Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Panama joins the list of bubble cities

Latin America's real estate Panamania
Once a sleepy Latin American capital, Panama City has become one of the world's hottest real estate markets. How long can the fever last?
(Fortune Magazine) -- Off in the distance, where Panama Bay becomes the Pacific, container ships loaded with merchandise bound for the U.S. bob in the haze. Closer in, a flock of construction cranes hovers over densely clustered high-rises. Fourteen stories below, on Balboa Avenue, cars inch along, their windows sealed tight against the sweltering heat.

Panama City is in the midst of an unprecedented real estate boom that is transforming the skyline of this once-sleepy Latin American capital. More than 30,000 units worth about $5.7 billion have come on the market since last July, according to Paul McBride, CEO of Prima Panama, a real estate marketing

That's a lot of condos in a country where the total economy measured $16.2 billion last year. And the boom shows no sign of abating: Among the showiest of the new projects is the Ice Tower, a 106-story luxury apartment building and Hilton Hotel complex that will be the tallest building in Latin America when it is completed in 2011. Even Donald Trump has a project on the boards.

Part of what's driving growth in Panama City, where the median apartment price recently surpassed the median home price in the U.S., is a wave of retirees from North America, like the Buckleys, looking for a place in the sun. So far, few Americans have moved permanently, but many are buying second homes or just plain speculating. Europeans are here too, and there's plenty of new wealth in Latin America, in places like Venezuela and Colombia, looking for a safe haven.

Call it Panamania. Is it a bubble in the making, or the rise of a new Miami? Despite the abundance of cranes around Panama City, only about 10 percent of the projects being sold are under construction, says McBride. "We're not even seeing the construction boom in Panama yet," he says. "This place will look like Manhattan if all these projects come to fruition."

Prima Panama's McBride and others are worried that the building boom is ultimately going to exceed demand. "I do not think there will be sufficient buyers to absorb capacity, if in fact capacity is delivered," McBride says. "When you see prices going up, driven by speculative investors, that points to a bubble."

Many people are unaware that there is a growing world wide housing bubble. Panama has come up as the most recent addition to my list of bubble zones.They are in good company. France, Britton Ireland, China, Australia, Spain Norway, Sweden, and the U.S., are just some of the areas that are on my list. I will bring you more as information becomes available.


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