London’s commerical property market has become the latest casualty of Brexit.
Spending on U.K. offices, malls and warehouses plunged more than 40 percent in the first two months of the year to 4.3 billion pounds ($5.6 billion), according to research firm Property Data. With less than three weeks left before the U.K.’s scheduled withdrawal from the European Union, buyers are watching to see if the attempts to prevent a chaotic no-deal withdrawal will succeed.
While the U.K. Parliament prepares to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s latest Brexit proposal, about 6,000 U.K. real estate professionals gather on Tuesday for the annual MIPIM conference on the French Riviera. In previous years, this was typically a flurry of deal-making, but this year’s gathering in Cannes will be held under a cloud of uncertainty.
“I don’t think there are too many investment committees out there who want to commit a large amount of capital when there is a belief that within 30 days all will be clear,” Andrea Orlandi, a managing director in charge of European real estate for the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, said in an interview.
The wait-and-see attitude has translated into reduced sales and delayed leases. Purchases of City of London offices were almost a third lower than the five-year average in the first two months of the year, according to Savills Plc. Leases for space in the financial district dropped 42 percent in January from a year earlier, the broker’s data show.
“We’re definitely seeing fewer deals coming in, and we’re having to be selective,’’ Dan Riches, director of real estate finance at M&G Investments, said in Cannes. “Brexit has been around for two years, but as the deadline approaches, it certainly focuses the mind.’’
Even if Parliament approves May’s deal, rents for the best buildings in London’s main financial district will probably drop by 4 percent this year because the political turmoil has already taken a toll, according to asset manager DWS Group GmbH.
Real-estate funds have also taken a hit. Investors have pulled 1.1 billion pounds out of these funds since October, according to Calastone. Redemptions are now taking place at a faster pace than in the aftermath of the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Yet while U.K. transactions decline, investors have continued to pour money into other European capitals, pushing prices to record levels. Yields on the best office buildings in Berlin are now about 3 percent, making them substantially more expensive than those in London. If lawmakers deliver a Brexit deal, that gap could start to look very attractive to global investors.
“I don’t think there is any shortage of capital,” said Julian Agnew, U.K. chief investment officer for LaSalle Investment Management Inc. “One way or the other there should be more activity once we have clarity, whatever the outcome.”