Peter Hoskin

Ominous signs in the housing market - but Osborne must remain undaunted

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Are we on the verge of a double-dip in housing? The graph above, courtesy of Citi, certainly looks ominous enough. The blue line is a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors metric for the balance of surveyors reporting rising house prices - and, last month, it slipped into negative territory for the first time since July 2009. The pink line is the rise in house prices, year on year - and it's heading downwards too. At first glance, the picture looks a lot like the peak which preceded the crash in 2008. The question is whether we're going to plumb a similar trough.

Citi, it must be said, are fairly sanguine about our prospects. Their briefing paper summarises the position thus:

"It is unclear at present if the housing dip is temporary or the start of a second downturn, but we suspect the former. Uncertainties ahead of the late-June Budget may have capped housing demand, while housing supply probably is being boosted by a desire to sell before next year's planned rise in capital gains tax. The rise in supply may persist for a while, but with the economy gradually improving, we doubt there will be a sustained retreat in demand. House prices are leveling off, but the period of major declines is probably past."

And, to some extent, it is also the last thing that George Osborne would wish for. These wobbles in the recovery will give Labour an opportunity to question his economic management, and to put the coaltion on the back foot. Their attack, no doubt, will be that the spending cuts in the Emergency Budget have put the country into reverse gear. But Osborne should remain undaunted in response, and press home a simple message: £8.1 billion of cuts this year isn't really going to up-end an economy of £1.4 trillion.