INTERESTING SLOWDOWN

INTERESTING SLOWDOWN

Boy, do we have an interesting market at this stage in the game.

Our gut would tell us that the property market is slowing. Recession, politics and pessimism [RPP] all seem to indicate the obvious, but in some of the recent reports received from Homeloan Junction, some great contradictions appear to be happening. Make no mistake, the general trend is downwards from both the estate agents and the economists, but let’s see what jumps out of the woodwork to encourage us.

The following extracts are used for explanation and then I will make brief comments on some of the aspects:

First of all, the ooba ORIGINATION OVERVIEW: SEPTEMBER 18 tells us that “the Bond Application Intake for September 18 was 10.8% lower MOM and 8.9% lower YOY.  Cumulative volumes for 2018/19 are 10.8% down on same period 2017/18.”

Guys, if we had “suffered” that level of reduction in Sub-Prime [2008-2012], we would have been ecstatic. Most of us were down 90% by January 2009 from the height of July 2007. 10% is surprisingly good given the level of RPP in the market right now. I bet many origination consultants with good estate agent relationships have not yet felt any marked decline in their business. Admittedly, the issue is always pipeline and when that begins to drop, watch your step.

FNB’s Property Insights report, covering the FNB Estate Agent Survey’s 3rd Quarter 2018 indicates this slowdown:

“The 3rd quarter FNB Estate Agent Survey points to a further weakening in the housing market (and perhaps economy too) in the near term. A broad declining trend in the Residential Activity Rating started in 2015 and has continued in the most recent quarterly survey.

From a multi-year low of 5.35, seasonally-adjusted, in the 2nd quarter of 2018, the Activity Rating declined further to 5.12. On a year-on-year basis, the indicator went deeper into negative rate of change territory, from -7.21% in the 2nd quarter to -9.2% in the 3rd quarter.”

The direction in the rate of change in the Residential Activity Rating correlates reasonably, though not perfectly, with the direction in the rate of change of the OECD and SARB Leading Business Cycle Indicators for South Africa, sometimes even leading the Leading Indicators with directional changes. Both indicators thus point to an economy still in the doldrums, with weakening in the near term a possibility.

Agents point to further deterioration in market sentiment post “Ramaphoria”. Those that cited “Positive Consumer Sentiment” in the 1st quarter of 2018 were a far greater 56.7% of survey respondents. In the past 2 quarters, however, the response has deteriorated markedly. By the 3rd quarter 2018 survey, those respondents pointing to “Positive Consumer Sentiment” had dropped back to 9% of total respondents, while those pointing to “Economic Stress/General Pessimism” have increased noticeably to a very high 77%. The economic weakness thus appears to be increasingly taking its toll on sentiment in the market. Within this response category, agents include “recessionary conditions”, “cost of living increases” which include petrol price and tax hikes, and “policy uncertainty”, as factors.

For new mortgage lending, this can all have implications with a considerable lag.

While also having weakened of late, Gauteng appears to be the region where Residential Activity has held up best in the weakening national market. Of the 3 Major Coastal Metros, it has been Cape Town that has returned the lowest Activity Rating. This should not be too surprising, however, after recent years of far stronger house price growth than the rest of the country, Cape Town has run into home affordability challenges that have dampened demand and general activity.

Segmenting by Income Area, the Lower End outperforms, but the gap between it and the HNW has diminished.

In FNB’s Property Insights report, covering the FNB Estate Agent Survey’s 3rd Quarter 2018 Indicators of Price Realism and Market Balance,  in the 3rd quarter of 2018, we saw a slight quarterly increase in the estimated average number of “serious” viewers per show house before sale. From 10.42 viewers in the 2nd quarter, the estimate rose to 10.77. However, the average remains well below the 14.42 high reached in the final quarter of 2013, just before the early-2014 start of interest rate hiking.

In the 3rd quarter of 2018, we saw a further increase in the average time of homes on the market prior to sales. From 16 weeks and 4 days in the 2nd quarter 2018 Estate Agent Survey, the average time of homes on the market rose to 17 weeks and 6 days. We take the admittedly subjective view that around 12 weeks (near to 3 months) average time on the market more-or-less represents a market equilibrium situation on a national average basis. The market has thus broadly been drifting away from that equilibrium level since 2016.

No further rise has occurred in the high percentage of sellers required to drop their asking price to make the sale. The 3rd quarter 2018 survey showed a slight decline in this estimated percentage of sellers having to drop their asking price, from 96% in the previous quarter to 93%. Stock constraints remain low. We see very few agents pointing toward housing stock constraints in the market and slightly more pointing towards “ample stock”.

I order to corroborate the FNB and estate agents’ perceptions, just a short extract from Standard Bank’s Property Research of 25 October 2018:


“The SA property market was again softer Q3:2018 due to uninspiring real economy data and mixed signals from business and consumer sentiment indices. Also, financial conditions have remained tight, although relatively relaxed when compared to 2007 when last SA was in an economic recession. Consumers remain reticent about big financial obligations despite their relatively upbeat outlook on SA economy.

Regional house price trends show that the inland metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni) still enjoy steady price growth but lost momentum in Q3.

In contrast, the coastal metros of Cape Town gradually decelerated in the past few quarters. Cape Town now is at the slowest pace since 2012. According to SBR’s regional HPI, it is also the first time since 2012 that JHB, SA’s biggest property market by volume, has outperformed CPT which is SA’s biggest market in value terms. We regard the current trends in CPT as a necessary cyclical downturn to realign prices with economic conditions at both regional and national levels.

The recent surge in prices (between 2014 and mid-2016) seems misaligned with the strength of economic fundaments at that time; now, prices are moderating. Waning sentiment due to the SA drought as well as policy uncertainty here and abroad, and a slowing influx of the affluent, restrained property prices in Cape Town. Properties in the higher end of our price segments are now deflating in the region and the volume of cash transactions is trending downwards.”

So we have the two banks pretty much in synch and the FNB Estate Agents’ research is really close to the coalface. To end, some points:

  1. On the lighter side, maybe I can get some sympathy for my early-year assertion that Gauteng would show real house price indices. At the time, I foresaw a good GDP growth and the fact that Gauteng house prices are really cheap in relative terms. At least now, Gauteng is the strongest performing market so I’m somewhat vindicated nearing year-end.
  2. Cape Town is adjusting significantly. No games here, it’s expensive and the only really good news is that we have alleviated Day Zero until the rainy season in 2019. Farmers and residents alike are delighted and the mood is far more positive on that front. It remains now for Patricia and the DA to sort themselves out so we can all get really happy so close to the next General Election.
  3. Don’t underestimate the fact that the SARB has not raised interest rates. Crippling would have been the effect on the back of Oil and VAT if they had. Thank you, SARB.
  4. The extended delay of house sales goes without saying but so interesting that the number of price reductions for a sale has reduced. FNB warns that we should not hang our hat on one measure, but despite the estate agents being “in stock”, buyers are willing to pay reasonably priced houses; that’s good news.
  5. On the other hand, sellers seem to be holding out for their price. Based on an average of 12 weeks on-market, that is increasing to over 16 weeks – a third longer. What that tells me is that genuine sellers are selling for good reason and that distressed sellers are fewer and further in between. In other words, distressed sellers would collapse their price to sell urgently but that’s not happening. I think part of the reason for that is that employment is holding its own except in distressed areas like the Platinum belt.

    Remember, things change quickly. Ramaphoria showed us all how quickly our perceptions become our reality and what an impact that has on our behaviour. The Rating Agencies are holding their horses, Tito is making very positive noises, the Nugent Commission is drawing to a close with an obvious outcome and the SARB has inflation on the side for the time being. Election 2019 will take place and I believe, is predictable. To not have that view is not an option to me.

    Things are positive and if there was any relaxation in the Emerging Markets drama, it would augur well for SA Inc. Look up, it might be sooner than you think. Whatever the case, HLJ continues to be in the market and there for you.

    Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena

Jack Trevena

With over 30 years of experience in the banking and home loan industry, my hope it is share what I have learnt over the years with my blogging community, inspire conversation around the subject and in the process discover unique insights into this ever changing environment.
Jack Trevena

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