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Experts warn of sharp fall in house prices

Posted on 30 September 2020

Source:  Courier Mail

A ban on immigration could make the next few months a great time to buy a house, with COVID-19 sparking conditions not seen in 40 years.

A COVID-19 induced ban on immigration is set to see Australia hit a giant population slump, the likes of which we have not seen in four decades, according to market experts, Fitch Ratings.

In a research note, Fitch Ratings predicted Australian house prices would fall by 5 to 10 per cent in the next 12 to 18 months as a result, spared by an estimated 76,000 fewer dwellings required in 2021 because immigration will have dried up.

"Immigration had already been slowing prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, but has plunged since the health crisis led to strict controls on international travel," Fitch said.

"The Australian government in May predicted that immigration would fall by 15 per cent in the year to June 2020 (FY20) and by a further 85 per cent in FY21. This would represent a fall of almost 200,000 permanent arrivals in FY21 relative to FY19, and mark the lowest level of net immigration since June 1993."

It estimated that around 76,000 fewer dwellings would be required as a result next year.

"Assuming the natural population increase remains similar to previous years, Fitch estimates the population growth for Australia will reach just 0.7 per cent in 2020, a level not seen in the past 40 years, and down from 1.4 per cent in 2019."

Hardest hit off the fall in immigration-led housing demand would be the inner suburbs of the two major southern capitals, it said.

"Price declines will vary between regions, and transactions that have collateral concentrated on inner city units in Sydney and Melbourne may be more affected," it said.

Fewer adult children moving out was also hitting demand, it said.

"The exceptional uncertainty related to the current recession, and its disproportionate impact on young people, is likely to reduce household formation and property demand even more."

It said some factors helped including a significant fall in housing approvals with Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing 171,000 housing approvals were granted in FY20 - way off the year to August 2016 peak of 243,000.

As well, Fitch said monetary policy had eased which could support house prices as well as any government policies specifically targeting support for the housing sector.

"Nevertheless, we believe house prices will face downward pressure nationwide, as supportive factors will be outweighed by the impact of the change in net immigration, along with high unemployment and general economic uncertainty."

"Indeed, risks to our forecast for house prices are skewed to the downside, and price falls could exceed 10 per cent if our assumptions about the path of the pandemic prove to be overly optimistic."

The comments came after Fitch modelled the risk to house prices associated with the impact of the pandemic for 2021.

"Fitch estimates that immigration into Australia has added approximately 1 per cent to GDP annually over the past 10 years. An end to pandemic-related travel restrictions could result in a rapid reversion of immigration to previous trends, and we expect new permanent arrivals to remain a driver of medium-term growth."

But, it said, "we do not expect restrictions to be eased until well into 2021, and there may be public pressure on the authorities to limit immigration in the near term as long as unemployment remains high".



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