Brexit means different things to different people. For overseas investors at least, it has presented an opportunity.
That’s generally the feeling among London’s real estate development industry, anyway. We asked them in our ‘Spring London Development Barometer’ what impact Brexit would have on the level of inward investment.
Fifty-three per cent of respondents thought that Brexit would lead to either no change or increased levels of international investment.
With significant deals of all shapes and sizes taking place, investors have been busy since the referendum.
London and the UK have long been the first port of call for Middle Eastern investors. The capital ranks as the top city ahead of Washington and New York, according to a report from CBRE. Funds like the Qatari Investment Authority have invested over £30 billion (Dh146.13 billion) into the UK the last 13 years. Domestic players are facing increasing competition from overseas investors.
But the respondents to our survey now believe that the majority of overseas investment into London is likely to come from Asia, which came out on top at 76 per cent whilst just 15 per cent said the same of the Middle East. Investment from Hong Kong and China in particular has poured into the capital since June 2016.
Singapore and Malaysia have also been busy recently — Singapore’s Ho Bee Land purchased a 21-storey tower in the City for £650 million and the Malaysian fund PNB’s £1.6 billion purchase of Battersea Power Station became the UK’s most expensive acquisition on record.
Major deals on some of London’s commercial assets have strengthened the region’s grip on the sector. Deals for the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater in 2017 have been followed by further standout sales, including UBS’ London HQ for £1 billion to a private investor from Hong Kong in June. The first six months of 2018 saw 68 per cent of London’s office purchases come from Asia, whilst the region’s investors have also been making themselves known in the hotel market, historically the preserve of the Middle East.
With Asia flexing its muscle in the commercial sector, investors might see an opportunity to turn their attention elsewhere. Take housing. Our ‘Spring Development Barometer’ found that 81- and 77 per cent predicted an increase in demand for affordable/council housing and build-to-rent, respectively.
Compare that to the hotel and leisure and office sectors, and it gives an indication of what consumers are looking for in London. Just 52 per cent thought demand would increase for hotel and leisure, and 45 per cent thought the same of offices.
London needs investment and skills to deliver new homes; the question is who is going to provide it? With the government tightening its belt and showing a reluctance to commit too much in the middle of Brexit negotiations, the private sector has been asked to carry that responsibility.
Although this is beginning to change with recent government infrastructure commitments, such as funding for Homes England and Mayors Fund. There are also discussions registered housing providers’ ability to borrow to deliver more housing.
Opportunities to diversify portfolios come not only by sector, but also in geography. London offers countless benefits from investors’ point of view, but they’ll need to pay for it. The prospect of higher yields and lower values are leading Middle Eastern funds elsewhere — 2017 saw half of its overseas investment into the UK directed towards the regions.
Places like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are leading the charge with overseas regional investment, with busy economies and strong housing markets turning heads from abroad.
We asked the industry what their priorities were when it came to enabling development activity in the capital. It revealed a marked discontent with the decision-makers when it came to supply side measures. They told us that more needed to be done to improve town planning policies — that was their biggest concern.
They also wanted further funding from local and central government and expressed concern about the supply of land. However, London continues to be a safe haven for overseas investors.
They continue to believe that in the long term London is a secure city for investment and their appetite will not be dampened by short-term politics.
Gavin Kieran is a director at M3 Consulting.