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August 26, 2015updated 05 Jun 2017 10:05am

What the emerging market currency collapse means for HNWIs

Latest data from WealthInsight this week confirms a widely assumed fact: London is the most popular city in the world for overseas second home ownership among HNWIs. While many factors are at play, one which ties the global economy in with London's property market is the crash in emerging market currencies caused by major commodity markets.

By Oliver Williams

Latest data from WealthInsight this week confirms a widely assumed fact: London is the most popular city in the world for overseas second home ownership among HNWIs. That is, HNWIs buying second homes outside their home country would choose London 1.2 times over its nearest rival, New York.

A statistical finding such as this would have been fairly unremarkable to those familiar with the demographic make-up of Sloane Street or Berkley Square – until recently. Many of those selling homes to the rich have noticed that demand was not what it once was. Prime real estate agent, Knight Frank, for example, reports that annual price growth in prime central London property flattened out at 2% in July, down from 7.9% in July last year. The number of buyers of £10million properties also slowed this summer.

Many factors are at play here but one which ties in the global economy in with London’s property market: The crash in emerging market currencies caused by major commodity markets. With the slump in many emerging country’s stock markets hammering currencies, HNWIs from abroad can no longer afford London. This is having a profound effect on central London since WealthInsight’s findings reveal that just short of 13% of second home owning millionaires from emerging markets have a pad in London, a trend that would surely have grown were it not for the current currency crises.

As the gap between monopoly currencies and the sterling widens, estate agents can expect little activity from Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai, Turkish and South African HNWIs as the ringgit, rupiah, baht, lira and rand collectively flounder.

But beyond squeezing penthouse shopping among landlubbing HNWIs, how else is the current currency collapse affecting HNWIs? Here are three trends:

Renaissance of Remittances

With a widening gap between developed and emerging currencies, non-resident and diaspora HNWIs will capitalize on their unique position by increasing remittances.

Favourable exchange rates between developed and developing nations will benefit those on the receiving end of remittances. Non-resident Indians will be at the forefront of this movement: With an average wealth of $3m each, NRI millionaires are the wealthiest domiciled diaspora of their kind. However, as means of remittancing in other parts of the world are ‘leap-frogged’ by mobile technology this could be the beginning of a much larger flow of wealth.

Manufacturing not Middle Classes the way forward

It is not only HNWIs in the oil, gas and mining sectors that will see fortunes wiped off their wealth as a result of the global commodity slump. Much of the recent growth in emerging markets has been from an enlarged middle – and therefore consumer – class.

The number of HNWIs from the BRIC countries involved in FMCG and retail, for example, grew 29% and 26% respectively between 2010 and 2014. However, this will be unlikely to grow much further as the emerging middle classes are hit by the vicious domino effect that starts with commodities. Instead, manufacturing is likely to be the biggest money maker for HNWIs as emerging countries devalue their currencies to favour exports.

(Reduced spending power among the emerging middle classes will not only hit HNWIs in the emerging markets : Apple’s share price has taken a hit as speculators question China’s appetite for the iPhone)

Gold and Switzerland are back

As always in times of turmoil, HNWIs are turning to gold and Switzerland as safe bets: The price of gold and the Swiss franc have both risen exponentially over the past week. Singapore might also see an influx of refugee wealth as its stock market has proved less volatile than those of its neighbours.

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