Property Week Bi-line: Logistics – the party isn’t over, the music has just been turned down

30.09.2022

The industrials and logistics sector has been a clear outperformer in recent years, and this has led many real estate investors to question whether we’re nearing the bottom of the honeypot. 

The answer is nuanced. The party is certainly not over, but the music has been turned down a couple of notches and you need to be savvier in how you go about unlocking value.

Whilst the general market has to some extent cooled, the logistics sector continues to be the main beneficiary of the strong growth in online shopping and the structural shift in how we commission and distribute goods and services. Wider than this, the sector plays a huge role in job creation regionally and supports the government’s levelling up strategy. According to Knight Frank’s 2022 UK Logistics Market Outlook, industrial rents are expected to rise by an average of 4.2% per annum over the next five years, compared with 1.7% per annum for offices and 0.6% per annum for retail.

Looking at the current climate, two factors remain at the top of the agenda: high inflation and rising interest rates. These factors are dominating and weighing on business and consumer sentiment. In the short term, it means weaker growth and potentially, a technical recession.

We can already see the effects of this on the logistics sector – which has reported weaker investment pricing and a softening of yields over the summer.  However, the occupier market is going into this period in a position of strength.

Data from Colliers shows that supply has not matched the surge in demand. According to CBRE, take-up of UK logistics space totalled 10.43m sq ft in Q1 2022, representing an increase of 100% compared to Q1 2021 which saw take-up of 5.21m sq ft.

In terms of Clearbell’s strategy, we continue to see the logistics sector as the ‘star performer’ of commercial property, with its underlying supply-demand dynamics still representing a compelling reason to invest. We have developed two key strategies to drive our plans forward, namely Project Tudor and Project Carter.

For Project Tudor, we have aggregated a portfolio of smaller development sites where there was less competition and have redeveloped these spaces into logistics sites to meet growing demand in urban spaces. The experience we have gained from developing similar portfolios – such as the Cara portfolio of 22 logistics assets which we sold to Blackstone a couple of years ago – has helped enormously on this project.

For Project Carter, we have acquired warehouses below replacement costs and refurbished them to maximise their ESG credentials and deliver space more quickly to under-supplied local markets. This is a more defensive strategy in a part of the market which has more limited competing supply and offers more affordable rents for occupiers. We have also targeted locations in the Midlands and North West where there is a strong labour pool – which is becoming increasingly key for tenants who want to commit to long-term leases. 

These projects show that you can address low supply in a cost effective and ESG friendly ways, without always resorting to new build or build-to-suit options. As the industry is aware, getting planning permission can be difficult, so refurbishing existing spaces to a Grade A standard can be a lot easier to achieve in practice.

In conclusion, while the volume has been turned down a bit, the logistics ‘party’ looks set to continue a while longer, as the structural shift to online continues.  However, going forward, investors will need to learn from their previous experiences and modify their strategies in order to be successful at unlocking value.