Investor Outlook Shows Confidence, Concern: Marcus & Millichap

Respondents to a recent survey remain largely bullish on the economy and industry fundamentals, yet they are also watching for clear policy signals from Washington, D.C. Industrial values are considered most likely to rise.

By Scott Baltic, Contributing Editor

It’s a battle out there, according to a new report from Marcus & Millichap, a battle between optimism and caution and the factors driving each one.

John Chang, Marcus & Millichap
John Chang, Marcus & Millichap

On one hand, the political climate is uncertain, with confidence declining somewhat as to whether the Trump administration’s fiscal and other policies will be favorable for the economy and investment. In addition, more than two-thirds of investors polled for the third-quarter Marcus & Millichap/NREI Investor Sentiment Survey think CRE values may be approaching a cyclical peak.

On the other hand, fundamentals in most property types remain solid, and investor confidence is still largely positive regarding the overall economic outlook, job growth and access to capital.

Emerging Disconnect

“[S]entiment is still leaning towards the positive side, but we are seeing some movement reflecting emerging investor caution because they are not sure what will happen with the range of policies on the table,” said John Chang, First Vice President of Research Services at Marcus & Millichap. “[R]ight now, we are seeing a modest softening in investor perspective.

The report summed this up as “a disconnect emerging in investor sentiment with uncertainty on one side and still high confidence related to property fundamentals and performance on the other side.

Some of the survey’s key points:

* Although some investors are waiting for more clarity on administration policy, 59 percent of surveyed investors plan to increase their CRE investments over the next 12 months.

* Most investors expect steady economic growth this year and next, though almost all have concerns about rising interest rates in the coming year.

* Reduced regulations and lower taxes are expected to benefit commercial real estate, but trade protectionism and more stringent immigration policies are considered to be potential negatives.

* The M&M investor sentiment index declined to 150, versus 153 in the fourth quarter. (The index has been tapering since peaking at 179 in 2014.)

* About three-quarters of respondents continue to agree that CRE “offers favorable returns compared to other investment classes” and plan to expand their portfolios.

Industrial Power

Industrial investors are the most confident, with 64 percent believing that values will rise. This sector is followed by apartments at 58 percent, hotel at 51 percent, office at 41 percent and retail at 30 percent.

Unsurprisingly, e-commerce is seen as a key element driving demand for industrial space, especially the emphasis on “last mile” distribution centers.

Marcus & Millichap itself forecasts that industrial vacancies will improve 30 basis points this year, as average asking rents increase 7.3 percent. “That rent growth is significant, particularly considering how far we are into the cycle. Demand has been running at a pretty steady clip for the last five years and industrial remains a hot commodity,” said Alan L. Pontius, Senior Vice President, National Director Specialty Divisions at Marcus & Millichap.

Though office has trailed other segments for investor attention, it’s gaining traction because of a long run of employment growth, on top of absorption that has been outpacing construction, noted Pontius.

Broad Spectrum

Multifamily faces the opposite situation, with a high volume of new construction totaling about 371,000 new units estimated to be completed this year, according to Marcus & Millichap, the most since the 1980s.

Competition for tenants in the Class A space is becoming more and more significant, particularly in the urban core,” said John S. Sebree, First Vice President, National Director of the National Multi Housing Group at Marcus & Millichap.

Nonetheless, apartment fundamentals are still solid, and more than half of respondents expect apartment values to increase in the coming year, by an average increase of 3.8 percent.

On the retail side, “There is a very significant disconnect between investor perception and asset performance,” said Bill Rose, First Vice President, National Director of the National Retail Group and Net Leased Properties Group of Marcus & Millichap.

He explained that store closures by high-profile retailers have overshadowed the companies that are expanding and opening new locations. Further, Rose said, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods supports the integrated online-offline approach.

Finally, on the hotel side, “Both the business and the leisure travel demand are doing very well and hotels are maintaining very high occupancy levels,” said Peter Nichols, Vice President, National Director of Marcus & Millichap’s National Hospitality Group.

This is so, he explained, despite previous concerns by hotel investors about the extent of construction and “the prospect of softening tourism if the economy should weaken.”

About half of hotel investors (51 percent) think values will increase over the next 12 months, a major jump from 32 percent in the fourth-quarter survey.

The full report is available here.