Landlords of shops in Hong Kong have had a rough ride over the past two years. The political unrest in the middle of 2019 had already exacted a heavy toll on retailers, with businesses disrupted by the clashes and overseas visitors unnerved. (This author too put his own family’s vacation plans on ice.) Then tourist numbers all but evaporated with the onset of Covid-19 less than a year later. Resultantly, prices of CBD shops plummeted, as average quarterly yields headed upwards by 100 basis points between the middle of 2018 and the second quarter of 2020. (This analysis is based on retail assets trading at a value of HK$20 million — $2.5 million — and greater.) Throughout the whole of 2020, no shop assets traded at a sub-2% yield, according to Real Capital Analytics records. The last time the yield floor for such assets was this high was in 2008.
Distress has been the watchword for capital raising in recent months as investors eye assets under pressure because of Covid-19 challenges. As yet though, troubled assets have not translated through to a spike in distressed asset sales. As shown in the chart, so far only the hotel sector has seen a notable surge in distressed sales as a percentage of the sector volume. Between March of 2020 and February of 2021, 8% of hotel sales involved a distressed asset. However, the total level of hotel transaction activity was scant during that time frame: only $10.6 billion of hotels traded, as compared to $36.6 billion in the prior 12-month period.
Deal volume contracted in 2020 due to economic uncertainty but did not result in a price collapse like that seen during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Capital flowing into other structures helped support pricing during this downturn. Into the second quarter as new acquisitions fell, financing activity picked up some of the slack in the capital stack. The value of properties refinanced represented 61% of all capital flows to commercial real estate in the quarter. This figure was well above the 19% share represented by new acquisitions.
Since the end of 2015 Germany has attracted more investment capital than any other European commercial property market. Real Capital Analytics has recorded transactions totaling €372 billion ($438 billion) in the last five years, €47 billion more than in the U.K., the second most active market. One of the explanations offered for this rise to prominence is the U.K.’s June 2016 decision to leave the European Union, subsequent to which, Germany has been labelled as Europe’s new safe haven and a home for capital that might previously have gone elsewhere.
The annual pace of U.S. commercial property price growth reached 6.8% in February, a rate comparable to the months preceding the country’s initial coronavirus lockdowns, the latest RCA CPPI: US summary report shows. The US National All-Property Index rose 0.9% in February from January. The office index increased 2.0% year-over-year in February. Prices in the office market have slowly crept back from the middle of last year when the index was flat, but are still only increasing at half the rate seen a year ago. Suburban office prices kept the office index afloat last month, gaining 2.2% year-over-year.
One year into the pandemic and clearly the current market downturn is not like the last one just over a decade ago. Commercial property prices have not been the adjustment mechanism for the disruptions from the pandemic — deal volume has suffered instead. A functioning debt market with far higher levels of liquidity than in the last crisis is a big part of the difference between these recessions. Liquidity is not just a story about volume. To measure trends in liquidity in the equity portion of the capital stack, Real Capital Analytics publishes a composite scoring system looking at numerous indicators that can influence a market.
Transactions involving U.S. self storage assets reached a record level in 2020 despite the disruption and uncertainties caused by the global pandemic. While two outsized entity-level deals boosted transaction volume, individual deals and a wide range of buyers are evidence of ongoing broad interest in the sector. At $7.7 billion for the year, self storage deal activity was one-third higher than that of 2019, a stark outperformance compared to the U.S. market overall which slumped by more than a quarter.
The number of unique, active buyers in a market is a key signal for liquidity and one of six measures that Real Capital Analytics uses to calculate the RCA Capital Liquidity Scores. In the chart below we show 18 leading commercial real estate markets and the buyer count measure for Q4 2020 compared to the average and range of the past 10 years.
Commercial property market liquidity at the end of 2020 was below the levels from a year prior in 126 out of 155 markets worldwide, the latest update of the RCA Capital Liquidity Scores shows. The count of markets with scores falling on an annual basis was the highest since the end of 2009, during the Global Financial Crisis. However, there are signs of optimism.
The top global investors acquired more commercial real estate in 2020 despite the challenges of the pandemic. There are clear signals in what they bought, however, that these investors are reacting to the uncertainty presented by the Covid-19 turmoil. Net purchases by property sector indicate that concerns about the office sector surfaced in 2020.
The pace of U.S. commercial property price growth accelerated in January, climbing back near the growth rates seen before Covid-19 struck, the latest RCA CPPI: US summary report shows. The US National All-Property Index rose 6.9% from a year ago and 1.2% from December.
Activity in the U.S. commercial real estate market stumbled in January after an end-of-year surge in apartment, industrial and office sales had led December 2020 deal volume to a record level, the latest edition of US Capital Trends shows. Transaction volume fell 58% in January from a year prior, similar to the declines seen in the second and third quarters of 2020. By contrast, December deal volume had increased 8% year-over-year to broach the $80 billion level for the first time, according to RCA records.
Cross-border flows into Australian commercial real estate sank in 2020, but the magnitude of the drop was moderated by a European champion: German institutional investment. Spending by groups headquartered in Germany alleviated fears that overseas investors would desert Australia, as occurred in the last global downturn. During the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), investors across the world retreated to the sanctuary of their home territories.
Just one of the top 15 most active global commercial real estate markets recorded an increase in sales volume in 2020 versus 2019. For the rest, the picture was one of falling transaction activity as the Covid-19 pandemic hampered dealmaking and soured the outlook for some commercial property types. In Seoul, volume crept up to an all-time high as domestic investors refocused on their home market. The Korean capital became the world’s largest retail transaction market in 2020 and second largest office market, behind Paris.
The pandemic hit the U.S. hotel sector hard in 2020. Between travel bans and the economic downturn, the impact to the sector which had already shown some cracks was swift and steep. Transaction volume in the sector fell by more than two-thirds compared with 2019, to the lowest level since 2009. However, the misery was not experienced equally across all chain scales. In 2020, investors had a clear preference for economy branded hotels.
Commercial property sales activity in Europe tumbled by just over a quarter in 2020 in the face of challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic, with a steeper drop seen into the close of the year, the latest Europe Capital Trends report shows. Investment volume across all property types dropped 27% versus 2019. In the fourth quarter, activity was 44% lower than the same period a year earlier, when a record total of commercial property deals closed.
Investment in the logistics sector reached a record high in Asia Pacific in 2020, with four of the region’s markets ranking in the top 10 biggest logistics markets globally in the year. The e-commerce revolution was already well underway before 2020, and the Covid-19 pandemic served to reinforce investor appetites for warehouses even further. Deal activity totaled $13.5 billion in 2020, according to preliminary Real Capital Analytics data, just eclipsing investment levels in 2018 and 2019.
The headline rate of U.S. commercial property price growth accelerated into the last month of 2020, gathering strength on the back of robust apartment and industrial sector price increases. The US National All-Property Index grew 7.3% from a year earlier, the latest RCA CPPI: US summary report shows.
A common theme in the media for December was that we lived through a horrible year in 2020 and that 2021 would be better for us all. Perhaps this sentiment will hold by year-end but the start has been chaotic. Conditions might become more distressing for commercial real estate investors throughout the year, a turn of events that some players are hoping to see.