If you read the mainstream you probably think it’s bad news for Australia if house prices keep falling.
That it’ll be bad for the banks (which it will be). And that the entire Aussie economy will grind to a halt.
But what if that doesn’t matter?
What if falling house prices is actually a good thing?
In a moment we’ll explain why bad news for the housing market could mean good news for stocks…
But first, some in the mainstream still can’t accept what’s happening.
In today’s the Age, Ian Verrender writes:
“Rather than the much-heralded assault on the Australian residential housing market, as has been predicted for the past five years by an ever-increasing host of international and domestic doomsayers, we are instead witnessing an orderly retreat.”
Arguing against a house price crash is so 2009.
Perhaps Mr. Verrender should look at the latest press release from RP Data. Especially the following chart:
Tell buyers in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin prices haven’t crashed. Remember it wasn’t so long ago the mainstream told you Aussie house prices can’t fall.
In reality, the crash started long ago and is in full flight now. It’s wreaking havoc on those who expected to make a killing buying a house two years ago.
But now they’re learning Borrowing 101 the hard way. They’ve found out leverage is a double-edged sword. You benefit when prices rise. But you lose when prices fall. For the poor souls who bought at the peak, using a 90-95% mortgage, they’re already in negative equity.
In fact, a buyer needs prices to rise at least 10% in the first year just to break even – after factoring in buying costs and mortgage costs. So when prices fall 8.7% (as they have in Brisbane), it’s a big deal.
Because now those buyers need the price to rise at least 20% to get back to square one. And the more time passes without prices going up, the worse it gets. The knock-on effect is others will fall into negative equity too.
This is something most of the so-called property experts don’t get. They’re too busy with their fancy spreadsheets and economic models to fathom the impact of falling credit.
But failure to understand credit isn’t their biggest mistake. Their biggest mistake is to think housing drives economic progress.
Housing is the reward for economic progress.
Or that’s how it should be.
Except the credit bubble distorted the market. Rather than working hard to achieve the reward, credit has allowed consumers to get the reward first with the promise they’ll earn it later with hard work.
Trouble is, with so much effort going into building the reward, they forget about the rest of the economy. We liken it to an athlete stuffing his face with cream cakes before the race because he’s so certain he’ll win. Only, when it comes to running the race, with a belly full of cake, the athlete is no longer in the right shape to win.
That’s what happened to the U.K and U.S. housing markets. And it happened to the Aussie housing market too.
With so many resources going into building houses and apartments… and so much bank lending going towards housing… real businesses miss out.
But now, with falling house prices, could this actually spell good news for Aussie businesses and stocks? If so, it could mean higher stock prices and bigger returns on your investments.
Think about it…
You could see a shift towards stocks if investors wake up to the idea that housing is an expensive investment and that returns aren’t guaranteed.
If you’re an investor who’s concerned about the future, do you really want to take out a six-figure mortgage and pay tens of thousands of dollars in buying and holding costs? Or would you rather stick cash in the bank and take a few speculative punts on the stock market?
And consider this: is it a coincidence that U.S. home prices keep falling even though the U.S. stock market has more than doubled since March 2009?
Of course, central bank money-printing and low interest rates have played a large part in boosting stock prices.
But why didn’t it boost house prices? Simple, because housing is expensive and investors lost faith in the ability to make a buck from it.
Now, “Australia is different”, you’re always told. Because, in Australia, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) can lower interest rates to stop house prices falling, boost demand and push prices up.
So far that hasn’t happened. In fact, the latest home sales numbers show the RBA’s last two interest rate cuts haven’t helped the Aussie housing market.
As even the housing bulls at CommSec note…
“New home sales fell by 4.9 per cent in December and was holding just shy of the 11-year lows reached in September.”
If what happened in the U.S (and U.K.) is anything to go by, there’s a good chance the same pattern will repeat here: investors will stay clear of expensive housing and buy stocks instead.
Remember, interest rates are low because central bankers want to stimulate the economy… because investors, consumers and businesses are cautious.
And as long as that continues (and it seems set to) it’s unlikely consumers will borrow large amounts of money to buy risky, illiquid and over-priced housing…
Not when you can buy dividend paying stocks that pay an income stream and growth stocks that you don’t need to borrow a fortune to buy.
Already Aussie investors are unknowingly following the lead from overseas. They’re getting tired of falling bank deposit rates and are instead looking at the risky and liquid but not over-priced shares in the stock market.
As far as 2012 goes, there’s no argument. The more house prices fall, the better it is for stocks.