2017 was a strong year for the real estate industry. Despite a number of external factors that could have easily affected market performance, low interest rates remained stable and demand in real estate investment products continued to rise.
Brexit has clearly had an effect on the UK but we believe that across Europe, there remains strong deal flow levels and investment opportunities. Our recent research showed that one in three (33%) commercial real estate investors highlighted Germany as their preferred region to invest in. This is the first time that Germany has been chosen as the number one region to invest in and ahead of the UK which was selected by a quarter (27%).
The UK saw a drop from 31% in the last quarter and from 32% in the same Barometer 12 months ago. The Barometer also revealed that UK, French, German and US investors are now less favourable towards the UK since last year. 45% of UK, nearly a quarter (21%) of US, a fifth (19%) of French and 18% of German investors suggested they favour the UK this quarter, representing a decrease from last year across the board from 46%, 26%, 28% and 21% respectively.
Despite investors seemingly focussing away from the UK, there has been an abundance of international capital flowing into real estate, almost every major institutional investor globally has been increasing their portfolio allocation to real estate over the last five years mainly because of lack of alternatives.
Moreover the average risk appetite of BrickVest’s investors continues to rise to 52% from 49% last quarter and from 48% this time last year, meaning a sentiment shift from low to balanced risk.
The Bank of England’s decision to raise interest rates in the UK in November was momentous for the economy and should signal the start of a series of gradual increases. The Bank decided that inflation is potentially getting out of control and the economy now requires higher borrowing costs. In contrast, the ECB’s decision to unwind its QE programme to €30 billion a month is a glowing endorsement of healthy Eurozone growth and falling unemployment, which will more than likely mean that interest rates will stay at historic lows until at least 2019 in order to help financial markets adjust.
Increasing interest rates has a direct impact on real estate. Higher interest rates and rising inflation make borrowing and construction more expensive for owners, which can have a constraining effect on the market but can also lead to an increase in property prices. In a low interest rate environment, European real estate yields will continue to look attractive and real estate serves as a good alternative to fixed income.
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Value in 2018
We expect to see increasing demand for real estate in 2018. Indeed our research showed that two in five (40%) institutional investors plan to increase their allocation to European commercial real estate while 44% expect commercial property yields to increase in the next 12 months, just 22% believe they will decrease.
We believe that the best value can be found in real estate deals that are not too sensitive to price erosions. Investors should keep a close eye on the risk of high leverage and DSC ratios. We believe that the best investment options for 2018 will most likely be found in value-add real estate in combination with a conservative financing policy.
Investment strategy 2018
Given the fact that we believe demand will remain relatively high in 2018, one of the main challenges will be to find good deals.
Investors will have to find the right balance of higher leverage (due to continually low interest rates) and being able to handle potential price corrections in the event that the market cools off due to external factors such as Hard Brexit, escalation in the US vs. North Korea conflict, etc…
Institutional investors are investing in less liquid secondary and third level cities to achieve acceptable going-in cap rates (cap rates in major markets such as Paris are historically low). Investors will also be forced to look at less traditional investment products such as student housing, services apartments, and senior housing or industrial to get better returns. The overall risk of these investment is that they are in general less liquid and if the market bounces back, cap rates will also increase much faster than in downtown Paris.
In order to manage this problem, some institutional investors are now investing in real estate debt products so that they a.) have their exposure to real estate but b.) also have an achievable exit (i.e. when the loan maturity is reached). We think this might be smart strategy in 2018 given real estate prices are already very high and might fall in the long term (so no upside opportunity but also no real downside risk).
Sectors to watch
We continue to see the highest level of volatility from the office sector as many international firms put decisions on hold over their long-term office space requirements. Our research with institutional investors highlighted that more than a third (34%) believe the biggest real estate investment opportunities will be found in the office sector and the same number in the hotel & hospitality industry over the next 12 months.
Three in ten (31%) thought the industrial sector would present the biggest commercial real estate investment opportunities over the next 12 months while one in five (19%) cited the retail & leisure sector.
When implemented in January 2018, revisions to the EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) will radically change the regulation of EU securities and derivatives markets, and will significantly impact the investment management industry. It will have a significant impact for wealth and asset managers on profitability, product offer and their distribution across Europe, operating models and pricing and costs.
As a consequence, we expect MIFID II to widen the gap between global, infrastructure-based players, and local players. Crowdfunding platform may be affected by these changes.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
GDPR comes into force on 25 May 2018 and represents the biggest change in 25 years to how businesses process personal information. The directive replaces existing data protection laws and will significantly tighten data protection compliance regulation.
Like other industries, real estate companies will have to conduct a risk analysis of all processes relevant to data protection.