Bursting Harry Dent’s own bubble

The recent predictions by US economist Harry Dent, claiming that Australia’s ‘property bubble’ is going to burst and that prices will be slashed by half, is somewhat an extreme view. Though it pays to be aware of these economists and the alarming claims, which pop up from time to time, it pays more to check the data they are providing as proof.

Dent is saying that US real estate prices will fall by 60 to 65%, Australia by 50% and that stock markets and China will crash – heralding a new ‘Great Depression’. But his claims don’t appear to be based on any data – there are little to no facts supporting that we are in for a depression.

Dent offers up no hard explanation for his predictions, apart from the income to house price ratio, and this is very high in a lot of cities where people want to live such as Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Auckland and London. The reality in these places, is that there are rising populations and limited supply of housing in their most popular areas.

The ratios are of course much lower in less high-demand areas where there is slower growth, or where populations and prices drop when an industry such as mining or manufacturing goes into decline. Big cities however, are much more insulated as they have many economic strings to their bows.

If anything, Australian markets are getting stronger.

While residential property in many of our capital cities could now be deemed borderline ‘unaffordable’, I would contend that because a market has an asset that is somewhat unaffordable does not mean that it is overvalued.

Value is after all a function of the preparedness of a buyer to pay a price for the asset based on its unique attributes and its scarcity. So, while there are buyers at the current price, it is not overvalued.

Australian capital cities are unique in that our populations are generally concentrated in them. And, due to the cost of providing infrastructure to new land areas, our cities do not easily provide supply. Populations in Australia are growing and hence there is always some level of demand for housing assets.

Unaffordability is generally a measure based on the capacity of a median family to be a first home owner. There are many buyer types in a market, including investors and existing home owners.

An unaffordable market simply causes the type of buyers in the market who are active to change.

An unaffordable market for the first home owner simply causes a higher level of families to rent.

A population in an unaffordable market finds solutions to making a market affordable. For example, they may increase people density per dwelling, or alter the size of dwellings to reduce costs. They don't tend to sell into the market because it is unaffordable unless they have to as a consequence of unemployment or similar income failure.

But this point is the important issue: whilst there is no significant oversupply due to selling pressure or development of new properties, the increasing population will hold demand at current values and consequently our property markets will not be overvalued – and therefore we are not experiencing a bubble.

To be honest, I am not hugely surprised that Dent predicted the GFC (if this is actually true) as his predictions do seem to follow a similar theme. As with many economist naysayers, one would have to be right about something sooner or later – it’s a bit like predicting a dice will throw a six, if you keep throwing of course it will.

What I would suggest for buyers is to take a long term approach based on the data. Work on the basis that economic growth and prices trend higher and higher over time, and although it may be interrupted by recessions and other negatives, the general theme is up.

It’s important to be on top of these sorts of startling predictions – but take them with a certain level of cynicism.

John Edwards is consulting analyst for Onthehouse.com.au and founder of Residex.



Community Discussion

Be the first one to comment on this article
What would you like to say about this project?