Friday, September 04, 2009
This story in the Economist about the housing wealth effect and new debt creation demonstrates once again why there is no such thing as "pure" economics (i.e., where markets are rational and consumers do what economists think they're supposed to do).
Withdrawal symptomsFour years later, economists are finally starting to understand the housing bubble...
Most new borrowing during America’s housing boom was for spending
HOW big an influence on spending is housing wealth? Hopes for a consumer revival in countries where house prices have slumped rest, in part, on the answer. A purist view is that the value of homes has no “wealth effect” on consumption. An increase in house prices only raises the future cost of shelter. Those about to trade down or sell out receive a windfall, but first-time buyers and those hoping to buy a bigger home are worse off. The overall effect on wealth is a wash. But even if that is correct, house-price increases may still have an impact as they create housing collateral for consumers who could not otherwise borrow. A study by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business pins down the size of this effect, using the credit records of almost 70,000 American borrowers.
By limiting their sample to those who were already homeowners in 1997, before the boom in housing and credit, the authors were able to measure how much of the rise in debt was the result of cashing in on higher home values. They reckon almost 60% of increased debt between 2002 and 2006 came from this source. Put another way, every $1 increase in home values led to a rise of 25-30 cents in borrowing. That is far bigger than some long-standing estimates of the wealth effect from rising asset values, which are in the 3-5 cent range (though these include the response of renters, too).