Saving up

The deadline for written submissions to the Treasury Select Committee’s inquiry into the effectiveness and impact of post-2008 monetary policy is on Sunday. They put out a call for thoughts a few months ago with a very long list of very open-ended questions some time ago, and the very first one on the list is really interesting.

Their first question concerns “the effectiveness of holding Bank rate near zero and whether extremely low rates can encourage more, rather than less, saving”.

My first thought was that the UK parliament is contemplating following Turkish President Erdogan into the realms of neo-Fisherism. This would be quite a thing.

My second thought was the IPSOS cross-country survey that ING commissioned and analysed a little over a year ago about attitudes to saving in a low or negative rate environment. I found this pretty fascinating stuff. And even if it didn’t deliver a knock-out blow to the conventional notion that lower interest rates discourage rather than encourage savings in aggregate , it did find a considerable minority (14.5%) of UK consumers saved more in response to falling interest rates (although this proportion was much lower than the 27% who indicated that they had reduced saving in response to lower rates). The sample size is small, it lacks a time-series, is democratically rather than plutocratically-weighted. As such it is hard to draw from it sufficient inference to overturn the notion that lower rates would reduce saving/ increase borrowing or the inverse. But still.

 

My third thought though was my kids. I have blogged about the Nangle household bank twice before. My 7 year old ‘target saves’ for big ticket items, using compound interest to his advantage. If I cut rates would he save more or less? As I was on a train I put out a quick ten minute Twitter poll (to test your views on the matter). This is what I got back:

(Although Lorcan did also advise me to ditch this idea altogether.)

Most of the tiny sample of people replying reckoned lower rates = lower saving. This is how stuff tends to work in the real world, right? Lower rates encourage borrowing over saving. But my kids can’t borrow at an interest rate; they can only save at one. They literally ‘save up’ for things rather than debt-finance their spending ambitions. And the interesting thing is that they are not the only ones. In fact, I reckon that I could make the case that the group of people ‘saving up’ in the UK is bigger than it has ever been. And almost all of them are, like my 7 year old, are target savers, accruing savings for a big ticket item.

Two distinct and pretty large cohorts of people who are engaged in saving-up spring to mind.

The first cohort consists of those for whom credit is unavailable by design. This cohort includes highly creditworthy agents seeking to purchase items for which credit is not available (eg, housing, vehicles, plant) due to the lending appetite of lenders, and the macroprudential environment. If you’re a Millennial a few years out of university working in even a highly paid job and like the idea of buying a flat, you are probably in this category. Also in this category are people deemed so uncreditworthy by all lenders that no one will lend to them. Lower rates seem likely to increase savings and reduce borrowing for these agents as they are forced to save up rather than access finance.

Macroprudential regulation has the effect of changing the size of this cohort of agents for whom lower rates means more saving up rather than more consumption. As house prices have risen (partly due to low rates) and macroprudential policy has impeded mortgages from being advanced at ever-higher multiples of salaries, so prospective home-purchasers (first time-buyers and those moving up the housing chain) will be required to save up to a greater extent than in previous times. The chart below from @resi_analyst  shows the level of first time buyer deposit required as a proportion of their disposable income, calculated using the Council of Mortgage Lenders median loan to value and median loan-to-income ratios. It’s an amazing chart. Saving up is clearly a more central aspect today than it may have been in previous times among aspiring homeowners.

First time buyer deposits required as a proportion of disposable income

first-time-depo

The second cohort is those for whom credit will never be available no matter the macro prudential environment owing to the thing for which they are saving up. This cohort consists of people who want to generate a specific retirement income that they can look forward to spending. With the private sector defined benefit system a shadow of its former self, and retirement *the biggest lifetime purchase, bigger than a house* this cohort is probably large and growing.

This isn’t market failure, it’s just a thing. No lender is going to lend money to someone on an uncollateralized basis specifically so that the borrower can stop working (forever) and go spend their borrowed money  (although there is a market for heavily-over-collateralized lending designed to be repaid upon death). And so, for these folks, lower rates (and associated bond, dividend and rental yields that come from higher asset prices), will likely increase savings and reduce borrowing. Bottom line: these folks are forced to save up more than they would otherwise as rates fall to generate the same target retirement income. Or they could alternatively invest in riskier assets in the hope of getting higher returns, or adjust down their retirement ambitions through some combination of less time spent in retirement or lower income in retirement.

Savings rates tend to be higher amongst those in the two decades before retirement, in preparation for retirement. This cohort is better paid and so outsized economic influence per individual, and is larger in relation to the general population than it has been. Furthermore, the defined benefit pension system is meaningfully less-inclusive than it has been in previous periods, potentially leading to a change in savings behaviours. As such, we can speculate that the impact of lower rates in forcing higher levels of saving in this cohort is higher today than it would have been in previous times. The chart below is an elementary effort to capture the changing saving habits required over time to purchase a private pension income equivalent to 40% of median salary over time. As interest rates have fallen so required savings rates for ‘saver-uppers’ have increased, and at an economy-wide level the level of saving up is further boosted by the ageing demography.

Level of target savings required to deliver private income of 40% of median income in retirement[1]

saving-up

There is in addition a third group that is large and unstable in the form of defined benefit pension scheme sponsors, some of which sit in the camp of ‘saver-uppers’ who must save more as rates fall, and some of which sit in the camp of agents that can access borrowing who can save less as rates fall. The potential requirement of a pension fund-sponsor to ‘save-up’ for the retirement of its workers is contingent upon the market’s perception of its expected longevity. Businesses with a long-expected life can borrow from future profits to fund the retirement needs of past and current workers. Businesses with an uncertain life-expectancy will be unable to borrow to fund the short-fall at attractive rates, and will need to increase saving – and increasingly so in a lower rate environment. The shift towards a lower rate environment itself, given the unavoidable system-wide mismatch of pension fund assets and liabilities from an actuarial and accounting perspective, has increased the number of institutions sponsoring defined benefit pension schemes in deficit, a proportion of which have an uncertain life-expectancy.

So where does this leave me? With more questions than answers I’m afraid. How large and important are these different groups in the UK financial landscape, and to what extent are their actions swamped by the opposite actions of others? If they are important, what is the relative importance of: a) the combination of high house prices and macro prudential policy caution; b) the decline of the private sector defined benefit pension system; c) the demographic bulge working its way through the UK’s population pyramid. Is this all just another way of calling long-dated bonds a Giffen Good?

And my 7 year old? What did he do when I cut the Nangle household bank rate? Well in the end I didn’t. In matters of parenthood, as in matters of Eurosystem financial plumbing, it’s worth listening to what Lorcan says.

 

[1] This required level of saving is based on an age-indiscriminate savings rate, that savings are into annuity-purchase products, and that that inflation-linked annuity rates can be proxied by nominal long-dated Gilt yields.

Pocket money rate cuts

Talk in the Nangle household has turned to interest rates cuts. Specifically, the prospect of rate cuts from the ‘Bank’ I run for my kids on which I pay 10% per week that I have previously described here.

As I’ve explained, I founded the Bank as a way to combat the weekly pocket money flush where money *had* to be spent on *something, ANYTHING!*. This behaviour was then followed by complaints that they could never afford things that they might actually want. Giving them APRs on balances that are enjoyed by only the more dubious loan sharks did the trick.

Those of you older than 10 will have spotted immediately the flaw in the initial design – that the Bank is a redistribution mechanism from me to them that rewards saving to such an extreme extent that it could quickly cause it (and me with it) to go bankrupt. By being the Bank, I am borrowing wonga from my kids at outrageous rates.

For this reason I was particularly careful to spend a good deal of time at the inception of the Bank talking to the kids about how the rate would be set weekly and could be changed at my discretion. I even raised the possibility of negative rates at some point in the future, which drew cries of disbelief and outrage from my 8 year old.

Fast forward a year and it’s rate cut time. Why? Because, basically, my 6 year old gets it. From his 60 pence a week pocket money he has, with the help of compound interest, amassed a fortune of £50, giving him an unearned income of £5 per week and rising that he sinks back into the Bank. My 8 year old meanwhile has maintained both a balance of between £2-15, and a healthy scepticism of the value of saving for its own sake – preferring to save for something specific, buying it, then starting again.

My 6 year old looks at my 8 year old and wonders why she doesn’t save more. My 8 year old looks at my 6 year old and wonders why he values the abstraction of a ledger entry over all the stuff she has actually bought. Differing perspectives, both valid. I am very proud of them both.

My sky high APR has crushed the kids’ aggregate demand and on my son’s current trajectory, he will soon own the house. Yes, the Bank has embedded a useful lesson about how it *might* be useful to defer consumption. But, the house. Something must be done, and it’s name is financial repression.

The motivation to cut rates comes from a desire on my part to deleverage, or at least ease the pace of leverage growth to which my children are willing counterparties. But with such different marginal propensities to consume, should I cut the Bank rate or introduce a tiered set of rates that preserves high rates of interest on small balances, is less generous to larger balances, and penalises hoarding?

I worried that a tiered rate regime might be too complicated and could incentivise odd behaviour so I asked my 8 year old what she would do if marginal rates sloped downwards and went negative from £40 out. I had expected her to say that she would keep excesses in piggy bank cash. But her answer was intriguing and, if the ING survey is to be believed, specifically Anglo-Saxon:

‘I would get mummy to start a second bank with a positive interest rate and put the extra money in that instead’.

And so it seems that, in the Nangle household at least, negative rates would be greeted principally by a portfolio balance effect and a reach for yield rather than a dash for cash.

At the end of the original pocket money blog I reflected that what I had created was less a Bank and more a defined contribution pension system. Perhaps the logical next step is to take a leaf out of Osborne’s book and introduce a Lifetime ISA to compete with the current system. But for now, we have opted for a tiered rate regime which is far from perfect. It does serve to reduce my risks, and remains more generous than anything else around.

Amount of contributions required to save a balance of £100

LISA

 

LDI and the Efficient Market Hypothesis – my fictional pub chat with John Ralfe

A couple of weeks back I wrote a work piece about asset allocation. John Ralfe (@JohnRalfe1) sent a mini-Tweetstorm response and invited me to have public discussion about it on Twitter. I think that this would be better done over a pint in a pub, but since John doesn’t actually live in London and I wasn’t proposing to get on the train to Nottingham I’ve written this blog.

Given that my initial piece was a work thing (as opposed to a personal blog thing) I’m not going to go into it here, although you can easily read it on my employer’s website. It is basically an outline of how strategic asset allocation processes tend to operate, and active asset allocation can prospectively operate under forthcoming Local Government Pension Authority reform. Real Friday night stuff.

But John’s critique of it is not actually dependent upon the piece’s contents, so don’t worry about reading it to make sense of this blog. I understand John as instead wanting to critique the very notion that defined benefit pension funds should make ever asset allocation decisions.

For folks of you not familiar with John, he has quite a reputation in the world of institutional pension management. As former head of corporate finance for Boots (the biggest pharmacy chain in the UK) in the early noughties he was credited for shifting Boots’ pension assets out of equities and into bonds in an effort to match estimated liabilities with cashflows from fixed income securities (I am hazy on the detail, and you should ask him). This made headlines in not only trade press but mainstream press. As a 26 year old fixed income fund manager I followed the whole thing with great interest. Everyone in the industry did. Importantly, I understood his call to shift assets not as a call on the likely returns from the equity or the bond market, but rather a decision that Boots as a sponsor of a large pension fund should not be making calls on the likely returns from the equity and bond markets – even over very long investment horizons. Instead, they should be taking risks in its area of expertise (pharmacy retailing, and associated businesses).  The development of pensions regulation, invention of the Pensions Regulator and the Pension Protection Fund, the development of accountancy rules (think FRS17, IAS19 etc), and the frankly unreliable and volatile risk markets has led to the mass popularisation of this approach in the UK. I have met many a company finance director expressing the desire to want to get pensions out of the boardroom, and some of my day job involves helping them do so. So while it may not be technically true, I think of John as the founding father of LDI – Liability Driven Investment – in the UK.

LDI is a mammoth thing in the UK – so mammoth that anyone with a remote interest in finance or financial markets without a passing understanding of it should probably read up to familiarise yourselves with it. I draw a horribly crude thumbnail sketch in paragraphs below, but this is a very readable, short non-technical overview. In fact, as I’ve argued here the conditions that have led to its success are sufficiently mammoth a thing that they need to be considered when contemplating non-traditional monetary policy in the UK.

Around about the time that John invented LDI (or at least brought into the mainstream), markets were experiencing what we now refer to as the dotcom crash. This was accompanied by accountancy scandals at Enron, Worldcom, et al that ultimately brought about the dissolution of Arthur Andersen – one of what were the big five global accounting firms. Equity markets were all over the place and the vast bulk of UK defined benefit pension schemes were thrown into massive deficits. Why were they thrown into deficit? To answer this we need to step back and ask of what a defined benefit pension actually consists. The answer to this question has (I believe) changed from a legal perspective over the decades, and has ultimately landed as a form of deferred pay that ranks pari passu with senior unsecured creditors (this off-the-top-of-my-head legal definition is complicated by the creation of the PPF a few years back, and I’m happy to insert a snappy more correct definition of the legal status of someone’s defined benefit pension assets not yet in payment).

Firms that have promised to pay their retired ex-staff monthly payments until death don’t know the exact size of the final bill for which they have put themselves on the hook. They employ actuaries to estimate the size and timing of likely future payments that they have promised to make. Changes in the actuaries’ estimates of likely mortality developments will impact their assessment of payment sizes and timings; financial market volatility will not. Reasonable actuarial estimates of these likely payments can be huge for individual companies. Mega-humongous-huge for the UK in aggregate.

And so it would be weird if accountants didn’t want to represent within the financial statements of a firm some clues pertaining to these often very sizeable liabilities. But rather than reflecting the terminal (estimated) value of liabilities (eg, I owe Deborah £100 fifty years from now if she doesn’t first die), accountants decided that a more sensible approach would be to reflect the estimate of terminal liabilities discounted using market interest rates, so arriving at the present value of liabilities. So instead of showing that I owed Deborah £100, the accounts would show that I owed Deborah around [£100/(1+50yr bond yield)^50] which, when using a yield of 5% equates to me owing Deborah £8.71. This may sound barmy, but if I were to put £8.71 into a fifty year zero coupon bond at a yield of 5% I would get back £100 in fifty year’s time – just in time to pay off my debt to Deborah. So the accountants thought this a sensible approach, and put this way it does sound pretty reasonable.

What has happened in recent years is that bond yields have fallen (with my understanding of structural drivers of bond yields outlined here). Furthermore, bond yield declines have been most substantial during equity market falls (think flight to quality, anticipation of lower interest rates and lower inflation in forthcoming years due to the disruption associated with financial market crisis, etc). So using the example of my debt to Deborah, let’s say that 50yr bond yields fall from 5% to 3%, the present value of the debt I owe Deborah will have risen from £8.71 to £22.81. It is important to note that the amount I owe Deborah hasn’t changed (it is still £100), but the liability reflected in financial statements will have grown almost three-fold due to changes in market rates used to turn terminal values into present values. By discounting terminal values (estimated by actuaries) back to present values, accountants could present stakeholders with a fair picture of firms’ financial health in a manner consistent with the efficient market hypothesis which won Eugene Fama his Nobel prize.

Getting back to pension schemes being thrown into massive deficit by the dotcom crash, we can see that while the terminal value of pension liabilities did not change (ok, they did go up a bit as actuaries have for many years increased their life-expectancy expectations) the present value of liabilities shot up as bond yields fell, and – for funds that chose to invest in equities rather than cashflow-matching bonds – asset values fell. Falling assets and rising liabilities made for a toxic mix, the result of which has been wholesale closure of defined benefit pension schemes, the diversion of large amounts of corporate income into financial assets in order to begin to plug the deficit (especially in an environment which saw the birth of the Pensions Regulator and Pensions Protection Fund in the UK). Here’s a picture of the ongoing death of DB pensions from the Pension Regulator’s excellent annual Purple Book :

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 22.29.00

Meanwhile Boots pension funding levels would have been largely unaffected by falls in yields and falls in equity markets from the point at which it did the asset switch. It had largely closed down the mismatch between accountants’ estimates of the present value of actuaries’ estimates of ultimate cashflows payable to defined benefit pensioners by buying long-dated cashflows (in the form of fixed cashflows associated with bond coupons and principal payments). So while the accountants’ estimates of the present value of liabilities soared, so the value of assets also soared as bond prices rose (both being a function of long-dated yield collapse).

This has been a long preamble, and could have been skipped if John and I had met in the pub. Despite it being long I have skipped any discussion of real rates versus nominal rates (more than a little important), and a whole host of other real life (but complicating from a blog perspective) issues/ factors. But we have to move on to John’s Twitterstorm that he has since asked me to answer (a few times).

Here it is in text, with links to the original tweets embedded:

1 “Strategic Asset Allocation”, as correctly applied to an individuals fund, is a category mistake when applied to a DB pension fund @toby_n

2 A DB pension fund is not a self contained economic entity, but simply part of the capital structure of the sponsor @toby_n

3 Asset/liability mis-match in DB pension fund changes capital structure & increases financial risk for sponsor just like gearing @toby_n

4 If a sponsor wants to increase gearing, then directly borrow – transparent & tax efficient – not indirectly thro DB fund @toby_n

5 If a sponsor believes in “SAA” in DB fund, then borrow long term debt & buy financial assets & explain why to shareholders @toby_n

As you can see, it’s an entirely reasonable position from the founding father of LDI in the UK. And John makes very strong points that it would be silly to refute if one accepts his premises (which I have tried to relate in paragraphs above but may have got wrong, and with no John in pub, hard to know). Furthermore, his premises (if these indeed are his premises) are tricky to theoretically refute, rooted as they are in Nobel prize-winning stuff. The issues I have with John’s position (and the whole LDI edifice) can probably be summed up in a rambling question and a couple of observations.

My question:

Given that LDI is a hedge against changes in an accountant’s present value calculation of an actuary’s estimate of terminal cash flows, what is the best way to judge the correct price of this hedge; or rather, is it ever possible to overpay for this hedge, and if so, what tools would I need to employ to understand whether I was overpaying?

I have written about this before in relation to whether house prices (as an effective hedge) can ever be too expensive. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I suspect that hedges can be too expensive and asset prices can be wrong (and have bet my career on this suspicion). But I don’t observe anything in the LDI approach to help frame this judgement. Instead I understand it placing what looks to be an intolerable burden on the efficient market hypothesis to determine that a hedge must always be appropriately priced. In other words, this approach lends itself to the conclusion that it is impossible to overpay if you are paying the market price, no matter what the market price.

This leads on to my two observations:

  1. The size of UK defined benefit liabilities is larger than the market of physical hedging instruments on a duration-weighted basis.* Simply put, while it might be theoretically possible for  DB funds to collectively go down the LDI route, (an practically possible for some of them to go down the LDI route), it is not practically possible for them to collectively so do. This will be of surprise to no one working in UK fixed income markets, but surely throws doubt on the idea that pension funds seeking to hedge liabilities can do so without distorting the price of that hedge (seeming to undermine a central tenet behind the use of the efficient market hypothesis by accountants and actuaries).
  1. While fixed rate assets can be used to match accountants’ estimates of actuaries’ estimated liabilities, this is true because of the tautological construct. And as such while I accept that the LDI approach will be the very best possible hedge against my accountants’ estimate of my actuaries’ estimates of my liabilities, I am not convinced that the reality of the tautology should define the investment structure of pension fund assets in the UK (especially given observation 1 above, and my unwillingness to believe that it is impossible to overpay for a hedge). Fixed rate corporate bonds, equities, and commercial property are all just claims on corporate profits. Despite all being but claims on future profitability/ future economic activity, only one of these claims has any place in a full LDI construct. That just seems odd to me.

If I was having my pint with John rather than answering his Tweetstorm in this overly-long blog, I would expect he would parry by repeating point 2-4 (which are super-strong points). And I would probably repeat my question and observations. And I genuinely don’t know what would happen after that. I’m fairly sure that neither of us would change the other’s mind. But I also hope that we would emerge the wiser about the other’s position (and perhaps even with enhanced respect for each other’s position). Hence the interest in the pint.

 

 

* I should share my extremely back-of-envelope workings so that they can be properly challenged.

The Pension Regulator’s annual Purple Book indicates that UK private sector DB pensions have combined liabilities on a buy-out basis of £2.1 trillion. They also say that a 10bps fall in Gilt yields increases these liabilities by 2%, inferring a duration of around 20yrs.

Let’s look at how much UK fixed income duration exists that might be used to match these liabilities. (Yes, I know that most LDI is done synthetically, but can’t get away form the idea that the duration has to reside somewhere. This may be my fatal gap in understanding.)

First, let’s take the entire stock of UK fixed income securities (as represented in the BAML Broad Sterling Market UK00 index). This has a face value of £1.47 trillion, but a market value of £1.78tn and a duration of 10.2yrs. Leaving aside curves in our hunger for UK duration *of any description* let’s call this £908 billion of 20yr equivalent duration paper.

And let’s add on to this the entire stock of inflation-linked Gilts with a market value of £540bn and a duration of 12.4yrs and call this another £335bn of 20yr equivalent duration paper. Summing these together we get to £1.24 trillion of 20yr duration equivalent paper.

What about the missing £857bn of 20yr duration securities that needs to be bought so that DB pension funds can cashflow match? It doesn’t look like it exists.

John Ralfe has written a reply here that you should have a read of. 

When is housing too expensive a hedge to hold?

I ended the last post saying “that the way I (and I think we) think of housing is better described as a hedge than as a punt. The price of the hedge is still important, but the goal for many is to be hedged so that they can stop worrying about their massive and unhedged liability.” What did I mean?

Well, if you don’t own a property and wouldn’t qualify for social housing, renting is a large, volatile and unavoidable expense. And owning your own home is a means to (almost) perfectly hedge the large, volatile and unavoidable expense of renting. If housing is a hedge and you own less housing than you will ultimately expect to be consuming (eg, you have a one-bed flat and are planning a large family) then you are basically short, rather than long, property. As the Bank said back in 2006 ‘when house prices rise, typically rents do too — so renters face higher housing costs’. So, if I live in an up and coming area, my rent will rise faster than average. We can’t stop and get off the UK housing market just because we’re not enjoying the ride.

But after the last post (about which Katie was characteristically kind) Tom Bowker posed a killer question:

Why is this a killer question? Two reasons.

  1. It is pertinent. As Tom suggests, it looks like I studiously avoided discussing any framework that might be used to work out whether it is a cheap or expensive hedge in my previous post on house prices.
  2. It is relevant beyond housing. It is a question that has been occupying almost every UK boardroom in the land. Not that they are obsessing on the price of housing as a hedge, but rather because they have been struggling on the price of hedging their defined benefit pension liabilities. And Tom’s question is about houses as hedges. As I suggested in the last blog, the London property market “make(s) me feel a bit like a de-risking defined benefit pension scheme”.

If we get are allowed to get a little geeky, the analogy of defined benefit pension schemes is not as tenuous as it might sound:

  • Pension scheme sponsors are short a stream of long-dated future debt-like cash-flows that will vary in line with the product of inflation, demographic factors and an idiosyncratic factor related to their scheme membership. There is a structural shortage of hedging instruments (long-dated inflation-linked bonds) given lack of supply and foreign demand.
  • Renters are short a stream of long-dated future debt-like cash-flows that will vary in line with the product of aggregate rental inflation, demographic factors, and an idiosyncratic factor related to the property in which they live. There is a structural shortage of hedging instruments (houses) given lack of supply and foreign demand.

As such, both renters and pension scheme sponsors are at risk of fluctuations in some combination of long-term real interest rates, a form of inflation, some demographic considerations, and some idiosyncratic factors. And their ability to hedge appears frustrated by structural supply-demand imbalances. Furthermore, it turns out that the way in which UK boardrooms monitor the price of their pension hedge can be used to monitor the price of housing as a hedge.

Long-dated inflation-linked, conventional Gilt yields plus a mix of high-yield and investment grade credit spreads vs UK residential rental yields*

housing ditty

  Pension schemes has had their regulatory incentives changed meaningfully over the past couple of decades and this has prompted a good deal of hedging. How can we monitor the changing price of the hedge to defined benefit pension scheme sponsors? I would suggest a combination of long-dated inflation-linked yields, long-dated conventional gilt yields and some combination of investment grade and high yield credit spreads (to account for a rough measure of inflation risk, long-dated real rate risk, and market risk premia that might be employed by schemes to match liabilities). And how can we monitor the changing price of the hedge to renters? I would suggest the residential rental yield. Both are shown in the chart above. It don’t think that it is unreasonable to suggest that attempts by pensions to hedge their liabilities have impacted the price of the hedge available to renters.

I believe that hedging activity in the pensions world has changed the economics of hedging in the housing world. Because pension funds have increasingly wanted to hedge their (plain vanilla) inflation risk (but there has been insufficient supply of hedging instruments), the cost of hedging inflation has become very expensive. This manifests in suppressed long-dated real yields (boosting the price of long-dated inflation-linked bond prices), and has contributed to a rise in price of other forms of inflation hedging (like housing). I should be clear at this point that connecting pension hedging to house prices is (today) a minority position. What is the upshot of this minority view? Well, although housing looks (to me) overvalued as a punt given my expectation of a rise in debt-service ratios over the next couple of years (eg it is a hedge that fewer people will be able to afford if rates rise, dampening demand), it doesn’t look like the most expensive hedge out there given changes in cost of other forms of inflation hedging (for those with the means to hedge). And there’s the tax incentive too (eg, as an owner you pay yourself rent out of your gross income, as a renter you pay someone else rent out of your net income). Which is not insubstantial.

 

——————

* The residential rental yield is pulled together by taking the product of the average Nationwide house price in 2012 and Countrywide’s rental survey yield for 2012 as an anchor, and then the projecting this average rental forwards and backwards in time using the rental subcomponent of the RPI. This was then divided by the Nationwide house price time series to create a rental yield. It is massively imperfect and I’d be delighted if someone wanted to send me a better time series. The rental yield looks quite high to me, but this (I suspect) is because I live in London. In London the tax incentive to buy will be stronger given higher marginal tax rates associated with higher incomes. And it is also the market in which some folk look to hedge their domestic political risk (eg wealthy foreigners living in unstable regimes seeking a bolt-hole where the rule of law is strong).