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.
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)
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical releases Bank of England
- What do you understand by aggregate demand? And what do you think a ‘rebalancing’ of aggregate demand might refer to?
- What do you understand by the term housing equity withdrawal?
- What is the opportunity cost of positive housing equity withdrawal (HEW)? What about the opportunity cost of negative HEW?
- What factors might help to explain the nine consecutive quarters of negative HEW?
- 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?
- 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?
Under its terms of reference the new Office for Budget Responsibility is required to provide updated forecasts for the economy and the public finances at the time of each Budget in order take into account the impact of those measures contained in the Budget. Here we consider those economic forecasts contained in the June 2010 OBR Budget Forecast relating to economic growth. In particular, we consider the OBR’s interpretation of how growth is likely to be affected by the policy measures unveiled by George Osborne in his first Budget as Chancellor of Exchequer on 22 June.
The OBR forecasts that the UK economy will grow by 1.2% in 2010 and by a further 2.3% in 2011. These estimates are lower than those published by the OBR in its Pre-Budget Forecast published on 14 June. The Pre-Budget Forecasts predicted growth of 1.3% in 2010 and 2.6% in 2011. The downward revisions reflect the OBR’s assertion that the Budget’s measures to meet the Government’s fiscal mandate and, hence the resultant fiscal consolidation package, will weaken aggregate demand.
In terms of the components of aggregate demand, the fiscal consolidation will mean restraints on government spending (G) and, if the OBR is right, lower growth in household consumption (C). Lower consumption growth is expected as a result of reduced growth in household incomes and the rise in the standard rate of Value Added Tax next January from 17½% to 20%.
The OBR now forecasts that real household consumption will grow by just 0.2% in 2010, following last year’s contraction of 3.2%, and by 1.3% in 2011. General government final consumption – the Government’s expenditure on current goods and services – is forecast to grow in real terms by 1.7% this year before falling by 1.1% next year. The forecasts for general government capital spending are for a real fall of 4.9% this year, following last year’s rise of 15.7%, followed by a sizeable 19% decline in 2011.
A more positive note emerging from the OBR forecasts relates to capital expenditure by businesses. The measures to reform corporation tax, which include a reduction in the main rate of corporation tax from 28 per cent to 24 per cent over four years beginning with a one per cent reduction from April 2011, are predicted to have a favourable effect on investment. Business investment is forecast to rise in real terms by 1.4% this year, following last year’s fall of 19.3%, and to rise again in 2011 by 8.1%.
The projections for growth from 2013 are now stronger than in the OBR’s Pre-Budget Forecast with the economy portrayed as adjusting more quickly at this point towards its potential output. Potential output is the level of output level when the economy’s resources are operating at ‘normal capacity utilisation’. But, in 2015, which is at the end of the OBR’s five year forecast period, the UK economy is still forecast to be experiencing a negative output gap. In other words, actual output will still be less than potential output.
To help paint a picture of how the economy’s output will adjust towards its potential level consider the OBR estimates for the output gap. The OBR estimates that in financial year 2009-10 the economy’s output was 4.1% below its potential. This negative output gap is now expected to be reduced to 3.7% of potential output in 2010-11, to 2.8% in 2012-13 and to 0.9% of potential output in 2015-16.
Office for Budget Responsibility
OBR home page
Office for Budget Responsibility Terms of Reference
Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (22/6/10)
Pre-Budget Forecast June 2010 OBR (14/6/10)
Budget 2010 HM Treasury (22/6/10)
OBR endorses Budget but faces questions over its own predictions Telegraph, Philip Alrdrick (23/6/10)
UK growth forecasts could be revised again, says Sir Alan Budd Citywire, Deborah Hyde (23/6/10)
OBR says growth will take bigger hit Financial Times, Norma Cohen (22/6/10)
Budget 2010: Government cuts will slow economic recovery, says watchdog Telegraph, James Kirkup (23/6/10)
Highlights from the Budget BBC News (22/6/10)
Budget statement: George Osborne’s speech in full BBC Democracy Live (22/6/10)
- What do you understand by the concept of aggregate demand?
- What are the component expenditures of aggregate demand? Which of these do you think is the largest in value terms?
- The OBR is forecasting the household sector’s disposable income to grow in real terms this year by 0.2% and by 1.2% next year. Why then is the OBR identifying weaker consumer demand as a result of the Budget measures as a major reason for revising down its predictions for economic growth?
- The OBR argues that the fiscal consolidation measures will have a ‘direct effect’ on household incomes and so on spending, but that this will be ‘partially offset by a decline in saving’. Why might the OBR be arguing that a fiscal consolidation will lead to a decline in saving? Evaluate the OBR’s arguments.
- What do you understand by the concept of an output gap? What does a negative output gap signify?
- To see the sorts of problems that forecasters commonly face, try identifying reasons why the output gap could be eliminated more quickly or less quickly as a result of the Budget measures.
Research from the Halifax estimates that the total wealth of UK households at the end of 2009 was £6.316 trillion. Putting this into context, it means that the average UK household has a stock of wealth of £236,998. In real terms, so stripping out the effects of consumer price inflation, the total wealth of households has grown five-fold since 1959 while the average wealth per household has grown three-fold while. The growth in wealth per household is a little less because of the increase in the number of households from 6.6 million to 26.6 million. For those that like their numbers, total household wealth in 1959 was estimated at £1.251 trillion (at 2009 prices) while the average amount per household was £72,719 (at 2009 prices).
But, do changes in household wealth matter? Well, yes, but not necessarily in a consistent and predictable manner. That’s why so many of us love economics! For now, consider the prices of two possible types of assets: share prices and house prices. The prices of both these assets are notoriously volatile and it is this volatility that has the potential to affect the growth of consumer spending.
It might be, for instance, that you are someone who keeps a keen eye on the FTSE-100 because you use shares as a vehicle for saving. A fall in share prices, by reducing the value of the stock of financial assets, may make some people less inclined to spend. Housing too can be used as a vehicle for saving. Changes in house prices will, of course, affect the capital that can be realised from selling property, but also affect the collateral that can be used to support additional borrowing and, more generally, affect how wealthy or secure we feel.
The Halifax estimates that the household sector’s stock of housing wealth was £3.755 trillion at the end of 2009 while its stock of financial assets (such as savings, pensions and shares) was £4.024 trillion. In real terms, housing wealth has grown on average by 5% per year since 1959 while financial assets have grown by 2.8% per year. Of course, while households can have financial and housing assets they are likely to have financial liabilities too! We would expect households’ exposure to these liabilities – and their perception of this exposure – to offer another mechanism by which household spending could be affected. For instance, changes in interest rates impact on variable rate mortgages rates, affecting the costs of servicing debt and, in turn, disposable incomes.
The Halifax reports that the stock of mortgage loans was £1.235 trillion at the end of 2009, which, when subtracted from residential housing wealth, means that the UK household sector had net housing equity of £2.519 trillion. It estimates that the stock of mortgage loans has increased on average by 6.5% per year in real terms since 1959 while net housing equity has grown by 4.5%. The stock of households’ unsecured debt, also known as consumer credit, was £227 billon at the end of 2009. In real terms it has grown by 5.3% per year since 1959.
The recent patterns in household wealth are particularly interesting. Between 2007 and 2008 downward trends in share prices and house prices contributed to a 15% real fall in household wealth. The Halifax note that some of this was ‘recouped’ in 2009 as a result of a rebound in both share prices and house prices. More precisely, household wealth increased by 9% in real terms in 2009, but, nonetheless, was still 8% below its 2007 peak.
Given the recent patterns in household wealth, including the volatility in the components that go to comprise this stock of wealth, we shouldn’t be overly surprised by the 3.2% real fall that occurred in household spending last year. Further, we must not forget that 2009 was also the year, amongst other things, that the economy shrunk by 4.9%, that unemployment rose from 1.8 million to 2.5 million and that growing concerns about the size of the government’s deficit highlighted the need for fiscal consolidation at some point in the future. All of these ingredients created a sense of uncertainty. This is an uncertainty that probably remains today and that is likely to continue to moderate consumer spending in 2010. So, it’s unlikely to be a time for care-free shopping, more a time for window shopping!
Halifax Press Release
UK household wealth increases five-fold in the past 50 years Halifax (part of the Lloyds Banking Group) (15/5/10)
Household wealth ‘up five-fold’ UK Press Association (15/5/10)
We’ve never had it so good: Families five times richer than in 1959 Daily Mail, Steve Doughty (15/5/10)
Household wealth grows five-fold in past 50 years BBC News (16/5/10)
Average household wealth jumps £150,000 Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (15/5/10)
- Draw up a list of the ways in which you think consumer spending may be affected by: (i) the stock of household wealth; and (ii) the composition of household wealth.
- What factors do you think lie behind the annual 5% real term increase in the value of residential properties since 1959?.
- How might the sensitivity of consumer spending to changes in interest rates be affected by the types of mortgage product available?
- Why do you think consumer spending fell by 3.2% in real terms in 2009 despite real disposable income increasing by 3.2%?
- What would you predict for consumption growth in 2010? Explain your answer.
Housing Equity Withdrawal, or HEW for short, is new borrowing that is secured against property which is not reinvested in the housing market. In other words, it is borrowed money that is not used by households to purchase property or to undertake major refurbishments, such as extensions to existing residential properties. The latest HEW statistical release from the Bank of England shows that HEW in Q4 2009 was again negative, making it the seventh consecutive quarter of negative HEW. But, what does a negative HEW figure mean?
Negative HEW occurs when the total saving by households in housing (either by paying back mortgages or by purchasing property directly without borrowing) is greater than new borrowing secured against housing. It results in an increase in housing equity held by the household sector. In the fourth quarter of 2009, the Bank’s seasonally-adjusted figures show that negative HEW was just over £4.3 billion, equivalent to 1.6% of disposable income.
But why might the household sector have wanted to save through housing and how might this impact on consumer spending? In truth there is no single reason, but one potentially important reason is likely to be the sector’s desire to rebuild its balance sheets. In times of uncertainty, such as those that we face now, a perfectly understandable response by households is to try to reduce their exposure to debt. During the seven quarters in which HEW has been negative, households have used housing as a vehicle for saving to the tune of £36.5 billion, equivalent to 2.2% of the sector’s disposable income. To some extent the fact that, as a result of the banking crisis, house-buyers have had to put down larger deposits when purchasing housing helps to reduce their exposure to debt. But, the extent of the negativity of HEW means that households more generally have been actively looking to repay some of their outstanding mortgage debt.
So what of the impact of HEW on consumer spending? Negative sums of HEW mean that consumers are either reducing consumer spending, reducing holdings of financial assets, increasing levels of unsecured debt (e.g. personal loans or credit card debt) or, of course, undertaking some combination of these. Given that the stock of unsecured debt has actually declined by £7.9 billion to £224.8 billion in the 12 months to February, the impact would seem to be falling on consumer spending.
Some commentators are pointing to the weakening pace with which households are saving through housing. The current level of saving through housing is, as we said earlier, equivalent to 1.6% of disposable income, down from the 3.0% recorded in both Q4 2008 and Q1 2009. But, this would seem to simply highlight the extent of the precautionary behaviour by households in the midst of the economic downturn. It would be a surprise to see any significant end soon to the UK household sector’s precautionary behaviour.
Britons plough cash into repaying debt The Times, James Charles (6/4/10)
The great mortgage payback Reuters, Harry Wallop (6/4/10)
Home owners’ housing equity still increasing BBC News (6/4/10) )
Brits pay off £4bn of mortgage debt Press Association (6/4/10)
UK Q4 housing injection smallest since Q2 2008 – BOE MarketNews.com (6/4/10)
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical releases Bank of England
- Explain what are meant by positive and negative values of HEW.
- What implications might additions to housing equity have for consumer spending?
- What factors do you think lie behind the seven consecutive quarters of negative HEW?
- If house price inflation were to start picking up in the near future, would you expect to see positive values of HEW and, if so, how strongly positive?
- Other than through HEW, how might the housing and mortgage markets impact on consumer spending?
Figures released by the Bank of England show that in the third quarter of 2009 UK households increased their housing equity (i.e. repaid mortgage debt) by £4.9 billion, equivalent to 2% of their disposable income. This was the sixth consecutive quarter in which saving in housing exceeded net mortgage lending. Interestingly, during each of these six quarters the UK economy contracted.
Saving in housing (or ‘negative housing equity withdrawal’ (HEW)) will reduce aggregate demand if it is funded out of income that would otherwise have been spent on consumer goods and services. Since the proportion of income saved, as measured by the saving ratio, climbed from an historic low of 0.9% in the third quarter of 2008 to 8.6% in the same quarter of 2009, increased saving in housing equity has been depressing spending levels. Indeed, across the six quarters in which HEW has been negative, households have increased their stock of housing equity by £33.9 billion, equivalent to 2.3% of disposable income – money which could otherwise have been spent.
Increased saving in housing by households is an example of the household sector’s attempt to repair its balance sheets. Another example has been the fall in the sector’s outstanding stock of unsecured debt (e.g. outstanding personal loans and credit-card debt). Elsewhere in the economy, banks too have been looking to repair their badly damaged balance sheets and, of course, there is the considerable interest in how the UK government will reduce its budget deficit. We can expect these repairs to balance sheets to have some impact on the pace of economic recovery. What is less certain is the size and duration of these balance sheet effects.
Home loan repayments ‘a priority’ BBC News (29/12/09)
Homeowners pay off £5bn of mortgage debt Financial Times, Vanessa Houlder (30/12/09)
Homeowners stop cashing in on the value of their homes Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (29/12/09)
Mortgages paid off at the fastest rate for 40 years Guardian, Larry Elliott (30/12/09)
Homeowners rush to repay mortgages thisismoney, Rosamund Urwin (29/12/09)
- What factors might explain why UK households have been increasing their saving in housing equity during 2009?
- Why might increasing amounts of HEW, such as those in the mid 2000s, not necessarily result in higher levels of consumer spending?
- What do you understand by the ‘household balance sheets’? What do you think is likely to be the most significant item on the sector’s balance sheets?