Five Days for Reflection… It's Beginning to look a lot like Christmas
It's that time of year again… rolling around remorselessly and as indifferent to clocks and calendars as fresh-faced policemen, intent on growing younger as I get older. In short, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas: five days to go, in fact, if you're reading this on Wednesday when it comes out… less if you've stored it up to read on the way to a pre-festive gathering (in which case make sure you're not driving at the same time). But whenever and however these words reach you, this is a perfect time for reflection. So let's allocate each of those five days as a space to look back from…to look back on the rapidly retreating events of the year we're leaving behind.
Day One… Cryptocurrencies
2022 looks certain to end with a flurry of Bankman-Fried inspired headlines as the tousle-haired, self-proclaimed "genius" makes an increasing number of appearances in a suit: most of them in a US Court. On Monday, his lawyers signed off his fateful journey from a Bahamas' penthouse to Rikers Island Prison Barge, where he will await trial on charges of defrauding billions from FTX customers to shore up his Hedge Fund, Alameda Research. And like a puppy sitting next to an unpleasant deposit, Bankman-Fried has acknowledged "risk management failures" and declared himself passionate about "putting the customers right". Good luck with that…but on any basis, the boy genius is now a poster boy for the lurch away from cryptocurrencies over the second half of 2022.
It all began when Alameda suffered catastrophic losses in May and June, resulting in more than half of FTX customer deposits being improperly transferred to plug the resulting hole (a "poor judgement call," according to Bankman-Fried). And most of the remaining FTX assets were made up of FTT Tokens (www.coinmarketcap.com), so when an arch-rival, Binance, announced in November that it intended to sell its holdings in FTT, heralding a collapse in the token's value, FTX customers rushed to withdraw $6 Billion: by 8 November the company had stopped paying out. It's what we used to call a run on the bank…but, of course, FTX wasn't a bank: it was almost entirely unregulated. And that should be the subject of our Day One reflection:
There is nothing inherently unstable about cryptocurrency markets except a lack of regulation. Because without effective regulation, the rules are only as good as the custodian chooses to make them…and once in a while, every field of human endeavour throws up a Bankman-Fried. The answer is to regulate crypto markets properly, not to drive them underground.
Day Two: Real Estate
Housing Markets have been in the news virtually since the beginning of 2022, and the narrative was driven by a progressive spiking and re-spiking of interest rates in an attempt to choke off surging inflation. The US and UK began the year with historically low-interest rates of 0.08% and 0.1%, respectively (www.statista.com), which meant demand for housing soared over the first six months of the year until inflation reared its ugly head again: breaking through the 10% barrier in September on both sides of the Atlantic.
Since then, Central Bankers have responded with much more aggressive interest rate policies, especially in western economies. The US is currently running hot at 4.5%, while over in the UK, rates have steadily risen to their current 3.5% (primed substantially, of course, by the fiasco of the Truss/Kwarteng Mini Budget). Property prices have significantly weakened and show every sign of weakening further into 2023.
Nomura forecasts that over the near term, because of what it quaintly calls "recapitalisation" (driven by rising interest rates), UK property prices could fall by 20% over the next seven years: reversing a thirty-year trend of upwards only price movements (www.nomuraconnects.com).
But there's a wide world beyond the United States and the United Kingdom.
In India, for example, marginal property prices are projected to rise by up to 15% over the short term, fuelled by unprecedented demand from a burgeoning and increasingly affluent population. JLL reported last month that the Subcontinent is going through its strongest property market since the heady days of 2014 (www.jll.co.in).
So, the Day Two reflection is this…
However much the financial press might focus on western markets across the world, real estate continues to be a local phenomenon: it pays to look beyond your horizons.
Day Three: Housing Technologies
Perhaps the saddest statistic this Christmas is the number of our fellow citizens who are either homeless or in severe housing need: 30,000 young people will be sleeping on English streets this Christmas morning, and over the course of 2022 as a whole, 741 people died on the streets, with only a pavement for a bed (www.ons.gov.uk): that's more than 14 every week (an increase of 54% since records began). And across the world, 150 Million of our fellow citizens are homeless, which is, on any basis, a striking indictment on our ever more affluent planet.
This, then, is the context for the UK Government abandoning its targets for affordable housing; the persistent failure of intergovernmental agencies to engage with issues of sustainable investment, and, most depressing of all, record levels of industrial waste created by dinosaur construction companies that are simply incapable of creating the homes in the numbers we need to meet worldwide demand.
On that basis, our Day Three reflection has to be this…
We don't have to accept things the way they are: the stakes are too high, both in social cost and personal suffering. By moving to modular construction, we can deliver those homes 30% faster, 30% cheaper, and with a less negative impact on the environment. We don't run steam trains on mainlines anymore, and we gave up on fax and VHS long ago: so why should we continue to tolerate dinosaur construction technologies?
Day Four: India takes its place at the Top Table
2022 has been India's year: it emerged from the enforced anguish of lockdown restrictions to become the world's fifth largest economy (overtaking the former mother country), with annual GDP growth of 6.68%, compared with 2.27% in the US, and virtually nothing in the UK (www.worldometers.info).
So our Day Four reflection is simple…
Think what India has already achieved and where it will be in five years' time, never mind ten…and then just imagine how much the world will change with it.
The Subcontinent has been at the heart of Red Ribbon Asset Management (www.redribbon.co) for more than a decade now: shaping its successful investment strategies in conjunction with unparalleled knowledge of India's markets and helping deliver higher-than-average investor returns while looking after the planet and people in the process.
Day Five: Christmas and the Year Ahead
And when we finally get to Christmas Day, in five days' time (or less if you've stored this up), the reflection is easier still: let's all have a peaceful and happy time with our loved ones and look forward to a prosperous year ahead.
Happy Christmas from everyone at Red Ribbon!
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