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What goes up

Written By: - Date published: 5:21 am, July 7th, 2009 - 15 comments
Categories: economy, housing - Tags: ,

There’s a lot of empty, over-optimistic talk around at the moment about ‘green-shoots’ in the economy. Supposedly, these are little early signs of recovery which mean that soon everything will be back to normal and we can go back to getting rich selling each other houses with money we borrowed from the Japanese. Things will get better in time but this green-shoots mantra is more of the economic utopianism that got us into this mess in the first place.

The favourite ‘green-shoot’ is stabilisation of house prices. Unsurprisingly, the chief cheerleaders of the housing green-shoots theory are the banks and the newspapers that gleefully any industry report that claims house prices are stabilising. It’s in their financial interest to talk up the housing market as much as possible. The banks make money by lending it to you so you can buy a house, plus they stand to lose big-time if house prices drop too much and they’re left trying to make back their losses on mortgagee sale . The newspapers depend on advertising for their existence, principally (now that jobs and classifieds are online) house ads.

They’re forgetting the fundamentals. Usually, the growth in value of the housing stock tracks reasonably close to GDP growth over the medium-term, little booms, little dead patches. Then, over five years (2002-2007) the value of NZ’s housing stock grew (on paper) by 100%, while the economy grew just 34%. The graph shows just how huge that bubble was

housing stock vs gdp

(I’ve gone back as far as the Stats data will let me, infoshare is cool btw)

The housing bubble has deflated at bit but there’s still a long way back down before we can say the over-valuation has unwound completely.

Effectively, the banks, the newspapers, and the other housing ‘green-shoots’ promoters are trying to re-inflate the bubble for their own short-term financial interests. But an economy cannot survive on bubblenomics forever. Eventually, reality prevails and what went up comes down again. We can’t avoid the fact that house prices still need to come down a long way, rapidly or slowly. Trying to forestall that will only makes things worse in the end.

Still, at least we’re not in the States – they went up higher, they’ve come down harder, and now government and the financiers are colluding to take huge risks with their economy’s future in an effort to breathe air back into the bubble. But that’s a topic for another post.
– Marty G

15 comments on “What goes up ”

  1. djp 1

    Actually I pretty much agree with this.

    Here is a rent or buy calculator from the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/10/business/2007_BUYRENT_GRAPHIC.html

  2. stephen 2

    The only thing I see going up real fast is unemployment.

  3. jcuknz 3

    As an owner of a fully paid for house, I built it myself to reduce costs, I welcome the stabilisation of the market becuase it reassures me that my efforts were not wasted.

    What IS wrong with the system is the beaurocratic nighmare of consents inflicted on the person trying to get ahead on their own efforts by the previous Labour Government.

    • felix 3.1

      I have a pony, it’s a pink pony ‘cos that’s my favourite colour for ponies.

      The trouble is the damn pony club won’t let me join ‘cos I like to veer wildly from the pony track and ruin the races.

      • djp 3.1.1

        Actually the pony club wont let you ride the way you like in your own paddock because they reckon they know how to ride best.

        Oh and by the way I hope you have a pony registration? You cant just get a pony any time you want now can you.

  4. aj 4

    They also ignore the Japan experience.

  5. Pat 5

    I think the Auckland house prices come down to a simple issue of supply and demand.

    On the Supply side:
    • With the collapse of the finance companies, property developers lost their source of funding. So there are very few new housing developments being completed.
    • New home construction is well down, and section sales are very slow. As house prices have fallen, buying an existing home has become more cost effective than building a new home. Also construction loans have become more difficult to obtain as the Banks tightened their lending criteria.

    On the Demand side:
    • Kiwis are returning from overseas as they lose their jobs in the UK and elsewhere.
    • Immigration to NZ will increase as our unemployment rate is lower than most other countries. New immigrants tend to gravitate to the big cities like Auckland where the jobs are.
    • As job losses mount in small NZ towns e.g. Wellsford then people tend to head to the big cities in search of work.

    So Demand is increasing as Supply is decreasing, which points to house prices creeping up rather than falling.

    The other critical factor affecting house sales is the availability of Bank finance. This practically dried up late last year as the Banks recoiled from the Credit Crunch shock. Most lenders reduced lending to 80% and this instantly wiped out a huge number of potential buyers. However, at the moment there are currently 5 first mortgage lenders providing finance of between 85% to 95%. On top of that some finance companies who have got their deposit guarantees in place are back in the market providing second mortgages of up to 15% behind a Bank first mortgage of 80%.

    So I don’t subscribe to the theory that Auckland house prices will keep falling.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      So Demand is increasing as Supply is decreasing, which points to house prices creeping up rather than falling.

      And all of those people you listed can’t afford the inflated prices. Puts a bit of a damper on things wouldn’t you say?

      • Pat 5.1.1

        No Draco. If they can’t buy a house, they will still rent one. If the population of Auckland increases faster than the housing supply, house prices can only go one way.

        Now that other investment returns are poor, investment property is back in vogue.

  6. roger nome 6

    David Farrar says:

    “Incresase suburban sprawl to reduce house prices – market good, local govt regs bad.”

    Repeat ad-nauseam for Nact’s answer to this post…

  7. As I have explained on many occasions to people like Owen McShane (he doesn’t argue with me about it anymore so I guess it got through) is that what matter is housing supply, not land supply.

    What matters is that so little intensification has been possible in Auckland over the last decade because councils have been so utterly useless at rezoning land for intensification. Just have a look around the Auckland City Council District Plan and see how much “Residential 8” zone you can find. Barely any. This was meant to be the main tool in providing for intensification in Auckland City, but the council got scared off by a few Panmure residents and has basically abandoned the project.

    Planning rules are also designed around encouraging sprawl and not intensification – basically as soon as you want to put more than 4 units on a site (no matter how bit the site is) you get chucked into the deep end of an enormously long and complex consenting process. While ensuring good urban design outcomes via a consenting process is essential – so much more could be done to streamline this process and make it easier for developers to undertake intensification.

    The last, and potentially most important factor in rising house prices has been the withdrawal from the public provision of housing – both from central government and local government. Provision of housing is a basic human need, and when not enough housing is provided what is left becomes more scarce and less affordable. So what’s the government doing to address this problem? Building significantly more housing – no. If we ever want to do something about housing affordability in NZ we need to have significantly greater government (central or local) involvement in land development – let’s start with areas around our train stations in Auckland.

    The government wouldn’t need to keep ownership of the houses once built (in fact the last thing you’d want is for all these new intensified neighbourhoods to be subsidised housing). We’re OK with government stepping in to provide roads, hospitals, schools and so forth. Why not housing?

  8. George Darroch 8

    A massive inflation of stupidity. I blame Cullen.

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