Much higher house prices and the political sustainability of a return of inflation

Mortgage interest rates were last in the double digits in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, housing prices have exploded in New Zealand and barely paused for the recession in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

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Source: International House Price Database – Dallas Fed; Housing prices deflated by personal consumption expenditure deflator.

With house prices and mortgages several times what they used to be, the ability for any household income to absorb the sudden return of high mortgage interest rates because of  a return of even moderate CPI inflation and double-digit mortgage rates is well-nigh impossible, politically.

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Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand Mortgage rates and Bryan Perry, Household Incomes in New Zealand: trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2014 – Ministry of Social Development, Wellington (August 2015) Table C.5.

The chart above shows that the number of 25 to 44-year-olds in New Zealand who have more than 30% of their income going to housing expenses has doubled since 1988 to nearly a third of all households. The number of 45 to 64-year-olds who pay more than 30% of their income in housing expenses has quadrupled to 20%. That is a lot of voters who would be offended by mismanagement of monetary policy.

None of these households would have much left over to absorb an increasing mortgage interest rates. That is very different political arithmetic too the last time both mortgage rates and CPI inflation were in double digits, which was more than 20 years ago. Not many New Zealanders under the age of 40 or 45 have an adult memory of high inflation and high mortgage rates.

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  1. Trackback: Greg Mankiw on the zero influence of modern macroeconomics on monetary policy making | Utopia - you are standing in it!

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