This time next week, we will be officially leaving the EU – or, more accurately, entering a fraught transition period with a frighteningly tight deadline.
Now the euphoria of the Tory general election win has died down, the question is: will we see a Brexit bounce or a dead cat one?
The latest Rightmove stats on UK house prices point to the former. They suggest post-Brexit Britain will be a veritable land of opportunity as confidence is restored and all that pent-up, post-EU referendum demand is released.
The signs are promising. In December, the average price of homes coming onto the market leapt 2.3%, the largest jump seen over the period since the property website started its house price index in 2002. With the next big deadline more than 11 months off, you would think there’d be plenty more sellers looking to make hay while the Brexit sun still shines. Whether buyers are prepared to pay the prices being asked remains to be seen, of course, as does what the future holds beyond 2020.
But for now hopes are high and it is not just homeowners who are striding confidently into what they hope will be a brighter Brexit future. London-based investment manager The Valesco Group was so buoyed by the Tory election win that, as we report this week, it is on the hunt for UK office and logistics acquisitions ranging from £100m to in excess of £1bn, predominantly in London but also in the regions.
Others are also bullish about the UK office market. Again, the omens are good. Following the election, the traditional Christmas rush to get deals over the line before the year-end was even more frantic than usual, with around £1.6bn worth of offices changing hands in London, according to CBRE, taking the total for the year to £12bn – 30% down on 2018, but far better than the 40% to 50% anticipated. Now that investors finally have at least a semblance of clarity, the hope is that this will set the tone for the rest of the year.
There is further cause for optimism. This week, it emerged that almost 1,500 EU-based financial firms have applied to the Financial Conduct Authority for temporary permission to operate in the UK after the country leaves the EU on 31 January. These are not just firms that already have offices here – more than 1,000 currently have no presence in the UK – and they clearly see potential in post-Brexit Britain.
Others not so much. In a typically acerbic comment piece, Jefferies’ Mike Prew contends that while the REITs rebounded 30% following the election, they only present a good selling opportunity “before the sobriety returns”. He describes assumptions that London offices are about to be buoyed by a splurge of foreign capital as “naïve” and warns that shopping centre values are set to decline by nearly a third, while London office values will slump by a quarter.
More damningly still, he says Landsec and British Land are in danger of becoming “Dodo REITs” that will become “functionally extinct” if they don’t reinvent themselves.
As ever, Prew delivers some heavy blows – and some will accuse him of overstating the risks – but he may well prove right if the government pulls its punches in the Brexit negotiations and fails to produce the knock-out deal it has promised by the end of the year.