Safe as houses and sound as a pound. When it looked as though the euro might blow up any day, London property ticked both boxes. Greeks and Italians joined the Russians already flocking to the haven of English law and bricks and mortar: a market which survived the blow-up of Britain’s financial system and handy for the theatre too.
But the need for havens – or at least the perceived need – is dissipating and the prices of haven assets have been falling. This is most obvious in the Swiss franc, which had been held artificially weak by the Swiss National Bank’s adoption of Zimbabwe-style monetary policy. Its foreign exchange reserves ballooned to more than 70 per cent of the economy as it sold Swiss francs as though they grew on trees.
The SNB successfully capped the Swissie’s rise against the euro; now, finally, the currency has started to come down again as investors put their money to more productive use. In the past seven days, it has fallen 3 per cent, the most since the SNB intervened in September 2011.
Even within the eurozone, money has begun to return to the periphery from Germany, reducing internal imbalances.
Meanwhile sterling has weakened against the euro as there is less cash seeking safety. The result, as in Switzerland, has been higher short-term interest rates.
It looks as though this is also starting to hurt London housing, a market driven by overseas buyers. From August to November (the latest available), prices fell 4.5 per cent in euro terms, according to official data.
During the euro crisis, prices moved in line with the pound as the search for havens helped both the currency and the housing market.
In the past six months, the pound has given back most of the gains it made amid the fears of Greek exit from the eurozone. If houses prove another out-of-fashion haven, another 10 per cent drop is needed just to return to the prices of last March in euros.
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