OK, it’s time for the Reserve Bank tug its rate lever higher by at least 0.25%; the Seven Network’s Today Tonight has discovered the rebound in property prices.

Today Tonight is the highest rating of the 6.30pm programs and last night led its program with a very upbeat report on the latest RP Data-Rismark figures for August and how this was good news.

They’re  not very scientific or legit economic statistics, such as retail sales, bank lending or building approvals, which we saw earlier in the day, but the way Today Tonight treated figures in the RP Data-Rismark survey was a very definite “red” signal on rates.

A bit like the market adage from America, the one  that when lift operators, taxi drivers or coffee shop waitresses start handing out share tips, it’s time to sell, take the cash and run.

So on the basis that current affairs programs are the Australian equivalent of American bellhops and lift operators, it’s time for the RBA to get real and lift interest rates to make sure the bulls in the housing market are put out to pasture.

It’s no longer contemplating the meaning of solid retail sales in August (which helped the Australian dollar to a new 13-month high at 88.47 US cents overnight); or looking at business lending in yesterday’s credit figures from the central bank. Those same figures showed that housing lending was up more than 9% for owner occupiers the year to date in August (and has been rising all year, helping the numbers of auctions last Saturday in Sydney to reach a record).

The trappings of a boom in some parts of the housing market are developing and Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens is already on the record as warning the central bank won’t let that develop.

The recovery in property is now on the front pages of papers, in broadcast media news bulletins, mentioned in media personal finance stories and now given a big, positive plug on Today Tonight.

Next we will see the replacement Henry Kaye and other spruikers emerge to sell the joys of making money from property; negatively geared home loan empires anyone?

In fact the news from RP Data-Rismark should be seen not against the unchecked boosterism of Today Tonight, but against the quite clear concentration on housing availability and prices at the RBA.

According to RP Data, the average house price rose 1.8% in August, which was the strongest on record for this five-year-old series (It has been compiled early 2005, so missed some big increases earlier in the decade).

The firm said house prices rose 7.7% over the first eight months of 2009 — an annualised rate of 12%; with Melbourne and Sydney up 11.6% and 8.6% respectively, Darwin up 9.7%, Canberra 6.7% and Brisbane by 5.2%. Perth prices rose by 4.1% in the eight months to August.

The RBA is deeply concerned about housing (as it has been for years), but especially so in the wake of the recession that wasn’t.

On July 27, Stevens clearly laid out the central bank’s concerns in a speech that included this comment:

“A very real challenge in the near term is the following: how to ensure that the ready availability and low cost of housing finance is translated into more dwellings, not just higher prices. Given the circumstances — the economy moving to a position of less than full employment, with labour shortages lessening and reduced pressure on prices for raw material inputs — this ought to be the time when we can add to the dwelling stock without a major run‑up in prices.

“If we fail to do that — if all we end up with is higher prices and not many more dwellings — then it will be very disappointing, indeed quite disturbing. Not only would it confirm that there are serious supply-side impediments to producing one of the things that previous generations of Australians have taken for granted, namely affordable shelter, it would also pose elevated risks of problems of over‑leverage and asset price deflation down the track.”

On Tuesday, Anthony Richards, the RBA’s head of economic analysis, made a speech that contained very strong warnings on the possible social dislocation from rapidly rising house prices.

It is pretty rich that it takes a senior official at the Reserve Bank to again remind state, local and the federal government of their responsibilities to delivery new housing and land at economic costs to buyers and the wider Australian community.

You would have thought a government such as Kevin Rudd’s, with its professed interest in social welfare policies, would understand that and be belting state and local government to lower the cost of land and housing and to get as many private and public houses built as possible.

The RBA might be portrayed as a bunch of heartless econocrats, but Stevens and Richards have shown more interest in a just outcome for individuals and the community on housing than any government.

Home owners, real estate agents, the media and state and local governments have no interest: the house price gravy train has arrived again at the station and off we go towards higher interest rates and a greater lack of social equity.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.