Global bubble maestro, Jeremy Grantham has responded to the deluge of criticism coming from such housing interests as CBA and Christopher Joye. Here is the money extract and full newsletter below:
I happily concede that the U.K. and Australian housing events are not your usual bubbles. Australia, though, does pass one bubble test spectacularly: we have always found that pointing out a bubble – particularly a housing bubble – is very upsetting. After all, almost everyone has a house and, not surprisingly, likes the idea that its recent doubling in value accurately reﬂects its doubling in service provided, e.g., it keeps the rain out better than it used to, etc. Just kidding. So, the house is the same. Perhaps the quality of the land has changed? In any case, Australians violently object to the idea that their houses, which have doubled in value in 8 years and quadrupled in 21, are in a bubble.
The U.K. and Australia are different partly because neither had a big increase in house construction. That is to say that the normal capitalist response of supply to higher prices failed. Such failure usually represents some form of government intervention. In Australia, for example, the national government sets the immigration policy, which has encouraged boatloads of immigration, while the local governments refuse to encourage offsetting home construction. There has also been an unprecedentedly long period of economic boom in Australia, and the terms of trade have moved in its favor. And, let’s not forget the $22,000 subsidy for new buyers. But does anyone think that bubbles occur without a cause? They always need two catalysts: a near-perfect economic situation and accommodating monetary conditions. The problem is that we live in a mean-reverting world where all of these things eventually change. The key question to ask is: Can a new cohort of young buyers afford to buy starter houses in your city at normal mortgage rates and normal down payment conditions? If not, the game is over and we are just waiting for the ref to blow the whistle. In Australia’s case, the timing and speed of the decline is very uncertain, but the outcome is inevitable. For example, the average buyer in Sydney has to pay at least 7.5 times income for the average house, and estimates range as high as 9 times.
With current mortgage rates at 7.5%, this means that the average buyer would have to chew up 56% of total income (7.5 x 7.5), and the new buyer even more. Good luck to them! In the U.K., which also has ﬂ oating rate mortgages and, in this case, artiﬁ cially low ones, the crunch for new buyers will come when mortgage rates rise to normal. But even now, with desperately low rates, the percentage of new buyers is down. Several of these factors, which do not apply to equities, make for aberrant bubbles, and clearly the Australian and U.K. housing markets ﬁt the bill. In comparison, the U.S. and Irish housing bubbles behaved themselves. So let’s see what happens and not get too excited. After all, these may be the ﬁ rst of 34 bubbles not to break back to long-term trend. There may be paradigm shifts. Oil looks like one, but oil is a depleting resource. If we could just start depleting Australian land, all might work out well.