Is the Candy indicator swinging our way?

When the financial crisis first kicked off, and house prices were falling on every single measure, people often asked us how we would know when the property market hit bottom.

On the statistical side, it’s all about affordability and yields (see James Ferguson’s last cover story on this: Don’t be fooled – house prices will fall again). But we used to answer that there would be a few more colourful signs of the market doing its worst as well. I wrote here that we would know we were at the beginning of the end when Dubai had turned from luxury holiday destination into semi-slum, and the Candy brothers, the media darling developers of overdesigned and over-priced homes for the super-rich, had gone bust.

We’re clearly getting there with Dubai. But what of Nick and Christian Candy? According to The Telegraph, they are now finally “feeling the pinch.” Via one of their companies (CPC) they have had to give up an eight-acre site in Beverly Hills that was to have been home to a luxury apartment development after their consortium defaulted on its $365.5m loan. The site goes to the highest bidder (assuming there are any) at auction on Thursday.

They’re also in the middle of a nasty court battle with their ex-partners (Qatari Diar) over the £3bn Chelsea Barracks project, and 2008 saw the collapse of their NoHo Square project in London’s West End. We’ve also heard very little of their new projects recently. In 2008, Nick Candy mentioned a plan for a Candy & Candy store where you would be able to buy a “nice selection of candles”. No sign of those (for which I suppose we should be grateful). And only a few months ago there was to be a residential property investment fund (the Candy & Candy Growth Fund). No more. According to Smith & Williamson, who were to be their partners in this one, pre-marketing for the fund has stopped, thanks to the fact that the recent rise in London house prices makes the “growth” bit look unlikely.

Look at their website and you’ll also see that even their magazine (Candid…) doesn’t seem to have been published since spring 2009. Or if it has, it hasn’t made it on to the website. Also of mild interest to the nosey might be the fact that the website lists two apartments at the duo’s first major development – 21 Chesham Place – for sale. There were originally six apartments, four of which were apparently sold, and two of which, Nick Candy told London’s Evening Standard in 2008, had been transferred to his brother for the simple reason that they were such “good long-term investments for the family.”

Hmmmm. A spokesman for Candy & Candy told The Telegraph that all the Candy’s companies are in “great shape”. Maybe they are. But given that they aren’t generating quite the volumes of good news that they were, we can’t help wondering if the “Candy indicator” might soon start swinging in a bearish direction. Add that to all the statistical evidence (tight bank lending, historically high affordability ratios, and so on) and it is absolutely impossible to believe that the next dip in house prices is far off.