Rocky road ahead for property investors dependent on Olympic Dam expansion
Yesterday's announcement by BHP to delay and downsize its Olympic Dam expansion plans should be a lesson to all property investors. If you were ever seriously thinking of investing in a location on the back of the anticipated impact that a single major project might have on that property market, then make sure all of project approvals are in place.
The process leading up to the now famous boom that has occurred in Gladstone is an example. Our research on Gladstone was completed approximately three years ago, after various government approvals had been granted for the construction of an initial liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. Importantly though, we intentionally kept things under wraps and delayed purchasing properties in Gladstone until the formal board approval had been granted to fund the first of Gladstone’s LNG plants. Clients whom we subsequently helped buy investment properties in specific pockets within Gladstone have made approximately $100,000 over the last 2 ½ years.
The unfortunate consequences for many property investment speculators who may have already invested on the expectation that Olympic Dam would be given the green light this year is that a rocky road is ahead.
Government approval for the Olympic Dam expansion was granted late last year. BHP had always advised that its board would not make its final investment decision until December this year. We had a very good look in to the potential property investment opportunities to spin off Olympic Dam on behalf of our clients. Investigation was definitely warranted when the biggest mining company in the world says that it is going to invest $30 billion to dig the biggest hole on the planet.
We’ve felt that the writing has been on the wall for BHP to back out of its original plans. South Australians will be shattered by this. The state’s economy has been in the doldrums for decades. From the premier to the suburban pie maker, the SA public have been waiting with baited breath for a large, good news story.
On the expectation that the Olympic Dam expansion was a fait accompli, and with very few other locations in SA that have high demand for new housing, several development projects have already commenced in towns like Whyalla. In the absence of the extra service contracts that were to support BHP and new job creation the Eyre Peninsula is now likely to be an over-supplied property market with low consumer confidence.
The Olympic Dam scenario should highlight to property investors the risks of getting caught up in all the hoopla and making major financial decisions without the expertise to conduct a comprehensive feasibility.
For what it's worth, we think the expansion will go ahead at some stage. BHP’s decision is primarily due to funding pressures. It requires significant capital to be invested in multiple projects, not just in Australia, and in a climate where it's increasingly difficult to secure funding. The copper, zinc, gold and uranium won't disappear. The opportunities to BHP from of expanding Olympic Dam are too big for it not to proceed.
Olympic Dam isn’t the only project to be put in hold because of funding challenges. While stakeholders such as shareholders, governments, property investors, and the like would prefer to see BHP proceed as scheduled, the silver lining is that deferments of some projects reduces pressure on availability of skilled labour for those projects which are underway. It is also likely to "smooth" out what was an enormous spike in the Australia's project pipeline and spread it over a longer period.
Other than when will the expansion proceed, the biggest questions is where will the biggest impacts on property markets be felt. The consensus appears to be debated over Roxby Downs, Whyalla, or Port Augusta. While we do expect the economy in each of these towns to benefit we are turned off by the Eyre Peninsula’s over-reliance on mining. We believe that Adelaide will be the main beneficiary of Olympic Dam. A majority of workers will operate on a fly-in-fly-out basis, similar to those who commute from Perth to the Pilbara. Adelaide’s economy unfortunately has challenges that even a project as big as Olympic Dam won’t fully address. Adelaide also has a history of being more than capable of supplying adequate housing to meet demand.Simon Pressley is a buyers' agent for Propertyology.
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