【英语财经】德国房地产市场迥异于英美 Anglo-Saxon economies should envy Germany’s rental culture

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2014-7-1 01:26

小艾摘要: There is no shortage of explanations for the resilience of the German economy: its companies are strong; its political and social institutions stable; and the skills of its engineers legendary. There ...
Anglo-Saxon economies should envy Germany’s rental culture
There is no shortage of explanations for the resilience of the German economy: its companies are strong; its political and social institutions stable; and the skills of its engineers legendary. There might, however, be another explanation: its approach to housing. The country’s property market differs widely from those in the rest of the world – and particularly from those of most Anglo-Saxon countries.

The International Monetary Fund pointed out this month that housing can do a lot of damage. An increase in prices provides an initial spur to the wider economy: construction activity is boosted and homeowners grow richer. But as a boom continues, leverage grows and price rises become unsustainable. The bursting of a bubble devastates bank balance sheets and leaves behind an economy that must painfully reallocate productive resources from a bloated construction industry to other sectors.

The IMF said that more than two-thirds of the recent systemic banking crises were preceded by boom-bust patterns in property markets. They triggered the biggest financial crisis in living memory, ruined Ireland and Spain, may soon wreak havoc on China and have put central London out of reach of the middle class, which is priced out of the market. Mortgages are, to adapt investor Warren Buffett’s quip about derivatives, the true financial weapon of mass destruction.

Some countries seem to be more prone to housing excesses than others. The IMF calculates that prices in the UK are 27 per cent above their long-run average relative to incomes, while in Germany they are 16 per cent below. What explains this important difference?

One reason is that living in a home you actually own is not as important as it is in the US or the UK. OECD data show the rate of home ownership is 41 per cent in Germany compared with 71 per cent in the UK and 69 per cent in the US.

This is partly a result of history. Germany needed to build homes after the second world war, during which many cities were destroyed. Supported by generous government subsidies, public, co-operative and private developers built millions of rental units in just a few years. The rental market is highly regulated, and tenants are protected by a body of laws. Most contracts are indefinite, for instance, and as long as rent is paid on time it is almost impossible for a landlord to terminate them. This means renting is a relatively comfortable option.

Mortgage finance also matters. Property loans are generally not as easily available in Germany as in other countries. Lenders typically demand at least a 20-40 per cent deposit. The interest rate is usually fixed for at least 10 years, and even 30-year fixed-rate contracts are on offer. In the case of an early termination of a contract by the borrower, banks can charge a penalty in order to recoup forgone interest payments.

This makes mortgage refinancing – a common reaction to reduced interest rates in the US and the UK – virtually impossible in Germany. It is also uncommon for consumers to borrow against the rising value of their home. As a consequence, interest rate cuts take much longer to feed through the system and are less likely to result in a housing boom. In fact, while prices have risen significantly in urban areas such as Berlin and Munich, there are few signs that leverage has reached a dangerous level.

Despite ultra-low rates, the volume of housing loans to private households grew by a mere 2 per cent in 2013 according to the Bundesbank. With the exception of a shortlived uplift in the east of the country, which was related to reunification, there has been no big nationwide property boom in Germany’s postwar history.

This has implications for the European Central Bank. In Anglo-Saxon countries, the housing market is an important transmission channel for monetary policy. A cut in interest rates by the central bank drives up prices and lowers the cost of serving mortgage debt, which spurs consumption. But if many borrowers cannot use lower market interest rates and a majority of the population rents, monetary policy is less effective.

Those arguing that more spending by Germans is what the eurozone needs to support economic rebalancing should prepare to be disappointed.

The writer is the economics correspondent of Die Zeit

有关德国经济为何如此强韧,不乏各种解释:德国公司实力强大;德国政治、社会制度稳定;德国工程师技术高超。不过,可能还有另一种解释:这要归功于德国解决住房供给的方法。德国房地产市场,与世界其他地区、尤其是大多数盎格鲁-撒克逊国家的房地产市场,有着很大差异。

国际货币基金组织(IMF)本月指出,住房供给可能带来很大危害。一开始,房价上涨对宏观经济产生刺激:建筑业活跃度大为提升,房主变得更加富有。但随着繁荣期继续下去,杠杆水平加大,房价涨势变得难以为继。泡沫破灭摧毁银行资产负债表,泡沫破灭后的经济体,必须痛苦地把生产资源从过度膨胀的建筑业配置到其他行业去。

IMF表示,在近来的系统性银行危机中,有三分之二的危机在爆发之前出现过房地产市场由盛转衰的现象。房地产市场由盛转衰,引发了当代人记忆中最严重的金融危机,毁掉了爱尔兰和西班牙,或许还会很快重创中国,还导致伦敦中区的房价高到令中产阶层望尘莫及,没有任何人愿意买。借用沃伦?巴菲特(Warren Buffett)说衍生品的俏皮话,抵押贷款是“真正的金融大规模杀伤性武器”。

有些国家似乎比其他国家更容易发生住宅供给乱象。IMF计算得出,英国眼下的房价收入比值,比该国这一比值的长期平均水平高出27%,德国的房价收入比值则比长期平均水平低出16%。这一重要差异应如何解释?

一个原因是,在德国,居住自有产权的房子,不像在美国或英国那么重要。经合组织(OECD)数据显示,德国居民住房自有率为41%,而英国为71%,美国为69%。

这在一定程度上是历史造成的。德国许多城市在二战中被摧毁了,战后自然需要建造房屋。在政府慷慨补贴的扶持下,公共、合营与私人开发商仅用几年便建成了数百万套出租房。租房市场受到严格监管,租户受到一整套法律的保护。比如,大多数租房合同都是没有固定期限的,只要按时交房租,房东几乎无法终止租房合同。这样看来,租房是一种相对舒适的选择。

抵押贷款融资也很重要。在德国,房地产贷款通常不像在其他国家那么容易获得。贷款提供方通常要求贷款者至少支付20%至40%的首付。通常情况下,固定利率贷款期限至少为10年,市场上甚至还有30年期的固定利率贷款合同。如果借款人提前终止合同,银行可以收取罚金,以弥补损失的贷款利息收入。

这导致抵押贷款再融资——英美两国借款人对于利率下降的通常反应——在德国几乎不可能实现。消费者在自家房产升值后再次贷款的情况也很少见。因此,降息效果传导至整个系统所花的时间,要比英美市场长得多,降息导致住房市场繁荣的可能性也更小。事实上,尽管柏林和慕尼黑等都市地区房价已大幅上涨,但鲜有迹象表明杠杆水平已升至危险地步。

德国央行(Bundesbank)数据显示,尽管利率超低,但2013年私人家庭住房贷款额仅增长2%。除东德地区房价曾短暂上涨(与两德统一有关)外,德国在战后历史上从未出现过大规模的全国性房地产繁荣。

这对欧洲央行(ECB)有诸多影响。在盎格鲁-撒克逊国家,住房市场是一条重要的货币政策传导渠道。央行降息推动房价升高,并降低偿还抵押贷款的成本,从而刺激消费。但如果许多借款人无法利用市场利率下降之机,而且大部分人口租房住,那么货币政策就不那么有效了。

主张欧元区需要德国人增加支出、以支持欧元区经济再平衡的人,应该要做好失望的准备了。

本文作者为德国《时代周报》(Die Zeit)经济记者

译者/邢嵬

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