Sunday, December 7, 2008

Not all Doom & Gloom

"THE economics of Australia's $3.3 trillion housing market is widely misunderstood, with sensationalist claims that a housing bubble caused the global credit crisis and that Australian house prices will fall by 30 per cent to 50 per cent. In fact, the latest RP Data-Rismark Index results show that Australian house prices declined by just 0.8 per cent in the 12 months to October this year, and increased during the most recent three months.

In Australia, the hyperbolic predictions of economists Steve Keen and Gerard Minack that house prices will fall by 30 per cent to 50 per cent have been relentlessly recycled in newspapers and purportedly credible programs such as 60 Minutes and The 7.30 Report.

The doomsayers' claims are based on the assumption that housing affordability is at an all-time low.

They dismiss the fact house prices are determined by supply as well as demand (affordability is a demand-side factor) and conclude that prices must fall by some arbitrarily large margin. Keen likes to shock by quotingstatistics about the rise in household debt without acknowledging that debt-servicing ratios have remained unchanged thanks to vastly lower real interest rates, the emergence of two-income households and higher real incomes.

Recent analysis by the Reserve Bank of Australia has comprehensively demonstrated that housing affordability is not at an all-time low. According to one of the Reserve Bank's benchmarks, the representative household in June 2007 had more real disposable income left over after purchasing a home and servicing a 90per cent mortgage than at any other time since June 1982.

The bank also found that the representative household could afford to buy 33 per cent of all homes in June 2007, which, although less than the historical average of 45 per cent, was markedly better than the 13 per cent of homes available to it in June 1990.

Importantly, the Reserve Bank's present 4.25 per cent cash rate is considerably lower than the 6.25 per cent rate that existed in June 2007. Since mortgage rates peaked at 9.6 per cent in August, the Reserve Bank has pushed them down to about 6.7 per cent, with markets predicting that they will be less than 5 per cent by mid-2009. At the same time, house prices have not appreciated...."

"The Reserve Bank believes Australia's housing market is leading the US by three years, having entered into its downturn in 2004. There is also a consensus between the Reserve Bank and most economists that the doomsayers' predictions will be proven wrong. A striking counterfactual is the 1990-92 recession, when unemployment hit 10.9 per cent yet house prices rose by 2 per cent a year according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The media would do well to interrogate sensationalism."

Source: The Australian

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