The Bigger Picture

As Brexit continues to raise the political temperature in Westminster, I began to wonder what the machinations say about us, as a nation, as we prepare to carve a new path in the global market.

But then I read that from a financial perspective, Brexit ‘has been a non-event so far - except in the foreign exchange markets’ and I was reminded of the fact that Belgium was without a government for almost 590 days ... surpassed by Northern Ireland with almost 650 days…. i.e. countries carry on producing, trading and running themselves even when their elected leaders are caught up in internecine wars.

As an investment surveyor I have to have a view about the future – especially from a real estate perspective – but I also have to have a view about our economic and financial future as a nation. However, if you listen to our (elected) leaders, the facts about our future are about as clear as a foggy autumn day.

But then I listened to* Charles Dumas, TS Lombard’s macro-economic forecaster and Tom Sharman, NatWest’s Head of Strategy & Research – Real Estate and I realised that Brexit, whilst important because trade with the EU represents almost 45% of all our exports, will not be the most influential determinate of our future prospects. The impending Sino-US trade war will have a profound impact on all global trade. The US economy will probably slow down next year, the Chinese Yuan will probably be devalued by as much as 7%-8% and emerging market economies – especially those with debts held in US dollars - will be further weakened (according to Charles Dumas).

Given that as a backdrop, I suddenly view Brexit in a totally different light. Europe’s economy is already slowing down, so a global trade war will exacerbate that situation. In addition, despite the most optimistic Brexiters’ predictions, if we think that almost 170 non-EU countries are dying to buy our exports, we’d better think again: they too will be impacted by the impending global trade crisis: and despite an (inevitable) devaluation of sterling, our export opportunities will be curtailed and our imports will be more expensive.

But the good news is that those on low wages will probably see a rise – as a lot of competition for these jobs will have left the country.

According to Tom Sharman, there will probably not be a mass exodus from the City – probably only 5,000-10,000 jobs lost: equivalent to 0.5 – 1m SF of office space.

What Tom did reflect on is the rebalancing of the national market – away from London and towards our major regional centres (such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool). True these cities have already benefited from a period of sustained city centre growth, underpinned by rapid regeneration and jobs growth.

Tom stated two facts which I believe are linked:

  • The continued growth of the serviced office market – second only to the government as the largest owner/occupier group in the national office sector
  • If we lose our (national) kudos as the world’s leading financial services centre, it might not be as disastrous as many believe because our TMT sector is fast emerging as a world beater

The link?

  • The TMT sector is not London centric – think MediaCityUK in Salford … the fact that Channel 4 chose Leeds as its new national HQ (resulting in an inevitable uplift for the local creative and media sectors in terms of attracting new talent to the area)
  • The serviced office model is particularly attractive to millennials and entrepreneurs – key characteristics of the TMT sector.

So there you have it. Brexit: a regional dispute which will be overshadowed by a far more worrying development, brewing on a far bigger stage.

We are not going to hell in a handcart just because we lose a few jobs in the City and because inward investment in the London property market from oil exporters, China and East Asia is ‘gently evaporating’.

Does that not give you a little bit of hope, as the Captain Mainwarings of Westminster fight their proxy wars?


James Routledge
James Routledge 27 November 2018

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