MacroScope

The Mark and George show

The Mansion House dinner in the City of London is one of Britain’s big set-pieces of the year featuring speeches by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and finance minister George Osborne.

Carney will be speaking a week before the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee meets and is expected to road test its new tools to calm the housing market. Among other measures, the BoE could recommend caps on the size of home loans granted in relation to a property’s value or a borrower’s salary.

There have been some signs of demand for mortgages slowing of late but London – the real hotspot – is being fuelled by an influx of foreign money which does not require a home loan to buy. The FPC could also suggest the government curbs its “Help to Buy” scheme which helps Britons get on the property ladder.

The International Monetary Fund has urged Britain to rein in risky mortgages to avert the risk of a property bubble. The latest housing survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, released overnight, showed house prices rose faster than expected in May but are expected to increase less over the next year as tighter lending conditions and concerns about the market weigh on demand.

Bank of England policymaker Ben Broadbent said yesterday that the housing market posed the greatest threat to Britain’s financial stability but that it so far bore little resemblance to debt-fuelled booms of the past.

Why EU elections can matter

Some interesting action over the weekend: in a foretaste of this week’s EU elections, Greece’s leftist, anti-bailout Syriza party performed strongly in the first round of local elections on Sunday, capitalizing on voter anger at ongoing government austerity policies.

If it did even better in the EU polls it could threaten the ruling coalition and tip Greece back into turmoil just as there are signs that it has turned the corner.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney sounded dramatically more alarmed about Britain’s housing market, saying it posed the biggest risk to the economy and harboured deep structural problems.

Housing boom and bust lesson still not sinking in

Housing markets are booming again in parts of the U.S. and Britain and they haven’t stopped doing so in Canada for the better part of a generation.

What is most striking about the latest round, at least when you listen to those who ought to know, is how nothing much except the price has changed.

We were told a stern lesson in the months and years after the financial crisis, borne out of an over-inflated, over-leveraged U.S. housing market securitised up to the scalp by Wall Street and leaping ever higher up a steeper incline on a blind instinct never to look back.

French travails

The Bank of France’s monthly report forecasts growth of 0.4 percent in the last three months of the year, up from an anaemic 0.1 percent in the third quarter. That still makes for a fairly doleful 2013 as a whole.

France is zooming up the euro zone’s worry list, largely because of its timid approach to labour and pension reforms. Spain has been much more aggressive and is seeing the benefits in terms of rising exports (and, admittedly, sky-high unemployment). So too has Portugal.

Tellingly, both the Iberian countries have had the outlook on their credit ratings raised to stable in recent days while S&P cut France’s rating to AA from AA+. It remains at a far stronger level but the differing directions of travel are clear.

Forever blowing bubbles?

UK finance minister George Osborne is speaking at a Reuters event today, Bank of England Deputy Governor Charlie Bean addresses a conference and we get September’s public finance figures. For Osborne, there are so many question to ask but Britain’s frothy housing market is certainly near the top of the list.

The government is extending its “help to buy” scheme at a time when house prices, in London at least, seem to be going through the roof (no pun intended). Property website Rightmove said on Monday that asking prices for homes in the capital jumped 10.2 percent in the last month alone.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has suggested the Bank’s Financial Policy Committee should cap house price inflation at 5 percent a year. A Bank of England policymaker retorted that it wasn’t down to his colleagues to regulate prices.

Britain’s Help to Buy – what the forecasters say

Now Britain’s housing market is showing real signs of life, should the government abandon its “Help to Buy” scheme to boost access to the market for homebuyers?

Economists and property analysts polled by Reuters over the last week were split. Two weeks ago, a majority of economists put the chances of another UK housing bubble forming at 50 percent or greater, catalysed by the Help to Buy programme.

Here’s a few comments on either side of the debate. Cancel Help to Buy:

“The housing market was slowly recovering already, it has been good for the sector, but in the long term it is throwing money at something that is not the solution. There is a danger we are creating the next bubble and not learning from what’s happened previously.” Mark Hughes, co-head of research, Panmure Gordon

from The Great Debate:

How home prices helped kill the first tech boom

By Ryan Avent
The opinions expressed are his own. 

The late 1990s was a wild time in Silicon Valley. The NASDAQ was soaring, and seemingly anyone could start a company, stick a .com at the end of its name, put together an IPO and retire a millionaire. The great boom ultimately took on a speculative character that led to wasted investments and the collapse of many poorly-grounded operations. But it was rooted in a surge of not-unrealistic optimism about the potential of the internet to change the world of business.

Among the striking features of the era, one of the most startling is this: the rate of high-tech entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley seems to have been below the national average from 1996 to 2000, according to a recent analysis of business creation during the tech boom. And from the late 1990s to the early 2000s -- after the bust -- Silicon Valley’s rate of high-tech entrepreneurship actually increased. How can this be? How is it that during the first great boom of the internet era, Silicon Valley was less of a hotbed for new firm formation than the country as a whole?

Economists Robert Fairlie and Aaron Chatterji suggest that the answer lies in the extremely tight labor market conditions that prevailed at the time. The tech boom was remarkably good for Silicon Valley workers. Average earnings rose by nearly 40% from 1997 to 2000 -- more than twice as fast as the increase for the country as a whole. Non-salary compensation also soared, thanks to the popularity of stock options and the skyrocketing value of equity in tech firms. These generous pay increases made it unattractive for workers to leave established companies to strike out on their own. Entrepreneurship fell because life on salary was too lucrative to risk self-employment.

from Global Investing:

EBRD to puzzle over E.Europe crisis

Ministers and bankers meeting at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's annual gathering in London tomorrow and Saturday have a sorry mess to scrutinise.

By the bank's own (revised) forecasts, its region of central and eastern Europe will contract by over 5 percent this year. Many countries in eastern Europe took too much advantage of western banks' lending spree, and businesses and households are struggling to pay back foreign currency loans.

Falling commodity prices have hit countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, and a burst consumer credit bubble is risking double-digit contraction in the Baltic states and Ukraine.

from Global Investing:

No black tulip bulbs, no black swans

The world has experienced many crises in the past.


In 1636, during the Dutch Tulip Bulb Bubble, the quest for a perfect black bulb had inflated the price of a black bulb by many hundreds. In a different crisis in 1866, a London wholesale bank Overend, Gurney & Co collapsed with a massive debt, after expanding its investment portfolio beyond its means.

What is common in these events and the present crisis is that investors borrowed and levered themselves, and the eventual bubble burst prompted massive deleveraging and contagion, according to Julian Chillingworth, chief investment officer at London-based asset management firm Rathbones (established in 1742 – 22 years after the South Sea Bubble).

“It’s greed, it’s fear and it’s leverage,” Chillingworth told a group of journalists at a breakfast briefing. He says all the risky and highly leveraged assets were dressed up with “pseudo finance” and the likelihood of contagion and volatility was characterised as a “black swan” event – originally a metaphor for something that could not exist.