Mapped: The Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks
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Mapped: The Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks

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Mapped: The Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks

Mapped: Countries With the Highest Housing Bubble Risks

With a decade-long bull market and an ultra low interest rate environment globally, it’s not surprising to see capital flock to housing assets.

For many investors, real estate is considered as good of a place as any to park money—but what happens when things get a little too frothy, and the fundamentals begin to slip away?

In recent years, experts have been closely watching several indicators that point to rising bubble risks in some housing markets. Further, they are also warning that countries like Canada and New Zealand may be overdue for a correction in housing prices.

Key Housing Market Indicators

Earlier this week, Bloomberg published results from a new study by economist Niraj Shah as he aimed to build a housing bubble dashboard.

It tracks four key metrics:

  1. House Price-Rent Ratio
    The ratio of house prices to the annualized cost of rent
  2. House Price-Income Ratio
    The ratio of house prices to household income
  3. Real House Prices
    Housing prices adjusted for inflation
  4. Credit to Households (% of GDP)
    Amount of debt held by households, compared to total economic output

Ranking high on just one of these metrics is a warning sign for a country’s housing market, while ranking high on multiple measures signals even greater fragility.

Housing Bubble Risks, by Indicator

Let’s look at each bubble risk indicator, and see how they apply to the 22 countries covered by the housing dashboard.

It should be noted that most of the measures here are shown in an index form, using the year 2015 as a base year. In other words, the data is not representative of the ratio itself—but instead, how much the ratio has risen or fallen since 2015.

1. House Price-Rent Ratio

When looking at housing prices in comparison to rents, there are four countries that stand out.

New Zealand (196.8) and Canada (195.9) have seen ratios of housing prices to rents nearly double since 2015. Meanwhile, Sweden (172.8) and Norway (168.2) are not far behind.

Elsewhere in the world, this ratio is much more in line with expectations. For example, in Portugal—where house prices have skyrocketed over recent years—rents have increased at nearly the same rate, giving the country a 99.2 score.

2. House Price-Income Ratio

There are three familiar names at the top of this bubble indicator: New Zealand (156.8), Canada (155.3), and Sweden (145.7).

In places where rents are lagging housing prices, so are the levels of household income. For how long will people afford to buy increasingly expensive houses, if their incomes continue to lag?

3. Real House Prices

Real house prices have increased in all of the 22 markets, with the exception of Italy (95.5).

For this indicator, there are five markets that stand out as having fast-rising prices: Portugal (131.8), Ireland (127.6), Netherlands (121.9), Canada (124.1), and New Zealand (121.9). The latter two (Canada/New Zealand) have appeared near the top of all three bubble indicators, so far.

4. Credit to Households (% of GDP)

Exceedingly high debt ratios point to a strain on consumer finances – and when finances are strained, the chance of a default increases.

Switzerland (128.7%), Australia (120.3%), and Denmark (115.4%) top the list here with consumer debt far exceeding country GDP levels. However, Canada still makes an appearance in the top five with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 100.7%.

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The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

We look at mobility rates as well as COVID-19 recovery rates for 41 economies, to see which countries are reopening for business.

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The Road to Recovery: Which Economies are Reopening?

COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt—but after months of uncertainty, it seems that the situation is slowly taking a turn for the better.

Today’s chart measures the extent to which 41 major economies are reopening, by plotting two metrics for each country: the mobility rate and the COVID-19 recovery rate:

  1. Mobility Index
    This refers to the change in activity around workplaces, subtracting activity around residences, measured as a percentage deviation from the baseline.

  2. COVID-19 Recovery Rate
    The number of recovered cases in a country is measured as the percentage of total cases.

Data for the first measure comes from Google’s COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports, which relies on aggregated, anonymous location history data from individuals. Note that China does not show up in the graphic as the government bans Google services.

COVID-19 recovery rates rely on values from CoronaTracker, using aggregated information from multiple global and governmental databases such as WHO and CDC.

Reopening Economies, One Step at a Time

In general, the higher the mobility rate, the more economic activity this signifies. In most cases, mobility rate also correlates with a higher rate of recovered people in the population.

Here’s how these countries fare based on the above metrics.

CountryMobility RateRecovery RateTotal CasesTotal Recovered
Argentina-56%31.40%14,7024,617
Australia-41%92.03%7,1506,580
Austria-100%91.93%16,62815,286
Belgium-105%26.92%57,84915,572
Brazil-48%44.02%438,812193,181
Canada-67%52.91%88,51246,831
Chile-110%41.58%86,94336,150
Colombia-73%26.28%25,3666,665
Czechia-29%70.68%9,1406,460
Denmark-93%88.43%11,51210,180
Finland-93%81.57%6,7435,500
France-100%36.08%186,23867,191
Germany-99%89.45%182,452163,200
Greece-32%47.28%2,9061,374
Hong Kong-10%97.00%1,0671,035
Hungary-49%52.31%3,8161,996
India-65%42.88%165,38670,920
Indonesia-77%25.43%24,5386,240
Ireland-79%88.92%24,84122,089
Israel-31%87.00%16,87214,679
Italy-52%64.99%231,732150,604
Japan-33%84.80%16,68314,147
Malaysia-53%80.86%7,6296,169
Mexico-69%69.70%78,02354,383
Netherlands-97%0.01%45,9503
New Zealand-21%98.01%1,5041,474
Norway-100%91.87%8,4117,727
Philippines-87%23.08%15,5883,598
Poland-36%46.27%22,82510,560
Portugal-65%58.99%31,59618,637
Singapore-105%55.02%33,24918,294
South Africa-74%52.44%27,40314,370
South Korea-4%91.15%11,34410,340
Spain-67%69.11%284,986196,958
Sweden-93%13.91%35,7274,971
Switzerland-101%91.90%30,79628,300
Taiwan4%95.24%441420
Thailand-36%96.08%3,0652,945
U.S.-56%28.20%1,768,346498,720
United Kingdom-82%0.05%269,127135
Vietnam15%85.02%327278

Mobility data as of May 21, 2020 (Latest available). COVID-19 case data as of May 29, 2020.

In the main scatterplot visualization, we’ve taken things a step further, assigning these countries into four distinct quadrants:

1. High Mobility, High Recovery

High recovery rates are resulting in lifted restrictions for countries in this quadrant, and people are steadily returning to work.

New Zealand has earned praise for its early and effective pandemic response, allowing it to curtail the total number of cases. This has resulted in a 98% recovery rate, the highest of all countries. After almost 50 days of lockdown, the government is recommending a flexible four-day work week to boost the economy back up.

2. High Mobility, Low Recovery

Despite low COVID-19 related recoveries, mobility rates of countries in this quadrant remain higher than average. Some countries have loosened lockdown measures, while others did not have strict measures in place to begin with.

Brazil is an interesting case study to consider here. After deferring lockdown decisions to state and local levels, the country is now averaging the highest number of daily cases out of any country. On May 28th, for example, the country had 24,151 new cases and 1,067 new deaths.

3. Low Mobility, High Recovery

Countries in this quadrant are playing it safe, and holding off on reopening their economies until the population has fully recovered.

Italy, the once-epicenter for the crisis in Europe is understandably wary of cases rising back up to critical levels. As a result, it has opted to keep its activity to a minimum to try and boost the 65% recovery rate, even as it slowly emerges from over 10 weeks of lockdown.

4. Low Mobility, Low Recovery

Last but not least, people in these countries are cautiously remaining indoors as their governments continue to work on crisis response.

With a low 0.05% recovery rate, the United Kingdom has no immediate plans to reopen. A two-week lag time in reporting discharged patients from NHS services may also be contributing to this low number. Although new cases are leveling off, the country has the highest coronavirus-caused death toll across Europe.

The U.S. also sits in this quadrant with over 1.7 million cases and counting. Recently, some states have opted to ease restrictions on social and business activity, which could potentially result in case numbers climbing back up.

Over in Sweden, a controversial herd immunity strategy meant that the country continued business as usual amid the rest of Europe’s heightened regulations. Sweden’s COVID-19 recovery rate sits at only 13.9%, and the country’s -93% mobility rate implies that people have been taking their own precautions.

COVID-19’s Impact on the Future

It’s important to note that a “second wave” of new cases could upend plans to reopen economies. As countries reckon with these competing risks of health and economic activity, there is no clear answer around the right path to take.

COVID-19 is a catalyst for an entirely different future, but interestingly, it’s one that has been in the works for a while.

Without being melodramatic, COVID-19 is like the last nail in the coffin of globalization…The 2008-2009 crisis gave globalization a big hit, as did Brexit, as did the U.S.-China trade war, but COVID is taking it to a new level.

Carmen Reinhart, incoming Chief Economist for the World Bank

Will there be any chance of returning to “normal” as we know it?

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