‘Gloomy’ Economic Budget Forecast

Maybe I am just an eternal optimist or view things with a glass half full type approach but the negative stance and headlines about do frustrate me. Forecast Cut Sharply and Gloomy Outlook…really?

Key points below:

Growth forecasts for the UK economy have been cut sharply following changes to estimates of productivity and business investment.

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now expects the economy to grow by 1.5% this year, down from the estimate of 2% it made in March.

Growth, it says, will drop to 1.3% by 2020 and then rise to 1.5% in 2021.

The lower growth means that by 2021-22 government tax receipts will be £20bn lower than the OBR’s March forecast.

The OBR expects borrowing as a share of economic output will still fall, but not as fast as it predicted in March.

It forecasts that borrowing this year will be 2.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rather than its previous prediction of 2.9%.

By 2021-22, it says that percentage will be down to 1.3%. However, in March, it had expected borrowing to have fallen to 0.7% of GDP by then.

This can hardly be interpreted as disastrous. It is not what anyone wants to read and we all want good solid growth at a higher rate but let us not forget where the UK economy has been, global pressures, the global economy as a whole and of course the unsettling Brexit negotiations. The media seems to revel in negativity and doesn’t focus on where we have been and where we are and where we aim to be. I’m not suggesting we all go around every day with an inane smile on our faces and forget issues in our lives but surely a positive approach, with a positive mind breeds positivity If you cannot be positive then at least be quiet!

BUDGET – Housing, Growth and Support

Housing always seems to feature in any government’s budget as the subject is of core importance to the long-term housing shortage and economy of the country and this time housing featured strongly. I’ve removed a few of the London related announcements but below are the key points in relation to the overall housing industry.

  • Stamp duty to be abolished immediately for first-time buyers purchasing properties worth up to £300,000
  • 95% of all first-time buyers will benefit, with 80% not paying stamp duty
  • Reduction will apply immediately in England, Wales and Northern Ireland although the Welsh government will have to decide whether to continue it when stamp duty is devolved in April 2018
  • £44bn in overall government support for housing to meet target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade
  • Councils given powers to charge 100% council tax premium on empty properties
  • Compulsory purchase of land banked by developers for financial reasons
  • £400m to regenerate housing estates and £1.1bn to unlock strategic sites for development
  • Review into delays in developments given planning permission being taken forward

The key one of course that is creating the headlines is scrapping stamp duty for the first £300,000 spent by first time buyers. This is without doubt a positive approach and will help many financially as they commit to buying their first home. The first-time buyer market supports the market as a whole and will encourage movement. There are those that feel this is little more than a ‘headline grabber’ and it will do little to encourage first time buyers and will benefit very few and whilst I can see their point let’s not forget the positive.

Also, the ongoing support of the new homes market to meet the target of building 300,000 homes a year is again solid and positive with a sizable £44 billion-pound package.

I won’t comment on the other housing related points as they are self-explanatory but ultimately positive where the housing market is concerned but other announcements may not have featured in headlines but are worthy of comment are:

Bringing forward a planned cut in business rate rises by two years to 2018. Small and medium sized businesses are incredibly vital to the country and any assistance and saving is very welcome. This might seem a minor announcement but worthy of note.

new railcard offering discounts to those aged between 26 and 30. Again small scale but to financially assist people, reduce road traffic, encourage movement and working practice has got to help. Mixed reviews on this one reported but every little helps.

Was the budget good news? Opinions will vary, and we would all like something better but upon reflection of the economy, the Brexit negotiations and the global economy I would like to think it’s a fairly solid positive stance.

Interest Rate Rise – As Predicted

I was right! I’d like not to be in this case but on at least two previous blog posts earlier this year did state that in my opinion interest rates would increase marginally before the calendar year.

Banks will rush to increase their rates to reflect the rise and of course it has created lots of headlines and the usual doom and gloom approach. However, what difference will this really make to property market? Nothing! The difference will be incredibly marginal and will not effect the demand for quality rental homes and therefore the need for property still stands and the clear and obvious returns and growth for the buy to let landlord still stands.

The increase is an attempt to slow down and steady inflation not to effect the property market.

The ongoing Brexit negotiations undoubtedly are having an effect on the economy and the overall uncertainty though listening to Mark Carney on Preston on Sunday yesterday was incredibly positive, focused and typically reassuring. He commented on “business investment has picked up and that the economy should be booming but it is just growing” and how this was down to the “nature of the deal with the European Union”.

Interest Rate Increase: Reason for negative headlines? Concern for the economy? NO!

Statistics Say – Housing Price Sees Steady Growth

Maybe it’s my old life in the corporate world that means I’m often drawn to statistics and what they tell us but the Office for National Statistics do produce some interesting data.

Whilst I appreciate that it is only a snapshot of this calendar year so far up until the end of August but it shows us a housing price growth of 5% nationwide. Remove Scotland and Wales and the growth is 5.3%. This alone is a solid recommendation and offers great support and strength in the UK housing market. The growth may not be spectacular but it is steady and proven.

Naturally the 5% figure is an overall average and driven by regional variances. We as a company tend to focus on the north of England taking in the midlands as a whole and the M62 corridor and north up the Scottish border. In our core area the north west is up 6.5%, Yorkshire up 4.8% and the midlands (east & west combined) is showing a 5.8% increase. Lowest is London at 2.6% and Wales and Scotland are in the threes.

Some of this is good reading and most is not entirely surprising with ongoing steady growth being reported everywhere. Whilst these stats are only 2017 up to the end of August they are not hugely different from 2016 and show that steady but encouraging stable performing appeal that brings so many people into the buy to let property market. The growth is there and the rental demand continues to soar.

As a quick add on but a relevant supporting fact; the construction industry grew 2.3% in this period which was reported as being down to the growth in new work in private housing.

 

5 Steps to Avoid the Housing Market Perfect Storm (apparently)

Am I in Narnia or has a broadsheets economics’ editor really decided to type some rather fanciful wand waving “5 Steps to Avoid the Housing Market’s Perfect Storm”?

The article is long winded and relates heavily to the dysfunctional London market and whilst many of us are aware there is an affordability issue and rents are increasing too fast in some areas the ‘avoidance steps’ sadly have little substance.

The 5 steps are below and our response is below each step.

The first is to stop doing more harm through counter-productive policies such as help to buy.

  • Like what? Yes, Help to Buy has potentially created an inflated negotiation free new build market but it is one that has benefited the larger PLC type developers but not the majority of the independent house builders.

The second is to change the tax system, starting with council tax reform and action to prevent land hoarding.

  • Much land is not hoarded but merely unable to developer as a high proportion of independent house builders cannot secure flexible competitive lending. The high street lenders talk a good show but don’t want to lend unless it is at a hugely beneficial loan to value basis, so the independent often has had to rely upon the specialist bringing finance companies that are often not competitive enough, have strong controls and lend for limited periods.

The third is to increase supply, and the housing expert Kate Barker has suggested ways the government could do so, such as identifying large sites abutting urban areas and acquiring them at a modest premium to the value of their existing use.

  • Is this some sort of compulsory purchase style suggestion? How would this sit with landowners, many of which have no wish to sell in the first place? If we take the second point (above) in mind maybe this wouldn’t be necessary if competitive flexible lending was readily available for the independent house builder.

Step four is for the Bank of England to adopt a kid-glove approach to raising interest rates. The idea is to engineer a gradual fall in real – inflation-adjusted – house prices, not a recession that leads to a sharp increase in unemployment.

  • What is the point here? The Bank of England is being cautious and must consider global pressures not just those concerns at home as there is an overall connected consideration and an increase, marginal or not is on the way.

Step five is to find a way of boosting wages, because there are two ways in which houses can become more affordable. Earnings can rise or house prices can fall. The housing market will only become less dysfunctional when Britain becomes more productive.

  • Sadly, this is close to being fanciful or at least a very long-term statement on a hopeful level. Simply to increase wages has a far wider effect on the economy.

Stay away from the wardrobe people. When the fur coats become fir trees there may be trouble ahead. OK I’m being a little cruel but the 5 Action Steps are pretty general and not really a defined recommendation.

Thoughts?

May to Unveil Plans to Build More Council Houses

Broadly speaking post war Britain has been the bastion of home ownership and our expectation and focus of home ownership has driven the Englishman’s home is his castle ethos and of course separated us from most of our European neighbours where renting is the norm. To see the BBC News headline today about the Conservative Party’s intention to build more council homes is most interesting in many ways.

It is a most interesting change of direction and surely a clear acknowledgement that the housing market has changed, people’s expectations have changed and maybe (cynically) that many are driven by ‘flashy’ possessions rather than a focus on home ownership.

We have commented on the shift in the property market many times before so I will try and not repeat myself but she change in direction is more than evident. The days of renting being perceived to be the ‘poor’ end of the market is simply no longer true with all walks of life renting due to a number of reasons and many will rent for life as the home ownership obsession changes in line with house prices, deposit requirements, financial commitment, other desirability items and much more. It may seems strange thing to say but consider that most families and couples now holiday abroad regularly and drive newer more expensive cars. Personal car leasing popularity has exploded for example. These things alone were not common practice some years ago but they are now. There are many reasons why people rent but social expectations do take a driving influence.

For the Conservative government to push ahead with more council houses might seem a strange direction for the Conservative Party but surely it will appeal to voters, reflects the true change in the property market and may even have a marginal leveling effect on rising rents.

Thoughts?

Celebrate Yorkshire, Promoting Huddersfield – A Premier Town

I’m not a regular breakfast business meeting attendee nor am I a serial networking type but when an event is on your doorstep and someone offers me a free bacon sandwich I’m there!

Far too much business is done merely for business sake and without thought to promote and support your other local businesses where ever you are from. In Bastion’s case we have the pleasure and honour of being a Yorkshire based company and what a county it is. We have so much to shout about and it’s not just about football.

On top of this of course is our commercial partnership with Huddersfield Town Football Club and being part of the Huddersfield Hundred. The ‘Hundred’ are all businesses allied and supporting the Club and therefore we should support each other. We are small, medium and large businesses, some regional and some international. The scope is superb.

Please take five minutes to watch this HTTV clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClSATZjZ9wo Worryingly I feature a few times but that aside it is the message that is being delivered across the board that is so important.

Bank of England: Rate Rises will be Gradual & Limited

 

Mark Carney’s comments won’t come as a surprise to most people and certainly we did forecast a marginal interest rate in previous blogs for later in 2017. Whilst we are not correct yet, it is looking likely. This kind of comment is relatively indifferent but still interesting to note and also worthy of mention is the rise in the pound as a result of his comments. 

A section of the article from BBC News is below:

Any increases in UK interest rates in the coming months will be “gradual” and “limited”, Mark Carney has said.

The Bank of England governor said that “some withdrawal of monetary stimulus is likely to be appropriate over the coming months” to help return inflation to its 2% target.

Inflation hit 2.9% in August as the effects of the slump in sterling following the Brexit vote continued.

It is likely to stay above 2% for the next three years, Mr Carney said.

The governor made the comments in a speech to the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC on Monday.

The Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee last week gave a strong hint that the UK’s first-rate rise in a decade was nearing, despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Until last week, most economists had expected the Bank to wait until later next year or even 2019 before raising rates.

 

Property Doom? Correction or Crash or Neither?

Two weeks ago a friend and colleague who is an experienced property professional was expressing his concern about the stability of the property market and how a ‘crash’ was coming. The gentleman in question reads endless articles and forecasts. I was fairly damning of his negative view point and told him that reading press articles to that degree was dangerous, depressing and utterly unrealistic. We strive to be informed but information overload is daft in itself. Articles are people’s opinions, the press like dramatic headlines when most articles have little substance, opinions vary and are not always written by those who should be commenting on the property market. I firmly told the friend in question that there was no justification for his concerns, it is not what the market is suggesting, demand will not alter and simply continue to grow and that construction is still ultimately the backbone of the UK economy. I said that I felt that the midlands and northern market would simply continue to be relatively flat with some growth.

Interestingly I then discussed this with a regional house-builder who agreed with my opinion.

The ongoing coincidence was that I attended an Evening with Entrepreneurs event yesterday evening at PPG Canalside and one of the speakers was the the MD of a large PLC construction company. He was asked whether he could see a crash or correction in the property market and whilst his answer was lengthy in summary he felt that the property market would potentially correct itself but basically continue to be relatively flat. There was more comment and more detail but that was his opinion.

I am not suggesting I’m an industry expert but merely an informed property professional who has been involved in the property, market for over twenty years and it is interesting that a successful regional developer, an MD from a national PLC and of course me agree where the market is and where it is likely to go.

A stable but gradually increasing market is where we are and what is almost certainly going to continue in my opinion. This hugely supports the buy to let property market and its basic principles of buying in the right area, where rental demand is strong, the right sort of property and of course with a discount. Nothing will change the ongoing rental demand and the need for housing.

As ever your thought are welcome.

Queens Speech 2017: Lettings Fees to Be Banned

Today’s Queens Speech has announced what we all knew was coming and it’s no surprise. It’s a good headline grabbing announcement that will feed the media’s occasional crusade against the private landlord but of course it’s little more than and a headline and will have little change to the letting market and merely mean that letting agents will have to become not just more realistic but less greedy and to work smarter.

For reference and out of interest I commented on this last on the 28th November 2016 and the Bastion Estates Comment from then is below.

BASTION ESTATES COMMENT (from Nov 2016): This is my twentieth year in property and ten of those were in estate agency at branch level to operations director level so my knowledge of the lettings market is relatively well informed though I admit it has never been my area of specialism. However, the fees some letting agents charge tenants for a large variety of services is close to disgraceful. Yes any business has to quantify a member of staffs time in dealing with the paperwork and referencing but the true actual cost beyond the man hours is very minimal. It is a highly profitable section of the property market and one many have taken advantage of. I am still amazed as I always have been by the ludicrous charges and the ‘any excuse to charge more’ type attitude. There had to be point where someone took action and here it is! How it will actually happen and when and what effect it will have on some letting agents we will have to wait and see, but if it removes some letting agents from the market and makes the other letting agents more competitive and realistic, I welcome the changes.

TODAY’S BASTION RESPONSE: I’m not sure my opinion has changed much in all fairness. Things will change and many costs will have to be passed onto the landlord but ultimately this in most cases will merely show in an increase in rent. If this is the case has the government actually done anything truly positive apart from spin a headline? Probably not! The tenant will end up paying but in a different way.