A feature of these times is that is called easy monetary policy and this is particularly true in the Euro area. There the European Central Bank has a deposit rate of -0.4% and is undertaking asset or bond purchases of 60 billion Euros a month as well. This means that as of last week over 1.8 trillion Euros of bonds have been bought including some 216 billion Euros of covered bonds which support banks and then mortgage lending. Last week we discovered that some countries “have been more equal than others” in terms of where this 1.8 trillion Euros has ended up. From the ECB.
Excess liquidity has been persistently concentrated within a group of banks located in a limited number of higher-rated countries, i.e. around 80-90 % of excess liquidity is being held in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Luxembourg (see Chart 1) and even their country shares have been fairly stable across time.
It is fascinating that a country geographically as small as Luxembourg merits a mention. But Reuters updates us on the two main beneficiaries.
The study shows that 60 percent of the money spent by the ECB and national central banks on buying bonds ends up in Germany, where sellers, mainly UK banks, have their accounts. France accounts for a further 20 percent.
Okay and the consequence of this is?
But the fact that the money keeps accumulating in the bloc’s richest countries rather than flowing where it is needed the most risks undoing some of the ECB’s efforts and shows the European Union’s objective to create a banking union is still far from reached.
This makes me wonder about asset prices in the main beneficiary Germany as after all these QE ( Quantitative Easing) policies are claimed to have “wealth effects”.
House Prices in Germany
Let us step into the TARDIS of Dr.Who and go back to February of 2014 when the Financial Times reported this.
House prices in Germany’s biggest cities are overvalued as much as 25 per cent, the Bundesbank warned on Monday, adding to fears that international investment has helped to fuel a property bubble in the eurozone’s largest economy. The German central bank said that residential real estate prices in 125 cities rose by 6.25 per cent on average last year. In October, it reported that property prices in the biggest German cities were 20 per cent overvalued, suggesting the problem is getting worse.
If we move forwards to March 2016 then this from Bloomberg is eye-catching.
German house prices went nowhere for years. Recently they’ve grown faster than the UK.
So what had they done?
House prices have increased 5.6 percent a year over the past five years, according to UBS, which is double the average annual rate of increase since 1970.
As we see in so many other places the rises were concentrated in the major urban areas.
Prices are rising particularly fast in urban areas, where young people increasingly want to live. A gauge of advertised apartment prices in seven major cities including Frankfurt and Berlin rose 14.5 percent in 2015, the most since 2000, according to Empirica, a research institute.
As to “wealth effects” there was something else which is somewhat familiar to say the least.
So far the biggest beneficiaries have been Germany’s listed residential landlords. Cheap debt has enabled them to snap up housing portfolios and smaller rivals, thereby achieving cost savings through scale
What about now?
The Bundesbank calculates its own house price index which covers 127 cities and it rose by 8.3% in 2016 following 7.6% in 2015 and 5.7% in 2014. So according to its own index then prices must be very overvalued now if they were already overvalued back in 2014. Putting it another way the index which was set at 100 in 2011 was at 141.4 at the end of 2016. So quite a rise especially for a nation which has little experience of this as for example the period from 2004 to 2007 which saw such booms in the UK,Spain and Ireland saw no change in house prices in Germany.
In January my old employer Deutsche Bank looked forwards and told us this.
In 2017, we therefore expect rents and property prices in the major German cities, and across the country as a whole, to rise substantially once again…….Munich remains the most dynamic German city when it comes to property, with its fast-rising population and historically low vacancy rate likely to lead to further price increases for many years to come.
There is an element of cheerleading here which of course is a moral hazard issue for banks reporting on property prices which will not be shared by first time buyers in Germany. Those in Berlin will have particular food for thought.
Property prices in Berlin are now twice as high as they were in 2005 and have reached the level of some of the major cities in western Germany.
As of the latest news Europace have constructed an hedonic (quality adjusted) index which rose by 7.6% in the year to March.
What about rents?
These have risen but not by much if the official data is any guide. The rent section of the official Euro area CPI measure rose at an annual rate of 1.6% in March. Although Frankfurt seems to be something of an exception as Bloomberg reports.
The monthly cost of a mid-range two-bedroom apartment in Germany’s financial capital rose 20 percent in 2017 from a year earlier, while the cost of an equivalent living space in London fell by 8 percent, according to a Deutsche Bank study.
Frankfurt rent rises will of course be particularly painful for Deutsche Bank employees.
There is a fair bit to consider here but what is unarguable is that the easy monetary policy of the ECB has been associated with house price rises. These are noticeable in international terms but are particularly noticeable in a country which escaped any pre credit crunch boom. Also if we use the Bundesbank data above house prices rose by 41.4% in the period 2011-16 whereas real wages only rose by 6.6% ( Destatis) which is quite a gap! I think we know how first- time buyers must feel and yes there is a fair number as whilst Germany has fewer owner occupiers in proportionate terms than the UK they still comprise 51.9% of the housing market.
It is hard to avoid the thought that this house price boom is what central bankers would call a “wealth effect” from their policies, especially if we note that the liquidity seems to have mostly headed to Germany. Of course some of that will be the equivalent of a company name plate on the door but some will be genuine. Meanwhile as we note wealth transfers and inflation there is of course the near record high bond prices and the highs in the Dax 30 equity index seen last week.