On Monday I went to the annual City debate at the Mansion House. I was asked to debate the motion that “normalising” interest rates will cause the next financial crash. I spoke against the motion. A copy of my slides are available here: Returning to normal.14.02.14.
When a vote was taken before the debate 52% agreed with me in opposing the motion. By the end of the debate that had risen to 63%. Why did the pessimists lose?
I made two central claims. The first is the new “normal” on interest rates in the UK, US and the Euro area is not going to be very high rates like the 1970s and 1980s, nor even 5% rates like the last decade. As the Central Banks have made clear, their aim is to live with ultra low rates for a year or more from today. They plan to follow this with rates at around 2-3% thereafter, if the economies have continued to recover and are looking better. If not they will continue with abnormal monetary measures.
The second is there is no evidence of bubble type conditions in the US, UK or Euroland today.
When the Japanese bubble burst at the end of the 1980s, real estate values had reached higher than £40,000 a square foot in Tokyo and shares were selling on 100 times their earnings per share. Shares fell by three quarters, and property values fell by 90% when the bubble exploded.
When the banking systems of Ireland, Greece and Cyprus imploded debt levels and bank gearing were much higher than today. RBS has more than doubled its capital relative to its loans since the crisis.
Today in the UK property is a few hundred pounds a square foot rising to a maximum of £5000 a square foot in a few prestigious parts of central London where foreign buyers in the main pay large sums in cash for the privilege of owning. Shares are selling below their long term average, around 13 times earnings per share. Average house prices have risen 3% over the last year and real house prices are still below the peak of 2007-8.
In order to have a traditional boom/bust cycle like the UK 2000-2009 or the UK 1970-77 you would need much more extended bank debt and asset prices in the boom phase, followed by much tougher future monetary action than the current Bank has in mind. The Central banks seem to have learned from the mess they created in 2005-9. The new normal will be lower rates than before, whilst the current weak state of money growth means most asset prices are far from the bubble levels of Tokyo in 1989 or New York in 2000.