Home-loan approvals fell in December for a third month as the Reserve Bank’s interest rate cuts fail to lure buyers into the market.

The number of loans granted to build or buy houses and apartments declined 1.5 per cent from November, when they dropped a revised 0.7 percent, the statistics bureau said in Sydney today. Economists had expected the number of housing finance commitments to be unchanged in December.

Today’s report showed the total value of loans fell 2.6 per cent to $20.8 billion in December.

JPMorgan economist Ben Jarman said there was no evidence that the housing construction sector was turning around in a meaningful way, despite four interest rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of Australia in 2012.

‘‘You’re also seeing that from the RBA’s credit data,’’ he said. ‘‘While the RBA has been talking about getting preliminary signs that the economy is getting a bit of traction in the expected spots as rates come down, it doesn’t seem that anything really compelling is really happening.

‘‘Borrowers who are really sensitive to rate adjustments haven’t returned to the market in a meaningful way.’’

The value of lending to owner-occupiers declined 2.7 per cent, the report showed. The value of loans to investors who plan to rent or resell homes dropped 2.4 per cent.

First-home buyers accounted for 14.9 per cent of dwellings that were financed in December, down from 15.8 per cent in November and lower than 21.1 per cent a year earlier, the report showed today.

Housing credit growth in December dropped to the weakest annual pace since records began in 1977, central bank data showed January 31, and state governments in New South Wales and Queensland scrapped aid for some home buyers.

Housing finance has been ‘‘weighed down further by the recent withdrawal of first home buyer concessions for established properties,’’ David Cannington, an economist at ANZ who predicted a 2.5 per cent decline, said in a research report before the release.

The dollar was little changed after the data, buying $US1.0323.

The Reserve Bank in December cut the benchmark rate to 3 per cent, matching the half-century low set during the 2009 global recession. The RBA has lowered borrowing costs in six moves: 25 basis points apiece in November and December 2011, then 50 basis points in May, 25 in June, 25 in October and 25 this month.

Still, the number of Australian construction jobs fell by 21,900 in the 12 months through November.

‘‘The cumulative reduction in interest rates is affecting interest-sensitive parts of the economy, though the full effects will, of course, take more time to become apparent,’’ the central bank said in its quarterly monetary policy statement released on Friday.

Home-building approvals unexpectedly declined for the second time in three months in December. The number of permits granted to build or renovate houses and apartments fell 4.4 per cent from November, the Bureau of Statistics said in Sydney last week.

Concern about job security has curbed retail spending, which fell in the final three months of 2012, the longest decline in 13 years. Consumer confidence was little changed last month as households concerned about their finances shrugged off rate reductions, a private report showed January 16.

Bloomberg