After 10 weeks of scribbled musings, where I have pondered everything from Trump's Tweeting habits to World Cup reform, I have been gently persuaded to devolve (return!) someof the writing responsibilities to the rest of the editorial team.  Whilst I have no doubt that I will still be invited to make guest appearances, I thought I would leave you with my forecasts for 2017 which I have penned for an article appearing in this week's Estates Gazette.

2017 will be the Year of the 'F'. If you want to challenge me on this, please note that even the Chinese have chosen a Fire rooster as their animal sign!

It seems a long time ago since we said farewell to 2016 and the festivities of Christmas. Now we are fighting to keep up with our new and earnest fitness regimes. (How many 'F's is that so far?)  But most of all, we are on 'ForecastWatch' (which is my first main 'F'), desperately seeking that little spark of inspiration which will help direct us through the year ahead.

But really, what exactly is the point of Forecasting... especially as last year's political ones were so way off the mark? The two big Forecasting bloopers were of course 'B' and 'T' (I can't even bring myself to say the words). And despite all their news coverage, we are still none the wiser as to the actual future consequences of either.

To be truthful, St Bride's Forecasts last year were probably no better than anyone else's, and maybe even a bit worse. We couldn't even get our sporting ones correct - with just one out of our six predictions (USA Ryder Cup win) proving to be correct. So when I say we are expecting a Blackwash at the hands of the New Zealanders in the British & Irish Lions tour in June, don't go betting your ranch on it!

I have just fallen into the trap in the last paragraph (which most other regular folk do from time to time) of interchanging the word 'Forecast' with 'prediction'. It could easily have been another synonym such as projection or prophesy, or even hunch or guess. Forecasts are, of course, the 'big daddies' of fortune-telling as they are predicated on mathematics. In a property context that invariably means quantitative and regression analysis. The weather and financial/economic markets are well suited to this approach. But as Michael Fish and most (honest) City economists would attest, Forecasting is still as much an art as it is a science. So beware, particularly this year when there are likely to be more political and economic moving parts than usual, one man's Forecast may well prove to be no more accurate than another man's gut-feel.

With this in mind, a couple of fascinating prophesies for 2017 have caught my attention. Firstly, according to the Christian website 'Unsealed', the total eclipse of the sun over much of Europe and the US on 21 August will lead to the end of the world. And secondly, a fellow called Patrick Mugadza reckons that Robert Mugabe will die on 17 October. Somehow the two don't quite square, unless of course the longstanding president of Zimbabwe plans to survive the Apocalypse!

So whose property forecasts should you believe, if any? As far as I can see, Capital Economics are the most bullish at present (5.0% total return) whilst CBRE have been more cautious (1.1%). And the IPF Consensus last November was 1.3%. But frankly, who's arguing over a few percentage points? The numbers hang largely on the eventual strength of the economy, international capital flows, currency shifts and political intrigue, all of which are currently best measured by sticking one's finger in the air!

So is this a signal for despair in the property investment market? Certainly not. And this is where the second'F' comes in. With 10 year gilts yielding around 1.5% pa and the dividend on equities (All Shares) around 3.5% pa, the net income return from direct property of between Four and Five percent still looks positively exotic.

However, if you want capital growth too, well, to be frank, you will probably have to whistle for it. On our Global Alliance monthly conference call a couple of days ago, all the guys in the UK, US, Sydney and Hong Kong offices conceded that capital growth in 2017 is likely to be a rare commodity.

And there is a third reason for nominating 2017 as the Year of the 'F'. If we are not really careful, the blaring noise that will inevitably surround the UK/EU negotiations will generate a most unwelcome level of Fear. But, I agree with the memorable words of Franklin D Roosevelt at his Inaugural Speech in March 1933, which was at the very depth of the Great Depression, "The only thing we have to fear is Fear itself". So let's hope everyone will be able to keep all the political 'goings-on' this year in perspective. 

And, as a foot-note, if you think I am being a bit harsh on the Forecasting industry, you are probably right. But in my defence, it was my property fund management firm, back in 1993, who first published quantitatively calculated, total return Forecasts. And it was these Forecasts which continued to be at the very heart of the success of our portfolio strategies.

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