Trump's wrong: How the Big Mac burger tells us Mumbai real estate ain't cheap

In a recent interview to the Forbes India magazine, Donald Trump the billionaire American investor and business tycoon said, "Your real estate is unbelievably cheap...Mumbai is a great city and yet it is not priced like other comparable cities. It is priced lower than cities that are less important. That gives investors a tremendous amount of growth potential." He made similar statements in interviews to several other publications.

This statement needs closer examination. Let's do that by comparing prices in Mumbai and New York, the largest city in the United States. A July 2014 report in The Times of India quotes Pankaj Kapoor of property research firm Liases Foras as saying, "In Mumbai, the average cost of a flat is Rs 1.2 crore."

In comparison, the price of a median home in New York in July 2014 stood at $524,500. For most of July 2014, one dollar was worth Rs 60. Hence, in rupee terms the price of a median home in New York stood at around Rs 3.15 crore ($524,500 multiplied by Rs 60). While Trump did not go into these details, this is the logic he must have used to say that the real estate prices in Mumbai are cheap, in comparison to other big cities around the world.

The trouble with this calculation is that it has been carried out at the market exchange rate. It doesn't take the purchasing power of the currencies into account. Purchasing power is essentially a concept which takes into account the fact ofhow many "units of a country's currency [are] required to buy the same amount of goods and services in the domestic market[in this case India and the rupee] as a U.S. dollar would buy in the United States." This is necessary because foreign exchange market determined exchange rates do not always take this into account.

There are several ways of taking purchasing power into account. A quick and dirty way is to consider The Economist's Big Mac Index. This index compares the price of McDonald's Big Mac hamburger in various countries around the world. In July 2014, the Big Mac had an average price of $4.80 in the United States. In India it was sold at an average price of $1.75.

Hence, what could be bought at $1.75 in India would need $4.8 in the United States. This means Rs 105 (Rs 60 multiplied by 1.75) is worth $4.8. Or in other words one dollar is worth Rs 21.9 (Rs 105/$4.8), in purchasing power terms.

If one dollar is worth Rs 21.9, then the price of a New York city median home in rupee terms works out to Rs 1.15 crore ($524,500 multiplied by Rs 21.9). In comparison the average cost of a flat in Mumbai is Rs 1.2 crore. Hence, the real estate prices in New York are slightly cheaper than Mumbai once we take the purchasing power into account.

As mentioned earlier, using the Big Mac Index was a quick and dirty way of taking purchasing power into account. Data from the World Bank can be used to carry out a more reliable calculation. In case of the Big Mac Index we are just taking the price of one particular brand of burger for taking purchasing power into account. As per World Bank data one dollar is worth Rs 16.8, once we take purchasing power into account.

This means that the price of a New York median home in rupee terms is around Rs 88.1 lakh ($524,500 multiplied by Rs 16.8). This is almost 32 percent cheaper than the price of an average home in Mumbai.

These calculations clearly tell us that real estate in Mumbai is not cheap by any stretch of imagination, irrespective of what Trump would like us to believe. In a recent report brought out by UBS Investment Research analyst Ashish Jagnani estimated that Mumbai had 50 months of unsold inventory of homes. This is the highest among all major cities in India. Gurgaon comes in next with 30 months of unsold inventory.

Another recent research report titled India Real Estate Outlookbrought out by real estate consultants Knight Frank points out that the unsold inventory of residential apartments in Mumbai stands at 2,13,742 units. In June 2014, the quarters-to-sell ratio stood at 12.

"Quarters-to-sell(QTS) can be explained as the number of quarters required to exhaust the existing unsold inventory in the market. The existing unsold inventory is divided by the average sales velocity of the preceding eight quarters in order to arrive at the QTS number for that particular quarter," the report points out.

Further, the "inventory level in the South Mumbai market will take the maximum time of 18 quarters (4.5 years) to sell," the report points out. Donald Trump had come to India for the launch of the Trump Tower, located in Worli, South Mumbai.

The enormous level of inventory in Mumbai is because people are not buying homes. This has led to an inventory of unsold homes which is at a seven year high across different cities., the UBS report points out. People are not buying homes, because homes have become too expensive. As Jagnani of UBS mildly puts it, there are "affordability concerns amid property prices" going "up 13-30% in key cities over last 2-years."

Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek


Published Date: Sep 14, 2014 12:21 pm | Updated Date: Sep 14, 2014 12:21 pm

Also See