The euro area is at risk of a new real estate bubble as a result of expansionary monetary policy from the European Central Bank (ECB), Commerzbankanalysts have warned.
The ECB council meets on Thursday June 6, and is likely to decide on the details of the third edition of its targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO-III) program, a series of Eurosystem operations that provide financing to credit institutions for periods of up to four years.
TLTROs offer long-term funding at attractive conditions to banks in order to encourage them to lend capital to the real economy.
The central bank has faced calls from some corners of the market for fresh stimulative measures to aid the anemic European economy, and the third round of TLTROs represent a continuation of its expansionary monetary course.
“With a view to low core inflation, some policies are often passed off as a free lunch,” a note from Commerzbank senior economists Dr Ralph Solveen and Dr Jorg Kramer said in a note Friday.
“Yet the ECB’s expansionary monetary policy has a cost and it comes in the form of higher house prices, which already appear expensive in some countries, and the threat of a property price bubble is a real possibility.”Rising house prices
Commerzbank highlighted that house prices have been rising rapidly in the majority of eurozone economies, including the large economies of Germany, Belgium and France. With an increase of around 4.5% in the course of 2018, Germany was slightly above average in terms of rising house prices, while Slovenia and Latvia saw double-digit rises. Portugal, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all rose at almost 10% rates.
Yet Commerzbank analysts anticipate that ECB interest rates will remain in negative territory for the foreseeable future, further heightening the threat of a real estate bubble.
“The relation between house prices and rents, a frequently used measure for the valuation of real estate, has risen by more than 10% since early 2015. This is less than 5% below its level at the beginning of 2008, when the housing market in some euro area countries had formed considerable bubbles,” the note stated.
Commerzbank expects that if the ECB maintains its monetary policy stance until the end of 2020, average house prices will exceed pre-crisis levels.Falling debt and no building boom
Solveen and Kramer pointed out that the strength of impact of a bursting price bubble on the real economy depends, in part, on the extent to which rising house prices are accompanied by rising debt and a construction boom.
The euro zone as a whole is not yet in this position, the analysts suggested, with private household debt relative to GDP falling steadily across most of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), although Belgium and France were noted as exceptions.
There is also no question of a construction boom, the economists highlighted, and the share of residential construction investment in eurozone GDP is now significantly lower than at the beginning of 2008.
“The situation is somewhat different in Germany, where the rise in prices in recent years has been accompanied by a sharp rise in construction investment and bottlenecks are increasingly occurring in the construction sector,” the Commerzbank note stated.
“However, the share of residential construction investment in GDP is still lower than at the beginning of the monetary union, and there was certainly no construction boom in Germany at that time.”
As the housing market shifts further in favor of homebuyers, Ellie Mae’slatest Millennial Tracker Survey reveals that purchase requests from Millennials increased to 87% of all purchase requests made in February, a 2% increase from January.
The survey also revealed that although conventional loans continue to be the most popular loan product among the generation, they fell slightly to 68% of all loans.
Interest in refinances fell two percentage points from the previous month, coming in at 11% of all loans for Millennial borrowers.
“The percentage of purchase loans is on the rise with Millennials continuing to enter the homebuying market for their first or maybe even second purchase,” Executive Vice President of Strategy and Technology Joe Tyrrell said. “The increase in days-to-close we saw in February is relative to the percentage increase in purchases versus refinances, as purchases typically take longer to close.
According to the survey, it typically took Millennials 46 days to close on conventional loans, which is the longest average time to close since January 2017. Among conventional loans closed by Millennials in February, it typically took the generation 44 and 53 days to close on a purchase and refinance loans, respectively.
Notably, the Millennial Tracker also discovered that the average time to close on all loans decreased to 42 days in February. During the same period, the average closing time on FHA loans fell to 42 days, while the average time to close on VA loans increased to 59 days month-to-month.
Lastly, the survey highlighted that the average FICO score for Millennial borrowers edged up to 723 in January, rising from 722 in January, according to Ellie Mae.
In July 2018, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced its intention to levy tariffs on a series of imports from China. USTR rolled out proposed tariffs in three waves, with the third list (List 3) covering approximately $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The List 3 goods comprises 5745 items, approximately 450 of which are commonly used in the residential construction industry.
The NAHB economics department examined the imports identified on List 3 and published a special study that estimated the economic effects that the proposed 10-percent tariff would have on the residential construction industry. The value of the 450 building materials included on List 3 is roughly $10 billion. A 10-percent tariff on these goods, therefore, represented a $1 billion tax increase on the housing industry.
One of the questions going into the fourth quarter of 2018 was to what extent the tariffs—even the announcement of intent to levy tariffs in the future—would affect the amount of imports of building materials and construction supplies. As the recently released January 2019 trade data show, the effects of both tariffs levied, as well as announcement of future tariffs, have been substantial.
To analyze these effects, the average monthly change in import value of the 450 items between 2011 and 2017 was compared to monthly changes from January 2018 through January 2019. The “floating” nature of major Chinese holidays affecting capital flows necessitated comparison to the historical average in order to smooth out holiday induced seasonal effects that may occur in different months in different years.
As illustrated in the figure below, the largest disparities between trade flows in 2018 and the 2011-2017 period occurred in April and December 2018.
Although the 2018 study on building materials imports focused on List 3, some goods used in residential construction were affected by the section 232 tariffs (i.e. tariffs levied based on national security concerns) imposed on certain steel and aluminum imports (25 percent and 10 percent, respectively). These tariffs went into effect in March 2018 and clearly had an effect on April 2018 imports from China.
When the USTR announced tariffs to be levied on List 3 beginning September 24th, 2018, the office also announced that the tariff rate would be time sensitive. Although the tariff would initially be set at 10 percent, that rate had a planned increase to 25 percent on January 1st, 2019 in the event that China and the United States could not resolve their differences by the end of the year.
Expectations of a substantial tariff rate increasingly took hold as it was reported that the two countries were not making meaningful progress in negotiations. The data indicate that these expectations brought the timing of imports forward (to December) in order to avoid the increase.
On December 17th, 2018, however, President Trump announced that the rate hike would be delayed to March. Consequently, the data show that imports of building materials declined more than 20 percent in January 2019—in stark contrast to the historical 15-percent increase seen in January.
The President delayed the tariff rate increase indefinitely on February 24, 2019, citing “substantial progress” in trade talks between American and Chinese officials. NAHB will continue to monitor import data releases to examine the possible effects of that announcement.
Millennials are finding it increasingly difficult to become first-time buyers. Even for those that have managed to find (albeit shaky) footing on the housing market, it’s not easy. Moving to a bigger and better house is often out of the question, for example. But millennials are a crafty lot; if moving isn’t an option, why not remodel? In fact, over 25% of millennials are choosing to do just that. In this article, we focus on what they decide to focus their remodelling energies on.
As we’ve already mentioned, millennials are either choosing or being forced to stay in their homes. With moving an impossibility, even with growing families, millennials have had to get creative with maximizing space:
Function first. Style is important, but if space comes at a premium, then function is the first thing on the millennial’s mind.
Storage everywhere. Hooks against kitchen walls to hang pots and pans. Drawers under the couch. Pull-out closets. Cabinets against the ceiling. You get the drill.
Natural light. Sometimes it’s impossible to create extra space. So why not the next best thing? Adding a window or skylight can give you the illusion of a bigger home.
ENJOYING OUTDOOR SPACE
Millennials are massively investing in their gardens. In fact, it’s becoming kinda cool, with millennials now spending more on average than their parents. Growing vegetables is definitely becoming a thing, with millennials liking growing their own organic food. It’s tastier, better for the environment, and it’s a fun project to get involved in.
Millennials don’t tend to live in homes with a lot of outdoor space. Gardens are like gold dust, so it’s no surprise that if they manage to get their hands on one, millennials take care of it.They spend a lot of time researching sustainable designs and plants to occupy it.
LOW MAINTENANCE BEATS STYLE
Millennials are big on homes that don’t really take much effort to maintain. They want practical homes built with eco-friendly products. Homes that are built with cheap and sturdy materials, rather than the stylish but overpriced stuff. Here are two examples of what we’re talking about:
Hard flooring, not carpet. Carpets are expensive, get stained easily, will only be in decent condition for a few years tops (less if you have kids!), and it doesn’t look as cool as hardwood flooring.
Metal roof. Tiles have the traditional vibe going for them, but they’re more annoying to maintain than metal roofing. And it doesn’t have to look worse either; many of the newer metal roof varieties are modern and slick.
SMART TECHNOLOGY IS THE SMART CHOICE
Millennials are huge on tech, so it’s no surprise that many of them are turning to smart technology to transform their homes. And it’s not just buying an Amazon Echo. These are some remodelling upgrades that help millennials smarten up their homes:
USB outlets. Power outlets aren’t enough these days.
Built-in speaker systems. When it’s challenging to find space in smaller homes, solutions like built-in speaker systems are a cool way to solve the problem.
Motion sensors. Security is important, especially for millennials living in the big cities where break-ins are a little more common.
Smart thermostats. Not only to save bills, but these also help the environment by limiting your energy usage to when you actually need it.
State officials held hearings last week into Con Ed’s ban on new natural-gas customers in much of Westchester, but it’s the state itself that blocked new gas pipelines. What’d anyone expect?
Now, it turns out, the county’s nightmare may begin sooner than thought: When Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who represents southern Westchester, asked Con Ed if it could delay the ban (set for March 15), the utility was frank: Supply and demand determine whether there’s enough gas, it said. So shortages could occur even beforethen.
Paulin isn’t the only one worried: “A March 15 deadline is just far too soon,” warned County Executive George Latimer. And the ban could choke an economic comeback in Westchester. “A moratorium of no new hookups would create a very chilling effect” on the “revival” in New Rochelle, Yonkers and White Plains.
Yet Con Ed has been warning for a long time now. In 2017, it tried to get the Public Service Commission to let it offer incentives to pipeline developers, who feared being denied permits — but was turned down.
The PSC denies that Con Ed came to it with any “pipeline solution,” Paulin said, but public documents show that’s not so.
Let’s face it: Even if the state forced Con Ed to sign up new customers, the utility still couldn’t deliver gas it doesn’t have.
Yet this disaster is entirely self-inflicted. To suck up to climate-change radicals, who hope to do away with all fossil-fuel-based energy, Gov. Cuomo has been slow to OK new pipelines. In response, pipeline companies have lost interest in New York.
Absent new gas supplies, businesses and residents will shun the county. No one will freeze, but Westchester faces new economic drag.
And New York City’s not far behind.
One hope: a court ruling last month that states can’t use their water-quality certification process to delay federal licensing of hydropower plants. “The scope of the ruling enhances the odds” that the Constitution pipeline will be built, notes Rob Rains of Washington Analysis. Constitution’s sponsors want the court to rule against New York efforts to block the pipeline.
Alas, anti-pipeline foes are gaining steam in New York. Last year, city Comptroller Scott Stringer bucked labor unions to denounce the plan for the Northeast Supply Enhancement pipeline, a source of natural gas that’s vital to the city’s growth. At least seven public-advocate wannabes have now joined him.
Maybe they want to send city folks fleeing, much as a dead economy has Upstaters doing. Then again, if everyone leaves, there’ll be no need for natural gas . .
Pending home sales declined as a whole in December, but for the second straight month the Western region experienced a slight increase, according to the National Association of Realtors®.
The Pending Home Sales Index,* www.nar.realtor/pending-home-sales, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, decreased 2.2 percent to 99.0 in December, down from 101.2 in November. Additionally, year-over-year contract signings fell 9.8 percent, making this the twelfth straight month of annual decreases.
Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, cited several reasons for the decline in pending sales. “The stock market correction hurt consumer confidence, record high home prices cut into affordability and mortgage rates were higher in October and November for consumers signing contracts in December,” he said.
All four major regions experienced a decline compared to one year ago, with the South sustaining the largest decrease.
Yun says so far, the partial government shutdown has not caused any obvious damage to home sales. “Seventy-five percent of Realtors® reported that they haven’t yet felt the impact of the government closure. However, if another government shutdown takes place, it will lead to fewer homes sold,” he said.
According to Yun, as the government reopens, more mortgage options will come available for consumers. “Some home transactions were delayed, but we now expect those sales to go forward,” he said.
Still, there is growth in certain pockets. Yun cited year-over-year increases in active listings from data at realtor.com® to illustrate a potential rise in inventory. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, Colo., Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Wash., San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif., San Diego-Carlsbad, Calif., and Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, Ore.-Wash. saw the largest increase in active listings in December compared to a year ago.
Yun says despite the low home sales in December, he is confident that the housing market will see improvement in 2019. “The longer-term growth potential is high. The Federal Reserve announced a change in its stance on monetary policy. Rather than four rate hikes, there will likely be only one increase or even no increase at all. This has already spurred a noticeable fall in the 30-year, fixed-rate for mortgages. As a result, the forecast for home transactions has greatly improved, “Yun said.
December Pending Home Sales Regional Breakdown
The PHSI in the Northeast rose 2.0 percent to 93.2 in December, and is now 2.5 percent below a year ago. In the Midwest, the index fell 0.6 percent to 97.5 in December, 7.2 percent lower than December 2017.
Pending home sales in the South fell 5 percent to an index of 109.7 in December, which is 13.5 percent lower than a year ago. The index in the West increased 1.7 percent in December to 88.4 and fell 10.8 percent below a year ago.
The National Association of Realtors® is America’s largest trade association, representing more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.
*The Pending Home Sales Index is a leading indicator for the housing sector, based on pending sales of existing homes. A sale is listed as pending when the contract has been signed but the transaction has not closed, though the sale usually is finalized within one or two months of signing.
The index is based on a large national sample, typically representing about 20 percent of transactions for existing-home sales. In developing the model for the index, it was demonstrated that the level of monthly sales-contract activity parallels the level of closed existing-home sales in the following two months.
An index of 100 is equal to the average level of contract activity during 2001, which was the first year to be examined. By coincidence, the volume of existing-home sales in 2001 fell within the range of 5.0 to 5.5 million, which is considered normal for the current U.S. population.
Pending home sales declined slightly in November on an annualized basis for the eleventh straight month. The Pending Home Sales Index decreased by 0.7% from 102.1 in October to 101.4 in November, and was 7.7% below the level one year ago. The Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) is a forward-looking indicator based on signed contracts reported by the National Association of Realtors (NAR).
According to NAR, the decline in PHSI may not fully capture the current situation, as it did not reflect the impact of recent favorable conditions mortgage rates. But the housing market has been slowing down this year due to rising mortgage rates.
The PHSI increased 2.7% and 2.8% in the Northeast and West, but decreased 2.3% and 2.7% in the Midwest and South. Year-over-year, the PHSI declined in all regions, ranging from a decline of 3.5% in the Northeast to a decrease of 12.2% in the West. NAR stated that the annual drop in the West may be explained by the growing concerns of affordability due to rapidly increasing home prices in the region.
Existing sales slightly increased in November, but builder confidence fell in December to its lowest value since May 2015 as concerns over housing affordability persist. However, NAR anticipates a solid long-term prospect for home sales, as the current home sales level matches sales in 2000 while more jobs are created now compared to the early 2000’s.
HAVANA — Rafael Álvarez was up at 6:30 a.m. to warm milk for his baby daughter when he heard the sound of pebbles falling.
“That’s when the floor below us came loose. We were left hanging in the air, then fell into the abyss.”
Álvarez, 41, a baker, was buried in rubble to his waist. His mother, daughter and two others were killed when the 101-year-old building collapsed.
“Save the babies!” were his mother’s last words, he said.
In Havana, some of the same architectural gems that draw tens of thousands of American tourists crash to the ground every year. Causes range from weather and neglect to faulty renovations and theft of structural beams.
Carlos Guerrero, 45, said he and his family live “like scared dogs” in a crumbling building along Merced Street.
Neighbors tell them, “Get out of there! It’s going to collapse!”
“It makes you feel like going and living under a bridge,” said Guerrero, who vows to grab a machete and seek revenge on housing officials if anything happens to his wife and three children.
Some 3,856 partial or total building collapses were reported in Havana from 2000 to 2013, not including 2010 and 2011 when no records were kept.
The collapses worsened an already severe housing shortage. Havana alone had a deficit of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show.
The housing crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who vowed to improve housing after taking charge of the communist nation of 11 million people in April.
Havana, a city of about 2 million people, had a shortage of 206,000 homes in 2016, official figures show. (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)
Havana officials have won dozens of international awards for their work to restore the historic sector known as Old Havana, with styles ranging from Baroque and neoclassical to Art Deco.
UNESCO calls Old Havana one of Latin America’s “most notable” historic city centers and named it a World Heritage site in 1982.
Havana officials use tourism revenue to renovate many architectural treasures, but can’t keep up with the decay.
Officials estimate 28,000 people live in buildings that could collapse at any moment. Some residents refuse to leave structures that authorities have declared unsafe.
“Of course we’re scared but what are we going to do?” said Yanelis Flores, 42, who rejected a government offer to move into a shelter.
“I will wait for a house,” said Flores from the eighth floor of the former Hotel Astor, which had American management and 200 rooms in the 1930s.
Today, daylight shines through terrifying cracks in the walls.
“This is worse than a pig pen,” Flores said. “It’s rotting.”
The third-floor staircase collapsed in April 2017.
“It was a tremendous explosion – boom!” second-floor resident Yuslemy Díaz recalled. “People on the third and fourth floors were stranded because they couldn’t get down. It was a madhouse.”
Workers brought in a truck-mounted crane to deliver meals to stranded residents.
They built a makeshift wooden staircase. Authorities began relocating residents on the 9th and 10th floors.
Díaz, 32, a manicurist, is eager to move.
‘You live with fear’
“The moment it starts to rain and a little stone falls next to you, you think it was the building. You live with fear. A building doesn’t tell you, ‘I’m going to fall tomorrow at 3 p.m.’ It falls – boom! – at any time day or night. It doesn’t warn you.”
Before the stairway failure, residents say, people had been prying valuable marble tiles from the walls, weakening the staircase.
Yunier Angulo, 31, a butcher, left the building seconds before the stairway crumbled. A man just behind him was seriously hurt.
Angulo’s friends told him he was lucky. “You were born that day,” they said. But he doesn’t feel any safer and said he sleeps “with one eye open and the other closed.”
“The building could collapse tomorrow. It gets worse every day.”
Across town, Leydis Castro, 77, has a leaky ceiling, but refuses to ask for a handout. “The government doesn’t have a duty to fix everyone’s house.”
Her neighbors disagreed and wouldn’t pay a cent when the city offered repairs in exchange for a monthly fee, she said.
Fidel Castro promised to demolish “hellish tenements” and build safe, modern housing when he took power in 1959.
Today, Magaly Marrero, 65, said her apartment is so bad that she showers in the kitchen and relieves herself in a bucket.
“Sometimes I say, ‘God, how long will I live in these conditions?’ This is no life,” she said. “What can I aspire to? To die buried because one day the roof comes down and crushes me?”
No deaths, injuries data
Cuban officials don’t release figures on those killed or injured in building collapses.
Álvarez, the baker, said before his second-story apartment came down on July 15, 2015, workers on the ground floor had been using a jackhammer to strip the walls to the brick. He said cracks from below began inching toward his apartment. His mother complained, but city inspectors said the workers weren’t to blame.
Álvarez said his wife, Lizbett, 41, fell head first into the rubble during the building collapse and was in a coma for 22 days. She recovered, but doesn’t like talking about the episode and won’t walk past 409 Havana Street where her home once stood.
Álvarez fractured his spine in three places, but dismissed his injuries and praised the victims.
Rafael Álvarez said his mother who was killed in the building collapse taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.” (Photo: Tracey Eaton, Special to USA TODAY)
He said his mother, Mayra Páez, 60, shouted “Save the babies!” until her voice grew silent.
Rescuers told him she suffocated. She was a former nurse, “much loved in the neighborhood,” her son said.
She taught him “to be strong, to persevere. To be a good person, to get along with everyone.”
No one could save his daughter, Genolan, 3. She was “a happy girl,” her father said. “She talked all the time and danced a lot.”
His nephew, Jorge Álvarez, 18, wanted to be a welder.
“He was my life,” his uncle said.
The teenager’s girlfriend, Glendys Kindelán, had just turned 18. Her mother, Yaima Kindelán, said she frantically searched for her daughter at hospitals before finding her body, wrapped in gauze at a funeral home.
“I couldn’t see her face,” she said.
She said her daughter “a very respectful girl, a student” who dressed as a nurse for a photo shoot on her 15th birthday. Her mom joined her as a police officer.
The teen had two dogs, Yonky and Princesa, who rarely left her side. “Having those little animals that she loved so much, she wanted to become a veterinarian,” Kindelán said.
After the accident, authorities investigated an architect and four others who had planned to open a fast-food restaurant at the site.
This summer, authorities told Álvarez they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute anyone.
“I started to cry. I expected that justice would be done. They said, ‘Calm down, sir. Calm down. Do you want some water?’
The U.S. housing sector is falling apart, and the Federal Reserve is all but ignoring the damage as it prepares for what many expect to be three rate hikes in 2019, CNBC’s Jim Cramer warned Friday.
“The housing sector’s a disaster,” Cramer said on “Closing Bell.” “We’re building about half the houses we did when the country had half the people, and we still can’t sell them. KB Home does a huge amount of housing in California. They can’t sell them. ”
The Fed’s interest rate hikes have contributed to the surge in mortgage rates, which in October jumped above 5 percent. The central bank has said it plans to hike rates in December of this year — a move Cramer supports — and three more times in 2019.
“I favor a rate hike, and then I’d like to wait. In what world is that irrational?” Cramer said Friday. “Affordability’s gotten out of control. [The Fed members] know that. We have affordability data. But they don’t want to focus on the things they should.”
That lack of rigor is leading the Fed to make decisions that are “not safe” and “irresponsible” when it comes to the U.S. economy, the “Mad Money” host said, echoing his earlier point that the Fed needs to do more homework.
“We shouldn’t look upon them as if they have great information. They had such bad information in 2007,” Cramer said. “They have this judgment that the economy’s great. It’s an irresponsible, non-empirical judgment. It’s anecdotal. It has not a lot of homework. And I favor rigor. I think rigor is what matters, sophistication and rigor. And they’re unsophisticated, and they’re non-rigorous, and I would rip up their homework and tell them to go home.”
According to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, the share of new homes started with 5,000 square feet or more of living space stood at 3.08 percent in 2017, essentially unchanged from 3.05 percent in 2016. The total number of 5,000+ square-foot homes started in absolute terms was 26,000, up from 24,000 in 2016.
In 2015, the number of 5,000+ square feet homes started was the highest since 2007, and their share of the new market was the highest since the inception of the series in 1999. In the boom year of 2006, 3.04% or 45,000 new homes started were 5,000 square feet or larger. In 2007, the share of new homes this size was 3.56%, yet the total number that year fell to 37,000. In 2008, only 20,000 such homes were started, or 3.24% of the total. From 2009 to 2012, the number of these large homes started remained well under 20,000 a year and accounted for less than 3% of all new single-family construction during this period.
A previous post discussed a recent, slight downward trend in the median and average size of new single-family homes evident in quarterly data and attributed this to an expansion in the entry-level segment. The post concludes that home size is expected to trend lower. Some growth is possible at the upper tail of the size distribution, however, even if the overall average is trending in the opposite direction.
When analyzed by the different characteristics, 80 percent of 5,000+ square feet home started in 2017 have a porch, 74 percent have a finished basement, 68 percent have a 3-or-more car garage, 63 percent have a patioand more than half (56 percent) have a community association. Fifty-eight percent of the homes have 5 bedrooms or more and 73 percent have 4 bathrooms or more.