In recent months several countries have experimented with measures to cool bubbly property markets. Yet since The Economist’s global round-up of housing markets was last published in April, house-price inflation has accelerated in some of the very countries where the authorities have intervened to slow its rise.
Asia has been at the forefront of such interventions. In February Singapore’s government raised down-payment requirements and imposed stamp duties on all residential properties sold within a year of purchase in a bid to curb speculation. Despite these steps prices in the island nation rose by nearly 40% in the year to the end of the second quarter, after a rise of just over 25% in the year to the end of the first quarter. Singapore has overtaken Hong Kong to become the frothiest housing market among those we monitor.
House prices in Australia rose by 20% in the year to the end of the first quarter, faster than the 13.5% recorded in the 12 months to late 2009. More concerning, however, is our analysis of “fair value” in housing, which is based on comparing the current ratio of house prices to rents with its long-term average. By this measure Australian property is the most overvalued of any of the 20 countries we track. A frothy property market was one of the reasons for the Reserve Bank of Australia raising interest rates six times between October and May. Since then, the bank has become more sanguine about the state of the market. It cited “some signs that the earlier buoyancy in the housing market was easing” when keeping interest rates on hold in June.
China’s property-cooling measures, meanwhile, which were similar to Singapore’s, were announced in April. Our house-price figures for China now extend to the end of May. They help explain why the Chinese government had become more concerned. Year-on-year house-price inflation peaked in April at 12.8%, but has since moderated a bit.