Saturday 30 January 2010

UK Property Market – January 2010 Update

I am yet to buy myself a flat or house even though the ownership of one is important to my retirement investing strategy in the longer term. The reason for this is that in my opinion UK house prices are still overvalued by a huge margin. Yesterday the Nationwide reported that average house prices had risen from £162,103 to £163,481, a rise of 0.8%, in a single month pushing house prices to yet more highs of un-affordability.

Chart 1 shows the Nationwide Historical House Prices in Real (ie inflation adjusted) terms. The Real increase is much less than that reported by the Nationwide with prices rising from only £163,140 to £163,481 as the UK Retail Prices Index (RPI) also increased by a high of 0.6% in a single month.

This chart also demonstrates that compared to average earnings property is very expensive when a ratio is created of the Nationwide Historical House Prices to the Average Earnings Index (LNMM) and it is for this reason I have yet to buy. In 1996 this ratio was as low as 607 and today the ratio stands at 1,172. If we were to return to that number the average house using the Nationwide Index would be £84,670. Will we ever get that low again?

Last month I questioned whether we may have been at the point of the ‘Return to “normal”’ phase kicking in. Chart 2 today highlights why I may have been early in my call. The red line shows the monthly average of UK resident banks interest rate of new loans secured on dwellings to households. I have taken the average of five data sets which are the floating rate, fixation <=1year, fixation >1year<=5years, fixation >5year<=10years and the fixation >10years. This interest rate had been as high as 6.3% in September 2008 (before the Bank of England panicked and lowered the Official Bank Rate to a record low of 0.5%) and then had reduced to a low of 4.2% by June 2009.

This has meant for new loans the average interest payable has reduced by a 1/3. So when a typical person walks in to a bank and asks for the maximum they can borrow the low interest rate is going to mean they can borrow more principle which will then push up house prices. The good news however is that even though the Bank of England has not moved, the Official Bank Rate the interest paid on loans is starting to increase from the low of 4.2% to 4.5% in November 2009. This will reduce affordability which unless peoples earnings start to increase should start to push house prices back down again and there is little the Bank of England can do unless they completely ignore inflation and drop interest rates even further or perform more Quantitative Easing. They clearly won’t be able to do this without risking a bond strike or hyperinflation however personally I do think they won’t raise interest rates even though inflation is rising quickly when they meet in a few days.

Chart 3 shows the annual change in Nationwide property prices and compares this with the change in the average earnings index extrapolated a couple of months to match the Nationwide time period as LNMM is still only released to November 2009. It shows that the annual change in earnings is now around 1.4% which is significantly less than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) and the increases being seen in house prices.

So in summary house prices are increasing in nominal and to a lesser extent in Real inflation adjusted terms. However in my opinion I suggest that these increases will be short lived. Salaries are increasing at a rate which is less than both inflation and house prices. Bank mortgage rates are starting to increase from their lows which will reduce the level of principle that can be borrowed. The Bank of England and government are powerless to do anything about it without risking the country as a whole. The only fear I have now is that the Bank of England holds interest rates allowing inflation to rise quickly (I think they will) resulting in nominal house price increases but stagnation in Real inflation adjusted house prices. This will be dependent on whether salaries start to increase in line with inflation. The private sector doesn’t seem in a position to do this however while government borrowing is at record highs I fear the government will listen to the Unions requests for big increases as they have an election win to try and buy.

For now I’m staying out of the housing market.

As always DYOR

LNMM data is extrapolated for December ’09 and January ’10.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Nationwide figures are narrowly-based. Try Acadametrics.