A Shakespearean character suggested (Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2), as a great way to improve the country: “First thing we do: let’s kill all the lawyers.”
While the idea has merit in 21st Century Australia, I think a better strategy would be to get rid of all the economists. A good method of dispatch would be to push them off a cliff, similar to the September cliff they’re all predicting as the next catastrophe to afflict Australia’s economy.
If there’s a more pointless and over-rated profession anywhere in society, I don’t know about it. These people continue to get paid, and they continue to feature daily in major media with their incessant “warnings”, despite their staggering ability to be wrong with most of their forecasts.
For many of our chattering economists, the meaning of life is their picture in the paper or a short grab on the evening television news. Some exhibit a need for daily exposure. How best to achieve that? Say something sensationally negative – the truth is optional and you can be sure that no journalist will ever check on your track record of getting things right, so credibility is unimportant. Just describing yourself as an economist is enough.
So when the impacts of Covid-19 first became apparent in February and March, the nation’s gaggle of chattering economists began predicting a collapse in real estate prices.
The people I call “the usual suspects”, the economists and independent ranters who always talk down property, began tipping house prices would fall at least 20% and some suggested even 30% or 40%.
Journalists, being the shallow creatures that they are, lapped it all up and rushed to print with sensationally negative headlines, without applying any scrutiny to the forecasters and their motives.
Four months later, some of those forecasters are retracting their earlier predictions. Shane Oliver of AMP Capital, always eager to be a real estate pessimist, recently recanted his 20% decline tip and suggested a more moderate outcome.
The boffins at UBS, who seldom see anything positive in real estate, recently admitted they’d got in wrong and that housing markets were holding up a lot better than they thought.
The latest data from both CoreLogic and SQM Research indicates that most of the markets across Australia still have house prices higher than they were at the start of 2020, in defiance of those dire forecasts.
But now the diehard doomsdayers have found a new catastrophe to obsess over: the September cliff.
The theory is that come the end of September, the banks and the federal government will flick a switch and stop supporting Australia.
The trigger here is that JobKeeper is scheduled to run until then and the banks have put a similar deadline on their extension of mortgage payment holidays to borrowers. So, when the government and banks suddenly stop caring about the nation, and themselves, and switch off their support, everything will fall off a cliff. Theoretically.
It’s a convenient scenario for pessimistic economists (is there any other type?) and journalists with a negative mindset (there is definitely no other type).
But there are serious flaws in the theory and I feel confident in suggesting that is simply won’t happen. There will be no cliff for prices to fall off at the end of September.
Here’s what’s wrong with the “September cliff” theory:-
· It assumes that everything depends on JobKeeper and mortgage holidays. It doesn’t – there’s a whole lot more in the mix.
· It assumes the Federal Government will suddenly stop caring about the national economy and simply switch off support in September. They won’t.
· It assumes banks will shoot themselves in the foot by abandoning their customers. They haven’t come this far in supporting their borrower customers to abandon them later.
· It assumes that nothing will change with business and employment between now and 30 September. But a lot is changing already, with restrictions easing, businesses re-opening and jobs re-appearing.
· It overlooks the extraordinary level of stimulus measures in play. Multiple booster measures from all levels of government have been activated and there is more to come. A $72 billion spend on infrastructure provides a prime example of the measures that will generate economic activity and jobs. The $25,000 grant for people to build homes is generating activity that has surpassed all expectations and the economic multiplier effect of residential construction is the second biggest of any industry sector in Australia.
· It overlooks the impact of the ongoing easing of restrictions. Before we get to the doomsday deadline, state borders will be open (most are already, notwithstanding the Victoria situation) and tourism will be pumping again. Australia are revelling in the new freedoms and this will help revive economies. The latest ABS data shows that retail spending is rising again, with a 17% increase in May.
· It overlooks the news that people who sought mortgage holidays are rapidly moving back to making mortgage payments. ANZ said in mid-June that a third of the customers who sought a holiday are already back making payments. The numbers of borrowers resuming payments is growing every week.
· It ignores the extraordinary resilience of real estate markets, which have a history of not only resisting economic downturns but leading national economic recovery. Real estate markets revel in defying the most dire forecasts of the chattering economists.
· It forgets the natural boost to real estate markets from the Spring selling season.
The “September cliff” theory will be forgotten even before we get to September. The people who made those forecasts will have forgotten they made them. For most of the talking heads, it’s nothing more than a soundbite, a publicity opportunity. Some of them don’t even believe their public statements.
It will join an already-long list of predictions that have been proven false since February. Every statistic that has been published to date – whether it be property prices, auction clearances rates, vacancy rates, retail spending, unemployment figures and GDP numbers – has been less dramatic than the media forecasts.
It’s time we stopped listening to the attention-seeking economists whose only objective is to gain media profile by feeding the 24-hour news cycle, with little regard to the consequences.
Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au