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Thriving Tech and Ecommerce Sectors Drive Canadian Commercial Real Estate Records in the First Quarter

Industrial availability dropped to a record low in Q1 2019, while office markets across Canada had some of the best results in recent memory

Toronto, ON – April 1, 2019 – A flourishing tech sector and bustling e-commerce activity continue to re-shape the Canadian commercial real estate (CRE) landscape. Office and industrial property markets logged new records in the first quarter of 2019 and saw some of the strongest demand in recent memory, according to CBRE’s Canada Q1 2019 Quarterly Statistics report.

Canada’s office real estate recorded the most vigorous leasing activity in years, primarily spurred by a rapidly expanding tech sector. Overall, the national office property vacancy rate decreased by 40 basis points (bps) quarter-over-quarter to 11.5% in Q1 2019, the lowest level since Q2 2015. The amount of office product under construction nationwide in the first quarter reached 16.0 million sq. ft. for the first time since Q4 2015, as Vancouver saw an additional 1.4 million sq. ft. of new office development break ground this quarter.

The rise of online retail sales, and the associated warehouse space needed to keep up with consumer demand, has pushed the Canadian industrial market into overdrive. The national industrial availability rate dropped to a new record low of 3.0% in Q1 2019. To meet user demand for taller clear heights, larger door counts, and specialized warehouse configurations, 22.6 million sq. ft. of industrial space is under construction, the bulk of which is in Toronto and Vancouver. This is the highest level of national industrial development seen since 2015.

“Canadian office markets continue to gather momentum, in large part as a result of rapidly growing tech and co-working sectors. The remarkable office market momentum continues to build, but tenants have fewer and fewer options if they don’t plan ahead,” commented CBRE Canada Vice-Chairman PaulMorassutti. “Meanwhile industrial developers are responding to chronic space shortages with new construction, while tenants are opting to secure space prior to construction completion. In Toronto, all new supply delivered in Q1 2019 was pre-leased, and 77.6% of the 9.58 million sq. ft. under construction already has tenancies in place.”

Here are some of the other commercial real estate records logged in the first quarter:

  • Downtown Toronto office vacancy tightened another 10 bps, dropping the rate to a new record low of 2.6% in the first quarter.
  • Montreal’s downtown office vacancy now sits at 8.6%, the lowest it has been since Q4 2013, with tech company growth playing a key role in this decline. The downtown core has had 819,500 sq. ft. of new product delivered over the past eight quarters, with 998,139 sq. ft. of additional space under construction as of Q1 2019.
  • Calgary experienced 289,515 sq. ft. of positive net absorption of downtown office space in Q1 2019, the largest quarter of positive absorption since the oil downturn in 2014. Much of the activity came from tenants taking back space previously listed for sublease, spaces being converted to co-working uses, and landlords turning unoccupied supply into amenity space.
  • Toronto’s industrial market, which has had 16 consecutive quarters of positive net absorption, saw its availability rate hit an all-time low of 1.5% in Q1, with 2.2 million sq. ft. of positive net absorption.
  • Calgary’s industrial market, which has logged nine consecutive quarters of positive net absorption, had a further 649,080 sq. ft. of space taken up in the first quarter of 2019.
  • The Halifax industrial market had 50,465 sq. ft. of positive net absorption in Q1, the ninth straight quarter of positive net absorption for that city.

“In recent years, the Canadian real estate market had been somewhat polarized between areas of pronounced strength and areas facing challenges; however, this quarter showed more momentum for cities across the country, including hard-hit Alberta,” said Morassutti. “It’s worth noting that while overall office vacancy has remained stable quarter over quarter in Edmonton and Calgary, the amount of sublet space on the market – which serves as a bellwether for the office segment – decreased by 25.1% and 8.6% respectively. This is a promising indication that Alberta’s CRE conditions look to be improving at long last.”

For further details and insights, download CBRE’s Canada Q1 2019 Quarterly Statistics report here.

Debt & Structured Finance | Canada Research

Curve inversion draws CRE capital

Increasing evidence of a global economic slowdown in recent weeks has elevated the risk profile for Canada’s economy. Globally, Brexit negotiations are still gridlocked, the Eurozone economy falters and U.S.-China trade negotiations drag on. Domestically, household debt-to-income levels are the highest they have ever been, retail sales are slowing, oil sands producers are reevaluating projects due to pipeline delays and the likelihood for ratification of the CUSMA trade deal wanes as tariffs remain. These developments have sparked concern that a technical recession may emerge in Canada given weak expectation for Q1 2019 growth and a potential downward revision to Q4 2018’s already meager results.

Amid these growing headwinds, the Federal Reserve eliminated their expectations for an interest rate hike this year. The Fed acknowledged the need to avoid getting stuck in a deflationary environment like that which has plagued Japan for the last two decades. In turn, this dovish shift in tone triggered an inversion on another segment of the U.S. yield curve as investors sought the safety of bonds. Widely considered a reliable harbinger of a downturn within a few years, the spread between 10-year Treasury bond yields fell below its 3-month counterpart for the first time since just prior the Great Financial Crisis. The inversion also emerged in Canada and pulled down global bond yields. In fact, investors are even pricing in expectations for central banks to cut interest rates by the end of 2019 to keep the economy going. For the commercial real estate market, falling bond yields may translate to lower mortgage rates with wider cap rate spreads. The precipitous fall in bond yields has some lenders contemplating next steps.

Against this backdrop, commercial real estate has become an increasingly attractive investment vehicle. According to CBRE’s Global Investor Intentions Survey 2019, diversification is the primary driver for investors in the Americas showed the strongest interest for value-add property assets. However, the commercial real estate sector has attracted an abundance of capital over recent years and real estate funds are now challenged to deploy all that capital as the levels of dry power continue to rise. But even more capital is expected to come with the recent formation of several mega-sized real estate funds such as BCI and RBC’s CA $7 billion investment partnership, Brookfield’s recent closing of its US$15 billion BSREP III fund and Blackstone’s record-setting US$20 billion property fund on the horizon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Global Economy Outlook

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the pool….

Wednesday’s post-Fed minutes equity rally reversed sharply on Thursday as investors focused again on the outlook for the global economy.  ECB (European Central Bank) chief Mario Draghi added fuel to this week’s fire with a warning about the troubled euro zone.  Toss in Ebola, ISIS, and Hong Kong protests and there is a lot for markets to think about.  Hopefully, with the long weekend in Canada and the US (Columbus Day), markets will have plenty of time figure it all out before Tuesday.

The good news for mortgage borrowers is that bond rates are back down to recent lows thanks to the general dovish tone of the FED.   Unfortunately, credit spreads are under pressure given the recent blood bath in equities, but Canada Mortgage Bonds did outperform the rest of the credit spectrum, so we’ve got that going for us.

Fun Thanksgiving fact: Benjamin Franklin preferred the Turkey over the Bald Eagle (“a bird of bad moral character”) as the American national bird.