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Swiss real estate market UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index 4Q 2017

Major Findings

 

  • The UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index declined in the fourth quarter of 2017, and is currently in the risk zone at 1.32 index points.
  • This second fall in succession was driven by the persistently low increase of mortgage volumes. However, this may have been underestimated, as the records of mortgages granted by insurers and pension funds are inadequate.
  • The majority of the sub-indicators remained unchanged in the last quarter.

 

UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index

At 1.32 points, the UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index was in the risk zone in 4Q 2017. The disparities on the homeowner market declined for the second time in succession. The key factor was the persistently low growth in the mortgage debt of households with the banks, with simultaneously strong income growth in the last quarter. In 4Q, Switzerland recorded its strongest nominal economic growth in almost three years, up 0.6% quarter on quarter.

Mortgage debt growth underestimated

Household mortgage debt rose by 2.6% last year, considerably below the average for the last 10 years of 3.8%. Even so, the actual volume of outstanding mortgages might have grown more than the data suggest, because insurers and pension funds have started to award more mortgages in recent years. Insurers only hold a market share of around 5%, but the growth rate of their mortgages over the last three years was twice as high as those of the banks. The pension funds’ mortgage books also picked up again significantly from 2016, following several years of declining trends. The UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index could well be slightly underestimating the actual risks at the moment.

 

Switzerland UBS Real Estate Bubble Index

Switzerland UBS Real Estate Bubble Index

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Increased disparities in the risk regions

Home price inflation was slightly up again in 4Q 2017, compared with the two previous quarters. This stopped a stronger decline in the Real Estate Bubble Index. On the one hand, general inflation persisted at the level of the previous quarter. On the other, asking rents fell by 0.4%. The price-to-rent ratio is thus lurching from one high to the next; it now takes over 30 years’ rent to buy your own home. The highest price-to-rent ratios are to be found in the risk regions of German-speaking Switzerland and the tourist regions, where a home of your own actually costs considerably more than 35 years’ rent.

Home Price Inflation

Home Price Inflation

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Sub-indices of the UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index

Owner-occupied home prices relative to annual rent payments

  • An above-average buy-to-rent ratio indicates a high dependency on sustained low interest rates or implies expectations of future price increases.
  • The long-term average is 26.1 annual rents. In March 1989, the indicator peaked at 29.3.
  • In the fourth quarter of 2017, it took 30.2 annual rents to purchase a comparable home. This means that the index has risen steadily for more than three years.
 

Owner-occupied Home Prices Relative to Annual Rent Payments

Owner-occupied Home Prices Relative to Annual Rent Payments

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Owner-occupied housing prices relative to household income

  • The indicator shows whether the price behavior of the owneroccupied housing market is supported by changes in household income. A decoupling of prices from average household income can be interpreted as a sign of interest rate risks.
  • In terms of a long-term average, it takes 5.3 annual incomes to purchase an owner-occupied home in the medium price segment.
  • In 4Q 2017, it took around 6.4 annual household incomes to purchase a home of your own in the medium price segment. Compared to the previous quarter, the index remained unchanged.

Owner-occupied Housing Prices Relative to Household Income

Owner-occupied Housing Prices Relative to Household Income

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Construction relative to gross domestic product (GDP)

  • If the construction sector gains weight within the national economy, this can signal an overheating of the real estate market.
  • The current values are significantly below the peak values of the 1980s.
  • Nominal construction investment fell slightly in 4Q 2017. In a year-on-year comparison, it recorded a minimal increase of 0.2%. The contribution of construction investment to gross domestic product stayed steady over the year at just under 9.3%.

Construction Relative to Gross Domestic Product

Construction Relative to Gross Domestic Product

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Owner-occupied home prices relative to consumer prices

  • In the long term, owner-occupied housing prices are likely to be oriented towards the development of construction costs and general inflation. A sharp and lasting increase in inflationadjusted owner-occupied housing prices is thus a warning signal for a possible correction.
  • After adjustment for inflation, owner-occupied housing prices are now barely above the high of 1989.
  • Prices for owner-occupied homes rose by 0.4%, with this being attributable to the rise in asking prices for single-family homes of almost 1%. By contrast, the consumer price index remained virtually unchanged in 4Q 2017.
 

Owner-occupied Home Prices Relative to Consumer Prices

Owner-occupied Home Prices Relative to Consumer Prices

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Mortgage volume relative to disposable household income

  • A sharp growth in mortgage debt is a clear indication of the owner-occupied housing market overheating. In the event of an increase in interest rates or a correction in owner-occupied housing prices, high household debt increases the negative consequences for the national economy.
  • The volume of outstanding household mortgages rose by around 2.6% compared to the previous year. This is the lowest value since 1999. Outstanding mortgage volumes have risen by 3.8% per year on average over the last 10 years.
  • The sharp slowdown in household debt growth dampened the development the UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index in the last few quarters.

Mortgage Volume Relative to Income

Mortgage Volume Relative to Income

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UBS loan applications for real estate intended for leasing

  • High demand for residential property for the purpose of leasing (buy-to-let) indicates speculative demand.
  • However, the current value remains below the record high in 2015.
  • The number of loan applications for non-owner-occupied properties was stable in 4Q 2017. Buy-to-let nevertheless appears to remain a popular investment strategy, accounting for 18.5% of all loan applications.

Credit Applications for Residential Property not Intended for Owner Occupancy

Credit Applications for Residential Property not Intended for Owner Occupancy

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Regional analysis

The number of risk regions remained unchanged in 4Q 2017. The Geneva and Nyon regions are in a correction phase. Local owneroccupied housing markets have already cooled down in these regions. In the past three years, price corrections in the Valais, the Bernese Oberland and parts of Graubünden have led to no tourist regions being on the risk map anymore. The regional risk focus is gradually shifting from Lake Geneva to the regions of Zurich and Central Switzerland.

Methodology

The regional risk map shows those regions posing the greatest macroeconomic risks in the event of a Swiss-wide correction. The analysis is based on the population size, the price level and the price behavior for owner-occupied homes. The selection of risk regions is linked to the UBS Swiss Real Estate Bubble Index. Vacancy or liquidity risks are not taken into account.

Regional Risk Map

Regional Risk Map

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UBS Switzerland AG
UBS AG is a Swiss global financial services company, incorporated in the Canton of Zurich, and co-headquartered in Zurich and Basel. The company provides wealth management, asset management, and investment banking services for private, corporate, and institutional clients worldwide, and is generally considered to be a bulge bracket bank. In Switzerland, these services are also offered to retail clients. The name UBS was originally an abbreviation for the Union Bank of Switzerland, but it ceased to be a representational abbreviation after the bank's merger with Swiss Bank Corporation in 1998. The company traces its origins to 1856, when the earliest of its predecessor banks was founded.
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