ASX: Falling approvals and construction warn of a slow-down

Australian building approvals for July 2019 show a sharply contracting economy. Housing approvals fell by 16.6% on a year-on-year basis and are approaching the 8000 level breached in earlier crashes.

ABS: Australian Building Approvals: Houses (SA)

Approvals for apartments (dwellings excluding houses) plunged by a massive 44.2% year-on-year.

ABS: Australian Building Approvals: Dwellings Excluding Houses (SA)

The massive contraction in approvals is likely to impact on construction work in the months ahead. Unless we see a similar spike in public sector spending to the 2008/2009 global financial crisis, we are likely to experience a similar contraction to 1988-1990 or 2000-2001. Cutting interest rates, as RBA governor Phil Lowe has repeatedly warned, is not enough.

ABS: Australian Construction Work Done - Chain Values (SA)

Unfortunately infrastructure spending in 2008/2009 was not particularly well-directed, increasing public debt without corresponding productive assets to show for it. The NBN has had a few teething problems but made a lot more sense than the school halls and pink batts programs: it produces income (or can be sold) to offset the impact of the debt.

Construction contributes about 15% of national GDP and a sharp downturn could bring us precariously close to negative GDP growth.

The boost from bulk commodity prices is fading, with iron ore edging downwards after a sharp fall. This is a continuation pattern and we expect the decline to continue, with a short-term target of $80/tonne.

Iron Ore

We also retain our bearish outlook for the financial sector. Banks face headwinds from falling new housing starts as well as from narrow margins as the RBA cuts interest rates in an effort to stimulate the economy. Expect another test of primary support at 5400.


The ASX 200 is testing resistance at its 2007 high of 6800. A rising Trend Index signals buying pressure but we remain cautious because of the headwinds facing the domestic and global economies.

ASX 200

We maintain a low exposure to Australian equities, at 20% of portfolio value, because of our bearish outlook.

Australian residential construction to decline until 2021 | ABC

One of Australia’s largest cement and construction materials producers, Adelaide Brighton Ltd (ABC), announced their half year results today. The media statement contains a decidedly bearish outlook for the housing market.

ABC logo

Operational Review

Demand for construction materials slowed further during the period. Australian residential construction approvals declined more than 25% on seasonally adjusted terms for the six months to June 2019 and residential construction is forecast to continue to decline until 2021, until it returns to growth. However, the Company expects both mining and infrastructure to increase demand for construction materials in the near term. Capacity expansion in iron ore and gold production, along with the reopening of nickel capacity, will increase the demand for both cement and lime in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.


For the balance of 2019, Adelaide Brighton expects demand for construction materials to:

  • Weaken in east coast markets and South Australia, until the commencement of further planned infrastructure projects;
  • Remain stable in the Northern Territory and Western Australia;
  • Improve in the lime business as a result of increased gold and nickel production in Western Australia; and
  • Increase in concrete and aggregates due to more available work days, seasonality and volumes generated via Scotchy Pocket quarry.

Auction clearance rates in Sydney and Melbourne have improved but sales volumes remain low. We have witnessed recent improvement in consumer attitudes towards housing investment but whether this translates into increased activity will depend on:

    • APRA’s macro-prudential controls on bank lending;

Australia Housing Credit

  • The global economy;
  • Impact of the trade war on China’s economy; and
  • Domestic employment prospects.

Australia Unemployment & Underemployment

ASX tailwinds v. headwinds

The ASX continues to enjoy a massive external tailwind, with iron ore spot prices holding at $120/tonne.

Iron Ore

Headwinds stem mainly from domestic sources. Low employment and disposable income growth have slowed consumption, especially of durables such as housing and motor vehicles. Construction work done in the private engineering sector (mainly mining and energy related) continues to decline after a dramatic fall in 2013-2015. Public sector spending is also tailing off as the NBN roll-out winds down.

Australia: Construction Work Done

Private sector building still shows some resilience but is expected to fall as approvals for new residential construction decline (source: ABS).

Australia: Building Approvals

My concern is that the headwinds will outlast the tailwind, in which case all three construction sectors could fall to 2006 levels.

The ASX 200 continues to advance, headed for a test of its 2007 high at 6830. A declining Trend index would warn of rising selling pressure, while penetration of the rising trendline on the index chart would signal a correction to test support at 6000.

ASX 200

We continue to maintain a high level of cash in our Australian Growth portfolio.

Iron ore crash –

Spot iron ore prices have shed 19 percent so far this month in a sell-off largely fueled by slower construction steel demand in China, the world’s biggest buyer of imported iron ore at around 400 million tonnes a year.

In Europe, a more important market for Vale than Rio, steel markets have taken a knock given uncertainty surrounding the region’s debt crisis.

Growth of Europe’s steel production will slow in 2012 along with activity in the steel-using sectors, Eurofer, the European steel producers association, has forecast.

via Iron ore crash – |