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C

Posts for bitcoin



On The Threshold: Three books for real estate investors to live by

By Alessandro Pasetti, 15 February.

There are books you read that never leave you, and following the huge swings in financial markets since early February, I was reminded of some of those when thinking about how real estate investors ought to consider their positions in relation of other forms of investment.

(Source: financialtalkies.com)

Is a financial meltdown around the corner? 

Watching financial market events unfold by the hour is bad for your blood pressure, but some lessons I learned from reading have often helped me make better choices.

I have closely monitored the ups and downs of the past 20 years, from the dot.com bubble at turn of the century to the real estate and banking crash a decade ago and, indeed, further back. When I was a kid the private equity binge of the 1980s culminated in 1987’s Black Monday, which remains a worst-case scenario in terms of making investment decisions. In those years junk bonds doped financial markets where stellar inflation rates were still dropping from the second Oil Shock in 1979. 

I have been thinking about how these events (most I read in the books mentioned below) shaped my behaviour in finance matters, and how correlated they were to prevailing interest rates trends of the times.

Ultimately, I want to help you filter all the nonsense written when the bears, with grand fanfare, point to the nearing collapse of the real estate market, driven by a financial meltdown — there have been many strange headlines in the British press in both regards lately, spurred by the recent fall in the FTSE 100.

One typical Inveztments reader recently argued that comparing, for example, the housing markets in Milan to London, and their historical trends, it was easy to predict a further 50% decline in prices in London over the medium term. The lesson this gentleman appeared to forget was to compare apples with apples; barring growth considerations, here we have two very different investment by liquidity (and location).

Which reminded me of When Genius Failed.

That book changed my perception of risk: a masterstroke of how the cleverest humans on earth made their fund implode because their binary trades, which were meant to be perfectly hedged, weren’t hedged at all. Masterminded by Irish-American fund manager John Meriwether and other brilliant fellas, Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) used the work of finance scientists Scholes and Merton, who were awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics thanks to their option pricing modelling.

“Scholes’ work had inspired a generation of mathematical wizards on Wall Street, and by this stage both he and Merton were players in the world of finance, as partners of a hedge fund called Long-Term Capital Management,” the BBC wrote years ago.

Look at the demise of LTCM, and how it financed its trades — think of it as if you bought a property, remortgaged your equity shortly thereafter, and then with that borrowed money bought a risky investment where Bitcoin is the riskiest in the spectrum today. That, in 1998, was Russian debt, which plummeted in value during a very hot summer for many traders.  

Leverage clearly compounded problems of a fund that evaporated in a flash, just like this month the value of a security conceived by Credit Suisse – essentially set to trade against volatility — evaporated overnight.  

In late September 1998, LTCM was taken over by its lenders — in those days interest rates in the US rose 200 basis points to 4%, then reaching 6%. By comparison, in recent weeks US benchmark rates have risen swiftly from only 2% to 2.8%.

(Your cost of funding might soon go up more than that, depending on how banks react, increasing your  mortgage costs.)

They say real estate is risky 

In the 1990s it began with LTCM and ended with Enron, which declared bankruptcy in December 2001. Rates during the LTCM-Enron period — at the post-heights of the dot.com bubble — rose from 4.4% to 6.6%, more than doubling current levels. Enron shareholders, of course, were wiped out.

The classic tale of the Enron affair is The smartest guys in the room. It touched upon capitalism and side effects, I learned that accounts can easily be faked even though regulators should prevent retail investors — you and I — from being scammed. Enron (click here to see how its downfall began) was essentially a massive conglomerate of Chinese boxes where accounting fraud was the rule. The property market is a good example of transactions that are often opaque, and that is why due diligence is an affair you often need help for. The Team of Inveztments performs close scrutiny on builders, and their financials, and this is clearly a plus.  

Before we move onto the third book and why all of this matters to real estate investors, think about where the 10 US Treasury bonds trade – what’s their yield?

While it is true that regionalisation in the real economy poses a threat to globalisation, finance is global and all markets are intimately tied to the driver of value — the US, where the fall in stock and bond prices in the past few weeks shocked, and badly harmed, stock and bonds traded in Asia and Europe.  

Shorting Europe and the euro? A bad idea? 

Call it transmission effect: interest rates in the US matter, and no doubt the Bank of England is looking to catch up with the Fed and open the gap with Europe in terms of interest rates hikes. The Fed was the first brave bank to push up rates a couple of years ago, although interestingly, it has been slow since.

Finally, The Big Short is a thoroughly entertaining read, even if it does describe the near-complete demise of the entire financial system, and the world as we know it. When Lehman Brothers collapsed due to troubled bets on derivatives and real estate, interest rates fell from 3.8% to a floor of 2.2%, but the plunge had started earlier when rates were at 5%.

The allure of barring a Japan-like scenario is obvious, but there are similarities. (Seeking Alpha this week wrote: “Japan’s economy grew at an annualised rate of 0.5% in the final three months of 2017, capping an eighth straight quarterly expansion and the longest growth streak in nearly 30 years”). This could be a very long cycle, which gives more time to profit to investors and realtors.

So, if you are ready to bet on short-term capital appreciation in the housing market, make sure you gauge what kind of risk you are embracing before the US reaches the critical 4.5%-6% threshold at some later point — given the shape of the yield curve, and three likely rates hikes each of 25 basis points (0.25%) a year in 2018, 2019 and 2020, you’ll have time to reap the rewards before the next financial meltdown occurs. And by then you’ll also hold an investment with more defensive characteristics.

To contact the team of Inveztments and discuss the prospects of their flagship projects please click here.

(This post was written by Alessandro Pasetti. Ale is the founder of Hedging Beta Ltd. He writes about investment strategy and assets valuation for European clients as well as Seeking Alpha. Based in London, he previously worked for about five years at Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, producing analysis for the IB community. Prior to that, he contributed to the launch of London-based Loan Radar, where he worked for three years. He had stints in equity research at Bear Stearns in London, HVB in Munich, and Unicredit in Milan. 

It was edited by Gavin van Marle, managing editor of London-based The Loadstar. Gavin is also the author of the book Around the World in Freighty Ways: Adventures in Globalisation. He has won numerous awards, including the Seahorse Journalist of the Year 2011 and 2009, and Supply Chain Journalist of the Year 2010 and 2014. )

On The Threshold: Brexit's silver linings could turn out to be gold

By Alessandro Pasetti, 31 January.

Do not say you had not been warned about the possible benefits of Brexit, and luckily the window of opportunity remains wide open in the real estate market, because uncertainty is likely to continue, which is exactly when good deals could easily turn into the bargain of a lifetime if you pick the right assets. 

In the wake of the latest news concerning the health status of the UK, there is no need to feel bad if you didn’t see it coming – you were in good company.  

(Source: New York Times)

Even the experts at the Office for National Statistics recently admitted they misjudged domestic growth data, while a slew of City brokers I have talked to since the 2016 referendum have often raised concerns about the outcome of this Euro-British saga. Many pundits are unconvinced an amicable deal is on its way but in my opinion political repercussions and commercial risks will be manageable.

Moving parts

There are certainly many moving parts when choosing to invest in the UK and its property market, not least because the London real estate sector since last year has been less enticing than for two decades, and inevitably that negatively affects business “sentiment” — and, in turn, GDP growth estimates. But on the bright side, a top-down approach suggests that there is little to fear nationwide, as many other major big cities — where Inveztments operates — are in a sweet spot, while recently released fiscal deficit numbers for the UK were pretty good.

(Source: Trading Economics)

Other trends for net borrowings in the UK were not bad at all, either.

(Source: ONS)

Other encouraging signs have been visible since last year.

“UK budget deficit narrows to lowest September level since 2007,” was the headline of a story published by The Guardian at the end of last year, which did not overlook that fact we have returned to pre-2007 crunch levels.

Comparables 

Some headwinds remain but there is no better time, I reckon, to assess the conditions of a market where prices could easily move in lockstep with the growth rate of domestic inflation — see the CPI chart below — for years to come, and compare the credit risk embedded in property with other asset classes.

(Source: Trading Economics)

Say you are keen to invest in equities, and you have been looking for a global brand that traditionally offers steady income in the form of dividends and, possibly, some capital appreciation at the right entry point.  

For example, how about General Electric, a company I have closely followed for years?  

(Source: Bitcoin News. The chart above shows the correlation between GE’s stock price and Bitcoin until late 2o17)

In the week commencing 22 January, the stock of this American behemoth, which has a strong investment grade rating – this means the rating agencies believe its business is highly cash generative and able to withstand cyclicality — has been as volatile as any other highly risky assets, such as Bitcoin.

(Note for the reader: GE is rated above Spain and Italy, the fourth- and third-largest European economies, and is considered healthier than either country based on many financial/cash flow metrics. Incidentally, it recently halved the dividend to $0.12 quarterly.)

Did you notice how the two trended last week?  

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

This has a lot to do with real estate investment as well as a key concept, known in economics as opportunity cost, according to which your paper loss in not only the capital appreciation you forgo if you pick the wrong asset, but also, adding insult to injury, the loss of possible gains stemming from a better-performing asset class (or, in GE’s case, the stellar performance of the shares of virtually all its industrial rivals in the US).

Say you don’t fancy exposure to equities: It is risky, and a comparison with the real estate market is a bit of a stretch because GE’s asset portfolio renders its associated returns more cyclical. But let’s stick with GE and imagine you have already opted for a safer investment profile, one closer to long-term real estate assets, given its seniority in the capital structure — its bonds.

But with these you would also have faced volatile trading conditions. If you had acquired its 2042 bonds with an annual coupon of 4.125% (the yield is higher), which are a decent comparison for real estate investment given their duration – investing in real estate puts you in a similar position to a bond trader seeking “durable liquidity” along with the upside, although GE would have given you good reasons to be a bit worried about capital appreciation.

(My full coverage of GE for Seeking Alpha since November 2015 can be found here.)

(Source: boerse-berlin.com)

The bonds are under pressure, while GE equity has lost about 50% of its value in less than one year — roughly the same percentage Bitcoin shed in less than three months — and bondholders now wonder whether the liquidity profile of the company is sound.

(Source: MarketWatch)

GE has disappointed investors, particularly those who did not do their homework properly. 

(If you are invested at the long-end of the yield curve of Italy’s BTP or any similar debt obligation, you might want to reconsider your options, too, unless massive gains accumulated over the past few years lead you to want to stay put to avoid a large tax liability.)

Sound advice

The problem goes to the heart of risk perception and due diligence. A senior analyst who covered GE in the heydays of Jack Welch twenty years ago recently told me:

“It is extraordinary how many GE shareholders deliberately chose to stand flat-footed and disinterested over some or all of the past 18 years as their investment drifted away from the performance of the market averages, but, instead, clung to their own unchallenged opinions and convictions. Layer on top of this their utter incapacity to even understand the underlying financial dynamics of GE is just as odd. Yet, of course, this hasn’t stopped one of them from screaming they’ve been robbed and cheated.” 

Following remarks from the ECB President Mario Draghi last week, the yield of German debt spiked, which meant a paper loss for its holders. Given that quantitative easing prospects have dramatically changed in less than six months, more losses could be on their way for several fixed-income securities.

Where to invest, then, if you are looking for a safe haven?

Convictions

We all hold convictions, and all we are trying to do on this platform is to stimulate debate and sketch out a first round of due diligence before any real estate purchase is actually made, just as we would do with any other asset classes.

So, with a critical view, what could be so wrong about the UK and property? 

Notably, the pound recently hit its highest level against the US Dollar, while it is consolidating a level significantly higher than 1.13 against the euro as government bond prices continue to fall, pushing up rates whose ascent had to be expected – all these factors bode incredibly well for real estate investors, until a critical threshold of over 3% for 10-year rates is reached (we are currently at about 1.4%).

(Source: BBC. Sterling appreciated further to flirt with the 1.43 level against the US Dollar at the end of the week commencing 22 Jan)

(Source: Yahoo Finance. GBP vs EUR, year to date)

(Source: Yahoo Finance. GBP vs EUR, six months)

Oil prices, meanwhile, are the fear gauge in many respects but could also propel inflation and perhaps benefit a real estate market where, as the Financial Times recently wrote, the value of UK’s housing stock grew by a third to £7.14tn in the past decade.

As far as the risks in the financial market are concerned, I warned readers at the end of 2017 on the prospects of homebuilders, gauging their risk profiles against Bitcoin and other asset classes. In October, I wrote it was possible that profit-taking would put some pressure on these stocks, but the homebuilders’ fundamentals are rock-solid, and remain so. Look at how the shares of the main players in the UK have fared since before Carillion imploded. 

Market specialist Savills says its UK estate agency branches enjoyed a strong finish to 2017 despite “uncertainty”, while in a trading statement, one of the UK’s largest house builders said the market remained “solid” despite wide economic uncertainty, which also weighs on the Eurozone given that this year Italy goes to the polls.

(Source: Taylor Wimpey)

The recent demise of Carillion was not a Black Swan event per se, but rather a one-off event that the government is still assessing — perhaps Downing Street could have done more to prevent its collapse, given Carillion’s working capital and debt maturities, but neither the exchange rates nor interest rates (see the chart below) were affected this month.

(Source: Bloomberg)

Which again proves that while some may fret about Brexit, there are deals being done and money being made by investor who can recognise the sound of opportunity knocking.

(If you want to know more about how to manage risk and the full details of the latest projects, please contact the team here.)

(This post was written by Alessandro Pasetti. Ale is the founder of Hedging Beta Ltd. He writes about investment strategy and assets valuation for European clients as well as Seeking Alpha. Based in London, he previously worked for about five years at Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, producing analysis for the IB community. Prior to that, he contributed to the launch of London-based Loan Radar, where he worked for three years. He had stints in equity research at Bear Stearns in London, HVB in Munich, and Unicredit in Milan. 

It was edited by Gavin van Marle, managing editor of London-based The Loadstar. Gavin is also the author of the book Around the World in Freighty Ways: Adventures in Globalisation. He has won numerous awards, including the Seahorse Journalist of the Year 2011 and 2009, and Supply Chain Journalist of the Year 2010 and 2014. )

 

On The Threshold: You Think Real Estate Is Risky? Try Being A Bitcoin Investor

By Alessandro Pasetti, October 2017.

The recent rise, fall and then rise again of Bitcoin testifies to fast-changing dynamics for risk appetite these days, and has a lot to do with the performance of several other asset classes, including real estate investment. 

(Source: MarketWatch, 14 October 2017)

While retail investors continue to bombard the Inveztments team with calls and emails arguing that “the real estate sector in the UK is one of the riskiest assets” around, I am pleased to share some charts that show otherwise, depending on your ideal level of risk when it comes to deploying your hard-earned savings in the British property market.  

Goldrush 

For a starter, the chart of Bitcoin – whose underlying blockchain technology, regardless of whether Bitcoin is in a bubble or not, is poised to revolutionise the way we do business in so many industries – is shown in the table below (as at 11 October, when it traded at a much lower level than only two days later). 

(Source: MarketWatch) 

The kind of volatility embedded in its price is almost unheard of in traditional asset classes of the past decade — this is a good example of a risky and speculative trade, as proved by recent events: “Bitcoin bounces 20 percent after dipping below $3,000” Reuters wrote last month.

“The digital currency’s price had fallen to as little as $3,434.78 at the time of report, according to the CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index (BPI),” Forbes also wrote in mid-September.

(Source: Forbes)

It added: “This represented a more than 30% decline from the all-time high of more than $5,000, and the lowest price since August 11, additional BPI figures show.”

It is my view that retail investors should leave Bitcoin to the pros, and aim only for calculated risks elsewhere — and real estate could well be the answer. While the team of Inveztments pushes to get the message across — current conditions in the real estate market and new developments in the UK are sound! — the bears continue to point to ominous signs on their way.  Yet the following charts contained in this article suggest the doomsayers should give us all a break until early next year, at the very least. 

Charting real estate

The first signs that the real estate market is much more solid than several observers and readers have suggested, is reflected both in the share prices and fundamentals of two UK-centric powerhouses such as Rightmove (£3.7bn market cap) and Zoopla (£1.7bn market cap), which have made their fortunes on the UK property market.

The former — which has an operating margin of 74%, is debt-free, and boasts an extremely conservative payout ratio, with a forward yield of 1.4% — has seen its share price appreciate by 16.6% since Brexit, as the chart below shows…

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

… while the latter — with a 35% operating margin, little debt, and a solid payout ratio, which implies a forward yield of 1.6% — has fared even better, with its share performance pointing to capital appreciation in the region of 38% in less than 16 months.  

(Source: Bloomberg)

In all this, their trading multiples based on earnings and cash flows are not incredibly rich, given the projected growth rates of both, and offer some reassurance that disaster is unlikely to be around the corner.

Clearly, the world is not going to end for either tomorrow.

Now let’s look at the stock performances of the main homebuilders in the UK.  

Star performers

Their shares have defied the law of gravity and have contributed to cement shareholder value after the inevitable panic brought by Brexit last summer. Ever since, Persimmon has not been exactly an under-performer (+84%!) in a rising market boosted weakness in the British pound, among other things, as the chart below shows…

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

…while if you had invested £1 in Berkeley stock you’d have now pocketed £1.47, for a whopping pre-tax return of 47%, which excludes the additional 5% yield from dividends.

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

Finally, even Barratt Developments, which is heavily exposed to the slowing London market – which is being outperformed by other cities and towns where we have skin in the game —  has been on a roll, with its stock up 79% since Brexit. 

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

Where is the bubble, then?  

While it is possible that profit-taking will put some pressure on these stocks, the homebuilders’ fundamentals are rock-solid — they have been so for many years — and surely those invested in Bitcoin, in my view, have more to fear, although the underlying technology backing it is surely poised to make strides in many sectors.  

On this note, “Blockchain is going to affect almost every industry as it renders intermediaries obsolete,” Forbes wrote earlier this summer, adding the real estate market is not immune, while others have labelled Blockchain as “the new face of real estate”.

Technology changes should not be confused with risk associated to different asset classes, of course, and could help identify scams, which are bubbling up, in the marketplace.

In fact, there remain many projects and investment propositions — spanning carbon credit trading, binary options as well as agricultural, billboard and parking investments — that the Inveztments Team refuses to promote, despite being offered them on a weekly basis.

To learn more  about this and other topics, as well as our portfolio of projects, please contact us here.

Disclosure:  Clients do not pay a penny to the team of Inveztments. The commission is paid by developers who have been painstakingly selected according to very strict criteria, and trust plays a key role from the early negotiations to the final closing of the deal.

(This post was written by Alessandro Pasetti. Ale is the founder of Hedging Beta Ltd. He writes about investment strategy and assets valuation for European clients as well as Seeking Alpha. Based in London, he previously worked for about five years at Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal, producing analysis for the IB community. Prior to that, he contributed to the launch of London-based Loan Radar, where he worked for three years. He had stints in equity research at Bear Stearns in London, HVB in Munich, and Unicredit in Milan.

It was edited by Gavin van Marle, managing editor of London-based The Loadstar. Gavin is also the author of the book Around the World in Freighty Ways: Adventures in Globalisation. He has won numerous awards, including the Seahorse Journalist of the Year 2011 and 2009, and Supply Chain Journalist of the Year 2010 and 2014. )