UK Regions drive record high for commercial property investment in 2014

DTZ presented it’s ‘2015 Outlook’ for the property market at an event today, providing key insights for both occupiers and investors for the year ahead. The breakfast presentation held at The Met Hotel in Leeds revealed that UK commercial property investment reached an all-time high in 2014, with £54.9 billion transacted, with the increase driven by investment outside of London, which increased from £25.4bn in 2013 to £34.4bn in 2014.

The UK regions have been an attractive option, given the higher yields on offer than in London, and with occupier markets underpinned by increasing demand and ongoing limited supply. DTZ also observed a dramatic increase of the flows into domestic retail funds during the second half of 2013 and over 2014, boosting institutional demand.

Overseas investment continued to dominate in London, representing over 68% of transactions in 2014, but the real increase in overseas investment was again in the rest of the UK. This increased significantly from a 28% share of the total in 2013 to 36% in 2014, driven by significant surges in investment from the US, China and, in particular, Europe.

Ben Clarke, Head of UK Research at DTZ commented: “DTZ has tracked an upward trend of new global capital targeting the UK for the year ahead, reaching £28bn in 2014. Inflows to retail funds also remain strong, so we expect downward yield momentum to continue into 2015, with secondary continuing to move in faster than prime. However, as pricing in the UK gets ever keener, some of this capital could be diverted to Europe, where there is more opportunistic investment for distressed assets.”

Looking ahead, DTZ downplayed some perceived risks to UK property markets, including the impact of the general election and volatility in energy prices. A possible EU referendum may lead to a significant pause in investment and occupier market activity in the lead up to any vote but this would not be for several years.

The most important issue impacting property remains the ongoing ultra-low interest rate environment that has almost certainly been prolonged into 2016 with the release of record low inflation figures. This is especially relevant since DTZ expects more UK property markets to be overvalued than undervalued by early 2015.

Ben Clarke explained: “The longer the yield spread between property and bonds is, and is expected to be favourable, the further property yields will be compressed. The UK all-property total return for 2015 is set to again be a double digit, though we expect it to fall short of 2014’s near-20% return. However, front-loading returns in this way comes at the cost of a more painful correction to commercial property down the line when the interest rate environment eventually normalises.”

The DTZ event also revealed that whilst the main drivers of returns have been on the investment side, there has also been a significant turnaround in most occupier markets. Office take-up in the key UK centres outside of central London was a record 5.7 million sq ft in 2014. A record volume of grade B lettings reflected the extreme shortage of grade A stock. However grade A pre-letting made a resurgence at the end of the year in response to a much-needed, albeit historically small, increase in the development pipeline.

The Industrial market had a record volume of grade A take-up in the first half of 2014, and overall 2014 lettings were the highest since 2008. DTZ has tracked an increase in demand for large distribution hubs as retailers adapt their strategies in response to ongoing increases in online spending and the ‘click and collect’ phenomenon which took hold in 2014. This has helped kick-start industrial speculative development in the Midlands and the South East.

Greg Davison, Investment Director at DTZ in Leeds, commented: “The Yorkshire market is reflective of the UK as a whole, with total volume of £1.7bn in 2014, topping the peak in 2006 of £1.6bn. Investor appetite for regional assets returned strongly across all sectors from Q1 onwards, a fact that is not reflected in the flow of deals which was heavily weighted towards H2 (62%), mainly as a result of a lack of stock in H1. As yields compressed throughout the year it is perhaps understandable that the availability of stock would increase.

“Looking to the year ahead, we anticipate continued strong investor demand but with a more stable level of supply. Whilst there are wider issues to distract investors this year, the requirement to invest will remain and the argument for commercial property compelling, maintaining downward pressure on yields. Confidence in occupational markets is a key element and whilst we are seeing an increase in development of prime offices we don’t anticipate it denting confidence. Within the industrial market, the short-term picture remains one of restricted supply, which creates a sound argument for steady rental growth.”