Parental guidance, property and ponzi: LF Economics

Parental guidance, property and ponzi: LF Economics
Parental guidance, property and ponzi: LF Economics

A new report by LF Economics compares Australia's housing market to a Ponzi scheme, building on the theme of unaffordability in its previous reports. 

Lindsay David's latest report talks about how many first home buyers (FHBs) depend on their parents for financial assistance for a deposit and then use their homes as collateral to secure mortgages. While this fast-tracks their home ownership, the difficult situation of paying off ever-increasing debt exposes many Baby Boomer parents to a potentially dangerous situation should their children default.

The report says "in reality, many parents (the Baby Boomer cohort) are asset-rich but income-poor". It claims few parents have enough savings and other liquid assets on hand to meet their legal obligations without selling their home if their children default.

It says this loan guarantee strategy in a rising housing market for securing ever-larger amounts of debt is essentially pyramid or Ponzi finance. 

Founded by David and Philip Soos, LF Economics had previously argued that Australia’s housing market was one of the most overleveraged and unaffordable in the Western world.

It says Australia’s long-term housing price index, adjusted for inflation and quality, demonstrates the phenomenal boom in prices beginning in 1996 (a turning point in residential dwelling markets globally).

What distinguishes this boom from all others is its relative size and length of time without incurring a substantial correction. Between 1996 and 2015, real housing prices have risen by 141%. This surge in prices is why the housing market is so unaffordable, it states.

The report is also critical of government and industry claims that declining nominal mortgage interest rates since the peak in 1990 to record lows today has increased affordability, hence assisting FHBs. But this does not account for the ever-rising deposit needed for entry into the housing market given record-high price to income ratios and the hefty cost of lenders mortgage insurance, it adds. The current low interest rate also makes it difficult to save for a deposit.

It says the data shows Australia is in the midst of the largest housing bubble on record, both in terms of prices to rents and household incomes but that government and regulators have been denying the existence of a bubble.

"The price to income ratio (P/I) is as an indicator of residential property valuation, also referred to as the median multiple," says the report.

"When real housing prices began to lift off in 1996, the P/I ratio was around 4 for both houses and units, indicating superior affordability.

"A new peak was established in 2004 and remained steady for the next decade, with a ratio of 7 for houses and 6 for units.

"As the latest booms in Sydney and Melbourne have caused nationwide prices to rise further, the P/I ratio for houses and units have reached a new peak of 8.3 and 6.4 respectively in 2015Q2.

"It is clear a significant increase occurred from 1996 onwards as household incomes have not kept pace with the growth in dwelling prices. The P/I ratio certainly suggests Australia’s residential housing market is unaffordable."

In conclusion, it says the financial services industry does not heed and has no incentive to consider the financial livelihoods of FHBs after purchase. Regulators have ignored the Ponzi lending practices by lenders, believing the RBA will have the adequate ability to bail them out at taxpayers’ expense the day this classic Ponzi lending scheme breaks down.

Housing Affordability Property market

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