Will politicians damage the property market?

Will politicians damage the property market?
May 20, 2013
Click to Enlarge +

Australia’s economy should be the envy of the western world. Where many western nations are plunging in and out of recession, our economic growth is only slightly below trend and unemployment is relatively low. And with inflation seemingly tamed the Reserve Bank is comfortable with a cash rate at a generational low of just 2.75 per cent.

But these beautiful numbers belie a tension and skittishness in economic commentary and in the mood of consumers and the electorate.  Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that another rate cut is on the cards in coming months.

That worries me. I’m concerned about the possible mixed messages that Australia is sending internationally, particularly to potential investors and wealth creators.  We’re increasingly signalling – in my view – an economy in trouble and an Australian can’t-do attitude, despite evidence to the contrary.

Matters are exacerbated by the troubles besieging the Federal Government. Its inability to predict, let alone stem, the voluminous growth in government debt over the last 12 months portrays it as hapless – a caricature the opposition is of course happy to hammer home again and again.  More broadly, the Gillard Government’s failure to sell its – and by extension, the nation’s –  economic credentials at home or abroad diminishes us at a time when we should be using our good fortune to further market the Australian economic brand.

I’m not particularly encouraged by the Opposition either, who, despite the polls predicting a comfortable win, appears less than ready for government. They’re heavy on slogans and light on policies.  I’ll need to see a lot more substance from them over the coming months – despite assurance and announcements relating to the carbon tax, pensions and income tax – to be reassured that they’re more than an opposition that’s big on rhetoric but small on anything else.

And that brings me to the heart-sinking matter of the Federal Election on 14 September. I know no one who is excited by casting their vote on that day. We have been literally worn out by the travails of this minority government – its innate uncertainty, policy log-rolling and perpetual eleventh hour negotiations – coupled with the Labor Party’s internecine infighting over the last 3 years and the media’s almost minute-by-minute obsession with dissecting it almost to the exclusion of any substance or policy discussion.

We have reached a stage where, collectively, Australians are gritting their teeth in the face of the coming months of tedium. Others may argue that politics is always unattractive but in 2013 it’s much much worse than the usual fare.  The politicians’ cynicism has infected the electorate. That’s bad for democracy and its bad for our sense of community. Perhaps things will change on the 15 September. I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, I wonder if too many policy makers are too willing to accommodate and assuage our irritable, gloomy attitude at the moment. Are they mistaking a temporary grumpiness and lassitude for a deeper malaise and, consequently, are we being over-medicated with lower interest rates and ill-conceived government spending?

Lower interest rates will of course be good news for the property market, and this month’s 25 basis cut will – in my opinion – almost inevitably see property prices put on a quick spurt of 5% capital growth (on average) and see values of many properties return to and even exceed their 2010 highs.  But changing interest rates can be like pulling a brick with an elastic band. If rates continue to be cut, who’ll know when we’ve reached a brick-flying moment of over-exuberance, resulting in excessive property price growth and jacked-up interest rates? I don’t anticipate the market to move into anything like bubble territory as a result of recent cuts, but we don’t need to risk engineering increased volatility.

I would be just as happy for a slower, more measured lift in prices over the next couple of years off the back of genuine improvements in economic output, and a return to judicious and strategic government initiatives at both the state and federal level.

Monique Sasson Wakelin is a director of Wakelin Property Advisory