International real estate transactions dip 46%

Credit crunch and economic uncertainty have taken their toll on the global property market, with transaction volumes falling by 46 per cent in the first quarter, according to a property report.

Investment throughout Asia and other emerging markets continued to grow, as sales of major commercial properties globally totalled $154 billion (Dh565bn) in first quarter against $283bn of property that changed hands in first quarter of 2007, New York-based Real Capital Analytics said in its latest report.

Property sales figures for April and preliminary results for May show sales in Asia have started to weaken and drop in sales in the United States and Europe have become more severe.

The United Kingdom has led price declines with the United States following behind. Since September, the initial yield on acquisitions of commercial property has increased by more than 25 basis points in the Americas and by almost 40 basis points in Europe.

Cap rates in Asia have continued to fall, reflecting both the growing wave of capital and expected upside for its emerging markets.

Acquisition of land and development rights in Asia has totalled almost $29bn so far this year, making it the most popular target for investors.

Office properties in Europe are a distant second with just under $20bn of transactions, followed by offices in the Americas and Asia with each recording between $15bn and $16bn of transactions through April.

Developable land in Asia posted not only the greatest growth in transaction activity but also the largest gains in pricing in the first quarter. However, all other property types in Asia except apartments recorded gains in both volume and prices. Prices fell lower for all property types in Europe, but several did manage gains in volume. Conversely, no property types posted higher sales volume in the Americas although average prices in the industrial, retail and hotel sectors did increase modestly. Sellers in the United States in particular are opting not to sell at discounted prices, causing volume to plunge while prices for the few transactions that are successfully completed appear rather resilient. However, land prices in the US are falling quickly and have experienced the greatest decline in value so far this year.

EUROPE

Nearly $56bn of major commercial property sales were completed throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East in the first quarter. In a significant turn of events, Europe surpassed North America as the most active marketplace for property transactions. However, since this status was achieved while suffering a 40 per cent drop in sales compared to the 70 per cent decline experienced in North America, this victory could be considered pyrrhic. It may also be short-lived, as property sales in Asia are not far behind and are growing fast.

Additionally, property sales in Europe are off to a very weak start in second quarter by plunging 71 per cent in April when compared to a year earlier.

Virtually all property types and most countries within Europe have recorded a sharp decline in transactions this year. This decline has been much more severe for large deals, including portfolios. Comparing the first four months of 2008 to 2007, the number of deals of more than $1bn dropped from 13 to just five while portfolio activity dipped 63 per cent and entity level deals have been slashed by 89 per cent.

Retail and hotel transactions experienced the sharpest drops, each down around 60 per cent. Sales of office buildings, Europe's most actively traded property type, decreased by 48 per cent, while industrial sites and apartment properties plunged by 41 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively.

Despite the slowdown in 2008, Britain still retained its status with the largest volume in Europe. Overall volume decreased by 61 per cent but activity in London was off just 42 per cent.

Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Ireland have all posted even greater declines in property sales than Britain. France, Russia and Poland have faired slightly better with sales off by 40 per cent to 50 per cent compared to a year ago.

Finland, the Netherlands and Italy saw sales volume decline by 15 per cent or less while Spain, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria were among the largest of the few countries in Europe that recorded a gain in transactions. Totals in Spain were elevated due to PropInvest's acquisition of the Boadilla del Monte Financial Complex on the outskirts of Madrid for more than $2.8bn, making it the largest single property transaction ever recorded.

In the retail sector, Italy's volume increased by 78 per cent in the first four months of 2008 over the same period in 2007, thanks to ING and Government of Singapore's Investment Corp joint purchase of the Roma Est Shopping Centre for $594m. Several emerging markets have posted significant gains recently. Office transactions increased in Poland and Bulgaria by 39 per cent and 198 per cent. And of course, land – the driving force of emerging market property investment – is up 325 per cent in Eastern Europe.

ASIA

The region, which includes Australia and New Zealand, posted largely positive trends in the first quarter but is starting to lose some of its momentum. Sales of major commercial properties in Asia totalled $48.3bn in the first quarter, a 27 per cent increase from a year earlier.

The Asia investment market is also being weighed down by the economic uncertainties and adverse credit markets that have caused property sales to plummet in other regions of the globe.

The gains in the first quarter mask a gradual slowing in activity that has become evident. In 2007 the average monthly volume was about $19bn; in the first four months of 2008 it was about $14bn. Volume reported in March represented a 25 per cent decline from a year ago and April's totals were even weaker. Less than $10bn of property sales were reported in April throughout Asia, a decline of 42 per cent.

Global market factors are certainly contributing to the slowing market, but new regulations on land deals instituted by China are also partly responsible, the report said. From October through January, auctions of major land parcels in China totalled more than $10bn each month, but since the new regulation, the monthly volume has sunk to $3bn.

There are still several dazzling growth stories in the first quarter of 2008. Property acquisitions in India and Vietnam in the first quarter were multiples of levels posted a year ago. Activity doubled in Malaysia and grew by 50 per cent in Japan. The office sector in Japan was very active in the first quarter culminating with the $1.55bn.

Despite the recent fall in land sales, total volume in China was still up 70 per cent in first quarter to equal $21bn. Sales in Hong Kong were flat in the first quarter, but a strong April has caused its market to be up 21 per cent year-to-date.

On the contrary, the sales volume in Australia and New Zealand has seriously decreased, by 47 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively. Both countries did poorly in almost every sector as a number of major listed property companies struggled with the high debt levels incurred from a binge on property in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan in 2007.

The total volume in Singapore was down 36 per cent in the first quarter mainly due to the 85 per cent volume decline in the apartment sector as investors expect further weakness in housing; volume in the office sector still grew 18 per cent to reveal the strong demand of Class-A office.

Developed countries have seen property transactions fall by 25 per cent this year while acquisitions in the emerging markets are up a healthy 68 per cent. Emerging countries accounted for $102bn of property sales, representing 45 per cent of total volume in Asia.

AMERICAS

More than $50bn in significant commercial property transactions took place in North and South America in the first quarter. This is the first time in the last five quarters that volume in the western hemisphere has not topped $130bn.

Much of the story in the Americas over the past nine months revolves around the fallout due to the credit crunch. In the United States, certain sectors (office, retail) are down by as much as 80 per cent in volume from the year earliert, and all sectors across the board have suffered. Property markets in the Americas are clearly split between the developed North and the emerging South.

The United States clearly remains the single biggest national property market although deal flow is off almost 70 per cent comparing first quarter to one year earlier. The situation is similar in Canada with volume down more than 70 per cent over the same time period. However, prices in these two states have not dropped as sharply as volume has. Buyers and sellers remain locked in a battle of wills over who will blink first on prices. The pricing gap between buyers and sellers may be as wide as 15 per cent.

Further South, the outlook is much brighter, with Brazil, Mexico and other developing economies beginning to realise some of their great potential. Mexico is one of the most vibrant emerging economies in Latin America with total volume up more than 400 per cent in first quarter. South America showed substantial volume increases and total volume has quadrupled with land acquisitions leading the way. Through the first four months of 2008 commercial property sales in Argentina and Chile have exceeded their total volume for 2007.

With markets in Latin America maturing, certain office sales in major markets are fast approaching first world size. The Ventura Tower I in Rio de Janeiro ($237m) and Centro Bancomer in Mexico City ($235m) are examples.

As these markets continue to blossom, investor interest will continue to bloom. Buyers can expect more competition and rise in prices causing some investors to expand into new markets.

Article by: Parag Deulgaonkar - www.iafrica.com