The View from Abroad
It’s a bit cliché at this point, but the world seems to have lived a lifetime in the past 12 months. A year that started with some storm clouds on the horizon, 2020 was struck by a squall no meteorologist (or economist) could have forecast. But the world is now a full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and many are looking for a bit of calm after the storm.
Maggie Coleman, managing partner with BFIN, where she leads the Private Capital Authority real estate platform, is a go-to expert when it comes to cross-border investment among global regions and across asset classes. While turbulent times are certainly not over, she sees reason for optimism. The United States was battered by COVID-19, but the American economy is still the gold standard when it comes to stability — something that was important to foreign capital in need of safe harbor.
“Capital flows from offshore investors have been relatively consistent in the U.S. market, in spite of what we saw throughout 2020,” Coleman says, referring to economic, social, and public health upheaval. “When you think about the long-term perspective of many global investors, the U.S. remains very transparent. I would venture to say, going forward, you’re still going to see global capital looking to the U.S. for attractive investment.
Listen to this special two-part podcast episode, Examining Cross-Border CRE Investment with BFIN’s Managing Partner Maggie Coleman.
While the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely seen as less than perfect, Coleman reiterates the overall strength of the American economy. For historical perspective, she notes how investment was not deterred during previous threats of instability, such as the inherent uncertainty during the Cold War. The U.S. represents roughly a quarter of the global economy, and it remains stable in relation to other regions.
Plenty of international dollars flow into the gateway markets of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. But the variety of other markets make the U.S. appealing as a destination for investors.
“There are 50-plus markets that are pretty strong metro areas for replacement capital in real estate,” Coleman says. “This creates variety for investors who are looking for, in particular, different risk profiles. Also, a huge factor is that there’s liquidity, so again, as part of capital preservation, you can be pretty sure you can get your capital out.
One often overlooked player in American CRE is Canada, a huge source of cross-border investment. Because of its proximity, Canada seems a part of a larger North American CRE market, but it often looks to invest south of its border because its CRE industry is relatively small.
“Canadian pensions are some of the largest buyers and investors in U.S. real estate,” Coleman says. “They need to look outward and that includes Europe and Asia, but funds continue to see the U.S. as a natural fit."
Flashing back to March 2020, as the pandemic shuttered much of the U.S. economy, capital didn’t completely freeze in CRE. One interesting consequence of travel restrictions and shelter-in-place orders was that international investors had teams that remained in major markets exploring potential deals in their immediate area. If a firm had an office in San Francisco, for example, the natural inclination was to start investigating deals within driving distance.
As the spring progressed, high net worth investors began to look at placing capital in different sectors in the United States. Retail and hospitality were decimated immediately, so investors looked to industrial as a safe haven.
“Private capital looked at small industrial assets, especially those with any e-commerce-backed tenant,” Coleman says. “Over a time frame of, say, 10 years, you’ve got a fixed return with a relative amount of security, considering the strength of e-commerce.”
Moving into 2021, CRE is going to be another kind of “different” — challenges from 2020 will remain, but hope of “normal” may grow as vaccinations increase.
“This year will give us some line of sight to what the other side of COVID-19 looks like,” Coleman says. “CRE is facing plenty of challenges, but opportunities are out there. I don’t know if I can say things will necessarily get better, but I’m hopeful for the future.”
Editor's note: This article based on a full-length, two-part Commercial Investment Real Estate
podcast. Visit www.cirepodcast.com to listen to the full episode or stream wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.