Housing supply and demand

There is quite a bit of momentum currently – and thankfully, given the severity of the housing crisis – in the whole area of housing, rising prices and rents, and the lack of supply in Ireland’s urban centres. I had thought pretty much everyone involved was agreed that a lack of supply was indeed the root cause of rapidly rising rents and prices.

Hence my despair at reading this article in today’s Irish independent: Easy mortgages for first-time buyers are on the way. Shifting out demand to encourage supply seems to me to be like adding fuel to the fire in the hope that the fire brigade are more likely to turn up. The losers will be the very people the policy aims to help, first-time buyers who will be given more credit to bid against each other.

What is particularly disheartening is that it comes so soon after Ireland tried this before and it went so spectacularly wrong – while house price growth from 1995-2001 was driven by a combination of factors (including incomes growing faster than supply), house price growth 2001-2007 was driven almost exclusively by easy credit and that was where the damage was done.

As per last night’s Prime Time, if you want housing to be affordable, increase supply – it’s no more complicated than that. If supply is not forthcoming, we need to understand why, rather than push the price of housing further up. My suspicion is the current lack of supply is down to a complicated and overly prescriptive system of planning and building controls, coupled with an array of developer contributions and levies which shift the burden from existing to new residents. This could be replaced with a unified land use policy and a simple land value tax.

As for policy in relation to loan-to-value, pick a number (like 80%) as the maximum loan-to-value for anyone and stick with it. That way at least, policy won’t be responsible for turning a house price upswing into another bubble.

University rankings, 2014

Always a controversial topic, the latest university rankings by QS have been published. More details here. The aim is to identify the top 200, meaning something of an abrupt stop once they get to 200. (I feel the need to put a disclaimer here that I post this not because I stand over the ranking’s exact methodology, but rather rankings such as these are used by both prospective students and policymakers, hence they are important.)

Of interest to this readership, the ranking of Economics Departments in Europe is here. Trinity features in the 51-100 cohort and UCD in the 100-150. (Digression: nice to see a popular ranking recognise the bounds of uncertainty, although this may not be the best way to do it.) Six of the top seven Economics departments in Europe are British, with one each from Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and France also in the top dozen.

9th-level Ireland has a handy table of Ireland’s top ranking departments across all disciplines from 2011 to 2014. Four departments (all in TCD) are in the top 50 in their discipline. A further 18 are in the 51-100 group (including three law departments).

Barrington Medal lecture

Yvonne McCarthy (Central Bank) will be giving her Barrington Lecture on Thursday evening in the ESRI. Full details here.

The title, “Disentangling the mortgage arrears crisis: The role of the labour market, income volatility and negative equity”, gives an indication of its policy relevance.

House prices: bubbles versus booms

The end of one quarter and the start of another sees the usual slew of economic reports and the start of Q4 is no exception. Today sees the launch of the Q3 Daft.ie Report. In line with other reports in the last week or so, and indeed with the last few Daft.ie Reports, there is evidence of strong price rises in certain Dublin segments. What is new this quarter is the clarity of the divide between Dublin and elsewhere: all six Dublin regions analysed show year-on-year gains in asking prices (from 1.4% in North County Dublin to 12.7% in South County Dublin), while every other region analysed (29 in total) continues to show year-on-year falls (from 3.1% in Galway city to 19.5% in Laois).

The substantial increases in South Dublin over the last 12 months have led to talk of “yet another bubble” emerging, with internet forums awash with sentiment such as “Not again!” and “Will we never learn?”. To me, this is largely misplaced, mistaking a house price boom for a house price bubble. Let me explain.

Firstly, I should state that, unlike “recession” which is taken to mean two consecutive quarters of negative growth, there is no agreement among economists on what exactly constitutes a bubble, in house prices or in other assets, but the general rule is that prices have to detach from “fundamentals”. For example, the Congressional Budget Office defines an asset bubble as an economic development where the price of an asset class “rises to a level that appears to be unsustainable and well above the assets’ value as determined by economic fundamentals”. Charles Kindleberger wrote the book on bubbles and his take on it is that almost always credit is at the heart of bubbles: it’s hard for prices to detach from fundamentals if people only have their current income to squander. If you give them access to their future income also, through credit, that’s when prices can really detach.

We’re different, roysh? The decoupling of the Dublin property market

Today sees the launch of the fiftieth Daft Report, with a commentary by yours truly. To mark the occasion, and to mark five years of Ireland’s property market crash, Daft.ie and the All-Island Research Observatory at NUI Maynooth, have launched a property value heatmap tool. In a companion post to this one, I outline the tool, how it works and what it tells us about Ireland’s property market crash.

In this post, though, I’d like to highlight what’s in the report itself. The principal finding from Q2 was that conditions in the Dublin market do indeed look to have improved considerably since the start of the year. This has happened at a time when conditions elsewhere in the country are pretty much unchanged. It seems the decoupling of the Dublin property market from the rest of the country has already begun.