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Housing as an Investment Asset in New Zealand

Patrick Aguiar Carvalho, Ben Baker and Ashley Farquharson

Housing matters- the big picture:

House prices in New Zealand are driven by a wide range of factors – interest rates are just one part of the big picture.

A global decline in interest rates and strong population growth in New Zealand has had an outsized impact on house prices because the supply of new homes has been slow to respond. This includes both opening up new land and building new homes.

Tax rules in NZ favour housing against other investments. House prices are influenced by employment and incomes, as well as bank lending rules and the availability of mortgages.

House prices were boosted by falling interest rates around the world in the past decade (post GFC).

The Reserve Bank of NZ moves short-term interest rates to keep inflation low and stable and support employment at its maximum sustainable level.

We consider the impact of our interest rate changes on house prices and how they affect the Government policy for sustainable house prices.

We do not aim to drive house prices up or to stop them falling.

The factors affecting house prices have changed. Building consents are now high, population growth has slowed dramatically, interest rates are rising and we are seeing house prices cool down in 2022, after a rapid rise last year.

We are carrying out a wide range of research to understand the key drivers of house prices. We need to be clear about what the Reserve Bank can and cannot do and what others could do to fix this problem, which has been many decades in the making.

Key findings of Analytical Note

  • With more than half of all household wealth in land and houses, New Zealanders have one very large egg in their wealth kete (basket). We investigate if this housing egg is oversized from a risk-return portfolio perspective. In other words, whether the current share of investment in housing can be explained by past investment performance. While investors do not have the benefit of hindsight, by looking at past data and various sensitivities, this exercise gives insights into why housing has been a popular investment asset from an individual investor perspective.
  • Our results suggest that, based on historic performance, the current level of investment in housing can be explained given its relatively robust financial returns over the past two decades. These results are underpinned by the ability to leverage investments through mortgages and favourable tax treatments, which both significantly increase the estimated portfolio share on housing.
  • Housing is not without risks and past performance is no guarantee of future results. International and domestic experiences show that long upswings can be followed by persistent downturns. In particular, there is an increasing body of evidence currently pointing to unsustainable house prices in New Zealand, and therefore, vulnerable to a potential correction and/or sluggish future growth.