NOW GDP is the cumulative amount we all earn through the course of 12 months, it is a flow, and must not be confused with the total value of assets across the UK, or our stock of wealth. With these differences in mind let us compare and contrast the crisis which hit back THEN in ‘08, with the one engulfing us NOW.
Ahead of the ‘08 debacle the likes of Bradford & Bingley, Northern Rock, HBOS, RBS, not to forget ‘foreign’ banks operating in the UK – notably & notoriously those from Ireland and Iceland – lent over freely, quite literally. We saw: them extending residential mortgages for over 100% of the – over-valuation of the secured asset; the acceptance of dubious self-certification of incomes on the part of borrowers, & witnessed the ‘carrying’ of cheaper to fund euro capital into sterling assets. Given this toxic monetary cocktail there was always going to be a denouement, all the more so because in the years leading up to 2008, the £ itself had been caught in a bout of irrational exuberance. And when the denouement struck it exposed how excessive lending has led to excessive property prices – residential and commercial, and an overvalued £. The result was covenant breaches & negative equity, & of course banking failures; British, Irish, Icelandic et al. What we awakened to in late ‘08 was the living nightmare that in aggregate we had never really enjoyed the collective National Wealth we dreamt we had. With this dawning came the collapse in the velocity of what cash & near-money we had. In the wake then of 2008 we saw sharp falls in both National Wealth and GDP as well of course as a sharp fall in sterling. All this made us feel far ‘less wealthy’.
In contrasting THEN – 2008 – with NOW, one is hard pressed to argue that UK property prices were over-valued entering this crisis. Indeed, that it struck after a period of considerable political uncertainty is to my mind evidence enough, that rather than Irrational Exuberance, the UK came into this crisis in a state of Rational Listlessness. The latter weighed down on asset prices whilst also proving a weight on sterling. Indeed, if one examines data on household equity, we clearly see how UK families entered this crisis having spent (sic) years paying down mortgages, at the same time as property prices edged upwards. Edged higher one must add not because of confidence in the future, but despite Brexit-induced uncertainty. Also please bear in mind that whilst the General Election on December 12th was conclusive in regard to Conservative parliamentary seats, it left even more unsettled – in the consensual ‘mind’ at least – the nature of the UK’s post-2020 relationship with the EU and so to the economic outlook for the UK.
The reality then is that coming into THIS crisis UK national wealth was as much undervalued as it was overvalued rushing headlong into the 2008 Crash. Consider these House Numbers. In the 4 years leading up to the crisis of 2008, the price of an average UK home increased by 38% (over 8% per year), and a still higher 50% when translated into dollars (£1 rose to buying over $2s by 2007). Contrast this what we saw in the 4 or so years heading into this crisis: a rise in sterling for an average UK home of 13% (3% per year) and actual declines in dollars and euros. A very different backdrop indeed, not toxic as in 2008, but in fact very much opportunistic, if my outlook is believed.
So this is then what I expect: The UK and EU to resolve matters with a pre-deadline deal, and the UK to continue its close economic engagement with a China which emerges strongly from its own stasis with a strong currency. In the event this prognosis is realised, as I am convinced it will, we will reflect back on how UK assets emerged from this crisis having seldom been more attractive. This of course leads us to the thorny issue of the biggest collapse in UK GDP recorded in history.