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House prices are surging because of low supply – it's Economics 101
As housing affordability becomes a live political issue there is a consensus from the government and opposition that housing supply can address the problem.
They are correct.
Tax rules on capital gains and negative gearing – which became central issues in the federal election campaign – distort the housing market, as do interest rates. But there is a basic economic principle that dominates these distortions over the longer run, and that is the interplay of housing supply and demand.
Until very recently, Australia’s strong population growth fuelled unrelenting growth in underlying demand for dwellings at a time when new building was not adding sufficiently to supply. This housing shortage, mixed with aggressive interest rate cuts and tax rules, underpinned strong house price gains.
Economics 101 suggests that for a given level of growth in demand (population growth and household formation rates) a larger increase in supply will lower prices, regardless of tax rules. Why would a potential investor in housing, for example, buy a property when house prices and rents are flat or falling?
New housing supply relative to a given level of demand will lower house prices and address housing affordability and issues such as negative gearing and capital gains tax will be largely immaterial. One only has to look at the recent trend in house prices in Perth (down 10% from the peak), Darwin (down 7%) and Karratha (down 65%) to show how a drop in demand relative to supply affects prices and therefore affordability. Anecdotally, there are very few investors lining up in those cities.
The latest portfolio update from the Future Fund confirmed that the average annual return on its investments has been 7.7 percent since it was established in May 2006.
Former Treasurer Peter Costello, who is the Chair of the Future Fund Board of Guardians, judged this return to be good to the point where he claimed that it was successful in “exceeding the return objective”.
That is an expansive claim.
In the media release – that included details of the fund return up to June 30, 2016 – there was a table that showed the 7.7 percent annual return that Costello referred to. It also noted that the ‘target return’ or objective for the Future Fund since inception was 6.9 per cent, which no doubt leads Costello to his conclusion that the 7.7 percent was larger and had exceeded the objective.
Alas, that target return for the Future Fund in its own media release is misleading. According to the Future Fund Act 2006, the investment objective or target return is at “least the rate of inflation (measured by the change in the CPI) plus 4.5 to 5.5 percent”.
This return was designed to be achieved “over the long term” which is prudent and sensible given the inherent short-term volatility and variability in many market values.