The Netherlands continues to see house prices surging

by Shaun Richards

Today gives us the opportunity to look at several issues. Sadly the initial opening backdrop is this.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte announced yesterday that the Netherlands is going into “partial lockdown”, due to the sharp rising numbers of coronavirus infections. From Tuesday evening, all bars and restaurants will be closed for at least one month. Buying alcohol after 10PM is forbidden. Hotels remain open, as well as bars and restaurants in the airport, after the security check. ( EU Observer).

So we see that another squeeze is being put on the economy To put this another way the Statistics Netherlands report below from Monday now looks rather out of date.

The economic situation according to the CBS Business Cycle Tracer has become less unfavourable in October. However, the economy is still firmly in the recession stage. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports that, as of mid-October, 10 out of the 13 indicators in the Business Cycle Tracer perform below their long-term trend. Measures against the spread of coronavirus have had a major impact on many indicators of the Tracer.

If we look at the situation we see that it was a pretty stellar effort to have a reading of 0.56 in April but the number soon plunged to its nadir so far of -1.95 and the latest reading is -1.21.

The picture for trade, investment and manufacturing is as you might expect.

In August 2020, the total volume of goods exports shrank by 2.3 percent year-on-year. Exports of petroleum products, transport equipment and metal products decreased in particular. Exports of machinery and appliances declined as well.

The volume of investments in tangible fixed assets was 4.5 percent down in July 2020 relative to the same month last year. This contraction is smaller than in the previous three months and mainly due to lower investments in buildings and machinery.

In August 2020, the average daily output generated by the Dutch manufacturing industry was 4.0 percent down on August 2019. The year-on-year decrease is smaller than in the previous four months.

Along the way we see how this indicator was positive in April as some of it is lagged by around 3 months. That is also highlighted by the consumer numbers.

In July 2020 consumers spent 6.2 percent less than in July 2019. The decline is smaller than in the previous four months. Consumers again spent less on services but more on goods.

Unemployment

Yesterday’s official release told us that the unemployment data in the Netherlands are as useless as we have seen elsewhere.

In September 2020, there were 413 thousand unemployed, equivalent to 4.4 percent of the labour force. Unemployment declined compared to August and the increase seen in recent months has levelled off. In the period July through September, the number of unemployed increased by a monthly average of 3 thousand. From June to August, unemployment still rose by 32 thousand on average per month, with the unemployment rate going up to 4.6 percent.

There is a clear case for these numbers to be suspended or better I think published with a star combined with an explanation of the problem.

We do learn a little more from the hours worked data although as you can see they are a few months behind the times.

Due to government support measures, job losses were still relatively limited in Q2 at -2.7 percent, but the number of hours worked by employees and self-employed fell significantly and ended at a total of 3.2 billion hours in Q2 2020. Adjusted for seasonal effects, this is 5.7 percent lower than one quarter previously.

GDP

This was better than the Euro area average in the second quarter.

According to the second estimate conducted by CBS, gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 8.5 percent in Q2 2020 relative to the previous quarter. The decline was mainly due to falling household consumption, while investments and the trade balance also fell significantly. Relative to one year previously, GDP contracted by 9.4 percent.

House Prices

Here we have something rather revealing and ti give you a clue it will be top of the list of any morning meeting at either the Dutch central bank or the ECB.

In August 2020, prices of owner-occupied dwellings (excluding new constructions) were on average 8.2 percent higher than in the same month last year. This is the highest price increase in over one and a half years.

Yes house prices are surging in a really rather bizarre sign of the times.

House prices peaked in August 2008 and subsequently started to decline, reaching a low in June 2013. The trend has been upward since then. In May 2018, the price index of owner-occupied dwellings exceeded the record level of August 2008 for the first time. The index reached a new record high in August 2020; compared to the low in June 2013, house prices were up by 51 percent on average.

This gives us a new take on the “Whatever it takes” speech by ECB President Mario Draghi in July 2012. Because if we allow for the leads and lags in the process it looks as though it lit the blue touchpaper for Dutch house prices. It puts Dutch house prices on the same timetable as the UK where the Bank of England acted in the summer of 2012 and the house price response took around a year.

The accompanying chart will also warm the cockles of any central banking chart as the house price index of 107.2 in September 2016 ( 2015 = 100) becomes 143.4 this August. Actually in the data there is something which comes as quite a surprise to me.

According to The Netherlands’ Cadastre, the total number of transactions recorded over the month of August stood at 19,034. This is almost 3 percent lower than in August 2019. Over the first eight months of this year, a total of 148,107 dwellings were sold. This represents an increase of over 5 percent relative to the same period in 2019.

More transactions in 2020 than 2019? I know such numbers are lagged but even so that should not be true surely?

Inflation

One might reasonably think that with all that house price inflation that inflation full stop might be on the march.

In September, HICP-based prices of goods and services in the Netherlands were 1.0 percent up year-on-year, versus 0.3 percent in August.

the answer is no because the subject of house price rises is ignored on the grounds that they are really Wealth Effects rather than price rises.That, of course throws first-time buyers to the Wolves. In fact if I may use the numbers from Calcasa first-time buyers can be presented as being better off.

On average, 13.6% of net household income was required to service housing costs in the second quarter of 2020, compared to mid-2008 when housing costs represented 27.0% of net income.

Such numbers have the devil in the detail as averages hide the fact that first-time buyers are being really squeezed.

Comment

The Netherlands is an economic battleground of our times.If we start with the real economy we see that there was a Covid-19 driven lurch downwards followed by hints of recovery. Sadly  the recovery now looks set to be neutered by responses to the apparent second Covid wave. The last quarter of 2020 could see another contraction.

Yet if we switch to the asset prices side the central bank has been blowing as much hot air into them it can. Bond prices have surged with bond yields negative all the way along the spectrum ( even the thirty-year is -0.21%), So we start with questions for the pensions and longer-term savings industry. Then we arrive at house prices which are apparently surging. You almost could not make that up at this time! The inflationary impact of this is hidden by keeping the issue out of the official inflation measure or if really forced using rents for people who do not pay rent. Meanwhile their other calculations include gains from wealth effects boosting the economy.

If we look forwards all I can see is yet another easing move by the ECB with more QE this time maybe accompanied by another interest-rate cut. I fail to see how this will make things any better.