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COVID-19:
Global Real Estate
Implications

La mise en œuvre de mesures phares pour limiter la propagation du COVID-19 est aujourd'hui devenue une priorité de tous les acteurs. JLL décrypte les effets potentiels de la pandémie sur l'économie, le secteur immobilier, pour les investisseurs et les utilisateurs.

19 avril 2020

COVID-19 : quelles implications pour les marchés immobiliers mondiaux ?

Les états, entreprises et collectivités font aujourd’hui face aux impacts concrets de la pandémie de COVID-19. Les conséquences immédiates sur l’activité des entreprises et les comportements individuels sont indéniables et, alors qu’un consensus se forme sur un rebond de l’activité pour le 2ème semestre 2020, la vitesse et l’ampleur de la reprise restent aujourd’hui inconnus.

Plutôt que de faire des paris audacieux, JLL a considéré le sujet sous plusieurs angles : comment se préparer à un ralentissement transitoire et modéré ou à faire face à un choc plus long et plus prononcé.

Téléchargez la version complète de l'étude (anglais) via le formulaire en bas de page.

 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic, first and foremost, demands a health policy response. Only an improvement in overall public health will bring an end to the crisis. Although countries around the world have implemented different measures with varying levels of stringency, some patterns have emerged.

First, nations have circumscribed social behaviors. Some have restricted the movement of people, both citizens and non-citizens. Governments have restricted travel (both intranational and international) with some placing arriving international passengers into mandatory quarantine, some limiting air travel, and others closing borders. Governments have also shut schools and non-essential businesses, and implemented or encouraged social distancing, with people only allowed to leave home out of absolute necessity. And many countries have banned gatherings, though the maximum size of the group permitted differs from country to country. Increasingly, countries have advised people to wear protective equipment, including facemasks, when out in public.

Health policy

On the health policy front, countries have ramped up testing as quickly as possible in order to understand the full extent of the outbreak. Although some initially lagged in their testing regime, they are now attempting to catch up. Along with testing, nations have attempted to isolate individuals with mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 and provide treatment to those with severe symptoms. Contact tracing can help authorities identify future cases where individuals have had contact with someone with a confirmed positive diagnosis. Countries have also sought to boost the production of health equipment (including masks, faceguards and ventilators), while also expanding hospital and ICU capacity. Some are expediting drug trials and looking for any existing remedies that could prove effective in lessening the severity of COVID-19. Meanwhile, a number of countries are accelerating the research, development and testing of vaccine candidates, looking to shorten the time to successful development and widespread vaccination.

Monetary policy

Several central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, have initiated a 'whatever it takes' approach to monetary and banking policy via a portfolio of traditional, recent and novel measures. Despite interest rates already hovering at generally low levels, major central banks have reduced policy rates further, in some cases to levels unseen since the Global Financial Crisis or new record-low levels. Some central banks have initiated or increased asset purchase programs to lower long-term bond yields. In a number of cases, central banks have widened the scope of assets available for purchase, including some (such as corporate bonds) for the first time. The scope of credit programs has also been expanded to alleviate the freezing of credit markets, making funds available to companies including small and medium-sized businesses that possess smaller safety nets. While these measures alone cannot immunize the real economy, they can help to limit the damage.

Fiscal policy

Governments have also utilized strong fiscal policy stimulus to help lessen the impact of the crisis. Initially, many fiscal measures aimed to bolster the healthcare system, but many governments did not stop there, realizing that such actions would likely prove inadequate and require more government spending. In the wake of these measures to support healthcare systems, record-level spending packages across the globe aimed to at least partially fill the void left by the retrenchment in private spending from consumers and businesses. Some measures have targeted ultimate end consumers, while others have been directed at companies in the hope that doing so would help to prevent or lessen job losses. These measures are unlikely to serve as a panacea and we expect governments to expend additional funding once the extent of the downturn becomes clearer.

Real estate policy

Policy response summary for 10 largest economies

Source: JLL Research, April 2020

Cautious optimism following a relaxation of the lockdown

  • Office sector: The return-to-office rate varies by city, with 80–100% in Shanghai and 75-80% in Chengdu and Chongqing. Leasing volumes have slowed and renewal has become the preferred choice of tenants. The ‘new economy’ companies appear to be faring relatively well with increased enquiries from tech firms. There is now also an increased focus on safety.
  • Retail sector: Malls are slowly coming back to life, albeit with precautionary measures including temperature checks and social distancing measures. Leasing activity remains subdued and it is possible that there will be further impacts from the lockdown in Q2. International brands are selectively continuing their expansion plans while grocery stores and supermarkets are benefiting from people staying in rather than dining out. Brands have accelerated their adoption of integrated online and offline sales as consumers prefer to avoid crowded shopping areas.
  • Logistics sector: The logistics sector exhibited a degree of resilience during the outbreak due to tenants such as e-commerce companies. Freight traffic and warehouse parks have now resumed operations. Trends such as fresh food deliveries have accelerated and demand for cold chain logistics is expected to increase.
  • Hospitality sector: According to STR, 87% of hotels in China have now reopened, although most are reporting low occupancy rates (below 30%). Restrictions are still in place, with inter-provincial trips discouraged and travel bans on foreign visitors. There are some signs of recovery with improving staycation demand in resorts located an hour away from major cities.
  • Capital markets: Investors are still showing strong interest in China’s commercial real estate market. While the outbreak may have postponed some deals, other negotiations have been pushed through with confidence from investors, particularly domestic. Investors are focusing on the longer-term potential.

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Operational resilience will be crucial to recover from the outbreak

Businesses will not go back to the way we knew before the pandemic, but will reinvent themselves to be more resilient, adapting their operational models to the 'new normal.'

Source: JLL Research, April 2020

Planning for 're-entry'

There is currently limited visibility on the timing of this next stage but companies are now planning for re-entry. This phase is complex to navigate, requiring some restructuring and courage from business leaders and their workforces. Occupiers must determine the level of modification required to return to business: prepare, redesign and fit-out workplaces ready enough to invite employees back to the office, combined with remote working capabilities and a robust triage approach. It is not about getting back to the office as soon as possible. Rather the opposite approach. It is first and foremost about technology. What does it take to 're-entry' facilities that were closed weeks ago, bring people back to work and return to a stable business activity? What functions must come back when the 're-entry' option is available?

Corporate re-entry check list

Workforce

‘Provide confidence that it is safe to come back to work’

Asset & people protection

‘Safety, health and wellness to remain the priority’

Workstyle adaptations

‘Changing protocols and workspace design’

Eligibility/triage to return to work and identify priorities of re-entry

Full protection through hygiene solutions. Visible and well-trained cleaning staff will be critical

Reduced workplace density – redesign space to maintain new distancing standards
Critical activities and sites identified including site proximity analysis Limited/controlled access to manage density

New protocols to reduce gatherings while enabling collaboration

Training and education program to prepare for return to work Commuting plans and protocols Provide new onsite facilities to reduce need to leave 
Social and physical distancing protocols Employee and visitor screening solutions Enable remote working to continue
Limit sharing of equipment Tracking and control measures using technologies   
Provide mental health support Healthy building measures  

Source: JLL Research, April 2020

Wider environment as important as corporate behavior

Actions by corporate occupiers is only one piece of the re-entry strategy. Landlords along with city and regional/state governments also need to be providing safe environments and clear guidance to employees and corporates alike. Public infrastructure must be adapted to manage density and provide clean environments along with enabling tracking and control measures. Corporate decision making will depend on governance of the country/state/local policy and measures.

Short-term pullback expected in capital flows as uncertainty builds

Over the short term, investment activity in global commercial real estate is expected to slow. Restrictions and uncertainty around valuation is limiting investors’ ability to perform due diligence, and it is more challenging to execute transactions. Delayed launches and elongated transaction timelines are increasingly evident in affected markets as city lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing become commonplace around the world. Technology continues to be used to connect parties and reduce some of the barriers to productivity. However, the uncertainty of the duration of the pandemic and the inability to appropriately price risk will maintain higher barriers to the normalization of capital flows in the near term.  

On the other hand, the situation in Asia Pacific has provided a benchmark for what a recovery could look like in other regions. In China, life is shifting back to normal for most locations outside of the Hubei province, where the outbreak began. Manufacturing is returning to roughly 90% of full capacity while circa 80% of retail, restaurants and bars are now open. Transactional activity is gradually improving across the region, and investor appetite is growing. However, there is concern in markets such as Singapore, which was initially less affected, where infection case counts have risen due to residents returning from abroad.

Investors look to major arbiters of asset-level risk

Even though sentiment has been dampened, investor appetite in certain segments of the market has remained in spite of challenges to transacting. Healthcare and logistics assets continue to garner interest, especially since many of these have been supported by governments as essential infrastructure and are seen to be defensive and resilient. We expect investors will continue to look to a few considerations as major arbiters of asset-level risk in the near term:

  • Income stability: The less variable the contractual income, the less risk. This favors the living sectors and office assets with credit tenancies, lower exposure to variable rent and strong remaining terms.
  • Operation criticality: The more important the facility and tenancy to revenue and business operations, the lower the risk. This favors data centers and critical logistics assets.
  • Occupation density: The higher the density of occupants, the higher the operational risk of contagion. This creates short-term risk for hotels, retail, select living assets and flex-office operators.

While many investors have paused new acquisitions, select well-funded institutions and high-net-worth investors with longer-term investment horizons will be among the first movers, concentrating on these sectors. Offensive, higher risk profile strategies will emerge in other segments of the market where pricing dislocations may yield opportunities, particularly in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Investors and lenders focused on 'price discovery' and asset management

Despite ample liquidity in debt markets, lenders remain in a phase of 'price discovery' and are increasingly shifting to asset managing their existing portfolios. This is particularly evident in the U.S. where lenders are focused on formulating policies and procedures on how to best manage and underwrite forbearance requests. The stabilization of the cost of debt will be a critical enabling factor in the recovery of transactional activity, and the debt market is expected to be resilient given the stability of the credit markets as compared to the Global Financial Crisis.

In line with direct investment, new fundraising activity is likely to be delayed. Existing mandates in the market, particularly those which were further along in marketing, are continuing to secure commitments and move toward closings. The experience and track record of managers will be of increased importance in investor decisions, and this will benefit established managers throughout and beyond the current market turbulence. The so called 'denominator effect' may slow deployment of new capital to the asset class in the near term given recent volatility in the public markets. However, it is important to note that the denominator effect is an expected byproduct of a successful diversification strategy, and investors typically have margins around their allocation targets that permit them to overweight or underweight an asset class based on market conditions. In fact, some investors are increasing their target allocations to real estate to be ready to take advantage of anticipated market dislocation. Nevertheless, there continues to be a record level of dry powder (US $330 billion) available.

Over the long term, real estate remains an attractive asset class

Although investment into real estate has fluctuated over the years through various downturns, the overall trend has been for higher allocations to real estate, and we see no reason for this trend to reverse. Real estate continues to offer good risk-adjusted returns that are less correlated to other asset classes. This portfolio diversification advantage of real estate investments is only emphasized in periods of increased volatility in the equities and commodities markets.

Finally, the spread between real estate yields and government bond yields remains at levels that more sufficiently reward the real estate investor. Given this, we expect to see continued flows (and potentially an increase) of capital into real estate over the medium to long term.

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Although the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a human concern, there are secondary effects that are filtering through the economy and real estate sector that may be with us to stay. The way we are all currently living and working differs vastly from this time last year – those changes which will become part of our 'new normal' following relaxation of the lockdowns remain to be seen. Below, we explore some of these emerging trends by sector.

Office sector

Impact on flexible space demand amid mass remote working

The flexible space sector, which in recent years has accounted for a substantial share of net absorption in global gateway cities, has fallen flat as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This will likely force significant consolidation across the flex industry. 

In the medium to long term, demand for flex space will continue to be an important feature. Many corporates will be anxious not to commit to big capex projects or make any firm employee headcount forecasts, which will strengthen demand for preconfigured space on flexible terms. Furthermore, the forced mass experiment in homeworking will reinforce the need for corporates to adopt agile portfolios and adapt the physical office to deliver collaboration.

The trajectory of the office market will be shaped not only by the ability of governments and financial institutions to manage the ongoing crisis, but also the potential emergence of structural changes to how space is used and incorporation of lower employee density and deployment of remote-working options.

While some corporates might look to remote working in order to compress their real estate footprint, most are already looking at ways to future-proof their portfolios. Risk mitigation strategies will include greater investment in 'business continuity planning' space and remote-working facilities. De-densification is also likely as the appeal of highly dense, large, open-plan offices is now clearly up for debate. Finally, social distancing will highlight the value of day-to-day social interactions and our belief that physical interaction is a key catalyst for innovation. While it is too early to make bold predictions in terms of a shift in the quantum of space required by corporates coming out of this crisis, the physical office will take center stage in facilitating interaction and collaboration and, ultimately, employee health, well-being and productivity. It is likely to cater for face-to-face/large group meetings that promote sale connections and collaboration, and not just be a place to come to work every day.

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Retail sector

Move toward flexible omni-channel retail models and sustainable fulfilment

For retailers, the primary focus in the short term remains on preserving cash. A rising number of retailers and leisure operators are assessing options to offset the loss of revenue from their physical store portfolios. For example, proactive gym operators are offering subscription services to stream online workout sessions while high-end restaurants are offering meals for delivery or collection, and others have turned eateries into mini supermarkets. Social responsibility is being closely monitored by customers, who are spending more time online as a result of lockdown measures. In addition to generous donations and the manufacture of masks and hand-sanitisers, various cosmetics and luxury brands have embraced live streaming for sharing make-up and fashion tips. The common denominator for retailers is to stay relevant and to be socially responsible as consumers temporarily reign in their spending.

Looking further ahead, many retailers will rethink their operations and supply chains. Having the right infrastructure for the fulfilment of online orders continues to be crucial for trading. As the structural change in the retail market accelerates, greater emphasis will be placed on the shift toward a flexible omni-channel retail model and sustainable fulfilment; strengthened partnerships between landlords and retailers will need to emerge to achieve this. In addition, existing store networks will be reassessed. For example, some upmarket retailers are exploring options to accelerate the opening of outlet stores post-COVID-19 as a means of clearing surplus stock.

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Logistics sector

Supply chain risk mitigation and resilience

Supply chain risk mitigation and resilience will become a key focus for operators. Companies will increasingly look at: 

  • Re-shoring or near sourcing of manufacturing, with greatest pressures on critical industries (such as medical devices, technology and pharmaceuticals). A renewed emphasis on domestic supply chain independence will accelerate this re-shoring trend.
  • Greater diversification in terms of sourcing. Distribution networks will be re-set to be less reliant on one country in order to de-risk the production or distribution processes. This will lead to more multifacility / multi-location strategies.
  • Diversification of transport modes, including the development of port diversification strategies and investing in locations that provide multi-modal transport options.

This is likely to result in additional regional demand for manufacturing facilities and associated logistics, but potentially lead to weaker world trade growth and container flows at gateway ports. 

Additionally, companies with very lean supply chains (with low inventory cover) may seek to increase their inventory levels.

The pandemic will accelerate trends already in evidence across the sector such as increased online penetration rates, expansion of online grocery, omni-channel retailing and the integration of technology into warehousing. Industrial and logistics fundamentals were very strong prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Occupier demand had been exceptionally robust and vacancy rates were at nearrecord lows. The pandemic is highlighting the critical importance of supply chains and logistics real estate, and the sector is well placed to respond to the post COVID-19 recovery.

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Hospitality sector

Changing consumer travel preferences

International travel around the world has ground to a complete halt, with many airlines and cruise companies suspending flights and cruises for several months. Once the industry starts to recover, travel patterns are expected to shift toward drive-to-resort destinations and less dense markets where travelers can be in open spaces and avoid large groups of people.

The types of lodging people will gravitate to may also change. The coronavirus’ psychological impact on consumer travel behaviors can be compared to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. People have become more self-conscious of being in close proximity to others and are fearful of contracting the disease in public places with questionable standards of cleanliness. Non-professional lodging options, largely comprised of alternative accommodations, are likely to face increasing scrutiny and pressure from guests who are concerned with their health and well-being.

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Living sectors

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the living sectors have maintained their reputation for resilence and stable operating cash flows. However, the future peformance of the different living sectors will vary significantly.

Income protection schemes help to support rental incomes in multifamily

Multifamily is widely considered to be the most resilient sector to the real estate impacts from COVID-19, but this will be challenged should growing unemployment begin to soften rental demand. The widespread use of income protection schemes will mitigate against the worst of these impacts provided they remain relatively short in duration. Should commercial activity become more widespread in a timeline similar to China, there is a reasonable expectation that incomes will be supported. The investment risks are weighted toward lower-income rental properties, where workers are disproportionately exposed to structural unemployment impacts. More vulnerable households are more likely to require government income support and, as a result, household financial circumstances will correlate with the strength of national policy measures.

Reduced international student intakes pose a risk to student housing

Student housing has absorbed a range of impacts from COVID-19. With rental income largely pre-paid and protected for Spring terms, many operators have been working to provide forbearance strategies. They will now be adjusting occupancy plans for Autumn/Fall 2020, with the hope that health measures have successfully mitigated the acute risk of students returning to physical class environments. There will be lessons from effective social distancing strategies that have already been in use for students that chose or were forced to remain in student accommodation. At the same time, there may be a material adjustment to the proportion of international students taking up places at Western universities. This risk to income would place additional pressures on income from domestic students, a higher proportion of whom could choose to live at home during studies. Institutions and student housing operating partners will need to develop effective working partnerships to deliver safe, high-quality education on and around campuses. This will be particularly important as more robust virtual education platforms have been enabled though greater technology adoption during the virus period.

Managing health impacts and mitigating risk in care homes and healthcare facilities

The care home sector has been on the front line of managing the health impacts from COVID-19. Its reputation is facing scrutiny as its residents and workers face a very real threat to life in environments that, by their nature, make it difficult to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

There is wide variation across this sector that caters at one end of the spectrum to generally independent and able-bodied residents in retirement living, and at the other to intensive needs-based care in private hospitals. There are further differences in the underlying level of state support and the obligations on care costs borne by the individual. The result is a very mixed picture of fundamental impacts on the operations of facilities as they respond to COVID-19 challenges. It seems inevitable that the pressures of this unprecedented health event will force further consolidation in the care home sector and it may be exposed to greater regulatory pressures.

Coliving building digital communities

The immediate threat to coliving platforms has become more nuanced at asset level, with buildings that derive more income from corporate workers and longer-term residents proving to be better protected from COVID-19 impacts than platforms that are oriented toward more mobile, short-term residents. One of the main strengths of coliving operators has been the greater reliance on technology to form digital communities, and there is growing evidence of communities’ ability to self-help and triage operational challenges in delivering social distancing strategies. The funding structures behind many operators will represent some risk of failure and consolidation, but there does not yet appear to be a diminished appetite from investors to support best-in-class platforms.

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