Housing prices are on the march again across the globe, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is concerned. In response, the IMF has launched a site it calls the “Global Housing Watch.”
Here is the introduction:
“Housing is an essential sector of every country’s economy, but it has also been a source of instability for financial institutions and countries. Understanding the drivers of house price cycles, and how to moderate these cycles, is important for economic stability.
The new indicators are an important step in assembling country-level data on housing trends in one location, allowing for more transparent cross-country and historical comparisons. The hope is to prompt actions by policymakers to moderate housing cycles.”
Housing has been a natural beneficiary of loose monetary policies. The irony or dilemma in extremely expensive countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia is that overall inflation readings are low. Accordingly central banks are maintaining extremely accomodative monetary policies in these countries. Thus, the traditional brakes for the housing market, higher rates and tighter monetary policy, are absent and nowhere on the horizon. It is no accident that the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England are now talking more loudly about using macroprudential policies to contain housing markets and enforce standard of financial stability. Here are the related recommendations coming from the IMF:
“We do have a set of policy tools that can help – sometimes these are referred to as “Mip-Map-Mop.” Microprudential (Mip) policies look at an individual bank’s balance sheet, for example to determine if it is making too many real estate loans. But it could be that the individual banks are doing what seems healthy for them, but what the banking system as a whole is doing needs results in an unhealthy growth in lending.
So, in addition, macroprudential regulations (Map), operating at the level of the financial sector as a whole, come into play. The most commonly used measures cap how much individuals may borrow relative to their income. These prudential measures are being increasingly used by countries to prevent an unsustainable build-up in debt.
Finally, there is the monetary policy (Mop) that involves the central bank raising interest rates if they want to cool off the housing sector. This can be tricky, because sometimes the economy is weak but the housing sector is booming, and raising the interest rate can harm the overall economy.
So, basically, we need to share experience across countries, to look at trends, use our judgment, and apply policies that that may help prevent problems in the housing sector.””
I will be keeping an eye on this website and the twitter hastag #HousingWatch. I expect some revealing and fascinating data to flow through here. Here are the charts posted on the site showing the relative valuations of housing across the globe. I highly encourage the reader to go directly to the website and browse for yourself. I also hope to write some pieces covering the housing markets in the UK, Canada, and Australia in particular in coming weeks and months.
Note well that the U.S. is NOT in bubble territory (in the aggregate)….