Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's Not Over Yet

The right-hand chart shows a better measure of housing fundamentals—the relationship between house prices and rents. This is a sort of price/earnings ratio for the housing market: the price of a house reflects the discounted value of future ownership, either as rental income or as rent saved by an owner who lives in the house.

A recent analysis by Morris Davis of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Andreas Lehnert and Robert Martin of the Fed, shows that the rent/price yield in America ranged between 5% and 5.5% from 1960 to 1995, but fell rapidly thereafter to reach a historic low of 3.5% at the height of the boom. Given the typical pace of rental growth, Mr Feroli reckons house prices (as measured by the Case-Shiller index) need to fall by 10-15% over the next year and a half for the rent/price yield to return to its historical average. Again, that suggests the national housing bust is only halfway through. And, given the scale of excess supply, house prices—particularly in hard hit areas—are likely to overshoot. All told, Mr Bernanke's maps are going to get a lot redder—and the pressure on policymakers to help struggling homeowners is bound to increase.
The rent/price yield is the statistic that made me believe we were in a housing bubble and it is the one I will use to determine when we are out of it.

via The Economist

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