The one-bedroom co-op apartment is only a short walk from Hyde Park, and it boasts high ceilings and a purely decorative balcony.

Yours for a mere $1.5 million. It seems quite a high price, especially for a property whose ground lease will eventually expire, leaving you with nothing.

If you’re looking for something bigger, you can get a duplex with two bedrooms in the center of town … for $3.3 million. And if you’re willing to slum it a bit and cross the River Thames to the unfashionable South Bank, you can get a modern three-bedroom apartment with a genuine balcony, and views of the river, for $4 million.

Looking at the real estate listings here is like stepping back in time to that unreal, giddy world of three years ago-before Lehman, before subprime, before AIG. Back to a period when everyone was either rich or on their way, either from flipping condos or running hedge funds, and the only direction was up.

But these prices are now, and they contain an ominous message: The London real estate bubble, arguably the biggest one of all, still hasn’t popped.

If history is any guide, it surely will. Burst bubbles typically fall a long way, in due course, and there is no reason to believe this one will be any different-despite the usual rationalizations you hear in this town today, and which you heard in, say, Florida in 2005 and Tokyo in 1988.

London real estate has actually bounced off the bottom in the last nine months. Prices are now down a mere 9% or so from their 2007 peaks, according to data tracked by mortgage giant Nationwide Building Society. The average home in London, including all those dreary outskirts that go on and on and on, is $436,000. That’s even higher than it was as recently as 2006, when the bubble was in its late stages. In the fashionable center of town-where the properties cited at the top of this article are all located-the prices are astronomical.

Overall, British prices have only fallen about 12% from the peak. When compared to household incomes, they stand far higher than they did even in 1989, at the peak of the last property bubble.

This matters for everyone-including those who will never visit Britain and have no direct interest in the real estate market. That’s because there’s one big question hanging over the U.S. and world economy right now: ‘Is that it?’

In other words, is the crash over? Has the Great Recession come to an end? Are we now heading back, albeit slowly, to normal economic growth rates and rising assets? Or is this just the eye of the hurricane?

No one knows the answer for sure. (I don’t either, but at least I admit it.) But London real estate prices are one of the most worrying signs that ‘That isn’t it,’ and that there is a lot more bad news to come. The other shoe, to put it plainly, hasn’t dropped.

Jeremy Grantham, chairman of Boston money firm GMO and a British expatriate, argues that the British property bubble may be the biggest since the infamous one in Japan 20 years ago. It’s notable that when that bubble burst, prices fell from 1991 through 2005. They fell again last year. There were many false dawns along the way. Many assumed the crash was over the worst after the rout of the first few years .But the real damage came afterward, as prices kept sliding, year upon year.

People here will tell you that London is unique. Well, yes. But everywhere is unique.

A money manager this week explained to me that the London real estate market now functions as something of a global financial Laundromat: Properties are bought up by tycoons from Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere eager to get their money out of their own country. But so what? An overpriced market is still an overpriced market. Losing money on Mayfair apartments is no better than losing it to, say, a corrupt government.

Prices here were also buoyed by the hedge-fund boom. Perhaps that is back again. If so, it’s something else to be worried about. Another speculative mania is the last thing we need.

But if London real estate is buoyed by the uniqueness of the town’s economy, there is a disturbing degree to which the reverse is also true. This is a ridiculously expensive city to visit. I seem to hemorrhage money with every step I take. I was wondering, as I got out of a taxi the other night and severed the requisite two limbs to pay the fare, how I ever afforded to live here all those years.

The answer is, I couldn’t-even though I earned a perfectly good salary. What made a difference was the money I made on my apartment, which doubled in value between 1997 and 2003. Two years after I sold it, in 2005, it had nearly doubled again. Remove this alchemy from the equation of ordinary Londoners, and the bars and restaurants and theaters would be a lot emptier.

Meanwhile, the British government is borrowing and spending on a huge scale to prevent an economic implosion. The national debt jumped by a fifth last year, surpassing 60% of annual output. In a sign of what is now driving economic activity, the average public-sector employee, according to official statistics, now earns about a fifth more than his private-sector counterpart.

The markets are certainly worried about the long-term implications of the U.K.’s spending binge. It costs twice as much to insure British government bonds against default as it does German or French bonds.

But if you looked at real estate prices, you’d never know it.

Brett Arends

伦敦房地产泡沫惊人

这套一居室的合作公寓距伦敦海德公园很近,并以高屋顶和纯粹装饰性的阳台作为卖点。

售价仅为150万美元。看来价格很高,特别是对于这种土地租约期满时你将一无所有的地产而言。

如果想找大一点的房子,你可以看看这套市中心的双卧复式公寓,价格为330万美元。如果你愿意去普通住宅区看看,你可以在不那么时尚的泰晤士河南岸找到一套现代的三居室公寓,有真正的阳台,能够看到河景,售价400万美元。

Bloomberg News
一名男子在伦敦一家房产中介查看房屋信息。
看着这些房产清单,就像回到了三年前那个不真实的、令人眩晕的时代,仿若雷曼(Lehman)、次贷和美国国际集团(AIG)的悲剧都还不曾发生,那时每个人都是富人或即将成为富人,不是炒公寓房,就是去管理对冲基金,而且似乎资产价格的唯一方向就是涨、涨、涨。

但这却是现在的房价,它们包含了一种不祥的信息:可能是伦敦有史以来最大的房地产泡沫仍未破裂。

如果以史为鉴,泡沫终将破裂。泡沫通常在适当的时候破裂,随后一落千丈,别以为这个会有任何不同,你今天听到的合理化解释,在2005年的佛罗里达和1988年的东京已经是老生常谈。

伦敦房地产市场实际上从九个月前开始触底反弹。据房贷巨头全英房屋抵押贷款协会(Nationwide Building Society)数据表明,现在的房价仅比2007年的峰值低9%左右。包括不断扩大的郊区在内,伦敦住宅均价达436,000美元。这甚至比2006年泡沫的晚期时还高。在时尚的中心城区,即本文开篇时所述房屋的所在地,房价已是天文数字。

总体而言,英国房价仅比峰值时下跌了12%左右。若与家庭收入相比而言,则比上一个房产泡沫高峰时的1989年的房价还要高。

这事关每一个人,包括那些永远也不会去英国的人,以及在房地产市场中并无直接利益的人,因为这是目前悬在美国和世界经济头上的一大问题:“就这样了吗?”

换句话说,危机结束了吗?大衰退结束了吗?我们现在慢慢回到了经济正常增长、资产价格上升的道路上了吗?还是现在正位于飓风的中央?

没人知道确切的答案。(我也不知道,但至少我敢于承认。)但伦敦的房价是最令人担忧的预兆之一:危机还没有完,还有许多坏消息将接踵而至。简单地说就是,另一只鞋还没掉下来。

波士顿财富管理公司GMO公司主席、来自英国的格兰瑟姆(Jeremy Grantham)认为英国的房产泡沫可能是自20年前日本房产泡沫以来最大的一个。值得注意的是,日本泡沫破裂后,房价从1991年一直跌到2005年。去年又下跌了。在此期间,假复苏信号很多。在最初几年大跌之后,许多人都认为最不景气的时间已经过去了,但真正的伤害纷至沓来,价格持续走低,年复一年。

英国人会对你说,伦敦独一无二。的确。但每个城市都独一无二。

一位财富管理者本周向我解释说,伦敦房地产市场现在的功能就象是一家全球金融自助洗衣店:房子全被来自俄罗斯和中东的大亨以及急于想把钱转出自己国家的人买光了。那又怎样?房价过高就是房价过高。把钱输在伦敦高档住宅上并不比输给一个腐败的政府强。

对冲基金热对房价高涨也起到了推波助澜的作用。这股热潮看来又回来了。如果真是这样,这又是一件令人担心的事情。我们最不需要的就是另一股投机热潮。

但如果伦敦的房价因伦敦经济的独特性而上涨,那么在某种程度上反之亦然。这座城市贵到令人发指,每行一步似乎都要大笔花钱。某天晚上我从出租车里出来,把兜掏遍了才付了车费,我当时在想,我怎么能在这儿支撑了这么多年。

答案是,我不能,虽然我的收入非常不错。但我在我公寓上赚的钱很客观──1997年到2003年,我公寓的价值翻了一番。到2005年,即我卖房的两年后,价格几乎又翻了一番。要是没有了房地产这个闪光点,这个由普通的伦敦人、无数的酒吧、餐馆和剧院构成的大都市会乏味很多。

如此同时,英国政府又在大量借贷并巨额开支,以防经济收缩。去年国债连续五年攀升,超过GDP的60%。据官方数据显示,作为目前推动经济活动的一种迹象,公共部门员工的平均工资约比私营部门同类员工的工资多五分之一左右。

市场当然为英国巨额开支的长期影响感到担忧。英国政府债券的违约担保成本是德国或法国债券的两倍。

但如果你仅看房地产价格,你永远也不会知道上述情况。

Brett Arends

(编者按:本文作者Brett Arends是《华尔街日报》网络版专栏作家,他的专栏《投资回报》帮助投资者分析最新时事并做出相应投资决定。)

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