Category Archives: House prices

8/8/19: Irish New Housing Markets Continue to Underperform

New stats for new dwelling completions in Ireland are out today and the reading press releases on the subject starts sounding like things are getting boomier. Year on year, single dwellings completions are up 15.5% in 2Q 2019, scheme units completions up 2.6%, apartments up 55.6% and all units numbers are up 11.8%. Happy times, as some would say. Alas, sayin ain't doin. And there is a lot of the latter left ahead.

Annualised (seasonally-adjusted) data suggests 2019 full year output will be around 18,000-18,050 units, which is below the unambitious (conservative) target of 25,000. And this adds to the already massive shortage of new completions over the last eleven years. Using data from CSO (2011-present), cumulated shortfall of new dwellings completions through December 2018 was 125,800-153,500 units (depending on target for annual completions set, with the first number representing 25K units per annum target, and the second number referencing target of 25K in 2011, rising to 30K in 2016 and staying at 30K through 2019). By the end of this year, based on annualised estimates, the shortfall will be 132,400-162,250 units. Taking occupancy at 2.1 persons per dwelling, this means some 278,000-341,000 people will be shortchanged out of purchasing or renting accommodation at the start of 2020.

Here is a chart summarising the stats:

Let's put the headline numbers into perspective: at the current 'improved' construction supply levels (using annualised 2019 figure), it will take us between 6.3 and 7.7 years to erase the already accumulated gap in demand. If output of new dwellings continues to grow at 11.8% per annum indefinitely, Irish construction sector will be able to close the cumulative gap between supply and demand by around 2029 in case of the targeted output at 25K units per annum, or worse, by 2031 for the output target of 30K units per annum.

28/5/19: Why some long trend estimates start looking shaky for Ireland’s property markets

There are many ways for analysing the long-term trends in real estate prices. One way is to use dynamics for the periods when price appreciation was consistent with underlying economic growth fundamentals and project price levels forward at the rates, on average, compatible with these periods.

And some exercises in assessing Irish house prices relative to trend are starting to sound like an early alarm bell going off.

In Ireland's case, organic growth-based period of the Celtic Tiger can be traced to, roughly, 1992/1993 through 1998. In terms of real estate prices (housing), this period corresponds to the post-1987 recovery of 1988-1990, followed by a house price 'recession' of 1991-1993 and onto the period of recovery and economic growth-aligned appreciation of 1994-1996. During this period, average price inflation in Irish house prices was 3.94% per annum.

Using the data from 1970 through 2018 based on the time series from the BIS and CSO, we can compare current price indices to those that would have prevailed were the 1988-1996 trend growth to continue through 2018. Chart below shows the results:

Several things worth noting:

  1.  At the end of 2018, Irish house price index stood some 5.7 percent below where it would have been if the longer term trend prevailed from 1997 on.
  2. Taking into the account moderating house price growth of 2016-2018 and projecting house prices forward from 2018 levels onto 2022 shows that by the end of 1Q 2020, Irish house prices can be expected to catch up with the longer-term trend.
  3. The longer-term trend does capture quite well the effect of the massive price bubble of 1998-2007: the trend line hits almost exactly the 2009-2018 index average at 2010-2011. 
  4. The pre-crisis peak levels of house prices can be expected to reach (on-trend) by 2022 implying that the house price bubble of 1998-2007 has, in effect, accelerated house price inflation by roughly 15 years, or 50-62 percent of the 25-30 year mortgage duration, which is consistent with the peak-to-trough decline in Irish house prices (53.3 percent) during the crisis.
  5. The drop in Irish house prices during the crisis overshot the long-term trend by roughly 31 percent - a steep price to pay for massive excesses of the Celtic Garfield era of 2003-2007.
  6. At the start of 2004, Irish house prices were 50 percent above their long term trend line, which is pretty much bang on with my estimate back in 2004 that I published here: as a warning to Irish policymakers - a warning, as we all know well - that was ignored.
  7. Referencing 2018 data, while the price dynamics so far appear to be catching up with the longer run trend, there is an increasing risk of a new price bubble forming, should price inflation continue unabated. For example, at an average rate of house price inflation of 11.34 percent (2014-2018 average), by the end of 2022, Irish house prices can exceed long-term trend by more than 15 percent.
Of course, a warning is due: this exercise is just one of many way to assess longer term sustainability trends in house price dynamics.  

For example, historical average rate of growth in house prices across 24 countries reported by BIS for 1970-2006 period is 2.34 percent per annum. Were we to take this rate of growth from 1998 through 2018 as the longer term trend indicator, Irish house prices would stand 32.7 percent above the long-run trend levels in 2018, implying that 
  • Irish house prices reached long run equilibrium around 1Q 2015, and
  • At the end of 2018, we were close more than 1/4 of the way toward the next bubble peak, in which case, by the end of 2021 we should be half way there.
Numbers are not simple. But numbers are starting to warrant some concerns. 

5/5/19: House Prices and Household Incomes

A recent note from Brookings on the nature of the ongoing housing crisis in America has opened up with a bombastic statement:
"Over the past five years, median housing prices have risen faster than median incomes (Figure 1). While that’s generally good news for homeowners, it puts additional pressure on renters. Because renters generally earn lower incomes than homeowners, rising housing costs have regressive wealth implications." 

It sounds plausible. And it sounds easy enough to understand for politicos of all hues to take up the claim and run with it. There is is even a handy chart to illustrate the argument:

Except the claim is not exactly consistent with the evidence presented in that chart.

For starters, Case-Shiller Index covers 20 largest metropolitan areas of the U.S., which is a sizeable chunk of population, but by far not the entire country. And rents, as the Brookings article correctly says, are rising across whole states (the article, for example referencing California, which is way larger than the largest urban areas of the state alone). Second point, the article is completely incorrectly uses nominal house prices inflation against real (inflation-adjusted) income growth figures. If the converse of the article claim held, and real incomes exceeded housing price inflation, it would mean rising purchasing power for American households shopping for houses. However, that is not what the housing markets are historically, longer-term about. They are more about hedging inflation. The third, and more important point is that the article refers to the last 5 years. Why? No reason provided. But even a glimpse at the chart supplied in Brookings paper is enough to say that the same problem persisted prior to the Great Recession, was reversed in the Great Recession, and then returned post-Great Recession.

What's really happening here?

Ok, let's take four time series:

  • House prices 1: Median Sales Price of Houses Sold for the United States, Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted;
  • House prices 2: S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Home Price Index, Index Jan 2000=100, Annual, Seasonally Adjusted (same as in Brookings article);
  • Income 1: Real Median Household Income in the United States, 2017 CPI-U-RS Adjusted Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted (same as in Brookings article); and 
  • Income 2: Nominal Median Household Income in the United States, Current Dollars, Annual, Not Seasonally Adjusted
Observe that we have data only through 2017 for the last two measures due to data reporting lags.

Now, compute annual rates of growth in all four and plot them:

Blue line is the reference point here. Notice that the grey line (real household income growth) is really underperforming house price growth over virtually all periods, except for one: the Great Recession. Yellow line, however, is less so. Nominal incomes have more benign relationship to nominal prices than real incomes do to nominal house prices. Why would that be surprising at all? I am not sure. It did surprise folks at the Brookings, though.

Let's compute some average rates of growth for all four series and calculate the difference between:
  1. Real Median Household Income growth rate and the growth rate in the Median Sales Price of Houses, percentage points; and
  2. Nominal Median Household Income growth rate and the growth rate in the Median Sales Price of Houses, percentage points.
Instead of using an arbitrary 5 years horizon, consider instead the business cycle and longer term averages. Here they are:

Historical averages are, respectively, -3.71 percent and -1.31 percent. Across the last Quantitative Easing cycle, -2.94 percent and -1.60%, ex-QE cycle, -4.05% and -1.19%. 

So what does the above tell us? Things are not as dramatic, using nationwide house prices, than the Brookings claim makes it sound, and, more importantly, there is no evidence of a significant departure in the current QE cycle from the past experiences. When it comes to property prices, hoses inflation seems to be much less divorced from real and nominal income growth rates in the last four years (the recovery period post-Great Recession) than in the periods prior to the GFC.

12/8/17: Are Irish Property Prices on a Sustainable Path?

Some of the readers of this blog have been asking me to revisit (as I used to do more regularly in the past) the analysis of Irish property prices in relation to the ‘sustainability trend’. With updated CSO data on RPPI, here is the outrun.

The charts below show current National and Dublin property price indices in relation to the trends computed on the basis of the following CORE assumptions:
  • Starting period: January 2005
  • Starting index ‘sustainability’ positions: National = 82.0 (implying that long-term sustainable market valuations were around 18 percentage points below market price levels at January 2005 or at the levels comparable to Q4 2010); Dublin = 83.0 (implying 17 percentage points discount on January 2005).

Charts above use the following SPECIFIC trend assumptions:
  • Linear (simplistic) trend at 2% inflation target + 0.5 percentage points margin. This implies that under this trend, property prices should have evolved broadly-speaking at inflation, plus small margin (close to tracker mortgage rate margin).

In all cases, current markets valuations are well below the long-term sustainability target and there is significant room for further appreciation relative to these trends (see details of target under-shooting in the summary table below).

Chart above shows tow series sustainability targets computed on the basis of different specific assumptions, while retaining same core assumptions:
  • I assume that property prices should be sustainably anchored to weekly earnings. 

Using only weekly earnings evolution over January 2005-present, as shown in the above chart, both Dublin and National house prices are currently statistically at the levels matching sustainability criteria. There is no statistical overshooting of the sustainability bounds, yet.

Chart above again modifies specific assumptions, while retaining the same core assumptions. Specifically:
  • I assume that both earnings and interest rates (using Euribor 12 months rate as a dynamic gauge) co-determine sustainable house prices. In a away, this allows us to reflect on both income and cost of debt drivers for house prices.

As the chart above clearly shows, both National and Dublin property markets are still well underpriced compared to the long term sustainability targets, defined based on a combination of earnings and interest rates. Note: correcting this chart for evolution of unemployment brings sustainability benchmarks roughly half of the way closer to current prices, but does not fully erase the gap.

Summary table below:

So, overall, the above exercise - imperfect as it may be - suggests no evidence of excessive pricing in Irish residential property at this point in time. There are many caveats that apply, of course. Some important ones: I do not account for higher taxes; and I do not factor in difficulties in obtaining mortgages. These are material, but I am not sure they are material enough to bring the above gaps to zero or to trigger overpricing. Most likely, the national residential prices are somewhere around 5-7 percent below their sustainability bounds, while Dublin prices are around 7-10 percent below these bounds. Which means we have a short window of time to bring the markets to the sustainable price dynamics path by dramatically altering supply dynamics in the property sector. A window of 12-18 months, by my estimates.

8/8/17: Irish Taxpayers Face a New Nama Bill

Ireland has spent tens of billions to prop up schemes, like Nama and IBRC. These organisations pursued developers with a sole purpose: to bring them down, irrespective of the optimal return strategy from the taxpayers perspective and regardless of optimal recovery strategies for asset recovery. We know as much because we have plenty of evidence - that runs contrary to Nama and IBRC relentless push for secrecy on their assets sales - that value has been destroyed during their workout and asset sales phases. We know as much, because leaders of Nama have gone on the record claiming that developers are, effectively speculators, 'good for nothing else, but attending Galway races', and add no value to construction projects.

Now, having demolished experienced developers and their professional teams, having dumped land and development sites into the hands of vulture investors, who have no expertise nor incentives to develop these sites, the State has unrolled a massive subsidy scheme to aid vultures in developing the sites they bought on the State-sponsored firesales.

As an aside, this June, Nama officially acknowledged the fact that majority of its sales of land resulted in no subsequent development. What Nama did not say is that the 'developers' hoarding land are the vulture funds that bought that land from Nama, just as Nama continued to insist that its operations are helping the construction and development markets.

Why? Because Nama was set up with an explicit mandate to 'help the economy recover' and to drive 'markets to restart functioning again', and to aid social housing crisis (remember when in 2012 - five years ago - Nama decided to 'get serious' about social housing?). And Nama has achieved its objectives so spectacularly, Ireland is now in the grips of a housing crisis, a rental market crisis and a cost-of-living crisis.

Read and weep:
Irish taxpayers are now paying the third round of costs of the very same crisis: first round of payments went to Nama et al, second to the banks, and now to the 'developers' who were hand-picked by Nama and IBRC to do the job they failed to do, for which Nama was created in the first place.

Oh, and because you will ask me when the fourth round of payments by taxpayers will come due, why, it is already in works. That round of payments will cover emergency housing provision for people bankrupted by the banks and Nama-supported vultures. That too is on taxpayers shoulders, folks...