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Housing Is the New Oil for Battered Norway

Investments in the property market are a panacea. But will they last?

While Norway grapples with the existential question of what to replace its massive oil industry with in the post-carbon era, a boom in the property sector has come to the economy's rescue.

QuickTake The Ups and Downs of  Oil Prices

Fueled by record low interest rates, housing investments have risen 12 percent over the past two years, surpassing the level of spending in oil and gas and helping spare the economy from recession in the process. Offshore investments, by contrast, have slid 29 percent over the same period as tumbling crude prices have sent shock-waves through the economy of western Europe's biggest oil exporter. 

The relative weight of the housing sector is expected to increase going forward, according to Nordea.

On top of cutting the benchmark rate to 0.5 percent, the central bank has signaled more easing may be needed to backstop the economy. The real estate market, meanwhile, has boomed. Housing starts have risen 20 percent over the past year and home prices are rallying at an annual pace of almost 10 percent nationwide.

Since the imported component of housing investments amounts to only 20 percent, compared with double that share for oil investments, the rate-fueled housing boom provides far more bang for the buck for the domestic economy.

"The economy is now getting as big a positive stimulus from housing investments as the negative impulse from oil investments,'' said Nordea analyst Eric Bruce. "Actually, it's even stronger because we largely produce all housing in Norway."

Of course, having the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund also helps: the government is this year pumping a record amount of oil cash into the economy.

And the billion-krone question remains: Will the housing rally last? Norway has already learned the hard way that over-reliance on one sector of the economy doesn't work. With house prices surging into potential bubble territory, it wouldn't want to repeat the same mistake again.  

 

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