Owner-occupiers (no.) –6.1%mth, –11.6%yr (f/c –2%). Investors (value): –4.8%mth, –21.8%yr. Total ex refi (value): –5.9%mth, –19.8%yr.

Housing finance approvals posted a very weak finish to 2018 with sizeable declines across all components.

The headline number of owner occupier loans fell 6.1%, much weaker than the consensus forecast of a 2% decline. Ex-refi, the number of approvals were down a hefty 8.2% in the final month of 2018, to be off 14.4% for the year. Notably, what was initially an investor-led cycle is now seeing clear weakness in owner occupier activity – both the value and number of loans.

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The value of investor loans also declined, a 4.8% fall taking this segment down 21.8% for the year. Note that survey changes mean this measure now excludes investor loans for ‘construction of dwellings for rent or resale’ and for ‘purchase of dwellings by others for rent or resale’ – components that previously accounted for around 15% of the value of investor approvals. Helpfully, the ABS also now provides an ‘ex refi’ measure for the value of investor loans, which dropped 4.6% in the month but is down more substantially by 27.8% over the year.

The combined total value of housing finance approvals including investors but excluding refi declined 5.9%mth to be down 19.8%yr.

Construction finance approvals fared a little better, recording a 2.4% decline but still down over 10% for the full year. Approvals for the purchase of newly built dwellings, including ‘off the plan apartment sales’ were down more sharply, –5.5%mth, –20.2%yr.

All major states recorded declines in the December month, the number of owner occupier approvals excl refi down 6.1% in NSW, 10.4% in Vic, 6% in Qld, 7% in WA and 3.4% in SA. The value of dwelling approvals including investor loans and excluding refi (estimates of which are now provided on a more timely basis) confirm the wide spread as well with large declines in NSW, Vic, Qld and WA, all down around 20%yr.

There were some notable details in the mix. First home buyer activity, a segment that has been supported by state government incentives, are also starting to show signs of slowing. However, the detail around average loan sizes suggests the biggest decline is coming in the ‘upgrader’ segment, suggesting changes to borrower assessments and perhaps the impact of lower prices on existing home equity may be impacting.

All up, the December finance approvals data shows a very weak finish to 2018 with weakness coming across the board, confirming the message from other market measures.

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