During 2007-08, house prices in several countries collapsed, marking the onset of a global financial crisis. The IMF’s Global House Price Index, a simple average of real house prices for 57 countries, is now almost back to its level before the crisis (Chart 1). Is it time to worry again about a global fall in house prices? Continue reading “Global House Prices: Time to Worry Again?” »
The main features of boom-bust cycles in housing markets are by now all too familiar.
During booms, conditions such as lax lending standards and low interest rates help drive up house prices and with them mortgage debt.
When the bust arrives, over-indebted households find themselves underwater on their mortgages— owing more than their homes are worth.
Feeling the pinch of reduced wealth and access to credit, households, in turn, rein in consumption. At the same time, lower house prices cause investment in new houses to tumble.
Together, these forces significantly depress output and increase unemployment. Non-performing loans increase, and banks respond by tightening credit and lending standards, further depressing house prices and adding to the vicious cycle.
With all the anxiety generated by the troubles of Portugal, Greece, and Ireland, it is easy to forget that a different part of Europe was in the spotlight two years ago, facing equally dire predictions of bank runs, fiscal ruin, and devaluation. Today, many economies in emerging Europe are quietly staging a strong comeback. Most impressive is the turnaround in the three Baltic countries, which suffered record deep recessions in the wake of the 2008/09 financial crisis. Take Lithuania, which grew an eye-catching 14.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011. Given this good news, what more can policymakers do to sustain the recovery—and prevent a new boom-bust cycle? Raising the long-term growth trend is key.
Almost unnoticed amidst the difficulties in western Europe, the other half of the continent has begun to recover from the deepest slump in its post-transition period. In our fall 2010 Regional Economic Outlook, the emerging economies in central and eastern Europe are projected to grow by 3¾ percent this year and next—a relief after the 6 percent decline in 2009. But the boom years before the crisis had left much of the region addicted to foreign-financed credit growth, making it very vulnerable to a disruption in capital inflows. So, as the region emerges from the crisis, the big question is how do we avoid a repeat?