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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Australian House Price Trend

There have been discussions that house prices cannot remain flat in “real” CPI adjusted terms because we are earn much more in “real” terms today that few decades ago. I agree that CPI adjusted prices should not be flat because CPI adjustment does not reflect standard of living improvements over time. House prices should follow more realistic measures of our improved wellbeing.

Chart 1 shows house prices in “real” (CPI adjusted) terms as well as growth of our real per capita GDP and per household GDP. These measures are one of few only with long historical series that could be used for price “trend” estimation.

Chart 1 "Real" House Prices vs. "Real" per Capita and Household GDP

Real per capita GDP is good measure because real GDP by itself ignores the fact that more than twice as many people contribute to GDP today compared to 50 years ago. On the other hand, houses are asset needed and owned by households, not the individual persons. In addition, number of homes is closely following number of households. For these reasons, real GDP per households seems to be better measure of the increased ability of households to spend money on home.

From the chart you may see that “real” (CPI adjusted) house prices followed real GDP per household with only few smaller property bubble events in mid 70s and late 80s. Prices returned toward the real GDP per household trend soon after. Since late 90s, house prices significantly deviated from real GDP per household trend. This deviation is strong indication that we are currently experiencing big housing bubble that is not supported by fundamentals.

This chart could give us a feel how much our homes are overvalued - inflated beyond historical and fundamental trend and what level of correction we may expect in near to mid future. Correction may happen with slow deflation in real terms or quick crush. It could be even combination like it was in 1990s when prices fell quickly by 10% in “real” terms and than stagnated while real GDP per household increased.

1. ABS Australian National Accounts
2. ABS Australian Demographic Statistics
3. Stapledon
4. ABS House Price Indexes