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Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Toronto Real Estate Forum: 2020 Outlook for European Investment Markets

By Tim Francis (London, U.K.)

Last week, I attended Canada’s largest annual national conference on real estate capital markets and investment management. The Toronto Real Estate Forum provides an international outlook on major trends, strategies, risks and opportunities in real estate, including insights on European real estate investment markets. Global geopolitical factors, investment appetites and emerging sectors were at the forefront of conversations.

Current geopolitical and economic drivers influence the risk premiums that are being applied to the required returns investors care about. Factors like Brexit, new European Central Bank leadership and a new European Parliament are increasing levels of uncertainty. Global investors are looking at Europe, which has traditionally been viewed as a safe haven for real estate investment, with a new perspective. While continuously low interest rates have served to sustain investment and compress yields across the continent (2% is the new 3% for core assets), many investors voiced concerns over the high values of European real estate and the current position of the global economy, 12 years out of a 10 year cycle post the previous global financial crash.

However, sustained positivity and appetite to invest were clear throughout the forum. With extremely low, sometimes negative, bond yields, investors are increasingly looking for stabilised income producing assets, which is driving the real estate markets. On top of low bond yields, strong rental growth in many core and secondary markets is alleviating the effects of low real estate yields and driving investment flows. Take Stockholm: the central business district has seen c.40% rental growth in the last three years, providing investors with huge uplift to their return profile. Another driver of demand is the undersupply of Grade A office space across all major European cities. Vacancy rates remain below 2% in most locations, resulting in assets that are still performing well, despite trading at low yields.

The alternative sector has emerged in the last five years as a pathway to achieve opportunistic and core plus returns in Europe. The defensive attributes of alternatives like residential, senior living, or hotels, provide an attractive option for global investors, especially North American capital, due to an under-established investment market when compared to the US. Interestingly, global investors are looking at London as the biggest opportunity in Europe right now. The uncertainty derived from Brexit and the general election has provided opportunity in the market across all sectors. The current discount on Pound Sterling is considered by global investors as providing a ‘double return’, as the currency will inevitably bounce back to higher values in the coming years, although this is not being priced into transactions.

Finally, sustainable investment is growing globally. Many fund managers now have commitments to their own investors to attain certain targets around environmental, social and governance issues. Sustainable investments must align with a commitment to promote sustainable business practices and the conservation of natural resources. Impact investing practices are at the centre of this shift, illustrated through the rise of investment portfolios increasing their exposure to GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark) assessed infrastructure assets, which increased from 51 global funds in 2016 to 107 in 2019, totalling $471bn this year.

Tim Francis is a Financial Analyst at Avison Young’s London office

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