Global Economic Strains Hit Property Markets

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has slashed projections for growth of the world’s richest economies for 2009. While the IMF last month projected 0.5% growth for 2009, the revised number calls for a 0.3% shrinkage, the first contraction since World War II. In fact, the 760,000 jobs lost this year through September could double or even triple over the next 18 months, according to global real estate brokerage Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

“Translating this to property fundamentals, occupancy declines across most property types are expected to accelerate over the next six to 12 months as businesses adjust to revised demand, enhancing tenant level and driving down rents further,” JLL said in its bi-monthly world market report.

In Canada, economic growth has slowed as a result of reduced trade and manufacturing, but domestic demand has helped to keep office vacancies low. Elsewhere in the Americas, in Mexico and Brazil, domestic demand has also served to keep growth positive though it is expected to slow next year as tighter lending standards, falling commodity prices and currency volatility hit those economies.

“In Europe, the downturn in the European economy will be longer and deeper than expected, and the UK economy is nearing a technical recession,” according to the JLL report. In the third quarter, the United Kingdom recorded negative 0.5% growth and the fourth quarter is not expected to be any better. Retail sales there in September fell 1.7% as consumers tighten their wallets amid the financial meltdown and job losses.

The most recent hit to the European economy is the retreat of German open-ended funds, which are not making as many new purchases nor are they yet under enough pressure to sell. As in the U.S., investors in continental Europe are sitting on the sidelines.

In an attempt to soothe troubled markets and restore liquidity, governments around the world in mid-October guaranteed bank deposits. The unintended consequence, according to JLL, may well end up being a flight to quality as investors shy away from riskier deals.

Despite the slowing growth, opportunities are beginning to emerge in the U.S. “The first round of opportunities related to the crisis is being realized at the entity level, where property companies in need of capital have taken on new equity,” according to JLL. That means private and mezzanine debt are likely to thrive, bolstered by higher spreads in exchange for taking on hard-to-finance debt.

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