Category Archives: Irish property markets

13/10/17: Debt Glut and Building Dublin

Just back from Ireland, a fast, work-filled trip, with some amazing meetings and discussions, largely unrelated to what is in the 'official' newsflow. Some blogposts and articles ahead to be shared.

One thing that jumps out is the continued frenzy in building activity in Dublin, predominantly (exclusively) in the commercial space (offices). Not much finished. Lots being built. For now, Irish builders (mostly strange new players backed by vultures and private equity) are still in the stage where buildings shells are being erected. The cheap stage of construction. Very few are entering the fit-out stages - the costly, skills-intensive works stage. And according to several sector specialists I spoke to, not many fit-out crews are in the market, as skilled builders have not been returning to the island, yet, from their exiles to the U.S., Canada, Australia, UAE, and further afield.

Which should make for a very interesting period ahead: with so many construction sites nearing the fit-out stages, building costs will sky rocket, just as supply glut of new offices will start hitting the letting markets. In the mean time, many multinationals - aka the only clients worth signing - have already signed leases and/or bought own buildings on the cheap. Google owns its own real estate (hello BEPS tax reforms that stress tangible activity over imaginary revenue shifting); Twitter has a refurbished home; Facebook is quite committed to a lease (although it too might take a jump into buying); and so on. Tax inversion have slowed down and Trump Administration just re-committed to Obama-era restrictions on these, while Trump tax plan aims to take a massive chunk out of this pie away from Ireland. So demand... demand is nowhere to be seen.

Will this spell a twin squeeze on office blocks currently hanging around in a pre-weather tight conditions?

The market timing for a lot of this real estate investment is looking shaky. Globally and across Europe, corporates are doing relatively well. But, despite this, there is no investment cycle on the horizon. And revenues growth rates have been sustained by a massive glut of legacy credit sloshing in the international monetary system. Courtesy of Daniel Lacalle @dlacalle_IA, here is a Deutsche Bank chart illustrating what the past monetary excesses have produced:
Three lessons are to be extracted from the above:

  1. Lags in corporate investment activity imply that the current level of demand for hard assets worldwide is driven by the 2016 ultra low borrowing rates; 
  2. Forward corporate investment activity is starting to show the pressure of rising rates and reduced (or even negative) assets purchases by the Central Bankers, with negative rates share of the total debt market shrinking from over USD12 trillion at the end of 2016 to USD8 trillion now; and
  3. The glut of debt continues to rise through 2017, albeit at a slightly slower rate than in 2016.
These points suggest that, barring a new miracle of monetary variety, forward debt financed investment and growth is bound to slow. And the cost of debt carry is bound to rise. Which should be bad news for the European and U.S. debt-funded real estate activity. 

And it will be an even tougher pill to swallow for the crop of new (Nama-linked) Irish developers who were quick in raising hundreds of millions in funding in form of cheap (ultra cheap) debt and frothy equity. Many of these lads have nearly zero experience in building, some are backed by 'experts' from Nama's top cohorts of 'specialists' - the cohorts that were dominated by the pre-bust advisers, not developers. 

The bust is still unlikely at this stage, as majority of current sites that are in mid-stage development have a low acquisition cost, thanks to the fire sales by Nama, and still enjoy a couple of years of cheap debt carry costs. 

But inflation in construction costs will sap whatever wind the housing building sub-sector might have had in it (which is not much, as housing construction is still sitting well behind offices activity). Planning permissions for new housing are languishing sub 1,500 per quarter, comparable to 2010 levels. Planning permissions for ex-residential are at late 2007- early 2008 levels, aka stronger.

In other words, the upcoming cost squeeze is likely to do two things to the Irish market:
  • Cost inflation at fit-outs will probably dent future development activity, instead of creating a large-scale bust; and
  • Commercial development sector will continue pressuring house building, driving up rents and residential property prices.

1/1/16: Developers Questioning Banking Inquiry Report

While we do not know what is in the Banking Inquiry report signed-off this week, concerns being expressed by the two developers, namely Michael O’Flynn and Johnny Ronan, that the report is likely to be a whitewash of Nama is a legitimate one.

The inquiry basically and obviously failed to provide platform for the voices critical (or robustly critical) of Nama, opting instead to put forward testimonies of some developers who have potential coincident / congruent interest in seeing Nama escaping serious criticism.

Thus, legitimate suspicion can be (though we should wait to confirm or decline it) that the Banking Inquiry report will indeed skip over Nama's core role in creating a dysfunctional (and currently strongly legally challenged) crisis resolution environment in Ireland. And another legitimate suspicion (based on past record of coverage of the Inquiry in the media) is that most of Irish media will be unlikely to robustly challenge the report on any conclusions regarding Nama.

That said, let's wait and see the report...

8/12/15: Irish Rents: A Longer Term View

Much has been written about the plight of renters in Ireland. Much of it is correct - there have been some atrocious rises in rents, primarily private rents, in recent years. Year on year, in the last 3 months (though October 2015), private rents rose 10.35% against local authority rents falling 1.11% and mortgage interest declining 8.88%. A year ago - over 3mo through October 2014, private rents inflation was running at 8.95% against local authorities rents rising 1.06% and mortgage interest falling 10.26%.

Which makes for a depressing reading for the renters. Actual rents paid by tenants were up 8.83% in 3mo period through October 2015 and they rose 7.93% y/y in the 3mo period through October 2014. So inflation rate in rents is going up.

However, rents inflation has to be taken over the longer period of time. And here, things are not as clear cut as in the short run. Comparable CSO data goes only back to January 2003. So we have no reliable benchmark for earlier periods, albeit some bootstrapped comparatives are possible. As the result, let’s consider 1Q 2003 as the starting point for inflation - with a host of caveats attached.

Setting 1Q 2003 average level of price indices at 100, inflation in overall Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels category that includes rents, mortgages and other housing costs stood at 55.94% in October 2015. Actual rentals paid by tenants over the same period of time were up 26.93%. Private rents rose over 1Q 2003 to October 2015 by 18.62% while local authority rents rose 73.36% and mortgages rose 24.33%.

In other words, cumulated inflation since 1Q 2003 was higher in Local authority rents and mortgage interest than in private rents. Chart below illustrates:

Pretty much the same picture emerges if we take the entire 2003 average (not just 1Q 2003) as a benchmark. In fact, compared to 2003 levels, mortgage interest inflation is just above actual rents paid and is still higher than private rents inflation.

Setting levels aside, let’s take a look at inflation rates (y/y changes in indices). Historical average y/y inflation in Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas & Other fuels category is 4.50% against historical mortgages interest costs inflation of 5.29%, historical private rents inflation of 1.56%, historical local authorities rents inflation of 4.56% and historical inflation in actual rentals paid by tenants of 2.00%.

Once again, timing is everything: given low level of transactions in the purchasing markets for property over the current crisis, majority of mortgage payees today have lived through the period of pre-crisis spike in mortgage costs. Their current savings (reduced cost of mortgages interest) are simply lagged off-sets to this high cost reality of the past. On the other hand, renters faced far lower volatility in rents than mortgagees in mortgage interest. Their current pain is a delayed cost uplift on past moderation in inflation.

Which is, of course, not to say there is less pain because of this or that Irish rental markets are somehow functioning well in terms of pricing. Just to point out that timing of comparatives is important and that one should be careful pitching the (real) pain of Irish renters against the allegedly easy-times for other participants in the markets.

17/11/15: Irish Rents: Welcome to More Consumer Whacking by Government

In efficient market, pre-announced policy changes get priced into market valuations before the policy change takes place. This was the case with the Gazprom's Nord Stream pipeline (working paper on this is forthcoming) and this is also true for much more liquid markets for rents.

Behold, Irish Government's latest stab at creating policies-driven evidence (or in other words, screw ups):

As expected, Irish landlords were quick to price in future freezes in rents in advance of such freezes coming into force. Which means that already beleaguered Irish renters can now pay even more in rents over an even longer time horizon. Double whacking of consumers by the incompetent policy designers continues unabated...