Not that long ago the media is awash with talk of a 40-year high in inflation, rising interest rates, a potential property market crash, and our economy falling into recession.
Not to mention Russia’s war with Ukraine causing a spike in energy prices and fuelling supply chain issues.
Of course inflation seems to have peaked a while ago and is slowly coming down, but since it will be with us for some time - it's unlikely to fall into the RBA's preferred range of 2-3% until 2025- it's worth understanding a bit more about it.
Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic saw our government overspend to keep our economy afloat - a stimulus that has quickly been reversed - but it set the scene to see Australia’s inflation rate and cost of living skyrocket once we exited the lockdown period of 2020-21.
But am I worried about inflation?
Not really, and you shouldn’t be either.
Below, I’ll explain what inflation means, what causes inflation, and discuss whether inflation is good or bad, and what it means for house prices.
But before I do, I have one clear message:
Look at the big picture.
When we’re faced with economic problems (or any problem), there are two ways to view things:
- The up-close perspective: Looking at inflation, interest rates, debt, consumer spending, joblessness, and so forth.
- The broader big picture perspective: Looking at long-term trends and historical patterns.
You can get tunnel vision during periods of high stress, so I always suggest taking a step back for a broader view.
Remember, our property market and the economy move in cycles and there have always been periods of high growth and low growth.
As the platitude goes:
History doesn’t repeat. It rhymes.
So to start… let's go back...
By looking at Australia’s CPI over the past 70 years, we can see that Australia has experienced long periods of high inflation, disinflation, and until recently, long periods of low and stable inflation.
The CPI reflects the impact on the Australian economy of global influences, such as oil price shocks, as well as domestic effects, such as policies that impact the labour market and wage growth.
Annual CPI movement
And while the CPI hovered around the RBA’s target range of 2-3% for some time the chart below shows how Australia’s CPI has surged in the past 3 years.
ABS data shows that Australia’s inflation rate peaked at 8.4% in December 2022, and the latest ABS stats show the annual inflation rate down to 6.0%, meaning it still sits uncomfortably higher than the RBA would like.
And it looks like, despite the Reserve Bank’s efforts to dampen inflation levels, we’re going to have significantly higher inflation for quite some time in part due to overseas influences such as the ongoing problems with the Russian and Ukrainian war and supply chain issues.
In fact, the Reserve Bank has now revised its prediction on headline inflation, stating that there should be a gradual easing with the 3% inflation goal being further off in the future around late 2025.
Note: Curbing consumption isn’t all that easy.
The RBA's goal of reducing consumption to curb inflation is a complex issue.
Australians are known for their high consumption habits, particularly the older generation who have accumulated substantial savings.
The current high-interest-rate environment only amplifies this trend, as it increases the value of these savings.
On the other hand, rising interest rates have a disproportionate impact on low-income and young Australians, who often have negative savings due to recent home purchases.
Despite this, the gradual wealth transfer from older Australians to younger generations is keeping consumption levels high.
In a recent speech RBA governor Philip Lowe forecast:
- There will be no interest rates rises and Australia will avoid a recession
- Inflation will slowly continue to decline,
- Our economy will keep growing,
- Unemployment will rise but remain low, and
- Wages and salaries will rise.
So what has happened to Australia’s house prices during this inflation surge?
Dwelling values in Australia fell during 2022, but not really because of inflation, but in part due to rising interest rates.
But now capital city property prices have regained almost all the value lost during the short sharp downturn of 2022.
Source: CoreLogic August 2023
So how do the property price changes fit with the rate of inflation?
Do house prices generally fall during inflation, or rise?
Housing prices vs inflation chart Australia
This chart by Lindeman Reports tracks this gradual fall in loan rates since 1990 and shows that it has been accompanied by a steady rise in Australian median house prices over the same time.
Source: Lindeman Reports
As the report points out, there does appear to be a strong correlation between falling interest rates and rising property prices, but does this mean that the reverse is also true?
As the below graph shows, house prices since 1990 have not fallen as a result of interest rate rises.
Sure, property prices might have increased more quickly if interest rates hadn’t risen but it is important to note that they did not fall.
Source: Lindeman Reports
As I often say, most property owners, particularly sophisticated investors, are immune to the impact of interest rate rises.
I’ll explain this further below.
I know many investors are wondering what the high inflation rates means for Australian property prices, so below I’ve answered some of the key questions you probably want an answer to.
So what is inflation?
“Inflation is a persistent substantial rise in the general level of prices related to an increase in the volume of money resulting in the loss of the value of the currency.”
In other words, inflation is the result of an imbalance in the supply and demand of money.
It’s a rise in the cost of goods and a devaluation of your money and purchasing power.
There are many different things that might affect the price of certain items in the short term - such as when widespread flooding in 2011 ruined banana crops and sent the price of any remaining bunches up 470% for the season - or the long term - such as supply chain issues caused by the war in Ukraine or the global lockdowns.
But the only thing that affects the price of all goods, consistently, and over a long period of time is the volume of money.
Some inflation is normal, and it is healthy for the economy.
But hyperinflation, or a surge in inflation like we’re experiencing now, is harmful to everyday people, workers, and consumers.
That’s because, as I mentioned above if the cost of living rises considerably more than wages, the standard of living declines.
And no one wants to see the value of their asset, the value of their money, or their purchasing power goes down.
What causes inflation?
As I mentioned above, it's very possible, and common, for the cost of certain items to undergo short-term inflation.
Drought, flooding, or even a bumper crop have a direct impact on the volume of the crop, for example, which can influence whether the price of the produce is high or low.
An increase in the cost of oil would make transportation more expensive, while supply chain issues would restrict the volume of supply - each of these also influence the price that the end user will be required to pay.
But on a macro level, inflation is caused by 1 of 2 things: pressure on the supply side of the economy, or on the demand side.
- Cost-push inflation: This is when prices increase due to increases in production costs, such as raw materials and wages.
- Demand-pull inflation: This is when there is strong consumer demand for products or services.
Today’s high rate of inflation was caused, in part, by factors related to the coronavirus pandemic.
During the peak lockdown years of 2020-21, the government crafted a number of stimulus to prevent a recession and high unemployment by entering a quantitative easing program - reduced interest rates, increased money supply, and more lending.
What resulted was a period of high savings directly followed by a period of high consumer confidence with low unemployment and rising wages… which led to more spending.
The problem is, as life returned to normal, this spending surge caused an uptick in demand for products (and property), which then pushed prices higher and higher, causing excessive inflation.
So in essence, inflation was caused by the government, and then they handed it over to the Reserve Bank with the task to get it under control.
Why raise interest rates?
Interest rates are the RBA's primary tool for controlling Australia’s inflation level.
And over the last year 12 interest rate rises had many Aussies worried.
They were asking questions like:
- What do rising interest rates mean?
- Why does raising interest rates slow inflation?
- What is the reason for rising interest rates?
- Does raising interest rates really help inflation?
The Reserve Bank planned that by raising mortgage repayments so high that households are cash-strapped, they would be forced to cut back on spending on non-essential items, which will in turn lower demand, and therefore inflation will fall as businesses have to compete for business by lowering prices.
In other words, the RBA is trying to halt spending.
The easiest way to do this is to hike up mortgage costs, which will mean the average consumer will have less money in their pocket to spend after forking out more on their monthly mortgage payments.
Think of it like a pay cut, which should help to slow down spending and economic growth and therefore inflation.
Consumer confidence also played a big part - all the negative messages in the media and stories about property values falling meant that homeowners felt less secure and curbed their spending, once again decreasing economic activity and inflationary pressures.
Of course, raising interest rates only tends to have an effect on the demand side of the inflation equation, not the supply side, and supply constraints from the geo-political problems added to the inflationary pressure Australia experienced in 2022 and earlier this year.
It all comes down to the economic law of supply and demand.
Many economists say that inflation is basically a problem of “too much money chasing too few goods."
The pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and a persistent labour shortage we experienced after our lockdowns had all been disrupting normal commerce.
And since the RBA was unable to create more goods (or services) to meet the demand, its only option was to tackle the “money” part of the equation by crimping its supply.
The problem with the RBA’s plan to force consumers to consume less is that it came with a serious risk of slowing the economy down so much that it causes a recession.
And after 12 interest rate hikes in 13 months - to 4.1%, which is the highest level since 2012 - some are concerned that interest rate increases have driven Australia to its “weakest rate of economic growth” outside the pandemic since the recession in the early 1990s.
Many were fearful that the Reserve Bank had pushed the economy to a knife edge after hiking rates harder and for longer than expected after inflation remained stubbornly high for the first half of 2023, but it now seems that the prospect of a recession in Australia is receding.
Does inflation increase house prices?
I know many property investors are wondering what happens to house prices during inflation.
Does inflation increase house prices? Yes and no.
High inflation doesn't necessarily mean property prices will drop or the property market will crash.
Inflation does erode the borrowing power of property buyers, and make ownership more expensive for mortgage holders, so technically it does have the power to dampen the value of the property.
But, as we know, the property market in Australia will always be supported by strong demand and low supply.
In early 2023 we saw property value declines quickly stabilise thanks to consistently low advertised supply levels and a rise in auction clearance rates, keeping a floor under prices.
And since then, despite stubbornly high inflation the value of well located properties just kept rising.
Source: Corelogic 21st August 2023
Economist Stephen Koukoulous wrote an insightful piece for Yahoo Finance explaining that it's actually quite rare for rate-hiking cycles to coincide with falling or rising house prices.
He explained that not counting the current interest rate cycle, there have been 4 instances in the past 30 years where the RBA has implemented an interest-rate-hiking cycle:
- August 1994 to December 1994 - Cash rate up 275 basis points.
- November 1999 to August 2000 - Cash rate up 250 basis points.
- May 2002 to March 2008 - Cash rate up 300 basis points.
- October 2009 to November 2010 - Cash rate up 175 basis points.
In each one of these 4 cycles, house prices were flat or higher - both 1 and 2 years after the first rate hike.
Five years after the first rate hike in each cycle, house prices were on average around 40% higher.
Looking at house prices 5 years after the last hike in the cycle, they were always higher, with an average gain of around 30%.
It is also noteworthy that house prices recovered after the flat patch in the wake of the 2009-2010 cycle, to be 26.1% higher 5 years after the last hike in that cycle.
Inflation can be both good and bad for property owners and investors depending on their financial and personal situation, their property type, location and level of outstanding debt.
Negatives of inflation for property owners include cash rate rises (increased cost of servicing a mortgage), and larger disparity between rental income and mortgage repayments.
Positives of inflation for property owners include increased rental income (thanks to an increase in rental demand), tight supply puts a floor under prices, and for those with fixed-rate mortgages repayments are lower.
Australia’s housing market continues to defy expectations, we are now at the beginning of a property new cycle.
Property prices have been on the rise for six months now.
The peak-to-trough change in Australian house prices was 9 per cent according to CoreLogic, and only 4 per cent according to PropTrack, which is confusing those analysts who were looking for prices to drop by 15, 20, or even 30 per cent on the back of interest rate increases.
It seems that interest rates have now peaked and consumer confidence is slowly returning.
But don't expect a rapid recovery in property values.
And there is no end in sight for our rental crisis and rents will continue skyrocketing this year.
And despite what the perpetual property pessimists tell us, there will not be a property “crash” ahead.
For house prices to “crash”, we need to have forced sellers and nobody there to buy their properties so values free fall.
This is more likely to happen at a time of high unemployment, but currently, anybody who wants a job can get a job, and with wages rising it’s unlikely that we will see many distressed forced sellers.
Sure some recent buyers will find high mortgage costs a financial challenge, but there is likely to be little mortgage stress in Australia.
Those who purchased recently would have gone through stringent lending hurdles from the bank to ensure they could cope with rising interest rates.
If you think about it, 50% of homeowners have no mortgage at all on their homes, and most of the other homeowners - those who bought more than a year or two ago - will have substantial equity in their properties and are months in advance of their mortgage payments, or have cash stashed in their offset accounts.
And over the ultra-low cash rate period amid the pandemic, many borrowers took advantage of the low fixed mortgage rate loans, with many due to move onto a variable rate later this year or early in 2024.
And while many are concerned about a so-called ‘fixed-rate-cliff’ we’ve now arrived at what was forecast as the peak transition period, a three-month duration where the bulk of those low interest rate loans will expire.
The chart below shows the expansion of fixed-rate lending early on in the pandemic, which peaked at 46% of secured housing finance in July and August of 2021, compared to pre-COVID levels of 15%.
The majority of fixed-rate loans are taken out with a term of three years or less, so the biggest number of facilities were expected to expire this year (880,000), followed by another 450,000 next year.
The latest quarterly publication from APRA shows housing credit in arrears is extremely low at 1.2% of outstanding debt, where ‘arrears’ means payments are late.
Non-performing credit, which is late payments of 90 days or more, made up 0.7% of all mortgages in the March quarter of this year, while payments just starting to be late - between 30 and 89 days – were even less at 0.5%.
Although total housing repayments in arrears have increased from a recent low of 1.0% in the September quarter of 2022, but remained below pre-pandemic levels at 1.6% in the March quarter.
Overall, it seems official data on mortgage stress has not seen a blowout in arrears amid the expiry of low fixed-term loans.
As home values rise, the risk of default also remains low.
However, as what is likely to be the last of the RBA’s rate hikes is passed through to households with a mortgage, there may be a mild deterioration in housing market conditions if new listing decisions continue to rise.
The good news for mortgage holders is that this period of economic slowdown will also take the RBA closer to its long-term inflation target, which could be the impetus for a reduction in the cash rate in the second half of 2024, as predicted by most major banks.
Property owners should remember that all declines in property values are temporary while the long-term increase in property values is permanent.
Over the long-term property values will continue to rise substantially, underpinned by our rising population at a time of significant undersupply of properties and the increasing wealth of our nation, meaning we’ll be able to pay more for our homes.
It's likely that the current situation of high inflation and rising interest rates is going to be short-lived, and the Reserve Bank has already hinted that it may begin to lower interest rates in 2024 as inflation comes under control.
This means there is a short window of opportunity for property investors who have a long-term focus to take advantage of the current markets.
This is a great time to get all your ducks in a row, allow our team at Metropole to build you a personalised Strategic Property Plan, and then for you to take appropriate action depending on your circumstances and not be dictated to by the market.
Interest rates are an important influence over the trajectory of Australia’s property market, but there are many more things that affect property prices.
Property prices are inextricably linked to a myriad of other financial, social, and political factors, all of which impact what your family home, or your next investment property, might be worth.
So, what are these factors?
1. Household formation
This often-overlooked factor of household formation is actually more important than overall population growth because what increases the demand for housing isn’t the number of people living in a city (or country), but the number of dwellings needed to accommodate them.
This works in a number of ways…
With more young adults staying home longer to save hefty house deposits, and the trend to more multi-generational households, or more friends and family members pooling their resources and buying a property to share, it's possible the number of dwellings required may decrease a little.
On the other hand, there are more older Australians living in one and two-person households to even out the numbers.
Projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimate that over the next decade, our population will be approaching 29 million, and there will be almost 50 million Australians by the 2060s.
That’s an increase of nearly 400,000 people annually, all of whom will need somewhere to live.
Immigration numbers stalled while borders were closed but since reopening there has been a surge in newcomers.
Factor in our current population’s penchant for knocking down existing dwellings and rebuilding, and it looks like we’ll require around 200,000 new dwellings every single year.
The question many investors ask themselves is, where will those new dwellings and the associated population growth and infrastructure spending be?
That's not necessarily the right question.
The population growth corridors of our cities tend to be poor capital growth locations.
Abundant new supply is the enemy of capital growth.
At the same time these locations tend to be where new families and migrants move, and this demographic, which tends to have a little spare cash left at the end of the month, are areas where there is little ability to push up the value of properties – these are not high wage-earning areas.
Affordability encompasses dwelling prices, along with employment rates, interest rates, credit supply, GDP growth, and inflation – whether or not someone can afford to buy a property is never just about the price tag attached to the home itself.
We’re currently in a period of low unemployment and decade-high interest rates so the monthly mortgage repayments for most properties are higher than they’ve ever been.
Wage growth is key here as increased income is needed to ward off the cost of living pressure.
Investors should avoid areas of blue-collar areas or young-family suburbs and seek out suburbs where wage growth is higher than the state averages.
These are locations where people can afford to and will be prepared to pay a premium to live.
These are often the gentrifying middle-ring suburbs of our capital cities.
4. Credit policy
Property investment is a game of finance, with some houses thrown in the middle.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen how changes in credit policy can have a significant impact on our property markets.
Tighter lending criteria and higher interest rates in 2023 mean borrowers are now assessed at a higher buffer rate, which means it is harder than ever for buyers to get mortgages.
And the fact is, people simply can’t buy properties if they can’t access the cash.
5. National wealth, wage growth, and job creation
Artificial intelligence experts have estimated that anywhere from 20-40% of all jobs could be taken over by robots in the future, meaning there will be fewer employment opportunities for unskilled workers or those who perform repetitive tasks.
Of the jobs that remain, many could be moved offshore to take advantage of cheaper labour costs, further slashing local jobs.
This means we will have fewer people doing more productive work.
All of this could impact buyers’ abilities to save deposits, secure finance, and pay mortgages and in turn, influence house prices.
However other jobs will take their place.
Demographer Bernard Salt forecasts 1 million new jobs will be created next 5 years, and clearly, many of these places will be filled by skilled immigrants to Australia.
6. Supply of dwellings
Increasing the supply of dwellings is going to be paramount as our population increases, and to do so will involve large projects such as high-rise apartment towers and new suburb creation on the outskirts of our cities.
But clearing the land and knocking up some houses depends on council zoning, density regulations, transport links, and other essential infrastructure – people won’t buy a house and land package 40km from the CBD if they can’t get to work, or if local schools, shops and medical facilities are lacking.
7. Consumer confidence
The 6 factors I’ve talked about so far only tell half the story.
Regardless of how readily available credit is, or how fast the population is actually growing, people’s perception of these factors is just as important.
If consumers believe the market is heading downward, whether this is reflected by the statistics or not, it will influence their behaviour.
And of course, at times of financial uncertainty, such as high inflation and soaring interest rates, people will hold off making significant purchasing decisions like a new home or investment property.
Buying property is an emotion-heavy process, and buyers – both owner-occupiers and investors – often let their heartstrings pull them in directions their heads might not.
This is the one factor you have some personal control over, and, if you’re savvy, you could use it to your advantage to get ahead of the game.
When some are paralysed by fear and bargains abound, your confidence in the advice you’ve received from your buyer’s agent or other professional could see you snap up a fantastic property – without even breaking a sweat.
Conversely, when others are stricken with FOMO and bidding up a storm for less-than-perfect properties, your research could help you stay calm and avoid buying into the hype.
In short, a perfect storm has created a sharp reduction in the number of rental properties.
It all started in 2016-17 when APRA restricted funding to investors, meaning the number of investors providing rental accommodation decreased.
Then during the pandemic era of 2020 and 2021, and exacerbated by onerous changes to residential tenancies acts in a couple of states, many investors sold their investment properties which were, generally, then bought by owner-occupiers.
However, during this time the average household size got smaller as many young renters fled share houses for the “safety” of one or two-bedroom apartments.
And more recently, with our borders reopening and tourism increasing, many properties that had been put into the long-term rental pool are now back on Airbnb, and filling once-vacant CBD apartments, thereby further lowering the number of properties available for long-term tenants.
Strong demand for rental properties doesn’t look set to ease or reverse any time soon.
Of the estimated 9.8 million households in Australia, 31% are renters - that’s a huge volume of renters needing or looking for a rental property.
Currently, 91% of Australia’s 3.2 million rental properties are funded by everyday Aussie investors.
Over the last 30 years despite Australia's population increasing by 8.4 million people, state governments have sold off more than 100,000 publicly owned rental properties.
While there are about 3.3 million properties around Australia that can be used for rental purposes, currently only around 1% of these are advertised as available for rent.
The issue of short rental property supply is concerning, and it is getting worse by the day.
It’s likely that the media will keep feeding us headlines of fear for much of the year, so here are some things you can do.
First and foremost, no matter your situation, you should focus on education and mindfulness.
Tips: Remember, the economy is affected by various factors, which are mostly out of our control, and rather than letting that worry you, take a long-term view and focus on things you can control.
Whether it's property, shares, or bitcoins — booms just don't last forever, and neither do downturns.
So, think long-term and don’t seek quick wins, and don’t listen to all those negative messages in the media.
It really doesn’t matter what the markets do in the short term as long as you have sufficient financial buffers to ride out the storm.
And don't let emotions drive your investment decisions because as I explained, it’s likely it will take a while for inflation to come under control and then the Reserve Bank will again start lowering interest rates because they always seem to overshoot the mark.
And take comfort by looking back to early 2020, during the peak of the scare regarding Covid-19, when the fear started to rear its head.
Look how wrong all the predictions were then!
The thing is, downturns are just one part of a cycle, so they will always end at some point.
You’ve probably heard me say before that I’m a believer in planning for the worst and hoping for the best, so knowing that interest rates will rise further, what you will need to do next will depend upon your own personal situation.
If you are a homeowner on a variable mortgage, find out what the increased interest rates have and will do to your mortgage payments so that you understand how to budget for them.
Also, try to keep ahead of your mortgage payments or have a healthy buffer in an offset account.
It’s also worth speaking with your broker regarding the possibility of refinancing to a better-rate loan - the opportunity for a low fixed-rate mortgage has now passed.
Don't be spooked by the current market conditions and let them change your long-term plan and sell up because of all the negative media.
Don't make 30-year investment decisions based on the last 30 minutes or even 30 days of news.
But if you must sell, there are plenty of buyers out there looking for good properties.
On the other hand, if you're looking to upgrade or downgrade your home, remember you're buying in the same market that you're selling in, so even if you get a little less for your home than you hoped for, your new home will likely cost a little less than it would have a few months ago.
Investors should recognise that times like this create tremendous opportunities, a window of opportunity is currently available that smart property buyers are taking advantage of.
Now is the time to buy quality assets and remember there are markets within markets – “A-grade” properties in investment-grade locations are likely to hold their values well.
Be prepared to take a borderless approach to find quality properties and don’t do it alone.
- Also read:Boom to bust: What makes property prices rise and fall
- Also read:Latest property price forecasts for 2024 revealed. What’s ahead in our housing markets in the next year or two?
- Also read:Sydney property market forecast for 2024
- Also read:This week’s Australian Property Market Update – Latest Data, State by State November 28th, 2023
- Also read:The Boom and Bust of our Property Cycles: A Journey Through the Investor’s Mind
Be prepared to invest in your future and pay for strategic property and buying advice but be careful to ensure your advisors are independent, unbiased, and paid only by you.
Make all your decisions based on numbers and facts and in line with a long-term strategic property plan, rather than based on emotion.
Your Plan should contain the following components:
- An asset accumulation strategy
- A manufacturing capital growth strategy
- A rental growth strategy
- An asset protection and tax minimisation strategy
- A finance strategy including long-term debt reduction and…
- A living off your property portfolio strategy
And once you have your strategy, make sure to stick to it - don’t change a long-term strategy because of short-term factors.
Look for what’s always worked, rather than what’s working now.
Your long-term wealth will be created by the capital growth of your property portfolio increasing your asset base.
Why not let our team at Metropole help you build your strategic property plan – find out more here.
We’re much more than just ordinary buyer's agents. We help our clients safely outperform the market and growth their wealth by giving strategic property advice.
Note: Strategic investors don't need to worry too much about market phases.
Because it’s just that - a phase.
And we’ll be onto the new phase soon enough.
Instead, you need to concentrate on growing your portfolios and investing in the right type of properties in a way that suits your finance, their strategy, and their long-term goals.
Remember Warren Buffet’s words: “Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
Sure, it’s difficult to take action when others around you are talking doom and gloom, but it is during downturns that lifetime wealth is made.