May 1, 2019 / 12:08 AM / a year ago

Australia home price slide slows, may be 'past worst'

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s long decline in home prices continued in April amid lackluster demand and tight credit, though the pace of losses eased as auction clearance rates stabilized in the major cities.

FILE PHOTO: New homes line a street in the Sydney suburb of Moorebank in Australia, May 26, 2017. Picture taken May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Reed

This constant erosion of household wealth is one reason the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is under pressure to cut interest rates at its next policy meeting on May 7.

It is also a sore spot for the Liberal National government as it fights a close election campaign ahead of a vote on May 18. The opposition Labor Party has vowed to remove some tax breaks for property investors, arguing they put home occupiers at a disadvantage.

Wednesday’s report from property consultant CoreLogic showed home prices nationally fell 0.5 percent in April from March, when they dropped 0.6 percent. The pace of decline has been gradually slowing since December when prices slid 1.1 percent.

“The current trend in the data implies that housing market conditions may have moved through the worst of the downturn,” said CoreLogic’s head of research Tim Lawless.

Values nationally were down 7.2 percent on the year. In the major capital cities, prices fell 0.5 percent on the month and 8.4 percent for the year.

The slower pace of decline came as auction clearance rates have stabilized over the last few months, particularly in the hardest-hit markets of Sydney and Melbourne.

Prices still fell by 0.7 percent in Sydney in April, but that followed a 0.9 percent drop in March. Values in Melbourne likewise eased by a smaller 0.6 percent.

Values nationally have fallen 7.9 percent from their peak in October 2017, though they are still more than 15 percent higher than five years ago.

The fall has been a drag on household wealth given the housing stock is valued at A$6.8 trillion ($4.83 trillion), or almost four times the country’s annual gross domestic product.

Financial markets are wagering the RBA will have to respond by cutting rates from already record lows of 1.5 percent, particularly given a recent disappointingly low reading for first quarter inflation.

Futures markets imply around a 36 percent chance of a rate cut as soon as next week and a move to 1.25 percent is fully priced in by July.

Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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