RBA rate cuts stimulating 'relatively moderate' housing market recovery: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
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The Reserve Bank is falsely pinning its hopes that lower interest rates will stimulate a recovery in housing construction, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Australia economists Saul Eslake and Alex Joiner.
They point to the muted impact that six rate cuts since November last year have had to date on both house prices and building approval figures – the weakest response to monetary policy stimulus in a decade – and anticipate only a "relatively moderate" recovery in residential construction" compared with previous cycles.
The RBA is hoping that when the mining and liquid natural gas (LNG) investment boom tails off in the next few years, the slack will be taken up by a boom in housing construction and a broader recovery in the housing market.
Last week, Jonathan Kearns, head of economic analysis at the RBA, said in a speech on the outlook for dwelling investment that there were “tentative signs” that investment in housing “will pick up which would, in part, offset the smaller contribution to growth that we expect from resource investment in the coming years”.
But in a research report, Eslake and Joiner say that despite the RBA being over a year into the current monetary policy easing cycle, "the response from both house prices and residential construction has so far been measured at best".Click to enlarge
"We argue that due to structural and cyclical factors that any upswing in dwelling prices and investment over the coming year will remain relatively modest compared with previous cycles," they say.
The cash rate has fallen 150 basis points between November 2011 and October 2012, and banks’ standard variable mortgage rates have dropped 120 basis points in response, but Eslake and Joiner calculate that median house prices are still 1.2% lower than they were in October 2011 and have climbed just 2% since bottoming out in May.
In comparison, house prices increased by nearly 37% after the Reserve Bank cut interest rates by 200 basis points (from a cash rate of 6.25% to 4.25%) between January 2001 and December that year, and by a further 16% after the GFC, when the RBA cut the cash rate by 425 basis points from September 2008 to April 2009 (7.25% to 3%).
Building approval figures for detached houses – a forward indicator of future construction activity – have also not responded to the current rate-cutting cycle and are down 1.8% for the year to September in comparison with the units and apartment approval, which are up 41.6% year-on-year.
"This underperformance of detached housing approvals in particular is likely to result in the overall recovery in approvals and subsequently residential construction in the coming year being significantly less pronounced than in previous cycles," say Eslake and Joiner.
"This is especially true when we note that at least part of the strength in ‘other’ approvals was prompted by regulatory changes and alterations to state governments’ first home buyer grants (which will nonetheless boost dwelling investment growth in the short term).
"Our rationale for this is that despite easier monetary policy and Commonwealth and state government initiatives designed to boost the supply of housing (first home buyer grants, negative gearing etc) several factors are conspiring against any significant and sustained addition to housing supply."
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