LONDON (Reuters) - Property investors smarting from this year's housing bust in the United States might do well to look farther afield -- even out of this world.
Internet searches for lunar land prices show the cost of buying an acre of the moon's surface has risen 40 percent since the start of 2007, investment bank UBS told clients in a tongue-in-cheek analysis.
Lacing a year-end note with caveats, and not a little holiday cheer, UBS strategists said their "esoteric research" of archived news reports suggests lunar property trends may even be a leading indicator of U.S. house prices.
Rising sharply between 1997 and 2001, the cost of a slice of land on the moon suffered a mid-cycle retreat in 2002-03 after the dot.com bubble burst, the bank said.
But prices defied gravity to hit record highs of $37 (18.35 pounds) per acre in December 2005 -- nine months before U.S. housing peaked.
Their fall to earth was a step ahead too, with lunar prices dropping 56 percent to $16 per acre between 2005 and January 2007, the report said.
"Our calculations suggest lunar land prices appear to be a reasonable lead indicator of U.S. house prices by around 12 months. This suggests a trough in U.S. house prices may occur around the beginning of 2008," the bank said.
Quick to caution against "preliminary" conclusions, UBS added: "This is most certainly not a forecast."
United Nations' treaties insist governments cannot claim ownership of the moon. But attempts to close a loophole allowing individuals or firms to do so have failed to garner support.
U.S. President George W. Bush announced in 2004 that the United States plans to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020.
But, citing claims by a "leading lunar real estate agent," the UBS report said Germans are already the number one owners of moon property -- followed by Swedes, English and Poles.
(Reporting by Mike Dolan; editing by Tony Austin)