The issue of house prices in both Australia and China

Earlier today there was this announcement from Australia or if you prefer the south china territories.

Residential property prices rose 1.9 per cent in the June quarter 2017, according to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)……..Through the year growth in residential property prices reached 10.2 per cent in the June quarter 2017. Sydney and Melbourne recorded the largest through the year growth of all capital cities, both rising 13.8 per cent followed by Hobart, which rose 12.4 per cent.

So we see something which is a familiar pattern as we see a country with a double-digit rate of inflation in this area albeit only just. Also adding to the deja vu is that the capital city seems to be leader of the pack.

However there is quite a bit of variation to be seen on the undercard so to speak.

“Residential property prices, while continuing to rise in Melbourne and Sydney this quarter, have begun to moderate. Annual price movements ranged from -4.9 per cent in Darwin to +13.8 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne. These results highlight the diverse housing market and economic conditions in Australia’s capital cities,” Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman said.

The statistics agency seems to be implying it is a sort of race if the tweet below is any guide.

“Sydney and Melbourne drive property price rise of 1.9%” – how did your state perform?

Wealth

There was something added to the official house price release that will lead to smiles and maybe cheers at the Reserve Bank of Australia.

The total value of Australia’s 9.9 million residential dwellings increased $145.9 billion to $6.7 trillion. The mean price of dwellings in Australia rose by $12,100 over the quarter to $679,100.

Central bankers will cheer the idea that wealth has increased in response to the house price rises but there are plenty of issues with this. Firstly you are using the prices of relatively few houses and flats to give a value for the whole housing stock. Has anybody made an offer for every dwelling in Australia? I write that partly in jest but the principle of the valuation idea being a fantasy is sound. Marginal prices ( the last sale) do not give an average value. Also the implication given that wealth has increased ignores first-time buyers and those wishing or needing to move to a larger dwelling as they face inflation rather than have wealth gains.

This sort of thinking has also infested the overall wealth figures for Australia and the emphasis is mine.

The average net worth for all Australian households in 2015–16 was $929,400, up from $835,300 in 2013–14 and $722,200 in 2005-06. Rising property values are the main contributor to this increase. Total average property values have increased to $626,700 in 2015–16 from $548,500 in 2013–14 and $433,500 in 2005-06.

If we look at impacts on different groups we see it driving inequality. One way of looking at this is to use a Gini coefficient which in adjusted terms for disposable income is 0.323 and for wealth is 0.605 . Another way is to just simply look at the ch-ch-changes over time.

One factor driving the increase in net wealth of high income households is the value of owner-occupied and other property. For high wealth households, average total property value increased by $878,000 between 2003-04 and 2015-16 from $829,200 to $1.7 million. For middle wealth households average property values increased by $211,200 (from $258,000 to $469,200). Low wealth households that owned property had much lower growth of $5,600 to $28,500 over the twelve years.

As you can see the “wealth effects” are rather concentrated as I note that the percentage increase is larger for the wealthier as well of course as the absolute amount. Those at the lower end of the scale gain very little if anything. What group do we think central bankers and their friends are likely to be in?

Debt

This has been rising too.

Average household debt has almost doubled since 2003-04 according to the latest figures from the Survey of Income and Housing, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Chief Economist Bruce Hockman said average household debt had risen to $169,000 in 2015-16, an increase of $75,000 on the 2003-04 average of $94,000.

The ABS analysis tells us this.

Growth in debt has outpaced income and asset growth since 2003-04. Rising property values, low interest rates and a growing appetite for larger debts have all contributed to increased over-indebtedness. The proportion of over-indebted households has climbed to 29 per cent of all households with debt in 2015-16, up from 21 per cent in 2003-04.

They define over-indebtedness as having debts of more than 3 years income or more than 75% of their assets. That must include rather a lot of first-time buyers.

Younger property owners in particular have taken on greater debt.

Also the statistic below makes me think that some are either punting the property market or had no choice but to take out a large loan.

“Nearly half of our most wealthy households (47 per cent) who have a property debt are over-indebted, holding an average property debt of $924,000. This makes them particularly susceptible if market conditions or household economic circumstances change,” explained Mr Hockman.

So something of an illusion of wealth combined with the hard reality of debt.

Ever more familiar

Such situations invariably involve “Help” for first-time buyers and here it is Aussie style.

In Australia every State government provides first home buyer with incentives such as the First Home Owners Grant (FHOG) ( FHBA)

In New South Wales you get 10,000 Aussie Dollars plus since July purchases up to 650,000 Aussie Dollars are free of state stamp duty.

China

If we head north to China we see a logical response to ever higher house prices.

Local governments are directly buying up large quantities of houses developers haven’t been able to sell and filling them with citizens relocated from what they call “slums”—old, sometimes dilapidated neighborhoods. ( Wall Street Journal).

We have discussed on here more than a few times that the end game could easily be a socialisation of losses in the property market which of course would be yet another subsidy for the banks.

The scale of the program is large, accounting for 18% of floor space sold in 2016, according to Rosealea Yao, senior analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, and is being partly funded by state policy banks like China Development Bank. ( WSJ)

Will they turn out to be like the Bank of Japan in equity markets and be a sort of Beijing Whale? Each time the market dips the Bank of Japan provides a put option although of course there are not that many Exchange Traded Funds for it to buy these days because it has bought so many already.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here so let me open with a breakdown of changes in the situation in Australia over the last decade or so.

This growth in household debt was larger than the growth in income and assets over the same period. The mean household debt has increased by 83% in real terms since 2003-04. By comparison, the mean asset value increased by 49% and gross income by 38%.

Lower interest-rates have oiled the difference between the growth of debt and income. But as we move on so has the rise in perceived wealth. The reason I call it perceived wealth is that those who sell genuinely gain when they do so but for the rest it is simply a paper profit based on a relatively small number of transactions.

If we move to the detail we see that if there is to be Taylor Swift style “trouble,trouble, trouble” it does not have to be in the whole market. What I mean by that is that lower wealth groups have gained very little if anything from the asset price rises so any debt issues there are a problem. Also those at the upper end may be more vulnerable than one might initially assume.

High income households were also more likely to be over-indebted. One quarter of the households in the top income quintile were over-indebted compared to one-in-six (16%) low income households (in the bottom 20%).

Should one day they head down the road that China is currently on then the chart below may suggest that those who have rented may be none too pleased.

Never Tear Us Apart ( INXS )

I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never ever tear us apart

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When will real wages finally rise?

One of the main features of the credit crunch era has been weak and at times negative real wage growth. This was hardly a surprise when the employment situation deteriorated but many countries have seen strong employment gains over the past few years and in some employment is now at a record high. Yet wage growth has been much lower than would have been expected in the past. As so often the leader of the pack in a race nobody wants to win has been Japan although there has been claim after claim that this is about to turn around as this from Bloomberg in May indicates.

It’s not making headlines yet, but wages in Japan are rising the fastest in decades, in a shift that’s poised to divide the nation’s companies — and their stocks — into winners and losers, according to Morgan Stanley.

No doubt this was based on the very strong quantity numbers for the Japanese economy which if we move forwards in time to now show an unemployment rate of 2.8% and a jobs per applicant ratio summarised below by Japan Macro Advisers.

Japan’s job offers to applicant ratio rose to 1.51 in June from 1.49 in May. The ratio is the highest in the last 43 years since 1974. While the number of job offers continue to rise along with the expansion in the economy, the number of job applicants are falling. With the shrinking population, Japan simply does not have a resource to meet the demand for labor.

I can almost feel the wind of the Ivory Towers rushing past to predict a rise in wages in such a situation. They will be encouraged by this from the Nikkei Asian Review on Friday.

The labor shortage created by stronger economic growth has prompted many companies to raise wages. Tokyo Electron, a semiconductor production equipment manufacturer, is a good example.

Tokyo Electron introduced a new personnel system on July 1 in which salaries reflect the roles and responsibilities of employees. Under the new system salaries will rise, primarily for junior and midlevel employees. The change will raise the total wages paid to the company’s 7,000 employees in Japan by about 2 billion yen ($18.1 million) annually.

This is something we see regularly where the media presents a company that is toeing the official line and raising wages. But I note that it is doing particularly well and expecting record profits so is unlikely to be typical. By contrast I note that there is another way of dealing with a labour shortage.

In April, Lumine, a shopping center operator, responded to an employee shortage among its tenants by closing 30 minutes earlier at 12 locations, or 80% of its stores. The risk was that shorter operating hours would cut revenue, but Lumine sales held steady in the April-June quarter.

Awkward that in many ways as for example productivity has just been raised with total wages cut.

What about the official data?

I will let The Japan Times take up the story.

Japan’s June real wages decreased 0.8 percent from a year before in the first fall in three months, labor ministry data showed Friday.
Nominal wages including bonuses fell 0.4 percent to ¥429,686 ($3,880), the first drop in 13 months, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Up is the new down one more time. Also the official story that bonuses are leading growth due to a strong economy met this.

due mainly to a 1.5 percent decrease in bonuses and other special payments.

There is one quirk however which is that part-time wages are doing much better and rising at an annual rate of 3.1%. The catch is that you would not leave a regular job in Japan because those wages are lower and to some extent are catching up. How very credit crunch that to get wage growth you have to take a pay cut! Indeed to get work people had to take pay cuts. From the Nikkei Asian Review.

Japanese companies hired more relatively low paid nonregular employees during the prolonged period of deflation.

Now we find ourselves reviewing two apparently contradictory pieces of data.

 The number of workers in Japan increased by 1.85 million between 2012 and 2016……….Japan’s wage bill was 7% lower in May than at the end of 1997 — before deflation took hold.

Australia

You might not think that there would be issues here as of course the commodity price boom driven by Chinese demand has led to a boon for what we sometimes call the South China Territories. Indeed this from @YuanTalks will have looked good from Perth this morning.

The rally in industrial continues in . rebar limit up, surging over 6%

Yet according to the Sydney Morning Herald this is the state of play for wages.

But since 2012 and 2013, Australian workers have felt stuck in a holding pattern of slow wages growth. Wages for the whole economy increased by 1.9 per cent in the year to March just in line with inflation.

There are familiar issues on the over side of the balance sheet.

Families are also wrestling with rising electricity prices, skyrocketing property prices and high demand for accommodation has also forced up rents.

Even the professional sector has been hit.

When Sahar Khalili started work as a casual pharmacist eight years ago, she was paid $35 an hour. Over the years that has fallen to as low as $30 while her rent has more than doubled.

Actually there is something rather disturbing if we drill into the detail as productivity has done quite well in Australia ( presumably aided by the commodity boom) but wages have not followed it leading to this.

The typical Australian family takes home less today than it did in 2009, according to the latest Household Income and Labour Dynamics survey released this week.

These surveys are invariably a couple of years behind where we are but there are questions to say the least. Oh and the shrinkflation saga has not escaped what might be called a stereotypically Australian perspective.

“My beers are getting smaller,” he says.

The USA

Friday brought us the labour market or non farm payroll numbers. In it we saw that wage growth ( average hourly earnings) was at an annual rate of 2.5% which is getting to be a familiar number. There is a little real wage growth but not much which is provoking ever more food for thought as employment rises and unemployment falls. Indeed more and more are concentrating on developments like this reported by Forbes.

Starting pay at the Amazon warehouse, carved out of a large lot with a new road called Innovation Way designed for Amazon-bound trucks, is at $12.75, no degree required. For inventory managers with warehousing experience, the pay is $14.70 an hour and requires a bachelor’s degree.

The new warehouse offers 30 hour a week jobs because they slip under the state legislation on provision of benefits. In some parts of America they would qualify under the food stamp programme. No wonder that as of May some 41.5 million still qualified.

Yet the Wall Street Journal describes it thus.

a vastly improved labor market

Comment

This is a situation we have looked at many times and there is much that is familiar. Firstly the Ivory Towers have invented their own paradise where wages rise due to a falling output gap and when reality fails to match that they simply project it forwards in time. The media tends to repeat that. But if we consider the dangers of us turning Japanese we see that wages there are lower than 20 years ago in spite of very low unemployment levels. Over the past 4 years or so this has been always just about to turn around as Abenomics impacts.

My fear is that unless something changes fundamentally ( cold fusion, far superior battery technology etc..) real wages may flat line for some time yet. All the monetary easing in the world has had no impact here.

 

 

 

What are the latest trends for inflation?

It is time to review one of the themes of 2017 which is that we expected a pick-up in the annual rate of inflation around the world. This has been in play with the US CPI rising at an annual rate of 2.4% in March and the Euro area CPI rising at 1.9% in April for example. If we switch to the factor that has been the main player in this we see that energy prices were 10.9% higher in the US than a year before and that in the Euro area they had gone from an annual rate of -8.7% in April last year to 7.5% this April. If we look at my own country the UK then the new headline inflation measure called CPIH ( where H includes an Imputed Rent effort at housing costs) then inflation has risen from 0.2% in October 2015 to 2.3% in March. So we see that the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have inflation above target and the ECB on it which means two things. Firstly those who went on and on about deflation a couple of years ago were about as accurate as central banking Forward Guidance . Secondly that we can expect inflation in the use of the words “temporary” and “transitory”!

Crude Oil

There has been a change in trend here indicated this morning by this from @LiveSquawk.

Saudi OPEC Governor: Based On Today’s Data, There Is Growing Conviction That 6-Month Extension May Be Needed To Re-balance The Market

You may recall that what used to be the world’s most powerful cartel the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC met last November to agree some output cuts. These achieved their objective for a time as the price of crude oil rose however this was undermined by a couple of factors. The first was that it was liable to be a victim of its own success as a higher oil price was always likely to encourage the shale oil wildcatters especially in the United States to increase production. This would not only dampen the price increase but also reduce the relative importance of OPEC. As you can see below that has happened.

U.S. crude production rose to 9.29 million barrels last week, the highest level since August 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. (Bloomberg).

Also doubts rose as to whether OPEC was delivering the output cuts that it promised. For example they seem to be exporting more than implied by their proclaimed cuts. From the Financial Times.

Analysts at Energy Aspects say tanker tracking data suggests Opec’s exports have fallen by as little as 800,000 b/d so far in 2017 as some members have supplanted oil lost to production cutbacks with crude from storage, or have freed up barrels for export as they carry out maintenance at domestic refineries.

On the other side of the coin there is the fact that for a given level of output we need less oil these days and an example of this comes from the Financial Post in Canada today.

Canada substantially boosted its renewable electricity capacity over the past decade, and has now emerged as the second largest producer of hydroelectricty in the world, a new report said Wednesday.

So the trajectory for oil demand looks lower making the “balance” OPEC is looking for harder to achieve.

Other commodities

We get a guide to this if we look to a land down under as the Reserve Bank of Australia has updated us in its monetary policy today.

Beyond the next couple of quarters, prices of bulk commodities are expected to decline………Consistent with previous forecasts, iron ore prices have already fallen significantly in the past few weeks.

The RBA also produces an index of commodity prices.

Preliminary estimates for April indicate that the index decreased by 3.5 per cent (on a monthly average basis) in SDR terms, after decreasing by 1.7 per cent in March (revised). A decline in the iron ore price more than offset an increase in the coking coal price. Both the rural and base metals subindices decreased slightly in the month. In Australian dollar terms, the index decreased by 2.0 per cent in April.

So the rally seems to be over and the index above was inflated by supply problems for coal which drove its price higher. As to Iron Ore the Melbourne Age updates us on what has been going on.

Spot Asian iron ore prices have performed worse than Chinese steel rebar futures in recent weeks, dropping 31 per cent from a peak of US$94.86 a tonne on February 21 to US$65.20 on Thursday.

If we switch to Dr. Copper then the rally seems to be over there too although so far the price drops have been relatively minor.

What about food prices?

The United Nations updated us yesterday on this.

The FAO Food Price Index* (FFPI) averaged 168.0 points in April 2017, down 3.1 points (1.8 percent) from March, but still 15.2 points (10 percent) higher than in April 2016. As in March, all commodity indices used in the calculation of the FFPI subsided in April, with the exception of meat values.

As ever there are different swings here and of course the swings remind us of the film Trading Places. There was a time that these looked like the most rigged markets but of course there is so much more competition for such a title these days including from those who are supposed to provide fair markets ( central banks ).

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here as we look forwards. There is always a danger in using financial markets too precisely as of course sharp falls like we have seen this week are often followed by a rebound. But it does look as if the commodity price trajectory has shifted lower which is good for inflation trends which is likely to boost economic growth compared to otherwise. Of course there are losers as well as winners here as commodity producers lose and importers win. But overall we seem set to see a bit less inflation than previously predicted and over time a little more economic growth.

As to the impact of a falling crude oil price on inflation the UK calculates it like this and I would imagine that many nations are in a similar position.

A 1 pence change on average in the cost of a litre of motor fuel contributes approximately 0.02 percentage points to the 1-month change in the CPIH.

There are of course also indirect effects on inflation from lower energy prices as well as other direct effects such as on domestic fuel bills. For the UK itself I estimated that inflation would be around 1.5% higher due to the EU leave due to the lower level of the Pound £ and for that to weaken economic growth. So for us in particular any dip in worldwide inflation is welcome as of course is the rise in the UK Pound £ to US $1.29.

A (space) oddity

We are using electronic methods of payment far more something which I can vouch for. However according to the Bank of England we are also demanding more cash.

Despite speculation to the contrary, the number of banknotes in circulation is increasing. During 2016, growth in the value of Bank of England notes was 10%, double its average growth rate over the past decade.

Who is stocking up and why? Pink Floyd of course famously provided some advice.

Money, it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team

Share Radio

Sadly it comes to an end today and in truth it has been winding down in 2017. As someone who gave up his time to support it let me say that it is a shame and wish all those associated with it the best for the future.

 

What is happening to first world manufacturing?

The last 24 hours or so have given us a few reminders of the ongoing problems that world manufacturing faces. This also reminds us of the shift that has taken place over time from businesses which make things which are clearly measurable such as cars and white goods to those in the service sector where output is more ephemeral and consequently more difficult and so far sometimes impossible to measure. One side-effect of this trend especially if we look at the virtual world is that output for numbers such as Gross Domestic Product becomes even harder to measure with any hope of accuracy. UK readers may be having a wry smile at the concept because they have been subject to a barrage of official rhetoric in the opposite direction. This began with the “rebalancing” claims of the former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King and more latterly the current Chancellor George Osborne coined the phrase “march of the makers”. These Open Mouth Operations have found themselves filed under a sub-section of “never believe anything until it is officially denied”.

The United States

Yesterday came news which made quite a few people sit up and listen. From the Institute of Supply Management.

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector contracted in November for the first time in 36 months, since November 2012,

Okay so let us take a look at the detail of this.

“The November PMI® registered 48.6 percent, a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from the October reading of 50.1 percent. The New Orders Index registered 48.9 percent, a decrease of 4 percentage points from the reading of 52.9 percent in October. The Production Index registered 49.2 percent, 3.7 percentage points below the October reading of 52.9 percent.

So we see a lower number and if we look forwards it is hard to avoid the thought that prospects are not good if you note the substantial fall recorded in new orders. You may be wondering about the positive car sales numbers which were also released? Well they seem to have been included here “Automotive remains strong.” Also I note that the import quotient was up which will provoke thoughts of the likely impact of the stronger dollar.

Readers and the US Federal Reserve (with its interest-rate rise hints and promises) will be mulling the overall impact of this and ISM has a go itself.

In addition, if the PMI® for November (48.6 percent) is annualized, it corresponds to a 1.7 percent increase in real GDP annually.

That raises a wry smile as they are also proclaiming the decline of manufacturing as the clear implication is that the economy grows in spite of it shrinking. According to them it still grows down to 43.6 on the manufacturing ISM scale. They are not quite aligned with the Atlanta Fed GDP nowcast.

The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2015 is 1.4 percent on December 1, down from 1.8 percent on November 25.

Will the overall Federal Reserve be singing along to 10cc on December 16th?

I didn’t do it, I wasn’t there
I didn’t want it, I wouldn’t dare

The official numbers

The irony is that the official US manufacturing figures had been better recently after a weak start to 2015. The 1% rise in July made a decent third quarter and October saw a 0.4% rise. But of course the July numbers were accompanied by this bombshell.

The rates of increase in manufacturing from 2011 through the first half of 2015 are now lower than reported earlier, particularly for 2012 and 2013, the years for which the majority of benchmark data became available.

 

The downwards revisions exclude some high-tech industries where the numbers are oddly troubled and reduced 2012 by 1.7%, 2013 by 1.6% and 2014 by 0.5%. They also implied the full data set for 2014 was not yet in, begging the question if it might also see a more substantial revision.

Also we have to allow for this.

The base year for IP was advanced from 2007 to 2012, which raised the level of the index in all periods.

Do not misunderstand me there has been a recovery in US manufacturing but it is not the poster boy/girl people thought it was and we have had a hint it may be slowing.

China

This has been a news story for 2015 so let me just pick out a highlight from yesterday’s Markit purchasing manager’s index report.

The health of the sector has now worsened in each of the past nine months. However, the latest deterioration was the weakest seen since June.

They report a stabilisation but with their measure at 48.6 then a mild contraction is being reported. This is of course at odds with the official numbers but seems to be confirmed with other information such as shipping data and commodity prices.

Canada

Yesterday’s GDP data was a curates egg and you can choose the monthly fall of 0.5% or the annual rise of 2.3%. However there was also this.

Manufacturing output decreased 0.6% in September, after three consecutive monthly gains.

This made it some 0.9% lower than a year before and backs up this from the earlier manufacturing release.

Constant dollar manufacturing sales were down 1.6%, indicating that the volume of goods sold was lower in September.

Australia

The good news for the land “down under” this morning was that GDP rose by 0.9% on a quarterly basis driven by net exports being up by the equivalent of 1.5% of GDP. But even here we see this.

Manufacturing (-0.1 percentage points) was the largest detractor in trend terms. (annual numbers and effect on GDP).

In terms of comparison with a year ago manufacturing was down by 0.9%.

The UK

The mood music from the UK’s own PMI survey for manufacturing was good yesterday albeit not as good as the previous month.

The UK manufacturing sector maintained its positive start to the final quarter, with November seeing growth ease only moderately from the recent peak attained in the prior survey month.

Okay but of course the picture here has been troubled.

as it starts to reverse the losses sustained in the prior quarter……it positions manufacturing as less of a drag on the broader economy.

Less of a drag is hardly “march of the makers” territory is it? The official numbers were good if we look back a year or so ago but now we have this.

Manufacturing, the largest component of production, is estimated to have decreased by 0.4% between Quarter 2 (Apr to June) 2015 and Quarter 3 (July to Sep) 2015.

So if we have a solid final quarter will we simply be back to where we were at the half-way point of 2015? This provides a reminder of how far away we are from regaining the previous peaks.

In the 3 months to September 2015, production and manufacturing were 9.3% and 6.4% respectively below their figures reached in the pre-downturn GDP peak in Quarter 1 (Jan to Mar) 2008.

One section that seems set never to do so is steel production after the recent news.

Looking at the underlying index we are at 101.7 where 2012=100 or the UK economic boom has bypassed manufacturing by.

Comment

There are all sorts of issues to consider here. In the first world we have not only had relative decline in manufacturing we have also often had absolute declines as well and my home country is on both lists. We are becoming ever more a service economy in the UK and that trend seems to be on the march in plenty of places. As there is a limit to the goods that can be produced I guess that was always going to be a consequence of economic growth and development. But following the credit crunch impact which hammered manufacturing output we are also seeing issues in what are recorded as much better times. Has in some way the QE  era contributed here?

There are factors to account for as there will have been a depressionary impact on manufacturing from lower oil and commodity prices. For example numbers in the UK,US and Canada will have been affected by lower oil and gas prices in particular especially in the shale sector. But then of  course you have to subtract their upwards influence in 2012,13 and early 2014 as well! Also the latest numbers from Australia record a boost in mining output which is quite a triumph when you look at the prices received.

Some of this is no doubt a shift to countries with cheaper labour forces but there seems to be a bit of a tectonic plate shift as well. Or as my Dire Straits musical reference of October 7th put it.

He wrote me a prescription he said ‘you are depressed
But I’m glad you came to see me to get this off your chest
Come back and see me later – next patient please
Send in another victim of Industrial Disease

 

Australia faces its own house price bubble demons

Today a several themes of this website have found themselves entwined. More evidence has emerged of yet another house price bubble and it has happened in one of the teams playing at the Rugby World Cup. So it is time for one of my occasional visits to here.

I come from a land down under
Where beer does flow and men chunder
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder
You better run, you better take cover.

What the Men At Work need to take cover from is what is looking like a bubbilicious property market especially in another familiar feature of these times in its capital city of Sydney, or as I have just made a mistake its perceived capital city. There the market looks red-hot almost as if we are singing along with Midnight Oil.

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

No doubt others are mulling this lyric from the same song.

The time has come
To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent
To pay our share

The Numbers

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released its property price indices this morning so let’s get straight to it.

The price index for residential properties for the weighted average of the eight capital cities rose 4.7% in the June quarter 2015.

They mean state capitals here and that looks a fair pace and I think even faster than that of Sweden. If we look into the detail we see that there are both pronounced hotspots and cold spots.

The capital city residential property price indexes rose in Sydney (+8.9%), Melbourne (+4.2%), Brisbane (+0.9%), Adelaide (+0.5%) and Canberra (+0.8%), was flat in Hobart (0.0%) and fell in Perth (-0.9%) and Darwin (-0.8%).

So we get the idea that Sydney is surging and Perth in particular falling. As Perth is the capital city of Western Australia where so much of the resources and commodity producing industry is located if there is a surprise here it is that it has not fallen faster. After all 2015 has been a hard year for that industry.

For some more perspective let us move to an annual comparison.

The index rose 9.8% through the year to the June quarter 2015.

So again all rather Swedish and the breakdown is shown below.

Annually, residential property prices rose in Sydney (+18.9%), Melbourne (+7.8%), Brisbane (+2.9%), Canberra (+2.8%), Adelaide (+2.7%) and Hobart (+1.5%) and fell in Darwin (-1.8%) and Perth (-1.2%).

If you want to know what this means in terms of actual prices then the numbers are below.

The mean price of residential dwellings rose $26,200 to $604,700 and the number of residential dwellings rose by 38,400 to 9,528,300 in the June quarter 2015.

The next part has a dubious element as you are using marginal prices for some of the stock to value the whole stock but here it is.

The total value of residential dwellings in Australia was $5,761,607.2m at the end of June quarter 2015, rising $271,939.1m over the quarter.

What is official policy?

Last week the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) released its latest Minutes which told us this.

They also noted that conditions in the housing market overall had remained strong and that housing price inflation nationally had risen since the beginning of the year……In particular, the strength in housing price inflation had been concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, mainly for detached houses

There was an implicit rather than an explicit acknowledgement of the RBA’s role in this.

Members noted that very low interest rates would continue to support growth in dwelling investment and household consumption.

Also it was keen to start a campaign to shift the blame elsewhere.

The Bank was continuing to work with other regulators to assess and contain risks that may arise from the housing market.

The RBA has been cutting its official interest-rate since late 2011 when it was 4.75% and it has cut twice already in 2015 leaving it at 2%. The ten-year bond yield has fallen from 5.6% in early 2011 to 2.76% now and we know from our observations elsewhere what that will have done to the price of mortgage lending.

Actually the Sydney Morning Herald has helped us out today.

The most competitive rate offered by small lenders Credit Union SA and Community First Credit Union-owned Easy Street had fallen by more than 1 percentage point in the last year, with both offering loans at 3.99 per cent, while online bank ING Direct was also offering rates of 3.99 per cent, Mozo said.

It is wealth gains

The RBA has also engaged in the usual central banking practice of claiming the house price gains as a wealth increase or effect. If we move on again from the dubious system of using a marginal price for an average value we see that it has published a paper telling us this.

The preferred estimate suggests that a 1  per cent increase in housing wealth is associated with a one-half per cent increase in new vehicle registrations.

So these clever central bankers have pumped up house prices and the economy gains. How clever! To be fair it thinks that the effect is less than half that for other areas but again we are left with the impression that house price gains add to wealth and there appears to be no mention of inflation.

Oh I hope that they did not buy Volkswagens with their new found “wealth”. Or even worse Volkswagen shares.

Some Deeper Perspective

Another RBA paper has looked at longer-term trends.

In real terms, housing price inflation during the 1980s was relatively low, at 1.4 per cent per annum compared with 4.5 per cent during the period from 1990 to the mid 2000s, and 2.5 per cent over the past decade.

So the present gains are on top of past ones.

Who is driving this?

I asked the question on Twitter and received the following replies.

@econhedge it’s all China. they are snapping up 20-23% of new supply in NSW and Victoria

@fundamentalmac Yes the Chinese

The Daily Reckoning put an interesting perspective on it.

Not only is Sydney priced OK for China’s rich, it has a thing that’s pretty rare in the big cities of China these days: blue sky.

From a Chinese perspective house prices in Sydney may not have changed much as you see some 5.45 Yuan were needed a year ago to buy an Aussie Dollar whereas now we can rearrange those two numbers to 4.54. Those who read my update covering the Auckland property market in New Zealand on the 10 th of this month may be experiencing some deja vu here.

Comment

There is much to consider in the combination of a cooling economy and a housing market exhibiting bubbles. It can lead to media confusion with the Sydney Morning Herald telling us these two things today.

Sydney property prices faltering…………Prices in Sydney grew at 8.9 per cent in the quarter, to give 18.9 per cent over the year.

Up truly is the new down or something like that. Time for some Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move out of my way

We are in fact seeing three factors combine. Firstly the boom and more recently bust in the Australian commodity and resource sector where the boom went national but the bust is so far regional. Secondly the easy monetary policy of the RBA. Thirdly the desire of the Chinese to purchase property in what they consider to be a safe-haven be that a political,economic or environmental one. In a way they are all combined as we see the Aussie Dollar fall.

Meanwhile we are promised that the modern cure-all will fix this as macroprudential policies are applied. That will only convince those with little or no knowledge of economic history. Meanwhile for the Australian economy the house price bubbles in Sydney and Melbourne are summed up for us by INXS.

Makes you wonder how the other half live

The devil inside
The devil inside

What are savers supposed to do in a world of continual interest-rate cuts?

Early this morning saw yet another official interest-rate cut from a central bank. If we skip to a world down under we saw this from the Reserve Bank of Australia.

At its meeting today, the Board decided to lower the cash rate by 25 basis points to 2.25 per cent, effective 4 February 2015.

So even Australia which has benefited from the resources based boom has joined the club which reduces interest-rates to all-time lows. I doubt it will be their last move in what is also a familiar theme and trend of these times. Also I note that it is not just short-term official interest rates which have gone down.

Financial conditions are very accommodative globally, with long-term borrowing rates for several major sovereigns reaching new all-time lows over recent months……. overall financing costs for creditworthy borrowers remain remarkably low.

This morning the ten-year bond yield in Australia has fallen to a record low of 2.36% as a bass line is added to the drumbeat. One of the issues here is that it is as we have discussed before become something of a South China Territories but even this has only protected it from the cold winds of interest-rate cuts for a period.

What about Canada?

In what is looking like something of a post colonial theme it was only yesterday that I was discussing the recent interest-rate cut in Canada.

The Bank of Canada today announced that it is lowering its target for the overnight rate by one-quarter of one percentage point to 3/4 per cent.

In another development the interest-rate which comes from a low-level of only 1% was in spite of the fact that the official forecast was for growth.

The oil price shock is occurring against a backdrop of solid and more broadly-based growth in Canada in recent quarters.

So even a relatively strong economy-so far anyway- only had an interest-rate peak of 1%?

Sweden

A new tactic in the interest-rate elimination wars came from the Riksbank of Sweden last year.

The Board is cutting the repo rate by 0.25 percentage points to zero per cent, and making a significant downward revision to the repo-rate path.

So we saw the Riksbank literally begin a Zero Interest-Rate Policy or ZIRP as its rate was cut to 0% but take a look at the rationale!

In Sweden, economic activity is continuing to improve, primarily driven by good growth in household consumption and housing investment……….. The labour market will continue to strengthen in the years ahead and there will be a clear fall in unemployment.

You are permitted an Eh? At this point. Some improving economic activity combined with an improving labour market makes a case for an interest-rate cut? It used to be the foundations for an interest-rate rise as savers feel a chill in their bones at the implications of this.

New Zealand

If we continual the post colonial link we see that there was a case for another interest-rate rise in New Zealand.

Annual economic growth in New Zealand is above 3 percent, supported by rising construction activity and household incomes. The housing market is showing signs of picking up, particularly in Auckland.

But it did not happen partly because of all the interest-rate cuts elsewhere and fears of a currency appreciation. This of course begs the question of when an interest-rate rise can be made these days?

Negative interest-rates

These are increasing prevalent especially around the Euro area as linked economies try not to be affected by its travails and groundwash. I have analysed the way that the Swiss National Bank planned to cut to -0.25% and ended up cutting to-0.75% as the former proved insufficient. Next came Denmark’s Nationalbanken which learned nothing from Switzerland and ended up pretty much copy-catting it as it did this.

Effective from 30 January 2015, Danmarks Nationalbank’s interest rate on certificates of deposit is reduced by 0.15 percentage point to -0.50 per cent

At the same time we have seen the development and spread of negative bond yields which has been driven at least partly by negative official rates. Banks have been trying to avoid the negative rates at the central bank and so they have bought short-dated bonds instead which has often pushed yields negative there too. Danish and Swiss yields are negative quite a long way up their yield curves which leaves a saver with fewer and fewer alternatives.

Also so far I have not pointed out that the European Central Bank went over to the dark side a while ago and has an official interest-rate of -0.2%. It also now has a litany of countries with negative bond yields and some of these are no longer so short-term as in Germany even the five-year maturity is negative.

What about the UK?

We do not have negative interest-rates but we have had an “emergency” Base Rate of 0.5% for what feels like “forever,ever,ever” as Taylor Swift put it but is in fact since 2008. What we have had is downwards pressure on savings rates from the policies of the Bank of England as it has operated several implicit bank bailout policies. Whilst the largest policy was the £375 billion of QE (Quantitative Easing) it was the Funding for Lending Scheme which provided banks with cheap funding reducing their reliance on savers to provide them with liquidity and cash. So from the summer of 2012 even more downwards pressure was applied to savings rates as we are reminded of the words of the hapless Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean. From Channel 4.

I think it needs to be said that savers shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to live just off their income in times when interest rates are low. It may make sense for them to eat into their capital a bit.

In a move that makes him now seem a right Charlie he offered hope for the future and please remember this was September 2010!

It’s very much swings and roundabouts. At the current juncture, savers might be suffering as a result of bank rate being at low levels but there will be times in the future as there have been times in the past when they will be doing very well out of the fact that interest rates are at a relatively high level and I think that’s something that savers should bear in mind.

Savers may well be wondering when the next roundabout is?! By contrast Mr.Bean did not have to dip into his pension which rose and rose to an index-linked £119,200 per annum.

What about UK savings rates?

Swanlow Park have produced some annual averages which sing along to Alicia Keys.

I, I, I, I’m fallin’
I, I, I, I’m fallin’
Fall

I keep on
Fallin’

In 2008 they calculated the average rate as 5.09%, these following the Base Rate cuts and we saw around 2.8% in 2010-12. But following the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme we saw 1.75% in 2013 and 1.48% in 2014 as the new push from the Bank of England impacted on savers one more time. Indeed savers might quite reasonably think that this from Status Quo applies.

Again again again again, again again again again

Or of course there is.

Down down deeper and down
Down down deeper and down
Get down deeper and down

Comment

There are several issues to consider here of which the first is simple fairness. How long  in a democracy can one-sided policies continue which benefit borrowers at the expense of savers? However there is an economic impact too which is that such Keynesian style policies have a time limit i.e they change things for a period and by the time that is up then the situation is supposed to be different as in better. The catch is that at best we are now singing along with Muse.

Time is running out

Actually it is my opinion that it ran out some time ago and central banks are going back to the same play-book because they combine desperation with a lack of imagination. But whilst some (US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England) tease us with talk of interest-rate rises none have actually arrived and I note that the ECB tried it and now has negative interest-rates. So savers continue to be in the chill of what feels like a nuclear winter as I wonder if it will be followed by even more fall-out? After all the current disinflationary trends allow central bankers to talk of rising real interest-rates for a while at least.