Bond oracle Jeff Gundlach and recent Nobel Prize-winner Robert Shiller sat down with Barron’s for a joint interview to “size up the world.”
These guys are, quite simply, two of the sharpest market minds out there right now, so it’s especially interesting when their opinions line up. And it seems the two are in agreement over Norway’s bubbly, “out of whack” housing market.
First, Gundlach serves up some numbery goodness, and then Shiller brings it home with a dose of cerebral cultural commentary. From Barron’s:
Gundlach: Take a look at Norway if you want to see a country that really looks out of whack. The housing market there has been so strong, and the debt ratios are so high. People don’t think about Norway as being that type of a country. But if you look at the charts, it is pretty remarkable. By last June, the Norway housing index had risen 77% from year-end 2004, an all-time high. The U.S. home-price index, by contrast, sat at a 3% loss, compared with its level at year-end 2004.
Shiller: I’ve been trying to understand and think about these things in psychological terms. So what is it with the Norwegians? Well, they have a kind of a superiority complex. First of all, they were smart enough not to join the European Union, and they don’t bear any of the burden of the southern EU countries. And they have North Sea oil, and their economy looks good. So they just think they are immune from all the problems of the world, and people are coming into Norway for jobs. So it just sounds to them that their real estate ought to be booming…There is something about our culture at this point in history. The rise of capitalism all over the world has gotten people in a very speculative mode in lots of places, and we are all capitalists now in a much deeper sense than we ever were before.
Gundlach and Shiller join another major economic voice, Nouriel Roubini, in sounding the alarm over Norway. They’re not alone. Last year, The Atlantic’s Matthew O’Brien put it best, writing that Norway’s housing bubble “makes ours look almost cute by comparison.”
Last year, the San Francisco Fed compared U.S. and Norwegian home prices. Here’s the chart:
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