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* Approvals to build new homes rise 2.9 pct in Nov, 13 pct for year
* Lower rates and growing population to support gradual recovery
By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY, Jan 10 Approvals to build new homes in Australia rose moderately in November thanks to an ongoing shift to apartment living, while lower mortgage rates and a growing population augur well for a further recovery this year.
Thursday's data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed building approvals increased by 2.9 percent in November, to be up 13.2 percent on the same month of 2011.
All the gains came in the multi-unit sector which climbed 10 percent in the month and over 36 percent for the year.
That is important as the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has increasingly been counting on a recovery in the housing market to bolster the economy when the current boom in mining investment starts to crest later this year.
Home building and renovation is worth around A$68 billion a year in Australia. That is a little less than 5 percent of annual economic output but it can swing sharply from year to year, making an outsized impact on growth.
The fundamentals for housing would seem to be healthy. After a series of rate cuts last year, mortgage rates are now well below long-run averages. Combined with flat home prices and rising incomes, that has made property more affordable.
Australia's population is also expanding at the fastest pace in almost three years as the resource-rich nation attracts a flood of skilled migrants.
The latest figures show the population grew by 1.6 percent, in the 12 months to June, 2011 up from a trough of 1.14 percent the previous year.
Net overseas migration added 208,300 people, an increase of 22 percent on the year, many of whom would obviously be looking for a home.
In a promising sign the Housing Industry Association this week reported sales of new homes rose 4.7 percent in November, for a second straight month of gains. (Editing by Eric Meijer)