The Strategist

On the threshold of a financial storm: What does the Skyscraper Index tell?

08/09/2018 - 06:44

If you believe the Skyscraper Index, then a major financial crisis will occur in the next two years. In 2020 Saudi Arabia is completing construction of the world's tallest building, the Jeddah Tower.

For the first time, the skyscraper index was introduced in 1999 by Andrew Lawrence, an employee of the Hong Kong branch of the international investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. Having carefully studying the 100-year history of financial crises and timing of construction of skyscrapers, he concluded that the years of construction of the highest buildings at that time precede years of large-scale economic shocks in the world.

The fact is that erection of grandiose, and therefore very expensive structures occurs at the peak of the conjuncture cycle or just before reaching the highest point of the economic cycle. In other words, skyscrapers are a sign of an economic boom.

Construction of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building was commenced before the Black Thursday in 1929. The towers of the World Trade Center were built during the oil crisis of 1973 and the subsequent exchange crisis.

As for the Jeddah tower, the "first stone" of its foundation was laid on May 22, 2013, and ground construction began in September 2014. Even then, analysts had doubts that the skyscraper, which is more than one-kilometer-high (1007 meters to be precise), would receive the necessary funding, given the difficult financial situation of Saudi Arabia. Mega-building at the initial stage was estimated at 4.6 billion riyals ($ 1.3 billion).

Originally it was announced that the Jeddah Tower would be commissioned in 2018. Then the date of delivery was postponed to 2019. Today it is already 2020. Completion usually means that the skyscraper is completely built (almost all interior finishing is completed) and its tenants can move in.

However, many doubt that the skyscraper will open its doors in two years. At present, the construction has slowed down sharply. At that, long delays and a backlog of the schedule have occurred many times in the past.

The reason for the current delay was the fact that two key players of the project - the head of the construction company Jeddah Tower Bin Laden Group Bakr bin Laden and the well-known investor Prince of Saudi Arabia Al Waleed bin Talal - were detained as part of a large anti-corruption campaign of the kingdom. They are among a large group of high-ranking Saudi officials, and the billionaires have been detained for several months in one of the elite hotels in Riyadh.

It is believed that the condition for release is the transfer of most of their capitals to the government. Obviously, this jeopardizes completion of the project.

So far, it is difficult to say when the active construction of the Jeddah tower will resume and in what year the ribbon at the skyscraper will be cut. All this is extremely important, given the state of fundamental and opposite indicators. For example, the yield curve is more flat than ever, and bullish sentiment for stocks is very high, notes the information portal

In the absence of a true signal, the economist Mark Thornton of the Mises Institute recently announced a "skyscraper warning". In other words, the economic crisis can occur before 2020, even if the true signal does not manifest itself for two or more years.