Right time to buy London property?

1 St Martin’s Le Grand, a freehold property in the heart of London.
1 St Martin’s Le Grand, a freehold property in the heart of London. PHOTO: HO BEE LAND

If you are eyeing a piece of London, this might seem an opportune moment to strike.

One British pound bought about S$1.737 on foreign exchange markets on Tuesday - its weakest level since at least 1981. Yesterday it recovered slightly to S$1.7506.

So is this the right time?

Mr Richard Jerram, Bank of Singapore's chief economist and a member of the OCBC Wealth Panel, offered some words of advice to participants at The Straits Times Global Outlook: Quarterly Briefing yesterday.

"As the next couple of months show how much of a hit there's been to Britain's economy, the sterling is going to head closer to 1.70 and below against the Singapore dollar," he said. "I guess if you do want to buy London property, you might find a cheaper occasion before the end of the year."

That said, he pointed out that given London's role as a global city and the fact that it attracts buyers willing to invest even at high prices, property there is never going to be particularly cheap.

"It looks cheap because of the falling pound, but rental has also gone lower," Mr Jerram said.

And don't expect great returns, he added. "Possibly the stock market will be a lot cheaper."

Asked to predict how the pound might trade over the next few years, he described the current exchange rate as "an artificially cheap, emergency level".

"You'll probably hit a bottom some time in the next 12 months."

As for ripple effects on Singapore and the rest of the world, he noted that Britain forms only 2 per cent of the world economy, so shock to the world would be limited. And since just about 2 per cent of Singapore's economy is dependent on exporting items to Britain, a recession there would hurt only parts of the Singapore economy.

Bhagyashree Garekar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Right time to buy London property?'. Print Edition | Subscribe