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San Francisco Technology Industry Sector: Safe From Another Bubble?

Tech and housing–housing and tech. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the housing and technology markets move in lockstep–typically when one booms so does the other and when one slips the other is likely to as well.

Both are flourishing now but as we’ve seen in the tech and housing crumbles of the early 90s and again in 2008, some warning signs say it may be just a matter of how soon, how much and for how long both segments nosedive.

Tech millennials take note–things change fast.

Right now there’s more than one indication that Silicon Valley’s post recession tech boom is slipping. The figure that stands out is a recent slide in the hiring rate (more on that in a minute). Tangentially related, although another indicator of sorts, is that of the nine tech IPOs so far this year, only three have come come from IT’s cradle–Cloudera, Mulesoft and Okta–with Forescout poised in the wings.

The other shoe, so to speak, fits on the local housing market, which is showing more signs of stratifying, with the median price climbing, fewer buyers able to afford homes and inventory shrinking. Even the handsomely-paid millennials working at Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb, LinkedIn and other hot spots are finding the housing pickings thin, particularly in San Francisco.

Here are some figures to chew on, via the San Jose Mercury News and Forbes:

  • Tech job growth in the Bay Area has noticeably slowed, based on data from California labor officials and Beacon Economics, the Mercury News reported, as job growth scaled back to 3.5 percent in 2016 in contrast to the 6 percent uptick in 2015 and the 6.4 percent rate in 2014.
  • Once again, housing prices, home values and rental rates have climbed to seemingly unsustainable levels not seen since before the 2008 bubble burst . In 2015, home values jumped by more than 14 percent as the median sales price spiked to $1.1 million (California Realtors Association’s data, via Forbes).
  • Of late, however, home prices have begun to decline slightly. Still, only 20 percent of people living in the Bay area can afford to pay for a home. And, those that can typically offer cash for homes at the high end. As for San Francisco renters, the median price, although slipping somewhat now, was an eye-popping $3,490/mo. as of January, 2016 (Forbes).

In plain English, the building blocks of a housing and tech bubble may be taking shape.

Interestingly, the white hot Bay Area cybersecurity market, driven by newbies such as Phantom Cyber, Cyence, Skybox Security, Bromium, RiskIQ, Bitglass and a number of others, may not be insulated from what’s going on around it, based on CB Insights data.

For example, last year, the number of cybersecurity funding deals rose six percent, continuing its run of record highs every year since 2012, with Q3 recording the most activity in the last five years, the figures showed. However, what followed in the next quarter was a slow down with the fewest deals since Q3 2013. A mixed bag may be indicative and may not, it’s hard to say with certainty at this point.

So what does it all mean?

“A housing bubble requires both an unwarranted surge in prices followed by a massive selloff,” Madeline Schnapp, director of economic research for PropertyRadar, said in a blog post.

“Today’s high prices are due to a combination of factors. Demand is being fueled by market stimulus in the form plentiful jobs and government-backed low-interest, below market rate loans that require little down,” she said.

Translated–when those plentiful tech jobs in Silicon Valley dry up and interest rates climb, the market could, well, blow up. It’s an equation tech millennials should keep in mind.

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