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Household spending down as interest rates bite

More signs are emerging that interest rates are starting to bite but the jury is still out on whether the worst case forecasts for property price falls will materialise.

Woman with expensive pen sits at laptop and paper charts mapping her expenditure.
Inflation and rising interest rates are biting into discretionary spending and offering a hint of where house prices may head.

As well as a clamour among economists and property sector experts to downgrade their forecasts for real estate prices, another compelling sign that interest rate rises are starting to bite has emerged.

Discretionary spending on entertainment, home buying and retail all declined over the past month, as households rein in their spending to offset the higher monthly mortgage and borrowing expenses.

The more interest rate sensitive sectors of the economy are clearly starting to show the impact of the RBA’s monetary policy tightening cycle.

For those with money still in their accounts, travel was the exception to the rule, as as pent-up demand is unleashed. Travel spending intentions rose by 1.5 per cent in June and are up 71.3 per cent on the year, according to the CommBank Household Spending Intentions Index (HSI) published Tuesday (12 July).

Travel agencies, cruise lines, airlines, airports, hotels and motels, tourist attractions, sports and recreational camps and bus lines all benefited, although motor home and RV rentals weakened as people looked to holiday further afield.

The insurance cost index was up 1.1 per cent in June as premiums continue to rise.

The number of home loan applications was lower in June relative to May 2022 and June 2021.  There was also a decline in Google searches related to home buying on both the month and the year.

“The softness in home-buying intentions in June is unsurprising given the recent RBA rate hikes and clear signs of a downturn in dwelling prices in Australia,” the HIS index noted.

Kiwi clues

Given the pace of interest rate hikes, the home-buying index is likely to be especially sensitive to higher interest rates in the months ahead.

This sensitivity is also being reflected in dwelling prices, which according to CoreLogic fell by 0.8 per cent in June, taking the annual growth rate down to 8.7 per cent in June, from a peak of 21.3 per cent annually in November 2021.

CBA’s economics team has trimmed its GDP growth forecast for 2022 to 3.5 per cent (from 4.7 per cent) and expects house prices to fall around 15 per cent from peak-to-trough by end 2023.

With inflation likely to remain stubbornly high, the outlook for interest rates is for further rises throughout the rest of the year and into 2023, adding additional downside risk for housing demand.

Sydney and Melbourne home values have been trending lower through the past five months, and it’s likely this downwards momentum will spread to other capital cities and regional markets over the coming months.

Tim Lawless, Research Director of CoreLogic’s Asia–Pacific research division (formerly RP Data), said the trajectory of home values will depend on how fast and how high interest rates move, along with the performance of the broader Australian economy, labour markets and demographic trends.

“A stronger economy, along with the tightest labour market conditions in a generation, should help to ensure the ensuing housing downturn remains orderly,” he said.

But there were strong forces at play pushes prices lower, he said.

“With inflation likely to remain stubbornly high, the outlook for interest rates is for further rises throughout the rest of the year and into 2023, adding additional downside risk for housing demand.”

With forecasts suggesting property price falls could be the biggest since 1980, the example from across the Tasman Sea suggests the worst case scenarios may be overblown.

In New Zealand, which is ahead of Australia in its rate hike cycle, house prices have fallen 5.5 per cent from their November 2021 peak, with forecasts it will drop 11 per cent by year’s end, according to ANZ New Zealand.

The bank’s chief economist Sharon Zollner said while there were risks of larger price falls, so far, it was on track for a “soft landing”.

Tim McKibbin, CEO, Real Estate Institute of NSW said last week’s rate rise will reinforce the subdued market we’ve experienced in recent weeks, which will likely continue through the rest of winter.

“And yet despite the subdued activity, we’re still seeing outstanding results achieved, both in Sydney and regionally.

“Agents are having to work hard for vendors but where the pricing strategy is right, buyer demand remains strong.”

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