Will Property Prices Fall?

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There are so many issues for investors to navigate at the moment. We’ve got several once in a generation events colliding to create volatility and distortions in not only financial markets but for every type of asset. Any one of these issues would be the leading story of the day in their own right in more normal times.

War in Europe, Global inflation, Rising interest rates, Global food shortage, Energy sanction and shortage, Pandemic, China lockdowns, China slowdown, Supply chain crisis, Rising bond yields, Tech stock price collapse, Yen vs US drop, Sri Lanka crisis.

While it sounds like the missing verse of ‘We didn’t start the fire’ by Billy Joel it has been our reality for the past year or two. Many issues are interlinked to be sure and while they all impact the world it is less obvious in many respects how these all flow through to impact the daily lives of ordinary Australians.

The one issue that will have the biggest direct impact for most Australians, or at least be most relevant in the year ahead, is rising interest rates. This brings me to the elephant in the room.

Australian property prices.

We really aren’t prepared for higher interest rates and their flow on effects. As with most events lately, this will have a once in a generation impact on people with mortgages and force property prices significantly lower. Most are already aware of it but don’t give it much thought as it seems so far away. But the RBA raising rates now puts this firmly on the table.

Do I think house prices will fall? Yes.

We’ve already seen big falls in bond markets and stock markets globally and property has its turn ahead. I think we are looking at a 20%+ fall in residential property prices here in Australia in 2023.

You have to go back to early 1990’s for the last time there was a property crash. The current environment is set up for a similar repeat. While we are not going to get anywhere near the huge interest rates of the ‘90’s, that won’t stop the problems for the property market. Rates have been so low for so long that a few percent increase is going to cause a lot of pain.

Only a few months ago, the Commonwealth bank warned the RBA if they raise rates by just 1.25% that many borrowers will have financial problems. I think rate increases will go past that level. Many homes owners are overextended already. They go to the bank and ask how much they can borrow. When rates are 2% that amount is a big number. When home loan rates are 6% or higher, those borrowers have a serious financial problem.

Many won’t be able to afford the home, it will result in urgent sales, defaults and forced sales. When this happens at scale, the market becomes flooded with distressed sales and the price of property drops accordingly. Making matters worse is that when people expect asset prices to fall, they stop buying. They wait for a cheaper price which only compounds the problem for the distressed sellers.

Of course, this situation only serves to compound the problems for consumers who are already having to adjust for higher energy and food prices. The wage increases they demand will likely add to inflationary pressures but are not likely to maintain their standard of living. Consumer’s discretionary spending will fall further as they are forced to allocate more of their income to paying their mortgage.

None of this is rocket science, it’s mainly common sense when you simply think through the flow of money and impact of the situation. The reason for hesitance in accepting how this will play out is the cognitive dissonance we experience in understanding what we see right now, which is broadly good economic times still, compared to what this rationalisation tells us is going to happen.

For stock markets, this will have a huge impact in the year ahead. Some sectors will be beneficiaries and others will be causalities. This flows through to sectors as diverse as retail, hospitality, and entertainment. It flows through to the banks, long the mainstay of the Australian share market they will see much lower growth in new business while simultaneously experiencing a rise in bad debts and defaults. From a portfolio perspective careful stock selection has never been more important.

General Advice Disclaimer: This information is of a general nature only and may not be relevant to your particular circumstances. The circumstances of each investor are different, and you should seek advice from an investment adviser who can consider if the strategies and products are right for you. Historical performance is often not a reliable indicator of future performance. You should not rely solely on historical performance to make investment decisions.