Wednesday, May 29, 2019

28/5/19: Why some long trend estimates start looking shaky for Ireland's property markets

There are many ways for analysing the long-term trends in real estate prices. One way is to use dynamics for the periods when price appreciation was consistent with underlying economic growth fundamentals and project price levels forward at the rates, on average, compatible with these periods.

And some exercises in assessing Irish house prices relative to trend are starting to sound like an early alarm bell going off.

In Ireland's case, organic growth-based period of the Celtic Tiger can be traced to, roughly, 1992/1993 through 1998. In terms of real estate prices (housing), this period corresponds to the post-1987 recovery of 1988-1990, followed by a house price 'recession' of 1991-1993 and onto the period of recovery and economic growth-aligned appreciation of 1994-1996. During this period, average price inflation in Irish house prices was 3.94% per annum.

Using the data from 1970 through 2018 based on the time series from the BIS and CSO, we can compare current price indices to those that would have prevailed were the 1988-1996 trend growth to continue through 2018. Chart below shows the results:

Several things worth noting:

  1.  At the end of 2018, Irish house price index stood some 5.7 percent below where it would have been if the longer term trend prevailed from 1997 on.
  2. Taking into the account moderating house price growth of 2016-2018 and projecting house prices forward from 2018 levels onto 2022 shows that by the end of 1Q 2020, Irish house prices can be expected to catch up with the longer-term trend.
  3. The longer-term trend does capture quite well the effect of the massive price bubble of 1998-2007: the trend line hits almost exactly the 2009-2018 index average at 2010-2011. 
  4. The pre-crisis peak levels of house prices can be expected to reach (on-trend) by 2022 implying that the house price bubble of 1998-2007 has, in effect, accelerated house price inflation by roughly 15 years, or 50-62 percent of the 25-30 year mortgage duration, which is consistent with the peak-to-trough decline in Irish house prices (53.3 percent) during the crisis.
  5. The drop in Irish house prices during the crisis overshot the long-term trend by roughly 31 percent - a steep price to pay for massive excesses of the Celtic Garfield era of 2003-2007.
  6. At the start of 2004, Irish house prices were 50 percent above their long term trend line, which is pretty much bang on with my estimate back in 2004 that I published here: as a warning to Irish policymakers - a warning, as we all know well - that was ignored.
  7. Referencing 2018 data, while the price dynamics so far appear to be catching up with the longer run trend, there is an increasing risk of a new price bubble forming, should price inflation continue unabated. For example, at an average rate of house price inflation of 11.34 percent (2014-2018 average), by the end of 2022, Irish house prices can exceed long-term trend by more than 15 percent.
Of course, a warning is due: this exercise is just one of many way to assess longer term sustainability trends in house price dynamics.  

For example, historical average rate of growth in house prices across 24 countries reported by BIS for 1970-2006 period is 2.34 percent per annum. Were we to take this rate of growth from 1998 through 2018 as the longer term trend indicator, Irish house prices would stand 32.7 percent above the long-run trend levels in 2018, implying that 
  • Irish house prices reached long run equilibrium around 1Q 2015, and
  • At the end of 2018, we were close more than 1/4 of the way toward the next bubble peak, in which case, by the end of 2021 we should be half way there.
Numbers are not simple. But numbers are starting to warrant some concerns. 

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