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The latest happenings in the Melbourne property market. For our Essays and The Secret Agent Report, see our Research page.


Category Archives For: Numbers and Stats

Settlement Risk Looms

The development space in inner Melbourne and Sydney is set to be severely challenged. Conversations between Secret Agent and various developers over the past month have revealed their increasing anxiety about potential settlement issues. These developers, who have settlements due in the next 18 months, are worried that many of their apartments may not be able to settle due to the restrictions placed on foreign buyers by local banks. This is likely to have substantial implications.

For some time now, developers have used successful business models to sell their projects directly to Asia. Sales companies who specialise in selling unseen apartments to the Chinese market have made large financial gains. These apartments, many of which are tiny by local standards, have been purposely designed for the overseas market. Committed contracts, once thought to be rock solid, are now on shaky ground.

To understand the problem at hand, let us consider a hypothetical situation. An investor group, on behalf of a developer, sells a small two bedroom CBD apartment to a buyer based in Shanghai. The buyer pays $714,000 for the 68sqm apartment, which is $10,500 per square metre, and pays a 10% deposit. Since the transaction was entered into 12 months ago, the investor has no stamp duty to pay at settlement. It so happens that this purchaser defaults. The developer gets to keep the 10% deposit minus fees. The problem is that there is a need to sell the apartment to someone else.

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The Secret Agent Report – True Capital Growth

We have just released our latest Secret Agent report!

Averages are frequently relied upon to determine key indicators such as capital growth. While an average may be a quick and easy metric to measure a data set, it can also produce very misleading results. This is especially true when looking at the capital growth of a suburb. Changes in average property prices and actual capital growth are not the same thing. There are many factors that determine the price of a house and the average growth in property values. Using more reliable methods, Secret Agent uncovers the true capital growth of suburbs across inner Melbourne.

Start reading this report by clicking on the link below:

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Deflation and Commercial Property

For the first time since December 2008 in Australia, consumer prices have fallen. According to the ABS, the March 2016 quarter saw the consumer price index fall by 0.2%. This is big news.

Whether the deflation numbers are noise or signal, it’s hard to say just yet. However, it poses an interesting question: what would be the impact on the Australian property market if deflation were to creep further into our economy? Secret Agent intends to cover this a little further over the coming month, but for today, let’s look at the impact on commercial property.

Commercial property is a much desired asset for investors. The allure of a lease that guarantees the investor a return over a period of time is highly attractive, especially in a world of low returns. Rent increases every year are a common component of leases and either a fixed percentage increase or CPI measure is used. This begs the question; what happens if we continue to move into deflationary conditions?

While most new leases use a fixed percentage increase, some leases are still using CPI as the rate of increase. Also, many older leases that are still current operate on a CPI basis. We may start to see leases that produce rent decreases for tenants annually and erode the value of some buildings, especially where long leases and terms have been secured by tenants.

The current reality is that negative bond yields are being acquired globally. A world with deflation could mean future tenants secure a fixed rate of decrease over the term of the lease, or negotiate hard for CPI-only leases.

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Bond Yield Update: April

Yields down since last month and almost back to levels in April 2015

As part of our continued series on interest rates, Secret Agent has been tracking movements in the bond yield curve since late last year. If you don’t know why bond yields are so important for property investors, download our yield curve report.

So far this month, short, medium and long term treasury bond yields are down by between 0.06% for 90 day bills and 0.16% for 10 year bonds. This is shown below.

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Why You Can’t Trust Averages

Changes in average prices are frequently used by commentators to draw conclusions about the property market. Our recent post on Fitzroy’s true capital growth gave some insight into why statistics like averages and medians are not sufficient to make judgements on property value in a given suburb.

To find true growth in value, many factors including property size, location and renovation levels need to be accounted for. This can be done by observing resales of the same property over time, given no structural changes have occurred between sales. When we compare the annual average price changes (reported) and our own index based on resales only, we start to see that capital gains are mostly exaggerated using averages alone.

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The Secret Agent Report – The Yield Curve

We have just released our latest Secret Agent report!

When deciding to invest in the property market, most of us will first obtain approval for a loan, find a suitable property to buy and then pay off the mortgage accordingly, dealing with any rate rises as they come. It can be that simple. A more clever way to invest would be to consider how mortgage rates are likely to change in the near future, prior to making the decision to purchase. This is where the yield curve plays an important part in making general predictions about future mortgage rates.

Start reading this report by clicking on the link below:

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The Yield Curve Report


Fitzroy’s True Growth

Between January 2011 and December 2015, 512 houses and townhouses were bought and sold in Fitzroy. If we compare the average prices in 2011 and 2015, these have increased by about 9.4% per year. That’s the only thing this tells us: people spent more money on each house in 2015 than they did in 2011.

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As a statistic, averages can be very misleading. They ignore any changes to the mix of properties being put on the market. For example, each time a property is refurbished, extended or renovated, the value of the property increases. While this increase in value is reflected in an increased average price, this is not true capital growth, as additional investments had to be made. Also, with only about 100 properties being sold each year, the sale of a very few, very large houses would have a significant impact on the average price in that period.

If we break this down into individual years, we can see that average prices fluctuate, which again shows us the limitation of using averages as indicators of capital growth.

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Yield Curve and RBA Cash Rate

Bond yields provide a reliable way to make predictions about monetary policy. This week’s bulletin explores why this is the case.

What is a yield curve?

A yield curve is made by plotting the interest rates of bonds against their maturity dates. A normal yield curve occurs when long-term rates are higher than short-term rates. This is important for an economy’s liquidity, as banks can make a profit by borrowing at the (lower) short-term rates and lending at (higher) long-term rates.

What is a cash rate?

When banks borrow funds from each other in the overnight market, they can charge a special interest rate set by the Reserve Bank of Australia. This is known as the cash rate.

Let’s look at the current yield curve on Australian Treasury bonds with maturities between 90 days and 10 years (above). Parts of the yield curve are inverted (pointing downwards), meaning short-term rates (90 days) are higher than some long-term rates (2, 3 and 5 years). This creates a disincentive for banks to lend and if the entire curve is inverted, it can lead to a “credit crunch”. This happened in the US during the global financial crisis, when money suddenly dried up because banks could no longer profit from lending out money.

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Predicting Mortgage Rates

Historically, treasury bonds have been considered one of the most secure investments that can be made – especially in a country with a stable government such as Australia. The bond holder is almost guaranteed to receive half-yearly coupon payments plus all their principal once the maturity date is reached. Treasury bonds can therefore be considered a risk-free asset and the yield received is the risk-free rate for investment. For a bank giving out a home loan, the interest rate charged usually depends on the risk-free rate plus the risk premium, determined by the likelihood of the borrower to repay his loan.

We’d expect the average mortgage rate and treasury bond yield to behave similarly – that is, when bond yields increase, so should the mortgage rate, and vice versa. When we looked at the average variable mortgage rate and 10 year treasury bond yields in Australia, both move up and down in the same direction, although not always at the same time.

However, when you compare current variable mortgage rates with 10-year treasury bond yields from 8 months ago, we see that a strong relationship exists (see Fig.1). What this means is that we can now estimate the mortgage rate 8 months from now (September 2016).

Fig1

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A Matter of Price and Size

Is a more expensive house also a larger house? Usually yes, but does a 10% bigger property also cost 10% more? The answer, interestingly enough, is that it depends on the area.

The size of a property and the price do not always move up or down proportionately, but by different amounts depending on the suburb.

Travancore, Northcote and, surprisingly, Hawthorn offer the best value for money in the inner suburbs, while Albert Park, Middle Park and, unsurprisingly, East Melbourne, landed on the other end of the value spectrum.

To figure out what is a good deal on a house in any suburb, look at the percentage that price is greater or smaller than the average price, then compare this to how much bigger or smaller the land area is over the average. Finally, consider additional factors, including build quality, location and surroundings.

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