Four years ago, with a generous bonus, Gary paid pounds 200,000 in cash for a two-bedroom terraced house in Clapham, south London. "People buying for cash in a 'desirable' area have an impact on prices," said the Halifax's Ian Beggs. "These people don't have the noose of a mortgage around their necks if they lose their jobs and if they are merely having cracking salaries downgraded to comfortable wages, it will not affect the market." The Halifax believes house prices are more sustainable, rising in London by 11.8 per cent a year and 3.2 per cent in the quarter to June, and the company is confident the negative equity of 1989 and 1992 will not recur. They say it remains a seller's market for property of pounds 170,000 or more. Loft apartments also continue to sell from pounds 120,000 to pounds 2.5m. "Quite a few people in the City buy loft apartments and you will always get a few ultra-rich people coming in and possibly paying too much for something," said Harry Downes of Manhattan Loft Corporation. "But it doesn't affect the market unless it becomes a major trend."
Gary enjoys the odd business trip to New York on Concorde (pounds 5,999) and flies club class to Rio (pounds 4,066). But his friends at Merrill Lynch have just been told to reduce their expenses and travel economy class on short-haul flights. They also require senior approval for flights on Concorde, and late-night taxis are no longer automatically paid for. Business visits abroad by UK residents are much shorter than holidays but higher in terms of spending per day. In 1996, British business travellers spent a total of pounds 668m visiting the USA, with an average of pounds 1,005 per journey, and pounds 1.65bn within the European Union. Globally, British business spent pounds 3.4bn on business trips. "Airlines will have to tighten their belts a bit," said Fraser Coutts, consultant at the Centre for Economic and Business Research. "Things won't be as bad as during the Gulf War but it will be felt. If people aren't doing deals then they aren't going to be out travelling. Flying around the world to look at factories is non-essential."
Gary and his friends drive a range of BMWs, Ferraris, Porsches and Range Rovers but may have to drop plans to buy that frivolous second car, such as BMW's two-seater M Roadster (pounds 39,950). "Our order base is as strong as last year but if all the predictions are correct it would be prudent to assume orders won't be as long next year," said BMW spokesman Chris Willows. "When times get tough there's a tendency to buy something more practical." But the upmarket car industry no longer relies on Gary alone for dividends. "We are not dependent on a few fortunate boys in the City suddenly getting a huge bonus," said Porsche spokesman James Pillar whose company's top-of-the-range 911 sells for pounds 65,000. "A downturn would affect sales in our London dealerships but we now sell more cars in the north than the south of Britain."
Gary has a choice of up to 700 restaurants in the City, which employ some 10,000 staff. He lunches on iced cucumber soup with salmon, caviar and vodka before advancing to mignon of veal with caramelised mango. Favourite eateries include the recently opened 1 Lombard Street and Terence Conran's Coq D'Argent. A three-course meal at either place with a half bottle of wine costs pounds 50-60 a head. If Gary wants to impress a client he lunches at Le Gavroche in Mayfair, where last year three businessmen spent a mind-boggling pounds 13,091.20 on a single meal. "Restaurants with City clients should cast a worried eye at any financial crisis," said Chris Horton of marketing analysts Restaurant Services. "The number of restaurants springing up is phenomenal and smaller ones will be hit when their clients' spending potential diminishes. The company private function is the lifeline of many of these places and they will find it awfully difficult."
Long-haul breaks amount to around 10 per cent of the travel market and Gary takes a two-week break each year to the British Virgin Islands, costing him and his girlfriend a total of pounds 3,176. He also goes skiing at Easter at Mont Geneve in France, where a week's half-board sets them back pounds 638. Then there are the long weekend breaks in Barcelona, Rome and Paris, each costing them pounds 1,200 with spending money. "The long-distance holidays fall into the category of luxury goods so will suffer significantly," said Professor Tim Besley of the London School of Economics. "There will be an impact on airlines based in Britain and specialist tour operators but the full significance of the slowdown is likely to fall upon the countries these people visit." The Association of British Travel Agents believes Gary may even cling on to his luxury holiday or downgrade it. "People who work hard may believe their holiday is sacrosanct and will sacrifice other things before giving it up," said a spokeswoman. "The strong pound still makes many places much more affordable."Reuse content