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Confusion

It's been a year of total madness. But where are we now? And where are we heading?
I have been asked by several readers to give my opinions on where we are heading. I'm intrigued that anyone thinks I can see a way forward. The plain fact is that I cant.
About 445 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange have cancelled or cut their dividends, according to an analysis from the ETF provider GraniteShares. All told, the dividend cuts are costing British investors more than £30 billion in lost income.
That is a substantial hit, and I'm sorry to say the government and its advisors, plus the mainstream press are all to blame.
Early on it was clear there were treatments already out there for the latest flu virus. They were used on the passengers of the Diamond Princess way back at the beginning of this epidemic.
Unfortunately government advisors who didn't know what they were talking about, knocked those drugs. I would remind you that they are regularly being used today, and maybe with the fast recovery of president Trump, they will get some publicity at last.
Also early on were articles in Nature, which is the most prestigious science magazine on the planet. The first was slagged off by the press. What do hack journalists know?
The American Institute of Physics did a thorough piece on masks, showing they were not only useless, but caused more problems than they solved.
Earlier this month, the prominent New England Journal of Medicine published some interesting research.
The premise of the research was that masks do not provide protection from COVID-19.
An example was used from an Argentinian cruise ship that provided passengers with surgical masks and N95 masks. Even with this precaution taken, almost everyone on the ship caught COVID-19… and 81% of those passengers were asymptomatic.
The authors were brave to publish this research. After all, we’re told that masks protect us and stop the spread, but the actual research clearly states otherwise. And even the N95 masks do not stop the spread of viral particles.
A team in Denmark completed a study on masks that acknowledged the challenges of wearing them outside of a controlled setting. The study acknowledged that
a) masks are not tight enough to keep the virus out and
b) the mucous membrane of the eyes remains exposed.
The researchers acknowledged that masks do not stop the spread or protect the wearer.
As I'm always saying, I prefer to believe that people are fundamentally stupid rather than espouse a conspiracy, but sometimes the evidence is just too strong. This is one such instance. There is no evidence that any of the current restrictions are necessary, or help prevent deaths. It is also crystal clear that the more people who catch the disease, the quicker we reach herd immunity and the quicker those who are likely to succumb to the flu will be able to come out of hiding.
If you're healthy your chance of dying of covid-19 is roughly half the chance of dying of the old-fashioned flu.
I thought I had all bases covered in my own system, but I have to admit that it never occurred to me that countries would shut down their entire economies in the face of a not particularly problematic form of flu.
Flu viruses have always been with us and we have learned to live with them.
Vaccines rarely work against these viruses, so this hysterical race for a new one is probably going to go the way of all the other flu vaccines.
In any event Covid-19 causes half the number of deaths of the older forms of the virus, so why the panic?
We are told to wear masks when all the scientific tests show them to be useless. Even my own home-made test, putting my mask under the tap (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rfRsLQ8SCA) shows just what gets through.
And social distancing is a laugh a minute. Does anyone seriously think it serves any purpose? Of course not. So what's going on?
I have to say I don't know. I usually blame stupidity on these problems, but this particular situation is even beyond stupidity. There has to be something behind this or it would not keep going like this. So what is going on?
Until I can be sure what the purpose of this is, I can't make any sensible judgment about the future. In short, sadly, I'm in the same boat as the rest of you.

* * * * *

However, what has this done to the real estate sector?
In march it came to a silent halt.
A moratorium on evictions in the UK prevents renters from being evicted for up to six months if they cant pay rent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, on June quarter day, 38% of landlords reported issues collecting rent payments.
No-one was going to get a mortgage while that was going on.
A REIT saw its share price plunge by 24% this year so far and has slashed its dividends by 50%. BMO Real Estate Investment and Picton Property Income are in the same boat, with both cutting their dividends by 50% and 29% respectively.
Oddly, the housing market bounced back with unexpected force. August saw the number of residential sales soar 76% above their five year average, with prices consequently climbing by the largest amount in 16 years. Mortgage approvals were 29% higher in August than in 2019.
Given that young people and low-earners have generally borne the economic brunt of lockdown, they have been effectively excluded from the market.
Being forced to work from home in cramped London flats has, perhaps unsurprisingly, led to a growing number of people fleeing the city in favour of leafy suburbs and rural areas. Compared with this time last year, there are 60% more empty rental properties in the London market.
In contrast, peripheral London boroughs and the countryside surrounding major cities have enjoyed a boost that is likely to continue. The property website Rightmove reported a notable spike in searches for properties in the commuter belts outside major cities. Formby in Merseyside, Fair Oaks in Hampshire, Welwyn in Hertfordshire, plus Shenfield and Kirby Cross in Essex have seen the greatest boost to house prices as buyers hope to escape to the country. Upminster, a London borough bordering Essex, has seen a 42% rise in sales compared with last year.
I have already pointed out that commercial property is going to take a serious and continued hit to the downside, with more people working from home.
But what about the rest of the market?

* * * * *

If you are young or in mid career, you've got some serious problems. If you are retired or near retirement you need to find a place where the government is relatively ambivalent (a tough task), and where the population is relatively smart and reasonably well off.
Finding both together is a real problem, but I have to ask myself whether Europe is finished. Those of you who have been following my writings for some time will know I have felt this way for a long time. Europe is on a long, slow path downhill.
The latest stats that hit my desk on thursday show this in a stark fashion. Let me quote a couple of sentences before I get to the stats.
"One of the best ways to keep a close eye on the health of the global economy is to track what’s happening in the semiconductor industry. After all, semiconductors are the key components enabling just about anything that uses electricity. Cars, phones, laptops, servers, clocks, watches, aircraft, spacecraft, microwaves, smart speakers… you name it.
"So if semiconductor sales are increasing, we know that the global economy is healthy. If the opposite is happening, that means we are in a slower economic environment. The August numbers for the industry were released on Monday:
    •    China: 3%
    •    Japan: -1.4%
    •    Asia Pacific: 2.1%
    •    Europe: -10.1%
    •    Americas: 23.6%"
The EU is falling further and further behind in terms of economic growth and trade. It's share of world trade is decreasing at an alarming rate, and has been for some time. If you want to live in a country that is growing, move out of Europe.
The EU has done what I feared it would. It has set countries at each other's throats. Roughly a third of the countries are crossing swords, and in too many of the member states those supporting integration are in the minority. That does not bode well for the future, which is sad. A great opportunity has been lost by the half-wits in charge who are doing their best to start a new war.
Next january I hope to start a pilgrimage to find somewhere nice to live. I'll keep you posted. That is, if there is anything to be found.
As for the future of real estate, I have to look back to previous melt-downs, the most recent being the 2008-9 crisis.
I can't see that investing in property at the moment is especially beneficial. A large proportion of the working population is either out of work or in reduced circumstances. That does not bode well for house price increases.
As for the future, someone has to pay for this mess, and that usually means the average working population. We are talking higher taxes, inflation, and continued disruption.
With the advance of automation, which has been given a massive boost, jobs will start disappearing, and they won't be replaced. It's cheaper and healthier to employ a robot. Two hours recharging time is all it needs to be able to get back to work again. No wages, no sick pay, no arguments, no holidays, no time off sick. What is there to dislike about automation?
In my latest book (How to Wreck the World --  You can buy the book here) I give a list of the jobs that will disappear over the course of this decade, and it is a long one, with the expanding reach of blockchains, and the march of automation, by 2030 there isn't going to be much left.
We might even be able to pension off politicians and replace them with A.I.s. That may solve rather a lot of problems and cause life to run a great deal smoother than under the present scheme. The present bunch appear to be utterly clueless.
I'm afraid the prospects for the near future are not bright.



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