Oh look! A baby swan!
Australia desperately needs an alibi – a Black Swan event – to nominate as the tipping point that ended the land bubble.
Government is rigid with fear about the political consequences of being blamed for the turn. Whoever presides over the shift will earn a page in history and make lifelong enemies of a swathe of suddenly-poor voters. Never mind they did it to themselves.
The Black Swan theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a metaphor for an event beyond the realm of normal expectations which brings about a widespread realisation that the jig is up, immediately followed by a sudden lack of financial confidence.
It comes from the discovery of Australia – and its black swan – which upset Northern Hemisphere certainties as all their swans are white.
We need to know the tipping point – some so they can exit at the peak, others so they can prepare for a different future.
Two events this week will serve the purpose: the forced sale of Villa del Mare for contravening foreign ownership laws, and Australian Crime Commission investigations into Chinese property buyers allegedly laundering corrupt money.
It is a whole lot easier to jab an accusing finger at a seedy player than at the big lazy turns in ol’ man river – the land market.
But do not doubt – our land bubble was driven by speculation, debt and bad taxes, not Henry Kaye, Harry Truguboff or hordes of Chinese economic refugees each wearing a single red wool sock.
Treasurer Hockey’s thought bubble on raiding super accounts really is the last throw of the dice, but it won’t pass the Senate, so relax.
On pure credit dynamics alone, an inevitable plateauing of prices must occur as debt thresholds are reached – about now – and no further sustained acceleration is possible.
Minsec and Cambridge Credit collapsed in the 1970s after the OPEC crisis. Did this crash the land market? No. Our bankruptcy laws limit loss transmission and their losses were contained to shareholders, employees and adjoining firms. Land prices had already turned – otherwise both firms could have, would have been bailed out.
If Villa del Mare is sold at a steep discount, technically that could down the house prices from the very top. Troubling for those trying to offload mega mansions on Sydney harbour.
Or equally, the whole thing may already be collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions – Port Headland, Karratha, Mackay, Gladstone etc are displaying jagged price corrections and are taking down NG rentiers in the big cities. The whole land market is so brittle and paths of transmission so direct it may already be underway.
But we can’t see these losses. The banks will hide them so as to keep their very low provision for doubtful debts. The RE agents won’t let on about mortgagee sales. The most reliable land price data is the ABS and it is six to nine months late.
We know Sydney and Melbourne investors are chasing a mirage not yield, outer urban lots are down to 330m2 and the houses are made of ticky tacky, new inner apartments are unlivable and designed solely for point of sale, the RBA is conflicted and Tony Abbott is in an induced coma.
Want a tipping point? You’re standing in it.