Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An end to the recession?

Perhaps it is my imagination but I seem to be seeing a few more British visitors around at the moment. Yes, I know it’s the time of year when people start popping over for ‘quick trips’ and long-weekends but even so, there seem to be quite a few around. Some of my regular contacts in various countries are also reporting the same thing and saying that at least some of these people seem to be checking-out property.

It’s very risky to comment on what may or may not happen with the recession, but it’s been about 15 months or so since the news started to peak on banking collapses and the like. People have been in their bunkers for well over a year and many economic indicators still look gloomy BUT there are perhaps a few odd glimmers of hope around.

Now I’m not saying that what expats in Spain, France or Australia think is necessarily a very meaningful economic indicator but there may be some signs of less gloom around. Contacts in France tell me that the property market there has been largely dead for the best part of 18 months or even more but suddenly a few tentative buyers have appeared ‘looking around’ though not at the moment actually buying much.

Vast areas of Spain continue to be a disaster for many expat property owners in financial terms but in one or two areas potential buyers are reported to be sniffing around again.

OK, it’s very tentative stuff but it seems to coincide with some slightly more neutral news reporting on economic indicators. A friend of mine still lays much of the blame for the current global economic position at the door of the media who, he believes, started desperately looking for a financial crisis in January 2007 and managed to talk one into existence by the end of that year. Perhaps he’s just a cynic but who knows?! Maybe if the news channels are now getting bored with reporting bad news and gloomy indicators, perhaps they’ll search for a few half-optimistic signs and start reporting those. That in turn could generate increasing confidence and so on etc etc.

We could all do with it.

Still, it’s good to see that for some folk the recession remains an abstract concept. One UK family I know that are considering buying in Portugal just happened to say that the decline in Sterling against the Euro over the past couple of years or so was not a serious factor in their plans to buy and move. It must be great to be in that sort of position!

As always though, I’m interested in members thoughts on things and in that context, the recession. Does anyone else out there see cause for hope yet?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marlboro Man on the Mediterranean – the Spanish attitude to smoking

"If we're going to talk about the cultural differences between Spain and the rest of the West, you may as well get comfortable. Pull up a chair, order a drink and light a cigarette.

And there it is. One of the first things noticed by expats in Spain: The smoking. Cigarettes are everywhere, a carelessly enjoyed vice in the street, restaurants, bars and shops.

In this way, Spain is the last slice of Eastern Europe in Western Europe. Despite the (semi) ban on smoking implemented in 2006, Spaniards are slow to take their smoking outside. Shop owners are pretty likely to have an ashtray under the counter. Restaurants still lay out ashtrays as part of their table settings. Cigarettes are cheap (around €3 a pack) and generously shared with friends and acquaintances. Smoking here is less a dirty vice, and more a social signifier of generosity..."

Read more here. Discuss this article here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Special Report - Sterling Crashes and Burns

The following special report is provided by the official Expat Focus foreign exchange partner, World First. To request further currency transfer information or a no-obligation quote please click here.

Sterling Crashes

Given the volatility that sterling has experienced recently, we thought it only prudent to advise you all on what could happen to sterling in the coming weeks and months. We would say that 1.10 and 1.60 are near term targets for GBPEUR and GBPUSD respectively however the prospects of falls below these levels are very strong given the momentum behind the movements we have seen over the past week. A break below these levels could easily see 1.07 and 1.55 which were the lows of the previous range.

We still believe that those of you who need to buy either euros or dollars with sterling for overseas property purchases, emigration or other reasons should be thinking about hedging around these levels through ‘currency options’. Should GBP continue to fall as we expect it do so then the levels achievable will no longer be attractive.

We would therefore advise all reading this to contact the Private Client team here to find out how to protect yourselves against further adverse shocks.

‘Currency options’ like forward contracts, allow you to exchange one currency for another on a future date. However, with an option you can fix a ‘worse case rate’ and unlike a forward contract, if the rate moves in your favour you can benefit.

Below is a graph of GBPEUR 2 weeks ago detailing the ongoing trends in GBPEUR while below that we have GBPUSD.

The top line is a trend of 2 years whilst the lower is that of the past 7 months. GBPUSD seems to be capped on at these levels with many analysts predicting that a break of 1.60 will see this brief rally over and a move back to 1.55. Our expectations that the market would obey the longer term trend has come true.

That trend has broken now as shown below.

GBP is Overbought

Going further in you can see that this is a regression to the middle
ground over the past year.

by Jeremy Cook, World First

To request further currency transfer information or a no-obligation quote please click here.

Disclaimer: The above comments are only our views and should not be construed as advice. You should act using your own information and judgement. Although information has been obtained from and is based upon multiple sources the author believes to be reliable, we do not guarantee its accuracy and it may be incomplete or condensed. All opinions and estimates constitute the author's own judgement as of the date of the briefing and are subject to change without notice. Any rates given are "interbank" i.e. for amounts of £5million and thus are not indicative of rates offered by World First for smaller amounts.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Spanish Landgrab Law - Is it Fair?

"Bob and Jane thought they had found their idyllic retirement in the sun. They had bought Spanish land, gathered all of the permits they needed and began to build. Six months later their house was bulldozed by the local government. Welcome to the Landgrab Law..."

Read the rest of this article here. Comment on it here.

Expat safety issues

I read recently of the terrible accident in Portugal that involved a beach cliff rock-fall resulting in several fatalities.

This put me in mind of how dangerous the world can be and how some, notably holidaymakers or expats, can be in particular danger due to a lack of local knowledge.

I remember being on a beach once (abroad). It was a chilly and not particularly nice spring day. There were only a very few people on the beach mainly walking but one couple caught my eye.

They were sitting on the rocks at the base of a moderately high cliff. At the very second I noticed them, there just happened to be a fairly large collapse and fall of stones, earth and sand from the cliff above them. This came down and hit both of them before I could say anything.

This was a freak occurrence both in terms of how unlucky they were and the fact that the accident happened just at the very second I noticed them. The good news is that they were shocked but otherwise uninjured. They also just happened to be newly arrived expats that had been living in the country only a week or so!

Shortly afterwards I was asking a local why there were no warning signs on the beach under the cliffs. His response was fatalistic “..but everybody knows the cliffs are unstable and wouldn’t sit underneath them..”


The stories of potential expat woe through ignorance abound. Poisonous snakes kept as pets without knowing what they were, dangerous plants cultivated lovingly in the garden and of course lack of local geographical knowledge. Some are no doubt the stuff of urban legend but many are known to be true.

I did know a medical first-aider in Australia that told me that a disproportionate number of the problems he had to help with affected visitors and expats that just hadn’t grasped the local dangers and ‘issues’.

One of my American friends had just moved to the UK when we met up at a mutual friend’s house. While sitting in the garden the English friend said that she must weed near the fence then departed inside.

My US pal suddenly decided to be dynamic and jumped up saying “I’ll get those”. Before I could get out the words “NO, STOP!” he’d dived with his bare arms into the world’s biggest pile of stinging nettles.

Cue a look of horror, screeching and hopping around – and the subsequent liberal application of lots of germoline. As you may have guessed, whatever poison oak and ivy they may have in Northern California, he’d never encountered or heard of stinging nettles before.

So even a suburban Essex garden can have its dangers for the unwary!

I guess the message for expats everywhere is – ‘get that local knowledge and FAST!’

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sangre Del Torro - The ethics of Spanish bullfighting

Want to discuss this article in our Spain forum? Click here!

Bullfighting is one of the cultural earmarks of Spain.

Dating back to the times before Christ and rooted in the pagan mythology of sacrificing bulls to multiple gods, bullfighting is celebrated as a masculine display of bravado and human courage. The first formalised bullfight was staged in the eleventh century, almost a thousand years ago. More than a sport, bullfighting was seen as symbolic of the ongoing struggle between humanity and nature, or humanity and the underworld. Fans imbue it with an almost spiritual importance, and definitely as an artform.

Now social mores have changed, and general opinion has shifted. Even in Spain public consensus is very much against bullfighting. Only ten per cent of Spain's population are fans, with the remainder being either indifferent - dismissing bullfighting as a quaint remnant of a redundant past - or strongly opposed.

The arguments against it are hard to refute: Aside from the cerebral wrangles over an animal's consent to participate, there are more immediate and practical issues of cruelty. Bulls are not released into the ring in their best shape: they may spend an entire day weighted with sandbags to sap their energy, be fed laxatives to weaken and dehydrate them, be partially blinded with petroleum jelly or have their neck muscles cut to prevent full motion of their (shaved) horns. Like the bulls of Pamplona, many bulls are raised in dark confined spaces, released into the light only at the moment of entering the arena, to ensure that they are as disoriented and vulnerable as possible.

The Spanish government has responded to the shift in public opinion. Bullfights have been banned from being televised, following concerns raised by parents about the violent images being seen by children, and under-14s are no longer allowed to attend bullfights. These two moves effectively strangled the profit flow of bullfighting: TV advertising and family tickets to live matches were the two main market sectors.

Nevertheless, the ten per cent of Spaniards who do favour bullfighting are a vocal minority who put their money where there mouth is...

Read More:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Top 10 Paris expat blogs

by Meg Zimbeck at Budget Travel

"Ever wondered what it would be like to live in Paris?
Immersing yourself in an expat blog is one of the best ways to find out. It seems that every year a fresh crop of bloggers has arrived on the electronic scene to share the ecstasies and agonies of life abroad. Because their lives often include a lot of food and fun, expat blogs are also a great way to learn about the local happenings. I've selected my current favorites (not including my own), and invite you to add your personal picks in the comments..."