Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Economics 15/06/2010: Negative equity 2

This is the second post of three consecutive posts on the effects of negative equity in Ireland.

Negative equity can lead to a reduction in consumer spending, collateral & credit

This can take place via four main pathways:
  1. Housing equity can be used as collateral to obtain a secured loan on more favourable terms than a loan which is unsecured. This channel for lower cost financing is cancelled out by the negative equity.
  2. Falling collateral values may also affect the cost of servicing existing mortgages if borrowers have to refinance at higher interest rates when their existing deals expire (eg when exiting temporarily fixed-rate or tracker mortgages). That would reduce income available for consumption, which may further reduce demand.
  3. Households on adjustable rate mortgages are facing additional pressure of higher banks margins. Since vintages of many ARMs are coincident with 2005-2007 period, negative equity has direct and significant impact on them. Nama exacerbates this impact by forcing banks to up their margins on performing loans, pushing more and more households into not just negative equity, but virtual insolvency.
  4. Fourth, falling values of housing equity also reduce the resources that homeowners have available to draw on to sustain their spending in the event of an unexpected loss of income (eg due to redundancy, illness or a birth of a child). By reducing the value of housing equity, falling house prices may lead some homeowners to seek to rebuild their balances of precautionary saving at the expense of consumer spending and investment.
Note that precautionary savings are held in highly liquid demand deposits – a fact that I will use below. In general, households with high amounts of housing equity may not respond much to falling house prices, because their demand for precautionary savings balances may already be satisfied through their positive net worth balances on the house. Households with low or negative equity have an asymmetrically stronger incentive to save in a form of short-term deposits.

Rising negative equity can also result in a reduced supply of credit to the economy as a whole:

Negative equity can raise the loss that lenders would incur in the event of default (loss given default) and the probability of a loss. That can make banks less willing or able to supply credit to households and firms.

Per Benford and Nier (2007) Basel II regulations, which require banks to hold more capital against existing loans when their anticipated loss given default rises, can reinforce that.

If credit is more costly or difficult to obtain, households and firms are likely to borrow less, leading to lower demand through lower consumer spending and investment. This, in turn, can lead to reduced business investment.

Expectation hypothesis suggests that negative equity effects on willingness to borrow and lend can extend beyond those immediately impacted as other households anticipate their own asset value decline toward negative equity.

Blanchflower and Oswald (1998) paper showed that a reduction in credit availability may also have some effect on the supply capacity of the economy by reducing working capital for smaller businesses and the capital available for small business start-ups. In addition, a recent (June 2009) paper “Reduced entrepreneurship: Household wealth and entrepreneurship: is there a link?” by Silvia Magri, Banca d’Italia, published by the Bank of Italy (Working paper Number 719 - June 2009) shows that negative house equity can result in reduced entrepreneurship, as many new businesses are launched on the back of borrowing secured against primary residencies or other real estate assets.

Rising negative equity can also result in a reduced household mobility:

Negative equity can affect household mobility by discouraging or restricting households from moving house. Two fathers of behavioural economics, Tversky and Kahneman (1991) argued that households may be reluctant to move because they would not wish to realise a loss on their house. Notice, that our so-called ‘smart’ politicians often claim that negative equity is never a problem unless someone wants to move. Actually, it is a problem even if someone does not want to move, but has to move because of their changed employment or family circumstances.

Tatch (2009) shows that a household in negative equity would be unable to move if they were unable to repay their existing mortgage and meet any down payment requirements for a new mortgage on a different house. This is even more pronounced in Ireland due to the nature of Irish bankruptcy laws.

Hanley (1998) shows that the effect of negative equity on mobility were quantitatively significant during the early 1990s in the UK. The paper estimates that of those in negative equity in the early 1990s, twice as many would have moved had they not been in negative equity. The paper argues that reduced household mobility leads to a reduction in the supply capacity of the economy by increasing structural unemployment and reducing productivity.

Reduced household mobility implies a reduction in the number of households moving home. This can have adverse implications for tax receipts, spending on housing market services and certain types of durable goods as highlighted in Benito and Wood (2005). So as negative equity increases, tax revenues and economic activity in the housing sector and associated white goods sectors falls.

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