What Could Possibly Go Wrong? London’s Property Tipping Points (Part 3 of 3)

DCHere it is: the final instalment If you haven’t read parts 1 and 2, you should take a look at those first. If you’re returning to pick up where we left off, I can only advise that you remember the many positives outlined in the first instalment. For now, ‘The Dark Side’ continues…

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WHAT? Domestic politics

HOW? The UK has been a relative stranger to political turbulence in recent years, lending it a safe and reliable glow with which to court international investment. But with the 2015 general election and a possible European referendum, and the recent vote on Scottish Independence (regardless of the outcome), the threat of political uncertainty has been looming on the horizon. The various party political election campaigns, and the associated glut of political rhetoric, could have a significant impact upon investors and their decisions in the run-up to the 2015 vote.

The clampdown on foreign property owners, for example, who hold assets through a company structure, has already had a negative impact on the building of new residential properties for the rental market. While some property owners regard the new rules as a fee for privacy, which they are willing to pay, others in the industry have blamed the regulations for signs of cooling in London’s high-end luxury housing market.

HOW QUICKLY COULD IT CHANGE? Months to years.

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WHAT? Geopolitics

HOW? London has long been seen as a financial safe haven by wealthy investors seeking to move money out of their home markets. Property in the capital is a popular choice as a store of value because its relatively opaque ownership structures make it more difficult to trace assets’ ultimate ownership. Property owners who hold their homes through a company structure need only to register the name of the company with the Land Registry, not the name of the beneficial owner. And, given the various Middle Eastern conflicts and rising tensions between Russia and the west, it is almost impossible to see how these safe-haven effects will not continue for the foreseeable future.

HOW QUICKLY COULD IT CHANGE? Much too difficult to say.

. . .

WHAT? The global savings glut

HOW? International investors from developed countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, where savings rates are high, are currently finding that their home property markets are already saturated with investors looking for somewhere to place their surplus cash. Consequently, they are tending to look for investment opportunities abroad in ever-increasing numbers. In London, such investors can find yields of 5-6%, while in their home markets promise less than half that figure. However, with investors increasingly focused on secondary assets and yields on prime central London property already approaching pre-crisis lows, rising prices and falling yields might reduce the attractions of property in the capital.

HOW QUICKLY COULD IT CHANGE? Months to years.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? London’s Property Tipping Points (Part 2 of 3)

DarksideLogo5If you missed our look at the exceptional confluence of events that has helped the London property market to boom, see Part 1. If you’re already up-to-date, prepare for the dark side of the story: what could possibly go wrong?

It’s impossible to say exactly how, when, or how quickly London’s current property boom will come to an end. It does seem likely, however, whether in a year or a decade, that the time will eventually come. Old hands in the London market can remember a time and a place, not so far away, when they were not in favour. And they know that it will happen again. All things, after all, are cyclical.

In the immediate future, as campaigning for the 2015 UK general election gets into full swing over the coming months, analysts fear that just a single misplaced policy announcement could be enough to panic existing and potential investors across the world. The big issue is political uncertainty, specifically in anything relating to the tax regime, appealing to overseas capital and the immigration rules.

Meanwhile, the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s EU status – something the Conservatives have promised voters if they stay in power come May – is another significant political risk. Anything introducing uncertainty, and the EU issue has the potential to do so on a massive scale, is a worry both for the market and for investors.

But what are the specific tipping points that could herald the end of the situation we are currently experiencing?

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FIVE POTENTIAL TIPPING POINTS:

WHAT? Ultra-low interest rates

HOW? Many countries’ interest rates are at historic lows. As a result, mainstream investment classes are generating low yields. Fund managers who need to deliver certain levels of performance to their investors are searching desperately for assets that will produce higher returns. With London property averaging yields of 5-6 per cent, the sector looks very attractive. As a result, cash is pouring into property assets. But this trend is not expected to continue indefinitely. As countries begin to consider raising interest rates in the coming years, other investments are likely to start looking more attractive again.

HOW QUICKLY COULD IT CHANGE? Years to decades.

. . .

WHAT? Currency effects

HOW? After the global financial crisis, the pound became relatively cheap compared with property buyers’ domestic currencies. Between 2008 and 2013, sterling fell by nearly a quarter against the dollar and by 11 per cent against the euro. As a result, London property prices that looked eye-watering to locals seemed perfectly affordable to foreign buyers. But this trend has already begun to wane. The pound is appreciating once more, up 5 per cent against the dollar over the past 18 months and 8 per cent against the euro. This has taken some heat out of the London property market. For example, in March 2013 a £1m London home cost 1.86m Singapore dollars; today that is S$2m. If this trend continues, investors whose assets are denominated in other currencies could switch to other property markets.

HOW QUICKLY COULD IT CHANGE? Weeks to months.

Read the rest in the final installment, next week…

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? London’s Property Tipping Points (Part 1 of 3)

shard_2583070bWith the global financial crisis finally receding, the London property market is once again booming, but many in the industry are already questioning just how long current investment levels will last.

The current attraction of London property as an investment opportunity is down to a rare conference of factors, several among which being directly attributable to the financial crisis and its immediate aftermath.

The rise of the global middle class has brought with it a new abundance of personal savings, but with low base rates worldwide, investors have been forced look for returns in alternative asset classes. Meanwhile, with increasing numbers of institutional investors, competition for opportunities is also on the rise.

As political instability from the Ukraine to Palestine has sent the wealthy on a quest to find safer places to stash their savings, the falling pound has made London property look cheap for those making the conversion to many foreign currencies. At the same time, the UK’s political landscape has been stable, with a transparent legal system and a broad cross-party consensus allying any concerns investors may have over whether their assets will be safe and free from an interfering government. In fact, government has taken a pro-active role in encouraging inward investment in the property market; in his six years as mayor of London, Boris Johnson has actively set out to attract foreign money, going out of his way to court the Chinese in particular, with several visits to Asia.

As it stands, Chinese companies are among the biggest buyers in the capital. In a bid to attract Asian businesses to Europe, Chinese developer Advanced Business Park has partnered with Stanhope, the British developer, to create a £1bn financial district in the rundown Royal Docks. Greenland Group, the Chinese state-owned developer, bought the historic Ram Brewery site in Wandsworth, south London, at the start of this year, while China Life, the insurer, recently took a majority stake in Canary Wharf skyscraper, 10 Upper Bank Street.

And it’s not just the Chinese making high-profile acquisitions. The Canadian pension fund, Omers – through its property arm, Oxford Properties Group – has backed construction of the City’s newest high-rise, the Leadenhall Building (a.k.a. “The Cheesegrater”), and Indian developer Lodha bought the former Canadian High Commission building on Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, in November of last year. While large US private equity firms such as Blackstone and Lone Star continue to be active, the new kid on the London City block is Taiwan.

Taiwanese life funds have long been expected by London property advisers, following the ruling by Taiwanese regulators last year that insurers could invest in foreign real estate. Cathay Life’s August purchase of Woolgate Exchange in the City was the first step, with JPMorgan Cazenove analysts consequently predicting that the deal would mark the beginning of a stream of Taiwanese investors into London’s commercial property market.

And to cap it all off, there is a positive feedback loop constantly fuelling the market – the presence of buyers and sellers attracts more participants, making it more liquid, which attracts more buyers and encourages more sales. And so it goes on.

This fortuitous conference of longstanding factors is unlikely to dissolve overnight, but there are other aspects behind the London boom that could crumble very quickly. More in part 2, next week…

Wider UK Housing Market Now Outpacing Prime Central London (PCL) Property

One_Hyde_Park_007Industry news has been dominated in recent weeks by the sale of Penthouse D in London’s iconic One Hyde Park development for £140m in ‘core and shell’ state, making it the city’s most valuable property, with or without internal walls. The price is evidence that even at the very top end of London property, there are still international buyers – in this case as unnamed Eastern European – looking to diversify and protect their wealth by investing in the capital’s real estate.

Despite the strengthening pound making inward investment comparatively more expensive for most international buyers, prime Central London (PCL) property prices have continued to rise in recent weeks as increasing interest from both foreign investors and domestic owner occupiers energises the market. In stark contrast to the early stages of the post-financial crisis rally, however, it is secondary London locations including Wapping and Canary Wharf that are now pacing property price gains in the capital.

Within Central London, the discrepancy in recent price performance is now increasingly pronounced. Marylebone, good value in the context of PCL, saw prices rise 4.2% in Q1 and some 19.3% in the year to end-March. By contrast, prices in Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Belgravia rose just 0.6% in the first three months of 2014 and only 5% in the twelve months to end-March.

The strength in these secondary areas partly reflects the greater influence of domestic buyers and partly the changing mood of investors seeking better value. Buoyed by low interest rates, wage growth and a broader economic recovery that is gathering pace, house prices across the UK have continued their recent positive momentum.

According to Nationwide, house prices across the UK rose 1.2% in April and some 10.9% in the year to end to April, the first time that annual price growth has reached double figures since 2010. Meanwhile, the latest lending volumes figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show mortgage levels in the UK a staggering 43% higher than a year ago, fueled in no small part by the government’s Help to Buy scheme.

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Plant London’s Battersea Power Station developer plans to sell luxury apartments for as much as 30 million pounds each, anticipating buyers will pay a premium to own prominent pieces of the historic building.

Battersea Project Holding Co. bought the Battersea site for 400 million pounds last year after its previous owner was put into administration, a U.K. form of bankruptcy protection. They will begin by selling 250 apartments at 2,500 pounds a square foot in April. The estimated price of a penthouse, to be built in the second phase of construction, is 25 to 30 million pounds.

The Battersea plant is Europe’s largest brick building and built in the 1930s consists of four 350-foot-high smokestacks, it is an investment that comes with the opportunity to own a genuine piece of British history in a unique location. The development is part of the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area south of the River Thames and across from the Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster boroughs. It’s the U.K. capital’s largest redevelopment area and includes a new U.S. embassy and an extension of the London Underground.

The developer’s Malaysian roots may help it reach Asian buyers who have been snapping up London new homes following property curbs in their home country. Two-thirds of new London homes sold before completion are being purchased by Southeast Asian buyers. Measures taken by Singapore and Hong Kong to cool their housing markets have prompted buyers to seek investments abroad.Luxury-home developers are planning to build more than 20,000 properties in London over the next decade. The Battersea development has about 6,000 registered customers and there’s no risk of oversupply of luxury apartments in the area. The project’s first phase was sold in excess of 1,000 pounds a square foot and the third phase is expected to come to market in September next year at 1,800 pounds a square foot.

Off plan property is once again becoming a darling child of the property investor’s arsenal (read a previous blog post here explaining how it works) and we are in a position to provide advice and opportunities in Greater London with percentage discounts into double figure. Contact me for further information.