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Business & Finance

Australia home loans surge in Dec, prices hit record highs

  • "But policymakers may become unnerved by skyrocketing mortgage debt and a potential building boom at a time when population growth is slowing sharply."
01 Feb 2021

SYDNEY: Australian home loan approvals surged again in December while housing prices jumped to a record high with analysts predicting the robust demand for property will extend further as borrowing rates stay at all-time lows.

Official data out on Monday showed new housing loan approvals increased by 8.6% in December, from November, to be 31.2% from a year ago. Analysts were expecting a 4.0% monthly rise.

The gains were led by owner-occupier loans, up nearly 40% from December 2019, though investor activity is also picking up.

Economists at National Australia Bank said a major headwind for the housing sector has abated, pointing to a sharp fall in home loan deferrals to 2.4% of total loan book in December from a peak of 11.3% in May.

A tapering of government fiscal support has also not had an "overwhelming impact" on markets as previously feared.

"The data supports other indicators of a strong rebound in housing market activity," NAB said, pointing to an increase in construction finance.

Separate data showed Australian home prices reached an all-time high in January as four straight months of gains cleared the previous peak in 2017 led by outsized increases in regional markets as stay-at-home workers flee the cities.

A measure of job advertisements in Australia, also released on Tuesday, climbed for an eighth straight month in January to levels last seen in April 2019, suggesting employment growth will remain solid in the months to come.

"Rock-bottom mortgage rates and government stimulus are supportive of home price gains in 2021 with a brighter outlook for residential construction and investment," said Craig James, Sydney-based chief economist for CommSec.

"But policymakers may become unnerved by skyrocketing mortgage debt and a potential building boom at a time when population growth is slowing sharply."

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) meets for its first policy meeting of the year on Tuesday and is seen likely to hold interest rates at a record low 0.1%.