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Boost for luxury London property prices as Russians locked in

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A general view is seen of the London skyline from Canary Wharf in London, Britain, October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Carolyn Cohn and Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – The war in Ukraine is making it hard for even unsanctioned Russians to sell exclusive residential property in Britain, adding to a shortage of supply that has helped drive up house prices in prime locations, real estate sources say.

Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern oil barons and billionaire Chinese entrepreneurs have been on a spending spree on London real estate over the past three decades, snapping up trophy homes and high-end commercial property.

But the four-month-old invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a special military operation, has prompted Britain to slap sanctions on more than 1,100 Russians it says have ties to the Kremlin, spreading unease and freezing house sales in so-called Londongrad, agents say.

“There have definitely been a number of transactions that have not gone through, two in excess of 40 million pounds ($49 million),” said Charlie Willis, CEO of property broker The London Broker, adding that in both cases, the buyers were advised not to proceed “just because the seller was originally Russian”. He declined to give further details.

THE BIG SQUEEZE

    A widespread shortage of available properties has pushed up prime London prices by 4.7% since the invasion, according to agents Benham & Reeves, although prices in Belgravia and Knightsbridge – popular locations for Russians – have climbed slightly less, at 3.3%.

    “The market’s being fuelled by a lack of supply,” said Geoff Garrett, director at mortgage broker Henry Dannell.

The number of prime central London residential sales was down 30% between March and May compared with last year, though still up on pre-pandemic levels, according to property data firm LonRes.

    Estate agent Aston Chase estimates there are over 150,000 Russians living in London who between them own eight billion pounds of real estate assets, businesses, and other investments in Britain.

    But Mark Pollack, Aston Chase’s co-founder, says wealthy Russians are increasingly cautious about being caught up in the web of sanctions.

“Russians aren’t buying (in the same way) and they are not selling, not necessarily because they don’t want to in some instances, but because they probably can’t or it might be sensible to hope the … dust settles,” he said.

Britain in February scrapped its so-called “golden visas” for wealthy investors and last month announced plans for a new economic crime bill, intended in part to identify the owners of property in Britain and combat illicit finance, although critics say loopholes remain.

Henry Sherwood, managing director of The Buying Agents, which focuses on properties starting at around five million pounds, said the crack down had helped dash hopes the war and sanctions might lead to a flurry of cut-price Russian sales.

At the beginning of the war, “we had people ringing up saying: ‘Have you got any Russians selling?’,” he said.

    But he added: “The more discreet don’t want to have anything to do with them. Our buyers don’t want to be associated with firesales – they don’t want to get into a transaction that will never happen.”

One unsanctioned Russian failed to secure three lawyers before finding one willing to help him sell an expensive London property, a senior executive at a property development firm on the other side of the deal told Reuters.

Russian tenants including students are also finding it hard to transfer funds due to sanctions, forcing them to withdraw from the market in London, said Marc von Grundherr, director at Benham & Reeves.

Unprecedented Western sanctions on Moscow, the withdrawal from Russia of scores of Western companies and pressure on London’s advisory companies to cut links with Russian clients have driven some Russian buyers to friendlier property hotspots such as Dubai or Istanbul.

One Russian client, Pollack said, had pulled out of buying an 18 million pound London apartment when Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine in February because they were nervous about the political rhetoric in Britain. They still want a London home, but have halved their budget, he said.

But buyers from other regions are helping to keep the London market buoyant.

International buyers have accounted for at least a third of property purchases in prime central London locations in every quarter between 2011 and 2019, according to data from Statista.

Vic Chhabria, managing director at agent London Real Estate Office, which specialises in new constructions as well as high-rise condominiums and luxury homes, said his appointment diary was full, with most interest from buyers in Singapore, Hong Kong and Mumbai willing to spend between two and 20 million pounds.

A prolonged war, tighter regulation, rising interest rates, raging inflation and brutal stock market drops could yet take the heat out of some of that growth, agents added.

“The property market has been flying over the course of the last two to three years,” said Garrett. “All of these cycles have to slow.”

($1 = 0.8164 pounds)

Economy

Futures rise as easing China COVID curbs lift travel, leisure stocks

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© Reuters. A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., June 22, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Shreyashi Sanyal

(Reuters) – Travel and leisure shares propped up U.S. stock index futures after China relaxed some COVID-19 quarantine requirements for international travelers, raising hopes of a revival in global growth.

Airlines, cruises, casinos and hotels were among the gainers in premarket trading after China’s slashing of the quarantine time for inbound travelers by half boosted hopes of a big jump in international travel and spending.

Shares of Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Inc rose 2.5% to top the list of gainers on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, after the company’s Shanghai Disney Resort said it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30 after being shut for more than three months.

Spirit Airlines (NYSE:SAVE) and American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) Group Inc were the biggest gainers in the sector, rising 4% and 2% respectively.

Melco Resorts jumped 10% and led the rise in the casino sector, closely followed by Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN), MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) International.

Wall Street’s main indexes started the week on soft footing after worries of surging inflation and an aggressive Federal Reserve dominated sentiment amid few market moving catalysts till the start of earnings season in two weeks.

Investors are now looking at data to determine whether the economy can withstand large interest rate hikes by the U.S. central bank to stamp out inflation.

A survey from the Conference Board is expected to show its consumer confidence index slipped to a reading of 100.4 in June, from 106.4 in May, at 10 a.m. ET.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq are set to post losses in June and are on course to log two straight quarterly declines for the first time since 2015.

At 6:49 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 175 points, or 0.56%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 20 points, or 0.51%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 52.25 points, or 0.43%.

Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE) shed 2.8% as it forecast first-quarter revenue below estimates on expectations of more discounts and pandemic-related disruptions in China, its most profitable market.

Occidental Petroleum Corp (NYSE:OXY) climbed 3.1% after top investor Warren Buffett raised stake in the shale producer.

China ADRs also rose on Beijing easing its COVID curbs, with e-commerce firms Alibaba (NYSE:BABA).com, JD (NASDAQ:JD).com and Pinduoduo (NASDAQ:PDD) up between 1.2% and 1.4%

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Economy

Euro below $1.06 as Lagarde keeps July policy options open

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© Reuters. A shopper pays with a ten Euro bank note at a local market in Nice, France, June 7, 2022. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

By Saikat Chatterjee

LONDON (Reuters) – The Aussie and the Canadian dollar climbed on Tuesday on firmer oil prices while the euro held below $1.06 as European Central Bank (ECB) President Christine Lagarde offered no fresh insight on the central bank’s policy outlook.

The ECB is widely expected to follow its global peers by raising interest rates in July to check soaring inflation though economists are divided on the magnitude of the rate hike to protect a struggling economic recovery due to high oil prices.

Oil prices are up 10% in barely a week on supply constraint concerns with Brent crude holding above $117, pushing the Canadian dollar and the Australian dollar up 0.3% and 0.4% respectively. [O/R]

“Oil is helping the Norwegian crown and the Canadian dollar to outperform and the euro is again running into resistance at the 1.06 level,” said Kenneth Broux, an FX strategist at Societe Generale (OTC:SCGLY) in London.

The euro held below $1.06 after the ECB’s Lagarde said the central bank would move gradually but with the option to act decisively on any deterioration in medium-term inflation, especially if there were signs of a de-anchoring of inflation expectations.

Money markets are pricing in about 238 basis points (bps) of cumulative rate hikes by mid-2023 compared to around 280 bps two weeks ago.

Broader currency market moves were contained in a big week for markets in economic data terms. German inflation figures are due on Wednesday, French data on Thursday and euro zone numbers on Friday.

At the other end of the dial, higher oil prices caused the partially convertible Indian rupee to open at a record low, and fall further to 78.67 per dollar.

The U.S. dollar index struck a two-decade high of 105.79 this month and was last steady at 103.93.

Elsewhere, the offshore Chinese yuan moved higher after China reduced COVID quarantine for international travellers.

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Economy

China’s economy recovering but foundation not solid, premier says

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is seen on a screen as he attends a news conference via video link after the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 11, 2022. REUTERS/Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) -China’s economy has recovered to some extent, but its foundation is not solid, state media on Tuesday quoted Premier Li Keqiang as saying.

China will strive to drive the economy back onto a normal track and bring down the jobless rate as soon as possible, Li was quoted as saying.

“Currently, the implementation of the policy package to stabilise the economy is accelerating and taking effect. The economy has recovered on the whole, but the foundation is not yet solid,” Li was quoted as saying.

“The task of stabilising employment remains arduous.”

China’s economy showed signs of recovery in May after slumping the previous month as industrial production revived, but consumption remained weak and underlined the challenge for policymakers amid the persistent drag from strict COVID-19 curbs.

China’s nationwide survey-based jobless rate fell to 5.9% in May from 6.1% in April, still above the government’s 2022 target of below 5.5%.

In particular, the surveyed jobless rate in 31 major cities picked up to 6.9%, the highest on record. Some economists expect employment to worsen before it gets better, with a record number of graduates entering the workforce in summer.

Li vowed to achieve reasonable economic growth in the second quarter, although some private-sector economists expect the economy to shrink in the April-June quarter from a year earlier, compared with the first quarter’s 4.8% growth.

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