Posts Tagged ‘United Kingdom’

Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Wobbly economies that shook up markets in 2011 took their toll on the world’s rich, though fast-growing Asia for the first time had more millionaires than North America.  According to the report, the global personal wealth of people worth $1 million declined in 2011 for the second time in four years, a side effect of the Eurozone crisis and economic sluggishness in developed markets.  Several emerging markets also suffered, with the number of millionaires in India and Hong Kong falling by nearly 20 percent.  With Europe’s debt crisis bedeviling the continent, the outlook for wealth creation in 2012 remains weak, according to a report prepared by Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management.

The world’s millionaires grew by 0.8 percent to a record 11 million, according to the report, yet their collective wealth fell by 1.7 percent to $42 trillion.  Only the Middle East experienced no decline in wealth.  It was the first global decline in millionaire wealth since the 2008 financial crisis, when the ranks of the wealthy fell 15 percent and their wealth declined by 20 percent.

Families worth $30 million or more saw their collective wealth fall 4.9 percent and their ranks shrink by 2.5 percent to just 100,000 individuals.  This decline reflects holdings in higher-risk and less liquid investments like hedge funds, private equity and real estate.

“It was a challenging environment for our clients,” George Lewis, global head of wealth management at Royal Bank of Canada, said.  The Toronto banking giant began sponsoring the widely watched report in May.  Lewis pointed out that the number of high net worth individuals rose even as overall wealth fell.  “It at least suggests there continues to be upward mobility and the ability to generate wealth around the world,” he said.

Curious about how many millionaires live in nations around the world?  Read this:  Singapore toppled Hong Kong as home to Asia’s wealthiest in 2011 as declining stock markets hit the former British territory significantly harder than its Southeast Asian rival.  Hong Kong, whose stock market capitalization fell by 16.7 percent last year, saw a bigger decline in the ranks of people with more than $1 million to invest as a larger proportion of that wealth was tied up in equity.  Southeast Asia also has shown stronger signs of resilience to global turmoil than the rest of Asia as domestic spending offset struggling exports.  The number of millionaires in Hong Kong fell 17.4 percent to 83,600 last year, compared with a decline of 7.8 percent to 91,200 people in Singapore, according to RBC Wealth’s head of emerging markets Barend Janssens.  Hong Kong took the lead from Singapore in 2010 after falling behind in 2008.

China still is home to the most high net worth individuals in Asia Pacific, with a population of 562,000 millionaires.  The top five countries by population of high net worth individuals are the US (3.07 million), Japan (1.82 million), Germany (951,000), China and the United Kingdom (441,000).  According to RBC, this significant concentration of high net worth individuals is why wealth managers are attracted to Asia even if they have to contend with competition from domestic banks.

Are the troubles in the Eurozone likely to impact Asia?  Lessons learned from the 2008 financial meltdown show that while Asia tends to get hit when the world economy stumbles, the severity varies depending on which countries have the biggest trade and financial linkages, and are best-prepared with big currency reserves, overflowing government coffers and central banks with the ability to cut interest rates.  Generally speaking, Asia has more room than the West to react with interest-rate cuts and government spending.  But some things have changed since 2008, and some countries, primarily India, Vietnam and Japan, may not be in shape to survive another financial jolt.  “As we saw with Lehman, when you get a seizure in the global financial system, nobody can hide from that in the short run,” said Richard Jerram, chief economist at the Bank of Singapore.  In that type scenario — which analysts say could still occur if Greece doesn’t live up to its commitments and leaves the Euro, or Spain and Italy require a bailout that Europe can’t afford — Asian stocks and currencies would fall, shipping lanes would see less business, and lending to consumers and businesses would dry up, slowing world economies.

Tepid 1st Quarter Growth Disappoints

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

The American economy grew less than expected during the 1st quarter as the biggest gain in consumer spending in more than a year failed to overcome a diminished contribution from business inventories.  Gross domestic product rose at a 2.2 percent annual rate after a three percent increase in the 4th quarter of 2011, according to Department of Commerce Department statistics.  The median forecast called for a 2.5 percent increase.  Household purchases rose 2.9 percent, exceeding the most positive projection.  Home building grew at its fastest pace in almost two years.  The GDP data confirm the view of Federal Reserve officials who expect “moderate” growth as they repeated that borrowing costs are likely to stay low at least through late 2014.

In addition to the improvement in consumer purchases and home building, the economy benefited from a rise in auto production.  The GDP was negatively impacted by a drop in government spending and slower growth in business investment.  The United States is faring better than some other major economies.  The United Kingdom is in the throes of its first double-dip recession since the 1970s.  In Japan and Germany, GDP declined in the final three months of 2011, while China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, is also cooling.

“Consumers are remarkably stable and steady,” said Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas in New York.  “We’ll need to see final demand continue to improve.  We’re still in muddling-along territory.”

According to MarketWatch, the devil is in the details. “Growth of 2.2 percent is mediocre, but it’s worse than that once you peel away a few layers — about a fourth of the growth in gross domestic product was accounted for by a build-up in inventories, and half of it came from the building and selling of motor vehicles.  Strip away the inventory growth, and final sales in the economy increased 1.6 percent, the 4th quarter in the past five that was below two percent.  Although all the headlines report on the GDP numbers, the number to watch is final sales, because that gauges demand for our products, not merely how much we made.  Away from King Consumer, the rest of the economy is slowing.  Business investment spending dropped 2.1 percent, the first decline since 2009.  Let’s not get carried away too much by the gloom and doom.  The economy IS growing, even if it’s not as fast as we’d like.  The economy has grown by nearly seven percent since depths of the recession in 2009.”

As disappointing as the 2.2 percent is, the market will have to learn to live with lowered expectations.  From a market perspective, lukewarm growth could force Ben Bernanke’s hand to unfreeze lending, keep interest rates at their current lows, or re-use other monetary policy tools to keep money flowing.  Ironically, even with the Fed’s relaxed monetary policy, most of the extra cash in the economy remains on corporate balance sheets (Apple has billions on hand) or is going into the securities markets.

Official reaction was as expected. “Today’s advance estimate indicates that the economy posted its 11th straight quarter of positive growth, as real GDP (the total amount of goods and services produced in the country) grew at a 2.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter of this year.  While the continued expansion of the economy is encouraging, additional growth is needed to replace the jobs lost in the deep recession that began at the end of 2007,” said Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke called the slow pace of recovery “frustrating. Here we are almost three years from the beginning of the expansion, and the unemployment rate is still over eight percent.  It’s been a very long slog.  And that, I think, would be the single most concerning thing,” he said.

Britain Slides Into Double-Dip Recession

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Europe’s financial woes have spread across the English Channel as the United Kingdom slid into its first double-dip recession since the 1970s. Britain’s GDP fell 0.2 percent from the 4th quarter of 2011, when it declined 0.3 percent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

As anti-austerity backlash grows on the Continent, Prime Minister David Cameron said the data was “disappointing” and promised to shore up growth without backtracking on the UK’s biggest fiscal squeeze since World War II.  “I don’t seek to excuse them, I don’t seek to try to explain them away,” Cameron said.  “There is no complacency at all in this government in dealing with what is a very tough situation, which frankly has just got tougher.”  Cameron said “We have got to rebalance our economy.  We need a bigger private sector.  We need more exports, more investment.  This is painstaking, difficult work but we will stick to our plans, stick with low interest rates and do everything we can to boost growth, competitiveness and jobs in our country.”

Opposition leader Ed Miliband said the figures are “catastrophic” and asked Cameron why this had happened.  “This is a recession made by him and the chancellor in Downing Street.  It is his catastrophic economic policy that has landed us back in recession,” Miliband said.

The Bank of England is in the last month of economic stimulus and the fall-off in output comes as prospects dim in the Eurozone, Britain’s biggest export market.  “This isn’t supportive of the fiscal consolidation program, so the government is likely to be concerned about that,” said Philip Rush, an economist at Nomura International in London.  “The data were bad, and that supports the view that the Bank of England will do a final £25 billion of quantitative easing in May.”

According to ONS, output in the production industries decreased by 0.4 percent; construction fell by three percent.  Output of the services sector, which includes retail, increased by 0.1 percent.  The decline in government spending contributed to the particularly large fall in the construction sector.  “The huge cuts to public spending – 25 percent in public sector housing and 24 percent in public non-housing and further 10 percent cuts to both anticipated for 2013 — have left a hole too big for other sectors to fill,” said Judy Lowe, deputy chairman of industry body CITB-ConstructionSkills, said.

The UK’s last double-dip recession, defined as consecutive quarterly drops in GDP, was in 1975. At that time, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was in office and Margaret Thatcher was elected leader of the opposition Conservatives.  UK Treasury forecasters and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) believe the economy will grow 0.8 percent this year, the same as last year.  According to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, the UK’s economic situation is “very tough” and the government should stick to its plans of eliminating a majority of the deficit by 2017.  “The one thing that would make the situation even worse would be to abandon our credible plan and deliberately add more borrowing and even more debt.  It’s taking longer than anyone hoped to recover from the biggest debt crisis of our lifetime,” Osborne said. “The one thing that would make the situation even worse would be to abandon our credible plan and deliberately add more borrowing and even more debt.”

Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, said: “The underlying strength of the economy is probably much more robust than these data suggest.  The danger is that these gloomy data deliver a fatal blow to the fragile revival of consumer and business confidence seen so far this year, harming the recovery and even sending the country back into a real recession.”

Not everyone agrees that the data indicates a double-dip recession.  Writing in the Telegraph, Philip Aldrick says that “Economists have been questioning the reliability of the ONS numbers for a while now, but the latest data drew the debate sharply into focus.  At -0.2 percent, the GDP reading was considerably worse than the consensus of 0.1 percent growth.  The ‘discrepancy’, as Goldman Sachs’ Kevin Daly described it, was ‘unbelievable’ because much of the recent survey data – from the Bank of England’s agents’ reports to the purchasing managers’ indices – have been encouraging.  Andrew Goodwin of the Ernst & Young ITEM Club agreed.  ‘Our reaction is one of disbelief,’ he said.  ‘The divergence is virtually unprecedented and must raise significant question marks over the quality of the data.’  They are not alone.  No lesser institution than the Bank of England has queried the ONS data.  Last week, minutes to the Monetary Policy Committee meeting damningly noted: ‘The sharp falls in construction output in December and January were perplexing, and the Committee was minded not to place much weight on them.”

Increased Consumer Spending Lifts U.S. 2010 GDP

Monday, February 7th, 2011

road-sign-blogThe United States’ 2010 GDP soared at an annualized rate of 3.2 percent, as consumer spending rose by the greatest levels in four years.   “The consumer really drove the economy in the 4th quarter,” said Guy LeBas, chief fixed-income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in Philadelphia.  “The economy has moved beyond recovery to a stable state of growth.”  For all of 2010, the economy expanded 2.9 percent — the biggest one-year jump in five years — after contracting 2.6 percent in 2009.  The volume of all goods and services produced climbed to $13.38 trillion, for the first time surpassing the pre-recession peak reached in the 4th quarter of 2007.  Tiffany & Co. saw a significant increase in the sale of fine jewelry.  Apple reported record 4th quarter sales as consumers bought 7.73 million iPads as holiday gifts.  Ford Motor Company’s sales have been so good that the automaker plans to add an additional 7,000 manufacturing jobs over the next two years.  The automaker, which did not undergo bankruptcy, did lay off some salaried employees in 2008 as part of a restructuring in the face of slumping sales.

Exports also helped boost the American economy which should boost job creation over the next several years.  “The U.S. is expected to be one of the fastest growing developed countries in 2011, largely reflecting the contrast of the ongoing stimulus with other countries, such as the U.K. and other heavily indebted European nations, where austerity measures designed to reduce deficits are stifling domestic demand,” said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit, a London-based research firm.  “The acceleration of the U.S. GDP in the 4th quarter, and the changing composition of growth, raises hope that the economic recovery will move into a more self-sustaining phase in 2011 and generate sufficient jobs to reduce unemployment.”

Even the Federal Reserve, which renewed its commitment earlier this week to buying $600 billion in government bonds, agrees that the report shows the economy ended 2010 with moderate strength and breadth, but not enough to bring down the 9.4 percent unemployment rate anytime soon.  Personal consumption spending contributed slightly more than three percent to 4th quarter growth.  That is in line with retailers’ reports showing a respectable holiday shopping season.   Whether that level of spending holds up remains to be seen.  Many retailers remain cautious in their forecasts and report that consumers are still bargain-hunting.  As gasoline prices rise, disposable income may be limited.

Alter Now does see it as important to note the correlation with an overall increase in consumer credit debt in December, the first spike since 2008.  According to the Fed, overall consumer credit debt rose by 6.1 billion, or 3.0%, to $2.41 trillion while revolving credit debt (primarily from credit cards) rose by $2.3 billion (3.5%) to $800.5 billion. No revolving credit rose by $3.8 billion, or 2.8%, to $1.61 trillion.  While the spike in GDP is good news, let us remember that it is still being driven by deficit spending.

Compare the U.S. GDP with that of other nations last year and it’s clear who is winning.  China, for example, is expected to report an 8.5 percent jump in its GDP, not unexpected in the world’s fastest growing economy.  Japan’s real GDP was 3.9 percent higher in annualized terms for the 3rd quarter, beating estimates for a 2.5 percent rise for the year.

In the U.K., the economy shrank by 0.5 percent in the 4th quarter, compared with a 0.7 percent increase in the 3rd quarter.   By contrast, the nation with Europe’s largest economy – Germany - recorded a 3.6 percent growth rate in its GDP in 2010. 

Jon Levy: European Real Estate Opportunities

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Jon Levy is a European Union analyst with Eurasia Group and a frequent commentator on European issues, appearing on CNN, CNBC and NPR.  He was previously director of national security policy for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Jon Levy is a European Union analyst with Eurasia Group and a frequent commentator on European issues, appearing on CNN, CNBC and NPR.  He was previously director of national security policy for John Kerry’s presidential campaign.  In a recent interview for the Alter NOW podcasts, Levy discussed several factors shaping European real estate markets – as well as European investment in U.S. assets.  His comments touch on the outlook for eastern Europe, investment thinking in Germany and some of the macroeconomic challenges facing the U.K.  Levy’s comments add a unique perspective to some of the key trends we are watching in the European markets.

A few insights…

German open-ended real estate mutual funds are expected to invest 12 billion euros (approximately $18 billion) in Europe and the United States over the next few years.  These funds have already raised three billion euros in the first eight months of 2009, reinforcing a sense that – at least for Germany – the worst of the financial crisis is over and markets are stabilizing.  Germany is now one of the most aggressive investors in American real estate, behind only Australia.  These funds display a preference for high-quality, income-producing assets.

Levy noted that there has been dramatic tightening of credit and liquidity in Eastern Europe.  However, as he notes, the ability to adopt the euro – while an uneven and politically charged process – provides an exit from this environment – a key distinction with other emerging market crises.  Furthermore, within Eastern Europe, there are significant differences in outlook, with several regions and sectors poised for growth.  This situation, Levy argues, may present attractive entry points as broader credit and liquidity conditions lead to more favorable asset prices.

In the United Kingdom, an estimated $350 billion is needed to refinance commercial real estate loans in a market where many properties have gone into default and values have declined 44 percent since 2007.  The leasing pool in the City of London has been dramatically reduced as there is a consolidation in the banking and asset management industry.  There is a strong emerging view that the UK needs to diversify its economy away from financial services and back into manufacturing and agriculture to achieve a healthier balance.  Levy also provides some insight into the situation in the UK.

Eurasia Group is the world’s leading political risk and consulting firm that helps corporations make informed business decisions in countries around the world.

 
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Investors Are Choosing London

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

London beats Washington, D.C., as preferred destination for commercial real estate investment.London has overtaken Washington, D.C., as the preferred city for commercial real estate investment,  primarily because investors believe that prices have bottomed out and the time to get into that market is now. The British capital has overtaken the previous favorites of Washington, D.C., and New York, according to a survey conducted by the Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate (AFIRE).

“London currently offers investors the advantage of a ‘re-priced’ market,” says James Fetgatter, AFIRE’s CEO.  “The re-pricing began sooner than it did in other cities.”  London’s score is 31 points higher than the perennial favorite Washington, D.C., and 40 points ahead of New York City.  A year ago, London occupied second place, ranking four points behind Washington.  The survey of the association’s approximately 200 members was taken in the fourth quarter of 2009 and represents ownership of more than $842 billion of commercial real estate.  Of that, $304 billion is invested in the United States.

London, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, has rebounded with investment rising 56 percent from the first to the second half of 2009.  Property values rose 2.4 percent in November, the largest monthly increase in 15 years.  Savills, the real estate advisory firm, is predicting London will eclipse New York as the fastest growing global financial center.

Despite London’s success, the United States is still preferred as the “most stable and secure real estate investment environment,” according to 44 percent of survey respondents.  This is the first time the United States ranked below 50 percent in the survey.  It ranked 53 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in 2007.  Germany occupies second place with 21 percent.  In terms of price appreciation, the United States ranks first, followed by the United Kingdom and China.

The preferred property for investment is multifamily residential, followed by office, industrial, retail and hotel.

Lloyds Bank Sells Its Halifax Estate Agencies Arm for just $1.60

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

U.K. also has a troubled housing market.  Apparently, the American housing market is not the only one experiencing difficulties.  In the United Kingdom, Lloyds Banking Group Plc has sold its unprofitable chain of 218 Halifax Estate Agencies, Ltd., a large British residential real estate brokerage firm, to LSL Property Services Plc for just £1 – about $1.60.

According to Lloyds, the sale “follows a strategic review undertaken by the group which concluded that an estate agency operation is no longer integral to its business model.”  LSL, which owns the Your Move chain of real estate agencies, will become Britain’s second largest real estate agency.  LSL intends to re-brand the Halifax name with its own.  Simon Embley, LSL’s CEO, notes that Lloyds is leaving £22.2 million pounds on Halifax’s balance sheet.  “It enables us to carry out a restructuring of this business, which it’s in pretty desperate need for,” Embley said.

Lloyds is considering issuing new shares and selling assets to avert an insurance program that would give the British government a majority share in the bank.  Additionally, the European Union might force Lloyds to sell assets and branches to reduce its 30 percent share in the British checking-account market.

Bad Debt? Sell It on the Stock Market

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

To purge their balance sheets of debt and avoid future writedowns, more and more U.K. banks are considering plans to transfer commercial property loans into REITs. Such strategies entail using REITs as publicly traded “exit vehicles” to limit the losses they and their borrowers face.

uk-stock-market The British Property Federation is currently pushing the idea to the government as a solution for state-owned banks saddled with real estate loans.  Ian Marcus, head of real estate at Credit Suisse Group AG, remarks, “It’s obviously being considered by all relevant parties because the sector needs to recapitalize and that is one methodology of doing so.”

U.K. banks are currently weighed down with 227 billion pounds (US$371 billion) of loans against retail properties, office buildings and warehouses after funding the real estate boom that ended in 2007, reports a De Montfort University study.  According to BNP Paribas, approximately 100 billion pounds of the loans are due to mature in the next three years.

The values of the commercial properties they are secured against have declined by an average 44 percent from their peak two years ago, calculates London-based Investment Property Databank, Ltd.  Peter Cosmetatos, the British Property Federation’s finance director, concludes, “Allowing mortgage REITs would seem a natural and sensible way for REITs to help banks reduce their exposure to real estate and recapitalize the sector.”

It’s an interesting proposition and creates a new play – allowing opportunity players to get undervalued, under-performing loans at the share level.

UK Debt Repayment Dates

UK Debt Repayment Dates

Have We Hit Bottom Yet?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Slowly advancing first-quarter sales may not make this the right time to pop the champagne corks-though it does represent a plateau compared with the previous quarter and suggests that the bottom may be in sight.  This update comes from Real Capital Analytics (RCA), which warns that “there is no recovery in sight”.

In its June Global Capital Trends, RCA notes that property sales in the Americas totaled an estimated $8 billion during the second quarter, down just six percent from the first quarter, an 83 percent drop for-sale-signs-lgcompared with last year.  Second-quarter totals for EMEA markets are down 24 percent from the first quarter to just $17.3 billion, a 71 percent drop from 2008.  The good news is in the Asia Pacific markets, where RCA projects an 18 percent gain over the first quarter with a total of $23.3 billion in sales, approximately half of the second-quarter worldwide numbers.

According to Robert M. White, Jr., RCA’s founder and president, “We’re probably at the bottom “in terms of transaction activity.  Globally, the upturn will be sporadic.  “If anything, the downturn was correlated more closely across property rates and geographic regions than the recovery will be.  Activity in Europe is growing, especially in the U.K.  And there is a buzz in the U.S., too.  In the past few weeks, we’ve seen more and larger deals.  I wouldn’t say it’s a quick rebound, but frankly I don’t think volume could sink any lower in the U.S.”

Pricing may be a different story, White cautions.  “We may already be there, but none of it will be realized until these distressed deals close.  We can look forward to move activity” in the fall and through year’s end.