On several occasions in the past on this site we’ve examined proposals for a Tobin tax: see, for example: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax (Feb 2010), Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing (Dec 2009) and A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (Aug 2009). A Tobin tax is a tax on trading in financial products, sometimes known as a ‘financial transactions tax’ (FTT). It could also be levied on trading in foreign currencies. It is considered in Economics (7th ed) (section 26.3) and Economics for Business (5th ed) (section 32.4).
The tax would be levied at a very low rate: somewhere between 0.01% and 0.5% and would be too small to affect trading in shares or other financial products for purposes of long-term investment. It would, however, dampen speculative trades that take advantage of tiny potential gains from very short-term price movements. Such trades account for huge financial flows between financial institutions around the world and tend to make markets more volatile. The short-term dealers are known as high-frequency traders (HFTs) and their activities now account for the majority of trading on exchanges. Most of these trades are by computers programmed to seek out minute gains and respond in milliseconds. And whilst they add to short-term liquidity for much of the time, this liquidity can suddenly dry up if HFTs become pessimistic.
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has announced that the Commission has adopted the idea of a financial transactions tax with the backing of Germany, France and other eurozone countries. This Tobin tax could be in operation by 2014. According to the Commission, it could raise some €57bn a year. Unlike earlier proposals for a Tobin tax (sometimes called the ‘Robin Hood tax’), the money raised would probably be used to reduce EU deficits, rather than being given in aid to developing countries.
The UK government has been highly critical of the proposal, arguing that, unless adopted world-wide, it would divert trade away from the City of London.
The following articles consider how such a tax would work and its potential advantages and disadvantages.
Theory inches ever closer to practice Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/9/11)
Osborne expected to oppose EU’s proposal for Tobin tax on banks Guardian, Jill Treanor (28/9/11)
Tobin tax could ‘destroy’ business models Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (30/9/11)
Tobin tax is likely, says banking chief Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (5/10/11)
Could a transactions tax be good for capitalism? BBC News, Robert Peston (3/10/11)
EU to propose tax on financial transactions BusinessDay (South Africa), Mariam Isa (5/10/11)
European politicians plot to block UK veto on ‘Tobin tax’ The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (3/10/11)
Opinion Divided on EU Transaction Tax Tax-News, Ulrika Lomas (5/10/11)
Tobin taxes and audit reform: the blizzard from Brussels The Economist (1/10/11)
- What are HFTs and what impact do they have on the stability and liquidity of markets?
- Explain how a Tobin tax would work.
- What would be the potential advantages and disadvantages of the Tobin tax as proposed by the European Commission (the ‘financial transactions tax’)?
- Are financial markets efficient? Can a market be ‘excessively efficient’?
- How are ‘execute or cancel’ orders used by HFTs?
- Why do HFTs have an asymmetric information advantage?
- How does a financial transactions tax differ from the UK’s stamp duty reserve tax?
- Explain why the design of the stamp duty tax has prevented the flight of capital and trading from London. Could a Tobin tax be designed in such a way?
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.
An important measure of activity in the housing market is the number of mortgage approvals. Figures released by the Bank of England show that the number of mortgage approvals for house purchase, after seasonal adjustment, fell from 48,099 in January to 47,094 in February. This was the third consecutive monthly fall in the number of mortgage approvals and the lowest number since the 46,551 recorded back in May 2009.
If we take the latest three months as a whole (December 2009 to February 2010), there were 153,446 approvals worth £20.89 billion. Now, when compared with the same three months a year earlier we can see just how thin activity in the housing market was back then: the number of approvals is now 45.2% higher, while the value of approvals is 30.8% higher. But, it is short-term growth or, more accurately, the lack of it which is worrying commentators. It appears that much of the autumnal recovery in housing market activity is petering out. When we compare the figures for latest three months with those in the previous three months (September to November 2009) we find approval numbers down 10.7%, while the value of approvals is down 11.4%. In other words, it appears that housing demand is again weakening.
If we take a slightly longer-term perspective it becomes even clearer just how low, by historic standards, current activity levels are. Over the past ten years the average number of mortgage approvals for house purchase each month has been 94,443 – this is more than double the number reported for February. So, while the clocks may have gone forward, mortgage approvals are reluctant to move forward. But, more than this, it will be fascinating to watch in the months ahead the patterns in mortgage approvals and so monitor the demand for housing.
Mortgage lending falls to a nine-month low Times Online , Robert Lindsay (29/3/10)
Mortgage slowdown continues, Bank of England data shows BBC News (29/3/10)
Mortgage approvals fall to a nine-month low Financial Times, Daniel Pimlott (29/3/10)
BoE reports fall in February mortgage approvals Home Move, Kay Murchie (29/3/10)
Mortgage approval numbers and other lending data are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Table A5.4.)
- Between September 2008 and the end of 2009, the government introduced what became known as a ‘Stamp Duty holiday’. This meant that buyers became liable to pay Stamp Duty (a tax on house purchases) on property purchases worth over £175,000 rather than over £125,000. How would you have expected the ‘Stamp Duty holiday’ to have affected activity levels during this period? And what types of buyers would have most benefited?
- The government announced in the March 2010 Budget that it is removing Stamp Duty for first-time buyers on properties up to £250,000 for a 2-year period starting from 25th March 2010. What impact might this have on current activity levels? What about in the run-up to its removal in 2012?
- In the March 2010 Budget, the government announced that a 5% rate of Stamp Duty was being introduced on properties of over £1 million from tax year 2011-12. Currently, a top rate of 4% is applied to properties over £500,000. How would you expect this to affect activity levels now, the closer we get to next April and then after April 2011?
- What can we infer from the recent patterns in mortgage approvals about the strength of housing demand?
- Do patterns in the number of mortgage approvals have implications for house prices? Explain your answer.
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?