Another classic property U-turn from the Government

Home Information Packs have now been delayed until the beginning of August. Could it be that Gordon Brown wants to delay any disruption to the housing bubble until after he becomes PM? asks John Stepek.

This feature is part of our FREE daily Money Morning email. If you'd like to sign up, please click here: sign up for Money Morning

The Government has once again shown that, if you're looking for someone to organise a booze-up in a brewery, they're not the ones to call.

Home Information Packs, which until yesterday were going to be compulsory components of any house sale from the start of next month, have been delayed until the beginning of August.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Not just that, but now they'll only apply to houses with four bedrooms or more.

Unfortunately, the Government doesn't even know exactly how you define a four-bed roomed house

The chaos over Home Information Packs is probably even more pronounced than that surrounding the Government's last major property U-turn. Last time, Gordon Brown gave the property and pensions industry roughly three months notice that he wouldn't be allowing residential property to be put into Sipps after all. The changes in HIPs come less than a fortnight before they were meant to begin.

HIPs will now be delayed until the start of August, and will only apply to houses with four or more bedrooms. As the gleeful Conservative party pointed out, there will be "further chaos" if estate agents and house-sellers attempt to avoid the £300 to £600 cost of a HIP "by describing a fourth bedroom as a study or boxroom," said The Telegraph.

We can't say we were ever a big fan of the idea of HIPs. Yes, it seems sensible to have all the information you need at your fingertips when a house goes on sale - avoiding all that hassle of getting surveys, land searches, and all the rest of it.

But the reality is that no buyer was going to trust a survey commissioned by the seller. And by transferring the hassle, confusion and upfront costs to the seller, it did run the risk of causing at least a temporary dry-up in supply as people adjusted to the new regime.

It all goes to show, yet again, that if you want to make a less-than-ideal situation much worse, simply add a dollop of Government regulation.

There were suspicions that perhaps Gordon Brown had been behind the U-turn - uncomfortable with the idea that the all-important housing market bubble, which has propped up and funded his chancellorship for the past 10 years, might be disrupted at the same time as his coronation was taking place.

Mr Brown's right to be worried about the UK housing market - but we don't think the scrapping of HIPs will prevent the tougher times ahead. And things don't look great on the commercial property side either.

Earlier this month, Land Securities chief executive, Francis Salway, called the top of the UK commercial property market, saying that some of the group's properties particularly in retail warehousing - were actually less valuable than last year. "This is a big deal. We have had four years when everything was going up."

And The Telegraph quotes industrial site group Segro (formerly Slough Estates) as saying that: "The stable yield environment in the UK will make it hard to deliver the same level of total returns in 2007."

Even so, rival British Land is to go ahead with building the 47-storey, £286m, Leadenhall Building in the City. Chief executive Stephen Hester said: "The London market is being driven by the international business sector and the success of the UK's service industries, which are expected to continue bringing employment and a demand for the type of space we offer - modern open-plan floors. These businesses don't want grotty 19th century conversions."

Well, they don't now, Stephen. But wait until times get tougher and they realise that you can run a call centre in a "grotty 19th century conversion" just as easily and a lot cheaper than in a lovely big vanity project skyscraper.

The building is to be completed by 2011 - but we'd be very surprised if we're living in the same ultra-forgiving, money-flooded environment by then.

Turning to the stock markets

Enjoying this article? Why not sign up to receive Money Morning FREE every weekday? Just click here: FREE daily Money Morning email.

In London, the FTSE 100 fell 30 points to close at 6,606 as a weak start on Wall Street weighed. Despite announcing a huge rise in profits, Marks & Spencer was the day's biggest casualty as income failed to match market expectations. Meanwhile, BT rose over 3% as bid talk surrounding the telecoms stock persisted. For a full market report, see: London market close.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Paris CAC-40 ended the day 4 points lower, at 6,089. However, in Frankfurt, the DAX-30 added 36 points to end the day at 7,659 as Deutsche Telekom and SAP surged on bid speculation.

Across the Atlantic, US stocks closed mixed as the market searched for direction. The Nasdaq hit a six-year high, adding 9 points to end the day at 2,588. Having spent the day veering between positive and negative territory, the Dow Jones closed 2 points lower, at 13,539. And the S&P 500 was a fraction of a point lower, at 1,524.

In Asia, the Nikkei climbed 148 points to close at 17,705 today with the banking sector providing support.

Crude oil was higher at $65.70 this morning and Brent spot was at $69.90 in London.

Spot gold was little-changed at $659.00 this morning, likewise silver at $12.91.

In the foreign exchange market, the pound was at 1.9728 against the dollar and 1.4696 against the euro. And the dollar had fallen to 0.7447 against the euro and 121.81 against the Japanese yen.

And in London this morning, Tate & Lyle shares fell by as much as 7.5% following a downbeat statement from the sugar and sweetener producer. The company announced a 14% rise in pre-tax profits to £336m in the year just ended, but warned of further costs related to its sweetener, Splenda, sales of which were 'disappointing' last year.

And our two recommended articles for today...

Which stocks will benefit from another scorching summer?

- The UK's changing climate is having a marked impact on retail and leisure stocks. If this summer sees a repeat of last year's high temperatures, it will be barbeque-sellers and the makers of Magners cider who win out again. But what about the companies losing out due to changing spending patterns and poor planning? For more on the winners and losers of Britain's changing weather, read: The stocks set to benefit from another scorching summer.

Why you should join the new scramble for Africa

- Africa is widely perceived as poor and corrupt - hardly a great investment opportunity. But appearances can be deceptive. Find out why - and where - you should put your money in Africa now by reading this MoneyWeek cover story, just available to non-subscribers: Why you should join the new scarmble for Africa.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.