Thursday, July 03, 2008

Doom & Gloom

Maybe I just need to read and pass on all of this in order to get it out of my system. Anyway, I thought David McWilliams was excellent in this comparison of the Japanese experience with what may (will?) befall us.
Will Irish house prices fall back to levels seen in 2000/2001 or even to levels seen last century? Will our house prices drop by 70pc before they stabilise? These numbers need to be considered because there are plenty of reasons to be fearful.

The similarities between both Ireland and Japan are striking; the main difference is that the Japanese controlled their own interest rates and thus were able to cut them to soften the blow. As EU inflation topped 4pc this week, it looks likely that we will be facing higher not lower rates for the foreseeable future. Not good.

One similarity is the capacity for self-delusion and failure to face up to the magnitude of our crisis.

… When I read the silly valuations in the 'Irish Times' property section, particularly the "Take 5 at €400,000" section, I am reminded of the Japanese Imperial Palace delusion. Clearly a two up, two down in Rialto is not worth the same as a seven-bedroomed house in the Dordogne. Now that prices are falling rapidly, the idea that pokey Irish houses are worth more than French chateaux will look increasingly daft.

The other problem for Ireland is the sheer extremity of the housing boom. Irish house prices have risen 380pc since 1996, compared with 260pc in the UK -- the next frothiest market. House prices fell in Germany and of course Japan in the same period. While in Switzerland -- Europe's technically most sophisticated economy -- house prices only rose by 5pc in the 12 years since 1996.

As a result of this binge, Ireland is the most indebted nation in Europe. Outstanding residential mortgage debt now amounts to 192pc of our total GNP! This is truly shocking and depressing when you consider that in Germany, outstanding mortgage debt only amounts to 3pc of GNP.

Even in the US -- where many disingenuous Irish commentators are suggesting this crisis originated -- outstanding mortgage debt only accounts for 44pc of GNP.
192% of GNP. How long before one of the banks falls?
This is why the personal debt comparisons with Germany are so instructive. The German has no property-related debt to speak of. This means that the average Gunter doesn't really mind if European interest rates rise, as it will make no difference at all to his budget at the end of the month.

In contrast, the average Paddy, who has seen his personal property indebtedness rise by over 500pc since the late 1990s, will be roasted by a rise in rates.
The Celtic Sabertooth Tiger is extinct.