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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Popping Timing

Many people ask me recently when prices will fall; when it will hit banks; when unemployment will go up ...

It is impossible to predict timing of a such event. To help us understand timescale of the process I created a charts that show timings of the bubble bursts in Ireland and USA.

USA and Ireland Bubble Deflation Timing
On the chart you may see that house prices started deflating very early (July 2006 in USA and July 2006 for Ireland and few months later in Dublin). At the beginning price correction was very slow. It took almost a year and a half in USA and even longer in Ireland to drop 10% from the peak. It took two years for majority of people to realize that something is very wrong. Even the most involved people like FED chairman Ben Bernanke*, two years after process started were not aware (or willing to admit) that country is facing serious problem caused bu housing bubble burst).

It is even more interesting to see changes in major economic parameters during this period. Prices started falling while unemployment was very low. Even after correction started unemployment continued to be very low and even dropped in USA. It took more than a year after prices started to fall for unemployment to start rising and more than 3 years to reach maximum. GDP growth was very healthy at the moment prices started to fall and remained healthy for a year or more after that.

It is also interesting to see that house prices started falling while interest rates were going up. Than prices continued to fall while rates were stable but fall accelerated with interest rate cuts. Credit was available and  inflation was at normal level for the period; business and/or consumer confidence was very high. Maybe the most revealing part is saving rate. Prices started falling at the peak of the saving as a percentage of GDP. 

Consequences of both bursts were severe: deep recession, high unemployment, deflation, credit squeeze, zero interest rates, drop in saving rates and confidence.

If someone was presented with the charts up to the point of house price burst, he/she would likely say that future is bright because all economic parameters were good. In reality things were much different, high level of debt and long period of misallocation of investments into housing caused one of the most severe recessions in history. Low unemployment, high saving rates, high confidence, GDP growth and high interest rates that in theory should enable central bank to react were not enough to prevent the worst.

What will be timeline of the Australian housing bubble burst is impossible to say. If we can learn anything from this data, that should be caution. At the beginning it always looks harmless - ordinary cycle price correction; nothing more than that. It quickly develops in galloping destruction of the economy and no action form central bank or government is able to stop it. 

* Ben Bernanke (June 10, 2008) “The risk that the economy has entered a substantial downturn appears to have diminished over the past month or so.” 

- S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices
- Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), Dublin, Ireland