It's a theory that defies conventional wisdom, but does the construction of tall buildings portend an impending financial downturn? Place three investment specialists together in one room and there is always going to be a range of diverse opinions and investment strategies, and not all of them necessarily mainstream. The collective insights of Guy Monson, chief investment officer with Sarasin Investment Management; Philip Saunders, head of asset allocation at Investec Asset Managers; and Robert Court, chief executive of Cardales Chartered Surveyors; have been joined under the Brains Trust, an initiative of the Hong Kong arm of the British-based Fry Group. The aim is to provide investors with a broad view of investment and portfolio building options without endorsing particular products. Mr Monson believes that tall buildings have an uncanny habit of coming on line just as an economic boom goes bust. For example, the Empire State Building completed in New York in 1929 was just in time for the Wall Street crash. Similarly, London's Post Office Tower completed in 1966 coincided with the British devaluation crisis. London's NatWest Tower, Chicago's Sears Tower and the World Trade Centre in New York, each completed in 1974, came on line at the same time as the worst post-war stock market crash struck. Canada Tower located at London's Canary Wharf opened in 1990 just in time for the worst post-war British recession and even the Petronas Towers in Malaysia was completed in 1998 at the same time as the devastating Asian crisis took hold. Mr Monson said there is evidence to support this phenomenon which is more than pure coincidence. Tall buildings are generally constructed during periods of upswing, take time to build and are completed just as a market tops out or delivers a sharp correction. He says the same principles can be traced back throughout history. 'To some extent it is all a question of timing as to which city can claim bragging rights for the tallest building. But it is interesting to note that the completion of tall buildings almost always marks the top of a business cycle, and no city or country in any period has managed to avoid business cycles,' Mr Monson said. Exceptions might include Hong Kong's IFC tower, built during a downturn. Mr Monson notes that of the 25 tallest buildings around the world under construction eight are in China. In the Middle East, Dubai's Burj tower is being tipped to reach well 800m by completion in 2008 and Mr Monson speculates that this will coincide with a fall in Dubai property prices. He said Saudi Arabia is also constructing it own tall buildings, mainly financed by petrol dollars. However, the good news is that tall buildings take several years to complete and that the upward section of the business cycle is still to come. Mr Court urged investors in the British property market to take a closer look at commercial properties. Traditionally, investing in commercial property has been the province of professionals, institutions, the big agencies, pension funds and insurance companies. He said individuals who have seen the benefits of residential property investments are now realising that shops, offices and workspaces have the ability to provide substantial returns and a high income. 'UK commercial investment property as an asset class has typically returned between 8 to 10 per cent in annual total returns for the last five years and has produced steady profits through capital appreciation for the last 30 years,' Mr Court said. From the total return investors can expect to receive about 5 per cent in dividend yield. Mr Court recommends that a well-designed investment portfolio should include between 6 and 15 per cent in commercial properties. Mr Saunders warned that when investing in property or any other type of investment vehicles, investors should be wary of 'trains leaving stations' or in other words chasing investment opportunities that have already peaked. 'Diversity through investing in non-correlating markets is always key to building a successful portfolio,' he said. On Asian currencies, Mr Saunders said the Japanese yen is cheap by a significant margin for a major currency. However, he expects the yen to recover over the coming months as Japanese businesses continue to restructure and reinvest in technology and research and development. Mr Saunders also expects the US Federal Reserve to continue raising interest rates, but this is unlikely to have a major impact on Asian economies which continue to strengthen. He said despite external pressure on China to revalue the yuan, this would most likely take place in a highly controlled manner to prevent speculation and major fluctuations.