18 May 2014

Then as now……….

Quoting from Bloomberg Businessweek (17th May 2014), "Bank of England Governor Mark Carney identified surging housing prices as the biggest risk to the U.K. economy in his strongest warning about the property market."

The same article quotes UK house prices having risen by 11% in April and elsewhere London house prices are quoted as having risen by around 18% in year ending February. Now I seem to remember that various politicians, including many in the current administration, identifying inflation as the major threat to our economy yet they seem to be curiously silent about the huge inflationary bubble in the UK housing market.

Having just returned from Dublin, the fallout from the collapse of the Celtic Tiger was still painfully evident. Sure, the property market in Dublin is moving ahead, but outside Dublin the story is different. You can pick up 6 unfinished houses on a site (Grangemockler) which has planning consent for another 9 for  an asking of €175,000 and there were plenty of similarly partially finished sites still on the market. In Ireland, some 7 years after the collapse, the recovery is patchy at best and the taxpayer is still picking up the tab on all fronts.

So how is it that when the UK Government is enforcing public sector pay settlements in the 1% - 2% range, they are doing nothing about house price inflation of 11%? Probably because they see the housing market as reflecting confidence in the wider economy and they are quite happy to see this false confidence continue for as long as possible. The Government is actually fuelling the problem with its 'Help to buy' scheme where the taxpayer is underpinning more mortgage debt, just in the same way that the taxpayer already underpins the lenders of that debt.

Going back a year to March of 2013, the Huffington Post quoted an article from The Economist about the property market in Canada which stated that, "The U.K.-based business periodical found house prices in Canada are overvalued by 73 per cent when compared to rental prices, and 32 per cent overvalued when compared to household incomes."

When (Sir) Mervyn King stepped down as Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney replaced him and Carney was presented as a 'safe pair of hands', mainly on the basis that he had, in 2007/8, managed to steer the Canadian economy through the sub-prime storm. How did he do that? He did it by slashing interest rates to close to zero in order that borrowers would not go bust in the crash. All well and good but, again, 7 years after the global crash, the Canadian housing market seems to be in poor shape. 

And now Carney is the Governor of the Bank of England and the problem here is that there has been no real recovery in the wider economy and interest rates of 1% are the norm. Encouraged by Government, the housing market has built up a huge head of inflationary steam but, should the housing market tip over again, you cannot slash interest rates very far when they are already at 1%.

In March of 2011, Vanity fair published an extensive article about the failure of the Celtic Tiger and it referred to a paper written in 2006 by Morgan Kelly, a professor of economics at University College Dublin. Kelly's paper predicted the crash and earned him the animus of the financial establishment in Ireland who tried to have him fired. But he was right. Just in the same way that Gillian Tett was right at the FT.

Who is writing about the situation here, today?