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Posts Tagged ‘HEW and Spending’

Does housing offer clues as to whether households will help support aggregate demand?

It looks like being a busy time for economic commentators for many, many months as they keep an eye on how the economy is progressing in light of the squeeze in public spending and impending tax increases. Inevitably these commentators – including us here on the Sloman News Site – will be watching to see how the private sector responds and whether or not, as is hoped, private sector activity will begin filling the void left by the public sector.

Of course, the largest group of purchasers in the economy is the household sector. So, in the short term at least, they will be crucial in supporting the total level of aggregate demand. The effects of any rebalancing of aggregate demand as the public sector’s role is reduced will be more painful should the real growth in household spending slow or even go into reverse. As consumers we are well aware that our spending depends on more than just our current income. For instance, it is affected by our expectations of our future incomes and by our general financial position. In essence the latter reflects our holdings of financial assets and liabilities (debt) and any wealth we may be lucky enough to hold in valuables such as housing.

So, do we have any clues as to how the financial position of households might be impacting on our spending? Well, the latest numbers from the Bank of England on Housing Equity Withdrawal (HEW) offer us an important insight in to the extent of the fragility felt by households as to their financial position. These numbers show that households increased their stake in housing by some £6.2 billion in the second quarter of 2010. At least two questions probably spring to mind at this point! Firstly, what is HEW and, secondly, what has this got to do with spending?

Let’s begin by defining Housing equity withdrawal (HEW). HEW occurs when new lending secured on dwellings (net lending) increases by more than the investment in the housing stock. Housing investment relates largely to the purchase of brand new homes and to major home improvements, but also includes house moving costs, such as legal fees. When HEW is negative, new secured lending is less than the level of housing investment. In other words, given the level of investment in housing, we would have expected new mortgage debt to have been greater. This means that households are increasing their housing equity.

This brings us to answering our second question – the ‘so what question’. As with all the choices we make, there is an opportunity cost – a sacrifice. By increasing our equity in property and using housing as a vehicle for saving we are using money that cannot be used to fund current consumption or to purchase financial assets.

As we have already noted, the Housing Equity Withdrawal (HEW) figures for Q2 2010 show that households increased their stake in housing by some £6.2 billion. This is equivalent to a little over 2½% of disposable income in the period and income that, as we have also said, could have helped to boost aggregate demand through spending. And, there is another concern for those hoping that households will help support aggregate demand in the short term: negative HEW is not new. In fact, HEW has been negative since the second quarter of 2008, the exact same quarter that the UK entered recession. The magnitude of negative HEW over these past 9 quarters is equivalent to £44.2 billion or 2.1% of disposable income.

Of course, these latest HEW figures are figures from the past. What we are ultimately interested in, of course, is future behaviour. But, it might be that the prolonged period over which British households have been consolidating their own financial position – just as the public sector is looking to do – suggests that households are in cautious mood. So the question for you to debate is how cautious you think the household sector will remain and, therefore, how much households will help support aggregate demand in the months ahead.

Articles
Mortgage equity still increasing, Bank of England says BBC News (1/10/10)
Homeowners pay down loans Independent (2/10/10)
Paying off mortgages is a priority Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (3/10/10)
Homeowners pay off £6.2 billion in mortgage debt Guardian, Phillip Inman (1/10/10)
Families pay off £6bn mortgages Express, Sarah O’Grady (2/10/10)

Data
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical releases Bank of England

Questions

  1. What do you understand by aggregate demand? And what do you think a ‘rebalancing’ of aggregate demand might refer to?
  2. What do you understand by the term housing equity withdrawal?
  3. What is the opportunity cost of positive housing equity withdrawal (HEW)? What about the opportunity cost of negative HEW?
  4. What factors might help to explain the nine consecutive quarters of negative HEW?
  5. List those items that you might included under: (i) household financial assets; (ii) household financial liabilities; and (iii) household physical assets. Using this information, how would you calculate the net worth of a household?
  6. Let’s think about the spending of households. Draw up a list of factors that you think would affect a household’s current spending plans. Given your list, what conclusion would you draw about the strength of household spending in the months ahead?
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Consumers lose appetite for HEW

We have learnt a lot this week about the appetite of households for spending. And, it appears that they are not particularly hungry. On Monday, the Quarterly National Accounts for Q1 revealed that, in real terms, household sector spending fell by 0.1% in the quarter despite disposable income growing by 2.1%. Today, we have learnt that households have continued to increase the amount of equity in their homes. The Housing Equity Withdrawal (HEW) figures for Q1 show that households increased their stake in housing by some £3.2 billion.

Housing Equity Withdrawal occurs when lending secured on dwellings increases by more than the investment in the housing stock. Housing investment relates largely to the purchase of brand new homes and to major home improvements, but also includes housing moving costs such as legal fees. What the Bank of England does is to compare these levels of housing investment with the amount of additional secured lending. If the Bank of England finds that additional secured lending is equal to the amount of housing investment then HEW is zero. If it is positive, then additional secured lending is greater than the levels of housing investment. This would show that the household sector was extracting equity from the housing stock and using mortgage lending to fund consumption, to purchase financial assets or to pay off unsecured debts, like credit cards.

But, the point here is that HEW is actually negative and has been so since the second quarter of 2008. Negative HEW means that housing investment levels are greater than the levels of new secured borrowing. In other words, household are increasing their housing equity. But, there is a cost to this choice because by doing so households are using money that could otherwise be assigned for spending or purchasing financial assets. One way of measuring the potential extent of foregone consumption is to note that the Bank estimates that the level of equity injected into housing in Q1 was equivalent to 1.3% of disposable income. Since Q2 2008 households have injected equity into housing to the tune of £38.34 billion, which is equivalent to 1.97% of disposable income, some of which might have otherwise been used to fund spending.

The negativity of HEW is not that surprising. In difficult economic times many of us might be tempted, if we can, to reduce our exposure to debt. Low interest rates may also be inducing households to pay off debt either because the interest rates on saving products are low and unattractive or because the size of mortgage payments for those on now lower variable rate mortgages gives them income with which to pay debt off. The bottom line is that after many years happily spending, households appear to be dining off a different menu.

Articles
Homeowners raise stakes in homes, says Bank of England BBC News (15/7/10)
Mortgage debt drops £3.2 billion Independent, Nicky Burridge (15/7/10)
Drop in outstanding mortgage debt UK Press Association (15/7/10)
Equity withdrawal still negative Financial Times, Cara Waters (15/7/10)
Saving may cause a double-dip recession Telegraph, Harry Wallop (13/7/10)

Data
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical releases Bank of England
Quarterly National Accounts, 1st Quarter 2010 ONS

Questions

  1. What do you understand by the term ‘housing equity withdrawal’?
  2. Compare the possible implications for consumer spending of positive HEW and negative HEW.
  3. What factors do you think lie behind the eight consecutive quarters of negative HEW?
  4. Why might a low interest rate environment affect the incentive to withdrawal housing equity? What other variables might also affect levels of HEW?
  5. How does HEW affect the net worth of households?
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