Special Report: The Money Market
By Suzann D. Silverman, Editorial Director, Commercial Property Executive
San Diego—Real estate investment is increasingly becoming a global business with widening competition as more players place money around the globe. Depending on investment goals, players may be drawn to the recovering U.S. markets or the lagging European markets. And while U.S. investors seek opportunities in Asia, local investors there are already well entrenched.
Foreign investors are so eager to pursue opportunities in U.S. real estate that they are racing to join the biggest deals, making it sometimes difficult to differentiate between clients and competitors. That was a conclusion among speakers on the Urban Land Institute Spring Meeting keynote panel, “Capital Markets: Who Has the Capital and Who is Getting It,” which was moderated by Christopher Ludeman, CBRE Group Inc. president of brokerage services and the capital markets. Capital is flowing in from around the globe, ranging from the top-ranking Koreans—now permitted to invest abroad and only held back in the United States by FIRPTA limitations—to those from the Middle East and Canada, noted LaSalle Investment Management global head of the capital markets Jon Zehner. And he is keeping an eye on China and Australia as capital sources.
The Japanese, too, are eager to invest outside their slow-growing borders, noted J. Michael Stedman, senior executive vice president of Union Bank, whose employer is owned by Bank of Tokyo/Mitsubishi.
Meanwhile, some big U.S. investors see more opportunity overseas than in their own backyards. Zehner observed that the spread between assets in primary and secondary markets is now 75 to 100 basis points in the United States and Canada but 250 to 350 basis points in Europe. In fact, his company is representing a major Asian financing source venturing with a regional European fund to invest in U.K.-located residential property. The U.K. economic cycle is six to 12 months behind the U.S.’s, according to Charles Fedalen Jr., executive vice president & group head of the Wells Fargo CRE Institutional and Metro Markets Group and the Wells Fargo Real Estate Banking Group.
Elsewhere, John Miller, senior managing director for Tishman Speyer, pointed to a fund his company recently put together using Chinese currency to invest in that country. He noted a lot of pent-up demand there.
Wherefore art U.S. returns?
Speakers on “The Next Best Bet: Making the Case in a Capital Constrained Market” all expressed interest in European investment. But they also see opportunity in various segments of the U.S. market, although with the U.S. recovery at something of a midway point, identifying risk-adjusted returns can be challenging, they said.
The multifamily sector continues to attract attention, and PIMCO vice president Chris Flick is no exception. He said he still sees room for growth even though the best deals were done two years ago. Damian Manolis, managing director at Prudential Real Estate Investors, advised seeking out micro areas that work, even in more concentrated cities like Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Starwood Capital Group senior vice president Mark Deason, however, sees more opportunity in recovering sectors such as the office market, where he said you can still achieve cash-on-cash returns in the double digits (although largely only as much as 10 percent). Pricing is far ahead of fundamentals in the primary markets but more closely aligned in secondary markets, he noted, although he confessed to remaining focused on the primary cities. And Manolis pointed to the recovering job market and lack of development as contributing to a more solid office sector, even while companies are pursuing smaller space-per-person ratios and hoteling to minimize office size. Flick was less optimistic about the sector but allowed that opportunity could increase as conditions improve.
The panel as a whole was less optimistic about retail and industrial property, although Flick suggested a “barbell” model to retail opportunities, with high- and low-end properties offering the best bets. Grocery-anchored centers, he said, are too popular to offer good deals. That makes it necessary to focus on in-line retailers for growth—and that, the panel agreed, requires strong relationships with national retailers, the better to identify expansion plans. As for industrial, only development offers returns, Flick affirmed.
It is also challenging to find good hotel deals, especially in the limited-service segment, Deason said, although his company has been an active hotel buyer. The panel agreed hotels may have hit the bottom of the cycle and are about to turn upward again.
A series of audience polls turned up continued favor for the multifamily, industrial and retail sectors, with office and hotel eliciting a more negative response.