Are the hands of your watch moving as slowly as mine? And pure irony, isn’t it – as soon as Boris tells us to stay at home, it stops raining and out comes the sun?!

The vast majority of us are adjusting to home working and getting on with ‘social distancing’. Those businesses that are allowed to work as ‘normal’ are getting on with that too. Except the construction industry has come under intense fire for keeping building sites open. At the beginning of the week, the media’s attention was focused primarily – if not wholly – on London. Candid shots of a crowded Tube and big, tight construction sites in the Capital’s centre featured high on news editors’ agendas alongside calls from the London Mayor and Scotland’s First Minister to halt construction altogether.

Thankfully, the Government has held its nerve, for now at least, and hundreds, if not thousands, of SME housebuilders are continuing to do their level best to keep the home fires burning. And with safety at the top of the agenda.  We’re going to come through this some time in the not too distant future and in the meantime it’s imperative that we fight hard to keep as much of the economy going as is humanly possible. The point is made very persuasively here by Jamie Blackett of the Telegraph. Those keyboard warriors who have been sniping at small builders would be better off directing their ire at the hordes of ‘long distancing’ walkers descending en masse to the same locations and the parents who allow their kids to roam unchecked. They are the ones posing a real danger to everyone else’s efforts to #flattenthecurve.

Some of the national housebuilders have stopped building but there’s a suspicion the shutdown is more to do with the ability to sell finished product during a lock down than the working practices on site. The Construction Leadership Council is all over the latter like a rash. It, and other professional bodies, have circulated comprehensive site operating procedures. Certainly, all the contractors on sites we are funding are on the ball. Site meetings are virtual, hosted on Skype or Teams or Zoom with monitoring surveyors conducting site visits outside normal construction hours. It’s sensible, measured, meets Government guidelines and is safe. There is certainly no more risk than doing the the supermarket shop.

This Insider article about a regional housebuilder serves as a fine counterpoint to the stance being adopted by some of the nationals as reported in Property Week. By the way, access to Property Week online is now free until 19th April in case you want to read more.

Disappointingly, some of our borrowers are reporting difficulties with the supply chain. Builders’ merchants and timber factories going into lockdown isn’t helping and will only serve to push out build programmes. We’ve reviewed and remodelled all our deals to take this into account.

I’m going to finish this blog with a link to someone else’s on the basis it’s good to finish with something more upbeat. Earlier this month, Savills revisited the housing market forecasts they penned in November last year, concluding that market fundamentals continue to underpin their medium term view. They subsequently published further coronavirus opinion after the lockdown in which they expect short term price falls in the order 5% – 10%. You can read more here.

Oh, and anecdotally, it’s interesting to note that since this kicked off, we’ve had just one investor looking to sell a loan participation in our Secondary Market (that’s a rare event given most choose to stay in for the whole ride). It was posted late yesterday and went under offer this morning. Make of that what you will, but I think it’s a strong sign of underlying confidence.

Stay safe.

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CapitalStackers is authorised and regulated by the FCA. Investment through CapitalStackers involves lending to property developers and investors. Your capital is at risk. Investments through this and other peer to peer lending platforms are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Unless otherwise stated, returns quoted are annualised and gross of tax.
Call us on: Office: 0161 979 0812 | Steve: 07774 718947 | Sylvia: 07464 806477

Total transparency has always been a core function to us at CapitalStackers, but in the current climate, just like handwashing, this element of normal housekeeping takes on critical importance.

We’re fully aware that our investors will be looking to us to keep them informed as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds. Of course, detailed information has always been available in the individual deal rooms on the platform. But for those investors who may not go looking for this, there’s a chance they could miss important information.

So to be clear, we’ll be reporting even more regularly to you – both in general terms, and on a deal-by-deal basis. We’ll give you all possible detail on how conditions on the ground are affecting the specific projects that you’ve invested in.

Clearly, we can’t predict how things will pan out, but by continuing to give you regular, exhaustive progress reports on each project – both from the borrower, and from the independent surveyor – we hope to give you all the information you need to assess the ongoing safety of your investments.

If you’re investing through a pooled platform – across a variety of consumer and SME loans – your capital is more likely be affected in the immediate to short-term. If you’re able to, you might want to withdraw your funds quickly because the situation is volatile and information hard to come by, but this may no longer be possible.

On the other hand, when you lend direct on a property development scheme through CapitalStackers, the situation is going to be played out over a longer term (excepting projects where completion is imminent), so the need to move quickly is not quite so crucial.

Of course, you’ll want to keep a closer eye on the situation – but you’ll also have an ongoing, detailed rundown of every key element of the investment. As we say, this is available on the platform at all times, but over the coming months we’ll go further and interpret it more frequently so that you don’t miss a thing.

And while the current situation could never have been foreseen, our standard due diligence builds in some fairly significant downsides for every scheme because we have always felt it prudent to do so. This, therefore, leaves you a fair amount of headroom before the virus infects your capital.

For instance, if we’re (collectively) lending within our typical range up to a maximum 75% Loan-to-Value including interest, this means the sale price will have to fall by more than 25% from the appraised valuation before your capital is affected. However – this is also after we’ve allowed for potential construction delays, cost overruns and deferred sales.

That’s quite a lot of breathing time.

Then again, we’re not rejecting the possibility that property values could be hit hard in the coming months, but as you’d expect, we’ve considered this in our risk analysis too.

And without doubt, the most important thing you want to know right now is how all this could impact our deals, and your investments. We’re going to try to answer this question here, but please be aware that the answer will extend and adapt as the situation does.

 

What could the effects be?

This is new territory for everyone. The whole world has changed and seemingly changes again every time the sun comes up. Accurate prediction is nigh on impossible but here are our best conjectures about the immediate impact:

Project periods may need to be extended because:

  • Skilled labour supply might be reduced;
  • The supply chain could be interrupted;
  • Utility companies may decrease output or even go into self-imposed lockdown;
  • A blanket lock down on all sites could be imposed by the Government if on-site working practices on some sites fail to adhere to safe distancing rules.
  • Projects nearing completion will certainly be impacted by the current general lockdown. If people can’t view, they won’t be able to buy and so selling periods will become protracted.

We can expect longer construction periods to lead to increased costs and higher interest accrued through longer-than-anticipated loan terms.

In addition to the above, property values may fall due to a weaker economy.

These factors will eat into the profit margin and push up the Loan-to-Value ratio.

 

So what are we doing about it?

In short, we’re going through our daily downside sensitivity routine, but on steroids. We’re appraising each deal in the context of where it is now, assessing the possibility of a total construction lockdown, evaluating delays to construction and sales with interest continuing to roll up.

Through this exercise, we’re able to give you a progressive insight into how much values could fall before you are on risk.

Although the situation is unprecedented, we’re also able to draw from historical examples in our modelling, and this gives us some cause for optimism.

The last massive interruption to the market came in 2008 when the banking sector imploded and liquidity almost completely dried up. As you can see from the chart below, the market fell less than 20% in the eighteen months from the peak in September 2007 to the trough of March 2009. This, of course, is less than the minimum 25% headroom all CapitalStackers deals allow for.

Financial hygiene is even more important during the COVID-19 crisis

The banking sector at that time was less robust than it is now. Some banks collapsed, others simply pulled out – leaving the property sector in the lurch. It took a long time for the market to get back to where it was.

Today, banks have better capital ratios and their real estate exposure is significantly more conservative. The expectation and likelihood is that they will remain supportive while the market repairs itself, and that the repair should be quicker and more stable than last time.

So to summarise, as always, we’re maintaining close contact with our borrowers, senior debt providers, monitoring surveyors and estate agents – but everyone is on high alert and we’re fully aware of the increased importance of full and detailed information.

And as ever, we’re making ourselves fully available to investors. You’re used to that, of course, but now, more than ever, if you want to discuss the outlook either generally or specific to any deal, you’re welcome to call us at any time. Our contact numbers are below.

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CapitalStackers is authorised and regulated by the FCA. Investment through CapitalStackers involves lending to property developers and investors. Your capital is at risk. Investments through this and other peer to peer lending platforms are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Unless otherwise stated, returns quoted are annualised and gross of tax.
Call us on: Office: 0161 979 0812 | Steve: 07774 718947 | Sylvia: 07464 806477

We’re delighted to add a new layer of transparency on the CapitalStackers website.

On the new “Portfolio Statistics” page, members can find answers to general questions, such as how much cash we’ve raised in total through our investors, how much has been provided by banks and what the average investment is.

But it also allows them to browse through enlightening performance stats such as

  • Highest and lowest investor returns
  • Average return
  • Repayment performance
  • Risk and reward

Along with useful background information to explain any anomalies or unusual variations.

You may ask why we haven’t done this before. The simple answer is, until recently we haven’t had sufficient data. However, having reached the significant milestone of £60 million funding raised (that’s £45 million through banks and the rest through you) we feel the sample size is now robust enough to give you a meaningful set of statistics.

We’d like to take a moment to thank our investors and appreciate what a huge achievement they’ve helped to make possible – behind every statistic there is a viable, successful building project that would never have got off the drawing board if it weren’t for their collective support.

So now’s finally the time to stop hiding our light under the bushel.

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CapitalStackers is authorised and regulated by the FCA. Investment through CapitalStackers involves lending to property developers and investors. Your capital is at risk. Investments through this and other peer to peer lending platforms are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Unless otherwise stated, returns quoted are annualised and gross of tax.
Call us on: Office: 0161 979 0812 | Steve: 07774 718947 | Sylvia: 07464 806477

If the recent, much publicised collapse of Lendy and FundingSecure has horrified you – and if it hasn’t, please don’t bother with our Investor Appropriateness Test – then spare a thought for the hapless investors of Estonia. The regulatory landscape in the former Soviet territory makes the Wild West look like Disneyland.

Increased scrutiny in the latter half of 2019 seems to have accelerated investors’ woes, with particular attention being drawn to two platforms – Kuetzal and Envestio.

Kuetzal’s management appears to be so bad it’s almost a parody. In December, Explore P2P reported that Kuetzal seemed to have lent €850,000 to a “fake” petroleum company with one employee and no trading history, most of whose website text seemed to have been copied and pasted from that of a Russian petrogiant.

It doesn’t take a particularly sophisticated investor to ask the question, “Where was the due diligence?” But that of course depends on whether there’s anyone to ask. The CEO, Maksims Reutovs, is a 24 year old former semi-pro tennis player and junior bank employee, who appears to have learned what he knows about the Estonian finance industry from his residence in Barcelona.

Those concerned about his commute, or how often Mr Reutovs is seen in the office, will not be reassured to learn that the answer is never. Because there isn’t one. The “office” photos are CGI images lifted from stock sites.

Fortunately, Mr. Reutovs’ staff don’t miss him, because there aren’t any of those either. Neither does his boss seem to be too concerned about his whereabouts, since he doesn’t actually have a contract of employment. Nor does he even appear to know who his boss is. Mr. Reutovs recently admitted he didn’t even know the full name of the owner, and had only had contact with the latter’s 29 year old wife. To whom he is not actually married.

And anyway, the CEO might be advised not to ask too many questions, since he only got the job after his predecessor and most of his family mysteriously disappeared.

Investigations by a vigilante group of investors have unearthed suspicions that the owner may be the convicted money launderer, Andrei Korobeiko, who coincidentally lives at the registered address of the company. Or it may be Eugene Koshakov, who apparently became the CEO of AA Development, the company that received Kuetzal’s biggest loan the day before the loan went live. Or it could be 24 year old Alberts Cevers, the previous CEO, who is, by coincidence, married to Evelina Cevers, who is listed as the official founder of AA Development…

Anyway, having almost found the owner, the question “where is the due diligence?” can be answered. There isn’t any. The company recently issued new terms and conditions to investors saying, ‘The Portal operator does not perform any due diligence of the borrower or project’.

So you’ll be getting the impression that transparency at Kuetzal is on the murky side of opaque. This state of affairs has led a particularly sharp-eyed official at their bank to freeze their accounts, citing money laundering issues. Not much gets past those Estonian bankers. Well, okay, a lot gets past them, but show them a made-up company with no offices, no staff, no contracts, no due diligence and no links to the owner and they’ll rumble the whole thing within…er…months.

For the last few months of 2019, Kuetzal maintained that it was still paying its investors out. However, how it was doing this without a bank account is yet another Estonian mystery.

Nevertheless, this charmed existence finally had to come to an end and on 12th January, Kuetzal closed its doors, owing millions to investors – citing “attacks” on its reputation, its bank accounts, and whatever else it could think of.

So the question must be asked – how can a P2P site have liquidity problems? In the UK, Investor funds are held in trust in a separate, protected bank account. If you want your money back, you simply request it, or if it’s already invested your loans at least have a value and you can seek to sell them on the secondary market.

But that’s not how Kuetzal and others conducted their business. They promised that for a small fee, you could cash out at any time. Which would be wonderful if they had any cash reserves, which they didn’t. And so faced with a situation when all the investors smelt a rat at the same time and headed for the exit, the company was found without its trousers.

The day Kuetzal claimed to be the victim of those “attacks” happened to be the day after they’d defaulted on a commitment to return funds to investors within 5 working days. The last lucky investor to get his money out of the tombola did so on 12th January 2020. So we’d suggest, although we can’t be sure, that these “attacks” were a smokescreen.

We’d like to say this is an isolated case, but we can’t. Another Estonian P2P scam platform, Envestio, shut down last week, having only launched in 2018 and holding €33m (£27.9m) of lender funds which would appear to have disappeared into thin air. Those with a strong stomach can google the details. A good place to start is here.

Now, while horror stories like this make the likes of Lendy and FundingSecure seem like angels, they in no way excuse their practices. But they serve, we hope, as a reminder to us all as investors to do our homework. We should all, before pledging a penny, be checking those vital questions: Who are the management? Where are they? What’s their area of expertise? What’s their track record? And most important of all – how transparent are they? Do you get regular, in-depth and consistent reporting, with independent corroboration? If the answer is no to any of these, sit on your hands.

And it’s also one good reason why Brexit is a good thing, for P2P at least. The EU has, in its schizophrenic wisdom, left financial regulation to its individual member states, in general allowed cross-border platforms to “opt-in” to licensing under European Crowdfunding Service Provider (ECSP) regulation, or to simply register in the country of their choice.

Given that roughly eleven countries have shown any application in this matter at all (Britain, France, Belgium and Germany proving the strictest, the Nordics wavering between very strict and “light touch” approaches and the rest of the member states on a sliding scale from partial regulation to absolute chaos), this opens the door to those operating across borders to pick their country in the way that pirate ships used to operate under flags of convenience (and I use the former term advisedly). They can effectively hurdle entry barriers and sidestep any form of governance, credit assessment, money handling, disclosure and complaints handling standards.

So whereas UK platforms seeking an FCA licence must subject themselves to the rubber glove treatment for many months – and rightly so – countries like Lithuania promise “fast, easy licensing” with a view to being up and running “within 30 days”. It beggars belief.

This is what leads to horror stories like those above. Without strict regulation, we invite unsavoury types to use P2P as a magnet industry for developing scams. If the EU allows platforms to solicit investments without appropriate regulation, who knows how many Kuetzals and Envestios there are? Until it’s too late.

We continue to support the FCA in weeding out the bad actors in the UK. However, we’re also confident that as the Lendys and FundingSecures fall by the wayside – and the new, tighter regulations squeeze out others – the FCA is getting it right.

And as long as we do get it right, P2P is a valuable and powerful cog in the world’s financial engine. So we hope the UK can continue to lead the way in financial product innovation and regulation, and carry a torch and set the standards for the rest of Europe to adopt.

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CapitalStackers is authorised and regulated by the FCA. Investment through CapitalStackers involves lending to property developers and investors. Your capital is at risk. Investments through this and other peer to peer lending platforms are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Unless otherwise stated, returns quoted are annualised and gross of tax.
Call us on: Office: 0161 979 0812 | Steve: 07774 718947 | Sylvia: 07464 806477