Money supply fuelling house prices

16/11/2020

Friends on Waiheke Island took us to visit friends of theirs who were selling their house on a 900 square metre section.

The asking price was $500,000.

“How many stock units could you run on the lawn?” my farmer asked, knowing at the time we were buying a neighbour’s farm of about 120 hectares with a house and wool shed for less than that.

Town and country property prices have gone up a lot in the two decades since then. House prices increased nearly 20% in the last year.

The steep climb is largely a function of supply and demand. There are far fewer houses for sale than there are buyers in the market.

Immigration has plummeted so we can’t blame that.

We can point some of the blame at the national lockdown in March and the more recent Auckland one that put a dampener on new builds, adding to the delays and costs caused by the RMA and building regulations.

But David Law at the New Zealand initiative says loose monetary policy is the bigger culprit.

. . . The Reserve Bank is undertaking a $100 billon programme of quantitative easing. The Official Cash Rate (OCR) is also now at a record low, reduced from 1% to 0.25% in March. These two decisions alone will lift returns on investment in housing and increase pressure on house prices, particularly as supply is constrained.

If the Government cares about fixing housing affordability, it should start by being clear on the reasons for those high prices.

Former Finance Minister Steven Joyce is also concerned about housing for the haves and no relief for the have nots:

. . . People can afford the repayments on a bigger mortgage so they bid up the sticker price on the house, while others look for any sort of asset yield that’s bigger than the derisory amounts available from bank deposits.

There is now much more recognition that ultra-low interest rates are driving high asset prices including house prices, but so far much less will to do anything about it. . . 

The Prime Minister has shown concern and said prices can’t keep going up at the rate they have been but her concern hasn’t translated into any practical solution to the problem/

Covid-19 is the big driver of the current economic recession, but the government’s policy response isn’t helping.

By continuing to invoke lockdowns at the drop of a hat, mandating big minimum wage and public sector pay increases, pursuing the adoption of the so-called living wage, increasing holiday pay and pushing myriad other anti-employment measures, there is no doubt that the economy will respond with more sluggish employment growth than would otherwise be the case.

In turn monetary policy has more work to do to maintain progress towards the full employment goal. Say hello to even lower interest rates for longer; and ever more nonsensical asset prices, especially houses.

It is a big irony that government policies that often seek to boost the fortunes of the low paid end up helping to trap them in a hand to mouth existence, with no way to break the cycle and get on the home ownership ladder. . . 

Worse, higher house prices lead to higher rents which makes it harder for low income renters to make ends meet and for higher income renters to save for a deposit to buy a home.

The simple fact is that under current policy settings, micro-economic policies that attempt to artificially boost incomes beyond what businesses and the economy can afford will simply end up driving a bigger wedge between the haves and the have nots in terms of asset prices and wealth, through the mechanism of ever lower interest rates. We are chasing our tails.

Anything which increases the supply of money and lowers the cost of borrowing without increasing the supply of houses will drive up prices.

The Reserve Bank is trying to stimulate the economy by encouraging businesses to invest and expand but government-mandated increase in wages and sick leave have the opposite affect.

And any positive impact from the lower OCR is more than outweighed by the inflationary pressure low interest rates are putting on house prices.

The house we looked at on Waiheke Island would be selling for far more than $500,000 now. The farm we bought has increased in value too but it’s a productive asset supporting jobs and earning export income.

A house provides a home but it produces nothing and the rampant price increases of owning one is producing misery.


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