Notes from the Ernst and Young EMEIA Real Estate Workshop

Ernst & Young EMEIA Real Estate Workshop

Here are my notes from the excellent E&Y Workshop I attended recently.

Bid-ask spreads narrowing
Transaction levels rising

Sir John Gieve (former Deputy Governor of the BOE)
The uncertainty is still there because:
Economic forecasting models are broken
Prediction: big swings in market sentiment & lots of volatility in the markets Currently fiscal (spending) and macro-prudential (regulation) brakes on while the monetary (interest rates, QE) accelerator is firmly on Expectation that private sector investment, consumer spending and emerging market growth will pull the UK towards around 2% GDP growth in 2011 MPC likely to be cautious about raising rates early in 2011 but if growth continues throughout the year then rates could rise faster than the market currently expects (to somewhere between 3-7%) Emerging market economies in particular the Chinese likely to lead to a big inflationary boom that spreads to the West through commodity prices

Adrian Cooper (CEO, Oxford Economics & ITEM club advisor)
World GDP growth is outstripping already relatively bullish forecasts North and South Europe dramatic divergence in growth and prospects German competitiveness has improved significantly over last 10 years whereas southern European states have become significantly les competitive as labour costs have risen Fiscal tightening and divergence in investment will also hold back the Southern economies for a prolonged period c50% chance of Greek debt restructuring and/or smaller chance of some form of Eurozone breakup Other notable risks include oil and commodity inflation and recognition of Spanish debt/losses as a result of their boom time lending to construction In the UK massive switch in govt spending worth around -1% on annual GDP growth Household de-leveraging to hold back growth further Rising exports will help though past failings in exports to emerging economies (Italy exporting more to the BRICS than the UK for example) Modest growth forecast in office-based employment and consumer spending leading to limited demand growth in offices and retail property High single-digit total returns expected for prime commercial property

Macro-Economic Panel
Huge demand from the Middle East for construction and infrastructure but there are major risks around political risks as a result of underinvestment in food, healthcare, education, employment and social stability.
If we can see civil unrest in the UK then we can expect to see unrest in other states as austerity measures start to bite.
US deficit is not expected to be a major threat in the next couple of years but it will be in the longer term – the UK had the same problem when it ran the reserve currency and that held us back for 50 years after the second world war Currency disparities and interventions make life difficult for global Investors seeking to hedge out risks Pension funds slowly increasing allocations to real estate but notably focussing on core assets and focussing increasingly on specific cities rather than whole countries Negative real interest rates could lead to a bubble in some asset values.  Highly leveraged investors even in core assets are at risk from interest rate rises designed to combat high inflation Euro stress tests back in July showed 84 out of 91 banks were well capitalised including the 2 largest Irish banks which are now bailed out.  This will prove a drag on the economic recovery and it will take quite a long time to relieve c50% of maturing real estate debt is underwater and although resulting opportunities are few and far between they are worth looking for

Drivers of Real Estate Panel
Property looks more interesting than bonds but less attractive than equities (Harm Meijer, JPM) Lots of inflows to direct investment funds moving out of bonds (Harm Meijer) JPM are positive on property, more prime but starting to find opportunities in secondary Institutions are currently underweight in property and increasing their allocations.  Increased inflation driving this demand as they look to protect themselves.  Harm Meijer is astonished that they are coming so late to the party Trust issues will endure for years ahead while funds re-align their interests with LP’s and increased co-investments are demanded UK retail funds raised a lot of money in Q1 2010 and 2007 opportunity funds are all sitting on a lot of cash but is there a bubble in prime and super-prime and do return expectations need to come down.
“If you look at what is happening to real estate, it is exactly what happened in 2007 and 2008 when cap rates were plunging and LTV’s were going up without cash flows”. (Starwood Capital Chairman & CEO – Barry Sternlicht) Caveated with in certain prime sectors (Doug Kirkman, Blackstone) It’s probably the best time in living memory to setup a bank because margins are very high and lenders can pick their borrowers and properties.
Existing lenders cannot afford to take the losses on existing loans so they are very limited in their capacity to lend.  Particularly in the UK where there is still no securitisations market in contrast to the US which has begun to close some and is expected to increase this flow.
Insurance companies may increasingly likely to enter the market (Solvency II will encourage them to do so) but it will take them time to build their teams and they are unlikely to buy up existing debt portfolios.
According to Knight Frank 2010 occupier take-up in Financial Services in the UK was actually higher than during the boom years however this is substantially offset due to impending lease expiries and competition from Internet based businesses etc so net absorption and rental growth is likely to be quite limited and generally restricted to prime.
London and Germany are relatively booming whereas regional locations are really struggling.
Supply of product is going to be slow while the clearing prices continue to sit below the holding values and supply of debt is highly restricted and it is likely to take some years before big non-performing loan books really come to market due to political debates around bank break ups etc.
Sustainability – opportunistic investors are less interested in this than price etc however pension funds are pressuring listed owners and occupiers are increasingly expected to demand higher standards.
Increased transaction activity is expected though only by around 10-20% and from a relatively small base.
Banks will have to extend and pretend until deals break and have to be dealt with or they have generated sufficient profits for their capital base to enable them to take losses on existing holdings.

Fall in GDP can spell a growth in opportunities

By Martin Skinner,

Martin Skinner
Martin Skinner

At home in the Skinner household Jack is growing up fast and the focus is now on education.  Magdalena is teaching him English, Polish, Chinese, swimming, walking, and maths. And I’ve been chipping in with football, video games, iPhones and blowing raspberries.  Is this a good modern example of division of [parental] labour?

Jack Skinner onwards and upwards
Jack Skinner onwards and upwards

Speaking of education, Mark Weedon at the IPD has been teaching the property industry one of its best kept secrets.  Despite residential property appearing to produce a lower net rental yield compared to commercial property, it has actually been on par over the last nine years when commercial value depreciation is taken into account.

“These findings indicate that relative residential income return is significantly devalued by its superior capital growth. In fact, residential property can deliver as much net income receivable as a percentage of original outlay to commercial for an equivalent sum invested in both. Therefore, the residential sector is now able to boast that it not only offers superior total returns but also that the cash returns from rental income can match commercial even if the percentage yield and income return remain noticeably lower” (2010, Mark Weedon, Head of UK Residential Services, IPD)

9 year income performance residential vs commercial
9 year income performance residential vs commercial

This means that, despite the rhetoric, UK residential property not only outperforms commercial property (and all major asset classes) on capital growth, but it also matches commercial for income return too.  The arguments from institutional investors against investing in this £6 trillion asset class are steadily being whittled away.

You can find the full International Property Databank (IPD) presentation here and their biannual research reports are available here.

Additionally, why not take a look at some recent Jones Lang LaSalle research forecasting house price inflation rising back towards its long term trend of above 7%p.a.  It makes an interesting read. Nationwide estimate that house prices rise by 2.9%pa in real terms, whereas researchers broadly agree that commercial property depreciates by around 1.5%pa in real terms.  This reflects the fact that commercial properties typically become obsolete and require replacement much faster that residential.

JLL UK residential property price increase forecast
JLL residential price increase forecast

So no wonder UK residential has historically provided a hedge against rising inflation, rising in value by 274% in real terms over the last 50 years compared to a 55% drop in commercial values.  Those interested in comparing the overall returns from residential with other asset classes should have a look at Tim Watts’ article from last year.

On the ground I’ve also noticed the effects of the ongoing supply shortage during the traditional moving season of November and January. Demand for vacant rooms and flats in our own buy-to-let houses in London’s Docklands was so enormous that we pushed rents up considerably and got them straight away, on top of substantial advance rents from Chinese students.  Yep, we should have asked for more…

Our vacancy rate is 0% and Inspired Asset Management’s partner Urban Share has also enjoyed near 100% occupancy for most of 2010, even after increasing rents by between 10-40%!  According to Knight Frank, residential rents in London have risen by an average of 16% over the last year.  They offer very rewarding and attractive returns for equity rich investors increasingly – and rightly – concerned about rising inflation. (the UK’s leading website for finding and letting rooms) told me that they are now placing more adverts for rooms wanted than rooms available for the first time since they began in 1999.  That’s really quite remarkable when you think about it.

With no significant improvements in the debt funding environment or in local authority demands for affordable housing, supply will continue to fall short. At the same time, babies continue to be ‘born every day’ and more and more migrants are moving to London, whether from southern Europe or northern England.  I think I’m safe in making a new year’s forecast that London and the south-east will experience substantial increases in real residential rents over the next 5 years.  And that’s great news for current and future landlords.

Even the recent shock drop in UK GDP could prove to be good news for investors in London residential property – assuming that the recovery resumes relatively swiftly.  The shock has without a doubt pushed back future interest rate rises, while a weaker Sterling will continue to attract cash rich foreign investors.  There should also be some more exciting property deals available to experienced parties that are prepared to look and work hard enough.  Here endeth the lesson.

Sophisticated investors interested in deploying capital into London residential should contact me on 07968 790 611 to discuss the ways in which my partners and I can help you to enhance your returns.