Friday, August 06, 2010

It's nearly time for Australia's Great Financial Crisis

Neither Labour nor the Coalition will be announcing a policy about this in the current election campaign.

Steve Keen warns that Australia is heading for a collapse in housing prices which will devastate our economy.

The relative percentages of home loans making up the assets of banks in the UK, USA and Australia are:
UK 17%
USA 15%
Australian Commonwealth Bank 49%

See the slides 21 and 22 of the presentation linked to from this Keen article in May: Excellent presentation on Scribd on Australian housing

In a more recent article (Thanks for the Manna) Keen writes:
There is however one important way in which house prices do differ from shares: the first sign of trouble is not a sudden drop in prices, but a fall in the number of sales and an increase in the length of time it takes for properties to sell. That sign was evident in the data from the last year or so, which is why I argued that a fall in house prices was imminent in a previous article on Business Spectator. Now that the data are unequivocal, the following processes are likely.

Firstly, with an increased stock of unsold houses on the market, buyers are likely to take yet more time to make a decision—which will add further to the backlog. If prices are falling, why hurry? The urgency will leave the buy side.

Secondly, so-called investors—whom I prefer to call speculators, since 90% of them have bought existing properties rather than built new ones—will start to consider whether they should swap from the buy side to the sell side. After all, no-one in their right mind buys an investment property in Australia for the rental returns: it’s capital gains or nothing DownUnder. Do you capitalize on gains to date, or hang on hoping that the upward trend will re-assert itself once more?

Given the skewing of our market away from owner-occupiers and towards speculators in the last two decades, this second effect could cause a sudden increase in the number of properties on the market—at just the same time that buyers have become more relaxed about closing a sale. It’s this sort of process in an asset market that is why asset prices don’t “taper”—or “plateau”, to use a word from an earlier time.

I expect these two processes to lead to an accelerating rate of decline in house prices now, as they did in the USA when “Flip That House” ceased being a winning trade.

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