Death Star Economics



Collective central banking day

The Bank of England has just announced to inject another £50bn into the economy, driven by sluggish growth and poor output figures. Importantly, there is no word about this being the last tranche of QE either. The Bank’s main interest rate is being kept at 0.5%.

Meanwhile (literally at the same time), the People’s Bank of Chinacut both its benchmark interest and deposit ratesread article

The third central-bank-rate announcement of the day comes from the ECB, which cut all rates there are – most importantly it’s deposit interest rate, previously sitting at 0.25%. Exactly, and now it’s at 0%.

Mario Draghi, head of the Bank will hold a press conference after the announcement, at which he is expected to discuss the future of the EFSF bond buying program. That could put more pressure on the ratification process of the ESM throughout Europe. As a reminder, the Germans pulled the case in front of their supreme court, while the Dutch and Finish said they would veto the ESM’s proposed use.

But back to the Bank of England for a second… Despite Barclays‘ attempt to entangle the Bank in LIEborgate, the government has been little impressed. Instead, George Osborne is blaming the opposition, the Labour Party, mostly because it’s tradition or maybe because it sounds alike… Moody’s downgraded Barclays simultaneously, due to “senior resignations at the bank and consequent uncertainty.” Interesting way to put it.

In other news, it will only be a matter of weeks before Porsche will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Volkswagen. The $5.6bn merger that will cost Porsche at least a little bit of its cool will be completed by August 1. Volkswagen’s purchase of 50.1% of the remaining stock, however, isn’t a takeover, but a restructuring of Porsche, which is important because it avoids any tax payments on the transaction. Moreover, Porsche’s earnings will offset the purchase price, and around €2bn of VW’s money is going to flow towards Porsche’s liabilities, returning the company from the red to the blackread article

Otherwise, Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras is meeting troika officials this afternoon to kick off the painful renegotiation of bailout terms.

So long.


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World economy is closed until further notice…

… apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Economic data from China and Japan show that things keep pointing down – though ‘down’ is a relative direction in the case of China as it really means the country grew at a slower pace and indicating that economic growth fell below 8% in Q2. Yet, both China’s PMI and Japan’s manufacturing index performed better than expected. US manufacturing data is due later in the day.

Eurozone unemployment has risen to 11.1%, its highest levels since records started in 1995 and 0.1% higher than in May. Spain is still leading the picture with more than 24%, followed by Greece with almost 22% and Portugal with 15%. Continuing with bad news, Finland and the Netherlands have declared to veto those undefined procedures leaders “agreed” on last week that would depress Italy’s and Spain’s borrowing rates. This regards the purchasing of bonds in the secondary market through both the EFSF and the ESM – the latte of which needs unanimous support from EU leaders. Square one.

But if you want to believe the Wall Street Journal, all of this will lose its relevance in exchange for new drama:

With government policy playing a greater-than-usual role in driving financial markets, investors are nervously eyeing the November U.S. presidential election and the year-end expiration of tax cuts and economic stimulus that could drive the U.S. economy into recession should Congress fail to step in.

So to sum up, Europe is closed until further notice, China’s clockwork is slowing down and the US is collectively scared of whatever there is to come in November. Q3 is going to be fun.

Surprisingly, a European authority is taking the side of the financial services industry for once: ESMA, the European Securities and Markets Authority, has launched an inquiry into how S&P, Moody’s and Fitch evaluate banks’ credit ratingsread article

Otherwise, Marcus Agius stepped down as chairman of Barclays, as a response to the Libor manipulation scandal that erupted last week. Here’s his comment on his departure. In a weird sort of defence of Barclays and a show-off of white-collar-crime-and-got-away-with-it, the Telegraph printed the holy grail of anecdotal evidence: an anonymous “insider from one of Britain’s biggest lenders” talking about how he used to manipulate the lending rate all the time… read article

And linking back to last week, remember how I said, half-seriously, I expected Citigroup and Nomura to join the bad-PR party of all those other banks drenched in scandal? Well, here you go, embezzlement (Citigroup) and insider trading (Nomura).

So long.

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The correlation between soccer and political power

At least now we know what it was really about… the peripheral problem children win the soccer and Europe agrees on the most egalitarian strategy yet, introduces eurobonds, makes Germany equal to Greece. In the words of Angela Merkel’s wonderful fake presence online:

A decisive solutions: using a fund that doesn’t exist to buy debt that won’t be repaid via a mechanism that hasn’t been agreed. #leadership

And right she is. The main outcome of last night’s negotiations is that the ESM fund, which doesn’t officially come into effect until July [and that’s just the scheduled time, who knows what will happen] will be able to recapitalize troubled banks directly, without messing with the country’s deficit. Naturally, this would be contingent on austerity-ish measures. Then, there was a rumor that the ESM bond program would only be limited to Spain, which may or may not be Merkel’s way of getting back at Italy (Che? NEIN!). And of course, there was the €120bn growth pact, mostly defined by its lack of definition, purpose and strategy, which Italy is set to block until short-term measures to depress bond yields come into play. read article

According to ZeroHedge the only important outcome is that there will be no additional money committed to any fund – here’s why.

But the bottom line, the question I want answered is this: who won? No-one seems to know, opinions differ from source to source. Maybe the score will be clearer tonight.

Another guessing game we could play today is just how large JP Morgan’s London-Whale-induced trading loss is really going to be. Dealbook went all out and called for $9bn yesterday, Reuters says it will amount to $4-6bn, the FT settles on $5bn.

Blackberry producer RIM, cut 5,000 jobs and pushed the introduction of its new operating system that was meant to come out this fall. All this is just a reminder for the private equity firms out there that this is a bargain waiting to happen. Or is it? read article

Otherwise, the US economy reported 1.9% economic growth in Q1 yesterday and Obama won another round in healthcare fight, with the Supreme Court ruling that fines for lacking health insurance under the new Medicaid plan from 2014 on are indeed not unconstitutional. read article

Weekend reading

– On the economics of giving blood, read article

– Pretending that the eurocrisis is over with the Atlantic, read article

– Recessionary shopping behavior, i.e. the lipstick-effect, read article

– The case for immigration/globalization, brought to you by the Economist which seems to be surprised at either, read article

As for next week [or the rest of “summer”], I’m expecting Citigroup and Nomura to be torn to shreds in the media, joining the other investment banks (just think muppets and whales and facebook…) in their public relations misery.

Have a good one.

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Remember when the Greek elections didn’t achieve anything?

(note: the headline regards the eurocrisis and not Greece by itself)

It’s funny how the lead up to some event is drenched in anticipation from virtually the entire world, but when it occurs the reaction is so unimpressive. In other words, Antonis Samaras can build a coalition on all he wants, all eyes are back on Spain [and Italy] and they were already yesterday.

So let’s go back to Spain. Yesterday, its bond yields exploded and stayed above 7%, and today, its short term borrowing costs (12-18 months) hit the highest levels since 1997. But that’s not all. The bad loans on the books of the country’s banks have reached the highest level in 10 years as well – 10 years ago, when the euro was introduced to make everything better…

ING said Spain would need another €250bn to get anywhere with its bank refinancing – €250bn the EFSF isn’t set out for. So then it goes back to the legal issue that is the ESM, which is not actually active yet and has different voting requirements from the EFSF. Here the ZeroHedge summary.

The bottom line seems to be this: while concerns used to focus on the willingness, or lack thereof, of European leaders to commit to strategy to battle the crisis, i.e. setting up the ESM, pushing eurobonds, injecting money here there and everywhere, it now (finally) shifted to a question of how much is actually possible. The answer is more or less unanimous: Spain can’t be paid for in the same way that Greece was. And we don’t even have to talk about Italy. So what are we going to do about it? Wrestle Angela Merkel down and force her to agree to eurobonds, i.e. piss off the one person who is paying for the whole charade (note: this is a simplification of actual circumstances)? Having said that, I’m pretty sure that Merkel knows exactly that she will have to give in to all the pressure unless she wants to foot a never-ending bill (see below).

In Greece, Pasok leader Evangelos Venizelos has allegedly expressed his support of NewDem leader Antonis Samaras, who is still in the process of pasting a coalition government together. And since Syriza said they’re out, Samaras just pitched another left-wing party, the Democratic Left, making the proposed government a center-center-left coalition. An agreement is meant to be reached today, and as we know Greeks are very precise and efficient people, so I’m taking this at face value (so far, the Democratic Left has not decided what to do). read article

In Mexico, the G20, first and foremost David Cameron, is pointing fingers at the bodiless mess that is European collective action. In Gideon Rachman’s words:

David Cameron is taking a break from irritating the Germans. Instead, he has decided to piss off the French.

It is going to be an entertaining week if this continues. The agreement that emerged from Monday’s meeting was to work on a “more integrated financial architecture” in Europe. I imagine Angela Merkel didn’t enjoy her stay.

Meanwhile, there are rumors that both Greece and Ireland will be granted a two-year extension of bailout terms, meaning forced austerity measures. Make a wild guess who’s not amused about that.

So long.

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Rajoy: We got more funds because we’re good at things

So let me kick this off by saying that I’m not really a soccer kind of person. I mean, I call it ‘soccer’. But over the weekend, as I was watching the game of the century, aka Ireland vs Croatia, I was pretty amused by the amount ofeconomic commentary mixed in with the football talk. Apparently, group C has been renamed the ‘group of debt‘. Personally, I think there should be additional points for fiscal responsibility. Oh wait, Germany just won.

At least Spain is having a good start into the week, having secured buckets full of money on Sunday. Oh happy day. It is important to note that this is the point where nobody will pay attention to the difference between ‘bailout’ and ‘assistance’ anymore. [Up to] €100bn are going to be pumped into Spain’s FROB (Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring), conveniently €60bn more than the IMF’s necessary estimate. If that [and all the other European aid] is accounted for in Spain’s balance sheet, it raises the countries debt to GDP ratio from the reported 68.5% to 146.6%. Whoa. Spain will now face controls by the EU, which also invited the IMF to stick their nose into the country’s financials, but it avoided the sort of policy requirements forced upon Ireland, Portugal and Greece. It remainsunclear which European fund the money will come from. It’s possible that it will come from both the ESM and the EFSF, because that would be the compromise requiring the most amount of work, which seems like the EU’s style.

Obviously, bailing out the banking sector is one thing, but the fears about Spain’s sovereign debt levels remainRajoy framed the whole thing as a victory for Spanish budget management that had prevented a full European bailout of the government, the impossibility of which was not addressed in his statement any further…  read article

The FT’s macroeconomic commentator Gavyn Davies approves and calls the bailout a necessary step forward, before he points out all of the structural issues that won’t get solved by itread article

And then, after everything had calmed down a tad in the morning, Spanish yields exploded again, so here we go,bailout failout.

Greek election countdown, round 2: T-6

And as Greek politicians seems to be just as uncertain of the outcome of these elections as everyone else,Evangelos Venizelos decided to ignore the vote count and just start early on the compromising and coalition building. In a letter to all parties that could potentially secure any votes next weekend, he tries to advocate a unity governmentread article

In yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, George Osborne commented on the European mess, the idea of a banking union and its impact on the UK. He opens saying “We are approaching a moment of truth for the eurozone,” which sure sounds epic, but I think we’re just approaching a moment of decision making under pressure in the eurozone. But his message is clear nonetheless, economic uncertainty belongs on the continent, which the UK is not and won’t ever be part of. Euroskeptics are having a field day. read article

So long.

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Spain is down on its knees, but not officially.

Today seems slow as everyone is still rolling around in the news that came out of China and the US yesterday. Essentially, it’s the same issues as always in the headlines: the push for eurobonds, Merkel’s stubbornness, downgrades and negative forecasts.What else is new?

Well, maybe this: Reuters brings us an exclusive saying that Spain will officially ask for an aid package as “early” as tomorrow. The ‘tomorrow’ bit being the actual news. Both in Madrid and Brussels officials deny ever having spoken of a bailout. A guessing-game that’s left to play is just how much money the EU will pump into Spain’s financial system. The IMF estimated €40bn to be necessary to recapitalize all the banks, Fitch, which just downgraded Spain to BBB with negative outlook, says it would rather be €60-100bn. So there’s that. It also remains to be seen which fund the money would be coming from. The ESM, which will only be fully implemented by July, seems like the better option, because its rule framework is more flexible. But because of the implementation delay, the funding could come out of the EFSF, which requires unanimous consent before throwing money at someone. Hmm. Difficult.

Germany’s response was something along the lines of “Sure we’ll help, we’d never let a man down. But, y’know, we need you to beg first.” That’s kind of weird, because this ‘begging’ also includes agreeing to EU-imposed austerity measures. But because a Spanish bailout would only regard the banking system and not the whole country (sort of), the requirements attached to the agreement would be less harsh as well, yielding the term ‘bailout lite‘.

The most obscure thing in today’s news, however, is probably this: Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg and currently still head of the Eurogroup, said the following in an interview with the Times (or for anyone with a Times subscription, read here):

I have always believed that, in spite of occasional bitterness, the European Union without Britain is no longer the European Union. For strictly national reasons and not out of any continental romanticism, the United Kingdom will become a member of the eurozone.

Excuse me? Continental romanticism? Occasional bitterness? The Brits don’t even believe that they’re geographically part of Europe!

And then there was the catfight on Greek TV yesterday, ending up with the spokesperson of the extremist Golden Dawn party being arrested for attacking two members of parliament (one with water, one with fists). read article/watch video

As for some weekend reading:

– the Economist on the human cost of India’s slowing growth read article

– Adam Smith‘s thoughts on income inequality in the Boston Review read article

– Gillian Tett tackling existentialism in her most bizarrely titled article yet in today’s FT read article

– a pro-inflation infomercial from 1933 America watch video

– how well Iceland is doing post-2008-implosion that the UK and the Netherlands paid for (mostly) read article

– and finally, what we can learn from the breakup of the ruble-zone twenty years ago read article

Have a good weekend!

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You know it’s bad when it impacts the Eurovision Song Contest

The most exciting thing that happened yesterday was Goldman Sachs joining Twitter – for real. The first three tweets regarded an official ‘hello’, shareholder support and the firm’s global sustainability report. Nicest bank out there.

David Cameron‘s ability to learn from public embarrassment seems to be limited. Just about a month after being shunned by European politicians in Brussels, Dave is back on the failhorse, trying to solve the crisis of a currency union his country is not a part of. Moreover, the UK is not exactly known for it’s pro EU statements, so the call for closer integration is a bit off. For this week’s one and only context: the UK is backing the idea of eurobonds as well. read article

All that is angering Mario Draghi of the ECB, who likes his [relative] freedom and independence from the European governments, which would be cut down with every inch of closer fiscal integration. read article

Some Credit Suisse research suggests that Germany spent around €600bn on the euro crisis thus far, which is approximately a quarter of its GDP. Understandable that Angela Merkel wants to keep borrowing at a low cost instead of pooling money via euro bonds.

In Greece, most recently compared to an angsty teenager, the polls show just how confused the country is. While 70%of Greeks allegedly want their country to stay in the eurozone, the party that is trying to accomplish the very opposite (Syriza) is leading the polls with 30%. Time to step back and reconsider? read article

Both Spain and Greece have told their contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest not to win, as the countries don’t have the money to host the event next year:

Perhaps Spain should have taken a lesson from Poland, which isn’t even running this year because holding the European champonships is apparently a headache enough. read article

For some weekend reading, the Economist’s leader advocating “a limited version of federalism [as] a less miserable solution…” Now that just sounds great. On the other hand, like I’ve said before, half-baked is better than not baked at all, right?

Have a good weekend.

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Don’t worry about Europe, it’s all taken care of…

Yesterday’s headline on Reuters was “World leaders back Greece, vow to combat financial turmoil“. Oh that’s nice. So it’s all taken care of then…

The bottom line, however, was the agreement of the G8 that Greece should stay in the eurozoneCameronvoiced his support of a stronger role of the ECB in form of quantitative easing. Obama also tried to get Merkel out of her super austerity position, leading to an agree-to-disagree kind of situation with an official statement reading “the right measures are not the same for each of us.” And then they all watched soccer togetherread article

On Wednesday, an unofficial EU summit will be held (not sure what makes it unofficial, it looks a lot like all the other ones…) to discuss a lot of whens and ifs regarding the size of the European bailout fund (old issue), eurobonds(really old issue) and a lender-of-last-resort kind of role for the ECB (sort of an old issue). Hollande is the one who brought up eurobonds again. Before, Mario Monti of Italy, Mariano Rajoy of Spain and Jose Barroso, president of the European Commission had backed the idea, but had been shot down by Angela Merkel. This might change soon, turning Germany into the odd one outread article

Meanwhile, Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza, played the rationality card in an interview with Reuters, saying

Yes we do want Europe’s support and funding, but we don’t want the money of European taxpayers to be wasted. Two bailouts in a row went into the dustbin, into a bottomless barrel. If this continues we would need a third package in six months. European and their leaders must realise this.

I feel like they do.

It’s all not going so well for Facebook. Yes sure, the company raised $16bn in Friday’s IPO, pushing thecompany’s valuation to $105bn, but the share price only gained 0.6% on the first day, far less than expected. Now, different media sources are debating: was it a failure, or are we getting this all wrong?

And while Mitt Romney is campaigning around the US, his former business partner and biggest campaign donor Edward Conard is busy revolutionizing economic thought: the case for income inequality – from the 0.1% to the 99.9%… read article

So long.

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‘Grexit’ scenario roundup

In the last couple of days and weeks, the news websites around the world have been swamped with scenarios for Greece’ exit from the eurozone, from Europe, from the world. It’s time for a roundup. Your experience [or reality] may differ.

Let’s start with the Wall Street Journal’s four scenarios

Scenario 1: Syriza, the leftististists, wins the election in July, the European bailout program comes to a halt, Greece runs out of money and returns to the drachma. Involuntary austerity all over the place. Scenario 2: No exit, “no austerity”. Greece stops any sort of public spending and the country deteriorates while keeping the euro until there is light at the end of the tunnel. Unlikely to be very popular with the Greek people. Scenario 3: No exit, Syriza doesn’t win the elections, the bailout program is renegotiated, i.e. the EU and the IMF pump more money into Greece. Unlikely to be very popular with the European governments. Scenario 4: Greece sticks to the bailout program, regardless of the government that comes into power in summer. Ha! Oh wait, that wasn’t a joke.

In an interview with WSJ, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said Greece would have to stop paying its creditors if bailout funds would be withheld.

The Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant (article in Dutch) starts by pointing out that Greece is not just like a bankrupt company that can be liquidated. Actually, I’m pretty sure you could find buyers for all those islands and the acropolis… Maybe there’s a plan there. Anyway, the article goes on to argue that if Greece runs out of money, its banks will shut down completely to prevent a full-on bankrun, meaning that debit and credit cards would stop working from one minute to the other, factories would close down, the police force would shrink, there would be a country-wide curfew to prevent riots, gas and coffee would become unavailable. The alternative scenario sees Greece returning to the drachma, while the euro lives happily ever after in the rest of the monetary union. Greece would be demoted to the same status as Hungary, which received structural financial aid form the EU on better terms.

The scenario of German magazine Der Spiegel (article in English) is more dramatic by name: Life or death.

Greece returns to the drachma and gets the same status as Hungary et al. That way, EU members outside the eurozone have to contribute to the financial aid pie as well. While the drachma is redistributed, the country takes a week off from everything, while the police is guarding the delivery process of new money. The switch is flipped and everything changes into the drachma over night at a fixed rate. When they say ‘everything’ , I presume they only mean public spending (pensions etc) and not private contracts. That should be a bit more difficult (and corporate lawyers will make a lot of money off it). The IMF predicts that the Greek economy would contract by up to 10% within the first year before resuming growth. And it better grow fast, because “the last bond held by the ECB matures in 2030.” The devalued drachma would shift the import/export balance in Europe and Tesco olives would suddenly actually be from Greece (fine, they already are, but you get the point). None of this means Greece’s debt burden will decrease as such. Instead more of it is likely to be written off, meaning that more money will vanish.

If Greece returns to the drachma, that will be the point when Europe’s work really begins.

JP Morgan put its scenarios in a flow chart, also found on Alphaville’s roundup of banks’ opinions on the future of the value of the euro. Consensus(ish): a plummeting euro and crazy volatility [which is not a technical term].
As for the costs of an exit, it could amount to €66.4bn for France, €89.8bn for Germany and €19.8bn and €4.5bn for French and German banks respectively, assuming 50% depreciation of the new drachma.

Reuters Breakingviews editor Hugh Dixon writes that Greece was meant to be a special case for an EU bailout in 2010. But then Ireland and Portugal happened and governments started falling all over the place. So why would Greece remain the only country leaving the monetary union? What would happend to the other troubled countries? The panacea: the European bailout funds EFSF and ESM, provided the IMF chips in more money to actually make them big enough to make a difference.

Nouriel Roubini, who saw it all coming long long before it was actually coming (…), sees an exit as the only viable option. The alternatives: devaluation of the euro, retarded amounts of quantitative easing, reduction of unit labor costs, internal devaluation. All of this kind of leads back to the question how you devalue parts of a currency. As for the exit, Greece’s balance sheet would we absolutely out of control and many European financial institutions would lose a lot of money. Greece would return to the drachma and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) would provide money to recapitalize the banks. The bottom line: the exit is necessary, despite how painful it may be.

Martin Wolf of the FT points out that while 80% of Greeks want to keep the euro, its the politicians just don’t get their shit together. And then some inductive reasoning:

A departure would create severe dangers. The danger of contagion is obvious. The long-run danger is more subtle. But the eurozone either is an irrevocable currency union or it is not. If countries in difficulty leave, it is not. It is then an exceptionally rigid fixed-currency system. That would have two dire results: people would not trust in its survival and the economic benefits of the single currency would largely disappear.

In public appearances yesterday, both Mario Draghi and David Cameron (less clearly) stressed that they don’t want to see Greece leaving the eurozone. Having said that, they are running out of patience – something everybody’s really short on in Europe.
Do we know more now? We certainly do. Nonetheless it isn’t really clear what is going to happen. It looks like Greece will exit the euro. It probably should, disregarding the non-existence of an exit clause. It probably should have already done it over Christmas. Needless to say, this won’t be pretty, but what’s the world to do? The political turmoil that all of Europe is finding itself in these days is likely to continue until economic growth is restored, whenever that may be…

Have a good weekend.

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Welcome back to crisis-land

Returning to London after a week of absence from European drama and the news around it is like coming back to watching a TV show after missing four episodes: The plot is still kind of the same but there’s a general “wait, what?!” feeling to it and someone has a new haircut. So here we go…

The eurogroup is getting together in lovely Copenhagen today, a city that is known to for its decisive and meaningful political gatherings ever since the climate summit in 2009… Anyway, the finance ministers decided to increase the lending capacities of Europe’s numerous funds and mechanisms, the EFSF, ESM and EFSM. Here is the official statement. An increase in fire power could lead to more commitments from the IMF, which will be necessary when Spain decides to blow up completely.

Speaking of which, it’s budget day in Spain today. Unsurprisingly, there will be more austerity measures, which could push the country in a deeper recessionBloomberg says it’s the most austere budget since the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1978. More details to the budget will be released in the afternoon.

Otherwise, German unemployment figures showed a new post-reunification low yesterday. The seasonally adjusted number of people out of work reads 2.84 million, or 6.7%read article

On the other side of the pond, US unemployment claims fell to their lowest rate since April 2008, boosting consumer confidence. The overall unemployment rate is 8.3%read article

The UK saw a sudden and somewhat unexpected 1% drop in house prices in March (according to Nationwide according to Reuters), marking the largest price decrease in the past two years. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, house prices in the UK have dropped by 20%, central London being the exception to the rule. One Hyde Park is the most expensive residential development in the UK, and one of the most expensive in the world.

Related: the Economist’s global house price indicator, a comparative interactive infographic of house prices and rents. see chart 

Have a good weekend!

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