With Bonfire Night out of the way, all eyes will now be focusing on the run-up to Christmas, but the festive season is not shaping up to be so merry for many in the property sector.
Intu this week downgraded its rental forecast for the current financial year and warned that an equity raising was likely, sending the shopping centre owner’s shares tumbling 19% to 32.5p – a year ago, the share price stood at just under 220p. Boss Matthew Roberts has told Property Week several times that he is focused on the bottom line, but that’s looking rather more saggy than even many of intu’s detractors had predicted.
The sale of its Spanish assets cannot come soon enough. As Jefferies’ Mike Prew points out, the ‘shop-quake’, as he calls it, is getting worse by the day. The collapse of Mothercare this week is the latest in a long line of retail failures and CVAs, which has added to retail property owners’ woes. There is certainly little sign that the holidays are going to be full of comfort and joy for the likes of intu and Hammerson.
It also looks set to be a bleak midwinter for many retailers. Most chains will be banking on a bumper Christmas to see them through to the new year. I fear they are going to be disappointed. In January, expect to read about more retailer CVAs and collapses.
It is no surprise that local councils, big buyers of retail property in recent years, also appear to have lost their appetite for shopping malls, as our story on the Forest of Dean Council walking away from its £50m acquisition of a Worcester shopping centre shows. But this has less to do with retail woes and more to do with the Public Works Loan Board, which increased the interest rate on its loans by 1%, making the deal too expensive.
Don’t despair, though. It could well be a very merry Christmas for those in the flexible office market that did not follow WeWork’s lead and delude themselves that profit doesn’t matter as long as you have good slogans and are seeking to raise the world’s level of consciousness, or some other such marketing twaddle.
During my chat with IWG’s Mark Dixon this week, I got to use my favourite of all favourite phrases – one I don’t mind using in this column for a second time because I know many of you enjoyed it when I used it a few years back. Next year, there’s going to be so much consolidation in the flexible office market that you will not be able to move for all the dogs sniffing each other’s backsides in the park.
Next year is going to be all about consolidation, according to Dixon, and I agree. All those investors that got carried away with the hype and bull spouted by the very rich, but very flawed, Adam Neumann will come a cropper.
For those like Dixon, who has sensibly shifted to a franchise model, paid down debt and built his cash reserves, there are going to be some easy pickings.
We can also expect others to enter the flexible fray. The demand, after all, remains. We could even see retailers get in on the act, following the lead of Selfridges, which has struck a deal with operator Fora to manage flexible workspace in its building across the road from the world-famous department store.
Retail, however, is another story. I’m afraid to say I don’t believe plunging rental incomes are just for Christmas….