We are now seeing the landscape emerge of the post-Global Financial Crisis (GFC)  real estate investment market. The new environment is characterised by growing cross-border money flows, a push to diversify portfolios, and a willingness to think laterally by looking beyond the traditional sectors of offices, retail and industrial.

As investors search the globe for new opportunities, here are the five trends which we believe should influence your asset selection in 2016.

The U.S. Dollar

Specialist Property

Specialist property continues to evolve as a segment, led by fixed income sectors such as healthcare and retirement accommodation. It also encompasses automotive hotels, student accommodation and even private rented sector residential accommodation.

The key reasons for the growth in demand for specialist property relate to changing market requirements. For example, 20 years ago the demand for purpose-built facilities for the elderly or students was relatively limited.

However, strong growth in the ageing population and expansion in student numbers – combined with generally poor-quality existing provision – has stimulated occupier demand.

Another major reason for increased investor interest in specialist property has been the drive for diversification, particularly following the GFC. While sentiment in global real estate markets has improved markedly, some parts of the traditional market have been challenging until recently. The less cyclical nature of specialist property is also appealing to investors.

As demand and competition for property investment product has risen, yields across the traditional sectors have been squeezed. As a result, investors have sought alternative ways of protecting and enhancing their wealth.

Assets such as petrol stations, service areas, data centres and waste management facilities are now playing an increasing role in property investment portfolios.

Property Income – Long or Short?

Essentially, commercial real estate is an income-driven asset class whose long-term performance has been driven mainly by a high and stable level of income. In the U.K., for example, from 2000 to 2014 the average annual income return on all property was 6%, against a total return of 7.7%.

A key attraction of commercial property in many Western markets is the availability of long leases, which provide good security of income, especially valuable during times of economic and property market instability. In addition, many countries (particularly in Europe) have lease structures where rents are inflation linked.

However, market realities mean that more investors are being forced up the risk curve. This is particularly true in locations where stronger occupier activity is coinciding with declining availability.

A good example is the central London office market, where there is a significant imbalance between supply and demand. With rental growth expected to continue for the next two to three years and a limited development pipeline, availability is falling steadily.

As a result, some property investors are increasingly willing to buy buildings with limited unexpired income, provided the asset can be turned around quickly for re-letting.

In Asia Pacific, the market drivers are somewhat different, with relatively short leases of two to five years typical. Investors therefore tend to focus more on capital values and rental growth prospects, rather than initial yields and lease lengths.

Over the longer term, commercial real estate has proved its value within a mixed investment portfolio, notably during times when other asset classes have been unstable.


Government regulation exerts a major influence on global capital flows and can help to make or break real estate investment markets.

Changes to regulation – such as the removal of ownership restrictions or legislation to allow new investment vehicles – can also help to attract significant amounts of inbound capital, an example being India’s new Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) legislation in 2014.

The Indian REIT sector could be worth as much as $100 billion within a few years. India has also recently relaxed its rules on foreign investment in real estate.

Significant recent changes include the decisions to allow Chinese and Taiwanese insurance companies to invest in international real estate in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Chinese insurers have since made in-roads into major international real estate markets and, on paper, have a potential $220 billion to invest in overseas property and other assets.

Taiwanese insurers meanwhile have initially focused on major cities in the U.S. (New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco) and Asia Pacific (Shanghai and Tokyo), while London has been the core European destination to date.

In the U.S., one potential major change relates to the much discussed relaxation of the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act of 1980. Currently, foreign investors account for just 17% of the U.S. commercial market – considerably lower than the U.K. and Europe (around 50% and 60% respectively). An easing of the FIRPTA regulations could lead to a doubling of investment in larger U.S. cities such as  New York and San Francisco.

In Asia Pacific, perhaps the most significant recent news is the free trade agreement between China and Australia, which is expected to boost cross-border property investment between the two countries.


The strong recent (and forecast) growth in city living has brought the focus back on how to best integrate the ways in which people live, work, shop and play.

Mixed-use projects offer portfolio characteristics that allow property investors to spread risk, as well as gain exposure to a fast growing trend that is set to continue for some time. However, investing in mixed-use requires an understanding of variety of different uses and business sectors, how they interact with each other and, in particular, how to approach valuation for the different components.

Examples of mixed-use buildings and locations around the world range from Marina City in Chicago to the planned Super Tower in Bangkok, which comprises hotels, retail and offices. Europe is also seeing its share of new mixed-use developments, notably Battersea Power Station and White City in London, Bercy Charenton in Paris, and Milanosesto in Milan.

U.S. and Chinese Outbound Capital

Traditionally, U.S. property investors have dominated cross-border investment. In fact, in the two years to June 2015, U.S. investors invested more than $100 billion in international retail, offices, logistics and hotel property.

Major drivers for the acceleration in overseas investment have been a combination of the strong dollar, competition in the domestic market and opportunities to find value – notably in Europe where the property market recovery has lagged behind. In the last two years, over 80% of U.S. overseas investment has focused on Europe, with a very heavy bias towards London and Paris, as well as Tokyo.

Asia Pacific has been on the radar of U.S. real estate investors but in the last two years only around $18 billion, or 15%, of outbound U.S. capital has been deployed in the region. Of the acquisitions made by U.S. investors, some 66% was spent on office assets.

U.S. interest in China peaked in 2013, with the recent economic slowdown impacting buyer confidence. In H1 2015 the number of deals has been limited, although transactional volumes will look impressive on the back of Blackstone’s $814 million acquisition of L’Avenue, an office and retail complex in western Shanghai.

However, following the stock market turbulence of summer 2015, U.S. interest in the Chinese market may cool in the near-term.

A slowing domestic economy, measures to cool the housing market and the relaxation of regulations on overseas investments has also prompted many Chinese investors to seek property opportunities abroad. As a result, Chinese outbound investment continues to grow, with a total of $24 billion invested in overseas commercial property in the two years to June. In July, sovereign wealth fund, CIC, bought a $1.8 billion portfolio of office buildings in Australia, sold by Investa Property.

There have been several waves of outbound capital, beginning with the sovereign wealth funds buying trophy assets and banks securing property for owner-occupation.

The second and third waves comprised large developers and institutional investors respectively. The fourth wave of outbound investment is now underway, with wealthy individuals and small to mid-cap state-owned enterprises seeking exposure to global  real estate markets.

The Chinese authorities recently announced the Qualified Domestic Individual Investor programme 2 (QDII2) in six cities (Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, Wuhan, Shenzhen and Wenzhou), which will lift restrictions on the amount individual investors can spend overseas.

Investors with over  $163,000 of assets will be able to invest up to half the value of their total assets in overseas markets, while the limit for corporate investors will rise from $300 million of foreign assets to $1 billion.


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