In March 2009, the Bank of England’s base rate was slashed to 0.5% in a bid to boost aggregate demand and stimulate the UK economy. And there it has remained for almost 2 years and as yet, no change is in sight. In the February 2011 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (who are responsible for setting interest rates to keep inflation on target), the decision was to keep interest rates at 0.5% rather than raise them to tackle high and rising UK inflation. Those in favour of keeping interest rates at this record low argue that any increase could damage the UK’s ability to recover and may lead to the dreaded double-dip recession. This is of particular concern given the economy’s performance in the last quarter of 2010.
However, one group that will certainly not be happy is the savers. With instant-access savings accounts paying on average just 0.84% before tax and with inflation at 3.7%, savers aren’t just not gaining much interest, but are actually seeing the value of their money in real terms fall. Howard Archer of HIS Global Insight said:
“For now, we retain our view that the Bank of England will hold off from raising interest rates until the latter months of the year. Even if interest rates do rise in the near term, the likelihood is still that they will rise only gradually and remain very low compared to past norms.
Monetary policy will need to stay loose for an extended period to offset the impact of the major, sustained fiscal squeeze. Consequently, we retain the view that interest rates will only rise to 2pc by the end of 2012.”
Following some speculation that the Bank of England may succumb to the pressure of inflation and hike up interest rates (markets had priced in a 20% chance of a rate rise), sterling did take a hit, but after the decision to keep rates at 0.5%, sterling recovered against the dollar. There is a belief amongst some traders that rates will rise in May, but others believe rates may remain at 0.5% until much later in 2011, as the country aims to avoid plunging back into recession. Of 49 economists that responsed to a poll by Reuters, three quarters of them said that rates would rise by the end of 2011, with median forecasts predicting a rise around November. This is certainly a space to watch, as it has implications for everyone in the UK and for many in countries around the world.
BOE leaves bank rate unchanged at 0.5% at Feb meeting Automated Trader (10/2/11)
Economists predict interest rates will rise in November Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (11/2/11)
UK May rate hike view holds firm after BOE Reuters, Kirsten Donovan (10/2/11)
Interest rates: What the economists say Guardian (10/2/11)
Fixed rate mortgages becoming more expensive BBC News (10/2/11)
Bank rate: savers’ celebrations on hold Telegraph, Richard Evans (10/2/11)
Inflation fears turn up heat ahead of bank rate decision City AM, Julian Harris (10/2/11)
Sterling takes BOE in its stride, higher rate talk aids Reuters, Anirban Nag (10/2/11)
Bank of England holds interest rates of 0.5% Telegraph, Emma Rowley (10/2/11)
- Why are interest rates such an important tool of monetary policy? Think about which variables of aggregate demand will be affected by the Bank of England’s decision.
- What is the relationship between interest rates and inflation?
- What explanation is there for the fall in the value of sterling following speculation that interest rates may rise? Why did sterling recover after the Bank of England’s decision?
- How has the recent speculation affected fixed rate mortgages?
- What does the Telegraph article about “savers’ celebrations on hold” mean about the ‘real value’ of money and savings?
- What are (a) the arguments for keeping interest rates at 0.5% and (b) the arguments for raising interest rates? Who wins and loses in each case?
- Are there any other government policies that could be used to combat inflation, without creating the possibility of a double-dip recession? Why haven’t they been used?
The owner-occupied housing market has seen widespread coverage. With house prices falling throughout the recession and problems accessing mortgages for many people, it is this sector of housing that has received most attention. However, it is rental homes that we’ll be considering here and a new strategy being adopted by landlords. As access to mortgages dried up, people instead turned to renting. Demand for rental properties began to increase, such that competition between potential tenants increased significantly. Not only has there been a substantial increase in rents – up by some 35%, but it has also led to a new ‘sealed bid’ strategy.
A strategy that is often used for purchasing houses is where potential buyers submit sealed bids and it is this approach which is now spreading to the rental sector, as demand and competition for properties increases. Potential tenants are required to submit a sealed bid, containing the amount that they are willing to pay to rent out the property and all this must be done within a deadline. Whoever submits the highest bid ‘wins’ the property and hence tenants are encouraged to submit a bid at or close to the maximum they are willing to pay. Landlords insist that they are not trying to force tenants to pay more, but that it is simply the most effective way of letting properties that are short in supply, but face significant demand. As the BBC News article states:
‘It seems that with the current state of the housing market, sealed bids will be here to stay – as long as many would-be renters are chasing a dwindling supply of good rental homes.’
Rental ‘gazumping on the up as demand rises Metro, Tariq Tahir (8/11/10)
’Bidding war’ for homes to rent BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (20/11/10)
Rental market’s now so hot tenants are having to make sealed bids Mail Online, Sebastien O Kelly (8/11/10)
Is the buy-to-let market on its way back? Seek4Media (20/11/10)
Gazumping on the rise as London rental soars Gulf Times, London Evening Standard (8/11/10)
- Using a supply and demand diagram, explain the trend we have seen in the rental market, thinking about the impact on demand, supply and hence on price. How does this explain why sealed bids have been used to combat the increased competition?
- Which factors have affected (a) the demand for rental properties and (b) the supply of rental properties? How is the elasticity of demand and supply relevant here in terms of the impact on price?
- To what extent is a sealed bid format fair on potential tenants? Who does such a strategy favour?
- How could this sealed bid strategy be an example of price discrimination?
- What is likely to happen to your consumer surplus if you have to submit a sealed bid?
House prices are on the rise again and at the fastest rate since June 2007, according to the Nationwide. In June 2007, the average house price was £184,070, which did prevent many first-time buyers from getting on to the property ladder. Enter the recession. Over the past two and a half years, house prices have fluctuated considerably. Land Registry data shows that the average house price in April 2009 had fallen to £152,657, which gave first time buyers more of a chance, but at the same time mortgage lending fell and many lenders required a 25% deposit, which again ruled out many purchasers. Gradual increases in the latter part of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 have seen the average price rise to £164,455 (£167,802 according to Nationwide) and the trend looks unlikely to reverse, although it should stabilise.
Behind these changing prices is a story of demand and supply and the importance of expectations. As the credit crunch began and house prices began to fall, those looking to sell wanted to do so before prices fell further, while those looking to buy were expecting prices to fall further and so had an incentive to delay their purchase. In recent months, however, the demand for houses has out-stripped supply and it is this that has contributed to rising prices. At the same time, the stamp duty holiday that ended in December 2009 was re-introduced in the 2010 Budget and mortgage approvals have begun to increase. All of this has led to annual house price inflation of 10.5% by April 2010.
House price inflation hits 10.5%, says the Nationwide BBC News (29/4/10)
House price rise reaches double digits, finds Nationwide Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (29/4/10)
House price growth hits three-year high Times Online (29/4/10)
Taylor Wimpey says house prices rise 9pc Telegraph (29/4/10)
Bringing down the house price Guardian (27/4/10)
House Price Data Nationwide
April 2010 Press release Nationwide
Halifax House Price Index site Lloyds Banking Group
(see especially the link to historical house price data)
House Price Index site Land Registry
- Using a diagram, explain why house prices fell towards the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
- Using your diagram above, now illustrate why house prices have begun to increase.
- Is the demand and supply of houses likely to be price elastic or inelastic? How does this affect your diagrams from questions 1 and 2?
- Why is the upward trend expected to stabilise during the latter part of 2010?
- To what extent has the stamp duty holiday affected house prices?
- Has the recession had an impact on equality in the UK economy?
- Will rising house prices contribute to economic recovery. Explain why or why not.
In the Perils of snow and stamp duty blog here on the Sloman Economics News site we noted two particular influences that may have contributed to February’s reported fall in UK house prices: the end of the stamp duty holiday and the poor winter weather. Here we ponder a little more on the recent relationship between the economic and house prices cycles and, more generally, on the significance and causes of the recent imbalances between housing demand and supply.
What is particularly interesting about February’s house price fall (the Halifax put the fall at 1½% and the Nationwide at 1%) is that it is happening just after the economy reportedly grew by 0.3% in the last quarter of last year. But, then again, the house price fall is a reversal of an upward trend that started back in the summer of 2009 when the economy was still contracting! One’s gut reaction might be that cycles in house prices and economic growth ought to coincide. One reason for this is that the growth in income of the household sector will reflect the phase of the business cycle that the economy is in. For instance, during the slowdown or recessionary phase, like the period during 2008/9, the household sector’s income is likely to be shrinking and this will impact on housing demand. The magnitude of the effect on demand will depend on the sensitivity of housing demand to changing incomes – something that economists refer to as the income elasticity of demand.
We can, despite what might appear to be the recent puzzling behaviour of UK house prices, apply the concepts of demand and supply to gain some insight into what has been driving house prices. One way of thinking about the concepts of housing demand and supply is to relate them respectively to the number of ‘instructions to buy’ and the number of ‘instructions to sell’ on an estate agent’s book. We can then try and think of factors which might influence, in a given period, the number of instructions to buy and sell.
One possible explanation of the house price growth of last year is that despite the household sector’s shrinking income there were in fact a number of relatively cash-rich households out there, partly because the lowering of interest rates meant that the debt-servicing costs on variable rate mortgages fell. This left some households with more discretionary income to spend or to use to increase their housing investment by trading-up between one housing market and another. The key point here is if there is not a similar increase in the number of instructions to sell then the imbalance between the flow of instructions to buy and instructions to sell results in upward pressure in prices. In those markets where the imbalance between demand and supply is greatest price pressures are most acute. This appears to have been especially true last year in particular markets in the south of England.
So what of February’s fall? Well, again we have to think about the balance between instructions to buy and sell. What appears to have happened is that the demand pressures that built up in some markets lessened. And, as we consider elsewhere on this site, it is perhaps even the case that the wonderful British weather ‘played a hand’ by discouraging some households from looking to buy and adding to our estate agents’ lists of instructions to buy.
UK housing recovery running out of steam CITY A.M., Jessica Mead (5/3/10)
UK house prices ‘lose momentum’, say Nationwide BBC News (26/2/10)
UK house prices see first fall since June, says Halifax BBC News (4/3/10)
Fears grow of double dip for UK housing market The Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/3/10)
Halifax House Price Data Lloyds Banking Group
House Prices: Data Download Nationwide Building Society
- What do economists mean by the income elasticity of demand? How income elastic do you think owner-occupied housing demand is likely to be?
- How important do you think current house prices are likely to be in affecting the number of instructions to buy and instructions to sell in the current period?
- How important do you think expectations of future house prices are in affecting the number of instructions to buy and sell in the current period?
- What role might financial institutions, like banks and building societies, play in affecting UK house price growth in 2010? How might their influence compare with that in the period 2008/9?
- Rather than economic growth affecting house prices, is it possible that house price growth could affect economic growth?
The winter months traditionally see lower house sales and prices tend to remain steady or fall. However, house prices had continued to increase over Christmas, as the stamp duty holiday came to an end. In a bid to boost the housing market, the stamp duty threshold had been pushed up from £125,000 to £175,000 for just over a year. This seemed to work, as the housing market did rally throughout 2009 and in particular, in the final months of 2009. Mortgage approvals increased, as first-time buyers in particular tried to complete before stamp duty fell back to £125,000.
However, the end of this ‘holiday’, combined with the icy conditions experienced throughout the UK were contributing factors in the first decline in house prices in about 9 months. According to Halifax, house prices in February fell by 1.5%. House prices are still higher that they were 9 months ago, but the upward momentum they did have, has now taken a dive. Mortgage lending was also down in January by about 32%.
Another factor that has contributed to this downturn is the increased number of properties on the market. Throughout 2009, the number of properties for sale was relatively low and as such, ‘Sale agreed’ notices were appearing on properties within days of them being for sale. This imbalance between demand and supply is now beginning to even out. Is this downward trend merely a blip or does it spell further trouble for the UK economy?
Snow and end of stamp duty holiday leads to first property price decrease in the UK for nine months PropertyWire (1/3/10)
UK house prices see first fall since June, says Halifax BBC News (4/3/10)
Mortage lending slump prediction comes true as stamp duty returns Daily Mail Online (23/2/10)
House price ‘lose momentum’, says Nationwide BBC News (26/2/10)
Snow and tax send house prices down 1.5% (including video) Times Online, Francesca Steele (4/3/10)
UK house prices fall, snapping rally Telegraph (4/3/10)
House prices fall in February Guardian, Hilary Osborne (4/3/10)
For the Halifax data, see
Halifax house Price Index, February 2010
See also Lloyds Banking Group Housing Research home page and in particular the Historical House price Data link
- What is stamp duty and how did an increase in the threshold aim to stimulate the housing market? Can this be illustrated diagramatically?
- Illustrate how house prices are determined using a demand and supply diagram.
- One factor that had caused house prices to rise was a lack of supply. Show this on your diagram. Are there any factors that make price fluctuations even more severe, following changes in the demand and supply of houses?
- Illustrate how the imbalance of demand and supply has begun to even out.
- Why is the state of the housing market such an important factor in determining the strength of the economy?
- How do interest rates affect the housing market? Think about the impact on mortgages. Why have mortgage approvals fallen?
- To what extent has the weather contributed to falling house prices?