Global Housing Markets From Hong Kong To Sydney Join Global Rout 

It's not just stocks: the global housing market is in for a rough patch, which has turned ugly for many homeowners and investors from Vancouver to London, with markets in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia already showing increased signs of softening.

Macro factors have triggered a global economic slowdown that is unraveling luxury marketplaces worldwide, according to Bloomberg. As a result, a turning point has been reached, with home prices globally now under pressure, and rising mortgage rates leading to depressed consumer optimism, while also triggering a housing affordability crisis, S&P Global Ratings said in a December report. To make matters worse, a simultaneous drop in house prices globally could lead to “financial and macroeconomic instability,” the IMF warned in a report last April.

While each metropolis globally has its distinct characteristics of what triggered its real estate slowdown, there are a few common denominators at play: rising borrowing costs, quantitative tightening, a crackdown on money laundering and increased government regulation, emerging market capital outflows and volatile financial markets. Bloomberg notes that there is also declining demand from Chinese buyers, who were the most powerful force in many housing markets globally over the course of this cycle.

“As China’s economy is affected by the trade war, capital outflows have become more difficult, thus weakening demand in markets including Sydney and Hong Kong,” said Patrick Wong, a real estate analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

One of the first dominos to fall has been in Hong Kong, home values in the city have plummeted for 13 weeks straight since August, the longest losing streak since the 2008 financial crash, data from Centaline Property Agency show. Homeowners and investors have taken great caution due to a jump in borrowing costs, a looming vacancy tax, and the trade war that has derailed economic growth in mainland China.  

“The change in attitude can be explained by a slowing mainland economy,” said Henry Mok, JLL’s senior director of capital markets. “Throw in a simmering trade war between China and the U.S., the government has taken actions to restrict capital outflows, which in turn has increased difficulties for developers to invest overseas.”

Home prices in Singapore, which rank among the world's most expensive places to live, logged the first decline in six quarters in the three months ended December. Bloomberg said luxury experienced the worst declines, with values in prime areas dropping 1.5%.

Most of the slowdown was caused by government policies to cool the overinflated housing market. Cooling measures were implemented in July included higher stamp duties and tougher loan-to-value rules. The policies enacted by the government have halted the home-price recovery that only lasted for five quarters, the shortest since data became available.

“Landed home prices, being bigger ticket items, have taken a greater beating as demand softened,” said Ong Teck Hui, a senior director of research and consultancy at JLL.

The downturn in Sydney's housing market is expected to continue this year as tighter lending standards and the worst plunge in values since the late 1980s has spooked buyers. Average Sydney home values had dropped 11.1% since their 2017 top, according to a recent CoreLogic Inc. report -- surpassing the 9.6% peak to trough decline when Australia was on the cusp of entering its last recession.

Nationwide, home values declined 4.8% last year, marking the weakest housing market conditions since the 2008 financial crash.

“Access to finance is likely to remain the most significant barrier to an improvement in housing market conditions in 2019,” CoreLogic’s head of research Tim Lawless said. Weak consumer sentiment toward the property market is “likely to continue to dampen housing demand.”

Bloomberg notes that home prices in the country are still 60% higher than in 2012, if prices plunge another 10% in 2019, well, it could spark mass panic.

The Reserve Bank of Australia is terrified that an extended downturn will crimp consumption and with the main opposition Labor party pledging to curb tax perks for property investors if it wins an election expected in May, economic optimism would further deteriorate. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Thursday told the nation's top banks not to tighten credit any more as the economic downturn is expected to get much worse.

But all eyes are on what is going on in arguably the most important housing markets in the world - those of Shanghai and Beijing. A government crackdown on leverage and overheating prices have damaged sales and triggered a 5% tumble in home values from their top. Rules on multiple home purchases, or how soon a property can be flipped once it is acquired, are starting to be relaxed, and the giveaways by home builders to lure buyers are starting to get absurd.

One developer in September was giving away new BMWs to new homebuyers at its townhouses in Shanghai. Down-payments have been slashed, with China Evergrande Group asking for 5% rather than the normal 30% deposit required.

“It’s not a surprise to see Beijing and Shanghai residential prices fall given the curbing policies currently on these two markets,” said Henry Chin, head of research at CBRE Group Inc.

As a whole, Bloomberg's compilation of global housing data showing the unraveling of many housing markets is a sobering reminder that a synchronized global slowdown has started.