The health of bricks and mortar retail, and the resulting impact on retail property owners, have rarely been out of the news in 2018. In many western markets the pace of structural decline in retail has accelerated, and this has brought enormous challenges both for retailers and for the owners of the centres from which they trade.
There is sometimes an assumption that these trends are global, but from our experience, with a portfolio of leading shopping centres across nine Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, we see a different picture and a continued desire by global retailers to expand their footprint in those markets where modern retail and leisure destinations remain relatively few. The interest in modern shopping centres from consumers in this part of Europe is strong and growing, as we can see from the 370 million people who visited our properties in 2017.
Independent data from respected bodies such as the Economist Intelligence Unit shows that the CEE region, home to a cumulative population of more than 100 million, is set to be one of the key engines of economic growth across the EU in the years to come. To take our home markets of Romania and Poland as examples, GDP growth in 2017 was 7% and 4.6% respectively, as opposed to just over 2% for the EU28.
Private consumption is growing at a significantly faster rate in the CEE region compared to western European countries. Of course, the CEE countries are coming from a lower base which should mean outstanding growth over the years to come, helped by tight labour markets and fiscal stimulus.
For instance, in Serbia, consumption per capita is low at under euros 4,000 per capita per year, but is forecast to almost double over the next decade. Another key indicator is unemployment, which clearly has significant social as well as economic implications, and is predicted to fall in all the main CEE markets over the next five years.
What does this mean for retail?