SINGAPORE ECONOMIC POLICY CONFERENCE
Bubble cuts private spending, raises reliance on volatile foreign demand
PROPERTY price booms and busts make Singapore’s economic growth more vulnerable to volatile factors and should be prevented, an economist at a think-tank said here yesterday.
While the impact of a spike in property prices on overall GDP growth is ‘quite subdued’, a property price bubble causes private consumption expenditure to shrink, making the economy more dependent on foreign demand and business spending which are much more volatile, said Tilak Abeysinghe.
The deputy director of the Singapore Centre for Applied and Policy Economics (Scape) at the National University of Singapore, was speaking at the inaugural Singapore Economic Policy Conference organised by Scape at Four Seasons Hotel.
His team’s research found that while higher property prices spur construction investment, an accompanying dip in private consumption means overall economic growth does not change much as a direct result of property price inflation.
But the overall effect is still undesirable as it makes the economy far more dependent on business spending and foreign demand for its exports, both of which are more volatile than domestic consumption, he said.
The consumption expenditure share of Singapore’s GDP has fallen from more than two-thirds in 1997 to about 40 per cent today. ‘If consumption expenditure in Singapore falls further, GDP growth will be very vulnerable to external demand and investment demand,’ he said.
Research found that in contrast with economies such as the US, higher housing prices here do not seem to encourage more personal spending.
In Singapore, ‘housing wealth is relatively illiquid,’ he said. ‘You just can’t sell your house and move to a suburban house.’ This means the ‘wealth effect’ of housing price inflation seen in countries such as the US – when people spend more as the value of their homes rise – is much less noticeable in Singapore.
Also, ‘when housing prices go up, mortgage payments also increase, so people have less to spend on consumption,’ he said.
He believes policymakers here should ‘do their best’ to prevent a property price bubble because of its effect on private consumption spending and its tendency to widen the income gap between the rich and poor.
‘It should be possible’ to prevent another bubble from building by identifying the main cause of the recent run-up in property prices – likely to be people buying properties for investment rather than owner-occupiers – and introducing measures to dampen demand from this source, he said.
But he also cautioned against flooding the market with a vast supply of new homes, which could trigger a price crash and set the conditions for a new bubble.
Source: Business Times 19 Oct 07