Are Low Interest Rates A Risk to the Property Market and Economy?
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Are Low Interest Rates A Risk to the Property Market and Economy?

As MSQ Capital’s Managing Director Paul Miron sees things, we’re pawns to a rather significant economic experiment.

By Paul Miron
Fri, Apr 9, 2021 11:17amGrey Clock 4 min

OPINION

It is to the astonishment of most economists, politicians and property experts that we are experiencing an extraordinary V shape recovery.

This week’s fundamental economic good news is that the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8%, smashing expectations. The property market seems to be booming, job adverts are increasing and consumers are now freely going back to pre-Covid-19 spending levels. Millennials are once again ordering smashed avocados whilst leisurely completing their online home loan applications in order to begin the hunt for their first property purchase. That debut purchase, mind you, is now mostly sponsored by the government’s extraordinarily generous schemes, such as ‘home builder’ ($2billion worth) and other various grants (providing up to $50,000 per person).

This is a far cry from expectations a year ago, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison sternly prepared Australians for a 6-month hibernation, followed by a high unemployment rate and a long and hard economic recovery.

Despite current positive economic euphoria, there are some very respected and seasoned investors, politicians and economists who are extremely worried — of the view that the economic recovery, both locally and internationally, is founded on fragile thin ice.

There is a high risk that both our local economy and international economies may generate inflation past the prescribed target of the 2%-3% tolerance of central bankers around the world. This would place the RBA Governor, Philip Lowe, under significant pressure to increase interest rates, despite his assertions that rates will stay put for at least 3 years.

Lowe’s motivations would be to avoid the undesirable economic and social impacts of hyperinflation, akin to past historical experiences that lead to the Great Depression of the ‘30s, the late ’70s oil crisis and the ’80s, where many people can remember living through official interests of 18.5%.

During the past few weeks we’ve seen a number of global central bankers — notably as those from Russia, Brazil and Turkey, among others — increase their official interest rates as their economies simply do not have the financial capacity to continue printing money as freely as our economy.

Increase in interest rates would put downward pressure on asset classes such as property and shares, whilst undermining consumer confidence — resulting in lower spending and impeding a full economic recovery.

The current unemployment trend would very quickly change from positive to negative. The most alarming comment is that both monetary and fiscal policies have pretty much been exhausted during the pandemic. Worse still, if the Government was unable to support the market, it could lead to a market collapse like the crashes of 1987 and 2004 and the various property market corrections we have experienced in the past.

The rationale for such divergence of economic opinion is fundamentally based on the fact that we’re living through an economic experiment. The combination of monetary and fiscal policy employed by the Government and RBA has never before been tested — think zero interest rates, Quantitative Easing, Job Keeper, Job Seeker and mortgage payments deferrals to name but a few.

Another way to appreciate this is via the below graph prepared by AMP. It demonstrates the hypothetical green line if Covid-19 had not happened. The blue line depicts actual GDP figures.

Despite Australia’s GDP being in excess of 3% for the past two quarters (for the first time ever), we remain 2.4% below than what we would have been if Covid-19 never arrived. Our unemployment was mid 4% pre-Covid, with wage growth peaking at a mere 1.4%p.a., whereas today unemployment sits 5.8%.

It is the RBA’s fundamental economic assumption that in order for inflation to shoot past 3% maximum traditional target, interest rates must be kept low and we require the unemployment rate to fall to 3%. This is because in the current economic situation, wage inflation is the key element to push overall inflation. According to many economists, it  could take years for unemployment to reach a rate below 4% and which therefore supports the RBA’s expectation.

The estimated financial cost to future tax payers to ensure we have this V shape recovery is estimated to be circa $350b, roughly 17% of our GDP. This is 5 times larger than any stimulus that was provided during the GFC.

And so, despite the surging asset values, it is unlikely for the economy to suddenly overshoot the green line while a number of industries, such as tourism and international students, remain subdued (and let’s not forget those industries being targeted in our ongoing trade war).

The true economic recovery picture will be seen in the next two quarters of GDP figures, where either the fear of inflation will abate or crystallise into reality.

Paul Miron has more than 20 years experience in banking and commercial finance. After rising to senior positions for various Big Four banks, he started his own financial services business in 2004.

msqcapital.com



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.