Dec –8.4%mth, –22.5%yr (vs mkt +2.0%). Residential investment set to be a clear drag on growth in 2019

Housing weakness in late 2019 was clearly not confined to just turnover and prices with new dwelling approvals sliding sharply into year end – down 26% between Sep and Dec, the last month marking the lowest level for monthly approvals since June 2013. For Q4 as a whole, approvals were down 10.9%qtr and 23.7%yr.

Approvals are now signalling an unambiguous further weakening that will clearly see declining new dwelling investment detract from Australia’s growth in 2019. Westpac expects new dwelling investment to decline 8% in the year with a further 5% contraction in 2020.

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The composition of the approvals decline points to downside risks to this outlook. Units continue to drive the cycle with a further 18.8% drop in Dec to be down 38%yr. Within this segment, ‘high rise’ approvals look to be down a further 16% in the month and by over a third in Q4 as a whole. That is outpacing our assumed path of a cumulative 40% decline by the end of 2019, suggesting weakness may be more pronounced and/or ‘front loaded’.

More importantly, there continues to be significant weakness in other segments as well – medium density approvals down over 10% in the month and private detached house approvals down –2.2%mth, –11.3%yr. The shorter ‘lags’ on non high rise work means these declines will likely impact activity through the first three quarters of 2019.

The state breakdown shows weakness spread across the major eastern states: NSW –8.1%mth, –21%yr; and Vic –8.1%mth, –23%yr; and Qld –5.8%mth, –29.7%yr. WA posted a slight gain but is also down 30%yr.

The total value of renovation approvals rose 3.1% to be about flat on a year ago but with a modest uptrend in place. While the rise is mild, it is coming across all the major states.

The total value of non res building approvals fell 9.8% to be down about 15%yr. Latest monthly reads have been choppy around a flat trend, albeit with better gains for NSW and Vic and, by sector, for education-related building in the public sector.

Overall the December approvals update clearly challenges the RBA’s view from the November Statement on Monetary Policy that “… dwelling investment is expected to decline gradually” and suggests that, as well as incorporating the weaker starting point from the Q3 national accounts, its revised forecasts to be released in Friday’s February Statement on Monetary Policy will also need to materially lower the near term outlook for dwelling investment. Even if the Reserve Bank maintains its view that the negative ‘wealth effect’ spillovers from falling house prices will be limited, there is a clear ‘real economy’ negative coming through via new dwelling investment.

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