It took some time, but they are finally beginning to get it. Leading financial analysts, money managers and economists have commenced to comprehend that real estate bubbles in many emerging markets could crash. The Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column that China was another emerging danger as its credit fueled real estate bubble burst. The same concept has at last dawned on hedge funds A hedge fund owned by the famous private equity firm Carlyle sent an elite strike team to do a “deep-dive research trip” to China. It won’t help. They might find what is, but they have no idea of what is to be.
To find out we have to look at what was. The United States state of Texas had a real estate bubble in the late 1980s. When the bubble collapsed, the banks were stuck with massive bad real estate loans. To solve the problem the US created one of the first “bad banks”, the Resolution Trust Company (RTC). The banks transferred the bad loans to the RTC along with the job of foreclosing on and selling the property.
The RTC tried to do its job, but was stopped when local real estate interests complained loudly that sales of foreclosed property were depressing the market. When the RTC stopped selling, the market froze. The buyers stopped buying, because they knew the RTC would eventually have to clear its inventory. After a time economics overcame politics and the sales restarted.
Today the US has a similar problem. Almost 30% of houses sold in the US in 2011 were the result of foreclosures. Over 3 million homes have been foreclosed since the real estate market collapsed. But the market still has not cleared. Although many of the foreclosed homes do get sold, they make up less than one third of the houses that the banks actually repossess. The banks are slowly leaking these properties on to the market, because they are terrified that too much distressed inventory would depress prices further. The result is that the recovery has been slow. But at least the process is going forward, which is a lot better than nothing at all.
The United States is not the only country that has experienced a real estate bubble. The easy credit sloshing around emerging markets has had a dramatic effect on property. Luxury homes in Mumbai and Singapore have increased by 138% and 144% respectively over the past 5 years. Real estate in India grew 400% from 2003 to 2008 before the crash and now in some places it is 30% higher than its 2008 peaks.
Prime office rents in Rio de Janeiro are higher than anywhere in either North or South America including New York. House prices in Sao Paulo have nearly doubled since 2008. Some areas of Rio’s fashionable Ipanema district have risen over 30% since last year.
Then there is China. Home prices in Beijing have risen by about 150 % in the past four years. Like India, they have increased 400% since 2001. Beijing theoretically began to tighten lending especially to real estate two years ago, but their efforts have not been rewarded until the last few months when property prices started to decline.
Contrary to some true believers, all markets go down as well as up, even emerging markets. Prices are beginning to fall and the falling prices have begun to accelerate.
The consequences of a real estate bust in emerging markets would create quite a different situation than the real estate bust in developed markets. The rules are much different and so would the outcome. A burst real estate bubble in emerging markets would be far more severe and would last much longer.
The reason is simple. The legal plumbing in these countries, including foreclosures and bankruptcy laws, is either deficient at best or nonexistent at worst. There isn’t even information on it. Despite diligent search in all financial news sources and general internet search, I have found few if any references to emerging market foreclosures.
Many economist’s like to point out that mortgage lending in these countries is still quite small and often requires large down payments. True, but it has been growing at 20% a year in places like India. In China bank financed construction makes up twice the percentage of GDP as it does in developed countries.
For a country to grow after the crash of a real estate bubble, the market has to reach equilibrium. To do so requires that over priced homes with delinquent mortgages have to be foreclosed and sold. If the procedure for foreclosure doesn’t exist, then the entire economy gets stuck with massive dud loans and zombie banks as occurred for over a decade in Japan. So when the emerging markets collapse, the recovery will take years.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.