Property is an Australian obsession, perhaps more so than anywhere globally. When prices are rising, people crowd the market in the hope of capital gains. However, like any classic property cycle, multiple factors such as an influx of supply, a tightening of credit standards, regulatory uncertainty and so on, can see demand collapse highlighting just how stretched property valuations have become. When prices are falling, buyers flee, awaiting some signs of stability. East coast auction results in Australia are now tracking down 50% with many real estate agents refusing to submit results; new listings are down 20% and price declines in some areas are now challenging -20%.
Source: Core Logic
In less happy economic times, consumers give up what they see as treats and indulgences. They buy what they need, and price shop with even greater gusto. They also exhibit a behaviour called trading down, where they substitute something that still looks and smells like the old, but is less expensive or has better value.
Philip Lowe, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) presented some interesting data last week which provides some analytics around vulnerable sectors in household consumption. The chart below highlights the expected short-term impacts from a 1% change in housing wealth. For example, with house prices now down about 10% nationally, the RBA estimates a 6% decline in new Vehicle Sales. This correlates with February data suggesting 11 consecutive monthly falls in new vehicle sales. Other interesting data points suggest that Communications spend (i.e. mobile phones/internet) has one of the lowest elasticities to household price declines…. i.e. it’s considered just as important as food and health and more important than heating!
As investors, we need to identify the winners through every economic cycle. Despite continued weakness in economic data, there will be companies that can grow earnings in the face of this more difficult environment. Just some of the relevant company exposures held across Milford’s Australian funds which we believe stand-out in light of the RBA analysis include infant formula and health company A2 Milk; wine distributor Treasury Wines; English language testing and higher education student placement provider IDP Education; KFC fast food retailer Collins Foods and car part wholesaler Bapcor which will benefit from a higher proportion of older vehicles being on the road requiring more frequent servicing.