UK commercial property continues to bounce back after Brexit, but there’s trouble ahead

Demand for commercial property in the UK continues to grow even as the country prepares to leave the European Union, according to the latest quarterly Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) market survey. The report for Q4 2016 suggests that a large proportion of the increase was linked to the attractiveness of UK commercial property for foreign investors. But there are signs of trouble ahead, as the report acknowledges some negative expectations for London commercial property values amid fears the capital will bear the brunt of any Brexit-led departure of firms. Over the fourth quarter, overall investment enquiries were flat in the London office sector. Although the UK market has largely recovered from its post-Brexit slump, London has underperformed the wider market, with some projects being put on hold, property companies cutting rental growth forecasts and rents beginning to stagnate.

Both HSBC and UBS have recently said that they could each move about 1,000 jobs out of London as a result of the Brexit vote and uncertainty over the eventual deal between the Uk and EU. The RICS survey claims that 18 percent of respondents reported evidence of firms looking to relocate away from the UK in response to Brexit, up from 14 percent seen in the preceding quarterly survey.

Highlights:

London investment trends

Investment trends in the capital remain mixed. Industrial assets attracted a solid rise in investor interest during Q4 but overall enquiries were flat in the office sector and declined modestly in the retail segment. That said, foreign investment demand did in fact grow strongly across each sector of the capital, with the sharp decline in sterling since June particularly prominent in enticing overseas demand.  Nevertheless, having stabilised during Q3, all-sector capital value expectations slipped back into negative territory in London.

Rises predicted in capital values

Back at the national level, near term capital value expectations remained mildly positive across all sectors in Q4, with 14 percent more respondents projecting values to rise (rather than fall) over the coming quarter. Over the next twelve months, respondents anticipate capital values will increase across the majority of sectors, led by the prime industrial market. In terms of the headline picture, 28 percent more respondents expect to see a rise rather than fall in capital value over the next 12 months.

Occupier demand

Occupier demand is less buoyant than that from investors, with demand increasing only modestly at the all-sector level. However, this was driven entirely by industrial property with demand flat in both office and retail sectors. The lack of demand prompted landlords to increase the value of incentive packages on offer to prospective tenants in both these sectors. In the office sector, inducements have now risen in each of the last two quarters at the headline level (the first time this has happened since 2013) with 14 percent more respondents seeing a rise in Q4 2016.

On the supply side, a lack of availability continues to be a key feature of the industrial occupier market with a net balance of 32 percent of respondents reporting a further decline in leasable space during Q4. Industrial supply, in net balance terms, has now fallen in eighteen successive quarters. As a consequence, near-term rent expectations in the industrial sector have been pushed higher and are now pointing to strong growth, with 30 percent more respondents envisaging a rise in industrial rents in the coming three months. In comparison, only very marginal gains are expected across office space and modest declines are now anticipated for retail sector rents.

The results for the Q4 survey suggest that the commercial property market is continuing to attract investor interest despite ongoing concerns about pricing in the capital and the prospects for the economy more generally. Indeed, the feedback we have received is consistent with a renewed appetite from overseas buyers for UK assets.

Meanwhile the results for the occupier market highlight the resilience of the economy in the wake of the vote to leave the EU, but also clearly demonstrate the demand for large warehouses to support the development of the distribution industry as consumers increasing go online to make their purchases.

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