“Back to life, back to reality” – prescient words written by Mr Jazzie B. OBE for his number one hit in the summer of 1989. Industries, livelihoods and, undoubtedly, future geopolitical direction currently ride on the answer to when or if we will go “back to life”.
For the UK’s life, pension and general insurance funds to meet their respective obligations and liabilities, they need a regular stream of dividend income. These receipts have over the years originated in no small way from property-related investments. Indeed, in the ten years to 2020 offices outside London delivered an impressive annualised total return of 8.6%. Of this, the tenant rent roll accounted for over three-quarters. Indeed, as yields from gilts and fixed income more generally have compressed, total investment into property assets increased steadily, amounting to £49.5bn in 2019.
In 2020, however, UK investment activity has fallen off the furlough cliff with a mere £16.5bn investment in the six months to 30 June 2020. True rental cheques from occupiers directly involved in or linked to grocery and medical services have all been very gratefully received. However, what of the postal position of cheques from other occupiers? General retail and leisure: the dog ate it, but a replacement will be with you once/if reality is restored; warehouse and industrial: already posted and you should have received it; office: posted and see you soon.
Let us be clear that a structural occupational shift in the types of UK commercial property demanded was under way well before this year. What this crisis has done is accelerate matters across consumer-facing commercial real estate – super-charging demand for property linked to delivery logistics, at the same time as collapsing it for real estate relying upon consumers visiting. While the crisis has accelerated what was already in evidence for some time in relation to consumer CRE, it has hit the office market in a way not experienced since the global financial crisis over a decade ago.