ULI: Emerging Trends in Europe Bearish for '12

"Debt" is going to be the name of the game for the European real estate markets in 2012, according to Emerging Trends in Real Estate Europe 2012, the industry forecast published by PwC and the Urban Land Institute.

January 30, 2012
By Nicholas Ziegler, News Editor

“Debt” is going to be the name of the game for the European real estate markets in 2012, according to Emerging Trends in Real Estate Europe 2012, the industry forecast published by PwC and the Urban Land Institute. With daily reminders that interest-rate cuts on Greek bonds are still in limbo and debt-rating decreases for Euro-zone nations are on the rise, a turnaround looks to be tied directly to banks’ willingness to make commercial loans and whether the financial industry could face another collapse. The survey took responses from more than 600 commercial-property professionals across Europe to determine the overall course of the industry.

“The profound instability is affecting the providers of equity and debt,” Joe Montgomery, chief executive of ULI Europe, said. “We are operating in an environment that is very difficult to model. The uncertainty over the level of banks’ exposure to sovereign-debt default, coupled with uncertainty over the regulatory changes introduced as a result, has caused significant elements of the capital markets to be reduced to a state of near paralysis.”

In general, lenders are facing a level of pessimism over debt at levels not seen in years, according to John Forbes, the report’s author. Only 6 percent of lenders think that debt will be as available this year as it was in 2011, and a full 52 percent feel it will be substantially less available.

But not all news is gloomy, however. “The good news is that the view of respondents regarding the availability of equity is much more positive,” Forbes wrote. “Most promising is the response from institutional investors: 65 percent believe that equity will be moderately more available, with a further 10 percent believing that equity would be substantially more available.” And those lenders will play a significant role in the economy’s health, as all the players are interconnected. Mezzanine lenders need senior lenders to push debt into the marketplace, and insurance companies need time to build the right infrastructure to deploy capital.

With such uncertainty, it was difficult for the survey’s respondents to make sweeping generalizations about market sectors, but geography will certainly play a role in how investments will roll out from city to city. Istanbul, the report noted, has been the top market for commercial real estate investment for the past two years, “but that ranking is more a reflection of its long-term economic future than a sign that investors are about to rush to place their capital in the market.” And, while debt concerns continue to plague Spain and Italy, opportunistic investors may still see possibilities as banks begin to release assets later this year.

Overall, 2012 could be a turning point, the year that investors have been waiting for – or it may turn out to be a bust. Pressures from all directions could make finding funding solutions for banks an imperative, but whether investors get the bargains they would like is still very much an unknown. In general, the report’s bearish mood reflects the larger overall picture, and the coming months will certainly tell a clearer story.