Sunday, May 27, 2012

27/05/2012: Residential Property Prices: April 2012

Much has been made in the media on the foot of the latest (April 2012) data for residential property prices in Ireland.

In light of this, let's do some quick analysis of the data. The core conclusions, in my opinion are:

  1. Data from CSO - the best we have - only covers mortgages drawdowns reflecting actual sales. So this is tied to mortgages issuance activity and is of limited use in the markets where cash sales are significant.
  2. If increases in prices are sustained, mortgages drawdowns might be reflective of improved credit flows or credit flows fluctuating along the bottom trend.
  3. The above two points strongly suggest that we need to see more sustained trend to draw any conclusions on alleged 'stabilization' of the market.
  4. Aside from seasonality, the data shows patterns of false bull-runs or 'stabilization' episodes in the trends that usually were followed by downward acceleration on the pre-stabilization trend. Not surprisingly, the core improvements in March-April 2012 are in exactly the segments of the markets where such false starts have been more pronounced in the past.
So caution is warranted. 

Top stats:
  • Residential property price index has fallen from 66.1 in February and March 2012 to 65.4 in April implying m/m change in overall prices of -1.06% - the shallowest monthly decline since July 2011, other than zero change in m/m prices recorded in March 2012. 
  • This m/m pattern of slower decline (to near zero rate of fall) from a steep previous drop, followed by re-acceleration in decline is something that is traceable to October 2010-January 2011, June-August 2011, July-September 2010, February-April 2010, October-December 2009, so caution is warranted in interpreting short-term 'stabilization' episodes.
  • Y/y index fell 16.37% in April, an acceleration on March 2012 y/y decline of 16.32%, but a very slight one. Current y/y decline is the second shallowest since November 2011, so no signs of stabilization here either. In fact, April 2012 y/y rate of decline was the 5th sharpest for any month since January 2010.
  • Index reading continues underperforming its 3mo MA which currently stands at 65.87.
  • Relative to peak, the index is now down 49.89%.
  • Thus, overall, by both, its absolute level, and its 3mo MA, as well as relative to peak, the index is at its new historic low. Stabilization is not happening anywhere at the levels terms.

Chart below shows sub-indices performance for houses and apartments. While it is clear that houses sub-index is the driver of overall prices, the apartments sub-index received much of attention in recent months. The reason for it is two consecutive months of increases in apartments prices. Details are below:

  • Overall, House prices fell in April 2012 to index reading of 68.1 from 68.9 in March, registering a m/m drop of 1.16%. This represents an acceleration from -0.14% m/m decline in March 2012. However, April m/m drop is the shallowest since July 2011. 
  • Despite the above, bot the index and the 3mo MA have again hit their lowest point in history of the series.
  • Y/y house prices are down 16.24% and this is the fastest y/y decline since November 2011. 
  • Relative to peak house prices are now down 48.41%.
  • Apartments prices index has improved from 48.6 in March 2012 to 49.6% in April 2012 (m/m rise of 2.06% following a 0.41% rise in March 2012).
  • However, m/m rises are not rare for the sub-index. Apartments prices subindex rose - in m/m terms - in November 2011 (+2.68%), December 2010 (+0.31%), December 2007 (+0.50%) and posted falt or near-flat (1/4 STDEV from zero reading) in February 2008, January 2011, May 2011, and December 2011. 
  • 3mo MA is now at 48.87% and this is the lowest on the record 3mo MA reading for the sub-index.
  • Y/y the decline in April was 17.88% while March 2012 y/y decline was 20.33%. This is the lowest y/y decline reading since January 2012. However, back in April 2011, y/y decline was 'only' 15.29% - shallower than in April 2012.
  • Relative to peak apartments prices are now down 59.97%.

Conclusion: any talk about 'price trends improvement' in apartments will have to wait for further confirmation of the upward trend.

Chart below shows trends for prices in Dublin - another focal point of attention for those claiming substantive change in property prices trends.

  • Dublin property prices sub-index has improved from 58.0 in march 2012 to 58.3 in April 2012, reaching exactly the same level as in January 2012. Thus, m/m index rose 0.52% which is slower than March 2012 m/m rise of 0.69%. Last time the sub-index posted non-negative m/m change was in July 2011 when it remained unchanged m/m and last time sub-index actually posted positive growth was in May 2011.
  • To see two consecutive monthly rises in the index, however, is rare. We would have to go to January-February 2007 for that. However, index posted a number 'near trend reversals' in the past marked on the chart. All turned out to be false calls and virtually all led to re-acceleration of the downward momentum compared to pre-event.
  • Y/y sub-index posted a decline of 17.30% against 18.31% in March 2012. In April 2011 y/y change was 12.96% - much shallower than current y/y decline.
  • 3mo MA is unchanged in April 2012 at 57.97 compared to March 2012, and is much lower than 71.27 registered in April 2011.
  • Relative to peak, house prices in Dublin are now 56.65% down which is identical to their position in January 2012.

Overall, all data points to potential stabilization that is in a very nascent state. However, this is certainly a local phenomena for now - with Apartments and Dublin properties showing some potential signs of improvement. Only the future can tell if:
  1. we are witnessing actual flattening of the trend, and/or
  2. we are witnessing a reversal of downward trend toward a positive (sustained) trend.

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