For once, the hare just might beat the tortoise

What stands out among the tips by economists for this financial year is the one for property: it's not there.

What stands out among the tips by economists for this financial year is the one for property: it's not there.

Most high-profile economists work for a financial institution, so they're naturally more interested in the sharemarket than real estate. From what I can glean, that goes for their own investments as well. Guess that's why nobody asks them.

It's not as if residential property is the poor relation or anything. As an investment, it's neck-and-neck with shares over long periods.

In the near term, the 30 per cent tax credit from franked dividends sure gives the sharemarket a head start, but this higher post-tax return comes with a bigger risk. Just when you need the money, the sharemarket can almost be counted on to put on one of its turns.

Property is more debt-driven and there's an advantage in using mostly the bank's money for buying an asset that's going to rise in value, eventually. Nobody ever got rich using their own money, after all.

Mind you, there's a respectable school of thought that says a crash is long overdue after the noughties bubble made our property dearer than almost everywhere else. You can thank an unbroken 21 years of economic growth, along with a property supply shortage due to high immigration, not that this prevented the mini crashes in the outer suburbs or the Gold Coast.

And here's a good reason for economists to be wary of property forecasting. Every home owner knows you can't own a house without doing something to it; often the amount spent on improvements over the years is swept under the carpet when it comes to gloating about how much it's gone up in value.

So that makes it hard to compare a property's value over time, which is not helped by median prices hiding a multitude of sins. As a statistician told me, the only thing that isn't average is an average.

Whatever a two-bedroom fibro property with an outhouse was worth 20 years ago won't tell you much about the increase in value of the six-bedroom McMansion that replaced it. And what if a block of flats is built next door?

Anyway, the question is how the respective outlooks for the sharemarket and property stack up against each other.

Low and maybe even lower rates to come help both. Property is starting from a higher base but is in short supply, with a rebound in immigration going for it.

The sharemarket is about 25 per cent off its peak, while, for the most part, property prices have more or less stalled at their top, having dipped then recovered.

That said, the immediate outlook for shares is worse. Money that poured into the market is being repatriated back to the US, where a rising US dollar and slower growth in China are pulling down commodity prices. The market also has to cope with a slowing economy because the lower dollar will take a year to kick in.

For property, the threat is rising unemployment. Oops, no good news there. Treasury expects unemployment to rise slightly this financial year, but also forecasts "rising dwelling prices" and a "tight rental market". Still, nobody expects property to rise by more than low single digits for years.

Hmm, sounds like the tortoise and the hare, only back to front.

Property is plodding along nicely, but after a bad start, expect the share hare to make a winning dash.

Twitter @moneypotts

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