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?
You can hardly have failed to miss the snow! From children sledging to cars skidding and from being snowed in from work to being snowed in at work. In the UK, it only happens once in a while and when it does, life practically comes to a standstill. Why is this not the case in countries such as Norway? Well, one way of looking at it as that they’re used to it and have tried and tested methods of dealing with it and the investment to match. As we suffer from these severe conditions only once in a while, any significant investment in improving our ability to deal with it could be considered a waste of money.
However, many businesses affected by the snowy conditions will certainly not see it this way. Transport links have been disrupted: roads closed; trains stopped; airports closed; tunnels blocked and sports fields unplayable. The worst affected city centres have been deserted and retailers have subsequently suffered. Even if shoppers had made it to the shops, they may have found many of them closed, as staff struggled to make it in to work across the country. Office workers were being advised to work from home where possible and off-duty medical staff that could make it in to work were covering for those that couldn’t. Even emergency services were said to be going out only to life threatening situations.
Small businesses are suffering from declining sales, as deliveries cannot be made. Farmers too are facing major problems. Thousands of livestock are being frozen to death and many animals are without food, as farmers simply can’t get to them, suffering from snow drifts that have been up to 4 feet deep across Scotland. These are the worst conditions that some areas in Scotland have experienced in 50 years and they’re expected to continue for some time. Cattle farmers in the UK are also facing wasting thousands of litres of milk, as lorries find they cannot access the farms. This could simply mean pouring all this milk down the drain.
Estimates suggest that this cold winter could cost the UK economy £14.5bn in total from lost business. Daily costs will be about £690 million – certainly something that we don’t need in the current climate – financial that is! The following articles look at some of the problems faced across the UK. Read them and then think about the questions below.
Hundreds stranded as Eurostar train breaks down in channel tunnel again Mail Online, Peter Allen (7/1/10)
UK snow freezes transport links and thousands of schools (including video) Guardian, Peter Walker and Steven Morris (6/1/10)
Snowed in, out of pocket. Store staff face a wage freeze Guardian, Caroline Davis and John Stevens (6/1/10)
Livestock being frozen to death in their thousands Scotsman, Frank Urquhart, Alastair Dalton and Mark Smith (7/1/10)
Heavy snow damages business for hospitality industry Big Hospitality, Becky Paskin (6/1/10)
UK’s snowy winter could cost the economy £14.5bn Metro Reporter (7/1/10)
Business leaders criticise school closures BBC News (7/1/10)
Snow puts business continuity plans to the test Computer Weekly, Warwick Ashford (7/1/10)
Freezing weather will cost Welsh economy £25m a day Western Mail, David James (7/1/10)
Snow brings chaos – and beautiful scenes Cotswold Journal (7/1/10)
Local firms count the cost as the big chill continues Belfast Telegraph (7/1/10)
Is snow actually good for the economy? BBC Magazine, Anthony Reuben (15/1/10)
Businesses affected by bad weather BBC News (8/1/10)
- How have businesses been affected by the snow? Is opportunity cost relevant here?
- How is a cost of £14.5bn calculated? (See the article from Metro Reporter.)
- What are the arguments (a) for and (b) against more investment in techniques and equipment to combat these type of conditions?
- Why are pay freezes a possibility for some staff? Illustrate and explain the likely effects of this policy.
- Some shops have seen record sales in this snowy weather, with their shelves completely empty. Which shops would you expect to be in these circumstances and why? (See news item, A new concept for you – Thermal elasticity of demand)
- Which sector of the economy do you think will be the worst affected and why? Which sector’s losses are likely to have the biggest consequences for the UK economy?