Alternatives are the new Core – The Property Chronicle
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Alternatives are the new Core

The Professor

The demise of high street retailing in the UK has been a subject of national concern for some time – and even mainstream TV and radio has covered the issue from a variety of angles. The very public failure of big-name brands such as Woolworths, Toys r Us, BHS and Debenhams heralds what is probably only the start of a saga which will have a continuing impact on the world of real estate. A large number of high street retailers are anticipating continued disruption from e-tailing and slower trade volumes. Consequently, they expect to pay much less rent over the next five years –either by giving up premises and/or renegotiating leases.  

Despite long-standing concerns about the sustainability of the conventional retailing format in the face of digital disruption and the problems of ‘clone high streets’, it was only 4 years ago that this sector topped the investor charts. At the end of 2015, prime equivalent yields on high street retail were 4%. A few ‘ultra prime’ London units were even bought by overseas investors on a 2.5% yield in anticipation of significant rental growth.

All this serves to show how wrong the real estate investing world can be and how ‘group think’ can lead to potentially disastrous consequences – in what seems like a very short space of time. High Street retail yields have moved out to 5.25% now and will probably be nearer 6% before it’s all over. Retail warehouse yields have already climbed to 6.25% since the Halcyon days of 2014 when they were 200 bps lower.

This falling out of favour with investors is alone sufficient to account for a 32% fall in the capital value of retail warehouses.  With retailers anticipating as much as a 30% fall in the rents they will pay in future and Savills reporting a 21% fall in retail rents in the year to September 2018, the combined effect, within a few short years, could amount to retail units halving in value.

So, if yesterday’s ‘blue-chip‘ covenant can fast become today’s difficult-to-let, boarded-up shop front, have we been measuring risk the wrong way?

I would suggest that the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.  Not only have we over-valued conventional asset classes (because our peer groups continue to trade them) but we have also been under-valuing ‘non-institutional’, niche and unconventional asset classes for a long time.  We have set more store in ‘not underperforming’ rather than looking forward for change and new areas of growth.  Furthermore, performance is based on a set of backward-looking, annual metrics generated by a small group of near-identical investing institutions.

Real estate is an asset. I was always taught that an asset is something that puts money in your pocket but the property world’s obsession with estimated rental values (ERVs) rather than net cashflows and with gross cap rates rather than net effective yields seems to me to have obscured this fundamental of investing over the last 5 or 6 decades. Investors have become lazy as first the inflation of the 1960s, 70s and 80s provided them with rising asset values and then falling interest rates, or yield shift, in the 1990s and first two decades of the 21stcentury has done the same. Driving uplift through rental growth by actively adding value to places, people and economies became a lost art.

But the same plight experienced by retail property investors will be experienced by many more in other sectors who have been over-reliant on ‘blue-chip’ covenants, upward-only rent reviews, full repairing and insuring leases and all the other paraphernalia of the small, closed world of RE asset trading.

The good news is that, last year, over half of all RE investment in the UK was in so-called ‘alternative’ asset classes. ‘Alternatives’ include assets like student housing, distribution warehousing, small industrials, multi-family residential, co-working space, hotels, hospitality, F&B and other types of buildings and land which need hands-on operators in place to create an entity capable of arms-length investment.

Source: Savills Research

The Professor

About Yolande Barnes

Yolande Barnes

Yolande has been examining and analysing real estate markets since 1986. As Director of World Research at Savills, Yolande provided evidence-based advice to clients and thought-leadership in real estate. She is an advisor to a variety of different enterprises and organisations. She writes regularly for research publications, national and international newspapers on a variety of property-related topics, and regularly appears on television and radio.

Articles by Yolande Barnes

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