Overseas demand for property in London and currency implications
Foreign demand for London property has been significant for decades. However, since the financial crisis in 2008 overseas investment has been a notable key component of the property market’s aggregate demand.
London is regarded as a global focal point and the reasons behind the influxes of foreign capital can be considered in two aspects:
Personal use: Work and employment needs, historic appeal, friends and family connections, education and the idea of a trophy asset.
Investment: Comparatively stable political and economic environments, few legal restrictions, long history of price growth and further potential capital growth, escape from domestic wealth taxes and diversifying portfolios.
Both reasons typically overlap and amplify one another to create a strong incentive to buy property in London.
Where our buyers originated in 2014
The diagram to the left shows the percentage of the significant purchases that came from overseas in 2014 through our London offices.
We saw demand emanating from all continents with the strongest interest from Europe and the Middle East and countries including China along with the USA.
Proportion of overseas purchasers
In 2014 a majority of our purchasers were from overseas in central London such as Mayfair (80%) and Chelsea (81%) whereas further out in Richmond a quarter were from overseas and in Teddington only domestic applicants bought a property.
Outlook for foreign demand
Economic slowdowns in countries such as China will reduce the ability of further investment into London. Recent tax changes including the increase in Stamp Duty Land Tax along with a higher rate for companies and investment vehicles, the extension of Capital Gains Tax to include non-residents and an Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings have all made investing from abroad less attractive. The threat of a ‘Mansion Tax’ depending on who wins the impending General Election, is also weighing. However, whilst these factors may slow the rate of interest from overseas in the short run, particularly from an investment perspective, the World’s wealth is still increasing with London only growing in attraction. We are still experiencing good levels of demand from abroad and anticipate this continuing going forward.
Currency and its significance on property purchases
The first half of 2014 saw the UK’s economic recovery exceed expectations, causing the Pound (GBP) to appreciate against many currencies as markets bet that a UK interest rate increase was not far away. This Sterling strength further increased the price of London property for international clients, highlighting the risks of not accounting for Foreign Exchange moves during international property purchases. In the 2nd half of 2014, the run up to the Scottish independence referendum in September created significant market uncertainty. Inflation moderated even further, and with it expectations of a near-term UK interest rate rise fell, such that sterling lost a lot of strength against many currency pairs – much to the relief of international clients moving funds to the UK towards their property purchases.
GBP has had an interesting start to 2015, gaining significant strength against the Euro following the announcement and start of Quantitative Easing in the Eurozone, political uncertainty in Greece and the Swiss National Bank removing its peg against the Euro (EUR). GBPEUR (currently 1.3935) is over 11% stronger than last summer (1st July), having cooled in recent weeks from a 7 year high in March (above 1.42). This has hugely affected European clients looking to buy property in London, and to put this in perspective, a £1m property purchase today would cost a European client around €145,000 more than last summer, purely from a currency perspective.
Conversely, we have lost a lot of ground against the US Dollar, following continued progress in the US jobs recovery such that the US unemployment rate is now not far from levels the Federal Reserve would view as consistent with the ‘longer-term’ rate. This leads the Fed to adjust (and adjust again) its policy guidance, moving expectations of a rise in near term US interest rates to the forefront of minds, certainly sooner than in the UK. Consequently the pound is 13% weaker against the US Dollar since 1st July, so that a £1m purchase would today cost a US Dollar holder around $232,000 less than in the summer. Similar positive trends can be seen for buyers moving funds from the UAE, Hong Kong, China and to a lesser extent Singapore.
If the above demonstrates anything, it is that currency plays a very important role in UK property purchases for international clients. Often overlooked, movements can make a huge difference to the final amount your property costs in your local currency. Just as relevant are those selling property in the UK and transferring the proceeds back overseas.
The coming months promise to be interesting with much of the focus on the upcoming UK General Election. Opinions polls are too close to give any clear indication of the likely shape of any UK government after the 7 May vote and we expect a lot of uncertainty as we approach the big day. This uncertainty may see GBP weaken against major currencies, bringing further relief to international clients. Another key consideration will be the UK’s approach towards an interest rate rise which is now generally expected for 2016. However any change in sentiment or MPC language to indicate an earlier rate rise will see further stimulus for the pound.
Investec’s Private Client Foreign Exchange team works with internationally-focused property investors to provide competitive exchange rates, a personal currency expert and access to tailored protection from exchange rate movements. If you would like to discuss any cross-currency purchases or sales, please contact James Glynne-Percy and he will be happy to help.
Any figures, commentary and opinion published in this report is for general information only and in no way intended as financial advice and should not be relied upon in any way. Jackson-Stops & Staff and Investec Bank plc assume no responsibility for any loss from the use of any material in this report. Currency figures and graphs are accurate as at 15/04/2015 and subject to change continually with movements in the currency market.
Investec Jackson-Stops & Staff
James Glynne-Percy Robert Butterworth
Private Client Foreigh Exchange Research Department
020 7597 3695 020 7581 5881