The Aussie apartment boom that has turned into an epic bubble with record, sky-high prices, is showing all the signs for the perfect storm which will ultimately pop. With the popping of the apartment boom, it will simultaneously bring down the Australian economy, as the apartment market is set to have a sizeable correction in 2017 and 2018.
A short Look At Australia’s Real Estate Market
Australian real estate prices have been going up for over 25 years with hardly a pause in between since the late 80’s. The last time real estate prices fell considerably was when Australia last had an official economic recession back in 1987, when interest rates skyrocketed to around 17-18%.
The chart below show the price growth of real estate, rents and CPI since mid 1987. Initially the price growth of Australia’s real estate market climbed steadily taking 11 years to double in 1988. From there the price growth continued to accelerate with the next 100% increase in price taking 4.5 years to reach.
An interesting observation on the chart below is that real estate prices have risen by over 700% since 1987, yet rents have risen just under 300% over the same period. This chart clearly shows that the majority of the price growth was not supported by a fundamental increase in rents to support the higher prices, but rather a massive surge in mortgage debt over the same period drove prices higher.
Rising Credit Leads To Booms & Contractions In Credit Lead to Busts
Professor Steve Keen in the interview shown below highlights his own reasons why he sees a recession coming in 2017 for Australia.
Steve highlights a number of reasons for his prediction, including deteriorating terms of trade, the ending of the mining investment boom, the Government’s pursuit to cut spending and a reduction in foreign buyers for real estate, among others. However, the most important reason is a deceleration of credit / mortgage debt. Based on Steve’s research and economic models the deceleration of mortgage debt growth is the leading cause for all economic downturns globally including the US, Japan and Europe economic recessions, with a correlation close to -1. What all his research shows is that the deceleration of mortgage debt growth leads to a collapse in real estate prices which then lead to an economic recession in those countries.
Due to this research, Steve believes Australia will react the same way as other countries based on slowing growth in mortgage debt. Especially, as the conditions have already begun to slow based on the bank’s tightening their standards overall. However, most of the lending restrictions imposed from the banks are for off the plan apartments and existing apartments within most major cities around Australia.
Given Australia was recently ranked number 4 in the world in the UBS global real estate bubble index, see: Australia’s debt addiction fuels record real estate bubble, its easy to see that prices could fall over 20% as lending conditions continue to tighten and their effects take hold.
Why Are Banks Tightening Lending Conditions With Record Real Estate Prices?
The simple reason is that the banks do not want to be caught in a credit crunch like they faced back in 2008 and 2009 where they had to have the RBA and the US FED provide considerable financial assistance to keep them afloat.
Right now the banks can see what everyone else can see if you look at all the data publicly available. Australia will face a major oversupply of apartment dwellings over the next 1 – 3 years from a major ramp up of approvals of apartments. The growth of approvals over the last 7 years which you can see in the chart below, is leading to a big jump in the construction of apartments with a number of them being competed in the next 18 months.
Due to the rapid increase in approvals, there has been a massive spike of cranes currently being deployed in Australia, to handle the apartment boom that is currently taking place. As you can see below in the chart Sydney and Melbourne are leading the way in Australia, dwarfing most major cities in the US including New York and LA.
With all the current construction for apartments taking place from the buildup of approvals, especially in the last 3 years, Australia is facing a glut of new apartments that are about to be completed in 2017 and 2018.
Knowing the upcoming glut of apartment completions is about to come available on the market soon, the banks have taken action to protect their capital by providing most of their tightening around new and existing apartments within the CBD’s of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane where most of the construction has taken place.
Highest Housing Completions = Biggest Housing Price Fall
The chart below shows a comparison of house prices in Australia, UK, Spain, US and Ireland with an accompanying housing completions chart.
The most obvious data from the chart is both Ireland and Spain had the biggest fall in prices during the GFC in 2008 relative to the other countries shown. Those 2 countries also had the largest ramp up of new housing completed from 2000 – 2007.
Surging Bond Yields Leads To Higher Mortgage Rates In Australia.
Back in October US Government 10 yr bond yields were sitting at around 1.55%. Fast forward one month and rates are now sitting at around 2.3%. A 0.8% increase from the October levels (see chart below). The reason why this is a big deal, is that the US Government bond yields are what are utilized to benchmark most of the different types of retail and commercial loans.
In Australia the banks also rely heavily on overseas markets and especially the US markets to provide the necessary funding to support their loan book. So as bond yields have skyrocketed in such a short period in the US, it has already led to the banks in Australia lifting rates by between 0.20% – 0.60% on their fixed loans as their funding costs have jumped dramatically.
With mortgage rates rising and lending conditions being tightened its becoming more difficult for developers to sell their off the plan apartments as investors find it more difficult to access bank lending to finance their purchases, resulting in a slump in demand for off the plan apartments.
Melbourne Developer Offers $21,000 To Encourage Buyers
In an attempt to lure buyers to a new off the plan development in Melbourne, a large well known developer is now offering $21,000 to investors in an attempt to sell their $420,000 1 br apartments in Southbank Melbourne. The idea is to match the investor or first time buyer’s 5% deposit of $21,000 to assist them in meeting a 10% deposit.
The problem that this Melbourne developer and other developers will find, is even with this huge financial incentive, many of the banks in Australia have lifted their minimum deposit requirements for off the plan apartments in major cities to between 15% – 25%.
Apartment Bubble Bursting Leading To Australian Recession
Similar to Professor Steve Keen’s prediction that a recession is coming to Australia in 2017 or early 2018, I also believe that the perfect storm of conditions are developing that will soon pop the apartment bubble that has been taking place in Australia.
When the correction in apartment prices takes hold, it will have a domino effect on the Australian economy, leading to a contraction in economic activity in Australia. The reason for this is because the real estate industry and related industries now has the largest contribution to GDP at around 28%. (See chart below)
With record amount of apartment construction taking place over the last few years, fueling a considerable amount of GDP growth, I believe the slowing of the construction industry will start to subtract heavily on GDP growth in 2017 and 2018 leading to Australia’s first recession in over 25 years.
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