Sunday Supplement – 17/10/2021

Oct 17, 2021

Welcome to the supplement – a shade delayed this morning; for those who watch the Partners in Property socials (or my own) you might have noticed we’ve had something on this week, just a little distraction……the annual business retreat that Rod Turner, Sue Sims and I run with a group of committed property investors and/or developers! A great week for some reflection and with that in mind I’ve definitely gone reflective this week.

There were a number of great questions but the very best one was “Why do you do it?” – in context, it was about actually running the retreat, but can happily be repurposed to “Why do you do what you do?” (in any context – work, personal life, diet, exercise, etc.). So, I’m going to talk a bit about time, relationships, and short, medium and long-term value. My own philosophy, if you like. After that I want to concentrate on expectations, attitudes, and stimulus that has been or is being withdrawn (and touch a little upon Covid, since I see very little of value written about it these days for whatever reason).

So – on we go. In context – why do we run the retreat? The three of us would give you three different answers, of course. From me – I always learn something every year. Or, more like, some things. It might be particular nuggets of knowledge. It might be how other people think, or are thinking at the current time/in the current market conditions, which is valuable. It might be that the time away from my own businesses gives me the time and space to explore what I’m doing, and whether it is the right thing or where my own focuses need to sharpen up.

It’s also part of my 20% time. The concept came from 3M who implemented 15% time in 1948 – and Google adopted it for some years, birthing gmail, and a number of other important parts of their suite of services. Partners in Property is my 20% time (although that boundary often creeps beyond 20%……), but was also born in my 20% time. I’ve believed ever since reading about 20% time that my own version was dedicated towards building long-term value. What does that even mean?

Well, my own social media posting/rants/call it whatever you like over the years got me into a private Facebook group one morning. I remember it well (not so well that I remember the date) but it was in late 2015. Named “The Ethical Property Trading Group” I was sceptical (of course), just like companies that tell you they are the “Good company” or the “Caring provider” in their name. Maybe I’m just too cynical but I always believe I’m (or you, ultimately) are the judge of that……

Anyway, it turned out that this group had some excellent contributors in it. Some I knew from social media posts/group moderation or ownership, some I hadn’t heard of who were more lurkers or the algorithm had never put us together. Fast forward some months and there was a meet being organised, in Birmingham no less (how convenient!)

To put this into context, 18 months of social media posting is “all” it had taken to get to this stage. Contributing/sticking my oar in but genuinely giving time to post an opinion (hopefully worthwhile) or, more importantly, actually trying to help people without the expectation of anything in return. This wasn’t some perfectly crafted tactic, more a bit of blind faith. That was almost everything I used my 20% time for – in the expectation that some day, something would happen. I was inspired by people I saw do great things on YouTube and other platforms without an open agenda (or a sales funnel) – or those who did have sales funnels but seemed very honest and genuine about them, and still gave lots of content away for free – which it seems fairly mean-spirited to have an issue with.

Back to the main thrust. I went along to the meeting that I was lucky enough to be invited to. I remember the room well – easily the most daunting environment I’d stepped into for several years. For about 5 minutes, until I realised it was a very safe environment with some incredible achievers with some superb stories, and people with a similar, strong, supportive mindset that had genuinely come together to share, learn and network.

In that room, I went on to do business with more than half a dozen of the 25 individuals that were in there. Some was one-off or minor. Some was really significant and still forms a part of my portfolio of businesses today (shall we call it my 80% time!). Most of it worked out really well and still is, and even that that didn’t has not worked out too badly at all.

So, 18 months to get in there (although I was 5 years into networking in general), and 6 years later I’ve got some quality relationships and business from that environment. I’m an early adopter but not a REAL entrepreneur, groundbreaking, inventing things etc. – I’ve taken almost everything I have done from large companies, case studies, Warren Buffett, etc. The private network here was no different.

It ran with a meeting every month for a while (and there had been a few before I ever got involved). The founder tried to add people on occasion, but the more voices there were, the more noise there was around this. It wasn’t a dictatorship nor was it democratic, it was more meritocratic which should have been the right way to do things, but there was no real structure behind that in the same way that a Ray Dalio would think, for example.

As time went on, meetings got further apart in their frequency. Lots of the participants had spoken/told their stories/done a presentation. New members were just not being added. A couple of (frankly, a bit strange) things happened which compromised the strength or integrity of the group and there was a bit of fragmenting. The group still technically exists but is dormant, which is a shame. The breakaway groups (the ones I am aware of, anyway) also are dormant.

However, as above, I had observed and thought I had learned where the mistakes were. I was fairly sure that I was taking the group at least as seriously as any of the participants in there, and I’m not sure what the others have achieved since the 2016 January meeting (the first one I attended), but I’d expect there to be some significant correlation between my commitment level and my results. What was missing was structure, and to an extent, marketing and sales.

I’m weak on marketing and sales – but structure I can do. In early 2017 I met an interesting character at a business networking meeting. What he said about property sounded credible, and he invited me and a business partner along to a property meeting, held in the daytime, at a lovely venue. I went along and really enjoyed the format, and the people there were, again, well worth spending time with. In a few months time, the venue owners (who had put their venue into the pot for free, and were also property people) asked me if I would run the meeting. Not being one for hostile takeovers unless ultra-necessary, I politely declined. I had my doubts about the host but they were not founded in fact (yet). A couple of months later, the host was indeed revealed as a bit of a rip-off merchant and with that in mind, I asked if that offer was still on the table. Happily, it was.

However, I refer you to the above…….I’m weak on marketing and sales. I also love working with people, and by no means is the marketing/sales side my only flaw. I wanted and needed someone with the skills I didn’t have, and a different opinion, to come along for the ride and make a difference.

In late 2016, I’d been to another networking meeting and found myself breaking the rules. I’d had tuition/coaching on “how to network effectively” and other related things. Spend a minimum of 30 seconds with someone but a maximum of 5 minutes. Use these 3 strategies to end a conversation effectively (i.e. bin them off, but nicely). That all felt wrong to me anyway, because in my view people aren’t stupid and no quality of relationship forms in 5 minutes. Years before, I had got an interview with a partner of a big 4 consulting firm by spending one meeting and 90 minutes with one person, and got a massive job offer out of it (I didn’t take the job, although it took some significant guts, or perhaps stupidity, to turn it down – but no regrets for sure!). I hadn’t really done that since.

However, this day was different. I met Sue Sims and we got along very quickly. She told me about her career inside and outside of property but in a warm and friendly way. I left that conversation (which was about 3 hours long!) with a good idea, I thought, of Sue’s values. I invited her to come along to this daytime event and take a look at it, and several months later, Partners in Property was born! It has, of course, grown and changed, but thus far has shown longevity and long term value, and of course led to lots more quality relationships being formed – some I’ve been involved in, some I’ve just looked upon proudly from a distance, and some, I’m sure, that I don’t know about.

So that’s why I do it! The retreat takes 6-8 delegates a year, and we only do one a year. We don’t have the time to do more….but the small environment means that the opportunity to build relationships is massive and effective. From previous retreats I know that some have gone on to do business together, and I’ve worked with them as well in win-win situations. The hard thing is understanding that relationship building takes time to pay off, and you are sowing seeds that you might harvest in 2, 5 or 10+ years. No good if you aren’t keeping the lights on in the interim, hence the 20% time concept!

On we go to the stimulus and Covid situation. What we’ve got at the moment is a strange confluence of circumstances. Hindsight is of course 20-20 but the big countries in the world now know that they overspent and overreacted to the pandemic. Perhaps stranger to understand is that the people are much better off for it (in the round, considering ££££ only).

I’ve written before about austerity and what a demonstrably self-destructive and ideological policy it was. The right are as prone to these as the left…..the bigger factor is just how extreme they are. (Corbyn would easily have destroyed much more value and economic growth, in my eyes, because of what some of his policies, if enacted, would have done to business confidence and the wealthy – but because he was further to the left than Cameron was to the right, mostly).

It is worth re-iterating that the £400bn added to the debt in 2020 also saw a £900bn estimated rise in household balance sheets. In aggregate, yes, this means that the country was net half a trillion pounds better off in 2020 despite the largest healthcare challenge for 100 years. So……why not just carry on with it?

There’s an argument for this. Even staunch right-leaning voters I know are not supportive of the £20 reduction in universal credit, weekly. With gas reserves at all-time lows, Russia’s power looming over all of us, and commodity prices still going bonkers (including a Crude oil price that looks set to keep on booming upwards for the foreseeable future), the crisis in the sector is pricing-related and bills (and standing orders) are shooting up. In April they will go up again. My fear at the individual level is that the most vulnerable will only be hearing one message at the moment: “it is too costly to switch the heating on”.

It isn’t even cold yet – and the weather is one of the largest factors in just how full of death the winter is. Excess deaths (the only real measure of the pandemic impact) had fallen to below historical averages from March 2021, but after the summer wave that we’ve largely ignored, they are back above averages. If it DOES get particularly cold, or we have a flu outbreak (serious danger), they will be right back up again for the next 6 months, sadly.

This will continue to impact consumer confidence generally. Anecdotally, I got the chance to ask one of our members who is a GP what she was observing in the general public (obviously, her clients are disproportionately elderly). She said people were hanging onto homes and current situations as much as possible, until the very last minute (this speaks to some of the supply bottleneck in the market, in my view).

Covid will also “claim” some of these lives. I sit as a relatively lone voice in the argument – not angry, not highly motivated (I worry about what I can control, I learned that one some time ago), but not following the party line, instead the data and my own interpretation of it. Definitions (deaths within 28 days of a positive test, when performing a million tests a week – mathematically that leads to a significant number of deaths that are “with covid” not “from covid” – there’s validity to that argument) are a significant factor here. Instead of redefining, that’s why I’ve preferred to look at excess deaths as the only trustworthy stat.

So – in conclusion:
We did too much too soon
The primary driver for stopping or cutting stimulus is likely ideological
The “real game” at the international level is remaining credible and looking fiscally responsible (just check out the US and their spending levels for….well……quite a while back now!)
We now aren’t doing enough

I’ve been wrong on lots of stuff in this pandemic – but one thing I’ve got consistently correct is that things were better when they looked bad (unemployment, job creation, etc.) but worse when they looked better (claims from eminent economists that we would have a roaring economy for the rest of the year, although in fairness I documented why I was sceptical that they believed that and instead were saying it, which might not have been that smart when considering inflation expectations, but boosterism is popular these days). Things are still worse than they look right now.

This will, however, for the sanguine, offer opportunity. I’m more settled on this than I have been for a few months. Expect a lull, and a dip. It won’t take much because many are still “secretly” bearish anyway. Don’t expect a crash – aside from some area-specific situations, there’s no bubble. But good economic news is highly unlikely at this point until next year, if then. Oh – and interest rates are going up. To 0.25% (base) and then 0.5% next year, but not as early as the market currently thinks, because the 0.25% reinstatement will be blamed for things that are not its fault.

The 3 year roadmap still sees things at around 1% base which I agree with, and the 10 year sees around a 2.5% base. These are firm predictions, which is inherently stupid, but like all proper forecasts, I will continue adjusting them (and updating) when things do play out or change.

Expectations remain key – and are informed, on the whole, but not necessarily rational. One of the two “major” (one is definitely more major than the other, but has no specific trigger event) supply side property shortages is needed before there is considerable respite; repossessions or those who have held stock off the market need to come back to the market. With nothing to move into, this is difficult. I will be keeping eyes and ears open however and the supply blockage from those concerned about mortality won’t be abating at all in the next 6 months in my view.

Until next week! Feedback always very welcome….