It’s congratulations all around to global central banks today as the seer of the GFC, Nouriel Roubini, returns to declare the obvious, that the global housing bubble that brought the global economy to its knees is back, and it’s bad! From Project Syndicate:
It is widely agreed that a series of collapsing housing-market bubbles triggered the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, along with the severe recession that followed.
…Now, five years later, signs of frothiness, if not outright bubbles, are reappearing in housing markets in Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, back for an encore, the UK (well, London). In emerging markets, bubbles are appearing in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Israel, and in major urban centers in Turkey, India, Indonesia, and Brazil.
…With central banks – especially in advanced economies and the high-income emerging economies – wary of using policy rates to fight bubbles, most countries are relying on macro-prudential regulation and supervision of the financial system to address frothy housing markets. That means lower loan-to-value ratios, stricter mortgage-underwriting standards, limits on second-home financing, higher counter-cyclical capital buffers for mortgage lending, higher permanent capital charges for mortgages, and restrictions on the use of pension funds for down payments on home purchases.
In most economies, these macro-prudential policies are modest, owing to policymakers’ political constraints: households, real-estate developers, and elected officials protest loudly when the central bank or the regulatory authority in charge of financial stability tries to take away the punch bowl of liquidity…To be clear, macro-prudential restrictions are certainly called for; but they have been inadequate to control housing bubbles.
…But the global economy’s new housing bubbles may not be about to burst just yet, because the forces feeding them – especially easy money and the need to hedge against inflation – are still fully operative. Moreover, many banking systems have bigger capital buffers than in the past, enabling them to absorb losses from a correction in home prices; and, in most countries, households’ equity in their homes is greater than it was in the US subprime mortgage bubble. But the higher home prices rise, the further they will fall – and the greater the collateral economic and financial damage will be – when the bubble deflates.
In countries where non-recourse loans allow borrowers to walk away from a mortgage when its value exceeds that of their home, the housing bust may lead to massive defaults and banking crises. In countries (for example, Sweden) where recourse loans allow seizure of household income to enforce payment of mortgage obligations, private consumption may plummet as debt payments (and eventually rising interest rates) crowd out discretionary spending. Either way, the result would be the same: recession and stagnation.