Sunday 26 May 2013

Valuing London Property at Borough Level

The mainstream media usually report UK House Prices at a national level.  Recently we went one level deeper by examining English and Welsh property at County Level however this data left an elephant in the room.  That elephant was London, a small village located in the South East of England with a population of 8.2 million, and one which was included as a single data point.  Today let’s go deeper into London and look at the Salaries, House Prices and Value of each London Borough.

To Value the London market by borough we will maintain consistency with our previous definition which is a simple Price to Earnings Ratio (P/E).  As with the County level analysis we will use the Land Registry House Price Index for prices.  We’ll stay with calling high house prices bad (the Borough with the highest average house price, unsurprisingly, is Kensington & Chelsea at £1,104,770 and is shown in dark red) and low house prices good (the Borough with the lowest house price is Barking & Dagenham at £213,581 and is dark green) with all other prices shaded between red and green depending on house price.  What I find amazing is that Barking & Dagenham, the cheapest Borough, is still 32% more expensive than the England and Wales average.

For Earnings we’ll also stay with the 2012 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) which provides information about the levels, distribution and make-up of earnings and hours paid for employees within industries, occupations and regions in the UK.  To ensure that our Earners and Houses are located within the same Borough we’ll use the Earnings by Place of Residence by Local Authority.  We again multiply the data by 52 weeks to convert it to an annual salary.  We stay with calling low earnings bad (the lowest average earnings are £19,183 in Newham which surprisingly is only 8% higher than the lowest County which was Blackpool and is shown in dark red) and high earnings good (the highest average earnings are £59,441 in Kensington and Chelsea and is dark green) with all other earnings shaded between red and green depending on earnings.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Is it Time to Buy a Home

On the 24th of April 2013 the Bank of England and HM Treasury announced that the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) would be extended until January 2015.  It was also modified to include selected non-bank providers of credit to the UK economy.  Between the FLS Scheme, a Bank of England Bank Rate of 0.5% and £375 billion of Quantitative Easing mortgage rates have fallen a long way.  Let’s look at the data.

The Bank of England publishes a number of datasets on this topic and I have picked 5 which cover the more common mortgage types available today.  They are the sterling monthly mortgage interest rate of UK monetary financial institutions (excluding Central Bank) covering:

  • Standard Variable Rate (SVR) mortgages.  These were starting to rise at glacial speeds but have now pulled back a little.  Today they sit at 4.34%, flat month on month and up 0.24% year on year. 
  • Lifetime Tracker mortgages.  These have been flat for some time now.  Currently they are 3.56% which is flat on the month and sees a decrease of 0.04% on the year.
  • 2, 3 and 5 Year Fixed Rate Mortgages with a 75% loan to value ratio (LTV) continue the falls that appear to have accelerated in a downwards direction at the same time the original FLS was announced.  Today we see these mortgages at 2.87% (down 0.04% on the month, 0.79% on the year), 2.98% (down 0.32% on the month, 1.05% on the year) and 3.61% (down 0.02% on the month, 0.68% on the year) respectively.  Since the FLS scheme started the falls are 0.82%, 1.03% and 0.50% respectively.

A history of these mortgage rates can be seen in the chart below which also shows the announcement dates of the Bank of England Bank Rate of 0.5%, 4 tranches of Quantitative Easing and Funding for Lending.

UK Standard Variable Rate Mortgages, Lifetime Tracker Mortgages and Fixed Rate Mortgages
Click to enlarge 

With inflation currently running at 2.9% you can now get an average real inflation adjusted 2 year fixed mortgage for -0.02%, a 3 year for 0.09% and a 5 year for 0.72%.

I’m currently out of the UK property market in rental accommodation but with my Assured Shorthold Tenancy coming up for renewal in the near future plus a Letting Agent that treats me slightly worse than belly button lint every time the annual negotiation begins, it’s time to reassess whether it’s time to buy.  Today is not meant to be a comprehensive piece of data analysis in typical Retirement Investing Today style, that will probably come later as I formulate my thoughts, but more some musings of what is currently running through my mind in the hope of generating some comment from you the valued reader.

Monday 20 May 2013

Save Hard by Earning More

To gain financial independence or early retirement in the soonest possible time then Saving Hard and Investing Wisely are must do’s.  On the Saving Hard front there are two main routes that we can follow with early retirement coming sooner if both are applied with vigour.  The first is what we talk about regularly including frugal living, opting out of consumerism and watching the small spends because they can quickly add up to big spends to name but three.  This is nothing more than cutting our costs to free up cash for Investing Wisely and is something we can all do by refusing to act like a victim and then simply applying some discipline.

The second is potentially a little more difficult to achieve but equally valid and involves Earning More while increasing your costs to earn that extra by as little as possible.  There are many ways to do this but some options might include maximising your current career to gain promotion, retraining into a new career, taking whatever overtime is offered (if you are lucky enough to be offered overtime), starting a small business, developing a side income or simply starting to sell some of that consumerist tat that you bought before it becomes worthless.

Personally, up until now I've followed the maximise my career to gain promotion option but am starting to now consider some of the other options as financial independence approaches.  Some of the techniques I’ve used to get to my current position have included:

  • Looking around and ensuring I have stayed in the top 10% of my peers in terms of delivery.  Where I'm a little slower than others on some tasks it’s meant I have to work a bit longer and where I’m not as smart as someone else it’s meant some self learning or further education.  Both ways have meant more hours invested in my career than most of my peers.
  • I've never asked for a pay rise for something I am about to do unless it is of course offered.  Instead I always do the job and then ask for the pay rise.  The advantage of this method is that if they then say no I already have the skills on the CV to move to another organisation where they will recognise and pay for these new skills.
  • I'm prepared to commute to maximise earnings.  This one is a little controversial but I look at it from the perspective of maximising my free cash after all costs which includes commuting costs.  More free cash means more savings.
  • I'm very flexible.  If the toilet needs cleaning to ensure that project succeeds then I clean the toilet.
  • I'm always on the lookout for that door that is partially open even if it means a bit of extra effort in the short term.  This is because you never know where it leaves and on at least 2 occasions it has led to more stable earnings for me.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Valuing the Property of England and Wales at County Level

When we, or indeed many websites, look at what is generally called UK House Prices, House Value or House Affordability it tends to be at a high level covering either the whole United Kingdom or England and Wales.  This is fine if you are looking for macro trends but doesn't give us much of a view at what is happening locally.

Given that we are hearing a lot about the North to South divide or even the London to rest of the UK divide let’s therefore deviate from that traditional macro view and get a bit more local by calculating House Value down to a County level.

To Value the market we are going to stick with our previous definition which is a simple Price to Earnings Ratio (P/E).  Regular readers will know that for Price we normally use Nominal House Prices as published by the Nationwide and for Earnings the Office for National Statistics KAB9 Nominal Earnings which are both published monthly.  Unfortunately these aren't available down to County level and so we need to introduce two new datasets.

For House Prices we will use the Land Registry House Price Index.  As a reminder this index uses repeat sales regression on houses which have been sold more than once to calculate an increase or decrease.  As it analyses each house and compares the latest buying price to the previous buying price it is by definition mix adjusting its data also.  This is then combined with a Geometric Mean price which was taken in April 2000 to calculate the index.  It is seasonally adjusted and covers properties from England and Wales.  It covers buyers using both cash and mortgages.  We are using the latest published data which comes from March 2013.  The analysis is arranged according to the Regions and County’s defined by the Land Registry and is shown in the Table below.  Unlike the mainstream media we are going to call high house prices bad (the County with the highest house price is London at £374,568 and is shown in dark red) and low house prices good (the County with the lowest house price is Merthyr Tydfil at £66,511 and is dark green) with all other prices shaded between red and green depending on house price.

For Earnings we are using the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) which provides information about the levels, distribution and make-up of earnings and hours paid for employees within industries, occupations and regions in the UK.  Unfortunately, as the name implies, it is only published annually and so we will use the 2012 dataset.  To ensure that our Earners and Houses are located within the same County we’ll use the Earnings by Place of Residence by Local Authority.  This dataset presents weekly Earnings at both median (the middle point from each distribution) and mean (the average) levels which we have arranged into each Land Registry Region and County in the Table below.  We then multiply the data by 52 weeks to convert it to an annual salary.  We are calling low earnings bad (the lowest average earnings are £17,794 in Blackpool and are dark red) and high earnings good (the highest average earnings are £40,466 in Windsor and Maidenhead and are dark green) with all other earnings shaded between red and green depending on earnings.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Financial Repression and UK Average Weekly Earnings – May 2013 Update

We live in interesting times.  The government and mainstream media would have us believe that these are times of austerity.  Of course we live in no such thing.  The miniscule efforts made by the government thus far has already resulted in much gnashing of teeth and yet for the 2012-13 financial year the UK government still borrowed £120.6 billion that it didn’t have.  Every UK based man, woman and child just added a further £1,925 onto the tab.

So if we don’t live in times of austerity what are we living in?  I think I’ve managed to find the answer.  It’s officially called Financial Repression.  Please do click on the Wikipedia link and let me know if you agree?  It looks to be a method that allows the masses to be a slowly boiled frog as most won’t notice what is going on due to a money illusion.  What makes me think this is the route chosen by our politically masters?

We all know that the Bank of England has been ignoring the 2% inflation target for a long time now but the new Remit for the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee dated 20 March 2013 now explicitly sanctions it with the statement that “The remit recognises that inflation will on occasion depart from its target as a result of shocks and disturbances. Attempts to keep inflation at the target in these circumstances may cause undesirable volatility in output. This reflects the short-term trade-offs that must be made between inflation and output variability in setting monetary policy. It therefore allows for a balanced approach to the objectives set out in the remit, while retaining the primacy of price stability and the inflation target.”  This gives new Governor Carney official free reign to keep the Official Bank Rate at near zero while continuing to Quantitative Ease (QE) like there is no tomorrow.  The aim here seems to be to keep inflation running without allowing it to run away.  It will be interesting to see if they can walk that tight rope.

So we now have the inflation.  Next you need to control and drive interest rates, such as on government debt, to a value that is less than the inflation you are creating.  QE is and will come to the rescue here by creating a major buyer, in this case the Bank of England.  Basel III then creates another buyer, in this case Banks, by requiring Tier 1 capital levels to be increased from 4% to 6%.  Banks can count government debt as Tier 1 capital creating an additional domestic market for government gilts.  Lots of buyers means rising prices and falling yields.  This has also created a captive domestic market for government debt which Financial Repression requires.

I feel we now have most of the Financial Repression boxes ticked.  Interest rates are controlled, the government owns plenty of banks, reserve requirements are rising and we have the domestic market for government debt.  The one that is missing is capital controls but our Cyprus friends have shown us how easy that is to implement when the time is right.

Thursday 2 May 2013

The Cheapest Loan

You’ve done your homework on understanding how debt works and decided to take on a loan.  No matter whether that loan is a mortgage, personal loan or credit card then the next step is to ensure that you end up with the cheapest or lowest cost loan you can, along with one that actually meets your needs.  To do this you have no choice but to find a quiet place, where with a fresh cup of tea, you can read the small print of each loan provider you are considering and in parallel run some maths to calculate who is the cheapest provider based on all that small print.  It’s key to do the maths because when it comes to loans, as with investments, small amounts over long periods and fees matter.

If you want to do the maths yourself then Excel’s PMT function will get you a long way.  This gives the repayment amount for a loan given an interest rate, the number of constant periods the loan is taken over and the present value of the loan.  If you don’t have Excel or aren't mathematically savvy then you could also use a loan or mortgage calculator to do a lot of the work for you.

Let’s look at a few simple case studies, which build in complexity, to show just how important it is to run the numbers.

Case Study 1 - All else being equal secure the lowest interest rate you can  

Bank A is offering a loan with an annual interest rate of 5% (the interest rate) and Bank B has a rate of 5.5%.  The loan amount is for £10,000 (the present value of the loan), you are going to make the repayments monthly and you intend to take the loan over 10 years (the number of constant periods will be 10x12=120 months because you pay monthly).   To calculate the monthly repayment for the first scenario you would enter the following into Excel ‘=PMT(5%/12, 10*12,-£10,000)’ which would give you a repayment to Bank A of£106.07 per month.  Note you have to divide the interest rate by 12 months as the repayment is made monthly.  If you run the same calculation for Bank B’s interest rate of 5.5% the monthly repayment would be £108.53.

At first glance it doesn’t seem like much of a difference.  After all it’s only £2.46 per month however this is no different to the Latte a Day case study I’ve run before which demonstrates how small amounts matter.  Over the 10 year period the total interest paid is £2,728 and £3,023 respectively.  That 0.5% actually means 10.8% more in interest payments.   It’s also important to remember that the longer the loan period the worse this effect.  For example lengthen the loan term to 20 years and that 10.8% becomes 11.5%.  This is Compound Interest at work.