Upwards property trends putting economy at risk: OECD

by Miklos Bolza06 Mar 2017
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has warned of the threats that further increases in the Australian housing market could have to the national economy.

The latest OECD Economic Survey of Australia notes that while the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA’s) current supportive stance of monetary policy is appropriate, a continued increase in property demand by both owner-occupiers and investors could have a “significant downward correction” that spreads to the rest of the economy.

“Unless downside risks materialise, the current supportive stance of monetary policy remains appropriate at present, particularly in the absence of inflationary pressures,” the report said.

“However, a side effect is a risk that accommodative policy may be increasingly distorting financial markets and, especially, house prices (which have risen to very high levels).”

Although rates will have to be normalised eventually, the timing and pace of the change will ultimately depend on growth, employment, inflation and the housing market, the OECD said.

The reported warned that house prices have increased by 250% since the mid-1990’s while the ratio of house prices to incomes has risen further, straining affordability. However, the OECD found that foreign demand for housing has not substantially impacted the growth of property prices.

Furthermore, there are signs that the Australian property market is cooling, the report stated.

“Recent data indicates price growth has eased in most urban centres, reflecting in part a substantial supply response – dwelling approvals and investments have increased substantially in recent years. However, the significant increase in Australia’s house prices and price to income ratios remains.

Overall, macro-prudential measures implemented by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) were helping to contain housing loan growth, the report added.

“As recommended in the previous survey, the authorities have deployed ‘macro-prudential’ measures to cool mortgage lending and reduce risks. Measures include pressure on banks to limit growth of mortgage lending to those purchasing for investment purposes.”

These supplement the measures each institution takes to regulate mortgage lending on an individual corporate basis – an approach which is effective since Australia’s big four banks account for around 80% of market share.

“Demand-side measures, such as macro-prudential tools, should continue to play a role with careful attention to distributional consequences for households. As recommended in past surveys, supply-side measures, including planning-regulation reform, can also help ease market pressure over the longer term.”

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