Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 February 2020

Hold on to your dirhams, property prices and the UK pound are likely to fall even further

Peter Cooper advises investors to hold onto their dirhams for now - the pound, he believes, has further to fall.

In the event my own instincts about which way the British public would vote in the Brexit referendum – after an expat absence of 20 years – proved to be rather more accurate than most City forecasters who live and work in London today.

The aftermath of the Brexit vote for the UK to leave the European Union was also very much as I expected: a 10 per cent plunge in the value of the pound sterling and a rocket under the gold price. European stocks also crashed on the news but then staged a heroic rally to higher levels than before the Brexit.

That was for two reasons: post-Brexit hopes for greater liquidity led by the Bank of England and Bank of Japan, judging from their immediate statements; and excitement about the unity of the 27 remaining members of the European Union and hopes that it might deliver economic growth through a more federal EU.

Still, currency maestros stuck to their guns about the pound having further to fall. HSBC tips a $1.10 pound by the year-end and most forecasters predict a 10 to 15 per cent drop.

But I had forgotten about UK house prices. Central London property seems to have been hit by an earthquake of declining property prices since the Brexit.

I can understand some expats getting excited about this as an investment opportunity. But beware of trying to catch a falling knife: house prices could fall for more than a year, and the currency is going lower too. Hold on to your dirhams and don’t buy the pound just yet, or UK housing.

Sat in Budapest this week negotiating to buy an apartment I am happy to see the euro weaker but remain much more content with the absolute price of property here, which is the lowest in any major European city for a lifestyle that is almost second to none. London is 10 times more expensive.

You do have to look a little suspiciously at the US dollar at 12-year valuation highs and wonder if this is not another bubble waiting to burst. Certainly the burgeoning gold price and the surge in silver are a sign of the greenback starting to depreciate against the monetary metals.

But I do take issue with my British friends who confidently predict the end of the EU and a renaissance for the UK post-Brexit. I have non-EU Norwegian friends in Budapest who are aghast at the British decision. They note from national experience that if you want free access to the EU single market then it still demands freedom of movement and even payment into EU structural funds. Budapest, for example, has gratefully received such payments from non-EU Norway. Did anybody in the UK know about that?

So what the UK faces is considerable disappointment about what the Brexit delivers in practice compared to what a nefarious coalition of adventurers promised and then refused to even get involved in trying to deliver. There will be a great deal of disruption and trade renegotiation and stagnation in investment, loss of national status, not to mention a contraction in GDP.

Was this the most foolish decision in British history since dumping Winston Churchill as prime minister after the Second World War, or the Suez Crisis? You might say that, I could not possibly comment.

If I had any remaining investments in Great Britain I would definitely be organising my own Brexit right now, and I suspect many international investors will be doing the same.

Why on earth would you want to hold assets denominated in a doomed currency? For nostalgia or philanthropic reasons perhaps to support the UK in its darkest hour?

Those foreigners dumping their London properties last week are just the first of many. Still, perhaps the installation of what now seems will almost inevitably be the second female British prime minister will auger well for the future, and somehow Britain will get its act together in a way that it never managed independently before joining the European Community in 1973.

It was, of course, the 43 years of membership that made the country self-confident enough, as the second largest EU economy, to decide to leave. Within a matter of hours France was again the world’s fifth largest economy due to the currency collapse, and the UK number six.

My prediction is that the EU will actually be better off without the UK – the stock markets have got that much right, and that Scotland, and later England, Wales and Northern Ireland will eventually have to rejoin to get some say in running the EU, whose rules they will still be compelled to follow.

Peter Cooper has been a senior financial journalist in the Gulf for the past 20 years

Updated: July 8, 2016 04:00 AM



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