For many in the UK there is nothing going on but the rent

The words of Gwen Guthrie’s song are echoing this morning as the BBC seems to have discovered that renting in the UK has become very expensive. In particular it focuses on the impact on your people.

People in their 20s who want to rent a place for themselves face having to pay out an “unaffordable” amount in two-thirds of Britain, BBC research shows.

They face financial strain as average rents for a one-bedroom home eat up more than 30% of their typical salary in 65% of British postcode areas.

Many housing organisations regard spending more than a third of income on rent as unaffordable.

A salary of £51,200 is needed to “afford” to rent a one-bed London home.

How have we got here? There have been two main themes in the credit crunch era driving this of which the first has been the struggles of real wages. If we use the official data we see that setting the index at 100 in 2015 took them back to where they were in the summer of 2005 or a type of lost decade. In spite of the economy growing since then and employment numbers doing well we find that the latest number is a mere 101.7 showing so little growth. Even worse in an irony some of the growth is caused by the fact that our official statisticians use an inflation measure called CPIH which has consistently told us there is no inflation in rents.Oh Dear!

Added to this problem was a further impact on younger people from the credit crunch. We could do with an update but this from a paper by David Blanchflower and Stephen Manchin tells us what was true a few years ago.

The real wages of the typical (median) worker have fallen by around 8–10% – or around 2% a year behind inflation – since 2008. Such falls have occurred across the wage distribution, generating falls in living standards for most people, with the exception of those at the very top.

Some groups have been particularly hard hit, notably the young. Those aged 25 to 29 have seen real wage falls on the order of 12%; for those aged 18 to 24, there have been falls of over 15% (Gregg et al. 2014).

So younger people took a harder hit in real wage terms which will have made the rent squeeze worse. Hopefully recent rises in the minimum wage and looking ahead the planned rise from Amazon will help but overall we have gained little ground back since then.

Rents

Here is at least some of the state of play.

In London, a 20-something with a typical average income would spend 55% of their monthly earnings on a mid-range one-bedroom flat. Housing charity Shelter considers any more than 50% as “extremely unaffordable”.

That rises to 156%, so one-and-a-half times a typical salary, in one part of Westminster – the most expensive part of London – where an average one-bedroom home costs £3,500 a month to rent.

In contrast, a tenant aged 22-29 looking for a typical property of this kind in the Scottish district of Argyll and Bute would only have to spend 15% of their income.

Even to a Battersea boy like me that all seems rather London centric. Wasn’t the BBC supposed to have shifted on mass to Manchester? Perhaps it was only the sports section which has quite an obsession with United as otherwise no doubt we would have got an update on Manchester and its surrounds. Still Westminster is eye-watering and no doubt influenced by all MPs wanting somewhere close to Parliament. By contrast renting in Argyll and Bute is very cheap although the number of people there is not that great.

Mind you there is at least an oasis below for those who want a Manchester link.

This all comes at a time when young adults might look back in anger at previous generations

Still I guess they will have to roll with it or try to anesthetise any pain with cigarettes and alcohol.

Relativities

This provided some food for thought.

The BBC research shows that a private tenant in the UK typically spends more than 30% of their income on rent.

In 1980, UK private renters spent an average of 10% of their income on rent, or 14% in London.

So the amount spent has risen across the board and especially so in London. This however begs a question of our inflation measure which accentuates the use of rents by assuming and fantasising that owner-occupiers pay them. This is around 17% of that index. But contrary to the fact that rents are more expensive they seem to have got there without there being much inflation! As the fantasies are recent we sadly do not have a full data set but the response to a freedom of information enquiry tells us that the index has risen from 89.3 at the beginning of 2005 to 103.8 in early 2017. However they have apparently revised all this in the year or so since and now we are at 103.3 but 2005 is at 77.1. So measuring rents can go firmly in our “You don’t know what you’re doing” category and should be nowhere near any official inflation measure. What could go wrong with fantasies based on something you are unable to measure with any accuracy?

Size issues

This caught my eye as it goes against an assumption we have looked at on here which is that properties have been getting smaller ( as we get larger).

 In the last 10 years, when families have been increasingly likely to rent, owners have seen the average floor space of their homes increase by 7% compared with a 2% rise for tenants. That leaves owners with an average of 30 sq m extra floor space than tenants, which the charity suggests is the equivalent of a master bedroom and a kitchen.

I am not sure how they calculate this issue for renters as back in the day when I was saving up I rented in a shared house. This was pretty much the same house as all the others in what is called Little India in Battersea (because of the names of the streets).

It wasn’t me

This is the response of landlords who presumably need some fast PR. After all longer-term landlords have made extraordinary capital gains on their investments and now seem to have done pretty well out of the income via rent.

Landlords say they face costs, including their mortgages, insurance, maintenance and licensing, that need to be covered from rents.

“These costs are increasing as the government introduces new measures to discourage investment in property, such as the removal of mortgage interest relief and the changes to stamp duty,” said Chris Norris, director of policy at the National Landlords Association.

 

Comment

The underlying theme here is the march of the rentier society. This seems set to affect the younger generations disproportionately especially if the current trend and trajectory of real wages remains as it has been for the last/lost decade. This gives us a “back to the future” style theme as that was the life of my grandparents who owned little but rented a lot. My parents managed to escape that and started by buying a house in Dulwich in the 1970s for £9000 which seems hard to believe now. But were they and I a blip on the long-term chart? It is starting to feel like that and this line of thought is feed by this from the BBC.

The charity estimated that private tenants in England are spending £140 more in housing costs than people with a mortgage.

That has been driven by the extraordinary effort to reduce mortgage rates starting with the cutting of interest-rates to as low as 0.25%, £445 billion of QE and to top it off the credit easing via the Funding for Lending Scheme. No such help was given to renters who of course have not benefited from “Help To Buy” either. Thus renters have a genuine gripe with the Bank of England.

Let me finish on a more hopeful development which is the Amazon news.

1) This is a significant increase. Around 20% above the national living wage and 10% above the real living wage. It amounts to hundreds of £ per worker, and also raises the prospect of other warehouse operators following suit ( Benedict Dellot of the RSA )

Whilst their working conditions may still be a modern version of the dark satanic mills of William Blake at least the wages are a fair bit better.

 

 

 

 

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What is happening in the UK housing market?

There are always a multitude of factors to consider here but one has changed if the “unreliable boyfriend” can finally go steady. That is the Open Mouth Operations from various members of the Bank of England about a Bank Rate ( official interest-rate) increase in November presumably to 0.5%. This would be the first time since the summer of 2013 and the introduction of the Funding for Lending Scheme that there has been upwards pressure on mortgage rates. Indeed the FLS was designed to drive them lower ( albeit being under the smokescreen of improving small business lending) and if we throw in the more recent Term Funding Scheme the band has continued to play to the same beat. From Bank of England data for July.

Effective rates on new individual mortgages has decreased by 10bps from 2.05% to 1.95%, this is the first time the series has fallen below 2%;

The current table only takes us back to August 2015 but it does confirm the theme as back then the rate was 2.57%. Noticeable in the data is the way that fixed-rate mortgages (1.99%) have become closer to variable-rate ones (1.73%) and if we look at the combination it looks as though fixed-rate mortgages have got more popular. That seems sensible to me especially if you are looking beyond the term of office of the “unreliable boyfriend.” From the Resolution Foundation.

The vast majority (88%) of new loans are taken with fixed interest rates, meaning 57% of the stock of loans are now fixed.

Has Forward Guidance had an impact?

That depends where you look but so far the Yorkshire Building Society at least seems rather unimpressed.

0.89% variable (BoE Base rate + -3.85%) variable (YBS Standard Variable Rate -3.85%) fixed until 30/11/2019

There is a large fee ( £1495) and a requirement for 35% of equity but even so this is the lowest mortgage-rate they have even offered. You can get a fixed rate mortgage for the same term for 0.99% with the same fee if you have 40% of equity.

So we see that so far there has not been much of an impact on the Yorkshire Building Society! Perhaps they had a tranche of funding which has not yet run out, or perhaps it has been so long since interest-rates last rose that they have forgotten what happens next? If we move to market interest-rates Governor Carney will be pleased to see that they have taken more notice of him as the 2 year Gilt yield was as low as 0.15% on the 7th of this month and is now 0.45%. The 5 year Gilt yield rose from 0.39% on the 7th to 0.77% now.

Thus there should be upwards pressure on future mortgage rates albeit of course that funding is still available to banks from the Term Funding Scheme at 0.25%. But don’t take my word for it as here are the Bank of England Agents.

competition remained intense, driven by new market entrants and low funding costs

What about valuations?

There have been a lot of anecdotal mentions of surveyors lowering valuations ( which is a forward indicator of lower prices ahead) but this from the Bank of England Agents is the first official note of this.

There were more reports of transactions falling through due to surveyors down-valuing properties, reflecting concerns about falling prices.

This could also be considered a sign of expected trouble as they discuss mortgages.

However, this competition was mainly concentrated on customers with the cleanest credit history.

Affordability and Quality

This issue has also been in the news with the Resolution Foundation telling us this.

While the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. Housing costs have taken up a growing proportion of disposable income from each generation to the next. This is true of private and social renters, but mortgage interest costs have come down for recent generations. However, the proportion of income being spent on capital repayments has risen relentlessly from generation to generation thanks to house price growth.

As someone who can recall his maternal grandparents having an outside toilet and paternal grandmother not having central heating I agree with them that quality improved but is it still doing so?

millennial-headed households are more likely than previous generations to live in overcrowded conditions, and when we look at the distribution of square meterage we see today’s under-45s have been net losers in the space stakes

I doubt many are as overcrowded as the one described by getwestlondon below.

A dawn raid on a three-bedroom property in Brentt found 35 men living inside……..The house was packed wall-to-wall with mattresses, which the men living there, all of eastern European origin, had piled into every room except the bathrooms.

But their mere mention of overcrowded raises public health issues surely? As ever the issue is complex as millennials are likely to be thinking also of issues such as Wi-Fi connectivity and so on. Still I guess the era of smartphones and tablets may make this development more palatable albeit at a price.

More recent generations have also had longer commutes on average than previous cohorts, despite spending more on housing.

Recent Data

The news from LSL Acadata this week was as follows.

House price growth fell marginally in August (0.2%), which left the average England and Wales house price at £297,398. This is still 2.1% higher than this time last year, when the average price was £5,982 lower. In terms of transactions, there were an estimated 80,500 sales completed – an increase of 5% compared to July’s total, and up 6% on a seasonally adjusted basis.

Interesting how they describe a monthly fall isn’t it? The leader of that particular pack is below.

House prices in London fell by an average of 1.4% in July, leaving the average price in the capital at £591,459. Over the year, though, prices are still up by £4,134 or 0.7% compared to July 2016. In July, 21 of the 33 London boroughs saw price falls.

An interesting development

Bloomberg has reported this today.

More home buyers are resorting to mortgages to purchase London’s most expensive houses and apartments as rising prices drag them into higher tax brackets.

Seventy-four percent of homes costing 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) or more in the U.K. capital were bought with a mortgage in the three months through July, up from 65 percent a year earlier, according to Hamptons International. The figure was as low as 31 percent during the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

Perhaps they too think that over time it will be good to lock in what are historically low interest-rates although that comes with the assumption that they are taking a fixed-rate mortgage.

Comment

As we look at 2017 so far we see that  rental inflation has both fallen and according to most measures so has house price inflation although the official measure bounced in the spring . We have seen some monthly falls especially in London but so far the various indices continue to report positive inflation for house prices on an annual basis. Putting it another way it has been higher priced houses which have been hit the most ( which is why the official data has higher inflation). In general this has worked out mostly as I expected although I did think we might see negative inflation in house prices. Perhaps if Governor Carney for once backs his words with action we will see that as the year progresses. The increasing evidence of “down valuations” does imply that.

If we look at the overall situation we find ourselves arriving at one of the themes of my work as I am not one of those who would see some house price falls as bad. The rises have shifted wealth towards existing home owners and away from first-time buyers on a large-scale and this represents a factor in my critiques of central bank actions. Yes first time buyers see cheaper current mortgage costs but we do not know what they will be for the full term and they are paying with real wages which have fallen. On the other side of the coin existing home owners especially in London have been given something of a windfall if they sell.

Is housing a better investment than equities?

As you can imagine articles on long-term real interest-rates attract me perhaps like a moth to a flame. Thank you to FT Alphaville for drawing my attention to an NBER paper called The Rate of Return on Everything,but not for the reason they wrote about as you see on the day we get UK Retail Sales data we get a long-term analysis of one of its drivers. This is of course house prices and let us take a look at what their research from 16 countries tells us.

Notably, housing wealth is on average roughly one half of national wealth in a typical economy, and can fluctuate significantly over time (Piketty, 2014). But there is no previous rate of return database which contains any information on housing returns. Here we build on prior work on housing prices (Knoll, Schularick, and Steger, 2016) and new data on rents (Knoll, 2016) to offer an augmented database which can track returns on this important component of national wealth.

They look at a wide range of countries and end up telling us this.

Over the long run of nearly 150 years, we find that advanced economy risky assets have performed strongly. The average total real rate of return is approximately 7% per year for equities and 8% for housing. The average total real rate of return for safe assets has been much lower, 2.5% for bonds and 1% for bills.

If you look at the bit below there may well be food for thought as to why what we might call the bible of equity investment seems to have overlooked this and the emphasis is mine.

These average rates of return are strikingly consistent over different subsamples, and they hold true whether or not one calculates these averages using GDP-weighted portfolios. Housing returns exceed or match equity returns, but with considerably lower volatility—a challenge to the conventional wisdom of investing in equities for the long-run.

Higher returns and safer? That seems to be something of a win-win double to me. Here is more detail from the research paper.

Although returns on housing and equities are similar, the volatility of housing returns is substantially lower, as Table 3 shows. Returns on the two asset classes are in the same ballpark (7.9% for housing and 7.0% for equities), but the standard deviation of housing returns is substantially smaller than that of equities (10% for housing versus 22% for equities). Predictably, with thinner tails, the compounded return (using the geometric average) is vastly better for housing than for equities—7.5% for housing versus 4.7% for equities. This finding appears to contradict one of the basic assumptions of modern valuation models: higher risks should come with higher rewards.

Also if you think that inflation is on the horizon you should switch from equities to housing.

The top-right panel of Figure 6 shows that equity co-moved negatively with inflation in the 1970s, while housing provided a more robust hedge against rising consumer prices. In fact, apart from the interwar period when the world was gripped by a general deflationary bias, equity returns have co-moved negatively with inflation in almost all eras.

A (Space) Oddity

Let me start with something you might confidently expect. We only get figures for five countries where an analysis of investable assets was done at the end of 2015 but guess who led the list? Yes the UK at 27.5% followed by France ( 23.2%), Germany ( 22.2%) the US ( 13.3%) and then Japan ( 10.9%).

I have written before that the French and UK economies are nearer to each other than the conventional view. Also it would be interesting to see Japan at the end of the 1980s as its surge ended and the lost decades began wouldn’t it? Indeed if we are to coin a phrase “Turning Japanese” then this paper saying housing is a great investment could be at something of a peak as we remind ourselves that it is the future we are interested as looking at the past can hinder as well as help.

The oddity is that in pure returns the UK is one of the countries where equities have out performed housing returns. If we look at since 1950 the returns are 9.02% per year and 7.21% respectively. Whereas Norway and France see housing returns some 4% per annum higher than equities. So the cunning plan was to invest in French housing? Maybe but care is needed as one of the factors here is low equity returns in France.

Adjusted Returns

There is better news for UK housing bulls as our researchers try to adjust returns for the risks involved.

However, although aggregate returns on equities exceed aggregate returns on housing for certain countries and time periods, equities do not outperform housing in simple risk-adjusted terms……… Housing provides a higher return per unit of risk in each of the 16 countries in our sample, and almost double that of equities.

Fixed Exchange Rates

We get a sign of the danger of any correlation style analysis from this below as you see this.

Interestingly, the period of high risk premiums coincided with a remarkably low-frequency of systemic banking crises. In fact, not a single such crisis occurred in our advanced-economy sample between 1946 and 1973.

You see those dates leapt of the page at me as being pretty much the period of fixed(ish) exchange-rates of the Bretton Woods period.

Comment

There is a whole litany of issues here. Whilst we can look back at real interest-rates it is not far off impossible to say what they are going forwards. After all forecasts of inflation as so often wrong especially the official ones. Even worse the advent of low yields has driven investors into index-linked Gilts in the UK as they do offer more income than their conventional peers and thus they now do not really represent what they say on the tin. Added to this we now know that there is no such thing as a safe asset more a range of risks for all assets. We do however know that the risk is invariably higher around the time there are public proclamations of safety.

Moving onto the conclusion that housing is a better investment than equities then there are plenty of caveats around the data and the assumptions used. What may surprise some is the fact that equities did not win clearly as after all we are told this so often. If your grandmother told you to buy property then it seems she was onto something! As to my home country the UK it seems that the Chinese think the prospects for property are bright. From Simon Ting.

From 2017-5-11 90 days, Chinese buyers (incl HK) spent 3.6 bln GBP in London real estate.
Anyway, Chinese is the #1 London property buyer.

Perhaps the Bitcoin ( US $4456 as I type this) London property spread looks good. Oh and as one of the few people who is on the Imputed Rent trail I noted this in the NBER paper.

Measured as a ratio to GDP, rental income has been growing, as Rognlie (2015) argues.

Meanwhile as in a way appropriately INXS remind us here is the view of equity investors on this.

Mystify
Mystify me
Mystify
Mystify me

UK Retail Sales

There is a link between UK house prices and retail sales as we note that both have slowed this year.

The quantity bought increased by 1.3% compared with July 2016; the 51st consecutive year-on-year increase in retail sales since April 2013.

 

 

 

 

The problem that is Imputed Rent and hence GDP

Over the lifespan of this website I have explained quite a few problems with our main measure of economic well-being and growth called Gross Domestic Product or GDP. This time I will focus on the problems and issues caused by a rarely discussed issue called imputed rent. This concept skulks away in the back ground partly because it is from the income version of GDP and the main figure is the output version. For those who are not aware of the state of play there are 3 ways of measuring GDP which are output, expenditure and income. Output is the most commonly used and if you here GDP mentioned then invariably that is what is meant but not every version is as for example Japan has a more expenditure based calculation.

There have been two roads which have led me to the Income GDP version. They are that the American numbers were a better guide post credit crunch to economic activity than the output version, and my interest in the housing sector reflected in this instance by the rent issue. Sadly such numbers are restricted access in the UK as a problem in particular occurred in the late 1980s under the then Chancellor but now Lord Lawson. In theory the 3 versions are supposed to come to the same answer but back then the variation was wide enough for him to order our statisticians to prioritise the output numbers and “adjust” the other versions. I can give you an example from Portugal of how the 3 numbers can vary as a while ago when I was looking at the data the divergence was 4%. It makes you think about those who discuss 0.1% changes does it not?!

What is Imputed Rent?

The story starts here.

In the national accounts, owner occupiers are deemed to be unincorporated businesses producing housing services, which they then consume.

Are “deemed to be”! So here is the first issue which is that it does not actually exist. After noting that let us press on.

The principle involved is to impute a rental value for an owner-occupied property, which is the same as the rental that would be paid for a similar property in the private rented sector. The imputed rent methodology calculates rent for owner occupiers and rent-free dwellings.

Why is this done. The US Bureau for Economic Analysis explains.

 The largest imputation in the GDP accounts is that made to approximate the value of the services provided by owner-occupied housing.  That imputation is made so that the treatment of owner-occupied housing in the GDP is comparable to that of tenant-occupied housing, which is valued by rent paid.  That practice keeps GDP invariant as to whether a house is owner-occupied or rented.

Their explanation is from 2006 when Imputed Rent was already 6.2% of GDP and the largest imputation which combined were 14.8% of GDP. It then argues this.

Without imputations, the GDP story is incomplete and can be misleading.

The other side of the argument is that including things which do not exist – owner occupiers do not receive Imputed Rent – is misleading.

Measurement of Imputed Rent

As it does not exist it cannot itself be measured and the only route to it is to measure actual rents. This poses its own problems in practical terms as this from the UK ONS demonstrates.

Imputed owner occupier rent is calculated from an average rent per room being multiplied by the total number of rooms in owner-occupied dwellings. Rent per room is calculated from Actual Rental (see section 02.4.1) and number of rooms rented (based on Living Cost and Food survey – LCF).

In the UK they will have some idea of the number of rooms but there will be errors in those numbers. However the main issue is whether we have numbers for rents which are reliable. I am sure that there are issues in every country but the UK has had particular problems and this is linked to my articles on the CPIH measure of inflation which includes rents. My view is that this has been a shambles illustrated by the way that the UK establishment had to abandon its rental estimates because they were in disarray.

You might think that a complete change to the actual rental numbers would have a big impact on Imputed Rent. In fact they seemed to sail through it pretty much unscathed as all sorts of other adjustments were made to provide the same answer. Or as Kylie would put it.

I should be so lucky
Lucky, lucky, lucky

As the luck quotient rose the credibility one fell.

Upwards Revisions

Back in the 2013 Blue Book the UK ONS decided the Imputed Rent numbers had been too low.

There are upward revisions to the level of total annual HHFCE (national concept) in all years from 1997 to 2011. The largest revisions, of just under 2% of total HHFCE, are in 2008 to 2011.

HHFCE is Household consumption and increasing it by 2% is a big deal and it was Imputed Rent that did it. Actually it more than did it as looking at 2010 will explain. UK household consumption and hence GDP rose by £17.1 billion of which the rise in Imputed Rents was £33.6 billion. The difference was a rise in estimates of repairs of £12.7 billion and some smaller items such as smuggling.

The New Economics Foundation weighs in

Just over a year ago the NEF gave an idea of scale.

Inclusion of how much home-owners would pay if they actually rented boosted UK GDP in 2014 by £158bn – a 8.9% share

We also got an idea of the scale of the housing and Imputed Rent boom.

A growing proportion of GDP is nothing more than earnings from property. 12.3%  of the UK’s measured GDP in 2014 was rent and “imputed rent”…….Since 1985, rent and imputed rent have almost doubled as a share of GDP, from 6.2%.

Ch-ch-changes

In the last few days and weeks the situation has changed again and let me show how.

these changes will have a substantial impact both on imputed rental itself and on total current price GDP.

Okay how? I summarised it thus on the Royal Statistical Society website.

For those who have not looked at the numbers then nominal UK GDP has been revised up by at least £50 billion in each of the years 1997 to 2006 due to Imputed Rent and then by a declining amount up to 2011. To give an idea of scale VAT fraud is considered a big deal but changes to it top out at £2.1 billion in 2011.

The official view on the changes is as shown below.

Although this improved the series for the most recent period, bringing it in line with the CPIH, it also led to a discontinuity (which has now been removed in the new method).

The discontinuity peaked in 2010 and I would tell you by how much but the link to the numbers on the official ONS site take you to a page which does not exist. Friday’s update tells us this.

In 2014, annual real GDP growth has been revised up by 0.3 percentage points from 2.9% to 3.1%,

Not the strongest grasp of mathematics there I think! Anyway there was yet another change to Imputed Rent as it added 0.1% to economic growth in that year (and in 2012 too).

Comment

You are perhaps waiting for an idea of scale so let me help out from the last quarter of 2015 when Imputed Rentals in the UK reached £43.2 billion in current price terms compared to £24 billion a decade before. That is a lot for a number which not only has theoretical issues in terms of its concept but the way we have tried to measure it has been very flawed as otherwise we would be needing all these “improvements” would we?! There was an obvious problem here in a nation the size of the UK.

The LCF data are based on around 400 households’ rental prices per quarter,

So whilst I welcome the efforts to improve the quality of the UK data on rents – which also feeds into the inflation numbers – there is a clear problem with what we have been told in the past. This feeds into less confidence in what we are being told now. At a time of house price booms this poses more than a few questions for the UK economic landscape and as for the Imputed Rent numbers well they continue to sing along with Jeff Lynne and ELO.

You took me, higher and higher
It’s a livin’ thing,
It’s a terrible thing to lose
It’s a given thing
What a terrible thing to lose.

Oh and this whole episode provides another critique to nominal GDP targeting.

What are the economics of Buy To Let and renting in the UK?

There is much to consider in the economics of the Buy To Let industry in the UK which covers those who buy houses to let them out to tenants. Let us get straight to the numbers released this morning by Your Move and ReedRains.

Rental yields are proving resistant to rising purchase prices. The gross yield on a typical rental property in England and Wales (before taking into account factors such as void periods) is steady at 4.8% in February, the same as in January 2016. On an annual basis, this is fractionally lower than the 5.0% gross yield seen a year ago in February 2015.

As mentioned in the piece there is the risk of void periods where you have not tenants and these are gross yields with no allowance for costs. But let me give you a comparison which is that in a low yield world the UK ten-year Gilt will give you 1.46% as I type this which is pretty much the same as the best deposit savings account. If we look back the rental yield has been remarkably stable over the credit crunch period at around 5% which means that it has become ever more attractive as competing yields have fallen.

Thus we note that the business model of a rentier has been a beneficiary of the interest-rate cuts,Quantitative Easing and Funding for Lending Scheme of the Bank of England. Other yields have been pushed lower making it more attractive as it joins shale oil and the economics of the Glazers at Manchester United as unexpected beneficiaries of central banking largesse.

If we continue with the numbers we note that the UK continues to have rising house prices so that there is a gain from this too.

Taking into account both rental income and capital growth, the average landlord in England and Wales has seen total returns of 12.7% over the twelve months to February. This is up from 11.7% in the twelve months to January

Okay and what does that mean in total?

In absolute terms this means that the average landlord in England and Wales has seen a return of £23,227 over the last twelve months, before any deductions such as property maintenance and mortgage payments. Of this, the average capital gain contributed £14,767 while rental income made up £8,460 over the twelve months to February.

Let me reinforce that these are gross numbers which do not allow for costs but as you can see they look very attractive. Now let me throw in the risk element which is supported by the view that it is low risk because economic policy in the UK will always be set for house prices along the lines of Yazz.

The only way is up, baby
For you and me now
The only way is up, baby
For you and me

The Bank of England

This has fed this in various ways and let me illustrate from the Bank of England blog.

The period surrounding the recent Great Recession saw a sharp decline in real house prices in the UK: they fell by about 20% over the period from 2007Q3 to 2009Q2.

Well let me introduce you to the Mervyn King put option for house prices which involved this. Firstly interest-rates were cut to 0.5% in March 2009 which is interesting timing when you look at the above. That same month in 2009 QE began in the UK to reduce bond yields ( think mortgage rates) as monetary policy saw the pedal pushed towards the metal just as the house price fall built up.

You see monetary policy may not be set for house prices but if we raise the level of sophistication central bankers do think this.

the estimation provides strong evidence on the causal link between housing shocks and the macroeconomy during the recent crisis……it is essential to better understand the drivers of the striking comovement between house prices and labour markets in the UK.

It is an oversimplification to say that house prices fix unemployment but you get the idea and this leads us to the view that it will always be official policy to prevent large house price falls. You do not have to believe that the rentiers are protecting themselves although of course it is likely that there are elements of that as in the end they believe it is linked to employment and unemployment to which they will respond.

Also the low risk theme is reinforced by this sort of thing. From Mortgage Strategy.

Tony and Cherie Blair’s property empire is worth £27m, according to research by the Guardian.The couple now own at least 10 houses and 27 flats.

Cherie apparently does not like change which affects her.

Last month Mortgage Strategy reported that Cherie Blair was set to challenge the Government’s buy-to-let tax relief changes in court, arguing it breaches human rights.

A human right to large profits?

Mortgage Rates

The costs of a buy to let have fallen in the credit crunch era as monetary policy has driven them lower. The Council of Mortgage Lenders gave us some insight yesterday.

Our estimate is that gross mortgage lending was £17.6 billion in January, nearly a third higher than a year ago……………The inescapable fact is that part of this recovery in activity and transactions has been down to the strong pick-up in the buy-to-let sector,

From Mortgage Strategy.

Barclays is cutting rates on its residential and buy-to-let product ranges by up to 30 basis points…….Paragon Mortgages now accepts applications for consumer buy-to-let via its sister brand Mortgage Trust.

So yields up and costs are down. Can you think of another business like that in the credit crunch era?

What about those that rent?

The other side of the balance sheet is much less fun and for some must be grim indeed. If we return to the Your Move report we see this.

Rents across England & Wales now stand at £791 per month as of February, 3.3% higher compared to this point last year – or an extra £25 per month for the average tenant.

In real terms this represents quite a rise.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 0.3% in the year to January 2016

But wait Paul Johnson of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the National Statistician John Pullinger have a solution.

In January 2016, the 12-month rate (the rate at which prices increased between January 2015 and January 2016) for CPIH stood at 0.6%.

Renters will be disappointed with that so shall we move on with those two gentlemen wearing dunces caps as they try on the new suits they have bought in advance of the expected Knighthood ceremony.

Rents are growing faster than wages too.

Average weekly earnings for employees in Great Britain increased by 2.1% including bonuses.

We can look back for some perspective as you see the average rent was £648 per month back in 2009 and is now £791 for an increase of 22%. This made me wonder what wages have done so according to the ONS the average weekly wage was £451 at the end of 2009 and In January was £497 for an increase of 10%. That is quite a gap as Yazz limbers up for another verse.

sure ain’t no fun
but if we should be evicted from our homes
we’ll just move somewhere else
and still carry on
Hold on, Hold on, Hold on

Comment

As you can see from the numbers above it has been much more profitable in the credit crunch era to be a rentier than a renter. Please do not misunderstand me on an individual basis buying and letting out a place has been a successful strategy and well done to those who have done it. But as we move to the collective level we see that it distorts the UK economy as good returns can be made for what is perceived to be very low risk. This is reinforced by Bank of England policy such as the Funding for Lending Scheme and by the way that “vigilant” the new buzz word actually means being vigilant for the cakes on its afternoon tea trolley. Meanwhile first-time buyers need ever more “Help” to afford a property as prices go ever higher.

I welcome the tax changes as we will soon see a 3% Stamp Duty surcharge and there are moves afoot to reduce the tax deductability on interest. But on the returns highlighted above is a 3% charge a big deal? Accordingly the situation continues to mimic the message from the Borg in my view.

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile

There are building signs of a global property bubble

It was only yesterday that I discussed and analysed the impact of the 60 billion Euros a month QE (Quantitative Easing) program of the European Central Bank. Later that day ECB President Mario Draghi gave himself and his colleagues a slap on the back by describing it thus.

In addition, there is clear evidence that the monetary policy measures we have put in place are effective.

Whilst confettigate occurred soon afterwards I do not think that the protestor who shouted “end the ECB Dicktatorship” was protesting this point,sadly. After all Mario was fulfilling one of the themes of this blog by shamefully attempting to take the credit for the economic boost to the area provided by the fall in the price. Perhaps with the Brent Crude Oil benchmark surging through the US $60 level he felt he had better be quick before it fades away!

However more quietly there was another impact on the day which was a further fall in bond yields as for example the ten-year yield of Germany has now fallen to 0.1% and in some ways even more extraordinarily the equivalent for France is 0.29%. Yesterday I pointed out that this was likely to be causing asset price inflation. So let us now also factor in the preceding efforts at QE from the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan, Bank of England and Swiss National Bank (via investing its foreign currency reserves) and look at an impact of this.

Global Property

As bond yields fall in so many places investors looking for an income find it ever harder and they have to look elsewhere. This is symbolised in a way by the fact that the time it has taken me to write a paragraph the German ten-year yield has fallen to 0.09%! In such an environment bricks and mortar are something which investors can turn to as they appear physically at least to be an oasis of stability. But what happens if a tidal wave of cash heads in its direction? MSCI have pointed out some consequences. From the Financial Times.

Globally, property generated total average returns of 9.9 per cent in 2014 thanks to rapid capital value appreciation, MSCI found — the best performance since 2007 and the fifth consecutive year of increasing returns.

Okay so happy days for existing investors as well as hinting at how we got into our current malaise. You will not be surprised to read about the leaders of this particular pack.

UK real estate returned 17.9 per cent in 2014 while the US returned 11.5 per cent…..In London returns topped 20 per cent……..sharp price rises in Dublin drove the total return in its real estate markets to hit a record 44.7 per cent — the best performer of all world cities in MSCI’s analysis.

Celtic Tiger mark two anyone?

But there is more.

MSCI found listed real estate companies had also significantly outperformed the world’s booming equity markets. Globally equities generated a 10.4 per cent return, but property stocks returned 19.5 per cent.

So the equity markets which of course are seeing their own QE boost with new high after new high being reported are being left behind by global property markets right now.

Yield and Rent

In essence this is the driving force as places which used to provide it such as sovereign bonds no longer do. So is it all about the rent? The catch is that whilst it is doing well when compared to a plummeting bond yield the outright position is much less cheery.

This is particularly the case in the US, where investors’ returns from rental income are now lower than before 2008, when a crash in massively overleveraged property triggered an international banking slump.

What could go wrong? Also the US is by no means alone.

Most global markets are at or close to historic low [yield] levels,

Of course faced with such a situation there is an inevitable response.

People are moving up the risk curve into riskier locations and taking on higher levels of debt and more challenging development activity.

Bubbilicious

To get a proper bubble we need for there to be substantial flows of money into that area from new and sadly usually credulous investors so what signs of that can we see?

the voracious spending — dubbed a “wall of capital” — has now spread out into riskier markets…….European QE was likely to boost real estate prices further, Mr Hobbs warned. “QE is sucking in real estate capital because debt finance is so cheap,” he said.

In the past year investment cash has poured into continental Europe — particularly the periphery — MSCI found.

Affordability

Just under a year ago a sports shop on the Kings Road in Chelsea closed and it did so due to this. From the Evening Standard.

Michael Conitzer, who runs the shop, said he can no longer afford the rent, which was raised by 50 per cent at the review last year to more than £700,000.

My custom of the occasional T-Shirt and shorts purchase was clearly never going to finance that! But if we travel to a land down under to coin a phrase  we see the same thing according to the comments to the FT article.

In a suburb of Melbourne, in the high street and across the lane from a railway station, there is a shop that was brand-new 5 years ago and that has remained empty ever since. The asking rent was too high. Now, it has two adjoining shops that are also empty. (Alfred Nassim).

It got this reply from across the atlantic.

In a suburb of New York City, many of our favourite local restaurants have closed down over the last several years – the reason given by the owners was invariably:  “rent increases, can’t make ends meet”. (User_7995).

Not Everybody Agrees

The OECD compiles a price to rent database and concludes that whilst there are countries with severe imbalances (New Zealand heads the list) overall the situation is actually undervalued. Mind you it shows Ireland as undervalued as we wonder how  last years surge in prices in Dublin will impact the next set of data.

Also Jonathan Gray of Blackstone disagrees but then you could argue that he has a vested interest here.

Blackstone,the world’s largest private real estate investor,,,,,,Mr Gray just made a $26.5bn bet on the global property market.

Comment

There is much to consider here as we observe central bankers pumping up the volume in terms of providing liquidity and wonder where the hammer will fall? Of course consumer inflation measures are invariably neutered in this area as they mostly exclude asset prices. Thus asset price gains are presented as an increase in wealth and expected to increase economic output. For those who own property some of that is true as house price growth in the UK for example, has in the last couple of years has exceeded wider inflation and wages by quite a margin. But what about those who do not own property? Either they are left out or they face even higher prices and so they are not richer but are poorer. This leads to a generational issue as the asset rich are mostly older and the asset poor mostly younger. Accordingly my view is that this is more of an asset and wealth transfer than an increase in it.

But if we return to the QE reducing yields issue then we find ourselves mulling this from Germany. The numbers are for institutional property investment.

 The rental yield, including sunk costs, works out around 3%, with tax breaks if you hold for 12 years.

Or a bond yield fast heading to zero. Again what could go wrong?

Once this plays out and these matters invariably take longer than you think which market will central bankers pump up next? As to a musical accompaniment whilst you are thinking this through let us try Joe Walsh of the Eagles.

So I’m floating on a bubble while the world goes down the drain.
Slipping on the soap, running out of rope,
But all and all I can’t complain,
And that’s the rub according to the rules of the game.
The world’s going down the drain,
When the bubble bursts you might as well drink the cork and pop the champagne.
When the bubble bursts, the world goes down the drain.