The Subplot | Northern cities and Asia-Pacific money, BTR, levelling up
Welcome to The Subplot, your regular slice of commentary on the business and property market from across the North of England.
- Asia-Pacific money is going to be big news in the North in the second half of 2023, as the latest deals and data show
- Elevator pitch: your weekly rundown of who is going up, and who is heading the other way
THE MARKET SPRINGS BACK
We’ve nearly reached the bottom, and Asia-Pacific money knows it
Is now the time to call the UK property market? Asia-Pacific investors are gambling that it is, which is great news for the North’s big cities.
Earlier this week a giant Australian fund you will never have heard of invested heavily in Northern build-to-rent. Aware Super, an AS$150bn Australian outfit with a lot of nous, bought a 22% stake in Delancey-inspired, build-to-rent platform Get Living. It replaces Qatari Diar. Get Living is behind New Maker Yards at Salford’s Middlewood Locks, and glacially slow-moving plans for 780 apartments at Globe Road in Leeds’ South Bank. Why have the Aussies landed now and what does it mean?
Calling the bottom
Knowing when to call the top or bottom of a market is a skill few possess. But a consensus is forming that one of those turning points might be just ahead of us. Schroders, by no means a giddy outfit, said the bottom was nigh a few weeks ago in a thoughtful analysis: “If the consensus on inflation and interest rates is correct, then there is a strong possibility that capital values will find a floor over the summer, 25%-30% below their peak in June 2022.” A dribble of slightly more positive news since then adds to the springtime optimism that this will be a year of two halves.
As Schroders points out, international money is doing a lot of the heavy lifting because the UK commercial property market is fairly quick to reprice, fairly liquid, and very big. Data from industry body INREV shows the UK somewhat less popular than Germany and the Netherlands, but still ranked high among Asia-Pacific, Middle Eastern and North American investors targeting Europe. Asia-Pacific investors are particularly keen on good offices and residential, sheds rather less so. Yes, it’s a smaller market – weightings to real estate are lower than they were – but within that smaller pond, there’s plenty of busy springtime tadpoles.
Numbers prove it
Data this week from CBRE make the point very nicely. In the first quarter no less than 74% of all investment activity in the Central London office market came from Asia-Pacific, and a cool 100% of the deals valued at £85m or more. Yes, Central London offices turned over just £1.65bn in Q1, about half the long-term average, but look who’s doing the turning. Aware Super’s Get Living deal points in the same direction, while also showing how nimble Asia-Pacific investors are – both as buyers and sellers. Colliers’ numbers suggest BTR investment will be the first to show serious signs of improvement after a dire Q1 nationwide.
And watch the North Americans
There’s evidence of a springtime thaw almost wherever you look, although who does what depends heavily on exchange rates. Subplot tries not to glance too often in the direction of Birmingham but it’s worth noting that Chicago-based investment manager Harrison Street, which has $55bn under management, opted for a big slice of Moda’s £302m Great Charles Street BTR scheme. Precede Capital put up £188m on a five-year loan to back the venture. Harrison Street is already active in the North, backing the 548-bed Lisbon Street Development student accommodation scheme in Leeds.
There’s a lot more to watch, including a newly hatched investment treaty with Singapore that could be significant. Many more overseas and particularly Asia-Pacific-backed Northern deals can be anticipated as spring turns to summer.
Going up, or going down? This week’s movers
Will Leeds’ Sweet Street be a sweetener for Asia-Pacific investors? Will advanced manufacturing lead the levelling-up push? Pick a floor, close the doors, and let’s see. Going up!
Heard of industrial federalism? Maybe you are about to. Bruce Katz, a former Brookings Institution scholar, has been mulling what the US experience can teach the UK about how to spread wealth among cities. The idea is that advanced manufacturing – now proposed in bulk for Greater Manchester’s Atom Valley – could be the answer.
“The scaled reshoring of advanced manufacturing, in short, provides a strong foundation for reducing spatial disparities that were largely precipitated by the offshoring of manufacturing in the first place,” Katz and his colleagues say. But delivering this outcome – site assembly, infrastructure, people – is way beyond the capacity of central government. Only local government can do this, and in the US it has.
The difficulty is that unlike the UK, the US has always been multi-polar – LA, Chicago, Boston, Dallas and so on, are all great powerhouses, and the capital, Washington DC, mostly isn’t. The UK doesn’t have powerful local government. An inspiration or an irritation? Read the report and decide for yourself.
Empty Leeds sites
Timing is everything in real estate. With Manchester-Salford now feeling a little crowded, Leeds has become the epicentre for build-to-rent activity. Approval of the 1.3m sq ft plans for Leeds’ Sweet Street West will take the market to the next level on a site that’s been empty for 14 years. Up to 1,350 BTR apartments are promised by PLATFORM_, which turns out to be the developer’s name and not what happens when your cat walks over the keyboard.
There’s also scope for two biggish floorplate workspace schemes totalling just short of 150,000 sq ft. So a scheme ideally placed to meet the forthcoming wave of Asia-Pacfic investment demand.
Get in touch with David Thame: [email protected]