Thursday, 11 August 2011

How to manage Property Cycles anywhere in the World

The dizzying heights of the most recent property boom, when house price growth peaked at an average annual rate of 32% in 2004, as well as the protracted recovery period in which the property industry has been languishing since late 2009, are prime examples of fluctuations that obscure the otherwise clear cyclical movements in the property industry.

One of the fundamental basics of economics is that markets move in cycles. Markets experience boom times, followed by a period of market correction and a downturn, before the next boom arrives. This is a natural phenomenon evident in all markets, and whether it is called "boom and bust", "bulls or bears" or simply "peaks and troughs", investors can be absolutely certain that neither a growth period nor a downturn in any market will last forever.

What was uncertain, however, was the highs or lows that may be reached during an upturn or a downturn, and the duration of either.

"In the property industry in SA, the average cycle normally spans around seven years," says Dr Koos du Toit, CEO of the P3 Investment Group.

"But given the heady heights reached in 2004, when many analysts and experts warned of a 'property bubble', as well as the subsequent economic turmoil as the world experienced the worst recession in living memory, it is not surprising that many have lost sight of the fact that we are simply moving through another cycle.

"Yes, the market correction and downturn of this property cycle were nothing short of terrifying for speculators and those investors who had overextended themselves financially. And the long, slow recovery has been painful for even the most prudent investors. But the cycle is turning, as it always does, and the market will again experience an upturn.

"What remained uncertain wass when the upturn will commence - many predict only towards the end of 2012; what level property price inflation will reach before the next market correction; and how long the upturn will last."

The question arises: How can a property investor protect a portfolio against the ravages of the property cycle?

"Many property investors do attempt to 'time' the market, but this is akin to speculation. The 2004 boom and this long, protracted recovery provide ample proof that 'timing' the market can be a dangerous game," comments Du Toit.

"Professional - and thus successful - property investors take a long-term view of their investment and the market. They don't speculate; they are building sustainable property investment businesses. This includes keeping an eye on the property cycle, but their focus is not on 'timing' the market, but rather finding the right investment properties that will yield an ongoing passive income and capital growth over the long term. Seasoned and professional property investors know that these investment properties can be found regardless of where we are in the property cycle."

Du Toit explained that professional property investors did not simply acquire properties, they acquired property assets with long-term income-generating potential.

"In layman's terms, this approach can be compared to buying a cow. You can either keep the cow for milking over the long term, or you can sell it quickly at the highest price for slaughtering. If you acquire a cow for milking, you will have an asset, which is appreciating in value, and you will benefit from the milk it produces on an ongoing basis for years to come. If you sell the cow for slaughtering, you might make a quick 'killing' - to use the terminology speculators are fond of. But you may not, particularly if several other cow owners have the same idea. Either way, both the cow, as an asset, and the milk it would have produced over the long term, are gone."

Du Toit notes that a property should be acquired as a cash cow.

"The intention is to hold the property over the long term, milking its ability to produce a passive monthly income that keeps pace with inflation year after year.

"While the property will also appreciate in value, this is regarded as an added bonus, since the objective is not to sell the cash cow, but rather to milk it. This approach is almost immune to the property cycles, since regardless of whether property prices are rising or falling, there will always be demand for good entry-level rental properties in well-established and growing areas.

"And while capital appreciation is not the main objective, investors are richly rewarded for their patience and long-term perspective by superior capital growth over the years, as the ups and downs average out, producing a steady upward trend in property price inflation."

This, clearly, was an entirely different approach when compared to speculating, in which property investors try to "time" the market by buying at high prices, and hope to "make a killing" by selling even higher in the short term.

Du Toit says that while fortunes have been made in this way, it is a high risk approach that has certainly seen many investors lose their investments, and has given many South Africans a distorted understanding of property investment.

"Property investment - acquiring property assets that can be 'milked' over the long term for their income-generating potential - may not be as thrilling and exciting as wheeling and dealing with properties, timing the market and making a killing.

"But it is a proven, tried-and-tested recipe for virtually failsafe property investment. And it is a system that allows investors to sleep peacefully at night, knowing that wherever we are in the property cycle, whatever highs or lows may be reached during an upturn or a downturn, or the duration thereof, their properties are generating an inflation-linked passive income, and in the long term, even their most optimistic capital appreciation expectations will be realised."

This article is to inform and educate, not to advise.

1 comment:

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