Friday, 17 February 2012

Sure method to spot an economic bubble

Watch housing shows in the UK.

Throughout the past two decades there was a proliferation of housing shows in the UK. These shows had humble beginnings in Changing Rooms which involved neighbours ruining a room in each others houses. This format evolved to the pretentious ramblings of Kevin McCloud in the fascinating but equally horrifying Grand Designs which involved smug middle class people escaping the proverbial ‘rat race’ to build bizarre palaces and eco-homes which invariably (and satisfyingly) cost them 3x their budget. One could always identify the flash of greed on McCloud’s face when he asked them just what the final spend was.

These two shows captured the evolving British fascination with home ownership and the expression of our identity through said activity. However other shows better laid bare the most base British desire; none more so than A place in the Sun. Said show offered the most naked assessment of the average Britons dwelling instincts which amount to taking bad food and dress sense to a place where the sun shines perpetually. A typical episode would feature either a recently retired couple from some sad town in Wales or a young family where the breadwinner was a builder, decorator or plumber. The basic premise was to find a home in a sunny place (usually Spain) and to live the good life either enjoying the strong pound from your annuity income (retiree) or enjoy painting the hordes of new developments springing up all over southern Spain. The most wonderful thing about these shows was that the prospectors would always say “they wanted something traditional” allured by the exotic mystique of the Spanish hill town but then they actually ended up purchasing a faceless villa with a communal pool. Every single time.

What does this tell us about property bubble spotting? Wherever Britons are invading there is or will be a bubble in property.

Case in point is two recent shows. One a cultural export which features a slightly less pretentious aussie version of Kevin McCloud (he has to be because aussies make even worse weird eco-homes than we do) in Grand Designs Australia. The other is a home grown show called Wanted Down Under. Wanted Down Under is a masterpiece in recreating the heady mood of 2006 vintage property shows and it illustrates humble Britons with manual skills who discover they can earn £50k painting houses whilst living in perpetual sunshine. Homes are usually pricey but unperturbed many Britons are making the move just as all those lucky tradesmen and retirees did to Spain during the good times.

These shows are a classic bubble indicator so rest assured I will be keeping my short on the AUD for the time being. Since Australia is essentially the sandpit of China which is suffering from a severe case of Dutch disease I see little hope for the lemmings on Wanted Down Under except perhaps a premature return to Britain with a rather fetching tan.

“The English take their pleasures sadly after the fashion of their country.”

Maximillian, Duc de Sully – ‘Memoirs’

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