The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index 2018 from UBS Global Wealth Management's Chief Investment Office indicates bubble risk or a significant overvaluation of housing markets in most major developed market financial centers.

Bubble risk appears greatest in Hong Kong, followed by Munich, Toronto, Vancouver, London and Amsterdam. Major imbalances also characterize Stockholm, Paris, San Francisco, Frankfurt and Sydney. Valuations are stretched in Los Angeles, Zurich, Tokyo, Geneva and New York. By contrast, property markets in Boston, Singapore and Milan seem fairly valued while Chicago is undervalued.

Bubble risk soared in Munich, Amsterdam and Hong Kong over the last year. In Vancouver, San Francisco and Frankfurt, too, imbalances continued to grow. More broadly, index scores fell in no less than one-third of the cities. Stockholm and Sydney experienced the steepest drop and moved out of bubble risk territory. Valuations went down slightly in London, New York, Milan, Toronto and Geneva.

In contrast to the boom of the mid-2000s, however, no global evidence of simultaneous excesses in lending and construction exists. Outstanding mortgage volumes are growing half as fast as in the run-up to the financial crisis, limiting economic damage from any price correction.

"Although many financial centers remain at risk of a housing bubble, we should not compare today's situation with pre-crisis conditions," said Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer at UBS Global Wealth Management. "Nevertheless, investors should remain selective within housing markets in bubble risk territory such as Hong Kong, Toronto, and London."

"The median total return on housing in the most important developed market financial centers was 10% annually over the past five years, accounting for an imputed rental income and book profits from rising prices," said Claudio Saputelli, Head of Real Estate at UBS Global Wealth Management's Chief Investment Office. "How appealing returns will be in the next few years is questionable. We recommend caution when buying residential real estate in most of the biggest developed market cities."

In the past year, the house price boom in key cities lost intensity and scope. Inflation-adjusted city prices increased by 3.5% on average over the last four quarters, considerably less than in previous years but still above the 10-year average. They remained on an explosive uptrend in the largest Eurozone economic centers, as well as in Hong Kong or Vancouver. But the first cracks in the boom’s foundation have begun appearing: house prices declined in half of last year’s bubble risk cities – in London, Stockholm and Sydney by more than 5% in real terms.

Affordability crisis weighs upon outlook

The median price-to-income (PI) multiple of the cities in the study increased from 5.5 in 2008 to 7.5 today. Most households can no longer afford to buy property in the top financial centers without a substantial inheritance. As property became too pricy for citizens over the past five years in close to all cities additional regulations were introduced ranging from levying stamp duties to rent-control measures. Such regulations combined with tighter lending conditions can abruptly end a real estate boom, as the current example of Sydney shows. Overall, low affordability jeopardizes cities’ long-term growth potential and could cause investors to reassess their expectations about future capital gains.

Regional perspectives

Europe and Switzerland

In Switzerland, home prices in Zurich and Geneva remain lackluster. Tighter mortgage-market regulations and higher vacancy rates for rental apartments limit the upside. All Eurozone cities except Milan boast higher index scores over the last four quarters. Vibrant income growth, excessively low borrowing rates and bullish expectations caused valuations to soar and local bubble risks to rise. The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index score for London declined for the second straight year but remains in the bubble-risk zone. See pages 8, 13-14, and 17-21 of the report for further findings in Europe and Switzerland.

United States

Overall, the index scores for the US cities in this study are below their 2006 peak values. The divergent rates of market valuation increases since then reflect regional differences in economic growth. In Boston and Chicago valuations remained mostly low. New York’s score dropped slightly given the lack of price growth over the last four quarters. On the other hand, scores rose in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. See pages 8, 15, and 19-21 of the report for further findings in the United States.

APAC

In Asia, Hong Kong tops the Index in 2018. House prices have continued to increase by an annual rate of almost 10% since 2012. In Singapore inflation-adjusted prices staged a fulminant recovery in the last four quarters after six years of correction, rising by 9%. However, the city remains in fair-valued territory. Singapore is one of this study’s few cities whose affordability has improved over the past decade. See pages 9, 12, 16, and 19-20 of the report for further findings in Asia Pacific.

 

Source: FleishmanHillard