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New opportunities and risks in evolving market

It is widely accepted that we have reached a late stage of the property cycle. Some even argue that a downturn has already set in. However, our view is that while values feel pretty full, we certainly aren’t in bubble territory. It is reassuring to note that UK commercial property values have increased half as much as they did during the last cycle and the industry as a whole is nothing like as highly geared as it was in the run-up to the financial crisis a decade ago.

However, as lenders and investors, we can’t afford to be complacent. We remain alert to the risks of lending late in the cycle which today are as much, if not more, of a concern as structural changes in the market. Against this background, we have still been able to find value and we have invested more than £800m over the past 12 months, including our largest transactions to date in both our senior debt and partnership capital strategies, while we have been able to back some very interesting residential development opportunities in London and the South East.

The most obvious risk in today’s market is posed by changes to shopping habits. The inexorable rise of online shopping has already started to bite hard into the retail property market and undoubtedly, values and rents will continue to come under more pressure. We have therefore been reducing our exposure against retail property for some time but we are not turning our backs on the market completely.

”As lenders and investors, we can’t afford to be complacent. We remain alert to late-cycle risks”

While there is clearly trouble ahead for department stores and the centres they anchor, many retail centres will continue to attract shoppers, particularly those in densely populated areas that are focused on convenience shopping. We’ll continue to back borrowers and partners with deep retail experience in this part of the market.

The industrial market presents very different challenges for us. The rise of ecommerce is driving growing occupier demand but this means competition between investors to buy assets and between lenders to fund them is high. We have been active in the industrial market for many years but, with investment yields contracting to record levels, we see better relative value in development than investment and have funded two speculative warehouse schemes in the South East in recent months. Having said that, one of our biggest loans this year, and the largest loan to date in the senior debt programme, was the £125m refinance of an industrial portfolio, predominantly located in the West Midlands.

‘Live-work-play’ situation

The office market is also going through a period of rapid change with TMT tenants driving demand in many parts of the country, not just London, which are often followed by co-working operators, with most looking for that millennial-friendly ‘live-work-play’ situation. We are keen to support borrowers targeting this market, as evidenced by our loan earlier this year to support FORE Partnership’s £51m acquisition of Tower Bridge Court on the South Bank. It was our first office deal in London since 2015 and we are on the lookout for others as pricing for value-add investments in the capital is looking increasingly attractive.

evolving market

Tower Bridge Court £51m acquisition and refurbishment whole loan

We also continue to target the other major UK cities, confident that despite the uncertainty around Brexit, there are good lending opportunities available. The fundamentals of the office market in large UK cities remain healthy. Demand for space is robust; this has been driven by strong employment growth; supply remains tight due to a lack of new development and a similar lack of conversion of secondary office space to residential under development law.

Alternatives also look more attractive than ever. In an environment where Brexit brings an uncertain economic outlook, it clearly makes sense to be lending and investing in sectors where demand isn’t tied to the economic cycle. One such example is data centres; demand for data is set to grow exponentially but there are a very limited number of locations that can meet data centres’ specific requirements for connectivity or power. As well as backing student accommodation and hotels, which have been our alternatives bread and butter since 2011, we have been providing finance for data centres as well as a number of other non-traditional assets this year.

Indeed, we made our biggest-ever loan across the business this year in the alternatives sector – a £200m whole loan to Royale, an operator of permanent park homes aimed at the over-50s. The loan was backed by 27 individual parks and 3,500 plots, providing a good level of granularity. We also like the fact that the number of over-50s is set to grow at twice the rate of the whole population.

This year, ICG-Longbow expanded its direct investment activities with the launch of our build-to-rent business, through the Wise Living joint venture with SDL Group, and a pan-European sale-and-leaseback strategy. Growing both will be a key focus for us in 2019. Increasing demand for private rented housing gives us confidence in the outlook for build-to-rent, particularly as our focus is on family housing, which is an undersupplied part of the market. The sale-and-leaseback business is also an exciting venture for us that brings together ICG-Longbow’s property expertise with ICG Group’s 29-year track record of investing in European corporate credit deals.

We also plan to expand our partnership capital lending and investing activity into continental Europe in due course. For us, it’s a natural progression for the business and doesn’t mean we’re any less interested in the UK. Although the UK market faces challenges, not least Brexit, we are still firm believers that there are plenty of good opportunities out there.

Healthy sign for the market

Looking at the supply of capital to the market, we see that banks remain cautious and have lowered their LTVs. However, we see this as a healthy sign for the market as a whole and they at least remain active. From our perspective, the fact they have pulled back somewhat is helpful for obvious reasons. When it comes to our senior lending, we used to compete with the banks mainly on our flexibility and speed, whereas now there is usually substantial clear water between our terms and the banks on leverage, while in the higher LTV whole loan market there are only a handful of lenders equipped to underwrite more complex property strategies, including value-add and development.

Finally, in the residential construction market, we have seen more activity from other non-bank lenders, but in our opinion this has been more than offset by a couple of UK banks pulling back from the market, while the volume of debt capital available still remains low relative to financing requirements.

With positive occupational fundamentals in all but retail, we look ahead to 2019 with confidence that there will be plenty of attractive lending opportunities, despite (or even potentially resulting from) the ongoing political uncertainty. Having raised nearly £900m across our senior debt, partnership capital and residential development strategies this year and with fundraising efforts still ongoing, we have plenty of firepower coming into the new year and we look forward to continuing to support our customers with our flexible capital and partnership approach going forward.

Source: Property Week

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How is the UK commercial property sector performing?

The UK commercial property market is rapidly changing and facing highly uncertain times in the face of Brexit. We have a look at how the industry is evolving and what commercial property stocks to watch.

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Demand by investors for UK commercial property remains strong

The level of demand for UK commercial property remains strong, despite continued lack of clarity over Brexit.

According to the latest GVA review of commercial property investment market, European investors were more risk averse to the UK market because of the uncertainty caused by Brexit but demand from overseas investors, particular from China and the Far East, strengthened in 2018.

Domestic investors have also made a ‘come-back’ to the UK market and have accounted for approximately 12 percent more acquisitions in 2018, compared to the previous year.

In the North East, the lack of availability of investment property is one of the biggest factors affecting growth and there remains strong competition, particularly for prime well let assets.

Regardless of political uncertainty, the fundamentals of the UK commercial property market will continue to make it an attractive place to invest, with London remaining the number one priority target of investors outside of Europe.

Overall, the report concludes, the UK commercial property market will remain attractive with the exception of retail.

Source: Workplace Insight

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Are ‘imperfect valuations’ of commercial property driven by high rent levels?

The true value of many commercial properties is an understanding that a surveyor struggles to appreciate, one property finance specialist has claimed.

A recent poll conducted by Bridging & Commercial found that 58% of respondents did not believe that the UK commercial property market was currently being valued fairly.

A quarter (25%) felt opposite, while 17% claimed it was partly valued fairly.

Why do people believe commercial property isn’t currently being valued fairly?

“Many commercial properties’ true value is an understanding that a surveyor struggles to appreciate and quantify, especially when there is growth or development potential,” said Chris Oatway, director at LDNfinance.

Shahil Kotecha, CEO at Pivot, highlighted that so-called ‘imperfect valuations’ were down to seemingly high levels of rents.

“Since the financial crisis of 2008, commercial property landlords have sought hard to keep their premises tenanted and also [the] level of rents in the lease agreements high.

“They do this by offering tenants lots of incentives at the beginning of the lease, such as rent-free periods, stepped rents, capital payments, help with fitting out etc.

“These incentives lead to higher rents being paid after the inducements to let have expired than would be the case if rents had been paid from day one of the lease.

“Investors believe that valuation surveyors pay heed to only these headline rents, thus leading to imperfect valuations and the belief that the valuation is not fair.”

Ludo Mackenzie, head of commercial property at Octopus Property, pointed out that the commercial property market had enjoyed nine years of growth, during which yields had returned to levels last seen at the tail end of the last cycle.

“Inevitably, people feel that value is hard to find and the probability of a correction is somewhat higher than the probability of further yield compression.

“The opposing view is that UK commercial property pricing looks attractive against 10-year gilt yields, offering secured income returns in a low yield environment.”

However, Philip Treadwell, associate director at De Villiers Surveyors, felt that the valuation of property could be opinionated with an applicant’s expectations perhaps sometimes higher than the market would pay.

“This can lead to disparity over the perception of fairness in a valuation.

“This is being highlighted more in the current market with De Villiers’ commercial valuers receiving feedback from buyers and selling agents of a general uncertainty, with interest rates poised to rise and Brexit on the horizon.

“Consequently, some valuation expectations are falling a little further, but this will only reflect what buyers are likely to pay at the current time.”

What impacts commercial property valuations?

Damien Druce, director and head of intermediary sales at Assetz Capital, said that from his conversations with intermediaries, they felt that surveyors still approached commercial property particularly cautiously, and that this was a legacy issue from the global economic crash.

“The valuers may well have a good point, however, as the valuation levels reached for tenanted property around 2007 were far above their vacant possession value and caused huge losses at lenders when some tenants failed in the crisis.

“Taking a more sensible approach on yields is a good thing we feel on the whole and, in the end, will be to the benefit of investors and lenders alike.

“However, on the unhelpful side is that valuations are now tending to be caveated with the unknown impact of Brexit, which can lead to lender uncertainty over the security offered and that isn’t supportive to a well-functioning lending market.”

Shahil added that Brexit negotiations were clouding the outlook for commercial real estate.

“A fear that businesses are looking to relocate away from the UK in droves has led to mark down in asset values.

“In reality, with barely a year to go to Brexit, there is no evidence of droves of businesses preparing in earnest to relocate away from the UK.”

Meanwhile, Paul Riddell, head of marketing and communications at Lendy, said commercial properties tended not to be traded with openly quoted prices, unlike residential properties.

“Valuers provide an ‘opinion’ of value [based] upon their own commercial acumen, market data, local knowledge and financial information about the property in question.

“While a particular commercial property may be attractive to one purchaser/investor, it may not be attractive to another.

“This is not different to the residential property market, where sentiment and supply and demand can affect value.”

Can improvements be made to commercial property valuations?

“The inclusion of a conversion-to-residential value could help give some additional strength to a commercial valuation report – given the strength of the residential market – and give all parties in the transaction further options and potentially improved perceived security as circumstances and times may change in the future,” said Damien.

Philip said that valuation methods had remained relatively unchanged for a number of years, with most guidance provided by the RICS.

“We try to ensure our valuations are as fair and robust as possible and, to achieve this, we will speak to local commercial agents and include high levels of relevant comparable evidence within our reports so both the bank and applicant can see how the figure has been concluded.

“Formulating any valuation is based on transactional evidence and, unlike residential property, commercial evidence is far more complex and less numerous.

“An improved clarity of transactional information would be welcome, and perhaps standardising the way property is marketed and subsequently reported upon post-sale will allow a greater degree of accuracy.

“De Villiers, as do most surveying practices, use peer review, so no valuation will be released without at least two surveyors agreeing to the conclusion of value.”

Source: Bridging and Commercial