GDP over 2010–16 to become the largest in the world, accounting for 27% of aggregate bank assets.
Back home, an ASIC review of financial advice provided by the five biggest vertically integrated financial institutions (the big four banks and AMP) has identified areas where improvements are needed to the management of conflicts of interest. 68% of clients’ funds were invested in in-house products. ASIC also examined a sample of files to test whether advice to switch to in-house products satisfied the ‘best interests’ requirements. ASIC found that in 75% of the advice files reviewed the advisers did not demonstrate compliance with the duty to act in the best interests of their clients. Further, 10% of the advice reviewed was likely to leave the customer in a significantly worse financial position. This highlights the problems in vertically integrated firms, something which the Productivity Commission is also looking at. The real problem is commission related remuneration, and cultural norms which put interest of customers well down the list of priorities.
The Financial Services Royal Commission has called for submissions, demonstrating poor behaviour and misconduct. It will hold an initial public hearing in Melbourne on Monday 12 February 2018. The not-for-profit consumer organisation, the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) said the number of Aussie households facing mortgage stress has “soared” nearly 20 per cent in the last six months, and argued that lenders are to blame. Referencing Digital Finance Analytics’ prediction that homes facing mortgage stress will top 1 million by 2019, CALC said older Australians are at particular risk. The organisation explained: “Irresponsible mortgage lending can have severe consequences, including the loss of the security of a home. “Consumer Action’s experience is that older people are at significant risk, particularly where they agree to mortgage or refinance their home for the benefit of third parties. This can be family members or someone who holds their trust.” Continuing, CALC said a “common situation” features adult children persuading an older relative to enter into a loan contract as the borrower, assuring them that they will execute all the repayments. “[However] the lack of appropriate inquiries into the suitability of a loan only comes to light when the adult child defaults on loan repayments and the bank commences proceedings for possession of the loan in order to discharge the debt,” CALC said. We think poor lending practice should be on the Commissions Agenda, and we will be making our own submission shortly.
The latest 14th edition of the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2018, continues to demonstrate the fact that we have major issues here in Australia. There are no affordable or moderately affordable markets in Australia. NONE! Sydney is second worst globally in terms of affordability after Hong Kong, with Melbourne, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Geelong, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Perth, Cains and Canberra all near the top of the list. You can watch our separate video where we discuss the findings and listen to our discussion with Ben Fordham on 2GB. When this report comes out each year, we get the normal responses from industry, such as Australia is different or the calculations are flawed. I would simply say, the trends over time show the relative collapse in affordability, and actually the metrics are well researched.
Fitch Ratings published its Global Home Prices report. They say price growth is expected to slow in most markets and risks are growing as the prospect of gradually rising mortgage rates comes into view this year. Their data on Australia makes interesting reading. Fitch expects Sydney and Melbourne HPI to stabilise in 2018, due to low interest rates, falling rental yields, increasing supply, limited investment alternatives and growing dwelling completions, partially offset by high population growth. Fitch expects the increase in FTB to be temporary; low income growth, tighter underwriting and rising living costs will maintain pressure on affordability for FTB. As mortgage rates are currently low, any material rate rise will weigh further on mortgage affordability and serviceability. The rising cost of living and sluggish wage growth are likely to increase pressure on recent borrowers who have little disposable income. Fitch expects mortgage lending growth to slow to around 4% in 2018, based on continued record low interest rates and stable unemployment. This will once again be offset by continued underemployment, reduced investor demand and tougher lending practices.
Finally, the latest weekly data from CoreLogic underscores the weakness in the property market. First prices are drifting lower, with Sydney down 0.4% in the past week and Melbourne down 0.1%. The indicator of mortgage activity is also down, suggesting demand is easing as lending rules tighten. But then we always have a decline over the summer break. The question is, are we seeing a temporary blip, over the holiday season, or something more structural? We think the latter is more likely, but time will tell.
So that’s the Property Imperative Weekly to 27th January 2018. If you found this useful, do like the post, add a comment and subscribe to receive future editions. Many thanks for taking the time to watch.