2 Oct 2009

Congratulations! How the warming housing market is underpinned by your taxes.

House prices are back at 2008 levels. On average the value of our castles are now back where they were before the Lehman calamity.

So is it hooray! three cheers! and high fives all around?

Well, no. First, as has been widely commented this average number from the Nationwide, masks huge regional variations. Second, this trend is partly driven by still low levels of housing supply. Third, abnormally low interest rates and high profit margins are tempting some banks back into the game. And last, as I have said before, these greenshoots are most definitely the result of a long period of nurture in an expensive government greenhouse.

Now I can’t be sure that it is an active aim of government policy to foster rising house prices. However there can be no doubt that in the absence of Bailout 2.0 in January and the emergence of the monumental Asset Protection Scheme, RBS, Natwest, Lloyds, Halifax and Bank of Scotland, would be engaged in a huge deleveraging process. They would have slashed back on mortgage provision, and arguably even be looking to force remortgagers off their books with penal interest rates like Northern Rock was doing during 2008. The Asset Protection Scheme has forestalled this, enabling the affected banks to expand lending and I would argue has helped put a floor under house price declines.

Whether it is actually sensible to put public money into stopping a house price slump is another question, one that should but probably won’t feature in the election campaign. For now, suffice to say, that those who are cheering the return of average house prices to pre-meltdown levels, should probably recognise that this return is underpinned by their own taxes.