Financial crunch hurting British NRIs (Diaspora Watch)

October 30th, 2008 - 11:52 am ICT by IANS  

The global financial crisis in Britain is hurting most NRIs but helping the super rich. The rise in inflation following the oil price rise of the last few months has increased grocery bills of most working and middle class Indians, as for everyone else. Coupled with the rise in fuel costs, resulting in higher prices for most goods with a high transportation element, the effect has been devastating.Mahesh Shah, an office worker, said that a few months ago his family spent 20 pounds on groceries every month but now he spends 50 pounds. So, he has had to cut down on certain items. With the petrol price increase, his monthly budget has become difficult to balance, he added.

Moving up the income ladder, middle class British Indians have to think twice about their annual holidays, eating out in restaurants and on impulsive buying - from garments to home appliances. Instalments on their big, fancy cars are difficult to manage. Seeing the large number of big cars on the roads as compared to just five years ago, it seems that every Indian here is driving a Mercedes.

The mystery was solved when a friend explained that new or old cars are sold on hire-purchase at zero interest and in some cases one can start the instalments after one or two years. So, many youngsters get a big car as soon as they get their first job to make a statement that they have arrived.

“Don’t be fooled by these big cars being driven by these young people; almost all of them are on hire-purchase at zero interest,” the friend said.

The most threatening issue concerns the safety of their savings in banks. For the last two weeks, anyone with savings in a bank was very worried about their security. When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an announcement that all savings up to 35,000 pounds would be secure, they heaved a sigh of relief. But what happens if one’s savings were more?

So, large amounts of savings have shifted from British banks to Irish banks in the past few days since the Irish banks guaranteed all depositors full security for any amount. Some cautious savers have moved their nest eggs to the Post Office. The British bankers were not amused and have been pressurising their government for creating a level playing field with Irish banks.

In stocks, investors have lost heavily. A typical case is of a middle class worker who bought stocks in the company she worked at just over three pounds a few years ago. At one time, during the bull run, this stock was valued at over eight pounds but now it has plummeted to just over one pound. It will be a long time before the market bounced back to her purchase price, she sighed.

For the rich and super rich Indians, and indeed anyone else, this is a time to go hunting for stock bargains and also prime property at rock bottom prices. Mortgages on new homes are out of question - what with the current global crisis caused in the first place by home loans. Plenty of homes display ‘FOR SALE’ signboards due to non-payment of mortgage instalments.

Only the cash rich can afford to buy stocks during a bear run. Again, the cash rich can drive rock bottom bargains for top properties. When a new building with posh flats was announced in South London, the asking price was a quarter of a million pounds per flat. Now the same flats have hardly any takers at 150,000 pounds but those with ready cash can snap them at even lower prices.

“Yes, I bought a small property,” my friend A. B. Patel confided. “Since I did not require any mortgage, the price was very, very reasonable and in four years, when the 2012 Olympics are held here, the property prices will rocket up.”

Another well-heeled NRI said he was waiting for another three months when the property prices go down further. “First, the prices levelled out, now they moving down and will go down more as we are not out of the crisis as yet.”

The big fish drive bigger deals at better - read lower - prices. Prime property in the heart of London is being snapped up by wealthy Arab investors. As their oil revenues shot up by four times when the price of an oil barrel touched and crossed $100, they suddenly had so much cash and their fist reaction was to snap up property in the West. The financial crisis had weakened real estate prices and so the big hunters moved fast and big properties have changed and are changing hands.

Many Indians here ask the same question: “Is this global crunch also hurting people in India? Are you better off in India?” Despite their tough times, their hearts beat for India.

(Kul Bhushan can be contacted at

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