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Total building approvals down 5 per cent

Total building approvals weakened in February after a strong start to the year, in a sign the market could be stabilising at a high level.

The new figures came as separate data highlighted the continued slide in private engineering construction as mining investment fades.

Building approvals eased by a seasonally adjusted 5 per cent in February to take the annual rate to 23.2 per cent, new Bureau of Statistics data released on Wednesday showed. Economists had expected a 2 per cent fall for the month.

Approvals for private sector houses slipped by 2.1 per cent for February, while approvals for private sector units dropped by 8.7 per cent.

''Overall, the February report suggests dwelling approvals are starting to flatten out after their recent surge, but at a historically high level,'' Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said.

''Total approvals in seasonally adjusted terms are still running at over 200,000 a year, and have averaged 200,000 a month for six months now.''


The falls in February followed a revised 6.9 per cent jump in January, which was the highest monthly growth in more than a decade.

ANZ property analysts David Cannington and Paul Braddick said the current level of dwelling approvals showed the property market was responding well to record-low interest rates.

''Notwithstanding concerns regarding potential excess supply, particularly for higher density inner-city apartments, developer sentiment remains buoyant, bolstered by solid investor and renter demand and low interest rates,'' the analysts said.

Separate Bureau of Statistics figures published on Wednesday showed total engineering construction work done fell by 0.9 per cent in the December quarter from a record high in the previous three months.

The decline reflected the adjustment in the mining sector as it transitions from an investment to a production phase, and underscored the importance of a recovery in non-resources industries such as housing.

Meanwhile, job vacancies data in the private and public sector rebounded in the three months to February after weakening in the previous quarter, new official figures released on Wednesday showed.

Private sector job vacancies grew by 2.7 per cent over the February quarter, while available positions in the public sector edged up by 1 per cent after plunging by 13.8 per cent in the three months to November last year.