The Bank of England is now re-writing history about UK house prices

Yesterday saw the latest in a series of interviews on the Iain Dale show on LBC Radio by Ian McCafferty of the Bank of England. Actually it was the last by Ian as he is about to depart the Bank of England. Before I start I should point out that we were colleagues back in my time at Baring Securities which feels like a lifetime ago mostly because it is! His main claim to fame was declaring that the German Bundesbank would not do something at a meeting and then the door was opened by someone keen to tell the room some news which I am sure you have already guessed.

Moving forwards in time to yesterday Ian had more than a little trouble with the concept of full employment as he assured listeners that the UK was at full employment at the moment. This was really rather breathtaking as it showed a lack of understanding on two major levels. Firstly if we just stay with the unemployment rate those who read my update yesterday will be aware that Japan has seen an unemployment rate some 2% lower or nearly half ours. An odd thing to miss as our shared history involved specialising in Japanese economics and finance. Also it was a statement that on the face of it made no nod at all to the concept of underemployment where people have some work but not as much as they would like. So in his world both Japan and underemployment seemed not to exist.

Presumably Mr.McCafferty was trying to bolster the case for last week’s interest-rate rise in the UK which of course needs all the bolstering it can get but he ended up being challenged by the host Iain Dale. The response was a shift to claiming we are around the natural or equilibrium rate of unemployment but of course this led to another problem. On this road he ended up pointing out that the Bank of England has had more than a few of these but he did at least avoid a full confession that they started the game by signalling that a 7% unemployment rate was significant but now tell us that the equilibrium rate is 4.25%. Thus the reality is that they have chased the actual unemployment rate like a dog chases it tail although to be fair to dogs they usually tire of the game once the fun stops. Whereas should we live up to the song “Turning Japanese” the Bank of England will have chased the “equilibrium rate of unemployment” from if we are generous 6.5% to 2.5%.

House Prices

As you can imagine this subject came up and it was interesting to hear an explanation of UK house price rises omitting the role of the Bank of England. You might have thought that having gone to the effort of producing the bank subsidy called the Funding for Lending Scheme in the summer of 2012 and then produced research saying it had reduced mortgage rates by up to 2% that you might think it was a factor. This would be reinforced by the fact that it was in 2013 that house prices in the UK began to turn and head higher. There is also the Term Funding Scheme which began in August 2016 which amounted to some £127 billion of cheap liquidity ( 0.25% back then) for the banks which even the casual observer might think was associated with the record low mortgage interest-rates which were then seen.

This seems to be a new phase where the Bank of England sings along with Shaggy “It wasn’t me.” The absent-minded professor Ben Broadbent was on the case on the 23rd of July.

But it should be borne in mind when reading – as one often does – that QE has done little except boosted
prices of assets like shares and houses, or even led to a “boom” or “bubble” in those markets.

The research quoted was from colleagues of his who have voted for this QE and I am sure many of you would love to be judge and jury on your own actions! Later he tells us this about UK house prices.

But the latest figure is barely any higher than it was in the middle of the last decade.

So it is the same as the level that contributed to the crash? Not quite so good and whilst it may not be that much of an issue when your salary plus pension benefits total £356,000 many will note that real wages are 6% below their peak according to the official data.So house prices compared to wages are rather different.

Also there is this issue.

Broadly speaking I don’t think any of these things is true. It’s not new; it’s not exactly printing money; equity
and house prices are in real terms still comfortably below their pre-crisis levels; inequality hasn’t risen – nor,
according to the most detailed analysis available, did easier monetary policy have any net impact on it.

I guess he has never seen that bit in the film The Matrix where the Frenchman describes the role of cause and effect. Also on the subject of inequality I note that FT Alphaville has pointed out this.

In London and the South-East of England, this shift has been profound – real prices are nearly 30 per cent higher in London, and 10 per cent higher in the South-East and East.

Some house owners are indeed more equal than others it would appear. But this brings us back to Ian McCafferty who assured us on LBC that the ratio of house prices in London to the rest of the country “is now re-establishing itself at close to its more normal long-term level” . Is 30% higher the new “close to”?

Inevitably the issue of Brexit came up and sadly our intrepid policymaker seemed to struggle with both numbers and words in this regard. Here is the Reuters view on this.

“We are getting stories on (how) the numbers of French and German and other European bankers that are coming to London have fallen quite sharply over the last couple of years,” McCafferty said in a question-and-answer session on LBC radio.

You might think that he would know the numbers via contacting the banks rather than listening to “stories”. Also he had opened by saying there had been an “exodus” of such bankers which of course evokes the thought “movement of jah people” a la Bob Marley. The response from the host was that the number of bankers in the City had risen which then got the reply that the inflow had slowed which again is somewhat different to the initial claim. As this is an issue that is both polarised and political an independent ( his words not mine) should be ultra careful in this area rather than giving us vague rhetoric which falls apart at any challenge.

Oh and before we move on from housing there was this bit.

a number of those who are renting particularly those who work in the City.

Was he thinking of Governor Carney who of course got a £250,000 annual rent allowance?

Comment

There is much that is familiar here as we note that the Bank of England is looking to re-write history in its favour. There are two initial problems with this and the first is the moral hazard in you and your colleagues judging your own actions. On this road Napoleon could have written a counterfactual account of how his retreat from Moscow was a masterly example of the genre. Also there are clear contradictions in the story of which two are clear. The rise in asset prices seems able to boost the economy on the one hand but to have had no impact on inequality on the other. London house prices can have soared and become completely unaffordable in central London to all but the wealthiest and yet are close to normal long-term trends.

Only last week we were guided towards three interest-rate rises but now there seems only to be two.

Britain is “now at full employment” and so can expect “a couple more small interest rate rises” in the next two to three years to stop the economy from overheating, according to Bank of England policymaker Ian McCafferty. ( Daily Telegraph which failed to spot the full employment issue)

Maybe it is because they are only raising them so they can later cut them.

Higher interest rates will also give the Bank room to cut them once more if the economy hits a troubled spell in the years ahead.

 

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What is happening to the UK housing market and house prices?

The last year of two has seen something of a change in the environment for UK house prices. The most major shift of all has come from the Bank of England which for the moment seems to have abandoned its policy where the music was “Pump it up” by Elvis Costello. This meant that when around 2012 it saw that even what was still considered an emergency Bank Rate of 0.5% plus its new adventure into Quantitative Easing was not enough to get house prices rising it introduced the Funding for Lending Scheme. This reduced mortgage rates by around 1% quite quickly and had a total impact that rose towards 2% on this measure according to Bank of England research. This meant that net mortgage lending improved and then went positive and the house price trend turned and then they rose.

The next barrage came in August 2016 with the “Sledgehammer QE” and the cut in Bank Rate to 0.25%. This was accompanied by the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) which was a way of making sure banks could access liquidity at the new lower Bank Rate and it rose to £127 billion. This was something of a dream ticket for the Bank of England as it boosted both the “precious” ( the banks) and house prices in one go,

However that was then as the Bank reversed the Bank Rate cut last November and the TFS ended this February. So whilst the background environment for house prices is favourable they have risen to reflect that and for once there are no new measures to keep the bubble inflated. Also we have seen real wages fall and then struggle in response to higher inflation.

Valuations

This morning has brought news about something which has not happened for a while now but is something which is destabilising for house prices. From the BBC.

There has been a “significant” rise in homes being valued at less than what buyers have agreed to pay, the UK’s largest mortgage advisers have said.

These “down valuations”, by lenders, can mean buyers having to pay thousands of pounds extra, up front, to avoid the sale collapsing.

Estate agents Emoov said it reflected surveyors predicting a financial crash.

UK Finance said lenders, which it represents, were right to ensure property values were realistic.

The organisation said borrowers also benefited from houses having an “independent valuation”.

Emoov are an interesting firm that have recently completed a crowdfunding program and perhaps want some publicity but for obvious reasons estate agents usually stay clear of this sort of thing. If we step back for a moment we note that whilst they are mostly in the background surveyors do play a role in price swings via their role in providing a base for mortgage valuations. They should know the local market and therefore have knowledge about relative valuations but absolute ones is a different kettle of fish. If they get nervous and start to be stricter with valuations then the situation can snowball though mortgage chains. As to the numbers the BBC had more.

Emoov, one of the UK’s largest digital estate agents, said one in five of its sales now resulted in a down valuation.

Two years ago, it was fewer than one in 20, it added.

This is the highest rate since the UK’s financial crash in 2008, according to agents from 10 mortgage adviser groups contacted by the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

There is a specific example quoted by the BBC.

Phil Broodbank, from Wirral, bought his house for £180,000 a few years ago and spent up to £25,000 renovating it.

When the time came to remortgage, a surveyor valued his house at £200,000 without visiting it in person – in what is known as a “drive by”.

This valuation was £20,000 lower than a local estate agent had valued the property.

One bonus is that “drive by” in the Wirral does not quite have the same menace as in Los Angeles. Also these have been taking place for quite some time now but there were fewer complaints when the bias was upwards. The response from UK Finance is fascinating.

“Although the valuation is carried out for the lender, borrowers also benefit from a realistic independent valuation as it could help them avoid paying over the odds for the property they are buying.”

How do they know it is “realistic” especially if it was a cursory observation from the road? Also as the valuation is for the lender there are always going to be more interested in downturns that rises as of course the bank is more explicitly vulnerable then. In case you are wonder who UK Finance are they took over the British Bankers Association.

Borrowing Limits

The Guardian pointed out over the weekend that some old “friends” seem to be back.

this week Clydesdale Bank said it will grant first-time buyers mortgages of 5.5 times a borrower’s income and lend up to £600,000 – and the buyer only needs a 5% deposit.

A little care is needed as this is for the moment only available to those classed as professionals by Clydesdale Bank who earn more than £40,000 a year. Also there is a theoretical limit in that according to Bank of England rules mortgage lenders are supposed to keep 85% or more of their business using a 4.5 times times a borrower’s income. But if history is any guide these things seem to spread sometimes like wildfire and this industry has a track record that even a world-class limbo dancer would be envious of in terms of slipping under rules and regulations.

This bit raised a wry smile.

But mortgage brokers said they were relaxed about Clydesdale’s new deal.

As it is a potential new source of business they are no doubt secretly pleased. Also I did smile at this from the replies.

 5.5 times of income is nothing unusual. In Australia this is very common and goes as high as 7 to 9 times. ( GlobalisationISGood )

This Australia?

Rising global interest rates are combining with bank caution on lending, via extreme vetting of loan applications in the wake of financial services Royal Commission revelations, to generate a mini-credit crunch.

That’s putting further pressure on house prices, whose falls are gathering pace. ( Business Insider )

What this really represents if we return to the UK is another sign that houses are unaffordable for the ordinary buyer. Another factor in the list is this.

While 25-year terms were the standard in the 1990s, 30 years is now the norm for new borrowers, with many lenders stretching to 35 years to make monthly payments more affordable. ( Guardian )

 

Comment

We do not know yet how the two forces described today will play out in the UK housing market but down valuations seem to be a stronger force. After all Clydesdale will only do a limited amount of its mortgages and fear is a powerful emotion. Mind you some still seem to be partying like its 2016.

The billionaire founder of Phones4u John Caudwell has claimed his Mayfair property development will be “the world’s most expensive and prestigious apartment block”.

The entrepreneur, who turned to property after selling his mobile phone company for £1.5bn in 2006, plans to convert a 1960s multi-storey car park in the heart of Mayfair into 30 luxurious flats.  ( City-AM).

As to hype well there is this.

“I see London as the epicentre of the world and I see Mayfair as the epicentre of London. Therefore, I see my building site as the epicentre of the world,” Caudwell told City A.M. “I can’t think of anywhere better for people to live.”

Meanwhile I am grateful to Henry Pryor for drawing my attention to this. From the Independent in August 2000.

Roger Bootle, who predicted the death of inflation five years ago, says Britain has seen the last of extreme gyrations in house prices…………Nationwide, Britain’s largest building society, reported yesterday that the price of the average home fell 0.2 per cent, or £319, to £81,133 between June and July.

As of this June it was £215,844.

 

 

 

Were PPI payments more of an impact on the UK economy than QE?

Yesterday brought news on a subject that has turned out to be rather like a vampire you cannot kill. This is the issue of compensation for miss selling of payment protection insurance or PPI. Yesterday it bounced back as this from the BBC explains.

People who were not mis-sold PPI policies may be able to claim billions of pounds more in compensation, following a court ruling in Manchester.

Christopher and Joanne Doran were awarded all the sales commission they paid plus interest for a policy, a total of £17,345.

They are the first people to have all of their commission payments refunded for a legitimately sold policy.

This made me think as a bit more than a decade or so ago I worked for the small business division of Lloyds Bank and recall one of the small business managers telling me that the commission on protection insurance for small business lending was 52%. So according to the BBC it now qualifies.

Under the Financial Conduct Authority’s existing guidelines, consumers who were sold their policies legitimately may still be entitled to claim back commission which is deemed excessive.

This means that policy-holders can reclaim any amount of commission that was in excess of 50% of the premium.

I am also reminded that loans could be cheaper with such insurance or to put it more realistically if you did not take it then your interest-rate was higher. As you can see the poor small business borrower was in quicksand pretty much anyway he or she moved.

As to the new development here is an estimate of the possible impact.

But the judge in Manchester ruled that the Dorans were entitled to receive the whole of the commission – in their case 76% of the premium – plus interest.

Paragon Personal Finance, which lost the case, is deciding whether to appeal against the ruling.

Lawyers have claimed the ruling is a new precedent that could mean that banks are liable for another £18bn in pay-outs.

That may or may not be true but does gain some extra credibility from this.

However, sources in the City were sceptical about that figure.

How much so far?

If we move to the total so far from PPI payments then the Financial Conduct Authority or FCA  tells us this.

A total of £389.6m was paid in March 2018 to customers who complained about the way they were sold payment protection insurance (PPI). This takes the amount paid since January 2011 to £30.7 bn.

Actually it is likely to be a little more than that as the FCA believes it only covers 95% of payments. If so the total is more like £32 billion which even in these inflated times is a tidy sum. We also learn something from the back data as whilst payments began in 2011 they really kicked into gear in 2012 and peaked at £735 million in May of that year. That sort of timing coincides very nearly with when the UK economy picked up as back then you may recall the fears of what was called a “triple-dip”.Moving forwards the boost from this source reduced but intriguingly so far in 2018 it has picked up again to just shy of £400 million a month on average.

Economic impact

This is in many respects straight forwards. As the money is the modern version of cold hard dirty cash as it pings into the recipients accounts. A bit perhaps like last night when I heard several RAF Chinooks over Battersea no doubt instructed by Bank of England Governor Carney to be ready to do a Helicopter Money drop should England lose to Colombia. Fortunately his crystal ball was as accurate as ever.The principle being that you get such money and immediately spend it and in the UK that does coincide with our enthusiasm for what might be called a spot of retail therapy.

Another route may well have been the way that car sales responded. Of course there is a mis-match these days between getting a lump sum and paying a monthly lease as so many now do but that does not seem a big deal. Actually measuring this is not far off impossible though. Back in January 2014 Robert Peston who was at the BBC back then had a go.

Over 18 months or so, banks have paid out around £12bn to those mis-sold the credit insurance, out of a total that they currently expect to pay of £16bn.

It represents an economic boost equivalent to circa 1% of GDP – which is big. It is a bigger direct fiscal stimulus than anything either government has attempted since the crisis of 2008, involving more money for example than the temporary VAT cut of 2009.

Perhaps he had been reading some of my output as he also pointed out this.

 the UK’s car market last year returned to the kind of buoyant conditions not seen since before the 2007-8 crash.

There was a rise in motor sales of almost 11% to 2.26 million vehicles, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Another potential impact could have been on the housing market as whilst in London the effect may be limited because of the level of house prices elsewhere a PPI payment may well be a solid help in deposit terms.

The reverse ferret here is something perhaps unique in the credit crunch era in that it hurts the banks or more specifically the shareholders. I do sometimes wonder if bank boards are not bothered because lets face it lower share prices may be good for their share options assuming they eventually rise. Also of course they have been on a drip feed of liquidity assistance from the Funding for Lending Scheme and then the Term Funding Scheme.

QE Impact

This is much more intangible. In theory there is a boost from asset reallocation and higher asset prices but that is somewhat intangible and is very different from the “money printing” theory of people getting cash and then spending it. That and the associated impact on inflation has mostly been redacted from the Bank of England website. There was a Working Paper in October 2016 which apart from demonstrating that the authors made a good career choice in not trading financial markets gave us these thoughts.

Bank of England estimates suggest that the initial £200bn of QE may have pushed up on the level of
GDP by a peak of 1½-2% and on inflation by ¾-1½% (Joyce, Tong and Woods (2011)).

And also this.

For example, consistent with Weale and Wieladek (2016), evidence in the US (Figure B1.7 in Appendix B) suggests that a 10% of GDP central bank balance sheet expansion has a peak impact on output of around 6% after three years and a peak impact on CPI of around 6% after around seven quarters.

Perhaps they shift to the US because if you look at Appendix B you see that the UK impact is about a third of that and the Euro area impact even less.

Comment

There is a clear moral hazard with the majority of estimates of the economic impact of QE in that they are done by the central banks responsible for it. For example the research above is from the Bank of England and it quotes a paper from Martin Weale who is in effect presented as judge and jury on policies he voted for. So we are much thinner on evidence for its impact than you might think. You may also not be surprised to read that Martin Weale has been an opponent of my campaign to get asset prices represented in the inflation measures.

On the other side the impact of PPI is much more easy to see. The catch here is that of course we have seen a lot of things happen at the same time and it is clearly impossible to be exactly certain about which bit was at play at any one time. We are often more irrational than we like to think so who really knows why person A goes and buys X on day Y? But I think we can be clear that PPI compensation played a solid role in the UK economy recovering and seems set to continue to do so.

UK house price growth continues to slow

Yesterday we looked at a house price bubble which is still being inflated whereas today we have a chance to look at one where much of the air has been taken out of the ball. Can a market return to some sort of stability or will it be a slower version of the rise and fall in one football match demonstrated by Maradona last night? Here is the view from the Nationwide Building Society.

Annual house price growth fell to its slowest pace for five
years in June. However, at 2% this was only modestly below the 2.4% recorded the previous month.

As you can see the air continues to seep out of the ball as we see another measure decline to around 2% reaching one of out thresholds on here. Or to put it another way finally house price growth is below wage growth. Of course that means that there is a long way to go to regain the lost ground but at least we are no longer losing it.

The Nationwide at first suggests it is expecting more of the same.

Indeed, annual house price growth has been confined to a
fairly narrow range of c2-3% over the past 12 months,
suggesting little change in the balance between demand and supply in the market over that period.
“There are few signs of an imminent change. Surveyors
continue to report subdued levels of new buyer enquiries,
while the supply of properties on the market remains more of a trickle than a torrent.

Although I note that later 1% is the new 2%

Overall, we continue to expect house prices to rise by
around 1% over the course of 2018.

Every measure of house prices has its strengths and weaknesses and the Nationwide one is limited to its customers and tends to have a bias towards the south but it is reasonably timely. Also there is always the issue of how you calculate an average price which varies considerably so really the best we can hope for is that the methodology is consistent. According to the Nationwide it was £215,444 in June.

The Land Registry is much more complete but is much further behind the times as what is put as April was probably from the turn of the year..

As of April 2018 the average house price in the UK is £226,906, and the index stands at 119.01. Property prices have risen by 1.2% compared to the previous month, and risen by 3.9% compared to the previous year.

As you can see the average price is rather different too.

Bank of England

It will be mulling this bit this morning.

Annual house price growth slows to a five-year low in June

This is because that covers the period in which its Funding for Lending Scheme ( replaced by the even more friendly Term Funding Scheme) was fully operative. When it started it reduced mortgage rates by around 1% and according to the Bank of England some mortgage rates fell by 2%. I think you can all figure out what impact that had on UK house prices!

Or to put it another way the house price falls of 2012 and early 2013 were quickly replaced by an annual rate of house price growth of 11.8% in June 2014 according to the Nationwide. So panic at the Bank of England changed to singing along with Jeff Lynne and ELO.

Sun is shinin’ in the sky
There ain’t a cloud in sight
It’s stopped rainin’ everybody’s in a play
And don’t you know
It’s a beautiful new day, hey hey

Some of them even stopped voting for more QE as it has mostly been forgotten that nearly a quorum wanted more of it as the economy was kicking through the gears.

Although some at the Bank of England will no doubt have their minds on other matters.

Simon Clarke MP said the figures had “disturbing echoes” of the MPs’ expenses scandal. “One of the most important aspects of the culture of any public institution is of course that it provides value for money to the taxpayer,” he added.

“In the last two-and-a-half years two members of the FPC, Mr Kohn and Mr Kashyap, have incurred £390,000 in travel expenses, which is simply a staggering sum.”  ( The Guardian).

Regular readers will recall I did question a similar situation regarding Kristin Forbes on the Monetary Policy Committee who commuted back and forth from the US. I do not know if she benefitted from the sort of largesse and excess demonstrated below though.

The pair are based in the US and Clarke said the £11,084.89 flight for Kashyap from Chicago to London would leave his constituents “gobsmacked”.

Kohn spent £8,000 on a flight from Washington to London and £469 on taxis as part of expenses for a single meeting.

As ever a sort of Sir Frank ( h/t Yes Prime Minister ) was brought forward to play a forward defensive stroke.

“Having seen these committees in action, and seen the contributions they’ve made, as high as their expenses have been, also staggering has been their contribution,”

I was hoping for some enlightenment as the their “staggering contribution” as I do not recall ever hearing of them. The man who thinks this also submitted this about his role as a bank CEO so I guess he might also believe in fairies and the earth being flat.

The key, I always found, was to begin the process by
considering life from the customer’s perspective and then to build products and services that responded to real needs – whilst taking utmost care to build the TCF principles into every operational step in the firm’s business model.

Oh and I have promoted Bradley Fried the chair of the Court to a knighthood although of course those of you reading this in a couple of years or so are likely to be observing his K.

Looking ahead

Yesterday’s mortgage data from UK Finance had a two-way swing. Let us start with the positive.

Estimated gross mortgage lending for the total market in May is £22.2bn, 8.8 per cent higher than a year earlier. The number of mortgage approvals by the main high street banks in May has also risen, increasing by 3 per cent compared to the same month a year earlier.

Except that the latter sentence was not so positive when broken down.

 As in April, increased approval numbers were driven by remortgaging, some 18 per cent more than a year earlier.  In contrast, approvals for house purchase were 3.8 per cent lower than the same period a year earlier.

In case you are wondering about who or what UK Finance represents it is the new name for the BBA. The title of British Bankers Association became so toxic that they decided to move on.

Comment

So the winds of change are blowing and not only at the O2 where the Scorpions played the weekend before last. The era of Bank of England policy moves to push asset price higher is over at least for now although of course the stock as opposed to the flow remains. If it stays like that we could see house prices for once grow at a similar rate to rents and wages but I doubt it because the Bank of England is a serial offender on this front.

And when the electricity
Starts to flow
The fuse that’s on my sanity
Got to blow
System addict
I never can get enough
System addict
Never can give it up ( Five Star and I mean the pop combo not Beppe Grillo)
In the shorter-term will Mark Carney fire things up again or spend his last year here thinking about his legacy and some Queen?
Because I’m easy come, easy go
A little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me

Are London house prices set for more falls?

This morning has brought news on the state of play concerning UK house prices although I think the Guardian has tripped over its own feet a little in an attempt to slay several dragons at once.

House prices in parts of London that were once at the epicentre of the UK property boom have fallen as much as 15% over the past year in fresh evidence of the impact of the EU referendum.

Actually if you then read the article no evidence of it being caused by the EU referendum is given but in the article linked to by it from December we are pointed towards one rather likely cause as Russell Galley of the Halifax tells us this.

“As a result of the rapid price growth in the capital, house prices in relation to average earnings are still very high in London; at 8.8 times annual average earnings they are close to the historical high of 9.”

I do like the “additionally” in the sentence below, what could it be about the house price to earnings ratio that causes this?

Additionally, mortgage affordability in London is worse than its long-run average, the only region in the UK where this is so.

As we progress on we discover that the peak or nadir of the falls depending on your perspective is rather close to home for me.

Figures from Your Move, one of the UK’s biggest estate agency chains, reveal that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the last 12 months………..Homes in the London borough of Wandsworth were fetching an average of £805,000 in January 2017 but this has now fallen to £685,000.

There have been falls elsewhere too.

Other London boroughs are also showing steep price falls. In Southwark, south London, the average price has dropped from £666,000 to £585,000 in 12 months, while prices have pegged back in Islington, north London, from £750,000 to £684,000.

At this point with Wandsworth and Southwark on the list I am starting to feel a little surrounded although a common denominator is beginning to appear.

Wandsworth and Southwark are home to huge speculative property developments facing on to the River Thames – including the Battersea Power Station development – but the market for £1m-plus one-bed properties has shrivelled in recent years.

The scale of this was explained in the Times just under a fortnight ago.

The new neighbourhood — Europe’s biggest regeneration zone, with 39 development sites across 561 acres — will contain 20,000 homes as well as cultural, retail and business facilities. It is set to be completed by 2022. A £1.2 billion Northern Line Tube extension will create two new stations, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station, to open in 2020.

Or if you prefer in in picture form, here is a part of it which is yet to come.

If you cycle through it as you now can you get an idea of the scale that somehow cycling past does not quite give, If we return to the economic consequences of this we see that the existing lack of affordability in central London combined with the surge in supply is something that can explain the recent price falls. It was always going to require quite an influx of wealthy people to populate the area and of course that would be in addition to the many who have arrived in recent times. A sort of “overshooting” I think in assuming that a trend would not end. If we wish to help the Guardian out we could suggest that the EU Referendum has probably deterred some although it does not actually make that case and curiously I have seen one or two bits of evidence that more in fact have arrived ahead of possible changes. So something along the lines of what happened with Hong Kong a couple of decades ago.

Looking wider

If we do we get something much more sober. Here is LSL Acadata which produced the report.

Prices in London fell again in January, down £4,662 or 0.8%, leaving average prices in the capital at £593,396. That’s down 2.6% annually, the biggest decline since August 2009.

So we have gone from the 15% click bait to a reality more like 2.6%, However as we have often discussed this is significant as the UK establishment pretty much lifted heaven and earth to stop a significant house price fall post credit crunch. I remember prices falling in my locale and wondering of those selling were making a wise decision and that buyers would regret it? Instead of course we got the UK establishment house price put option as interest-rates were cut to 0.5% where they remain, QE and when they were not enough more QE the Funding for Lending Scheme and then more QE as well as the Term Funding Scheme. The latter has now finished albeit a stock of £127 billion remains as we await the next move.

Before we move on there was another hint in the data that affordability is the main player here.

The cheaper boroughs have fared better. More than half have seen price rises over the year, led by 4.5% growth in Bexley, which, with an average price of £363,082, still has the cheapest property in the capital outside Barking and Dagenham (£300,627).

Up up and away

We get reminded that the UK is in fact a collection of different house markets which are connected but sometimes weakly.

That’s now led by 4.6% annual growth in the North West, one of four regions to see new peak prices in January (along with the East Midlands, the South West and Wales).
Just eight months ago, the region was trailing every other region bar one. Now, it’s seeing strong growth in every part of the market: at the bottom, Blackburn with Darwen has seen the biggest increase in prices in the country, up 16.4% annually. At the top, Warrington is also seeing double digit growth, with prices up 10.3%.

Comment

We find on today’s journey that the trends for UK house prices remain in place as we see substantial falls in the new developments in central London and helping make the average price fall there too. This means that the UK picture is according to LSL Acadata as shown below.

Including this February, we are now in the ninth month where the annual rate of house price growth has continued to slow. It now stands at 0.6% when including London and the South East, or at 2.5% when excluding these two regions.

This represents quite a change from the 9% of February 2016 and the change has mostly been seen in London. This particular series makes a lot of effort to be comprehensive but like all efforts has its challenges and estimations.

We have subsequently recalculated all our various house price series on the basis of the new weightings, which has had the effect of decreasing the average house price in December 2017 by £6,340.

So did the average house price from this series go above £300,000 or not? I will let you decide.

One consequence of the new weightings is that the average price of a home in England & Wales has fallen below the £300,000 threshold, which we reported as having been breached during 2017.

As we mull what is or is not Fake News there was this in the Evening Standard?

Millennials, criticised by baby boomers for buying avocado on toast instead of houses….

Meanwhile eyes turn to the Bank of England as we wonder how it will respond as house prices in London fall? Perhaps its Governor Mark Carney is already thinking that June 2019 cannot come fast enough.

 

 

 

 

 

The problems of UK house building and prices are a result of government policy

This morning has brought news from the UK government on an area which is regularly reported as being in crisis ( housing supply) which brings us to a related area which has been in recession since the early part of last year ( construction). From the BBC.

Construction firms that have been slow to build new homes could be refused planning permission in future under a shake-up to be unveiled by Theresa May.

The PM will tell developers to “step up and do their bit”, warning that sitting on land as its value rises is not on at a time of chronic housing need.

There are various issues here as a fair bit of this is vague such a “slow to build” and doing your bit may be far from sufficient incentive to house builders who in some cases have been doing rather well.

Bonuses in the construction sector have been under the spotlight since Persimmon announced last year that 140 staff would share a bonus pool of £500m and that its chief executive was in line for a pay-out of £110m, a figure that has since been reduced by £25m following an outcry among investors

As an aside if £110 million is so wrong I find it fascinating that £85 million is apparently okay! Still at least something was done. As to the concept of housing need the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has crunched some numbers.

Independent analysis shows that an average of 78,000 additional affordable homes (a mix of low-cost rent and shared ownership) are required in England each year between 2011 and 2031. This level of supply is required to meet newly-arising need and demand.

 

Delivery has been falling short. On average 47,520 additional affordable homes have been provided in England each year since 2011, leading to a cumulative shortfall of 182,880 homes over the last six years. A step change is needed to boost supply of affordable homes by at least 30,000 more a year.

That seems a lot lower than what we are usually told which reminds us that such numbers are open to more than a little doubt and speculation. This poses a problem for a government increasingly heading down the central planning road.

Let me add another issue which is that a factor often ignored is that it matters where you build the houses as well as how many. This often seems to be ignored as for example once you think like that an arrow points at London and the South East. But you cannot just build anything as the current travails only a mile or two away from me at Nine Elms are proving.

The economic depression

There are quite a few problems for economics 101 in the current situation. Firstly you might think that higher house prices would quite quickly generate more supply but it would not appear so. Also the housing industry was supposed to respond to monetary policy and as we find ourselves after a cut and a rise back at the emergency Bank Rate of 0.5% there is much to mull and that is before we factor in the £435 billion of Bank of England QE.

Yet house building responded little to this as if we set 2015 as 100 we get some interesting numbers. The pre credit crunch peak was 2006 and 2007 which were both in the 95s. The scale of the initial hit is shown by the fact that 2009 was 55.4 showing a big hit and then crucially very little recovery as the number oscillated around 70 for the next three years. Along the way many smaller building firms went to the wall as our supply capacity fell and I wonder if that was a much larger factor than often realised. It is hard not to wonder if some support for smaller house builders might have protected us from the need for much larger support measures later. This meant that this sector clearly had an economic depression.

The official response

This provides quite a lot of food for thought for the central planners in Downing Street and Threadneedle Street because in response to the numbers above we saw a two-pronged strategy. In the summer of 2012 the Bank of England deployed the Funding for Lending Scheme which reduced mortgage rates quite quickly by around 1% ( and later by up to 2% according to its research) and made sure the banks had plenty of cash to lend. Then in March 2013 the Guardian reported on this.

In his budget speech, George Osbornelaunched Help to Buy…………This £3.5bn scheme will run for three years from 1 April and help up to 74,000 buyers, as well as providing a boost to the construction sector, said the Treasury.

This saw the UK establishment put the pedal to the metal in this area but the most recommended reply was already on this case.

Another tax-payer funded scheme to prop up house prices. Has it never crossed Osborne’s mind that if people are not able to afford a house on the basis of prudent lending criteria, house prices might be too high and should come down? ( ReaderCmt ).

There was a clear side effect to this as the tweet below highlights.

As you can see the clear effect here was on profits for house builders which surged and financed the payment of extraordinary bonuses for those at the top. This leaves us wondering if the house builders were happy counting their cash and in no great rush to expand supply as they were doing nicely anyway. How much of the effort simply went straight to the bonuses we looked at above?

House Prices

We know that these measures boosted house prices as according to the official series the price of the average house rose from £167,682 in February of 2013 to £226,756 last December. This provided its own problem however because real wages have in fact failed to recover to pre credit crunch peaks so houses became much more expensive relative to them. Yes the wheels of affordability were oiled by ever lower mortgage rates but at these prices demand for house purchase was always likely to dip which puts a brake on supply.

It is however nice to see the Joseph Rowntree Foundation implictly agreeing with my argument that house prices should be in the main measure of inflation.

Real income growth among the bottom fifth of the population in recent years is mostly wiped out once housing costs are considered, with consequences for the living standards of those on low incomes.

Comment

If we look at recent years we see that economic policy in the UK was based on the housing market. It was a type of credit easing and the consequences were higher house prices with large and what can only be called excess profits for the main house builders. No doubt some economic activity was generated but those looking to get a foothold in the market have been hit by high inflation when real wages have fallen. On that basis this is pretty much breathtaking.  The quotes below are from the BBC.

Young people without family wealth are “right to be angry” at not being able to buy a home, Theresa May has said.

Announcing reforms to planning rules, the PM said home ownership was largely unaffordable to those without the support of “the bank of mum and dad”.

This disparity was entrenching social inequality and “exacerbating divisions between generations”, she said.

It is of course true but it is a clear consequence of the policies pursued by what is now her government but before one in which she was Home Secretary. It came on top of house price friendly policies from preceding governments also.  Anyway the speech shows a complete lack of grasp of how the private-sector operates.

Mrs May criticised bonuses which are “based not on the number of homes they build but on their profits or share price”.

Another way of writing the quotes below would say you can only afford the new higher prices if someone who has already benefited helps you.

“The result is a vicious circle from which most people can only escape with help from the bank of mum and dad.

“If you’re not lucky enough to have such support, the door to home ownership is all too often locked and barred.”

That in essence the problem in the central planning approach as the initial problem is the apparent failure to grasp not only reality but their own role in the problem. I fear more central planning is unlikely to help as so far what has been called help has in fact mostly hindered.

Perhaps the biggest irony of all is that house building had responded in 2017 as according to the official numbers it was 20% higher than in 2015.

 

 

The Bank of England has a credit problem

This morning has opened with news that the winter chill affecting the UK has blown down Threadneedle Street and into the office of Governor Mark Carney at the Bank of England.

House prices fell by 0.3% over the month, after
taking account of seasonal factors…..“Month-to-month changes can be volatile, but the slowdown is consistent with signs of softening in the household sector in recent months.”

That was from the Nationwide Building Society – as ever care is needed as it is only Nationwide customers – and it backed it up by saying that the outlook was also not so good.

Similarly, mortgage approvals declined to their weakest
level for three years in December, at just 61,000. Activity
around the year-end can often be volatile, but the weak
reading comes off the back of subdued activity in October
and November (approvals were around 65,000 per month
compared to an average of 67,000 over the previous 12
months). Surveyors report that new buyer enquiries have
remained soft in recent months

So at this point Governor Carney will be miserably observing weaker business for the “precious” and a monthly house price fall. If he is cold prospects may not be so good. From the Guardian.

National Grid has issued a warning that the UK will not have enough gas to meet demand on Thursday, as temperatures plummeted and imports were hit by outages.

Good to see that there has been plenty of forward planning on this front.

The crunch is also the UK’s first major energy security test since the country’s biggest gas storage facility was closed by Centrica last year. The Rough site in the North Sea had accounted for 70% of the UK’s gas storage.

Forward guidance anyone?

Three cheers from Governor Carney

However there was something of a warm fire in the Governor’s office today as he observed this from his own data.

Mortgage approvals increased in January for both house purchase and remortgaging, to 67,478 and
49,242 respectively.

The plan that started back in the summer of 2012 with the Funding for Lending Scheme continues.

Annual growth in secured lending was unchanged at 3.3% in January , with net lending at £3.4 billion.

In essence the plan was a type of credit easing where feeding cheap cash to the banks was designed to boost the UK economy via turning net mortgage lending from negative to positive. It took around a year to work but as mortgage rates fell ( initially by around 1% and later by more) net mortgage lending turned positive and has remained so. The Governor’s office will feel ever warmer as he observes this from the Nationwide.

net property wealth is the second largest store of household wealth after private pension wealth and amounted to c.£4.6 trillion over the July 2014 to June 2016 period – equivalent to around two and a half times UK output in 2016.

Any Bank of England economist looking for career advancement only has to write about these wealth effects feeding into the economy. Should he or she want solitude then all they have to do is point out the madness in using marginal prices especially at lower volumes to value a stock of housing. Then before you can cry “Oh Canada” they will be dispatched to a dark damp dungeon where the Bank of England cake trolley never arrives.

Overheating

After the speech from Chair Powell on Tuesday this has become something of a theme and there is a clear example of it in the UK unsecured credit data.

The annual growth rate for consumer credit has slowed over the past year to 9.3%, driven by other
loans and advances.

This is where we get a lesson in number crunching from the Bank of England as this is represented as slowing whereas say wage growth is always on its way to a surge. In reality consumer credit has been on something of a tear and the monthly growth of around £1.4 billion has been fairly consistent whereas wage growth has so far gone nowhere. Or to put it another way the economy is growing at around 2% so there has been a 7/8% excess for quite some time now. One area which was driving this seems now to be a fading force.

The UK new car market declined in the first month of the year, according to figures released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). 163,615 cars were driven off forecourts in January, a -6.3% fall compared with the same month in 2017.

This fading has been reflected in the UK Finance and Leasing Association figures.

 New business in December 2017 fell 2% by value and 5% by volume compared with the same month in 2016.

Yet unsecured lending has continued on its not so merry path and has now risen to £207.5 billion.

Business Lending

This was the main aim of the Bank of England especially for the smaller business sector, at least that is what we were told. Indeed  the scheme was modified we were told to improve that success. How is that going?

Lending to non-financial businesses fell by £1.6 billion in January . Loans to small-and-medium
sized enterprises fell by £0.7 billion, the largest decline since December 2014.

If we look for some perspective we see that three of the last four months have seen credit contractions and the six month average is -£100 million. So the Bank of England arrow if I may put this in Abenomics terms missed the smaller businesses target completely but scored a bullseye in consumer credit which is still growing at 9.3% per annum. The latter is of course in spite of us being told that conditions were much tighter in the latter part of 2017.

Comment

Those who have followed the UK economy over the years and indeed decades will know that today’s data follows a familiar theme. An easing of monetary policy such as the credit easing of the FLS and now the Term Funding Scheme ( £115.4 billion) followed by the Bank Rate cut and Sledgehammer QE of August 2016 would be expected to have the following results. A rise in mortgage lending and then later a rise in unsecured lending it has been ever thus. This is because it is easy to do for the banks and it is an area in which they excel whereas business lending is both more complex and harder to do. Track records do matter as I recall my late father telling me (he had a plastering business) that when he really needed finance the banks took it away whereas at other times it was plentiful. Please remember that when we are told small businesses “do not want to borrow” it may be because they have much longer memories than the banks.

Oh and in case the Bank of England tries to tell us unsecured credit growth can be cut by a Bank Rate rise or two please remember that credit card debt costs around 18% per annum according to its data.

If we switch to the real economy then there is another area where the Bank of England is lost in a land of confusion. This is the impact of the post EU leave vote fall in the UK Pound £ which according to the PMI business survey this morning seems to have helped UK manufacturers.

the continued rise in export orders s and an uplift in new orders from the domestic market provided evidence that the
foundations for continued growth were still buoyant………New orders
showed the largest monthly gain since November
and are outpacing the rate of growth in output to
one of the greatest extents in more than a decade.

It is possible that we are seeing import substitution as well as export growth. It makes you wonder how well they would be doing if the banks supported them with more and better finance doesn’t it?

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/feds-powell-needs-just-get/