Dumped apartment projects 'groundhog day' to global financial crisis

By Edwin Mitson

An artist's impression of the axed Flo Apartments project.
An artist's impression of the axed Flo Apartments project.

The collapse of property developments in Auckland as banks refuse to fund projects due to blowouts in construction and labour costs, is "almost groundhog day" to the run-up of the global financial crisis in 2007/2008 says John Kensington, the author of KPMG's Financial Institutions Performance Survey.

The most recent development to be cancelled is the Flo apartment project in Avondale. Buyers' 10 per cent deposits were refunded this week as the developer cited funding and construction cost issues.

Speaking to BusinessDesk, Kensington said exactly the same thing was happening at the start of the GFC.

"Banks were looking at property development opportunities back then, and going, 'we've got a record rise in prices, we've got shortages of materials, we've got shortages of labour, we don't think this property development has been correctly analysed, we don't think it's going to work', so they declined to fund it."

Kensington said this year was different because the finance companies were diminished and no longer in a position to take up the slack.

"The money went to finance companies [before the GFC] who, having got the money, had to find a home and probably invested in the very things the banks had said no to. At least this time round there is not as strong a property finance company sector there to take up the slack when the banks said no. I'm sure if there was, they would happily bank some of this."

He added that there was a "real strain on the construction industry, labour costs are blowing out, and there are some shortages of building materials".

Prime Minister John Key yesterday told the Herald he stood by comments that young people should be looking to buy apartments as their first home.

"While they [the developments] might not be happening, the consenting looks very strong; from time to time you will always get a few developments that fall over."

KPMG's FIPS report for the three months to the end of June showed total lending rose by 2.2 per cent or $8.08 billion in the quarter, the second-fastest quarterly growth in the past five years.

This was mainly driven by lending to investors, with a 39 per cent increase in new lending to property investors. Lending to first-home buyers increased 31 per cent and lending to owner-occupiers was up 24 per cent.

KPMG's Kensington said two things were happening: "What you are seeing is the appetite for New Zealanders to borrow, the desire to borrow has not slowed down, in fact, it's running at a peak. At the same time, the desire from New Zealanders to receive to a low-interest rate on their deposit has run out."

Kensington said the money was being withdrawn from term accounts as they mature and is being invested in homes, extensions, baches and the stock market.

The report covers a period before the adoption of new Reserve Bank restrictions on property market lending, which requires investors to have a deposit of 40 per cent. These were announced in July and almost immediately adopted by the major lenders, but formally came into force at the start of this month.

- BusinessDesk

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