Reserve Bank of Australia Deputy Governor Ric Battellino has waded into the Scandalum Magnatum controversy, laying out (again) the central bank case on Australian housing in a speech today. No mention of rents. Putting this up for what it’s worth, since he evidently does not have time to post it into the comments directly.
This market was fairly subdued in 2008, with prices falling on average by 3 per cent across Australia. Some states – such as Western Australia which had a late boom – are now experiencing larger falls than average. Prices at the top end of the market have also been softer than other segments, no doubt reflecting the deleveraging that is taking place among high‑income households following the global financial crisis.
Overall, however, the housing market in Australia has held up pretty well compared with that in countries such as the US and the UK, where prices have fallen in the order of 20 per cent.
We continue to believe that the market here will hold up better than overseas. There are a number of reasons why this is likely to be so, but perhaps the most important is that we did not have the same deterioration in lending standards that occurred elsewhere. By and large, the great bulk of Australians who took out housing loans have been able to afford the repayments. Notwithstanding some rise over the past year, the 90‑day arrears rate on housing loans is only 0.5 per cent, which is broadly in line with its long‑run average and well below that in countries such as the US and UK.
In the period ahead, there will be forces pulling the arrears rate in opposite directions. On the one hand, as unemployment rises, more households will have difficulty continuing to service their housing loans. On the other hand, the very large reduction in interest rates has greatly reduced the debt servicing burden of households. On an average-sized mortgage, loan repayments are now $7,000 a year less than they were six months ago. This is a very large reduction, equal to about 8 per cent of average household income.
The majority of households have chosen not to spend the money that has been freed up. Rather, they have maintained high repayments and are therefore moving ahead of schedule in repaying their loans. This will give them breathing space if they do subsequently find themselves in circumstances where their repayments are interrupted.