European commercial real estate deal making slumps to 13-year low

Seventh successive quarter of declining volumes dashes hopes for revival as high interest rates continue to bite

European commercial real estate deal making fell to a 13-year low at the start of 2024, as fading hopes of imminent interest rate cuts prolonged the slump in property markets.  Transaction volumes of €34.5bn in the first quarter were 26 per cent lower than the already depressed levels in the same period last year, the seventh successive quarter of declines, according to data from MSCI released on Thursday. Fewer offices buildings changed hands than in any quarter on record.  The commercial property market has suffered a brutal adjustment to much higher interest rates, which have slammed property values and increased financing costs in a market that relies heavily on debt to fund deals. “After a very slow 2023, there were hopes that European property investment would start to pick up in the first quarter of 2024,” said Tom Leahy, head of Emea real assets research at MSCI.

“But the continued and sometimes painful readjustment to the end of historically low interest rates means the market remains a difficult place in which to transact.” The report followed last week’s US data showing a 16 per cent decline in deal volumes in the first quarter from a year earlier.  European office values have sunk about 37 per cent on average from their peak in 2022, according to Green Street research. Residential and industrial property prices are down by about a fifth.  Although some owners have been forced to sell by debt pressures, many property owners are reluctant to crystallise losses at what they believe could be the bottom of the market.  High net worth investors who can buy without debt have powered the bulk of recent transactions — although they are generally limited to smaller deals.  London was “by far” the number one city for investment, MSCI said, despite transaction volumes falling. A faster correction in prices in the UK, relative to elsewhere in Europe, has encouraged investors to return to the market in search of bargains.  Two high-profile office deals — the £240mn sale of 20 Old Bailey and a £110mn deal brokered by receivers to sell 5 Churchill Place in Canary Wharf — collapsed during the quarter. However, this has been read by some in the market as a signal that sellers are hopeful that they can wait for better prices after the Bank of England lowers borrowing costs.