Saturday, June 20, 2009

Psychology driven markets

After basic fundamentals are taken into account, most markets (housing, stock,loans ) are driven by psychology. People buy things based on what others are buying. The media plays its role in shaping the opinion and perception about goods and services and common sense will tell you how people buy and sell based on news articles in the media. Many times people are stricken by fear and sell too early - For this see the Cramer video on how market makers plant stories and move stocks. 

My theory is that the bad news trend is down. People yawn when yesterday's unemployment figures in the US were announced and the stock market moved higher, inspite of record unemployment.

What my little brain can infer is that the government is going to throw the kitchen sink at the problem and several articles have pointed to inflation to rise in the coming months. The US I-Bonds limit has been lowered to 5,000$ per person from 30000$. The government does not want to pay the CPI inflation for the bond since it thinks that is the what is on the horizon. Some people are forecasting US inflation at 5% in the coming years. 

In India  I see the government pumping money in by lowering rates and drawing out all the fence sitters to buy in the property market. However they will make loans very hard to get so the black component of the market will rise. I still don't see how we can justify 60L apts in remote areas or 1 cr apts in developed areas if only funded by loans.  

There are other issues like timely delivery of apts, poor construction, cheating which are bigger issues in the apt buying process. Those have to  be analyzed more closely and the only thing the buyer can do is to beware and go for ready possession clear titles properties. 

I still see a big demand in people wanting housing, the only thing as we all know is the price is too high even after the 25% drops in most mid-segment housing prices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

36 South Starts Hyperinflation Bet After Black Swan

Bloomberg reporting. I think this effect will be on India too as the Indian government begins a spending spree awarding contracts to Indian and foreign firms. Already there are indications of the F-16/F-18 deal with Raytheon and more will follow. The governments will try their best to spend themselves out of the recessionary spiral. More money will be printed and overall everyone will think they have more money, only that that money will buy less. The sixth pay commission is another example of spending. Instead of reiging in inflation, the government is printing more money which will make it less valuable. Elections cannot be won if people have less money which buy more things, but when people have more money which buy less things. In the latter case the government is seen as helping the citizens, and blaming the foreign governments including OPEC as the villians.
With reference to Indian housing I think this spells bad news. Prices drops will be stalled as money enters the system looking for value. Today I got an offer by ICICI bank which mentioned about a Chembur project for 5300 per sq/ft. Not sure what is the exact location previously these locations quoted 8k and above. Just shows that new projects are priced lower then existing ones. The floor is being set so it is time to look for deals. I'm officially abandoning my bearish position on projects which accept full white money. The theory being that banks in today's economy will not lend money if they think the house will lose value or the builder and borrower is not credit worthy. So projects accepting full white have to price themselves to perfection, else they will see no traction with the buyers. This is a time to hunt for value, if you have the down-payment, you can demand your price.
By Netty Ismail

June 16 (Bloomberg) -- 36 South Investment Managers Ltd., whose Black Swan Fund gained 234 percent in 2008, is raising money for a new hedge fund, betting that government efforts to pump money into economies could result in hyperinflation.

The Excelsior Fund targets returns that will be five times the average annual rate of inflation of the Group of Five economies -- France, Germany, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. -- should the rate exceed 5 percent, Jerry Haworth, co-founder of the firm, said yesterday. Raising $100 million for the fund would be a “good” amount, he said.

“There is a sharply increased risk of greater than 5 percent inflation starting from now,” Haworth said in a telephone interview from London. “We are in the lag period between when the seeds of inflation are sown and when their off- spring, that is higher prices, are evident for all to see.”

U.S. President Barack Obama is selling record amounts of debt to try to end the steepest U.S. recession in 50 years, while Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso has unveiled three stimulus packages worth 25 trillion yen ($261 billion) since taking office in September. Governments around the world selling record amounts of debt may devalue currencies against assets and spark inflation.

Most investors are underestimating the risk of inflation, Haworth said. Consumer prices in the U.S., the world’s largest economy, are set to rise 1.7 percent next year, following a 0.6 percent decline this year, according to the median of 70 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Inflation Risk

“There is certainly talk about inflation but people might think of inflation at 5 percent or 6 percent,” Zimbabwean-born Haworth said. “We’re talking 5, 10, 15, 20 percent or more.”

Investor Marc Faber said on May 27 he was “100 percent sure” that U.S. prices may increase at rates “close to” Zimbabwe’s gains, and the U.S. economy will enter “hyperinflation” because the Federal Reserve will be reluctant to raise interest rates. Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reached 231 million percent in July, the last annual rate published by the statistics office.

Universa Investments LP, the hedge-fund firm advised by “Black Swan” author Nassim Taleb, is also adding a strategy betting that stimulus efforts won’t prevent deflation or could result in hyperinflation.

Inflation will likely be “very low” through 2010, said Alvin Liew, an economist at Standard Chartered Plc in Singapore. There will only be “a risk of very high inflation” starting in 2011 if governments fail to rein in “those excesses that they did to stimulate the economy in the near future,” he said.

“For now, I will be more concerned about how sustainable the growth recovery path is,” Liew said. “When we move into the later part of 2010, investors should pay more attention to inflation.”


36 South’s Excelsior Fund will buy long-dated options it considers cheap and that “stand a good chance of outperforming in an inflationary environment,” Haworth said. Options are contracts to buy or sell a security by a certain date at a specific price.

The fund will wager on an increase in commodity and equity prices, bond yields and increased currency volatility.

“It’s a very high-risk, high-return fund,” said Haworth, who has been trading derivatives for more than 20 years as the former head of equity derivatives at Johannesburg-based Investec Ltd., and co-founder of Peregrine Holdings Ltd., a South African money manager and stockbroker.

The firm will be marketing the fund in the next three months.

36 South has closed its Black Swan Fund, which bet on risk- aversion events, and returned the money to investors after profiting from last year’s global markets rout.

Returns on the inflation fund “could be even higher than the Black Swan Fund though the likelihood is smaller as options are more expensive than they were when the Black Swan positions were bought,” Haworth said.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Home loan exemption increases

It appears that the government is on an appeasement drive to help the builders. Loan based properties will soon see spikes in sales as these changes take effect. Still the impact will be almost zero on highly priced properties which are not served by the loan market specially Mumbai. For that you need 3/4 of your income to be generated by evading taxes. It is then possible to own in Mumbai. I think this move and the lowering of rates to the vicinity of 9% will drive a bunch of people to make purchases. I'm not turning bullish here but I think for the prospective buyer, doing some research locally is probably not a bad thing. You can always choose to back out of the final purchase but some research is definitely warranted. There was another article I read which mentioned that the 6th pay commission has raised government salaries of unskilled workers to 9500. With such rapid inflation, Rs 1000 will not hold much value any longer. Government jobs didn't pay much and everyone flocked to the private industry. Now the scales have been tipped and government jobs everywhere (US or India) will again be coveted with envy. We are seeing a complete reversal of trend unfolding before our eyes.

The government is considering a proposal to hike income-tax exemption available for interest payment on home loans to Rs 2.5 lakh a Home Loan
Tax benefits on home loan year, to boost demand and rebuild the slowdown-hit housing industry.

The ministry of housing and urban development has urged finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to make an announcement to this effect as part of his Budget presentation in early July, a government official said on condition of anonymity.

At present, taxpayers taking housing loans are eligible for income-tax exemption on interest payment of up to Rs 1.5 lakh every year. Besides this, the repayment of principal amount is part of investments eligible for benefit under Section 80(C) of the Income-Tax Act, which has a ceiling of Rs 1 lakh.

The government has already identified housing as one of its focus areas, a fact highlighted by President Pratibha Patil in her address to both the houses of Parliament.

The existing tax exemption limit is considered inadequate at a time when a two-bedroom house in big cities costs at least Rs 25 lakh.

Considering a person takes a loan of Rs 20 lakh at an interest rate of 9.5%, he would pay Rs 1,88,493 towards interest alone in the first year. His annual interest payment in the first five years would be more than Rs 1.5 lakh.

If the exemption limit is hiked to Rs 2.5 lakh, then a person paying that much home loan interest in a year will save an additional Rs 31,000 in tax every year. This saving of over Rs 2,500 a month would be significant for most borrowers, making home purchases more affordable.

However, as per existing norms, the tax benefits start flowing in only after the construction of the house is completed, which usually takes 2-3 years in case of builder flats.

The housing industry has urged the government to allow for the deduction as soon as loan repayment starts, as it would give substantial relief to home buyers and boost demand.

The Budget documents do not provide an estimate of the revenue forgone on account of this exemption, but it is unlikely to be very significant.

Of the total Rs 38,107-crore tax revenue forgone on account of tax exemptions to individuals in 2007-08, nearly Rs 30,000 crore is on account of Section 80C benefit, one component of which is principal repayment on housing loan.

The housing sector in the country has been hit hard by demand slowdown, following a rise in interest rates. Besides lowering of home loan interest rates, the industry has been continuously pitching for greater tax benefit, as it had the potential of stimulating demand.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A roof over one's head

A roof over one's head

HDFC says that the multiple that operates for housing in a Mumbai suburb is between 4.5 and 5.25 times annual salary. If 85-90 per cent of the cost of a flat is taken as a loan, and a 15-year loan has a monthly repayment instalment that is 1 per cent of the loan amount, then simple arithmetic tells us that 40 per cent of income is needed to pay back the loan.

Now, the average (or median) Indian family earned about Rs 1.31 lakh last year, or Rs 11,000 a month. Can it afford to pay Rs 4,400 every month on a housing loan, for a modest one-bedroom flat that costs Rs 6.5 lakh? Probably not. But if it could, or if it had a little more income, would it get a flat for Rs 6.5 lakh? Not in the big cities. The Delhi Development Authority, which is not known for quality work, sells a one-bedroom flat (450 sq ft) for Rs 8-10 lakh; the open market rates are at least twice as high. So it is easy to see why most middle-class Indians see home ownership as a distant dream.

But hold it; flats are now being offered for Rs 4 lakh by Tata Housing (covering 280 square feet, which may mean a room plus kitchen). A 450-square foot (one-bedroom) flat would cost the magical sum of Rs 6-7 lakh. Jerry Rao, the banker-turned-IT entrepreneur-turned-housing evangelist, has set up a housing company that will offer flats for Rs 7 lakh—with construction cost in the region of Rs 700 per square foot. These entrepreneurs seem to be dropping the total cost from Rs 2,000 per square foot to Rs 1,500. If they are successful, others are bound to follow their lead. And housing might then become affordable for the average Indian, if not quite the aam aadmi that the politician has in mind.

The big real estate companies, which have been focusing on housing that costs Rs 4,000-6,000 per square foot and more, have seen the light—in part because they have found no takers in today’s real estate slump. So they have slashed prices, in some cases by a half, and have been rewarded with a rush of buyers. The problem in India is that much of the cost of the roof over your head is on account of the land beneath your feet—which has been kept hopelessly expensive by the politician-builder nexus. This has prevented more land from coming into the housing market, which is why upscale flats in Delhi and Mumbai rival the costs of those in Manhattan (where the typical flat costs Rs 6 crore). If more land were thrown into the market, home ownership would not remain a dream for the majority, it would become reality.