Housing weakness could produce a shock in Australia's next GDP numbers

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Credit Suisse analysts are forecasting a large miss in Australian economic growth for the December quarter.

And the recent housing downturn forms a central part of their analysis, as consumers reduce spending amid cooling house prices and other areas of the economy fail to pick up the slack.

The consensus forecast is for Q4 economic growth to come in around 0.9%, leaving annual growth in a range between 2.75% and 3.25%. The data is scheduled for release on March 7.

“We believe that the actual number is likely to come in south of 0.5%, taking year-ended growth below 2.4%,” Credit Suisse said.

The chart below shows the bank’s GDP tracker, which is pointing to softer growth in the near-term:

This chart shows each of the components Credit Suisse uses in the tracker to calculate its GDP forecasts:

“We remain of the view that without timely rate cuts, house prices are on an L-shaped trajectory, meaning that consumption and employment growth could slow sharply, while residential and infrastructure investment flatten out,” Credit Suisse said.

So when it comes to Australia’s near-term growth prospects and the outlook for interest rates, “much turns on the housing outlook”.

The analysts said the recent decline in foreign investment — along with tighter bank lending standards in the wake of the latest APRA restrictions — were two key factors in the recent house price-action.

“If the RBA is satisfied that eventually, foreign buying will return and banks will relax their lending standards, perhaps a short-term downturn is tolerable without cutting rates.”

“But if officials cannot see a recovery in house prices over the next few years, there is more urgency to cut rates, because the direct and indirect effects of housing weakness are too big to ignore.”

The analysts cited the December decline in building approvals as further evidence that Australia’s housing market is at risk of a sustained downturn.

They noted the result was partly due to monthly volatility after a sharp rise in November, but said recent numbers are indicative of a broader downtrend.

“It appears that fundamentals are now re-asseting themselves. Consistent with past experience, building approvals are now coming off their highs with house prices, albeit with a slight delay.”

“The bad news is that residential investment could fall a lot sooner-than-expected if house prices weaken further.”

“This is over and above the negative wealth and credit effects on consumer spending from falling house prices.”

In view of that, it’s “hard to see a silver lining without rate cuts”.

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