On a year-on-year basis, the FNB House Price Index’s growth rate has recently begun to slow once more. From a revised 3.9% rate for July, growth slowed to 3.5% in August 2018. This is the second consecutive month of slowing year-on-year growth with the latest revised figures, off a 2018 high point of 4.1% reached in June.
While price growth is still mildly positive in nominal terms, it remains negative in “real” terms, when adjusting for Consumer Price Index inflation. This means that the gradual housing market price “correction” continues in the form of a slow real price decline that has been in play since early-2016. As at July 2018 (August Consumer Price Index not yet available) real house prices declined year-on-year by -1.2%, with Consumer Price Index inflation at 5.1% in that month and house price growth at 3.9%.
The most recent slowing in year-on-year house price growth has been expected in recent months due to a prior commencement of slowdown in the month-on-month rate. To better evaluate recent house price growth momentum, FNB examines month-on-month house price growth on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Month-on-month growth direction leads year-on-year growth direction, and here FNB has seen consecutive months of month-on-month house price growth slowdown. From a high of 0.67% month-on-month growth in April, this rate has slowed to 0.08% as at August 2018
With eight months’ worth of house price data available for 2018, it appears highly likely that 2018 as a whole will turn out to be a slower average house price growth year than 2017, with 2017 having recorded 4.2% average price growth, and 2018 a year-to-date 3.5% average.
This puts real average house price decline at -1% for the year to date, and suggests that 2018 will be the third consecutive year of real house price decline. This recent period of real price decline is termed our “second Post-Bubble House Price Correction Phase”, the first Correction Phase having been around 2008/9.
The multi-year trend of low-but-positive nominal house price growth, but which remains below Consumer Price Index inflation translating into a decline in “real” terms, suggests that the sluggish rates of economic growth of recent years are insufficient to create enough housing demand so as to keep the housing market in balance.
This 2016 to 2018 period has been one with little in the way of interest rate stimulus (2 x 25 basis point cuts only, and some additional help from the “pricing squeeze” on home loans in recent times), and GDP growth not exceeding 1.5% year-on-year at any stage (1.3% average for 2017).
Looking ahead, Firstrand’s annual GDP growth forecasts fluctuate not far from 1.5% per annum, for the period up to 2020. In addition, the forecast is for interest rates to begin rising mildly as from 2019, given mildly higher Consumer Price Index inflation projections.
Based on the performance of house prices in recent years, FNB believes that, should such a weak growth and rising interest rate environment materialize, this would be insufficient to significantly alter the housing market’s performance from the current low positive single digit house price growth environment.
Therefore, FNB forecasts average house price growth to average in a range between 3% and 4% for their forecast period to 2020, which would imply a negative rate in real terms through the forecast period.
The housing market would thus remain somewhat off its equilibrium (“equilibrium” referring to where housing demand and supply are in balance) through the forecast period, which is seen in the projected average time of homes on the market prior to sale moving in a 16-18 week range, whereas FNB believes around twelve weeks to be more-or-less where market equilibrium is.
To achieve positive house price growth in “real” terms, we believe that economic growth would need to be nearer to 3%, which appears unlikely in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, FNB believes that a full blown recession (GDP decline) would cause not only “real” house price decline but nominal (actual) house price decline too.