New Zealand property bubble
The New Zealand property bubble is an ongoing issue in New Zealand, where house prices have risen considerably faster than incomes. Since the 1980s, various factors including deregulation, immigration and politics have contributed to these rising house prices, with considerable debate over how to address the issue due to its large size relative to the economy.
The fourth Labour Government (elected in 1984) rapidly introduced policies of economic deregulation as a result of the previous Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's Think Big policies that had left the country heavily in debt. Investment in shares increased rapidly, often with little due diligence carried out. The 1987 sharemarket crash hit New Zealand's economy especially hard, with the NZSE dropping around 60% from its peak. Many investors who lost heavily in the 1987 crash never returned to the sharemarket, instead opting for the safer option of property investment.
Between 1986 and 2003 the government of New Zealand relaxed immigration rules and changed to skills-based immigration criteria, leading to the largest increases in immigration to New Zealand in years.
In 1989 Parliament passed the Reserve Bank Act, which emphasised keeping a lid on inflation and on interest rates, which in turn reduced the costs of borrowing for fixed assets such as houses. In the same year, tax exemptions for pension, insurance and other similar investments were abolished, but not for real estate. Two years later, the Resource Management Act (RMA) replaced a raft of regional-planning laws. Some regard the RMA as an obstacle to building affordable housing.
As of 2016, the average house price in New Zealand reached NZ$622,000, with average prices in the country's largest city, Auckland, exceeding $1,000,000 in numerous suburbs. Between 2004 and 2017, the ratio between median house price and median annual household income increased from just over 3.0 in January 2002 to 6.27 in March 2017, with Auckland's figures 4.0 to 9.81 respectively.
In 2017, the Demographia think-tank ranked Auckland's housing market the fourth-most unaffordable in the world — behind Hong Kong, Sydney and Vancouver — with median house prices rising from 6.4 times the median income in 2008 to 10 times in 2017. Another study carried out in 2016 reported that average house prices in Auckland surpassed those of Sydney. That same year, the International Monetary Fund ranked New Zealand at the top for housing unaffordability in the OECD, and has called for taxation of property speculation.
Multiple property owners in New Zealand are not subject to capital gains taxes and can use negative gearing on their properties, making it an attractive investment option. Prospective house-buyers, however, accuse property investors of crowding them out. When the Tax Working Group reported its findings to Parliament in 2019, a capital gains tax was among its recommendations, only to be shelved after failing to secure enough Parliamentary backing.
Immigration remains a topic of controversy in regards to housing affordability, and has been cited by the Reserve Bank and others as a factor in rising house prices. Annual net migration as of 2017 was approximately 70,000, compared with an average of 15,000 in the previous 25 years. However the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has refuted this, saying that New Zealanders returning from overseas make up much of the inflows, and that there was a need to allow in "skilled migrants required to ramp up housing supply".
According to NZ's 2017 register of pecuniary interests, New Zealand's 120 members of parliament own more than 300 properties between them, prompting accusations of conflict of interest.
NIMBY sentiment among established home-owners — particularly towards attempts to relax building density rules in Auckland such as the Unitary Plan — has also been pointed to as a major factor in the housing bubble.
Potential effects of bubble burst
According to investment manager Brian Gaynor in 2012, a 10% drop in house prices would wipe out $60 billion of New Zealanders' personal wealth, which would exceed the losses from the 1987 sharemarket crash. Steve Keen, one of the few economists to forecast the Great Recession, warned in mid-2017 that New Zealand would be one of many nations to experience a private debt meltdown involving housing, and that "the bubble will burst in the next one to two years". A report published by Goldman Sachs predicted that New Zealand had a 40% chance of a "housing bust" over the same period. Financial commentator Bernard Hickey has described New Zealand's property market as "too big to fail", and supports a deposit insurance scheme in the event of a banking collapse caused by a property crash.
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has estimated that the total value of housing loans has increased from just under $60 billion in 1999 to over $220 billion in 2016.
- Bernard Hickey (2009-08-17). "Opinion: Why the golden oldies are wrong: housing is less affordable now than in 1987 and 1975 (Corrected)". interest.co.nz.
- Gaynor, Brian (2012-10-20). "Property fallout would top '87 share crash". New Zealand Herald.
- Nadine Higgins (2017-09-07). "Eyewitness: Black Monday". Radio New Zealand.
- Liam Dann (2017-10-12). "The Crash". New Zealand Herald.
In October 1987 a stock market crash shook the world. Nowhere was hit harder than New Zealand.
- "Share Price Index, 1987–1998". Archived from the original on 2010-05-25.
- "Commercial Framework: Stock exchange, New Zealand Official Yearbook 2000". Statistics New Zealand. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
- Tony Field (2016-08-03). "Shares outperform property, but not popular investment choice". Newshub.
Mr Beale says Kiwis naturally don't like investing, and are very focussed on property, with memories of the 1987 crash still lingering.
'It seems New Zealand is still not investing in the share market because of what happened in the 1987 sharemarket crash.'
- "The touch factor". New Zealand Herald. 2005-02-15.
The allure of property investment is quite multifaceted. To some it is the touchy, feely factor. They can buy a property, drive past it and touch it, which is something they can't do with shares and bonds.[...] Others have had bad experiences with shares (think the 1987 sharemarket crash, investors who got burnt haven't forgotten) and other savings schemes and are looking for alternative forms of investment.
- "Immigration regulation - 1986–2003: selection on personal merit". Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
Bernard Hickey (2017-04-19). "1989 was year zero for Generation Rent". Newsroom.co.nz.
As the Productivity Commission and the current government has pointed out repeatedly in recent years, the RMA ushered in an era where councils and residents were more reluctant to open up land for housing, partly because it was easier to object to new developments, and partly because the funding arrangements for councils made it more difficult.
The end result was New Zealand's house building rate dropped from around nine homes per 1,000 people per year during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to around five homes per 1,000 people through the 1990s and 2000s. The potential for extra housing supply to both respond to higher house prices and then soften the growth was ripped out by the effects of the RMA and council funding mechanisms.
- Fyers, Andy (2016-12-04). "Blowing Bubbles: Where the housing bubble has blown up the biggest". Stuff.co.nz/Business Day.
- David Chaston. "Median Multiples - House price-to-income multiple". interest.co.nz.
- Patrick O'Meara (2017-01-23). "Housing in many NZ cities 'severely unaffordable'". RNZ.
- Andrew Laxon (2016-09-25). "Home truths: City of expensive sales tops Sydney". New Zealand Herald.
- Dan Satherley (2016-09-01). "No fix for housing crisis until young and renters vote - economist". Newshub.
- Hamish Rutherford (2017-05-09). "IMF says housing bubble could unsettle strong New Zealand economy". Stuff.co.nz.
- Simmons, Geoff (2016-06-17). "Why a capital gains tax won't stop the housing bubble". National Business Review.
- Small, Vernon (2017-05-14). "Labour to shut down 'negative gearing' tax break in crackdown on property investors". Sunday Star Times.
- "Are investors crowding first-home buyers out of the market?". New Zealand Herald. 2016-04-26.
- "'No mandate' for capital gains tax - PM". Radio New Zealand. 17 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Mark Lister (2017-02-21). "Three things that could burst bubble". New Zealand Herald.
- Hamish Rutherford (2017-02-27). "Net migration hits 71,000 as Kiwis turn their back on living overseas". Stuff.co.nz/Business Day.
- Isaac Davidson (2016-08-10). "Migrants not to blame for Auckland's house prices, study finds". New Zealand Herald.
- Sir Maarten Wevers (2017-01-31). "Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament: Summary of annual returns as at 31 January 2017" (PDF). New Zealand Parliament.
- Nicholas Jones and Isaac Davison (2017-05-09). "MPs' latest home ownership, interests revealed". New Zealand Herald.
- Stacey Kirk and Andy Fyers (2017-05-10). "The many houses of our MPs - which MPs have a stake in multiple properties?". Stuff.co.nz.
- "Government MPs' property ownership revealed". RNZ News. 2017-05-10.
- "MPs' housing investments 'no conflict'". RNZ News. 2015-05-11.
- "Auckland Unitary Plan". Auckland Council. 2016-11-15.
- "Group considers legal challenge to Unitary Plan". RNZ News. 2016-07-28.
- Maria Slade (2016-02-25). "Great dollops of nimbyism lock first home buyers out of Auckland upzoning debate". Auckland Now.
- Geoff Simmons (2016-07-29). "Unitary Plan: Inevitable NIMBY backlash begins". National Business Review.
- Wallace Chapman (2017-05-28). "Steve Keen: The coming crash". RNZ.
- "NZ at 40% risk of housing bust - Goldman Sachs". RNZ News. 2017-05-16.
- Bernard Hickey (2014-04-28). "The problem of moral hazard in our 'Too Big To Fail' property market". Newsroom.co.nz.
- Andy Fyers (2016-12-07). "Blowing Bubbles: Who loses the most when a housing bubble bursts". Stuff.co.nz/Business Day.