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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 September, 2004, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Global house prices still rising
Hong Kong skyline
Towering above the rest - Hong Kong property prices reach for the sky
As the sun looks ready to set on the UK housing boom, global house prices are still rising at a dazzling pace, a report in the Economist said.

House prices are increasing at double-digit rates in 11 of the 20 countries featured in the magazine's latest quarterly global house price survey.

Hong Kong is top of the league with a 28.7% annual gain, followed by South Africa (25.5%) and New Zealand (22.1%).

The UK trails behind in sixth place with a 13.8% gain, down from 17.6%.

Home prices are now at record levels in relation to average incomes in the US, Australia, the UK, France, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand and Spain.

'Overvalued'

Homes both at home and abroad are more overvalued today than at previous market peaks, from which prices typically fall sharply in real terms, the magazine said.

"Add in China and South Africa, and two-thirds (by economic weight) of the world that we track now has a potential housing bubble", says the Economist.

Hong Kong's house market has undergone a dramatic turnaround since the 17% decline seen in the previous year.

However, the Hong Kong housing market bubble burst in the mid-1990s and average prices today still stand 55% lower than in 1997.

In the second quarter of last year, Australia topped the Economist's house price table but it has dropped to the middle of the table as the country's boom tailed off.

Meanwhile, US house price inflation accelerated to 9.4%, the steepest rise since the 1970s.

This increase seems tame compared with gains seen in the UK or Australia, but, in fact, the US is going through the biggest property boom in its history.

However, the US market is less vulnerable to a crash in the property market because mortgages are set at fixed rates, making homeowners immune to changes in base rates.

Property markets have hit heady heights for some time in Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, but recently prices have raced ahead in France, Italy and Belgium too.

In contrast, prices have fallen in Germany, Japan and Singapore over the last year, the survey showed.


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