(Updates with comment from economist in fourth paragraph.)
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Australian home-loan approvals jumped in December by the most in seven months and exceeded economists’ forecasts as buyers responded to central bank interest-rate reductions.
The number of loans granted to build or buy houses and apartments increased 2.3 percent to 48,453, the highest in almost two years, from a revised November increase of 1.8 percent, the statistics bureau in Sydney today. The median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of 20 economists was for a 1.8 percent gain in approvals.
Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens lowered borrowing costs in November and December to 4.25 percent to buttress the housing market, support employment and boost confidence among consumers who are saving more. The RBA unexpectedly held its benchmark last week as signs mount that Europe is beginning to contain its sovereign-debt crisis and the U.S. recovery is gaining strength.
“We’ve seen very strong loan growth,” said Adam Carr, a senior economist in Sydney at ICAP Australia Ltd., a unit of the world’s biggest interdealer broker. “Momentum is well above average, and today’s data add weight to my view that the economy is accelerating at a pretty decent clip.”
The RBA, in its quarterly monetary policy statement released last week, predicted average growth of 3.5 percent in 2012, down from its Nov. 4 estimate of 4 percent, though higher than the 3 percent average in the decade through Sept. 30.
The Australian dollar was little changed after the report, trading at $1.0699 at 12:20 p.m. in Sydney from $1.0705 before the data.
Today’s data showed the total value of loans rose 3.8 percent to A$21.3 billion ($22.8 billion) in December, the highest level in two years.
The value of lending to owner-occupiers gained 2 percent, the report showed. The value of loans to investors who plan to rent or resell homes jumped 7.5 percent.
First-home buyers accounted for 20.9 percent of dwellings that were financed in December, up from 20 percent in November and the highest level since January 2010.
First home buyers were spurred to enter market in New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state, before its government ended tax breaks Dec. 31 on purchases of existing homes.
Home-loan growth may slow after Westpac Banking Corp. and Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. boosted rates last week independent of central bank policy.
Westpac, Australia’s second-biggest lender, increased the interest on a variable rate home loan by 10 basis points to 7.46 percent on Feb. 10, while ANZ Bank raised the cost 6 basis points to 7.36 percent. Each cited higher debt premiums and competition for deposits. Treasurer Wayne Swan condemned the moves, encouraging customers to consider switching lenders.
The central bank said in a quarterly statement the same day that retail spending remains subdued in Australia and the property market was weak. “Turnover rates in the housing market are ‘‘around the lowest they have been over the past two decades,’’ it said.
A government report this month showed Australian house prices plunged by the most on record in 2011 as global economic uncertainty and concerns about its impact kept a lid on demand.
The index measuring the weighted average of prices for established houses in eight major cities slid 4.8 percent from a year earlier, the Feb. 1 report showed, the biggest calendar- year drop since the data began in March 2002. They fell 1 percent in the three months to December from the previous quarter, when they retreated a revised 1.9 percent.
--With assistance from Daniel Petrie in Sydney. Editors: Brendan Murray, Malcolm Scott
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at email@example.com