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Mortgage rate war fuels housing confidence

By Jenny Ruth

Monday 7th February 2005

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 Jenny Ruth
ASB Bank's latest survey of housing confidence is likely to send shivers up spines at the Reserve Bank.

For the first time since the middle of 2003, the survey shows more people think now is a good time to buy a house than not.

While the housing market was undoubtedly stimulated by the price war in the mortgage market, particularly in two-year fixed-rate loans, ASB Bank chief economist Anthony Byett thinks the latest results are more than just a one-off anomoly.

"Just when it appeared that the housing cycle might have reached a peak, the market kicked away again in November and December. The cheap rates have added fuel to the fire," Byett says.

But another positive was that up to October, most people had been expecting interest rates would keep rising. Then at the end of November, the Reserve Bank signalled it was probably nearly done with raising rates this cycle. "The findings of the latest survey show that people's perceptions about interest rates altered during this period - a change likely to have been instrumental in the lift in activity and housing confidence."

He notes that growth in housing sales in dollar terms in November and December reached records for the registered banks. While annecdotal evidence from the ASB network and real estate agents suggests the strong activity continued into January, Byett does expect the housing market will slow.

While house prices are still rising, they're not rising at the same rate as a year ago.

Factors such as high household debt levels, modest rental yields and a large number of new housings still coming on stream at a time when net migration gains are diminishing should contribute to a more balanced market, although that's likely to be somewhat offset by the strong labour market.

"A slower stage of the housing cycle is still imminent, but the events of recent months give further cause to believe that any slowdown will be of a moderate nature."

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