Posted: 31 Mar 2015 07:55 PM PDT
Earlier today the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released building approvals data for February 2015. After a record high monthly number of dwelling approvals in January 2015 approval numbers could not quite be matched in February although they remain at near-record highs.
Over the month there were 18,768 dwelling approvals, down from 19,397 in January. Although approvals fell by -3.2% over the month, the number of approvals in February was still the second highest monthly figure on record. The number of approvals has increased by 14.3% over the past twelve months highlighting that there is a clear boom in approvals which sit at highs never before seen. Given that housing supply has been insufficient for the past decade this is a welcome development, especially considering the strong multiplier effect of higher rates of construction on the Australian economy. Over the past 12 months there have been a record high 205,929 dwellings approved for construction.
Looking at a breakdown between houses and units, the data shows that over the month there were 9,613 houses and 9,155 units approved for construction. House approvals were 0.2% higher over the month while the more lumpy unit approvals recorded a -6.6% monthly fall. Year-on-year, house approvals are unchanged while unit approvals have increased by 34.5%. With such a higher rate of growth in new apartment approvals, is clear that the new unit segment of the market is booming at the moment. Over the 12 months to February 2015 there were 114,747 house approvals and 91,183 unit approvals. While house approvals were a long way from their record high annual approvals of 140,832, unit approvals currently sit at an all-time high.
Looking at the capital city data it becomes further evident that new unit construction is booming, particularly across the east coast capital cities, despite a sharp rise in house approvals in February. Over the month, capital city house approvals increased by 26.6% and capital city unit approvals rose by 11.5%. The year-on-year figures show the trend towards unit approvals with house approvals increasing by 3.5% compared to a 43.0% jump in unit approvals.
Over the 12 months to February 2015 there were a record-high 153,303 capital city dwelling approvals. Dwelling approvals have increased by 13.0% over the year. Over the past year there were a record high number of dwelling approvals in Sydney (39,802), Melbourne (51,037) and Brisbane (23,303). Approvals were below their record highs but still hefty in Adelaide (8,990), Perth (26,942), Hobart (981), Darwin (1,820) and Canberra (3,428). Note that despite Sydney being our most populous city and arguably having the greatest under-supply of housing and increases in home values, the number of approvals was much lower compared with Melbourne.
Focussing on the detached housing market there were 75,597 capital city house approvals over the year to February 2015 which is 14.6% higher than the previous year. Across the individual cities, there were 13,503 approvals in Sydney, 22,530 approvals in Melbourne, 10,671 in Brisbane, 5,755 in Adelaide, 19,891 in Perth, 887 in Hobart, 795 in Darwin and 1,565 in Canberra. Note that Melbourne house approvals were almost double that in Sydney and Perth was also significantly higher. Over the year, the change in house approvals has been recorded at: 17.5% in Sydney, 15.5% in Melbourne, 31.4% in Brisbane, 4.0% in Adelaide, 8.8% in Perth, 50.1% in Hobart, 5.4% in Darwin and -5.1% in Canberra.
Across the unit market there were 80,706 capital city approvals over the past year accounting for 51.6% of all capital city dwelling approvals and a record-high annual number. Unit approvals in Melbourne (28,507) and Brisbane (12,632) were at historic high levels over the year while Sydney and Perth were also close to a record high with 26,299 and 7,051 unit approvals respectively. Elsewhere there were 3,235 unit approvals in Adelaide, 94 in Hobart, 1,025 in Darwin and 1,863 in Canberra. Unit approvals were higher over the year in Sydney (1.7%), Melbourne (27.4%), Brisbane (12.3%), Adelaide (25.8%), Perth (21.7%) and Darwin (4.9%) but fell in Hobart (-47.8%) and Canberra (-45.2%).
Unit approvals accounted for more than half of all approvals in Sydney (66.1%), Melbourne (55.9%), Brisbane (54.2%), Darwin (56.3%) and Canberra (54.3%). Sydney, Darwin and Canberra have approved more units than houses for many years however, in Melbourne and Brisbane this is a relatively new phenomena.
With unit approvals at all-time highs in both Melbourne and Brisbane we have some concerns around exactly who is going to buy all this stock. Of course demand for inner city units is growing however supply can quickly turn to a glut if there is too much development. Rental growth is already slow in both cities and given units tend to be favoured by investors there are some concerns about a potential glut of this stock in Melbourne and Brisbane. It should be noted that just because a dwelling is approved doesn’t necessarily mean it will be constructed and there are generally many more hurdles in order to deliver high-rise units.
Record high unit approvals with record low interest rates are likely to create some risks, most notably a risk of oversupply of inner city units in Melbourne and Brisbane where the level of new construction is unprecedented. Further down the track as interest rates rise and capital growth slows there are some concerns that the heightened level of investor activity in the Sydney and Melbourne unit markets may result in value falls if and when these investors exit to asset classes enjoying a superior performance. Particularly considering that rental returns for Sydney and Melbourne units are at near record lows and rental growth is moderate.