Wall Street Journal Gets Taken for a Ride on Europe Wealth Survey

Print
Wednesday, 10 April 2013 16:51

The European Central Bank (ECB) was a bit late with their April Fools' joke, but they did come up a whopper. It produced a study of household wealth in the euro zone in 2009 and 2010 that came up with the startling news that:

“German households are among the poorest—on paper, at least—in the euro zone.”

The WSJ piece goes on to tell readers:

“Nevertheless, the report offers a reminder that citizens in some of the countries hardest-hit by Europe's debt crisis aren't as bad off as many believe...

“The median, or midpoint, of German households had just over €50,000 in wealth, the lowest in the euro zone. The median in Greece, was twice that, at €102,000, and five times as high as in Cyprus at nearly €270,000.”

Figured out the problem yet? Well 2009 and 2010 are the key part of the story. Most middle income people in most euro zone countries have most of their wealth in housing. The years 2009 and 2010 just pick up part of the decline in house prices. In Spain house prices declined by more than 15 percent in the last year.

This is huge in terms of people’s wealth. Imagine you had a home with 30 percent equity and the price just fell by 15 percent. Half of your equity just disappeared. If the price fell by 30 percent, as it has in many areas over this period, you would have lost all your wealth. Reporting on household wealth near the peak of the bubble is just silly. Presumably the folks at the ECB know this even if the reporters and editors at the WSJ don’t.