AT A Singapore Economic Policy Forum organised by the Department of Economics of the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Oct 18, I presented a paper with the title, ‘Singapore’s property market and the macroeconomy’. This was reported in The Straits Times the following day under the headline, ‘No bubble in property market: NUS study’.
The title of the report may have created the misperception that current increases in property prices are all fundamental and policy intervention is not necessary. Some clarification is necessary with regard to the findings of the research and its policy implications.
In our analysis, the long-run demand for housing is determined by the growth of resident population, foreign population, per-capita disposable income, per-capita CPF balances (a proxy for financial wealth) and an adjustment factor to account for what is known as the user cost of housing. If the housing stock grows in line with the growth of the long-run demand, house prices should stay the same in the long run.
The current surge in house prices is largely a result of the housing shortage that was caused by the crash of the price bubble in 1996 and the prolonged slump in the property sector. Large imbalances in demand and supply create conditions for bubbles and subsequent crashes.
Based on data available up to the second quarter of this year, our model predicted that house prices should increase by 18 per cent in 2007 purely due to the fundamental demand-supply imbalance. We know that house prices by now have increased well above this rate. In the third quarter of this year the average price level had gone up by at least 27 per cent over the third quarter of 2006. Price persistence (panic buying when prices rise and waiting when prices fall) and speculation are the key drivers of the short-run price acceleration.
Although price bubbles are usually attributed to speculation, large gyrations in property prices are unhealthy for the economy. As housing supply cannot keep pace with demand because of construction delays and land scarcity, demand-management policies, especially with respect to investment demand, have to be in place.
Author: Associate Prof Tilak Abeysinghe
Source : Straits Times - 23 October 2007