Okay, just before you think I have the answer to my question, here are two extracts from two leading banks as of June 2018:

Bank#1: “Therefore, the signs are increasingly pointing to an even slower average house price growth year in 2018, than in 2017, and possibly the 4th consecutive year of house price growth slow down, despite recent mild growth acceleration.”

Bank#2: “We still see 2018 house prices stronger than in 2017 due to the turnaround in business and consumer sentiment as well as gradually easing credit conditions.”

So the answer to my question is simple, “I don’t know!” OR, “Eish!”

Of course, one should be grateful for the freedom of the Press and the competition between the banks. Either, or both, would allow for such disparate views between the banks and no doubt, economic models and sentiments have been incorporated in these views.

To the latter point, B#1 has a more jaundiced view of the future than B#2. B#2 continued to say, “We are, however, slightly more cautious in the short-term but remain convinced about longer-term improvements. We maintain our view that building and purchasing activity, relatively subdued in the last year, will benefit from the upswing in business and consumer sentiment. Indeed, data already indicates signs of improvement, with year-to-date to April volumes of building plans passed rising 18.8% above their 2017 levels in the same period.”

Readers of this blog know my views on Perspective. I’m not humanist in these views, but I do contend that a positive perspective has a far better chance of positive results than a negative one. So, if there were a vote, this time I’d vote for Bank#2. In fact, really little difference exists between the banks’ reports on the House Price Index other than their statistical methodology creating slightly differing percentages. Here are the relevant extracts:

Bank#1: “On a year-on-year basis, the B#1 House Price Index’s growth rate continued to accelerate mildly in June 2018, reaching 4.1%, up from a revised 3.9% in May, and the 4th consecutive month of growth acceleration since the 2.9% low point reached in February 2018.

In real terms, however, when adjusting for CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflation, house prices remain in decline. As at May 2018 (June CPI not yet available), real house prices declined year-on-year by -0.5%, with CPI inflation at 4.4% in that month and house price growth at 3.9%.”

Bank#1 has this to say by way of explanation, “We believe this recent mild acceleration in house price growth to be the lagged impact of that brief sentiment improvement in the country early in 2018 on the back of the major political leadership changes in the country, notably a change in President. That sentiment improvement led to a noticeable 1st quarter increase in residential market activity and demand and this has arguably fed through into price growth of late.”

Bank#2: “B#2’s HPI has retreated further, to 4.4% y/y in June, from 4.9% in May (revised from 4.8% y/y), dragging year-to-date average annual growth to 4.9% – virtually flat from the annual average growth of 4.7% in 2017.” For the sake of comparison, B#2’s CPI in their report is 4.2% and this results in a 0.2% real growth in house prices for year-on-year, June 2018.

Like any good economist, B#2 preface any possible over-positivity with this comment, “Much will depend on how much sentiment translates into investment and, ultimately, higher employment levels.”

Two major banks assessing the same data and coming up with very similar results but with different outlooks.

Let’s just analyse B#1’s comment on the lag effect of good news, termed, “that brief sentiment improvement”. Essentially, CR’s election to President caused such a stir that housing activity lifted and estate agents were busier and sellers achieved their prices and banks lent buyers the money. I fully agree with B#1’s sense, though I imagine, the first quarter is generally better as we all return from leave and transfer to new job opportunities etc. This fact makes you think though, and I’ll close on a possible scenario allied to this. In the meantime, turning to B#2, their more positive perspective is that CR will, in fact, be able to lift economic output and thus sustain “Investment and, ultimately, higher employment levels.”

If I look at his successes in Saudi Arabia and $20bn being invested in Energy and Trade, and many of the other initiatives that his government has achieved, I sense that he could make a difference. And of a truth, probably nothing could be worse than the captured state we were in before his election. The issue, given the incredibly high stakes economically, is “how much better” rather than “whether better”? These points bring me to a close. To put you out of your misery, the banks are FNB and Standard, respectively. On the lighter side and to Standard’s kudos, they mention, “We expect a gradual easing of credit standards this year and next, alongside moderately improving consumer affordability matrices.” “Yes pleez!” I hear you All Cry.

Soberly though, the question posed is: Where are we? The writer’s view is simply that we are in better shape than we would have been even though the house price growth is marginal in nominal or real terms. The fact that it is anywhere near positive in real terms, is a tribute to Inflation management by the SARB’s MPC. The recent holding of the interest rate in the face of inflationary pressures from the Rand and Oil, and backed by Standard Bank’s view that “the SARB is likely to keep interest rates unchanged over the next 12 months”, is great news. But the question remains as to what would recover that sentiment that “led to a noticeable 1st quarter increase in residential market activity and demand” and cause it to be maintained?

I have no research department behind me, but I put to you the following: To sustain an encouraging level of housing activity and price rises, South Africa needs 2%-plus growth for 2 years after an initial pick-up period of 6 months. In essence, it is my view that we need Ramanomics and not just Ramaphoria to sustain a higher level of confidence and property economics. I think we have a shot at it and Lesetja Kganyago, the SARB Governor, projects 2% economic growth in 2020 off 1.7 – 1.9% growth in 2019. Now I trust, that’s got you thinking!

Bottomline, we remain hopeful.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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