Back in September 2012 when we, correctly, suggested that one of the main drivers of demand (and increasingly becoming the only one) for US housing, especially in the mid and high-end, was foreigners – particularly of the oligarch persuasion – who come to the US to park their embezzled and otherwise ill-gotten funds, courtesy of the NAR’s anti-money laundering exemptions, which means that they can buy any house, sight unseen, cash upfront (recall that a record 60% of all home purchases are all cash, which explains why mortgage bankers are being fired by the thousands left and right), no questions asked. One thing we made very clear, though, is that since one never actually buys the real estate, but merely rents it from Uncle Sam (or any other Development Market host nation), there is little preventing the host from cranking up the tax system, or outright changing it, when the need to raise funds strikes. After all what rights do criminal foreigners with multi-million homes in New York (or San Fran, or London, or any other major metropolis that is the target of offshore capital) actually have.
Which is why, over a year after this prediction, we find that if not the US (yet) then certainly London, where the housing bubble is greater than anything seen in the US thanks to Russian and Asian hot money, is doing just this.
Earlier today, the London Assembly passed a motion welcoming a possible move by the government to bring in capital-gains tax on foreign investors selling a home in the city. The motion was passed today with 13 votes in favor and 6 against, according to an e-mailed statement by the 25-member assembly, whose main function is to hold the capital’s mayor to account.
The populist angle was naturally present to justify this decision: “Londoners’ right to own a decent home must be put before speculative investors in London’s property market,” assembly member Tom Copley from the Labour Party, in opposition nationally, said in the statement. “London property is becoming a global reserve currency for people to keep their money and to make money out of London property.”
That actually is a spot on and very accurate assessment, especially in a world in which the governments of these same nations (recall that the US Mint is the first to propose a gold-backed Bitcoin token) for clear reasons, turn a blind eye to various forms of below the radar money transfers, many involving Bitcoin. After all, what better way to “honeypot” and trap foreign capital than by making inbound cash transfers easy, and then once the real estate “reserve currency” has been acquired, to change taxes and force foreigners to pay up for the privilege of having been allowed to park their illegal capital there in the first place.
As Bloomberg reports, the full passage of this tax proposal is likely only a matter of time now:
Sky News television reported a month ago that the government is considering extending capital-gains tax to foreign investors. Treasury minister Sajid Javid indicated last month an announcement was likely when Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne makes his Autumn Statement to Parliament tomorrow.
Frankly, the only question we have is why it took London so long, although “building up a critical mass” of future capital gains taxpayers is probably the answer.
And soon, after this has been tested in the UK, where will it go… but to the US.
We would not be surprised if the ultra-luxury segment in US housing suddenly becomes just a tad wobbly as foreigners seek to quietly but promptly sell now and avoid capital gains, before, like in London, this becomes the law in the US next. Who knows: lesser things have popped housing bubbles in the past.