The Properties High Interest Rates Can’t Touch - Kanebridge News
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The Properties High Interest Rates Can’t Touch

Competition to buy the world’s most exclusive stores is intense despite modest rent growth. Even Blackstone is ogling the market.

By CAROL RYAN
Mon, May 20, 2024 9:37amGrey Clock 3 min

Don’t expect any fashion bargains on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, or New York’s Fifth Avenue. And property on these famous luxury shopping streets looks as overpriced as the clothes.

While the average commercial building is worth 20% less than in 2022, the world’s most exclusive shops have barely been touched by the highest U.S. and European interest rates in two decades.

Cartier’s Swiss owner, Compagnie Financière Richemont , recently bought a property on London’s Bond Street at a rock-bottom 2.2% rent yield. Similar to the way bonds work, the lower the rent yield, the richer the price paid. The Bank of England’s base rate is around double this level. Most investors these days wouldn’t buy real estate that generates less income than the cost of debt that might be used to purchase it.

Last month, Blackstone sold a luxury store on Milan’s Via Montenapoleone to Gucci owner Kering for a similarly eye-catching price. The building was part of a portfolio of 14 properties that Blackstone bought in 2021 for 1.1 billion euros, equivalent to roughly $1.2 billion. Kering coughed up €1.3 billion, or about $1.4 billion, for the Via Montenapoleone building alone, equivalent to a 2.5% rent yield.

The private-equity firm is understandably eager to do more deals like this, and has since bought another luxury store in London. It is a surprising focus for Blackstone, which for years steered clear of retail property.

Luxury rents are resilient, but they aren’t rising fast enough to justify such hefty price tags for the buildings. Last year, rents increased 3% on Rodeo Drive and were flat on Upper Fifth Avenue, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield .

What luxury retail properties do offer is scarcity. London’s Bond Street has 150 individual buildings, according to real-estate consulting firm CBRE . But because luxury brands are fussy about where they will open a flagship store, only around two-thirds of the street is considered posh enough, limiting their options.

Supply is even tighter on New York’s Fifth Avenue, where just four or five blocks of the six-mile avenue are ritzy enough to lure the world’s most expensive brands. The luxury shopping district of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles has fewer than 50 individual buildings.

This creates intense competition for both space and ownership. The world’s biggest luxury company, LVMH , has more than 70 brands that need a foothold on prominent shopping streets. Increasingly, LVMH’s answer is to buy the best locations. The Paris-listed company owns at least six properties on Rodeo Drive and six on London’s Bond Street.

Luxury brands see their flagship stores as marketing tools. Counterintuitively, e-commerce has made its physical locations more important. Labels including Christian Dior have opened restaurants and mini museums in their boutiques to give shoppers an experience they can’t find online.

When they are investing this much money in refurbishments, it makes more sense to own than to rent . Luxury brands have spent more than $9 billion buying boutiques since the start of 2023, according to a Bernstein analysis, and they control increasingly larger tracts of major shopping districts. Back in 2009, brands owned 15% of the buildings on London’s Bond Street, says Phil Cann, an executive director at CBRE. Today, their share has jumped to 30%.

Luxury labels also need to avoid being kicked out of a property by a rival-turned-landlord, which is happening more often. British handbag maker Asprey was given its marching orders by Hermès on London’s Bond Street. The French brand bought the building that Asprey occupied since the 1840s and wants to convert it into an Hermès flagship. Rolex recently bought a store that is rented out to Patek Philippe, although its competitor doesn’t need to move out any time soon as there are still several years left on the lease.

Most luxury stores are still in the hands of sovereign-wealth funds or rich families who might have owned the buildings for decades. Given the enticing prices that brands are willing to pay despite high interest rates, more are considering cashing out.

Landlords from Hong Kong, who began parking their cash in luxury stores around 2010, are among those selling up. New York real-estate investor Wharton Properties also sold two Fifth Avenue buildings to Kering and Prada this year at very high prices that were equivalent to 2% rent yields. Wharton is experiencing some distress in other parts of its portfolio, so it might have needed to raise funds.

Luxury brands made huge amounts of money during the pandemic. Richemont currently has more than €7 billion of net cash sitting on its balance sheet. Merger and acquisition activity has been quiet, so real estate might be the next-best thing to pour their riches into.

Property deals on the world’s most expensive streets will continue to operate in their own twilight zone, no matter what central bankers do next.



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.