Buyers and sellers of office properties in Asia Pacific have moved into “price discovery mode” after a series of rate hikes and other macroeconomic challenges slowed trades of commercial properties this year, according to senior executives from Nuveen, Link REIT, Brookfield Asset Management and Cushman & Wakefield appearing at a Mingtiandi event today.
In the panel discussion on core office strategies, Louise Kavanagh, chief investment officer and head of Asia Pacific real estate for Nuveen, said global investors remain underweight on office assets in the region, although inflation, rising borrowing costs, construction risks and other factors have slowed big ticket deals in recent months.
*I think it is a momentary pause and we’re in a price discovery mode at the moment so everyone is just waiting to digest some of the downside risks and look at the recalibration in pricing,” said Kavanagh “So I think we will see momentum pick up again, perhaps in the next year as more allocation will need to be made to the region… There’s a lot of things that are feeding into this, but we are seeing pockets of hope in some of these markets.”
Speaking in the same panel, which was sponsored by Yardi, Kenny Lam, CIO for strategic investment at Hong Kong’s Link REIT described a similar scene, with global investors taking a “wait-and-see approach” as the gap between seller asking prices and buyer expectations has grown in recent months.
Occupier Demand Endures
With data from MSCI Real Assets showing that office deals plunged 45 percent to $14.9 billion during the third quarter compared to a year ago, a broad-based recovery may be on its way in less than a year, as US interest rates level off, according to Gordon Marsden, a regional director for APAC capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield speaking in the panel.
“I very much see this as a relatively short term pause in terms of activity,” Marsden said, while pointing to the second half of 2023 for a likely rebound in deal activity.
“Already we’re beginning to get some price discovery as to where the markets are beginning to reset to,” he added, pointing to expectations of slower rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve in the coming months.
Marsden noted that, across APAC, occupiers grew their workplace footprints by 47 million square feet (437,000 square metres) in the nine months to September, equivalent to more than three-fourths of the 60 million square feet of space absorbed by office users in all of 2021, in a sign that demand is recovering.
Among the strongest markets for offices in Asia Pacific is Singapore, where Nuveen teamed up with JP Morgan Asset Management to acquire One George Street in Raffles Place for $944 million one year ago.
With Southeast Asia enjoying an economic upswing and the supply of office properties remaining tight in Singapore, Kavanagh said Nuveen has been able to achieve positive rental reversions of 11 percent at its 23-storey property with conditions setting the firm up for more revenue increases in the future.
“I think the Singapore office is one of the standout markets when we look across the region… We’re factoring in about 18 percent growth (in rents across the market) over the next five years,” she said.
While transaction volumes have been falling in Singapore’s rival to the north, Marsden said that office landlords in Hong Kong have shown “incredibly strong” holding power with regard to asset pricing as most are not under pressure to sell properties at steep discounts, apart from some pockets of distress.
Marsden traced the city’s slowdown in office transactions this year to weak leasing demand and a gloomy outlook for rental growth. With challenges such as the SAR’s zero-covid policy seeming to subside, he sees the slide in grade A office rents in Central slowing down to between 3 to 5 percent this year, while adding that rental declines might persist until 2025.
Top Markets in Focus
Yiwen Yang, Brookfield senior vice president for real estate portfolio management for Brookfield, pointed to opportunities in South Korea where the Canadian investment group already owns the International Finance Centre Seoul commercial complex.
While the Korean property market also faces challenges arising from high interest rates and slowing economic activities, Yang said her team sees opportunities to profit from value-add strategies and asset enhancement initiatives in the country.
“If we’re looking into investment in a core office in Korea at this moment, we’re looking at a very active asset management plan, value-add strategies to make up for potentially lower office rental growth, given the interest rate environment and the impact on corporate profits,” she said.
Kavanagh said that Nuveen is also actively looking at the Korean office market, where it sees opportunities to acquire assets being divested by local institutions working to reduce debt levels.
Value-Add Up Next
Following the core market discussion, Mingtiandi’s Office Strategies Forum 2022 will continue at 10:00 AM Hong Kong time on Thursday, 17 November with a panel focusing on value-add opportunities in Asia Pacific.
That look at higher-yielding office strategies will include Francis Li, international Director, vice president and head of capital markets for Greater China at Cushman & Wakefield, Chedli Boujellabia, managing partner and CEO with Japan-based investment manager Alyssa Partners; Thomas Au, a managing director with Invesco Real Estate who heads investment strategy for the firm in Asia Pacific and David Green-Morgan, head of real assets research for information provider MSCI.
With occupiers and landlords re-evaluating the workplace post-pandemic, Mingtiandi will explore the future of the office in a panel at 10:00 AM Hong Kong time on Tuesday 22 November.
Appearing in that final panel in this year’s office strategies forum will be Nadia Zhu, regional managing director for Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan with shared office provider The Executive Centre; Claude Touikan, co-founder and executive director with design and architecture firm Lead8; Anshul Jain, head of Asia Pacific tenant representation and managing director for India and Southeast Asia at Cushman & Wakefield and Eric Schaffer, CEO for Asia Pacific at workplace technology firm essensys.