Monday, December 31, 2007

Is household debt getting worse?

Even though home prices have stopped rising in most parts of the country, household debt continues to grow.

The ratio of household debt to income has reached a record 150 per cent - one of the highest in the world - and the ratio of house prices to disposable income is also very high by historical and international standards.

The share of households with debt secured on their home is rising, having jumped from less than 30 per cent in the mid-1990s to 36 per cent.

"The household sector remains vulnerable to a deterioration in the economic climate, and there remains a possibility that the adjustment could turn out to be much larger than currently anticipated," the report said.

Is household debt getting worse?

Note how spiralling housing costs have fed into the national debt, creating an unproductive international debt to service.

Note also that many small retail businesses are going to the wall, as disposable income is at an all time low.

What does the NSW Labor government and Australian federal Government do about it? Nothing, of course... It's far easier and politically correct to be laissez-faire and eco-rat (while still dashing off important-sounding polished speeches about nothing) and let new and prospective homebuyers (and the macro-economy) suffer.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Mortgage stress may be behind Bible belt crime

Quelle surprise:

SYDNEY'S Bible belt is known for its McMansions, aspirational voters and enthusiastic church-goers. But the conservative, affluent Hills District is also in the grip of a crime wave - and mortgage stress may be behind it.

Over the past four years, Baulkham Hills Shire has experienced rising rates of violence and robbery. Domestic violence has risen by almost 20 per cent, assault is up by almost 10 per cent and harassment by 23 per cent.

There have been five murders in the past two years; there were none in the five years before that. They include the stabbing murder of Richard Carruthers, the 36-year-old redesigner of the Olympic cauldron, in his Castle Hill home. Three of the murders remain unsolved.

Many families in the area are also struggling financially, which can influence domestic violence statistics. "What you have in the Hills District is more people paying more off home loans than the rest of Sydney," Dr Lee said.

"You've got 50 per cent of home owners paying more than $2000 a month off a home. That's at least 10 per cent more than the average. I'm not saying it's causal, but I think it's an interesting figure."

The Local Area Commander, Superintendent Sue Waites, also suggests a link between financial stress and domestic violence. Domestic violence problems could also be fuelling the 23.2 per cent rise in harassment, threatening behaviour and private nuisance charges. "[Incidents] include sending inappropriate text messages to persons via mobile phones," she said.
Mortgage stress may be behind Bible belt crime - National -

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Tale of two Sydneys as property divide widens

SYDNEY'S two-speed property market could continue this year as mortgagee-in-possession sales drag down the lower end of the market.

An Australian Property Monitors rating of the growth of property values of about 700 suburbs in 2006 shows the city's affluent enclaves surged ahead, while areas in the west and south-west languished.

Tale of two Sydneys as property divide widens - National -

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sydney not alone in seeking housing crisis solution - National -

hmm, Jess Irvine hasn't done a market-pumping piece funded by the REI for a change -- remarkable... As per the article, if politicians want policy suggestions, just come to this site. They are looking at releasing urban Defence land as well as the State and Crown lands, to answer the vexed 'where will the land come from?' question...

Sydney not alone in seeking housing crisis solution

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rent crisis taking psychological toll

THE rental crisis is having negative psychological effects on tenants, with a growing number reporting rent-associated depression and anxiety.

About one in three Australians rent and the survey by showed 89 per cent of renters reported experiencing negative psychological effects directly related to the rental climate.

Fifty-nine per cent of renters expressed "anxiety" over their renting predicament. Forty-one per cent felt "helpless" in their rental situation and one in five said they felt rage and fury over their situation.

Only 11 per cent of renters are happy with their current accommodation and only 4 per cent feel well cared for by their landlords, the survey found.

But even with a shortage of good accommodation and rents rising by 9 per cent during 2007, the majority of respondents said they would rather stay in less than ideal rental properties then go back into the market.

Fifty-six per cent of prospective tenants were deterred from applying for properties based on the number of people at inspections. More than a third said they felt they would never be able to own a home.

Rent crisis taking psychological toll | The Daily Telegraph

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Credit squeeze hits Aussie banks

There you have it -- the banks opened up the credit floodgates 5 years ago, precipitating the boom, and now it's come full circle -- massive levels of foreclosure, housing inflation, indebtedness, borrowing and consumer risk, so they turn tail and restrict credit again. Of course, 'the gummint is managing the economy'. At least APRA could have done something, but they did very little -- it took an international credit squeeze to stop the local largesse.

This could bring down house prices, because

1) people can borrow less, thus reducing bid prices
2) they will probably also have to pay more interest, also reducing how much they are prepared to pay for housing.

Credit squeeze hits Aussie banks

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Victoria pulls ahead

So cheaper Victoria is pulling ahead of property price-gouging NSW -- and yet heightened demand in Victoria isn't escalating house prices through the roof! Very interesting.

NSW is losing the economic race to Victoria, with residents fleeing high property prices and dragging down the state's economic growth.

About 25,000 NSW residents leave for other states and territories every year. And the exodus is constricting the state's economy, with NSW slipping behind its southern neighbour, new analysis by the ANZ's head of Australian economics, Tony Pearson, shows.

Mr Pearson said the Victorian economy had grown twice as fast as NSW's in the last two years, in part due to demographic factors.

"What stands out is the much poorer economic performance of NSW against its peers, particularly relative to Victoria."

Victoria pulls ahead

Monday, August 13, 2007

Housing affordability hits new record low

Those hard-working pollies who 'manage the economy' (or so they keep telling us) are at it again, fixing up the housing affordability problem. Anyone would think they just swanned around for a living delivering speeches, attending openings and taking credit for other people's work, and playing political games with developers, big business, and anyone else with loads of cash. The key words are 'tangible policy action':

"The Australian economy is performing well yet an increasing number of Australians are now being left behind as the degree of housing stress being felt by both mortgage holders and renters continues to intensify," Dr Silberberg said.

"The longer we go without tangible policy action, the worse the situation will become, and that's without higher mortgage rates."

Housing affordability hits new record low

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ten's company: what the rental squeeze means for owners

More on the housing/renting/apartment overcrowding debacle -- this is what happens when you leave housing in a capitalist free market with laissez-faire politicians 'running' the country -- out and out exploitation of overseas students, rampant unaffordability, and horrible life experience. When was it decided Australia was the land of the 'fair go', and by whom, particularly since it has become populated with property developers and landlording piranhas, the 'fair go' mums and dads of yesteryear.

Ten's company: what the rental squeeze means for owners

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Home ownership now an 'unattainable dream'

HOME ownership has become an unattainable dream for many low- to middle-income earners in Australia, a new report has found.

The Beyond Reach report, undertaken by the Residential Development Council (RDC), examines the cost of owning or renting a house or unit for six household “types”, comprising different family and wage structures, in 16 metropolitan locations across the country.

It shows owning a median-price home in almost any location in Australia requires a combined household income of about $100,000, while the average annual wage for workers is $55,000 a year.

According to the report, not one of the 16 locations studied offered a median-priced home that was affordable on that level of income.

In calculating affordability, the report used two different measures - that no more than 30 per cent of household incomes should go on housing costs, and a property should cost no more than three to four times the median household income.

RDC executive director Ross Elliott said the research provided a more human angle on the affordability crisis.

“If key workers necessary for society and the economy to function are being denied entry to the housing market, or if the option of a single income family is now completely shattered by the price of housing, we are faced with obvious long-term social and economic consequences,” he said.

Home ownership now an 'unattainable dream' | The Daily Telegraph

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sunday, July 15, 2007


A great public service article on Neil Jenman's website (, written by Terry Ryder. A fantastic synopsis, well worth reading in its entirety:

It's almost tragic watching politicians and media puzzling over the two-speed property market and the related issues of low housing affordability and record home repossessions.

The reasons are quite simple.

The common factor pervading these issues is this: Australia's economy is booming but the spoils aren't being evenly shared.

Most of the benefits of the resources-inspired prosperity are being gobbled up by the upper echelons. While the top end is rolling in cash, the average person is no better off than five years ago.

The business elite have never had it so good. Record company profits, generous executive salary packages and a buoyant sharemarket mean those at the top have more dollars than ways to spend them. This is driving the rise and rise of the top end of the residential property market.

But down in the real world, the mainstream where 90% of Australians live, the market is going nowhere fast.

More and more households cannot afford to buy a home, those who already own one are struggling with their mortgages after eight consecutive interest rate rises and banks are repossessing homes at record levels.

The wages report shows that over the period of the economic boom wages have grown at roughly 2% to 3% a year. In other words, not much above the inflation rate. The report states that a significant proportion of households have seen no "real" (after inflation) increase in their incomes over the past five years.

But in the same time frame property prices have doubled in many areas and there have been multiple rises in interest rates.

The problem is this: the typical price has risen a lot, thanks for the recent market boom, and the typical monthly payment has risen greatly also, thanks to all those interest rate rises from the Prime Minister who promised they wouldn't rise if we re-elected him – BUT household incomes haven't kept pace, thanks also to that same Prime Minister who has devoted his life to keeping wages down.

In the property booms of the 1970s and 1980s, prices rose a lot and interest rates were high, but incomes were rising at 8%-9% a year, so affordability didn't suffer too much.

Today, the growing gap between the income needed to get a loan and the actual income earned by the average family is the reason why affordability is at all-time lows – and why we have this strange two-speed property market.

You'll notice that there's no mention in the affordability equation of stamp duty or land supply.

This is a surprise because the development lobby has been desperate to convince us that affordability could be solved overnight if state governments lowered stamp duty and raised the supply of land for new residential development.

It's nonsense but they keep saying it because they have a vested interest in lower stamp duty and higher land supply.

So why is this deception not widely known?

Part of the answer is that media doesn't do its job. There was a time when journalists were proactive in investigating major issues like affordability. Today many journalists simply regurgitate the spin-doctored views of politicians and business lobby groups.


A housing illusion we buy every time

A reasponable attempt at an analysis of the boom. I particularly like the reference to the stupidity of the sheeple in the following opening quote:

It happens after every housing boom - people go from congratulating themselves on the huge rise in the value of their home to wondering how on earth their children will afford homes of their own. So I've no doubt Kevin Rudd is on a winner with his efforts to focus attention on the deterioration in affordability for first home buyers.

A housing illusion we buy every time

The question is what are the politicians going to do to make homes affordable again? Bring down the price of land? Develop huge tracts of Crown and State land themselves affordably and put price cap covenants on them going forward?

Mortgage stress to hit home at election

Enough said. (And Jessica Irvine at the SMH is not running a RE industry market-pumping story for a change, very strange, what could have lead to this change of heart?)

MORE than a third of NSW families with a home loan live in a state of 'mortgage stress', devoting more than 30 per cent of their gross income to mortgage repayments.
This is a massive increase since the 2001 federal election, when the proportion was less than a quarter. Mortgage stress has since risen in every NSW electorate, unpublished census figures show. As housing affordability firms as an election issue, the figures reveal the high level of financial stress confronting many families.
At the same time, buyers are finding it increasingly difficult to get into the market. A survey of 1000 first-home buyers by mortgage broker Mortgage Choice found almost one-third did not expect to buy a home until they were aged 40 or over, and fewer than two in five expected to have secured a home before 30.
NSW is home to the greatest mortgage pain - the figures show 33.2 per cent of families with a home loan live in mortgage stress.

Mortgage stress to hit home at election

Home loans on tap: no deposit, no inspection

Is this somehow connected to the housing boom that the politicians are so earnestly wringing their hands about in Darwin at the Premiers Conference? What to do, what to do?

THE mortgage stress crisis is being worsened by the boom in easy credit, with lenders approving loans without inspecting properties, offering large amounts to borrowers who have no deposit and encouraging buyers to take on debts that would eat up half their income.

Amid concern over the growing practice of loans being approved with no on-site inspection, the Herald discovered yesterday how easily customers can be seduced by quick and simple access to credit.

Home loans on tap: no deposit, no inspection

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Housing costs squeeze budgets

SOARING housing costs are squeezing family budgets in Sydney, even though incomes in the city are higher than almost everywhere else in the country, figures from the 2006 census show.

Mortgage repayments in Sydney are 40 per cent higher than the national median and rents 31 per cent more, even though incomes in the city are only 12 per cent higher.

Housing costs squeeze budgets

BIS warns of Great Depression dangers from credit spree

Here comes the fallout from easy credit and borrowing — see the following post concerning the increasing number of foreclosures taking place.

The Bank for International Settlements, the world's most prestigious financial body, has warned that years of loose monetary policy has fuelled a dangerous credit bubble, leaving the global economy more vulnerable to another 1930s-style slump than generally understood.

"Virtually nobody foresaw the Great Depression of the 1930s, or the crises which affected Japan and southeast Asia in the early and late 1990s. In fact, each downturn was preceded by a period of non-inflationary growth exuberant enough to lead many commentators to suggest that a 'new era' had arrived", said the bank.

The BIS, the ultimate bank of central bankers, pointed to a confluence a worrying signs, citing mass issuance of new-fangled credit instruments, soaring levels of household debt, extreme appetite for risk shown by investors, and entrenched imbalances in the world currency system.

In a thinly-veiled rebuke to the US Federal Reserve, the BIS said central banks were starting to doubt the wisdom of letting asset bubbles build up on the assumption that they could safely be “cleaned up” afterwards - which was more or less the strategy pursued by former Fed chief Alan Greenspan after the dotcom bust.

BIS warns of Great Depression dangers from credit spree

Surge in families forced to sell their homes

Looks pretty grim for the economy, for families, and for the housing boom. Naturally the politicians who pride themselves on 'managing the economy' when times are good (which is an outright lie anyhow at any time) shut up when this sort of thing happens. Never mind that half the reported GDP growth of recent years has been empty inflationary lending on housing at high, unsustainable prices.

HUNDREDS of families have been forced to sell their homes, or lenders have repossessed and auctioned them, in Sydney's west and south-west in the past year, property experts say.

There were a record 1400 auctions in the region in the year to March 31, nearly double the number in 2005, Australian Property Monitors figures show.

Michael McNamara, an analyst with the company, said the spate of auctions pointed to a big rise in distressed sales and repossessions in the region. Mostly, sellers in Sydney's cheaper property markets were going to auction because they had to, not because they wanted to, he said. "The big rise in the number of auctions isn't because the market is going well," he said.

"It's jumped because auctions are the preferred method of sale of trustees in bankruptcy and mortgagees in possession. I think that's a very disturbing figure."

The median price for an auction in south-western Sydney in the March quarter was $318,000, $22,000 less than the overall median house price in the region.

"This just brings home the fact that most of these are distressed sales," Mr McNamara said.

Dara Dhillon, the principle of Dhillon Real Estate in Ingleburn, near Campbelltown, said 95 per cent of auctions in south-western Sydney were mortgagee sales. But he said there were many more forced sales where lenders had encouraged borrowers to sell rather than face repossession. "This type of [forced sale] is a big proportion of sales at the moment," he said.

Mr McNamara and Mr Dhillon estimate that hundreds of families in western and south-western Sydney had been forced to sell their homes, or had had homes repossessed and auctioned by lenders, over the past year.

Meanwhile, the total debt burden on Australian households topped $1 trillion for the first time last month, Reserve Bank figures published yesterday showed.

Debt on housing accounts for about 86 per cent of household debt, with the remainder personal debts like credit cards and personal loans. The ratio of household debt to household income has reached 160 per cent, one of the highest in the world. Interest payments now soak up a record 11.9 per cent of household income, nearly three percentage points more than in 1989 when mortgage rates were 17 per cent.

Surge in families forced to sell their homes

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Blogger learns how to monetise hate

I've spoken to Casey in the past, posted on his website, and *tried* to provide sage counsel to him. Now he's visiting Sydney...

Blogger learns how to monetise hate

Update: I ended up having dinner one night with Casey and chatted about various things. I wanted to help him out more in finding accommodation for a few days, but I'm in the middle of relocating myself, so couldn't offer anything much. Travel broadens the mind...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rents fuel plight of homeless young

What a surprise that the politicians are doing nothing about housing on their $200K salaries and perks and pensions paid from YOUR money. I thought we were paying politicians to do a job...

HOMELESSNESS among people aged under 25 has doubled to 35,000 in the past 20 years, says a commissioner of the first independent inquiry into youth homelessness since an inquiry in 1989.

David MacKenzie, associate professor of sociology at Swinburne University in Victoria, yesterday said youth homelessness now accounted for one-third of all homeless people in Australia.

The problem of homelessness had been worsened by the rental crisis, said the chairman of the inquiry, the David Eldridge, of the Salvation Army. With the pressure on prices forcing out the bottom end of the market, the overflow has been too great for public housing to address.

He said the situation was heightened by governments that favoured the publicity generated by pilot programs over the less 'exciting' job of funding programs that were working.
'The circumstances have all come together at this time to make it a fairly explosive situation,' Major Eldridge said.

Wally Dethlefs, a commissioner who also sat on the 1989 inquiry of Brian Burdekin, a federal human rights commissioner, said: 'It's not just marginalised people, but TAFE and university students ending up in shelters. What we are hearing in this inquiry is [that] because of the increase in rent there is no exit point.'

Rents fuel plight of homeless young

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Housing Rebounds, Sky Green - Motley Fool

Try not to step in it today, housing bubble watchers. Once again, the real-estate cheerleaders and compliant 'journalists' out there will be trying to put lipstick on the pig with the bogus headline of the day. It will read 'Housing Rebounds,' 'Home Starts Up,' or some other nonsense.

Don't fall for it.

Quick Take: Housing Rebounds, Sky Green [] March 20, 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

Media Watch: Front Page - Who's Raising The Rent?

Interesting exposé of the REI and the SMH by ABC's Media Watch, who are increasingly moving to the right these days in their reporting.

Media Watch: Front Page - Who's Raising The Rent? (26/02/2007)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Housing costs dim appeal of bright city lights

Shared equity schemes are one of the weakest things you can do in terms of reducing land speculation and land bubbles, but we are coming to expect more and more such neo-liberal policies from a Labor party without any real ideas.

Poor housing affordability in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane had forced an increasing number of first-home buyers to flee the city or remain in regional areas, said Simon Tennent, the association's executive director of housing and economics.

Improved job opportunities in many regional areas - highlighted by the lowest national unemployment rate for 30 years - has encouraged this trend.

'The attraction of the bright lights and the big city, like great job opportunities and that sort of thing, has faded somewhat over the past few years,' Mr Tennent said.

Despite recent weakness in parts of the Sydney housing market, it remains one of the most expensive cities in the world relative to average incomes.

Federal Labor's housing spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, said on Friday that a Labor government would consider a federal role in shared equity schemes to assist people on low incomes to enter the housing market.

Housing costs dim appeal of bright city lights

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Seeking Curbed-Cost Appeal, Builders Cut Homes' Price And Size

Why doesn't NSW 'Labor' do affordable housing on state-owned lands instead of selling them off to the highest bidder in an asset sale to try to reduce its half-billion dollar deficit?

Now that overheated markets such as Miami are cooling fast, Related's talking up another kind of product: affordable homes.

Miami-based Related, the nation's largest condo developer, has trotted out a rebranded "affordable housing division," to build condos for buyers priced out of the market.

The firm has presold 497 of 500 loft condos in a planned downtown Miami high-rise. They're priced from $159,000, about half the median price of existing condos. That's a fraction of the price of many new condos, which often now go unsold.

Related expects to make a return of around 15%. That's about half what its luxury units typically fetch, but the company's not complaining.

"You make less money, but the demand for this type of housing is so great that the volume you can do justifies the concession on the returns," said Oscar Rodriguez, senior vice president of Related's affordable housing division.

Yahoo! Personal Finance

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why renters fat and thin are singing

It's a pretty safe bet the big story in housing this year will be steep increases in rents. The media have dubbed it the "rent crisis", with a leading property market forecaster, BIS Shrapnel, predicting that rents for inner-Sydney apartments will rise by more than 7 per cent a year for the next five years. But you'll hear worse than that before we're through.

Once again, politicians are going to sit by the sidelines while rents escalate. However, unlike mortgage payments, rentals go into the CPI calculation, and many employers peg wage raises to the CPI. Hence, indifferent, laissez-faire politicians will be watching national inflation spiralling out of control, and there is little interest rate rises from the Reserve Bank will do to fix it. The more interest rates go up to 'control inflation', the more new landlords who paid too much for their property will pass the costs on to tenants, and the more inflation will increase in the community. That's capitalist exploitation of property for you, egged on by the politicians...

Why renters fat and thin are singing

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Wind out of sales

This shows the incredibly poor quality of urban planning in Sydney — people don't want to live in the far-flung outer suburbs because they are forced to commute huge distances to the city to work. Housing near the city is unaffordable. Housing further out can't be sold. The free-market free-wheeling approach to allocating housing simply isn't working.

DEVELOPERS have resorted to offering cash incentives and no-deposit finance as they struggle to sell newly built homes in Sydney's outer suburbs.

Multi-million-dollar housing developments on the city's outskirts have taken the biggest hit, with three rate rises in the past year deterring prospective homebuyers.

Housing Industry Association figures show the number of new houses sold in NSW over the past 10 years has slumped by 50 per cent.

The trend continued last year with 14,121 new homes sold around the country, compared with 14,175 the previous year and 39,860 in 1998/99.

The national figures tell a similar story. Last year, 107,145 new homes were sold, down from 110,979 the previous year.

Half-empty streets and rows of for-sale signs are common at some of the multi-million-dollar estates in outer Sydney as developers turn to lavish gifts and no-deposit finance to attract buyers.

Some estates are offering cash incentives of up to $10,000, no-deposit finance, fixed interest rates or free extras such as air-conditioning.

Only 951 new homes were sold in NSW in December, 2006 - down from about 1127 in December, 2005.

Simon Tennent, executive director of housing and economics for the Housing Industry Association, said Sydney prices were driving young couples and families out of the homebuyer market.

"I'm not surprised (at the fall in NSW), with the price of land in Sydney's growth areas,'' he said.

"And at the end of last year, the three interest rate rises and nerves over other prices, like petrol, just took the wind out of the sails.''

HIA figures show the median block of land in Sydney costs about $325,000 while a similar-sized block in Melbourne costs only $150,000.

"I'm not surprised that some estates are struggling,'' Mr Tennent said. "These are great quality homes on excellent estates, but do the simple maths and you can't afford them.''

The Sunday Telegraph visited several major developments last week. One street in Prestons has 19 houses for sale. At another development site, only 32 of 54 lots had been sold - five in the past four weeks.

Michael McNamara, of Australian Property Monitors, said the new estates had become an unattractive option for those working in the city.

"People just don't want to live there,'' he said. "It's so difficult to get from the outer suburbs of Sydney to the city.''

Wind out of sales The Daily Telegraph

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Housing surge to favour rich

Mr McNamara said that as the three interest rate rises of 2006 took affect, the impact would be felt more deeply by low-to-middle income earners, creating weak property markets in the mortgage belt areas of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

"Sadly, forced sales will continue to create an oversupply and flat demand in these areas," he said.

The real story is that foreclosures are up, demand at high prices is down, and the boom is over. The bust begins.

(There is no 'surge', just a slight increase in upmarket properties -- largely due to more profits flowing to the top of business in the new environment.)

Housing surge to favour rich

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Harder they fall: Sydney's biggest housing slump

Sydney home prices have suffered their sharpest annual fall on record as the property market continues to slump - and experts are tipping the slide to continue for the next few years.

The price of an average established home in Sydney fell 5 per cent last financial year, the biggest drop since the Bureau of Statistics began keeping records two decades ago.

The results are a far cry from the 20 per cent growth rates during the peak of the property boom, with prices now falling faster than during the recession in the early 1990s.

For Sydney, it is a case of the bigger they come the harder they fall, economists say.

With home prices in the city still about seven times the average annual wage - well above historic ratios of five times typical pay - economists are predicting more falls over the next five years.

Kieran Davies, an analyst with ABN Amro, said: "Given prices are so out of line with wages, it wouldn't be a surprise to see prices remain flat to down for quite a long time - for some five years or longer."

Harder they fall: Sydney's biggest housing slump

Friday, January 12, 2007

Housing not affordable for many workers - Jan. 10, 2007

Americans struggle to afford housing

An annual income of about $85,000 is needed to afford median-priced homes; salaries have not seen modest gains, according to a study.