Richard Branson and Other British Billionaires Lose Big in Brexit
London’s billionaire class was caught off-guard by the Brexit vote. Now the super rich are taking a beating as property values slide and stock markets tank.
If you think it’s been a bad week for Britain, it’s been a truly terrible week for British billionaires, as the economic fallout from the shock result of the Brexit referendum continues to rain down upon the green and pleasant land.
The London stock market has tanked, losing some 5 percent of its value since the British people voted to leave the European Union, but compounding and amplifying that loss is the 10 percent collapse in the value of sterling to a 31-year low.
As the British stock market is denominated in pounds, that means foreign investors have seen the value of their investments drop by close to 15 percent over the weekend; a million-dollar stake in the British stock market on Thursday last week is valued at about $850,000 today.
One of the biggest British losers is Richard Branson—the tycoon’s Virgin brand has lost over a third of its value as investors fret about the diminished prospects for air travel.
Another billionaire stock market casualty is Peter Hargreaves, the founder of financial advice firm Hargreaves Lansdown. He told the Daily Mail that the shares he owns have lost around £400 million in value since the unexpected result of the referendum—but as the biggest individual donor to the Leave campaign, having given £3.2 million to the cause, there will be few tears shed on Hargreaves’ behalf.
The overheated London property market—especially the prime and super-prime sectors—which had been slowing for over a year, is a whole separate car crash.
Britain’s biggest London estate agent, Foxtons, has seen its share price plummet by 25 percent since the result of the vote was announced.
Guy Grainger CEO of property firm JLL told The Daily Beast via email: “We are now in a period of pronounced uncertainty. Even if it is effectively ‘business as usual’ for the U.K. in terms of trade and legislation until 2018, such a major change will inevitably create uncertainty in the real-estate markets.”
In the event of a well-managed exit these impacts will be largely confined to the next two years, Grainger said, adding, “Investor sentiment may also remain subdued in the short to medium term, although a drop in sterling may provide a moment in time for some opportunistic international investors.
“For property markets, the initial correction may be most severe but should be followed by an upturn as opportunities re-emerge in U.K. core markets and benefits of weak sterling are recognized. Sentiment and relative pricing will be key.”
“Brexit means different things to different people, and everybody I have spoken to is trying to work out what it means to them,” says Roarie Scarisbrick of super prime property consultants Property Vision. “There’s a 50/50 split between clients who are worried, and putting everything on hold, and an equal number who want to rev it up, who see this as an opportunity to step-up their exposure while leveraging the currency advantage.”
Other agents are less sanguine: “The market was already tricky, but it’s basically ground to a complete halt now,” says one, “Every time the phone rings it’s another deal falling through.”
Scarisbrick argues, however, that at the very high end of the market—and his company deals primarily with assets above £2m—such volatility is less of an issue, telling The Daily Beast: “Realistically, you have needed a pretty damn good reason to buy in the London market over the past year, and people who still need to buy still need to buy. There is not going to be a sudden rush of people looking to sell because who wants to be sitting on a huge pile of sterling right now? How it will pan out over the next year, of course, no-one knows. But I suspect that we will see further decoupling of the super-prime market from the rest of the market.”
In general, the mega-rich have been burned but they seem to share, ultimately, Scarisbrick’s sense that it will all shake out OK in the end.
“The EU is the master of fudging together deals, and it seems incredible they won’t find a way to fudge this somehow,” says one multi-millionaire and professional investor, “Yes, we’re down a fortune on paper today. But it will come good. And stock-wise it’s the best buying opportunity in ten years. I’m just buying yield. You can buy 8-9 percent yield on FTSE-100 blue chips today. That’s bonkers.”
Anguish at the collapse in London prices is not universal. As Tina Brown noted in an essay for the Daily Beast this week, old British money is rather relieved by the prospect of a drop: “If we get Brexit we’ll be able to buy something for the grandchildren,” was a common refrain among the upper classes as the vote approached, she notes.
That may be so, but the glummest rich people in London right now are those with expensive houses on the market. One friend who has had an empty house on for sale at £1.4m for several months says, “We couldn’t sell it before Brexit. Now, we’re thinking we might as well put it on airbnb.”