After disappointing economic growth within the UK fed fears of a ‘triple-dip’ recession, housing market data has added fuel to the fire. Stability is needed for consumers to feel more confident and comfortable spending but instead contraction continues. Outside of London and within the prime real estate market, demand has been driven by a low level of supply and foreign investment. However, outside of this insulated area, property is struggling and banks still have assets to offload which could further maintain downward pressure on prices.
The deadline for delivering a deal to allow the US to continue to borrow and spend, August 2nd, is approaching. Mirroring issues in the EU, a problem of debt cannot be solved by yet more debt. With the threat of a downgrade looming, any rise in interest rates could make the situation worse, hitting the tax payer and US exporters. Moreover, an increase in this ‘benchmark’ rate could impact the UK and hurt our property market, and a weaker dollar could result in job losses in our export sector. Further afield, with China the largest holder of US debt, the concern could spread globally towards countries relied upon to drive future growth. But failing to raise the ceiling isn’t an option and may cause an eventual default further down the line. Therefore, a deal will be struck and a balance found between demands for more spending cuts and aspirations for tax increases.
The US has ‘maxed out its credit card’
The US debt ‘ceiling’ is the maximum amount of bonds the US can issue, i.e. the maximum amount the US can borrow to finance its spending. The limit is currently set at $14.3tn but with the country spending approximately $120bn more than it takes in terms of revenue each month, after funding its participation in 2 world wars, rescuing the financial system post-Lehmans and pumping the economy with new capital to boost economic growth, the debt limit was reached on May 16. Put another way, the US has maxed out its credit card.
The issue echoes EU troubles: Debt cannot solve the problem of debt
Instigated in 1917, the debt ceiling has in fact been raised 74 times since 1962 alone. It should be noted; raising the limit does not increase fiscal spending but merely allows current obligations to be met and annual deficits to be financed. Nevertheless, in the current environment, with sovereign debt crises in Europe, investors and rating agencies are becoming acutely aware that cannot solve a problem of debt with more debt and the extent to which the ceiling would have to be expanded is troublesome. Obama’s proposed budget will require a ~$2.2tn hike just to meet next year’s obligations.
A lose-lose situation could hit tax payers and US exporters
Even if the ceiling is raised, there are other issues to tackle. S&P in April threatened reduce the credit rating of US debt. The importance of this threat should not be underestimated. With a ‘AAA’ status and ‘stable’ outlook’, any downgrade would threaten its role as the safest place to store savings. To retain their position, the US needs to address how it will not only plug this short-term gap, but also meet longer-term challenges. A hit to confidence would increase the rate of interest demanded by investors to compensate for a higher perceived risk of loss. This would increase borrowing costs for the US, worsening their debt burden and further limiting the amount of new debt they would be able to issue. It has been estimated that even an increase of 25 basis points could cost tax payers $500m more per month. With less demand for US treasuries, there would be less demand for the dollar to fund these transactions, making the products the country exports more expensive abroad and again hitting their balance sheet.
The issue could hit the East and future global growth
In its extreme, uncertainty could spark another financial crisis as well as put the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency at risk. (Interestingly, a McKinsey investigation reported less than 20% of business executives expect its dominance to continue to 2025). For this isn’t an isolated incidence. Dollar-denominated US debt is held world-wide (especially $1.1tn by China), spreading the problem towards the very countries many are lauding as growth drivers of the future.
UK jobs, home prices and recovery could be hit
There could be dire consequences felt even in the UK. The US is our largest export partner, spending $50bn for our products last year alone. A weaker dollar would damage American buying power, making these products more expensive and damaging demand. This would cause companies producing these goods to suffer and jobs would be lost. Furthermore, if fears over the ability of the US government to repay its debts led to investors demanding more to lend to the UK government, mortgage rates would become more onerous and it could be harder for buyers to purchase a property. With less investors able to buy and therefore lower demand, sellers may be forced to lower asking prices to get a sale.
Failing to raise the ceiling wouldn’t cause an immediate but an eventual default
In the near-term, the US could continue to function. Failing to be able to increase borrowing would necessitate spending cuts: to military salaries, social security, medicare and unemployment benefits. Furthermore, some of their debt could be rolled over so long as the overall amount of treasuries outstanding didn’t rise. However, this is unsustainable in the medium to longer-term and would lead to an eventual default.
With too much at stake a deal is likely to be reached
The issue is currently being used as a negotiating chip by Republicans to get deeper cuts and long-term reforms whilst refusing to raise taxes, versus the White House aiming to cap tax exemptions and reduce ‘inequalities’ benefitting big business. Nevertheless, with such serious ramifications possible, it is unlikely a deal will not be struck.
THE current financial climate is making it harder to decipher where investors are going to find returns. The rates on holding cash are low, bond yields in general have narrowed substantially and there is much uncertainty on the outlook for the stock market. In addition, with macro risks on our minds and the sovereign debt crisis raising concerns, risk aversion is on the rise. In this environment, investing in something tangible that could provide a potentially uncorrelated return is attractive. Nevertheless, there has been a vast difference in returns from various investments in this market. Therefore, it will pay to be particular.
There has been a stark divergence of fortunes between property prices inside and outside of London. Location within or access to the city is a price-setter. Fundamentally, prime assets in attractive sectors should see a level of demand providing a floor on prices. Foreign investors have been quoted as spending £3.7bn per annum for London residences, due to the inviting exchange rate, national ties, as well as in some case the greater political stability that our city can offer. The emergence of an appetite for second homes has created demand in another segment of property investing, where the right location will again be crucial.
Students are another opportunity. Regional student housing is the UK’s best performing sector with around a 15 per cent ROI last year thanks to a shortage of suitable one-bed apartments. Broadly speaking, this is a “buy-to-let” approach. Rental rates are at all-time highs and the short-let market is booming. It is predicted that for the Olympics, rates will increase six-fold.
Therefore, depending on your strategy, timing may also be crucial. To play the school or student market, the run up to September is a key window of opportunity. The challenge is in finding the investments that fit your aspirations, and putting your plan into action at the right time. In a desired area, properties can attract multiple buyers, making this task tougher.
Nevertheless, with inflation one of the biggest threats to the market currently, implementing the right strategy and picking the right property will help provide some protection.
This article was featured in CityAM.
The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Much is made in the news of the risk of inflation. We can’t step far outside our doors without being faced with the challenges it brings. From shockingly high petrol prices to rising agriculture costs hitting our shopping bills, the fear is setting in. However, when we strip out these volatile elements, just how much of a problem is core inflation? Instead, with economic growth precariously fragile, when it does become a concern, won’t we be left fighting a ‘war on two fronts’? It’s time we start to notice the ‘Elephant in The Room’.
An Anaemic Recovery
The economic recovery remains weak. Still driven by the consumer, the environment for spending is tenuous. Retail sales for December were downgraded and January’s figures can only be described as “unspectacular”. We saw the first increase in the claimant count in four months (which would have been even higher had people not given up the job search entirely). Moreover, earnings growth slowed to the lowest rate in six months (from 2.5% to 2.0%). With Hometrack, the property analytics business, foreseeing homebuyers facing a continued struggle to obtain mortgages in 2011, the outlook for spending and GDP growth looks tough.
Consumer Companies Highlight the Headwinds
Highlighting the problem were the many consumer companies missing Q410 earnings estimates and downgrading their forecasts for this year. Diageo, Colgate-Palmolive and P&G were among those that struggled to meet expectations. Falls in demand were blamed, with the situation looking none the rosier going forward. Renault predicts the demand for cars in their home market of France will fall by 8%. In addition, rising input costs is adding to woes. Pepsi is budgeting for a whopping 8 – 9.5% increase in the amount of capital they will spend on oil and agriculture commodities, which contributed to the firm lowering their forecast for earnings growth from low double digits to high single digits. The question on everyone’s lips is – can they continue to pass on higher costs to the consumer? With the aforementioned weakness, the most likely answer is “no”.
Inflation ‘Illusion’ Tempting Risky Action
So just how much of a problem is inflation, when compared to the weakness of the recovery? True, headline Inflation has held stubbornly above the Bank of England’s target at 3.7%. However, stripping out food and energy prices, core inflation falls to 2.9% and recent reports show that after excluding taxes, we hit the 2% jackpot. Regardless, the political environment poses a risk. The MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) is under immense pressure to defend its credibility after keeping rates on hold for 23 months consecutively. Markets are now pricing in a 25bps rise in May. Crucially, these expectations alone have consequences. In one week alone, more than 10 mortgage lenders pulled their best fixed rate deals – hitting credit availability to the already weakened consumer ‘spenders’.
Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. ~ Londo Mollari, Babylon 5
Stagflation – A ‘War on Two Fronts’
This is the crux of the problem – promoting growth can at times risk inflation and fighting inflation can risk weakening growth. Currently the biggest challenge of the two is strengthening growth. If the recovery remains weak, then when inflation rises and poses a far more serious challenge, the government will not be able to implement policies to fight it without dragging the economy into another recession. The possibility of stagflation is real. In this situation the government will feel even more pressure to raise rates but unemployment will still be high and so if rates rise, many will suffer. At the moment the MPC have a “wait and see” attitude – let’s hope this continues and they don’t succumb to ‘peer pressure’ too soon.
One of the most lucrative investments is investment in real estate. Although, the process may seem quite simple to you, but it is not so. The way you evaluate a property while buying for investment purposes is not the same as the way you will evaluate a property while home buying. When it comes to investment property you have to think like a business owner and not a home owner.
Thus, there are various tests that you must out the property you are buying through, before you purchase it. 2 of the most important tests are as follows.
1. Testing for a good neighborhood: Location is a very important factor when it comes to purchasing a property. The property you buy should have the availability of basic amenities in close proximity. You must also check if the area in which the property is situated should not be prone to crime. You must check all this because no one would like to stay in a place where the crime rate is high and there is no proper availability of essential facilities. So no matter how well decorated the property you buy, is from within, it will not sell well in the real estate market because of the location factor.
2. Testing for the need of extensive repairs: Before you buy a property it is essential that you check what sort of repairs are required in the house. Find out if these repairs are an extensive repair that is structural repairs or they are merely minor repairs that you can tackle. You must not buy properties that need structural repairs, this is because you lose a lot of money and the percentage of profit reduces.
These are the 2 tests that are very essential before you buy any property.