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fhog%20imageFirst home buyers now comprise a record proportion of the residential housing market after responding to low interest rates and the government’s revamped assistance package, economists say.

First home buyers made up 27.5 per cent of all home loans in March, a record since the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) began the data series in 1991, and compared with 26.5 per cent of the total market in February.

The ABS data also showed that the housing market has recovered to its February 2008 levels, when interest rates were still being raised by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) before a series of monthly cuts since September to a 49-year low last month.

The number of home loans for owner-occupied housing jumped to a 13-month high of 59,793 in March.

The 4.9 per cent rise in March was even sunnier than economists’ forecasts of a 4.5 per cent increase.

“The housing industry is one of the more interest rate sensitive sectors and its a positive that the response has so far been rapid,” ICAP senior economist Adam Carr said.

“The result clearly ads weight to the argument that the Reserve Bank of Australia has done enough.

“It’s lost on many that other central banks around the world are cutting aggressively to counteract a breakdown in the transmission mechanism. This isn’t the case here.”

Between September and March, the central bank cut official interest rates by 400 basis points to 3.25 per cent in a bid to stimulate a flagging economy.

In early April, the RBA cut the cash rate by a further 25 basis points to a 49-year low of three per cent.

The ABS data found that total housing finance by value rose by 6.7 per cent in March, seasonally adjusted, to $20.688 billion, while loans to investors rose by 4.7 per cent from a year earlier.

“It’s particularly positive that investors are coming back into the market from low levels,” Mr Carr said.

Housing construction rose 13.9 per cent, or 5,565, year on year.

Lending for new dwellings climbed 2,610, or 8.8 per cent, while lending to buy established homes climbed 51,619, or 3.8 per cent, since March last year.

JP Morgan economist Helen Kevans said the boost to the federal government’s first home buyers grant has lifted demand for housing, particularly for new homes.

“As expected, demand for home loans again was underpinned by first home buyers, owing to the attractive grant and improved housing affordability, stemming from lower interest rates and falling house prices,” Ms Kevans said.

“The bigger grant for new building largely explains the solid 8.8 per cent rise in loans issued for the purchase of new dwellings in March.

“In coming months, we believe grants will continue to underpin demand for home loans, particularly during the June quarter given expectations that the expanded grant will end on June 30, as originally planned,” she said.

The government’s first $10.4 billion stimulus package, unveiled in October, doubled the first home buyer grant for established homes to $14,000, and tripled it to $21,000 for newly-constructed dwellings.

There is speculation the grant for brand new housing will be maintained in this year’s budget while the subsidy increase for established homes is scrapped.

Ms Kevans expects the RBA to cut the cash rate by 50 basis points to 2.5 per cent in the second half of 2009.

www.thewest.com.au

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