Warning that house prices may fall by 80%


HOUSING MARKET:IRELAND WILL see more demolition than construction of houses over the next decade, as the economy struggles to recover from the collapse of the housing market and the emergence of “zombie” banks, UCD economist Morgan Kelly told the conference.

In a presentation that drew several collective intakes of breath, Mr Kelly predicted that house prices would fall by 80 per cent from peak to trough in real terms.

“Construction, but not demolition, of residential and commercial property will fall to zero for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Low levels of education among those employed in construction – where worker numbers peaked at about 280,000 – meant retraining would not be straightforward.

Recovery will be slow: “It has taken us 10 years to get into this situation – it will in all likelihood take us 10 years to get out of it.”

Mr Kelly said he had been hailed as being extremely prescient as a result of his warnings in relation to the property bubble, when in fact he and a handful of other “amateurs” were merely stating what was obvious.

Sparing no blushes, he said professional economists in the Central Bank and the Economic and Social Research Institute “need to look very closely at their analyses of the Irish economy and figure out what went wrong”.

Mr Kelly said Ireland’s “reputational capital” had been damaged by “chancers” such as ex-Anglo Irish Bank chairman Seán FitzPatrick, who had been abetted by “buffoons” such as former financial regulator Patrick Neary, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and the Taoiseach.

In discussing the €110 billion given in loans to developers, Mr Kelly said a typical regional housing collapse in the US saw banks sustain a 20 per cent loss on these loans, but the narrowness of the Irish market increased the risk of “substantially larger losses” for Irish banks.

“The guarantees of Anglo and [Irish] Nationwide liabilities have a strong chance of being called in over the next 21 months,” he said. Extending the Government guarantee to these two financial institutions was “extraordinarily unwise” and could produce losses that the State cannot afford to repay.

The global financial crisis may have been positive for the Irish economy as it “stopped us dragging ourselves even deeper into our hole,” he said. “If it had taken another year or two, we would have ended up in an Icelandic-shaped hole, which is not to say that we won’t end up in one.”

Mr Kelly said the Government should abolish stamp duty on property, compile proper price and quantity statistics and restore competitiveness through a public sector pay cut of 10 per cent.

A paper by TCD economist Patrick Honohan on the banking crisis argued that capital injections in the banks were a prerequisite for recovery. The financial regulator needed to decide now which banks had systemic importance to the economy – in other words, are “too big to fail”, and which are “zombie” banks.

“The goal is to avoid the continued operation of an undercapitalised, error-prone bank with a flawed business model and administrative practices, a problematic customer base and a compromised management facing distorted incentives,” the paper stated.