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Real Estate Bubbles: The Six Cities at Risk of Bursting

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What do Vancouver, London, Stockholm, Sydney, Munich, and Hong Kong all have in common?

According to economists at UBS Wealth Management, these six cities all have the notorious designation of being the real estate markets furthest into “bubble” territory:

Real Estate Bubbles

The major Swiss bank recently published the results of their 2016 Real Estate Bubble Index. The report found that since 2011, the six cities in “bubble” territory have seen housing prices soar at least 50% on average. Meanwhile, in other comparable markets, the average increase in prices was less than 15% over the same timeframe.

At the top of the list, not surprisingly, sits Vancouver – a city that has been grappling with real estate mania for some time.

Here’s Vancouver’s rise, compared with other select markets in North America.

North American Cities

Note that San Francisco is in the “overvalued” zone, but getting close to an official bubble designation.

A Delicate Balance

Why are these housing markets so overvalued?

It comes down to three main drivers, according to UBS: a flood of foreign capital, loose monetary policy, and bullish expectations from buyers.

Flood of foreign capital: Wealthy Chinese people are leaving the country in droves, and they are looking at places to park their capital. Cities like Vancouver and Sydney make sense because of their proximity. Cities such as London or New York, on the other hand, may appeal because they are global financial centers.

Loose monetary policy: Low interest rates, some which are zero or even negative, work to artificially inflate asset prices. Lenders can get mortgages for rock-bottom rates, and systematically bid up the price of real estate. We are currently undergoing one of the biggest financial experiments of all time, as central banks have run out of levers to pull. Rates are near zero and there has already been unprecedented amounts of liquidity pumped into the system through quantitative easing.

Bullish expectations: At the end of the day, people will continue to bid up real estate bubbles if they think they will profit from it. This is human nature, and it will take a shift in overall market sentiment to hinder this.

From our perspective, the most interesting and concerning aspect is the loose monetary policy found worldwide. If central banks raise rates right now, markets will crash.

If they continue to postpone due to weak economic data, the housing bubbles will continue to inflate. The more they inflate, the more sensitive they are to any trigger that could pop them.

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Data Visualization

Assembling the World Country-by-Country, Based on Economy Size

How does the world map change if it gets assembled based on the size of economies, in ascending order of GDP or GDP per capita?

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If you had to sketch a world map, you’d probably start with a place that is familiar.

Perhaps you would begin by drawing your own continent, or maybe you’d focus on the specific borders of the country you live in. Then, you’d likely move to drawing the outlines of neighboring countries, eventually working your way to far and distant lands.

This would be a logical way for anyone to think about such a task, and it gives some insight as to how humans think about the world.

We start with what’s familiar, and build it out until it’s a complete picture.

Assembling the World by Economy Size

What if we assembled a world map in a completely different order?

Today’s two animations come to us from Engaging-Data, and they approach the world map from an alternate angle: assembling countries on the map in the order of their economic footprints.

GDP (Nominal)

The first map, shown below, uses nominal GDP to assemble countries in ascending order:

Country GDP

This version of the map shows the smallest economies first, with the larger economies at the end.

For this reason, the first economies appearing on the map tend to be developing nations, or nations with smaller geographical or demographic footprints.

For example, even though the Falkland Islands are wealthy on a per capita basis, the British Overseas Territory has fewer than 4,000 people, which gives it a minor footprint on a global stage.

GDP per Capita (Nominal)

Now, let’s take a look at the same map, constructed in order of GDP per capita:

Country GDP per Capita

This animation is more cohesive, given that it is not dependent on population size. Instead the order here is based on economic output (in nominal terms) of the average person in each country or jurisdiction.

In this case, developing nations appear first – and at the end, more developed regions (like Europe and North America) tend to fill out.

Note: All rankings here are in nominal terms, which use market rates to calculate comparable values in U.S. dollars, while omitting the cost of living as a factor. GDP rankings change significantly when using PPP rates.

Other Ways to Assemble the World

While assembling nations based on GDP provides an interesting way to look at the world, this same approach can be tried by applying other statistics as well.

We recommend checking out this page, which allows you to “assemble the world” based on measures like population density, life expectancy, or population.

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Maps

Mapped: The Salary Needed to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Metro Areas

The annual salary needed to buy a home in the U.S. ranges from $38k to $255k, depending on the metropolitan area you are looking in.

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The Salary Needed to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Metro Areas

Over the last year, home prices have risen in 49 of the biggest 50 metro areas in the United States.

At the same time, mortgage rates have hit seven-year highs, making things more expensive for any prospective home buyer.

With this context in mind, today’s map comes from HowMuch.net, and it shows the salary needed to buy a home in the 50 largest U.S. metro areas.

The Least and Most Expensive Metro Areas

As a reference point, the median home in the United States costs about $257,600, according to the National Association of Realtors.

 Median Home PriceMontly Payment (PITI)Salary Needed
National$257,600$1,433.91$61,453.51

With a 20% down payment and a 4.90% mortgage rate, and taking into account what’s needed to pay principal, interest, taxes, and insurance (PITI) on the home, it would mean a prospective buyer would need to have $61,453.51 in salary to afford such a purchase.

However, based on your frame of reference, this national estimate may seem extremely low or quite high. That’s because the salary required to buy in different major cities in the U.S. can fall anywhere between $37,659 to $254,835.

The 10 Cheapest Metro Areas

Here are the cheapest metro areas in the U.S., based on data and calculations from HSH.com:

RankMetro AreaMedian Home PriceMonthly Payment (PITI)Salary Needed
#1Pittsburgh$141,625$878.73$37,659.86
#2Cleveland$150,100$943.55$40,437.72
#3Oklahoma City$161,000$964.49$41,335.41
#4Memphis$174,000$966.02$41,400.93
#5Indianapolis$185,200$986.74$42,288.92
#6Louisville$180,100$987.54$42,323.15
#7Cincinnati$169,400$1,013.37$43,429.97
#8St. Louis$174,100$1,031.70$44,215.56
#9Birmingham$202,300$1,040.51$44,593.35
#10Buffalo$154,200$1,066.29$45,698.05

After the dust settles, Pittsburgh ranks as the cheapest metro area in the U.S. to buy a home. According to these calculations, buying a median home in Pittsburgh – which includes the surrounding metro area – requires an annual income of less than $40,000 to buy.

Just missing the list was Detroit, where a salary of $48,002.89 is needed.

The 10 Most Expensive Metro Areas

Now, here are the priciest markets in the country, also based on data from HSH.com:

RankMetro AreaMedian Home PriceMonthly Payment (PITI)Salary Needed
#1San Jose$1,250,000$5,946.17$254,835.73
#2San Francisco$952,200$4,642.82$198,978.01
#3San Diego$626,000$3,071.62$131,640.79
#4Los Angeles$576,100$2,873.64$123,156.01
#5Boston$460,300$2,491.76$106,789.93
#6New York City$403,900$2,465.97$105,684.33
#7Seattle$489,600$2,458.58$105,367.89
#8Washington, D.C.$417,400$2,202.87$94,408.70
#9Denver$438,300$2,139.02$91,672.45
#10Portland$389,000$1,987.37$85,173.08

Topping the list of the most expensive metro areas are San Jose and San Francisco, which are both cities fueled by the economic boom in Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, two other major metro areas in California, Los Angeles and San Diego, are not far behind.

New York City only ranks in sixth here, though it is worth noting that the NYC metro area extends well beyond the five boroughs. It includes Newark, Jersey City, and many nearby counties as well.

As a final point, it’s worth mentioning that all cities here (with the exception of Denver) are in coastal states.

Notes on Calculations

Data on median home prices comes from the National Association of Realtors and is based on 2018 Q4 information, while national mortgage rate data is derived from weekly surveys by Freddie Mac and the Mortgage Bankers Association of America for 30-year fixed rate mortgages.

Calculations include tax and homeowners insurance costs to determine the annual salary it takes to afford the base cost of owning a home (principal, interest, property tax and homeowner’s insurance, or PITI) in the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.

Standard 28% “front-end” debt ratios and a 20% down payments subtracted from the median-home-price data are used to arrive at these figures.

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