Iron and oil producers proved resilient during the crash of 2008-09 but are now struggling as commodities prices decline
In the mining town of Port Hedland, 1,500km north of Perth, modest prefabricated homes called fibro shacks, which were changing hands for more than A$1m four years ago, are now failing to find a buyer at a third of the price. Apartment blocks hurriedly tacked together by developers at the peak of the country’s boom stand empty, because their promised supply of “fly-in-fly-out” mineworkers has dried up, along with the jobs they were brought in to do.
In 2011, the iron ore-rich Pilbara region of north-west Australia was on the frontier of a 21st century gold rush, this time with iron ore as the main prize – driven by China’s formidable appetite for natural resources to build up its infrastructure and modernise its economy.
Pilbara boasted salaries two-thirds higher than the national average and almost 80% of workers were flown into their jobs from Australia’s big cities. Now, mortgaged to the hilt on homes that lost value almost before the paint had dried, the mineworkers that remain are accepting longer hours and lower wages in an effort to keep up with the repayments.
Their plight resonates thousands of miles away in Calgary, Canada. Oil, not iron ore, has been the foundation of that city’s prosperity. But fears that China’s appetite for natural resources is waning are sapping confidence; and as oil prices have plunged, another property boom could soon turn to bust.
“There’s a lot of people here that have been losing their jobs from the energy sector,” says Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist at local estate agency CREB. Property prices have so far held up, but she says Calgarians are watching the global oil price with alarm.
“Into next year the real question becomes, how long are energy prices going to remain this low?” she says, pointing out that, with building starts declining, the knock-on effects are already rippling through the construction industry. She expects house prices in Calgary, which rose by almost 10% in 2014, to go into reverse by the end of this year.
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