the economist on housing
Comment by GetStucco
The Economist Print EditionFriday August 25th 2006America’s house-price bubbleWhat’s that hissing sound?
Aug 24th 2006
From The Economist print editionA slowing, perhaps even falling, housing market spells trouble for the American economy
IF YOU could watch just one indicator to gauge America’s economic prospects over the next few years you should pick house prices. A year ago most economists thought that average prices were unlikely to fall across the nation. Now many of them have begun to worry about the consequences of falling prices for America’s economy. Figures out this week from the National Association of Realtors show that average home prices barely rose over the past year, compared with annual growth of around 15% in mid-2005. In some parts of the country, prices are already falling (see article). Adjusted for inflation, the average home is worth less than it was a year ago.
quelle: ny times / robert shiller chart der immobilienpreise seit 1890.
The housing boom has been the main engine of America’s economic growth in recent years. Indeed, it is the main reason why the American economy held up better than expected after the stockmarket bubble burst at the start of the decade. Since 2000 the real wages of most American workers have barely budged, yet surging house prices have allowed consumers to keep spending. Over the past five years the total value of American homes has increased by more than $9 trillion, to $22 trillion. These gains helped to offset both the slide in share prices and feeble wage growth.
This is the biggest bubble in American history: in real terms home prices have risen at least three times as much as in any previous housing boom. In the past average nationwide house prices have experienced year-on-year declines for the odd, isolated month, but they have not fallen on a sustained basis since the 1930s. However, most states have seen prices drop at some time in the past three decades. Since the housing market is looking bubbly in more states than ever before, prices could simultaneously fall in enough places to give America its first nationwide price decline since the Great Depression.
On the surface America’s housing boom looks more modest than booms elsewhere. Since 1997 average prices have doubled, compared with a gain of almost 180% in Britain. But the economic consequences of a bust could be more severe, because the economy has become so addicted to rising prices.
The boom has lifted the economy in three ways: it has boosted residential construction; it has made people feel wealthier and so encouraged them to spend more; and it has allowed home-owners to use their property as a gigantic cash machine, taking out money by borrowing against their capital gains. Merrill Lynch estimates that the three together accounted for more than half of America’s total GDP growth last year. Counting construction, finance and estate agency, the housing boom has also been responsible for one-third of all jobs created since 2001. If house-price rises level off, GDP growth could dip below 2% in 2007. If prices fall, expect a steeper slowdown.Ben to the rescue?
If house prices do slide, the Federal Reserve will probably slash interest rates so as to save the economy from recession. But the Fed’s ability to do this would be limited if inflationary pressures remain strong. And it would surely be wrong for the Fed to support the property market when a slowdown in spending is part of the rebalancing America needs to increase its saving rate. The Fed saw off a fall in spending at the start of this decade after share prices tumbled. To do the same again could damage the long-term health of the economy.
The tech bubble left behind a modern capital stock that continues to yield productivity gains. In contrast, the investment stimulated by a property boom does little to boost long-term growth. Expensive houses merely redistribute wealth to home-owners from non-home-owners. Worse still, the boom has diverted resources away from productive sectors and caused households to save less, exacerbating America’s economic imbalances. It is surely better for Americans to start saving in the old-fashioned way by spending less of their income rather than relying on rising asset prices. The party has been fun; but it has to end.
denke gerade der 100 jahreschart zeigt eindrucksvoll das irgendetwas ausser kontolle geraten ist