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COVID-19 and PCL property – a market on the rise?

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COVID-19 and PCL property – a market on the rise? 1

By Alpa Bhakta, CEO of Butterfield Mortgages Limited

Over the last five years, demand for prime central London (PCL) property has been fairly inconsistent. Sudden peaks in interest from buyers could be followed by periods of stagnate price growth. Nonetheless, the advantages of PCL property investment, particularly by international investors, has remained well known.

Well-funded development and neighbourhood re-generation schemes, alongside an influx of overseas investment, has resulted in a vibrant market with a diverse range of opportunities for prospective buyers.

Nonetheless, the PCL market has not been immune to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first half of the year, the lockdown meant physical valuations and onsite inspections could not take place. People in the UK were also discouraged from moving properties unless they found themselves in extreme circumstances.

However, as we now enter the final weeks of 2020, I believe there’re plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future prospects of the PCL property market. Buyer demand has resulted in a new wave of activity, and this is resulting in significant house price growth. Indeed, it was recently revealed by Halifax that the average rate of house price growth in November was at a four-year high.

Obviously, there are multiple factors that have helped sustain this strong level of house price growth. Most notably, the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday has succeeded in coaxing buyers back to the property market––be they seasoned buy-to-let (BTL) investors or first-time buyers––by offering up to £15,000 in tax savings on any given property purchase.

However, it’s worth considering the other factors underway in London’s property market. With the UK in a second national lockdown, many investors will be keen on hedging against future COVID-imbued market uncertainty through acquiring safe-haven assets like British property. As you’ll read below, this is having a positive impact on the PCL market.

Investors are flocking to PCL opportunities

The PCL property market has managed to be one of the most active areas of the UK’s real estate market during the whole of 2020. When discussing why this is so, we must first begin by understanding the behaviours of overseas buyers.

Given that international investors represented over half (55%) of all the PCL property purchases recorded in the second half of 2019, anything to further incentivise or dissuade such foreign actors would hugely impact PCL property transaction figures.

Earlier in the year, alongside the announcement of the aforementioned SDLT holiday, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak indeed announced that he would be implementing 2% SDLT surcharge for non-UK based buyers of British property from April 2021 onwards.

So, for those seeking properties worth over £5 million in the UK capital, a 2% additional cost may represent a substantial amount of wealth. To avoid this, many overseas buyers who may have been contemplating a PCL property acquisition have rushed to buy such properties before this surcharge is applicable. This trend will undoubtedly continue until 1 April, 2021.

Remote working and PCL

On the topic of the PCL market’s future, many property speculators were concerned earlier this year that London’s property market would potentially collapse entirely as a result of remote working. With homeworking set to remain the norm for the foreseeable future, commentators predicted that professionals would escape the capital en-masse in favour of roomier, cheaper properties farther from their London employer’s offices.

While there have been some signs of shifting demand from urban London neighbourhoods to suburban ones, according to Rightmove statistics, there has been no recordable effect on the UK’s property market as a result.

Conversely, property specialists Savills have actually discovered that over half of all transactions including properties worth more than £5 million in the UK this year were all located in just five central London postcodes.

A busy few months

Given the performance of the PCL property sector in 2020, I only foresee this market growing stronger and stronger in the years ahead. Recent developments in the production of COVID-19 vaccine have many hoping that we may return to normality by Spring 2021, which would represent fantastic news for those involved in bricks and mortar, should it transpire.

In the coming months, I anticipate a surge in activity across the PCL market as buyers look to take advantage of the tax breaks on offer. As such, it will be important that these buyers have access to the financing needed to complete these transactions quickly. If not, there is a risk any purchase they attempt might be concluded in April 2021 when the current tax breaks in place are removed.

Overall, I cannot help but be impressed by the performance of the property market more generally during the pandemic. Having experienced slow growth in the years following the EU referendum in June 2016, it is clear that buyers are eager to take advantage of the opportunities on offer. This is particularly true when it comes to PCL property.

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Stocks slip from highs; investors wait on Fed

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Stocks slip from highs; investors wait on Fed 2

By Matt Scuffham

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Global stocks slipped from record levels on Tuesday, with investors cautious as the Federal Reserve kicked off its two-day policy meeting and U.S. lawmakers continued to debate a new stimulus plan.

Those concerns overshadowed impressive results from a slew of companies, including from General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, which had earlier pushed the S&P 500 to a record high.

“Investors don’t expect the Fed to give any reason to think they are getting closer to talking about when they will consider scaling back QE, but nervousness is brewing on Wall Street,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

Wall Street’s main indexes closed lower.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 22.96 points, or 0.07%, to 30,937.04, the S&P 500 lost 5.74 points, or 0.15%, to 3,849.62 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 9.93 points, or 0.07%, to 13,626.07.

The MSCI world equity index, which tracks shares in 49 nations, fell 1.99 points or 0.3%, to 666.09.

After a “buy everything” rally over several months supported by money-printing pandemic stimulus packages, near-zero interest rates and the start of COVID-19 vaccination programs, some investors are worried markets may be near “bubble” territory.

They point to rocketing prices of assets such as bitcoin or the soaring stock of short-squeezed videogame retailer GameStop.

“There is room for some consolidation,” said Francois Savary, chief investment officer at Swiss wealth manager Prime Partners.

Uncertainty over the timing and size of fiscal stimulus also tempered sentiment.

Disagreements have meant months of indecision in the United States, where new coronavirus cases have been above 175,000 a day and millions of people are out of work.

Democrats in the U.S. Senate will act alone to approve a fresh round of stimulus if Republicans do not support the measure, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

U.S. Treasury yields were narrowly mixed in choppy trading, after hitting three-week lows on the long end of the curve, as investors remained cautious about the stimulus and the slow global roll-out of coronavirus vaccines.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 2/32 in price to yield 1.0347%.

The U.S. dollar edged lower across the board as traders showed a preference for riskier currencies.

The dollar index fell 0.2%, with the euro up 0.21% to $1.2162.

European stocks advanced, shrugging off political upheaval in Italy, as strong earnings from wealth manager UBS and auto parts maker Autoliv added to a string of upbeat corporate updates.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index closed up 0.6%, with a rally in automakers, industrial companies and SAP helping the German DAX outperform.

Europe’s broad FTSEurofirst 300 index added 0.64%, at 1,573.47.

The IMF raised its forecast for global economic growth in 2021 and said the coronavirus-triggered downturn in 2020 would be nearly a full percentage point less severe than expected.

Italy’s FTSE MIB rose 1.2% after Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte handed in his resignation to the head of state, hoping he would be given an opportunity to put together a new coalition and rebuild his parliamentary majority.1.2163

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 11.47 points or 1.58% in Asia overnight. South Korea and Hong Kong topped losers, each falling more than 2%. The sell-off also caused Japanese stocks to slip 1% and Chinese blue-chips to tumble 2%, their biggest one-day loss since Sept. 9.

All had touched milestone highs earlier this month.

Gold prices edged lower. Spot gold dropped 0.2% to $1,850.63 an ounce. U.S. gold futures settled down 0.2% at $1,850.90.

U.S. crude oil futures settled at $52.61 a barrel, down 16 cents or 0.30%. Brent crude futures settled at $55.91 a barrel, up 3 cents or 0.05%.

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Dan Grebler, Mark Heinrich and Sonya Hepinstall)

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Current cryptocurrencies unlikely to last, Bank of England governor says

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Current cryptocurrencies unlikely to last, Bank of England governor says 3

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – No existing cryptocurrency has a structure that is likely to allow it to work as a means of payment over the long term, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey told an online forum hosted by the Davos-based World Economic Forum on Monday.

“Have we landed on what I would call the design, governance and arrangements for what I might call a lasting digital currency? No, I don’t think we’re there yet, honestly. I don’t think cryptocurrencies as originally formulated are it,” he said.

Bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency, hit a record high of $42,000 on Jan. 8 and sank as low as $28,800 last week, far greater volatility than is found with normal currencies.

“The whole question of people having assurance that their payments will be made in something with stable value … ultimately links bank to what we call fiat currency, which has a link to the state,” Bailey said.

The BoE, like the European Central Bank, is looking at the feasibility of issuing its own digital currency. This would allow people to make sterling electronic payments without involving banks, as is currently possible with banknotes, and would in theory help avoid the volatility that renders bitcoin impractical for commerce.

Bailey said the appropriate level of privacy for digital currencies was likely to be hotly debated and was potentially underrated as a challenge in setting one up.

“This is a big one that is coming on to the landscape, the whole question of a privacy standard for transactions made in any form of digital currency, and where the public interest lies,” he said.

(Reporting by David Milliken, editing by Tom Wilson and Alistair Smout)

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EU sustainable investment rules need better corporate data – banking report

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EU sustainable investment rules need better corporate data - banking report 4

By Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett

LONDON (Reuters) – European Union rules aimed at defining sustainable investments should help reduce “greenwashing” by businesses, but better quality corporate data is needed to ensure they work effectively, a banking report said on Tuesday.

The sustainable finance rules will classify investments that can be marketed as sustainable, a move aimed at steering much-needed cash into low-carbon projects to deliver the bloc’s climate goals.

From January to August 2020, 26 of the region’s biggest lenders tested the EU framework across a range of core banking processes, including retail banking, trade finance and lending to smaller companies.

As the main providers of finance to companies across the EU, the ability of the banking system to track and report on whether corporate activities are sustainable or not could prove crucial in assessing the rules’ success or otherwise.

The lenders broadly welcomed the regulations as they seek to align their businesses with the transition to a low-carbon economy, the report by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative and the European Banking Federation found.

However, they also raised a number of issues, many of which were data-related and could require a phasing in of reporting requirements.

While many large companies are already required to disclose certain environmental and social information by law, the bulk of smaller and mid-sized banking clients are not, hampering banks’ assessment of their alignment with the rules.

Concerns over the quality, detail and standardisation of data is also an issue when looking at banks’ lending overseas, something that would be made more complex as other regions launch their own regulations.

The banks who tested the EU rules called on regulators to seek global alignment of regulations, and for better tools to manage data from clients, such as a centralised EU database.

While under no compulsion to lend to activities that can be classed as sustainable, banks see sustainable finance as a growth area that is likely to take on more importance in coming years should policymakers tighten environmental legislation.

With more investors globally looking to become shareholders of companies with a good record on managing environmental risk, banks are also likely to look to reduce their exposure to environmentally or socially harmful activities over time.

The European Commission is expected to finish the section of the rules covering climate change in the coming months, before they take effect in 2022.

(Reporting by Simon Jessop and Kate Abnett; Editing by Pravin Char)

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