The number of dwellings approved in Australia fell by 3.2% in January, in trend terms, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Monday.

"The trend for the total dwelling approvals series has steadily declined over the past year. The series is now at its lowest level since May 2013," said Justin Lokhorst, director of construction statistics at the ABS.

The drop was due to the 8.1% decline in private-sector dwellings excluding houses (e.g. townhouses and apartments).

Data showed that total dwelling approvals fell in many of the states and territories. These include the Australian Capital Territory (19.8%), the Northern Territory (8.0%), Victoria (4.5%), Queensland (3.9%), New South Wales (2.3%) and South Australia (0.8%). Western Australia (2.2%) and Tasmania, on the other hand, tracked upwards, with approvals rising by 1.4%.

In addition, private-sector houses’ approvals decreased by 0.4%. ABS found that approvals declined in Queensland (1.4%), New South Wales, (0.6%) and Victoria (0.3%), while increases were recorded in South Australia (2.3%) and Western Australia (0.2%).

In seasonally adjusted terms, total dwellings rose by 2.5% in January, thanks to increases in Western Australia (28.8%), Tasmania, (15.4%) and New South Wales (12.0%). Private dwellings excluding houses, meanwhile, were up by 2.7%. Private houses also increased (by 2.1%).

“Despite total dwelling approvals starting 2019 up 2% in seasonally adjusted terms, this comes off a significantly weak December result,” said Maree Kilroy, economist for BIS Oxford Economics.

The value of total building approved slid 1.5% in January, in trend terms, and has fallen for 14 months. The value of residential building fell 2.7%, while non-residential building climbed 0.4%.