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Update July 2016


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 

Paul Gambles
Co-founder of MBMG Group

 

Update July 23, 2016

Thai Property – all REIT on the night?

Investing in Thai property schemes can be done through regulated, exchange-based funds.

One thing that makes me shudder working in the financial services business is when I receive a glossy brochure on my desk, telling me how much money I’m going to make on the latest new housing project.

For a start I’m wary about anything that gives me an annual return figure (before I even know what it is). When the pamphlet uses that dreadful term guaranteed return, the alarm bells really start ringing. Then, if the buildings aren’t even complete, I start screaming!

In such schemes, investors stand to gain based on the rental income and/or increases in the future value of the planned developments. Yet, in spite of all the wonderful numbers cited on the brochures, can we actually know what the real value is?

Shares, bonds, commodities and currencies, for example, all have regulated markets with quoted prices which can be verified and referenced live in real time -in other words  price discovery. We know at any time at what value these assets can currently be sold. However, when the building hasn’t yet been finished, price discovery is somewhere between very limited and non-existent. There’s no readily verifiable market value that can be tracked on Bloomberg screens. In the absence of price discovery, the promoters and managers of such funds make projected returns on investment by using a model. Hence such structures are known as mark-to-model schemes.

There have been several examples in the recent years, where such schemes have promised investors a steady rate of return. Because the return is based purely on the model, the price goes up in a straight line no matter if, in reality, the underlying assets are appreciating or deprecating in value. So when investors decide they want their money back, such funds are often unable to meet all the redemption requests.

However, there are ways of investing in property which do offer price discovery – market-traded property funds and real estate investment trusts, or REITs. These generally allow both small and large-scale investors to buy in, and trading is done on a regulated exchange, so there is an accurate up-to-date price.1

Property funds were made available on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 2003, as a new indirect investment vehicle, in an attempt to ease the lack of liquidity in capital markets after the 1997 financial crisis.2

Since the beginning of this year, Thai property funds have risen 28%, possibly aided by one particular IPO between two projects; but could also be partly down to demand for the funds from property fund ‘funds of funds’ offered by some of Thailand’s asset managers. These have seen increasing popularity due to their steady inflow of dividends, bringing performance above most SET50-based mutual funds. As property funds are relatively illiquid, it’s not difficult to push up the price with continued buying.

Two years ago, the Thai SEC introduced REITs to offer something more effective, attractive and transparent.3 REITs - a form of product regulated by America’s SEC since the 1960s4 - are structured in a trust fund and can leverage to a maximum of 35% of its net asset value (NAV); whereas a property fund is managed by a jurisdiction, much like a typical freehold condo, and can leverage up to only 10% of NAV. As it’s a relatively new phenomenon, there aren’t many REITS available yet in Thailand – the majority of listed structures are still property funds;5 although that will eventually change as future IPOs must be REITs.6

The Net Asset Value (NAV) is supposedly based on the years on the lease – typically whatever is remaining of a 30-year lease. It is vital to check the details of each one on a case-by-case basis. Property valuation firms re-value the assets regularly (each quarter in many cases) and it’s good to look back and see the trends – this depends more on occupancy forecasts, rental prices or room rates than land or building values.7

Of course there are different schemes, involving different types of property: for example: residential, offices and shopping centres. These can then be broken down into sub-categories, such as high-end/low-end, condominiums/town houses, area, etc. Normally, there’d always be one segment in one area experiencing a softening of price, whilst another sees strength. So, it’s worthwhile being aware of what is over-priced and what is still good value yet on the move up.

On analysis based on their discounts to regularly published NAVs,8 the listed property fund market seems to assume NAVs are generally overvalued for almost all office, infrastructure and industrial-estate-based funds. Shopping centres appear to be seen as growth opportunities and are therefore at a slight premium to their published NAV.9

Looking at Bangkok, our analysis showed that the property fund sector appeared to be undervalued, when making a simple comparison of what yield buyers could achieve if they bought, for example, an office condo or a residential dwelling, then rented each one out.  This took into account freehold and leasehold properties.10

Overall there doesn’t seem to be a hugely compelling case for any sector within the Thai property market right now. Any lack of investment trend may not be a bad thing though: Thailand doesn’t appear to have the same overvaluation issues11 as developed markets such as Canada, the UK or Australia12 or regional markets such as Singapore.13 However, Thailand remains vulnerable to contagion from effects such as a China property bubble burst or deterioration in economic macro-economic conditions, as well as to more specific local risks.

Although property is generally a long-term investment, REITs enable capital market liquidity and participation because they’re traded on an exchange. Also, owning property often has the dual function of somewhere to live and an investment. For that reason, it’s worth considering real estate as a relatively small part of your investment portfolio. That said, long-term developed property markets have historically shown 2 attractive features:

1) An ability to yield positive total returns in 3 of the 4 seasons of Kondratieff long-wave seasons.14

2) The ability to achieve long-term capital increases in value in line with inflation plus an attractive rental income.15

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for property investment. In fact, property itself doesn’t meet everyone’s investment needs or objectives. Before investing, it’s vital to plan out what you want to achieve and the timeline in which you aim to do it. A regulated, fee-based, independent financial advisor can guide you through the steps and suggest investments which best suit you.

Footnotes:

1 http://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reit.asp?layout=infini&v=5D&adtest=5D&ato=3000  

2 SEC Thailand

3 http://www.bangkokpost.com/print/434753/

4 https://www.sec.gov/investor/alerts/reits.pdf

5 SET www.set.or.th  

6 http://www.bangkokpost.com/print/434753/

7 www.set.or.th & MBMG IA analysis

8 www.set.or.th & MBMG IA analysis

9 MBMG IA analysis

10 www.set.or.th & MBMG IA analysis

11 MBMG IA analysis

12 http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21695912-valuations-globalised-cities-are-rising-much-faster-their

13 http://sbr.com.sg/residential-property/news/will-singapore-properties-stay-overpriced-in-2016

14 www.longwavegroup.com

15 The Hand of Gov – Professor Steve Keen, for CLSA capital markets

Please Note: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is correct, MBMG Group cannot be held responsible for any errors that may occur. The views of the contributors may not necessarily reflect the house view of MBMG Group. Views and opinions expressed herein may change with market conditions and should not be used in isolation.

MBMG Group is an advisory firm that assists expatriates and locals within the South East Asia Region with services ranging from Investment Advisory, Personal Advisory, Tax Advisory, Corporate Advisory, Insurance Services, Accounting & Auditing Services, Legal Services, Estate Planning and Property Solutions. For more information: Tel: +66 2665 2536; e-mail: [email protected]; Linkedin: MBMG Group; Twitter: @MBMGIntl; Facebook: /MBMGGroup


Update July 16, 2016

A Post-EU crisis can do what Negative Interest couldn’t

It isn’t just the UK’s referendum that has depressed markets – they’ve been bearish for a while, in spite of desperate attempts to revive them.

So Europe may be about to enter a new era in actually losing a member state. Let’s hope that this grows into a truly brave and eventually more economically stable new world. My reasoning is that after the UK’s exit and break-up, the EU will crumble under pressure from other countries and ultimately cease to exist. These shocks would then cause a Minsky Moment, forcing governments and central banks to finally change tack.

All that may seem too radical; but I honestly feel a huge shake-up is necessary because so many of the world’s richest economies are mimicking the example of Japan, in trying to bring about economic recovery. The slight flaw in their plan is that Japan has had over 25 years of recession.1 But this hasn’t stopped the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, the Bank of Canada and others from persisting with ultra-low base interest rates; and the ECB and Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden have even introduced negative rates.2 To add to the madness, all of these have implemented bond-buying schemes at some point. Bond prices have soared to where many government bonds and even some corporate bonds are trading with negative yields.3

According to former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, this approach was designed to “Ease financial conditions”, which “will promote economic growth.” In his opinion “higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth and help increase confidence, which can also spur spending. Increased spending will lead to higher incomes and profits that, in a virtuous circle, will further support economic expansion.”4

This all sounds great. Yet, after five years of easing (which was stopped last year) and seven years and counting of emergency low interest rates, the US economy isn’t in much better shape than before. Even the fed has admitted that easing did not provide Bernanke’s famous economic boost.5

It’s hardly a great surprise if you think about it. I can’t imagine millions people going out to buy lots of consumer goods just because Microsoft went up 3 points the previous day. Sadly, it’s clear from the actions of other central banks that there’s a herd mentality among the world’s central bankers. As my IDEA Economics colleague Prof. Steve Keen put it, central banks have “exhausted the capacity to use the wrong tools but the right ones are still sitting there and they’re ignoring them.”6

That makes the Bank of International Settlements’ – the central bankers’ central bank – recent suggestion, that it may be a good idea to focus on financial stability,7 all the more stupefying. After all, if that’s suddenly the new recommendation, what on earth was the plan beforehand, when spending trillions of dollars on bond-buying and making it cheaper to accumulate yet more debt – the very thing that brought about the global financial crisis in the first place?8

With all that considered, even if we suspend belief and imagine that the massive amount of liquidity and the free-for-all in corporate borrowing, stock markets in these zero-interest and especially negative-interest rate countries should be booming.

But they’re not. In fact, they’ve been getting a bit of a hammering recently – especially the negative-interest countries. Even if we only look as far as the week before the fallout of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, we can see the trend (see chart 1).

Stock Market Performances since peak of May 2015

Chart 1 - Source: Wolfstreet.com

In the US, the S&P 500 and Dow are slightly down from their May 2015 peaks but the NASDAQ is significantly lower at 8.3% during that period. The Russell 2000 has dropped a disconcerting 11.6%; although such small-cap indices do tend to rise and fall sharply. Alarmingly, the S&P 500 P/E Ratio over 12 months up to 17th June is a huge 23.9: that’s slightly up from 22.8 a year ago and way north of its historical median of 14.6.9

Away from the US, we can see markets inside the CAC 40 (Paris), DAX (Frankfurt), IBEX (Madrid) and MIB (Milan) – all located inside the Eurozone – have all dropped by more than 20% since May 2015. The Euro Stoxx 600 Banking index, which covers banks both inside and outside the Eurozone was down a critical 39%.10

Back in March, ECB president Mario Draghi used all the tools he thought (and seemingly still thinks) he has at his disposal by dropping the ECB’s base rate to -0.4%11 and increasing stimulus12 – but the markets still dropped.13 Infuriatingly, Draghi’s failed attempt came three weeks after Bank of England Governor Mark Carney admitted the underperformance of the global economy “is a reminder that demand stimulus on its own can do little to counteract longer-term forces of demographic change and productivity growth.”14 The chart Carney showed during that speech illustrates the point perfectly (see chart 2).

Serial Growth Disappointments

Chart 2

Over four months on from Carney’s admission, we’re still in the same zero/negative-interest-rate scenario. This begs the question as to what it will take for central bankers to remove their heads from the sand.

Perhaps the impending downfall of the European Union may actually do this; although I suspect it will take a full-blown post-EU-collapse Minksy Moment-style crisis to finally make so many central bank ‘experts’ realise that they’ve been wrong for so long.

Footnotes:

1 www.ideaeconomics.org 2015 Outlook

2 Rates from Federal Reserve, Bank of England, Bank of Canada, SNB/BNS, Danmarks Nationalbank, Sveriges Riksbank

3 http://wolfstreet.com/2016/06/19/global-stocks-nirp-negative-interest-rate-rout/

4 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/03/AR2010110307372.html

5 http://www.cnbc.com/2015/08/18/st-louis-fed-official-no-evidence-qe-boosted-economy.html

6 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OSHu80IXi0&feature=youtu.be&t=3m45s

7 http://boomfinanceandeconomics.com/

8 www.ideaeconomics.org 2015 Outlook

9 http://wolfstreet.com/2016/06/19/global-stocks-nirp-negative-interest-rate-rout/

10 idem

11 http://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/negative-interest-rates

12 http://wolfstreet.com/2016/06/19/global-stocks-nirp-negative-interest-rate-rout/

13 www.theguardian.com/business/live/2016/mar/10/ecb-stimulus-measures-mario-draghi-negative-rates-qe-business-live

14 www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/speeches/2016/885.aspx


Update July 9, 2016

EU Referendum: After the Winter… Spring

The UK’s Vote to leave has caused a lot of turmoil in the markets… but it’ll improve the global economy in the long run.

It’s a strange life being an expat. You still feel a strong attachment to where you grew up, yet it’s no longer the place you call home.  This can lead to confusing and conflicting feelings about your origins. One of the many advantages, though, is that it gives you a completely different sense of perspective, especially on the place you once lived, because you’re looking from the outside, yet you know it very well.

The UK’s referendum on EU membership is a good example. While everyone on the inside is getting into heated debate – especially on social media – from the outside, the events are confirmation of what a dreadful state the UK has been in for some time. The political classes have acted with a level of selfishness that is unprecedented – which in their case is already a stratospheric bar to clear; while the media continues to pump misleading information and downright lies merely to conform to pre-set conclusions.

The effects of this vote go far beyond a few fly-by-night politicians and newspaper editors – and it could well turn out to lay the seeds for a brighter economic future. The immediate response was the kind of carnage that we had been rather lonely in predicting would accompany an exit vote – both in terms of the markets and the resignation of PM David Cameron. The response of capital markets to the initial vote and subsequently to the reaction of policy makers such as Bank of England1 Governor Mark Carney was, however, all too predictable. What has happened until today has played out pretty much exactly as we’d forecasted. The key question is, as Barbara Dixon once asked, ‘so what happens now?’

As I mentioned in January, 2016 is the most unpredictable year I’ve experienced in my whole career.2 That’s why I’ve been advocating to cover all bases in case of a big event. Those who did will not necessarily have lost in the last days – a market neutral approach to equity components would have seen a roughly break-even return during the worst days of post-referendum market hysteria and assets like gold and treasuries rallied strongly. So covering bases has worked so far and it remains our approach even though the whole process of the UK leaving the EU could last at least two years and there’s a strong popular movement from the losing side to overthrow the referendum result. Consequently, it’s worth taking a measured view, rather than making panic decisions. So it could well be worth focusing on the opportunities that the short term market disruption has uncovered in order to make a return from them over the longer term. Sterling seems very slightly oversold at this stage whereas US Treasuries have shot up so far that we have been advocating profit taking, even though we’ve only been positive on Treasuries and flagging them as a buy again in the last couple of months.

In the long run, though, I see the referendum result as a step – albeit a tiny one – towards global normalisation. It’s something that can kick-start the move towards a far stronger global economy than we have today.

We can already see the domino effect begin with the collapse of the UK government. Ahead there is the significant possibility of the implosion of the United Kingdom, the gradual break-up of the European Union, followed by the Minsky Moment3 that will lead to the greatest economic re-adjustment that will occur in our lifetimes.

So whilst certain politicians and sympathisers with the far right may now be celebrating the UK’s independence, the reality is that these events will ultimately, represent good news not just for the whole of the UK, but also for Europe and for the totally interdependent global economy. That counts for all participants, even Germany and China – the places that will suffer the most in the medium term.

The reason for this is that we have seen the stacking up of unprecedented levels of private debt in practically every major economy.4 Then, when the bubble burst eight years ago, governments and central banks (especially the ECB and PBoC) have consistently used the wrong tools. Instead of alleviating the situation, they have exacerbated it with an inconsistent mélange of austerity, quantitative easing and zero/negative interest rates.5 They may be forgiven for mishandling these major economic events at the outset; but they have infuriatingly refused to recognise failure to look at an alternative approach, such as that proposed by my colleagues at IDEA Economics.6

From an expat point-of-view, the result means uncertainty over changes in the way they are taxed, domicile issues and the possibility that British expats living in Europe may see their UK pensions frozen,  the way they are in certain other non-EU countries. Right now, the best course of action is to stay informed of events and be in a position ready to react.

Nearly all of the experts offering up their views to the world’s media have echoed the view that the  Leave  vote will have a massive impact, primarily on the UK, and lasting for years to come.

There will be case-specific ‘victims’ such as retired British expats who rely on pensions that are paid to them in pounds sterling.7 Alternatively, residents of Gibraltar worried that because Spain has long claimed the British overseas territory for itself, it could seek to use it as a bargaining chip in return for its signature on treaties between the newly exited UK and the EU, for which unanimous votes are needed.8

The Spanish government called for joint sovereignty over Gibraltar9 after the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the acting foreign minister José Manuel García-Margallo was quoted as saying that “The Spanish flag on the Rock is much closer than before.” As is the case with his British colleagues, this could all be bluster though. Spain’s general election in December was inconclusive and the re-run, which took place three days after the UK referendum, could well result in a new foreign minister of a different political persuasion.10

The key point to emerge from the vote is that the EU faces an existential crisis which would put an end to the policies that have disadvantaged peripheral members of the EU at the expense of core members – a core that has become increasingly defined as Germany alone since the financial crisis of 2008. In return for a larger share of a shrinking pie, Germany has been increasingly forced to underwrite the financial obligations of the EU and it is in Frankfurt where the Buck or rather Euro stops when it dies. Spain will gain far more from exiting the Euro and the EU than from reclaiming the overhanging rock where Nelson’s body was taken ashore over 2 centuries ago.

The referendum wasn’t the only incredible event that week, though. The BIS – the central bank for central bankers – made an extraordinary declaration on financial stability. It’s worth a look in the Editorial Section of BOOM Finance & Economics.

Whatever happens going forward, sit back and stay informed. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Footnotes: 

1 http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/Pages/news/2016/056.aspx

2 http://www.mbmg-investment.com/in-the-media/inthemedia/77

3 http://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/minskymoment.asp

4 See my IDEA colleague Steve Keen’s 2015 Economic Outlook http://www.ideaeconomics.org/

5 idem

6 http://www.ideaeconomics.org/

7 http://www.bbc.com/news/business-36606847

8 Article 50 TEU

9 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36618796

10 http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/06/24/inenglish/1466781108_739015.html


Update July 2, 2016

Make Life Cheaper and Simpler with a Travel Wallet

If you do a lot of travelling, here’s one way to ensure you don’t leave anything behind and don’t spend a fortune.

I heard about an excellent idea the other day for people who, like me, tend to travel a lot. It’s a travel wallet. No it’s not yet another life-changing new smartphone app – although someone, somewhere will doubtless be working on that! It isn’t even the latest 40,000-baht plastic designer money-holder. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a separate wallet physically.

Here’s the idea: you keep certain items in your travel wallet that makes life away from home cheaper and simpler.

Anyone who travels to different countries on a regular basis should carry a specialist overseas credit card.  Anytime you buy something in a different currency by credit card, the bank gets itself the credit card company wholesale conversion rate, which is usually very close to the market rate. Often, when the bank charges you, it adds on a load into the equation, which can be as much as 3%.1 Not only that, your statement may only show the conversion rate including the load, so you don’t even get to see how much you’ve been charged!2

All the big players offer specialist cards and, although the annual fees aren’t cheap, you don’t get charged a load on top of the exchange rate – so it can be worth having one. One thing to remember, though: it’s still a credit card, so ensure you pay the outstanding amount in full every month. Otherwise the interest rate could dwarf any gain you make in avoiding the load.

If you do have one of these specialist cards, use it to pay for things wherever possible. It generally works out cheaper than withdrawing from an ATM because the latter incurs withdrawal fees;3 plus, you usually pay some interest on a credit card for taking out cash – even if you pay the monthly bill in full.4 Having said that, even getting money from an ATM is generally cheaper than most bureaux de change.5

If you prefer not to use a credit card, there are a number of international pre-paid cards on the market. They’re kind of the digital generation’s equivalent to a traveller’s cheque. It gives you more control over the exchange rate, as it’s the rate on the day you load the card with money that matters, not the rate when you spend. You could lose out if the rate goes against you on the day you load the card up, so keep an eye on currency trends. Like an old-fashioned traveller’s cheque, if you lose the card you just pay a replacement fee and the cash is re-credited to your account.

Something to watch out for, though, is that prepaid cards tend to have more fees than credit cards. Some are low enough to make such a card worthwhile; whereas other may make you think twice. Charges you need to look out for are: application and replacement fees; transaction fees; paying for the card at the outset; and the exchange rate used - the latter is particularly important as prepaid cards may not use the standard Visa/MasterCard rates. There may also be daily transaction limits; so make sure you get a card that suits your needs.6

It is vital not only to have an international medical insurance policy but it also helps not to forget to carry its accompanying international medical insurance card when you travel. If you need medical attention, having the card in your wallet can make the registration procedure much quicker. For those travelling in the EU and are in an EU country’s national insurance system, it’s imperative to keep the European Health Insurance Card to hand: it entitles you to the same treatment as locals in state hospitals and GPs across the EU, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein. The European card doesn’t replace medical or travel insurance but it’s free to obtain.

Taking your driving licence with you can also come in handy, even if you’re not planning to drive. That’s because it can be used as ID – in some countries a form of identification is asked for, when paying by credit card. Of course, your licence will have to be valid; so before you go, make sure it hasn’t expired and that it has your current address on it.

If you do intend to drive on your travels, you may need an international driving permit, as well as your licence, to hire a car. These can usually be obtained through official places, such as a national post office network. Beware of advertisements for international permits on internet browsers – it may be an agency which could well charge more than through the government channel.7

Regular travellers would be well advised to keep small amounts of unspent currency in their travel wallet for the next time they depart. Otherwise, if you keep changing backwards and forwards each time you travel, you could find yourself giving a lot of money to bureaux de change. If you insist on carrying cash with you, it’d be wise not to leave changing money until arriving at the airport: the bureaux there know you have little time or choice, so are likely to charge you more.8

Finally, it could come in handy to carry a photocopy of your passport,  just in case you lose yours, so that you have all the details at your fingertips. If you’re subscribed to a cloud service, such as Google Drive, OneDrive or iCloud it’s a good idea to upload a scan of the photo page of your passport, so it’s just a couple of taps away on your smartphone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a scan – just take a decent photograph of it from your phone and upload.

I hope these tips can help you hold on to your own money, rather than give it to banks, card companies and bureaux de change.

Happy travels!

Footnotes: 

1 http://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2013/07/30/a-peek-inside-my-overseas-wallet-a-nerds-guide-to-what-to-take-abroad/?utm_source= MSE_Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=14-Jun-16-v1t&utm_campaign=nt-hiya&utm_content=31  

2 idem

3 idem

4 idem

5 idem

6 idem

7 idem

8 idem

Please Note: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is correct, MBMG Group cannot be held responsible for any errors that may occur. The views of the contributors may not necessarily reflect the house view of MBMG Group. Views and opinions expressed herein may change with market conditions and should not be used in isolation.
MBMG Group is an advisory firm that assists expatriates and locals within the South East Asia Region with services ranging from Investment Advisory, Personal Advisory, Tax Advisory, Corporate Advisory, Insurance Services, Accounting & Auditing Services, Legal Services, Estate Planning and Property Solutions. For more information: Tel: +66 2665 2536; e-mail: [email protected]; Linkedin: MBMG Group; Twitter: @MBMGIntl; Facebook: /MBMGGroup

 


 
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Thai Property – all REIT on the night?

A Post-EU crisis can do what Negative Interest couldn’t

EU Referendum: After the Winter… Spring

Make Life Cheaper and Simpler with a Travel Wallet
 

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