I have written before about the role positive/negative home equity has on entrepreneurship and real economic activity. Remember, the Irish Government and media believe that negative equity matters only when/if the household wants or needs to move home and that it has no effect outside this scenario.
A recent (March 2013) paper (linked below) from NBER argues very clearly that positive/negative equity has a real positive/negative effect on employment and business creation and that this effect is local to property prices region. In other words, unlike FDI or other foreign investments, home equity impacts domestic investment, locally anchored, and with it - domestic jobs creation.
Adelino, Manuel, Schoar, Antoinette and Severino, Felipe paper "documents the role of the collateral lending channel to facilitate small business starts and self-employment in the period before the financial crisis of 2008. We document that between 2002 and 2007 areas with a bigger run up in house prices experienced a strong increase in employment in small businesses compared to employment in large firms in the same industries. This increase in small business employment was particularly pronounced in (1) industries that need little startup capital and can thus more easily be financed out of increases in housing as collateral; (2) manufacturing industries where goods are shipped over long distances, which rules out that local demand is driving the expansion. We show that this effect is separate from an aggregate demand channel that relies on home equity based borrowing leading to increased demand and employment creation."
Some more granularity to the top-level results [italics are mine]:
"Overall, the evidence we present in this paper identifies the causal effect house prices in the creation of new small firms. These results show that access to collateral allowed individuals to start small businesses or to become self-employed. We conjecture that without access to this collateral in the form of real estate assets, many individuals would not have made the transition from unemployment to starting a new business or self-employment.
We show that the effect of house prices is concentrated in small firms only and had no causal effect on employment at large firms. [In other words, there is no measurable effect on location competitiveness from house prices. Irish Government claims that residential property prices declines improved Irish competitiveness are not supported by the evidence from the US.]
Importantly, our results also hold when we exclude industries that are most likely to be affected by local demand shocks and when we restrict our attention to manufacturing industries. The effect of house prices is also stronger in industries where the amount of capital needed to start a new firm is lower, consistent with the hypothesis that housing serves as collateral but is not sufficient to fund large capital needs." [This goes to the issue of which types of firms creation benefit most from collateral access. The evidence suggests that smaller firms do so. But the fact that capital constraints bind also suggests that by typology, services firms, which are human capital intensive and require low levels of physical capital, benefit also more than average. Now, Ireland is human capital intensive economy, so draw your own conclusions.]
Adelino, Manuel, Schoar, Antoinette and Severino, Felipe, House Prices, Collateral and Self-Employment (March 2013). NBER Working Paper No. w18868. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2230758