According to Cushman & Wakefield Research's latest Greater China Capital Markets Express report, Mainland China's commercial property investment slowed 19% y-o-y to RMB40.2bn in Q2 as investors become increasingly cautious given ongoing trade friction, softer leasing demand and new supply, particularly in the office sector. The office vacancy rate across mainland China peaked at 19.7% in Q2, further driving down rent 1.5% q-o-q on average. In contrast, investment picked up in Hong Kong and Taiwan in Q2, recording a q-o-q increase of 510% and 65%, respectively.
Despite reduced investment during the quarter, over the first half of the year investment amounted to RMB125.8bn, edging up 3.3% y-o-y. In particular, Singaporean investors have been increasingly active and have invested a total of RMB43.5bn in mainland China over the last 18 months, significantly above the 10-year average of roughly RMB5bn per year. Investors from Hong Kong, the U.S. and Canada also have been reasonably active over the past year.
Francis Li, head of Capital Markets, Greater China at Cushman & Wakefield, mentioned, "Many investors with dry powder ready to deploy are actively looking for quality assets at the right price with the right return. Recently, we noticed that there is a 10-20% price gap between buyer's and seller's expectation which leads to prolonged deal negotiation and finalisation. Going forward, as there is an increasing amount of tradeable assets flowing onto the market, we expect price to soften in the second half of this year. Currently, cap rates are hitting historical low and with the expected price drop in the near term will likely lead to improved returns over time. Additionally, quality assets at prime location are increasingly sought after by large foreign institutional investors with deep pocket. Once prime assets or a portfolio of asset are available for sale, we shall expect investment volume to come back again."
James Shepherd, head of research, Asia Pacific at Cushman & Wakefield, said: "For many market participants, it has been a challenging first half of the year. The U.S.-China trade dispute continues to weigh heavily on sentiment. Absorption of commercial premises all but stalled the previous quarter, albeit levels came back sharply in Q2 as a certain amount of pent up demand was released. Despite this recent flurry of leasing activity, we forecast that the remainder of 2019 will see softer demand than in recent years. Nevertheless, the mainland Chinese economy is proving more resilient than some suggest, and stimulus measures are already showing signs of offering some relief."
Investment activity picked up in core Tier-2 cities such as Tianjin and Chengdu. Both cities recorded large retail investment deals in Q2 totaling RMB7.9bn and 2.2bn in Q2, respectively. In addition to ARA's recent JV investment in Chengdu's Atrium Mall, Blackstone expects to complete its acquisition of Taubman's CityOn portfolio this year, with two of the three retail properties located in Xi'an and Zhengzhou.
Catherine Chen, head of forecasting & Capital Markets Research, Greater China at Cushman & Wakefield, said: "Benefiting from population growth and rising disposable incomes, shopping centers in prime locations of some Tier-2 cities are increasingly attractive to both domestic and foreign investors. In addition, logistics properties remained highly sought-after given the sector outlook, restrictions on land availability and slightly higher cap rates in comparison to the office sector. Logistics gross yields for high quality facilities typically range from 5% to 6.5% across mainland China."
Notable logistics transactions in Q2 included ICBC's purchase of three Yupei logistics parks in Shenyang, Wuxi and Zhengzhou for a combined consideration of RMB755.3m. In addition, e-commerce giant JD.com recently established a JD Logistics Properties Core Fund together with Singapore's sovereign wealth fund with a total committed capital of RMB4.8bn. The fund expects to complete the purchase of logistics facilities from JD Property Management (JDPM) for RMB10.9bn before the end of this year.
Chen added, "An increasing number of municipal governments are enforcing 'minimum tax requirements' (already effective in cities such as Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and Hangzhou) on newly acquired logistics sites, suggesting these new logistics centres may take longer time to lease up as landlords become selective as they seek tenants that can meet the minimum tax requirements."
Shepherd added, "We anticipate a strong infrastructure investment drive through 2019 and 2020. Coupled with massive forecast employment in China's tertiary industry, especially in Tier-1 and core Tier-2 cities between 2019 and 2021, this will support the expansion of Mainland China's commercial real estate market."
According to Oxford Economics, between 2019 and 2021 mainland China's Tier-1 cities are forecast to add over 1.2 million jobs, the lion's share of which is projected for the tertiary sector.