Happiness | Nostalgic Retail | 1984 Revisited

Imagine editing the past 254 issues of The Weekly. Let’s say each draft copy presented to the editor has included three spelling mistakes, two grammatical errors and one inappropriate expletive. In all, that means there have been over 1,500 editorial corrections! So, the editor has decided to show them just how it should be done. Here is the first in a series of monthly thought-pieces. It may not be quite as jovial as you are used to first thing on Sunday morning, but let’s hope you still enjoy it. If you don’t, fear not…next week’s edition of The Weekly will revert to norm. And I will be busy again in the background with my editor’s hat on!

Thirty-five years ago (1984) this weekend, Scotland beat England 12-9 at Murrayfield and went on to win the Grand Slam for the first time since 1925. They did it again in 1990. But despite yesterday’s bonus-point performance win over the Azzurri, a fourth Grand Slam seems improbable given the high drama a couple of hours later on the Emerald Isle. This got The Weekly thinking as to which other notable events in previous Februaries the property industry should recognise. Looking back over past issues of Bull & Bear and its predecessors, we alighted on the following anecdotes.

In February 1984, the UK’s population was 56.4 million and unemployment stood at an horrendous 3.18 million (11.8%). Today, unemployment is at a record low of 1.37 million (4%), even though the population has grown to 66.8 million. GDP per capita is now estimated at $43,200. Back in 1984 it was just $8,179. And yet, despite this obvious improvement in wealth, the UK only ranks nineteenth in the World Happiness Index. Perhaps Jacinda Ardern, The New Zealand Prime Minister is correct in widening their country’s definition of GDP to include social, cultural and environmental measures. And maybe that’s why the Kiwis are ranked eleven places higher than us as the eighth happiest nation on the planet.

Given how challenging things are on the High Street today, it’s hard not to be a little nostalgic of life before the arrival of out-of-town shopping centres, retail warehouse parks and mega-stores. In the 1950s, it was common-place to leave your grocery list with your local store-keeper and he would gather up your goods and deliver them later to you at home. Does this sound familiar? However, by 1984, the retail revolution was in full flow. Indeed, a well-known annual investors’ survey revealed that an overwhelming 95% of UK institutions placed High Street retail as their preferred investment choice. This was no doubt buoyed by such bullish comments at the time as – ‘Whilst provisional figures suggest that average rental growth for shops in 1983 only amounted to 5%, the machinery for substantial increases is now well in hand, and it is our opinion that shop rents will grow by at least 10% in 1984 and possibly as much as 15%’. The Weekly fears that the fortunes of rents and yields in the retail sector in 2019 will head in almost the complete opposite direction. But at least we can be comforted by the fact that our groceries are now being delivered by van once again - even if the delivery man doesn’t want to stop for a cup of tea and a chat anymore!

At the end of January 1984, 15-year UK Government bonds were yielding 10.70% per annum. At the time, this was heralded by the property market as fantastic news since they had traded at nearly 22% per annum just four years earlier! Investors defied a massive reverse yield gap and prime property yields clocked in at - retail 3.50%, offices 4.75% and industrials 7.00%. Today, the hierarchy couldn’t be more different, could it? No-one thirty-five years ago could have imagined that yields on prime distribution sheds (4.00%) would ever have attracted a lower yield than prime retail. But let’s not forget that if something appears to be too good to be true, it often is. For instance, a seriously penal tax on white vans would, at least partially, put the mockers on internet shopping, wouldn’t it?

For those who have read George Orwell’s book 1984 (prophetically written in 1949), you may recall notable quotes such as ‘Big Brother is watching you’. But given we live in such uncertain times ‘Who controls the past controls the future’ may be more pertinent. However, if you are looking for a rather more cheerful ending to this Weekly’s offering, view this clip of Torvill and Dean ice-dancing to Bolero and winning gold at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in February 1984. It’s just as magical today as it was 35 years ago!