Recently I spoke in China at a UKTI trade mission.
JLL is the long term partner of UKTI and London & Partners, which is an organisation funded by the UK government and London mayoral authority to attract overseas businesses, students and visitors and help London businesses go global.
The Chinese market is immensely important to JLL. We have full business presence in 12 cities across China and have dedicated ourselves to developing strong UK/China ties in response to the increased amount of investment from this country to the UK and Europe. The UK real estate market has undoubtedly become the 1st choice of Chinese out-bound capital. As the leading UK property capital markets team, we have been advising investors new to the UK market on how, where and when to invest across the sector. JLL has market leading investment teams across the world. JLL has been directly involved in 4,000 transactions across 53 markets globally, involving US$71 BN of cross border capital in the past 27 months.
2015 was an exciting and successful year for UK property. Volumes in the direct market were approximately £65 billion / RMB 620 billion and returns, as independently measured, were close to 15%. This is a very strong relative performance when global interest rates and inflation are so low.
The start of this year has seen weaker investment in line with the global trend. This is primarily due to the UK’s referendum about European Union membership. The uncertainty regarding the outcome is temporary. We predict that the economy and real estate market will be much more active post referendum.
The underlying fundamentals of the UK economy are good and it is forecast to be the strongest in Europe. Unemployment is falling and there is a restricted supply of property to rent in nearly all markets and sectors. The overall consensus for UK property is still very strong, with the majority of forecasters suggesting total returns this year of 8-10%.
In a recent survey JLL undertook of investor sentiment, 61% of investors told us that they were expecting to be net buyers over the coming year and 55% of respondents said that they planned to increase their exposure to commercial property. This highlights the resilience of the asset class.
I, and JLL as a firm, believe that being in the European Union makes good economic sense for the UK. Trade and free movement of skills have been crucial to the success of the UK. However, it is important to realise that if the vote next month is to leave the EU, then this will not damage the pre-eminence of London as a financial and business centre. It may take the UK a while to navigate its way through new trade arrangements, but there is no doubt that we will be seen as a valuable trading partner due to our booming services, and that other European countries will still need and want to access our markets.