E-commerce continues to drive UK logistics sector despite Brexit uncertainty

Gemma Constantinou, Associate, Logistics & Industrial Agency, Cushman & Wakefield

Deal activity in the UK logistics sector slowed in Q2 but contributed to the best half year since 2015 according to research by Cushman & Wakefield.

In total, 6.3 million sq ft was transacted between April and June this year, 32% down on the y-o-y total and largely due to uncertainty surrounding Brexit. E-commerce continued to dominate take-up, accounting for nearly 50% of all deals, with Amazon investing in its first ‘mega’ shed (1.5 million sq ft) in the North East.

The report also revealed that developers are addressing the demand/supply imbalance through new construction, with 8.7 million sq ft of speculative space due to reach the market in 2018. As a result, Grade A availability has risen by 18% to 23 million sq ft since the beginning of the year, with the South East and North West registering the sharpest increases (59% and 52%) over this period.

Prime annual rental growth for larger distribution units returned toward the five-year average, with Wales (9.7%) and the South East (6.0%) registering the most significant uplifts. Prime yields have stabilised at 5.2%.

In the Investment market, preliminary estimates revealed that £2.5 billion worth of logistics/distribution properties changed hands in H1, down 26% on the corresponding period in 2017. Despite the slowdown, interest in the sector remains strong, particularly from overseas investors.

The report highlighted that, regardless of Brexit, UK logistics property is expected to continue to benefit from the growth of ecommerce which reached a new high in May, accounting for 18% of total retail sales.

Bruno Berretta, UK Logistics & Industrial Research & Insight, Cushman & Wakefield, said: “With less than a year before the UK officially leaves the EU, many occupiers have turned their attention towards Brexit and this has had a material impact on the deal flow in Q2, with fewer transactions agreed.

He continued: “Unless there is a visible breakthrough in negotiations, this uncertainty could extend into the second half of the year, when an official declaration outlining a blueprint for future UK-EU trade is expected during the quarterly EU summit in October. An upturn in activity is possible particularly given that enquiry levels for units of 50,000 sq ft and above have remained relatively stable in H1 2018 compared to H1 2017.”

Gemma Constantinou, Associate in Cushman & Wakefield’s Logistics & Industrial team, said: “Recent announcements by developers suggest that speculative completions in 2019 will remain sustained therefore increasing availability even though it is unlikely to match 2018 levels. Nonetheless, the market is far from oversupplied and new product will continue to put upwards pressure on rent levels.”

After what was the strongest quarter since 2008, take-up in the East Midlands fell back in Q2 with only a handful of deals completed amounting to circa 390,000 sq ft in total.

East Midlands Gateway continues to prove popular among occupiers, welcoming yet another tenant after Amazon, Shop Direct and Nestle/XPO logistics in Q1.

Gemma Constantinou added: “The East Midlands market remains strong and continues to remain popular with occupiers as evidenced by a number of recent transactions. With a number of units of 100,000 sq ft and above currently available to satisfy requirements, occupier interest in the region is likely to continue.”