Despite end of cycle fears that were routinely aired at the onset of the year, property performance held up rather well across most geographies and sectors. This is a function of the lagged impact of economic growth stimulating occupational markets, evolving structural trends creating new avenues for investment and a conducive interest rate environment. Indeed, the radical shift in monetary policy was a big surprise and both a catalyst for increased allocations to the asset class and frenzied bidding for core real estate.
Pulling out the crystal ball, I expect ESG will continue to ratchet up the agenda in 2020. Investors will demand greater specificity as to how their managers intend to meaningfully reduce the carbon footprint of their buildings or their approach to the Paris Climate Agreement. A growing body of academic literature will provide evidence that green buildings outperform traditional property in financial terms. And impact investing is sure to become part of investor vernacular with more fund launches and indices tracking performance. To the chagrin of those active in the space, the term ‘impact investing’ will continue to be used erroneously.
The faltering of a once prominent flexible office protagonist will not deter the proliferation of other brands and concepts. Winners in the budding space will be those operators responsively addressing evolving customer expectations and delivering flexibility at a compelling price point. The corollary is that we will see a consolidation of operators and landlords being cautious with the amount of space that they allocate to such tenants. European retail will likely have its reckoning as valuers begin to acknowledge mounting evidence of below book value sales. I suspect there will be more talk of timing a strategic re-entry to the retail sector than actual opportunistic buying activity. And if investor intention surveys are anything to go by, then the logistics and residential sectors should have another banner year. But an increase of speculative supply and a changing regulatory environment will dampen respective performance.
2020 should provide greater clarity regarding the direction Brexit will take. To date, our calling of political developments has been broadly accurate, which is encouraging because our property forecasts continue to signal the London office market beginning to outperform Europe in local currency terms. The reasons are structural, cyclical and relative. All are compelling.
And finally, I see Italy emerging as a market offering a cyclical upside opportunity as monetary and political forces coalesce in a favourable fashion. This is reaffirmed by the latest RICS Italian Commercial Property Monitor where more than half of respondents feel the market is in the early to middle stages of an upturn. Our preferred picks are mixed use assets in tourist-oriented urban locations, logistics development in Lombardy and alternative sectors such as student and senior housing in affluent northern cities.
Stayed tuned throughout the year to see whether any of this comes to bear.