Notes from Davos: Taking a Global View

After spending time at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Jones Lang LaSalle's CEO of the Americas, Peter Roberts, sees flexibility as a key for the commercial real estate industry.

February 6, 2012
by Peter Roberts, CEO of the Americas, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.

JLL's Peter Roberts at Davos.

As the world emerges from a year of immense global change marked with social, political and financial instability, I approached my time at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos with great anticipation. The theme of this year’s meeting of 2,500 of the world’s business, government and cultural leaders was ”The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models.”  This was an apt focus given the vast changes the business community is experiencing in technological advances, financial reforms and global economic power.

The mood was upbeat and determined.  Of particular note to those of us in the commercial real estate industry were the focus on the Euro zone, the growth engine in Asia and opportunities in Latin America.

In her opening address, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, espoused her commitment to the euro and greater European integration.  She conveyed optimism for the future but made it clear that labor productivity will be key to Europe’s revival. The frustration shared by many in Davos, however, was the lack of progress in crafting a solution to what ails the region.

Our firm’s paper, “A New World of Cities,” reports that 50 percent of global commercial real estate investment is concentrated in only 30 cities around the world. But we also see this as a decade of change as investors widen their horizons. As a sign of investor confidence in key European markets, London and Paris continue to be top picks for real estate investment.

Moving eastward, in the same research we found that the top ten cities for real estate investment include five from Asia.  Back in 2004, this figure was just two, and over the next decade the ten fastest growing cities in terms of GDP will reside in China.  China’s explosive growth will be positive for our industry as it drives demand in the region and globally.

Asia’s exorbitant growth turns the conversation to how resource scarcity will put a premium on sustainable development in the next decade. It is clear that both the private and public sectors will have critical roles in advancing the agenda for urbanization and ensuring that it is done with sustainability front of mind.  While an enormous challenge, this is an area for which our sector can provide essential advice and guidance.

Turning to the Americas, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico made it clear that he recognizes the importance of Mexico being viewed as a positive investment destination.  With more than 80 percent of that country’s exports going to the United States, a vibrant Mexico is important to companies throughout the Americas – indeed, throughout the world.  I came away from the session with President Calderon feeling positive about Mexico’s prospects.

During my discussions with clients, business leaders and government officials, a number of key takeaways surfaced for our sector: Globalization of the industry will continue, capital sources will demand greater transparency, sustainability and energy management will climb the agenda.  Corporate occupiers are not in the throes of downsizing or scaling back; they are on the front foot, operating in an environment where uneven growth prospects around the world require agility.  The implications for their real estate are simple: flexibility is key.  All in all, from my conversations with global investors, it’s clear that real estate is viewed as a desirable asset class, a mindset working in our favor.