in 2013 - Part 2
This is my second scenario for the new year. I am assuming that the
inevitable happens: the floor collapses.
Let's face it, almost every country in the eurozone, together with the
UK, is broke. That's nothing new, but what is new, is that everyone is
broke together. We might as well all hold hands, sing lustily into the
night, finish up the champagne, and collapse together. I shall revisit
this apparently flippant situation in scenario three.
Maybe Norway is not broke. Maybe life in southern Albania is sweet, who
knows? Maybe the tooth fairy will come up with something. Maybe Santa
has a solution in his sack. Maybe…..
Hold on. Let's look at the facts. Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, are
all on a life support system. They are not only broke, but they are
receiving loans from other countries which are either broke themselves,
or close to it. Let's be sensible. Since when did you lend money to a
down and out and expect to get it back? Since when could you expect
someone who is broke to lend you money?
Reality says the money given to the PIGS wont be coming back. It is
money that is going down the drain. It is wealth that is vanishing.
Let's look at another little image. Your next door neighbour is broke.
He owes money on his mortgage. His house was bought for £300,000.
It is now worth £200,000. He has a mortgage for £250,000
and he's two months late with the payments. What happens if you lend
him money? It goes into a hole. You wont see it again, he wont see it
again, and it wont ever pay off the existing debt. That debt ultimately
has to be written off. The more money you throw down that debt hole the
more money you are wasting. It's a black hole. Throw in the money and
wave it goodbye. That, in a nutshell, is fiscal Europe.
There are three ways out of this mess.
First: you somehow work yourself every hour of every day to get back in
the black. With all your neighbours broke, try as you may, you aren't
going to be able to sell them any more to make money to get yourself
out of your own hole.
There is an interesting corollary to this. For years we have had to put
up with cranks who tell us we need more kids to support us in our old
age. What these half-wits haven't noticed is a few plain facts.
We have reached a point in our economic development where population
rises are detrimental to our economic health, and those rises will do
the exact opposite of what the misguided experts say. They will lead to
falling house prices, and a falling standard of living. Let me explain.
Way back in prehistoric times human beings relied on themselves to
survive. It wasn't long before they managed to get some form of tools,
and those tools helped them to do more. To put that another way, the
tools helped man to be more productive.
If you pick up cut grass to take back to your camp you will find you
cant carry much. If you have a fork you can carry more, and therefore
dont have to make so many journeys, and you become more productive. You
get even more productive when you build a wheelbarrow. Once you
domesticate some animals they can be enslaved and used to make you even
more productive. A horse and cart carries far more than a man pushing a
wheelbarrow. And so on. Throughout the ages man has by various forms of
ingenuity become much more productive.
Let's come down to modern times. The industrial revolution helped
productivity go through the roof, with the harnessing of water power,
then electricity, with machines, production lines, and eventually
I can write and send letters to several thousand people in the course
of half an hour. I can record a song, and make a video during the
course of a day. All this leads to two situations, which work in
First, let's have a look at what happened when agriculture was
mechanised during the twentieth century. In 1900 about 95% of the UK
working population was engaged in agriculture. A hundred years later
that figure was about 3%, while at the same time considerably more food
was produced. The 92% of the working population released from
agriculture had other places to go to work. But then automation kicked
in, then computers came along, and so on. We have reached a stage where
our technical sophistication is putting more and more people on the
dole, and they are going to stay there.
In primitive societies children are needed to work to provide food for
the family, so the more children there are the more work can be done
and the richer the group becomes.
In technologically advanced societies the exact opposite is the case.
In order to be more productive and therefore richer you need less
people but more machines. I run four international business from one
room in my house, plus a small amount of very modern equipment. If one
of those machines goes down I have a big problem, but while they are
all working I can cope with a work-load that would have staggered
someone living only 100 years ago.
If you look around the world you will find that countries suffering
from large populations and small amounts of modern technology are poor.
The countries that are relatively empty of human beings but full of
modern gear will be rich.
I raise this point for one reason only. If you want to live a
relatively pleasant life in a well-off community you need to move to a
country where the population levels are low, and the access to modern
technology is high.
I see modern day Europe gradually heading into penury because it is
increasingly over-populated, and it is reaching a stage where the very
technology it has is increasingly putting people out of work, and
putting a bigger burden upon those who are in work to support those who
are now redundant.
This situation can only grow. Futile government plans to get people
back into work will not solve this problem. A government can invent
work, but not make that work necessary, and so government sponsored
work schemes will only make a cosmetic difference which will not last.
If you think this is all a bit off-topic for a property based site have
a look at what's happening in some countries, and then look at those
country's property prices.
In Spain the unemployment level is around 25%. However, for the under
twenty-fives that figure explodes to 55%. That's an unsupportable
situation. That means half the next generation are never going to buy a
house. Think about what that will do to house prices across Spain.
Now have a look at Greece. The general level of unemployment is around
30%. That in itself is an insane level for a comfortable society.
However, youth unemployment is now twice that level at just over 60%.
These figures are set to destroy societies not just economies.
Even Italy has a youth unemployment level of 35%. All these figures are
unsupportable. If you have a third of the younger generation growing up
unable to support itself that is serious indeed, yet in Spain, it's
more than half a generation, and in Greece it's nearly two-thirds. You
have to ask yourself where these countries will be in ten or twenty
How are these jovenes as they are called in Spain going to go out and
buy to get the economy moving? They wont be buying houses, furniture,
washing machines, and so on. They are going to be stuck at home
supported by their parents, or supported by what people are left paying
tax, and the countries are going to sink back into a much lower
standard of living.
That is already happening here in Portugal, with people giving up their
cars, and farmers going back to using horses, and folk using bicycles,
or just stopping home. More and more people are having their cars
repossessed, so they can no longer in many instances get to work.
Now think what this is going to do to house prices over the longer
term. In so many places the short term outlook for house prices is
static to falling. The mid term is no better. But now we have a handle
on what may be in the more distant future, and that doesn't look good
It's nice to be optimistic, but I prefer to be a realist. I have just
read a company report that's landed on my desk. Let me quote just one
sentence. "If the UK is in for a very rough ride, Europe is on the
brink of calamity." It goes on to say "So Europe is not the place to
Move south for a better climate. Move south for a slower life, maybe
for retirement, but dont invest. And get used to things getting worse,
with societies getting poorer.
For preference choose countries where there are fewer people. The
Netherlands is a bit crowded. So is Britain. The Italian population on
the other hand is contracting. Maybe that's a place to go. One thing is
for certain, you need to start thinking differently from what you have
previously learned, for as sure as eggs is eggs the times they are
This is one of the reasons I feel that Italy is a better place to live
than many other places in Europe, and why I shall be going on a recce
of the boot of Italy and Sicily in the new year. You will have my
Meanwhile, I can only see the obvious with regard to Europe, and that
is, there is no way out of this situation through increased work,
production, etc. The continent cannot grow itself out of this fix. It
needs to shrink its way out, and by that I mean shrink its population,
and therefore shrink the amount of dependents there are within each
Second: The next obvious solution is default.
Let's go back to our neighbour with his negative equity. After a while
of paying into that particular black hole our friend sees the light. He
realises he will be forever paying for nothing, and one morning he
wakes up to reality and says "Enough". He stops paying, and prepares to
be thrown out. He defaults. He moves into rented accommodation. With
any luck he pays a little less, but whatever he pays at least he is
paying for something real. He is paying every month for his
accommodation. He isn't paying for something he no longer has, and will
never own because he is so far in arrears.
That is what should happen here in Europe. The only answer for Greece
three years ago was default. It didn't happen. It still hasn't
happened. God knows if it ever will happen. It is an option which is
fiscally obvious, but the politicians are in control, and they dont
want it to happen. It may happen despite them, but they are going to do
their damnedest to prevent it, and that is why we are currently in a
kind of fiscal limbo. Will they be forced into acceptance? I have no
idea, but default is a very real option.
But that is just Greece, what about the other countries?
Let me answer that question by presenting you with a couple of charts.
They are frightful. Just look at them and ask yourself in all honesty
whether those charts show you a sane situation from which recovery is
Come on guys, recovery from this is just not possible. Something has to
Third: Okay, so you cant work your way out and you are prevented from
default by the political system, so what's left? The usual way out in
these circumstances is to print more money.
The idea is simplicity itself. You cant pay the debt so get out the
John Bull Printing Outfit and print enough money to pay down that debt.
The only trouble with that idea is that as you print more money you
dilute the value of the money already in circulation. As its value
decreases so you need more of it to buy what you need. It's called
The money supply should increase in line with an increase in the amount
of stuff which a country produces. The more you produce the more money
you need to buy it. However, if you dont produce more, an increase in
the money supply merely increases the cost of everything, but of
course, not its value.
The argument is that a little inflation is good. It is a very
persuasive argument. It allows you to buy things now on credit, and pay
back over a period of years with money of reduced value. I have a
house. I pay £100,000 for it. I dont actually buy it. I get a
100% mortgage with an interest payment of, say, 5%. If inflation is
running at 7% then inflation is eating the value of the money by more
than my cost for that money, so I am 2% better off each year. It's a
great way to run a country, until everyone gets greedy and the whole
thing gets totally out of hand.
At the moment we are firmly in such a situation which seems on the face
of it to be jolly good. Inflation in the UK is currently 3.2%. Last
year it was about 5.2%. Why should I care? I have a mortgage which
costs me 1.2% over base rate. That means I am paying for my house with
a mortgage interest rate of 1.7%. Since I have an interest only
mortgage my purchase is costing me 1.7% a year while inflation is well
above that. Two years ago my house was costing me about 3.5% less than
the previous year. Now it is costing about 1.5% less than last year.
That's good for me, but not much of a deal for the bank, and it means
that money is being valued less and less each year. Excuse me, but
that's another way of saying inflation is with us.
What this does is to destroy savings, and if the system is left
unchecked, and left to increase, it eventually leads to hyper-inflation.
If you have a mortgage you are doing fine when interest rates are low,
but you get screwed when they go up.
This is the time-bomb that sits under virtually every government in
Europe. The UK government pays 2% for the money it borrows. The
borrowing has already reached £1 trillion. If the cost of money
rises so does the amount of taxes needed to pay just the interest. It
doesn't take long before the government is in the situation of our
distraught neighbour from our first scenario. It gets especially bad
when that interest rate rises. That's when you get collapse.
When that happens you dont want to find you dont have a pension, and
your house is worth half what you thought it was, but your mortgage
interest is forcing you into starvation.
In this scenario you dont want to have a mortgage. You certainly dont
want to have savings in the bank, building society, or some bum shares.
This is the preferred scenario of the politicians. The question we all
would like an answer to is: How long before the shit hits the fan?
Some folks say 2013 is the year. Some folks say it could take another
ten years. I haven't a clue, but I am beginning to get worried, and I
think I want to be out of Europe altogether.
So, what is my conclusion to this second scenario?
I dont think staying in England is much of an option. I dont think
staying in the Eurozone is much of an option. I think we need to get
further out. I would rule out Japan, and rule out the USA. But there's
a whole lot of world beyond those crisis zones.
If you have debt free property anywhere in Europe then you will be able
to ride out the storm. I think you should start thinking about reducing
debt. So far debt has been your friend, however, I think it is getting
riskier to hold debt.
My own opinion is that you have a couple of years to re-position your
assets, but I wouldn't like to bet much further out than that.
This is only scenario two of my predictions. I have to leave you to
decide which of my three scenarios you prefer, but whichever you
choose, you do need to have an insurance policy. That means you havqe
to ring-fence your home and your income against a coming storm of
inflation. This is a property related bulletin, so I can only advise
here about your home. That advice is to start reducing your dependence
upon a mortgage. Either reduce the amount owed, or get a mortgage with
a fixed interest rate, so that you will be protected when rates rise.
They may not rise for another two or three years. They may not rise for
a decade. But when they do start to rise they will do so with alarming
speed. You need to be prepared.