Logistics is often seen as the darling of the real estate investment industry, but what does the future hold for the asset class and how long can the sector maintain its impressive rate of growth?
Record levels of demand for high quality well located logistics facilities has certainly been buoyed by the continued growth in online retail. This is very much an incremental driver of demand and a strategic structural shift that is here to stay.
That said, we have seen solid and continued growth in demand from the more traditional logistics operations driven by a combination of absolute growth of their businesses and perhaps more importantly supply chain consolidation, re-configuration and growth in outsourcing logistics operations to third-party logistics operators.
These structural drivers are a very important part of continued rising demand, particularly in Europe as supply chain design seeks to benefit from improved infrastructure and the opportunities/synergies that a pan-European network can deliver.
The rise of online has created the ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’ on-demand consumer, with increasingly high expectations. The pressure to shorten delivery times, narrow delivery windows and fulfil the ‘I want it now’ delivery options, is radically changing the logistics landscape.
It should be noted that, as a total of retail spend in the last five years, online sales have grown faster in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. There has also been strong demand within urban areas for sites capable of satisfying last-mile requirements and this will certainly continue across major European markets likely to see similar levels of growth and customer focus for the next decade to come.
Food and beverage is still meat and drink
While the rise in online grocers is definitely a growing trend, it’s more helpful to regard food and beverage as another product just like any other, albeit as a percentage of total retail spend, this is the single largest sector and as such it could be derived the biggest growth opportunity.
There will certainly be an increase in online grocery and linked to it demand for facilities with cold storage capability. That said, in the short to medium term this is not likely to outstrip the potential growth in more traditional product types that have dominated the online phenomena of late.
What the explosion in online retail is really leading to is increased competition and rewards for those companies that can demonstrate a better understanding of the customer.
Brand new online businesses are appearing every week who, if they are to survive, will have to maximise the advantages of digital technology while ensuring that their distribution networks are optimised for efficient and timely delivery. The new online retail reality is no respecter of the traditional major high-street players and those who are slow to adapt will become irrelevant.
Rental growth warning
In 2019 these strong fundamentals have not universally translated into rental growth and most forecasts suggest rents are unlikely to appreciate as fast as previously anticipated. In addition, investor appetite is fuelling development pipelines with no let-up in sight.
This will certainly contribute to a slower curve in rental growth and in some markets that could be exacerbated by growing indicators of over supply through the course of 2020 and into 2021.
All that said, we have seen better discipline than in any other cycle among developers and investors and so far that has helped to keep supply and demand in healthy equilibrium. Overall, this discipline is likely to continue in most of the major logistics hotspots, hubs and corridors.
More M&A and specialisation on the cards
Could 2020 spring a surprise or two? I wouldn’t be shocked to see a further consolidation of platforms. In the more mature market of the US, we have seen this continue at a pace with a number of very large transactions through the course of 2019.
While the number of possibilities for this in Europe is more limited, where the opportunity does exist, it is logical that we could see some of the large owners look to scale even more. The benefits of scale are numerous from an ownership perspective and enable significant differentiation and delivery of the benefits of economies of scale to the customer.
In the same vein, we will see the growing importance of sector focus become a central theme for the large international investment managers. Why? It has become increasingly more important to bring to clients and customers a level of knowledge and expertise as the sector evolves.
As an investment manager you have to have the ability to differentiate and separate from the crowd. This is why at CBRE Global Investors we have invested significantly over the last few years in building sector focus and capability as a way to deliver superior performance for our clients and building out operating capabilities that can rival and surpass the best.