The good people of Britain will be asked on 23 June whether they want to stay in the European Union or whether they think we will be better off cutting loose and forging our own way in the world.
There is a huge divide over this. There are some very good arguments for and against although quite why this has to be a binary outcome is beyond me. Whatever the result, it will be good for some people and bad for others.
As the vast majority of people casting their vote are uninformed of the complexities of the issues it is easy for anyone with a vested interest to manipulate the figures to advance their position.
But the result is probably not as vital as people assume. The world will keep spinning and most people will carry on regardless, more concerned about what they are going to do on a Friday night rather than forensically checking the small print of the latest European or UK State bylaws on alcohol consumption, sugar intake, curve of their bananas or shampoo ingredients.
London is not going to turn into a barren wasteland. Just as some people may leave if we vote for Brexit, many will surge in for the exact same reason. Karsten Kallevig, CEO of real estate for Norway’s $810 billion sovereign wealth fund, said in recent interview: “A city like London - regardless of Brexit or what happens in the near term - will be a global powerhouse as a financial city for many, many years to come. I don’t see what other cities can compete with London. It’s such an important city.” (Bloomberg)
The bookies are backing us to stay in and it’s a brave man who bets against them. But the point for prime London property prices is that politicians have been making good and (predominantly) bad decisions for centuries. The simple fact is that - with the exception of the two world wars - these decisions have had very little effect on London and UK house prices.
While politicians, central bankers and other busy bodies like to think that they can control the markets and global economies, history suggests that they have absolutely no idea what they are doing. A point that was neatly made by Her Majesty when she visited the London School of Economics in 2009 and asked “Why did nobody see this coming?”
Quite simply, economies are not engines that can be tinkered with to create high performance cars. They are complex systems with far too many moving, autonomous parts to control. This is why policies that are brought in to “tame” free markets have so many unintended consequences.
So let’s look at some very big numbers, courtesy of Savills’ latest residential property focus:
- $6 trillion - the value of all the gold ever mined
- $55 trillion - the total value of global equities
- $217 trillion – the total value of worldwide real estate.
I have tried to fathom $217 trillion but I don’t truly understand it beyond the fact that it is the total value of all the land. But it does help to explain a point I have made before but which (nearly) everyone refuses to believe: Property prices are rarely affected by share price movement and when they do correlate it is because land prices have moved rather than vice versa.
Quite simply the banks are far more exposed to land than they are to equities. Bankers, investors and speculators may spend much more time analysing, reporting and trading the latter but far more wealth is concentrated in the land.
The situation in 2008 was precipitated by a land price crash which led to a house price crash, bank defaults and a subsequent rise in unemployment as money evaporated. To oversimplify a complex issue, the price of land had been driven up to such levels that it was impossible to be profitable.
Ironically, economists and city analysts got this completely wrong. If you read the press between 1998 and 2005, the commentary was mainly bearish. Then hubris kicked in and there was talk of a new paradigm. We had a “Goldilocks economy”, Gordon Brown had abolished “boom and bust”, and the only way was up!
Except it wasn’t, which brings us neatly back to Her Majesty’s pithy question for the twitching economists.
So where are we now?
Are we teetering on the brink of 2008 all over again? I believe that the Asian economies are having their own version of 2008. In a number of my talks in 2015 I said that we could expect a house price crash and general crisis in Asia in 2015/2016 because of some fairly simple indicators. It is also why I have been dissuading members from buying in most of the new build developments due to their over-reliance on Asian investors.
Of course, the fear is that what is happening in Asia - and China in particular - could be contagious and dramatically affect the world economy. My indicators are showing some interesting outcomes.
What is happening in London right now?
London is a Jekyll and Hyde market. The high quality properties are still selling well in every price range. Although the top of the market is undoubtedly slower, business is still being done. The market below £2m is still strong. For example, a flat in Kensington came onto the market at £1.55m, had four offers within the first week, and went under offer at the asking price.
Meanwhile, there are a huge number of average properties - some reasonably priced, others ludicrously so - for which the agents cannot even arrange viewings. It is a barren wasteland. As mentioned in previous missives, the gulf between good and average properties is only really highlighted in softer markets.
But if you know where to look, there are opportunities to buy very good properties at favourable prices. Admittedly, they are few and far between, but they are out there. So it is essential that you carry out the necessary due diligence to ensure that you buy one of these opportunities rather than lazily buy a property that is merely adequate (or, even worse, buy in a new development purely because it is easy and there is a nice showroom).