In the face of the pandemic in France, the regulatory measures and business support put in place have played their role as a shock absorber, and business failures have remained at a very low level. The implementation (at an estimated cost to date of €70 billion, excluding state guaranteed loans and the recovery plan) of the "whatever it takes" announced by President Macron in spring 2020 has thus largely preserved French companies. However, two sectors are experiencing an increase in bankruptcies, including that of real estate activities (+5%), while insolvencies in the accommodation and catering and retail sectors have fallen sharply (respectively - 42% and - 29%). Although the economic outlook is favourable for the end of 2021, according to most forecasting institutes, the gradual lifting of aid which began in June, could however cause damage in the months to come, and lead to a ‘cascade’ of bankruptcies. However, in this period of the pre-presidential election campaign, hardly a day goes by, without the announcement of new expenses, often by the President himself, to help this or that specific sector. These promises are not all intended to be fulfilled by the 2022 budget. But none seems, at this stage, to be financed other than by debt.
The figures for the real estate investment market in France, after having slowed down in the first half of 2021, confirm investor confidence in better days. The latter still loyal to their ‘favourite’ asset class, offices, have also an increasingly strong appetite for logistics and residential asset, while retail is regaining some momentum.
September marks the return for corporates and their employees to more standardised activities, with a quota of working from home reduced to 2 days and 3 days at the office. Meanwhile, many indicators confirm the resilience of the French economy. Thus the social catastrophe which had been announced, did not occur, the unemployment rate was established at 8% in the 2nd quarter of 2021 identical to that observed at the end of 2019 before the health crisis, although economic activity is still lower by 3% than its pre-Covid level.
The consumption figures, despite the establishment of the health pass, are dynamic, thus justifying the optimism displayed by the Minister of Finance, which expects GDP growth of around 6% for 2021. Finally, in terms of health, the hoped-for vaccination schedule is taking shape with 72.8% of French people having received at least a first dose of the vaccine, and the observation of a slight decline in hospitalisations in Metropolitan France. French society and the economy will nevertheless face many challenges in the coming months as no reform has been implemented for 18 months, and the presidential election campaign has already started. It may be a little too early to be optimistic?
The summer figures for the office property market in the Greater Paris Region are well oriented, with an increase in number of deals and volume of take-up compared to 2020. The take-up for office spaces thus passes the symbolic mark of 1,000,000 sq m, thanks in part to deals exceeding 5,000 sq m (8 recorded in July - August).
23 AugustThe French economy seems to be showing a resilience that surprises even economists. Massive job destruction (the figure of one million jobs to be destructed has been evoked), an unemployment rate at its peak, and unprecedented waves of redundancies: none of this has happened. On the contrary, the business climate indicator is at its highest level since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and the employment outlook has been revised upwards. All hopes are therefore justified for an acceleration of GDP growth from the beginning of September, with the Government having raised its GDP growth expectations for 2021 to 6% (against 5% previously). Of course, this scenario will only be confirmed if the new wave of COVID-19 is properly managed, but the progress of vaccinations - at least in metropolitan France - seems to support this hypothesis.
However, there are still a few more structural issues to deal with, such as the painful but necessary reform of pensions, which was postponed to September 2021, and above all the question of the productivity of French companies. If France manages to create so many jobs with weak growth, it is because it has probably lost productivity. It is a little early to measure the extent to which these months of short-time working have reduced the skills and efficiency of workers, but the threat is there and very real.
While the 4th wave of the Covid epidemic strikes France again, 9 August, 2021 marks the entry into force of the health pass required for any person over the age of 18 years to exert a certain number of activities in a public space and this will last until at least 15 November, 2021; failing this, a negative test of Covid screening can be provided.
For the Government, the aim is to accelerate a vaccination that is marking time (49.7% fully vaccinated on average nationwide) and even failing to take off in the youngest segment of the population. Travelling by public transport, visiting tourist and cultural places, bars and restaurants (indoor and outdoor) are all included. For shopping centres with a total surface area of more than 20,000 sq m, it has been decided that the final decision on whether or not to require a health pass for their entrance will be delegated to the prefects (the local representative of the State). These restrictions have already had an effect on amusement parks and other places of instant culture such as cinemas; the drop in attendance recorded is in the order of 10 - 50%. This figure will have to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Cushman & Wakefield France held a webinar External Linkon 1 July and presented its analysis of the office market in France for the first half of 2021 and the outlook for the second half of 2021.
During the webinar, we presented two "weather reports": one on take-up and the other on current office space supply.
For the first half of 2021 transactional activity in the office market saw optimism amongst corporate occupiers return. This was in the context of a projected economic recovery over the 2021-2023 period and a return to the office facilitated by the end of widespread home-working and the progress of vaccinations.
Transactions have picked up in the first half of 2021 in all office markets. We expect to see greater transactional activity in the second half of 2021.
Markets such as the Ile-de-France and the Lyon area are most exposed to demand from major companies (which are gradually reinvesting in real estate). These markets, along with the public sector, should see a slower recovery.
Many markets across France have seen a return of workers and shoppers to the most central locations.
France has just passed the third stage of its third un-lockdown, since Wednesday 9 June, with a curfew postponed to 23 hours and a wider reopening of bars, cafés and restaurants.
The last stage - set for 30 June - should complete the return to an ‘almost normal’ life, while more than 30 million French people are already vaccinated.
This return to normal economic activity also means the gradual and rapid end of the business support mechanisms that have played their role in cushioning the economic crisis.
In this respect, the Banque de France has just published a report of more than 205,000 companies on their level of debt and cash flow and therefore their ability to survive after the disappearance of State aid.
According to this study, 6% of the companies studied are in a challenging financial situation without their economic viability being called into question; this rate rises to 10% for companies in the hospitality, catering and arts and entertainment sectors.
Overall, the study concludes that the results are positive: 26% of the companies studied will have reduced their debt and improved their cash flow between June 2020 and January 2021.
At a time when France is gradually turning the page on the 3rd lockdown and the COVID-19 vaccination (25 million people vaccinated with a first dose) is now open to all adults, the challenge for companies is huge: it is a question of not missing the economic rebound promised for the 2nd or 3rd quarter of 2021 while solving the equation of a return to a more normalised work life.
In the 14 months of the pandemic, our relationship to life in the office has changed profoundly, reinforcing a need for more flexibility in the organisation of time and place. This is very good news for real estate professionals who will be supporting companies in their thinking and helping them to customise their real estate footprint.
The first figures on the office market in Ile-de-France seem to suggest that companies have reached maturity on this issue and want to act. As for investors, there is also a considerable amount of work to be done in adapting the real estate tool to this new situation: offices, retail, residential, logistics, etc. ...... No class of real estate asset will escape this introspection, influencing acquisition or sales and accelerating restructuring projects.
With two days to go before non-essential shops, bars, restaurants and cultural venues reopen under restrictive conditions, France is preparing to gradually return to near-normal life in a process that is expected to be completed by the end of June.
The progress of COVID-19 vaccinations has enabled more than 20 million French people to receive a first dose (8.8 million people or 13.1% of the total population have received 2 doses).
The easing of restrictions is universally well accepted by the French population with acceptance rates of the different measures above 80% - with the exception of the relaxation of homeworking from 9 June (77% of favourable opinions) - even if 39% of them think that the epidemic will rebound.
It remains to be seen how the economy will be able to return to confidence and growth, given that the Government is already talking about reducing or stopping several support mechanisms (partial activity, solidarity funds, etc.).
Forecasters are still predicting an increase in GDP of around +5% in one year...
The 3 May 2021 will mark the first stage of a 4 step process to bring the French people back to normal life, after a third lockdown. The programme presented on Thursday 29 April 2021 by President Macron started on 3 May and ends on 30 June. The brakes may be applied if the health situation, which is still rather fragile and worrying, so requires.
Without going into the details of the different measures, let's mention the most important ones: the reopening of schools and colleges on 3 May, the reopening of all shops and cultural places on 19 May.
As far as restaurants are concerned, activity will initially resume on dining terraces on 19 May and inside from 9 June. On the same date, foreign tourists with a health pass will be able to enter the country.
Teleworking stays in place until 9 June (the advice is to telework as often as possible depending on the activity, with a tolerance of one day in the office per week); how this rule will be relaxed remains undefined.
The curfew, which will gradually be extended from 19.00 on 3 May to 23.00 on 9 June, is expected to end on 30 June. In his speech, the President also indicated that financial support for companies (partial activity) would be maintained in May and June, and that consideration would be given to a ‘tailor-made’ programme for the disengagement of State support as and when economic conditions normalise. Act 3 of the COVID-19 crisis has therefore just begun.
It's back to another lockdown (the 3rd one) since the COVID-19 pandemic started just over a year ago. For the next 4 weeks schools, colleges, high schools and universities are closed. Homeworking has become systematic and non-essential retailers have closed. At this stage, it is impossible to know whether 4 weeks will be enough to ease the pressure on hospital intensive care units, while the pace of the COVID-19 vaccinations is struggling to pick up due to a lack of sufficient doses and growing public distrust of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The Ministry of Finance has already revised its GDP growth forecast for this year downwards from 6% to 5%. The public deficit could still be flirting with last year's record level in 2021. According to the ‘Observatoire français des conjonctures économiques’ (OFCE), the cost of the new restrictive measures would cut growth by 0.6 points of GDP over the year. A rather large package of €11 billion in business aid has been earmarked to help businesses get through the semi-confined month of April.
Unsurprisingly, the closure of 150,000 shops instead of the 90,000 anticipated in mid-March will make the monthly solidarity fund bill even more expensive and increase it by €5 billion. A provision of €4 billion has been made for partial activity, anticipating that 1.5 million people could have recourse to it to look after their children. Finally, tax exemptions are expected to cost €1 billion in April, while new schemes recently introduced, such as fixed cost coverage and compensation for tied-up stocks in four sectors, are expected to cost €1 billion.
During a press conference held on Thursday 18 March, the Government announced new measures to contain the third wave of COVID-19. Among the main decisions, in 16 departments including those of Ile-de-France (Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine Saint-Denis, Val de Marne, Val d'Oise, Yvelines and Essonne), Hauts de France (Nord, Pas de Calais and Somme), Aisne, Eure, Oise, Seine Maritime and Alpes-Maritimes, the scope of essential shops has been widened to include: bookshops, record shops, hairdressing salons, DIY shops, plant and flower shops, chocolate shops, cobblers, car dealerships (by appointment) and property inspections.
Elsewhere curfew measures, shifted from 18:00 to 19:00, continue to apply. Inter-regional travel is prohibited, except for compelling or professional reasons; in addition, the local administration (‘préfets’) may prohibit certain gatherings in public spaces. On the business side, teleworking must be the norm for all companies and organisations that can apply it, by applying the rule of 4 days out of 5 for teleworking. A reinforced protocol is envisaged for collective catering in companies.
The deteriorating health situation in France has forced the Government to tighten traffic conditions in 24 departments, in particular the Pas-de-Calais department, where partial lockdown is introduced at weekends from 6 March for a minimum of one month, and only shops under 5,000 sq m are allowed to open.
In the other 23 departments, now under reinforced surveillance, several measures have been announced:
- All non-food shopping centres over 10,000 sq m, and no longer only those over 20,000 sq m as hitherto, will be closed. Only food shops will be allowed to remain open.
- As far as possible, residents are invited not to leave their department or region, as far as the Ile-de-France departments are concerned.
- The requirement to wear a mask will be extended to all urban areas where it does not yet apply.
- Local administration (‘Préfets’) are also asked to prohibit or regulate access to certain highly frequented sites (such as quays or parks) during the weekend.
Elsewhere, curfew measures (between 6.00pm and 6.00am) continue to apply.
In concrete terms, more than 10 million sq m of retail space in shopping centres is now closed. The effective closure of the spaces on this list will also depend, as during the first wave of closures on 31 January, on the presence of food retailers in the centre, which may remain open. The open-air shopping areas will also be able to continue to operate. This is a new blow for the retail world, where the latest indicators show a year-on-year 21% drop in activity. All sectors have been affected with declines ranging from -24% (shoes) to -40% (Health & Beauty), with only household goods showing a 17% growth.
The time has come for the presentation of the annual results of the French economy’s flagship enterprises, and significant contrasted trends appear, according to those companies. The airline company AIR FRANCE has just announced a record loss of €7 billion for a turnover of €11.08 billion, down by 59.2%. The mass market retailer CARREFOUR has, in 2020, generated a gross operating surplus (Ebitda) up 16.4% to €2.17 billion and a net profit up 18% compared to 2019. C DISCOUNT, France's No. 2 e-commerce leader, has outperformed at the end of a year marked by the coronavirus and the change uses. The COVID-19 crisis has therefore boosted some companies and plummeted others, making it essential to renew the financial support mechanisms. The anticipations of a return of growth for 2021 have been reiterated, the question remains whether and how the most fragile companies will be able to survive until then.
On the purely real estate side, the week was marked by the publication of the final version of the environmental regulations (RE 2020) that will apply to all new housing from 2022. Some changes have been announced in response to the protests of industry professionals, including a six-month deadline for the regulation to be put into force.
The French authorities decided not to impose a strict lockdown while the English, South African and Brazilian variants of COVID-19 spread throughout the metropolitan territory. They are giving themselves a few weeks before taking this decision, which would put a strain on economic growth still hoped for at more than 6% if we consider Gross Domestic Product.
Companies are being advised to switch to homeworking as soon as possible, although a recent survey showed that 58% of employees were 100% at the office. The social partners (employee and management representatives) will convene to define how employees’ could be in the office one day a week and for that to be effectively respected.
Shops remain open, except for bars / restaurants and other entertainment venues. In short, the health situation remains uncertain, and the vaccination programme is struggling to meet its initial objectives. A new concern is now the rate of corporates debt and especially the adequacy of the State Guaranteed Loans - SGP - (€140 billion) to the profile of the beneficiary companies. In its latest committee, the SGP monitoring committee estimates that between 6% and 7% of the volume of loans granted between March and September 2020 will not be repaid... Its next milestone, expected at the end of March 2021, should be indicative on the merits of such a measure.
The health situation, marked by the evolution of the various more contagious variants of COVID-19, has significantly deteriorated over the last two weeks. This makes it very likely that a third lockdown is on its way. The measures likely to be taken (closure of non-essential shops, possibility of travel, curfews, imposed or flexible working from home) are not yet defined.
The aim is to contain the consequences of the spread of the epidemic while maintaining maximum productive capacity. The business climate in France is still struggling to recover (index of 92 points published in January 2021 compared to 105 on average in 2019), and the economy has already marked a significant slowdown in January 2021. Each new month of a third lockdown would cut annual growth by 1 point. The Ministry of Economy, Finance and Recovery now envisages a scenario without recovery between now and the end of the year, with a further deterioration in the health situation after the summer.
In this context, the scenario of economic recovery with growth of 6% in 2021 is ‘a challenge’ (in the words of the Minister himself). In this slump, the financial markets fortunately still have confidence in France, which has enabled the French State to continue to finance emergency measures with a 50-year fund-raising last week at an interest rate of only 0.59% per year.
The first consolidated figures about the commercial real estate market for 2020 are beginning to become available: they show a 45% drop in office take-up for the Paris Region - 1.3 million sq m (compared with a 10-year average of 2.3 million sq m) and an immediately available supply of around 3.6 million sq m, up 36% in 1 year. In terms of investment in commercial property (offices, retail spaces, light industrial and warehouses), the strong activity in the fourth quarter - €9.4 billion invested - enabled the market to achieve €26.8 billion, down 32% in one year.
The big question now is how investors are going to get through a year of transition in 2021. If the economic indicators were to turn green at mid-year, the health situation continues to darken the horizon. The reopening of bars, restaurants, concert halls and cinemas has been postponed until the end of February. A national curfew has been introduced between 20.00 and 6.00. Although 15 counties have been subject to this measure since 2 January 2021 from 18.00 and 8 other counties were also included from 10 January 2021. The COVID-19 contamination is starting up again and raises serious concerns over a third lockdown...
The reopening of non-essential businesses at the end of November and the easing of restrictions on people’s travel was the major event of the last 15 days in France. The next stage is set for 15 December, this brings total freedom of mobility, a welcome announcement for the end of the year holidays but which is conditional on improved results regarding the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bar is set at 5,000 new cases per day, but the latest figures are 11,000 cases on 6 December. The other significant event was the announcement of the vaccination protocol which should start in early January 2021, with a first phase planned for those most at risk and healthcare workers.
The Government has not yet specified all the methods of vaccination for the total population over the entire first half of 2021, but it has confirmed that it is not compulsory. This timeline, although still imprecise, finally provides a reference point for companies trying to plan to return to ‘normalised’ activity. Depending on their size and their willingness to implement new working solutions (work from anywhere, remote working, working from home), they could refocus on their office real estate projects. Retail, for its part, remains a very challenged sector, especially for bars and restaurants that remain closed until the end of January 2021.
Emmanuel Macron, President of the French Republic announced a "trajectory" of relief from the lockdown introduced on 30 October designed to stem the second wave of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Lockdown will not be ended immediately, instead the government will adapt the existing measures, in particular the reopening of non-essential businesses and the limitation of individuals’ movements (1 hour per day within a radius of 1 km - with exceptions).
This easing is anticipated to be carried out in several stages with a first stage on 28 November, a second on 15 December and a third from 20 January, on the basis that the health situation continues to improve.
The reopening of “non-essential” businesses on 28 November is one of the most awaited events after the negotiation of a reinforced health protocol and the postponement of “Black Friday” promotional operations to 4 December.
Bars and restaurants are not expected to reopen before 20 January.
Furthermore, remote working will apply 100% wherever possible until the end of the year to limit the circulation of the virus. Discussions are due with partners to explore whether the pace of remote working should be adjusted from the start of January 2021.
Faced with a new wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, the French Government has decided on a second confinement as of 30 October 2020, in a lighter format which includes the opening of schools and therefore allows relative continuity of economic activity for most employees.
The so-called non-essential shops are closed again, which did not fail to rekindle the anger of small retailers caught in the crossfire while supermarkets and specialised stores may still operate and e-commerce continues to increase. In a gesture of support, several municipalities have also issued orders to allow these businesses to open while being aware of the illegality of their action.
On the business side, the Government encourages a return to full teleworking whenever possible. This second confinement, which began 4 months after the end of the first one, puts even more pressure on a weakened French economy and the end of 2020 may also be punctuated by the announcement of massive layoffs.
The imperatives of managing the health crisis with a scenario of severe and violent degradation have therefore led the Government to make difficult decisions while ensuring support mechanisms for the sectors of activity most affected (subsidy, deferral of social charges, state-guaranteed loans, etc.).
These decisions are generally well received by the population who seem to place the management of the health crisis above economic imperatives... but who are also already expressing fears about their financial situation in the short or medium term.
As the business climate continued to improve, recent news on the COVID-19 epidemic front forced the public authorities to adopt a number of new lockdown measures: total closure of bars and restaurants in Aix-Marseille and in Guadeloupe (maximum alert zone), bars close from 10pm in heightened alert zones such as in Paris.
Gyms and sports halls can only accommodate top athletes or children. Only gatherings of less than 10 people are authorised in public spaces (beaches, parks, etc.). The other measures are reducing gatherings to 1,000 people External Link, and a ban on major organised events. Now it is a question of avoiding a second wave of contamination as some hospitals record a growth in admissions due to COVID-19.
These decisions are softened by 6 economic support measures for impacted companies:
- coverage of losses for administratively closed companies with less than 20 employees according to turnover conditions,
- access to the solidarity fund for other companies benefiting from the tourism plan,
- payment of compensation for partial activity,
- exemption from social contributions during the period of closure or restriction for VSEs and SMEs,
- a reduction of contributions due during the closure period for other VSEs and SMEs not directly subject to an opening restriction but which have lost 50% of turnover.
As at 1 September, for France, it is generally back to school for schoolchildren / students and work for employees after a well-deserved summer break. The Government has significantly tightened the health obligations imposed on French people, including the emblematic wearing of the mask in workspaces and in a growing number of cities in France.
The economic aspect of dealing with the health crisis is crystallised around two decisions: the extension of partial activity measures until 1 November 2020 and beyond for 2 years for companies covered by long-term partial employment agreements, and the reduction in so-called production taxes.
In detail, the €10.1 billion of cut off for production taxes for companies which will take place from 1 January 2021 relate to the Contribution on the Added Value of Companies (CVAE), the Land Tax on Built Property (TFPB) and the Contribution Foncière des Entreprises (CFE). The reduction of these so-called production taxes because they are independent of the company’s profitability is intended to promote the re-industrialisation of the country. Jean Castex, the new Prime Minister sums up the purpose of his decision in this sentence: "We cannot want to remake France into an industrial nation and maintain an objectively and comparatively punitive tax system for our industrial companies".
The speech of the President of the French Republic during the National Day on 14 July supplemented by the general policy speech of the new Prime Minister Jean Castex the following day, has clarified the social and economic projects of the 600 days remaining until the next presidential election of 2022.
For the new government, it is a question of better responding to the ecological requirements of the population, of reconnecting with the territories and finally of curbing unemployment. According to INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economy), 800,000 to 1,000,000 unemployed are expected within a year. In detail, Jean Castex announced a plan for the employment of young people, a policy of exemption from charges for those under 25 years, an investment in training.
The pension reform is postponed in its application but the main orientations such as ‘the creation of a universal regime’ and ‘the long-term disappearance of the special plans’ have been confirmed.
For the economic revival plan, whose financing must be carried out on a European scale, he announced a budget of €40 billion devoted to the industry considered ‘weakened and too dependent on external partners’. €20 billion will also be allocated to ‘the thermal renovation of buildings’, to the production of more local food ‘as well as to’ support the green technologies of tomorrow. Time is running out in the face of the risk of a resurgence of the COVID-19 epidemic, the wearing of a mask is becoming compulsory in all enclosed places, including any kind of shops from Monday 20 July.
The second round of municipal elections, held on Sunday 28 June, brought elected officials from the environmental party to a few large cities in France. In the wake of this election, the Prime Minister resigned and a new Prime Minister - Jean Castex - was appointed on Friday 3 July. His Government is still in the constitution phase and should be known on Monday 6 July. At the top of the priorities, employment and especially that of health personnel with the ‘Ségur de la santé’, before resuming dialogue with the social partners on pensions, unemployment insurance, then dependency.
The Prime Minister therefore announces “a new social agenda” without forgetting ecology which “is not an option” based on his own words. The task will be difficult; the Ministry of Action and Public Accounts has published its first forecasts for the Year 2021 budget. They forecast an economic recovery of 8% next year, excluding the effects of the future stimulus plan. The deficit is expected at -5.5%, before future new measures expected in September, and the debt at 117.5% of GDP.
France is continuing its exit from lockdown, from Monday 22 June cinemas, holiday centres and casinos are reopening in compliance with strict sanitary rules. In addition, the constraints are also easing in the world of sport and the resumption of collective sports activities with, again, ‘appropriate prevention measures’. Conversely, combat sports are prohibited. The deconfinement will also continue, and from 11 July, we’ll see the end of the State of Health Emergency in mainland France, for stadiums, but also for racetracks, which will then be reopened to the public, with a ‘maximum’ of 5,000 people.
The Government therefore confirms the conditions for a return to economic activity as normal as possible while the OFCE (French Observatory of Economic Conditions) anticipates an 80% increase in business failures resulting in the loss of 250,000 jobs in 2020. The report also shows strong differences in impact depending on the sector: unsurprisingly, the hospitality and catering sector is extremely exposed to the risk of bankruptcy, while the industry in general is much less so. Another more surprising lesson: like very small companies, large companies, which are more indebted and have less liquidity, are more exposed to default, while SMEs and mid-size companies are less exposed.
In a televised address broadcast on the evening of Sunday, 14 June 2020, the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron announced a new series of measures to bring about a return to ‘normal’ life for French people. Except for some overseas departments (Guyana and Mayotte), the whole of the French territory will come back to the ‘green’ zone, thus bringing about the total opening of cafes and restaurants - those of Ile-de-France could not unless they had outdoor spaces.
The other flagship measure concerns the reopening of schools and colleges with the compulsory presence of all students from 22 June 2020 until the summer school holidays which begin on 4 July 2020. The President also clarified the procedures for reopening the borders of the Schengen area from 15 June.
The latest economic forecasts indicate a drop in GDP of -9.8% in 2020 and before a rebound of + 7.9% in 2021, it is urgent therefore, in the President's own words, to "revive the economy". In its last note, Oxford Economics does not expect a return to normal economic activity in France before 2022, with a sharp rise in unemployment and household consumption - the engine of the French economy - down is 10% in 2020.
Two elements came to close in the week of 1 - 5 June, the first week of the second phase of deconfinement in France with, on the one hand, the opening of negotiations on ‘remote working’ and, on the other hand, the submission of the report mediation on the payment of rents for retail spaces.
On ‘remote working’, employers and unions opened discussions on Friday 5 June 2020, these should be complete at the end of September. Based on the observation that the lockdown period represented a form of remote working ‘crash test’, all organisations - both employers and employees - agree on the need to supervise remote working. Many issues are to be addressed: organisational, human and family issues, social, territorial, mobility, human resources. The topics are not lacking even if the objectives of one or another already diverge.
As for the battle for retail space External Link rents, the mediation set up on 23 April 2020 by the Minister of the Economy and Finance has ended in semi-failure, with the drafting of a charter framing the deferrals and cancellations of rents for the lockdown period, and setting a recovery period to 30 September 2020. This is a provision exclusively reserved for retailers who need it, whatever their size. This charter received the support of the representatives of the landlords; fifteen retailer federations refused to ratify the document.
Today a new phase of lockdown in France, with the reopening of all bars and restaurants (complete reopening for ‘green departments’ and only the terrace for those in ‘orange departments’) and the end of travel restrictions for journeys less than 100 kilometers.
The opening ban, which impacted the department stores of the boulevard Haussmann and shopping centres of over 40,000 sq m, was lifted on Saturday, 30 May by prefectural authorisation, except for the “Halles” in Paris and the “Quatre Temps” in La Defense.
There is indeed an urgent need to return to normality and to revive the French economy when we anticipate a 20% drop in GDP for the 2nd quarter of 2020. The Government is entering a phase of normalisation of support for businesses with less financial support for partial activity and aid of €1,500 for companies in difficulty in the catering / accommodation sector.
A recent study by the Banque de France has shown record corporate debt (€35.4 billion in March, €25 billion in April, when flows are on average 4.5 billion per month). This trend is accelerating in May - from 1 May 1 to 15 May, companies obtained another €32 billion in new loans. It’s a question of businesses restoring cash that has been shattered by 10 weeks of confinement to pay wages, or suppliers.
Portent is accumulating on the front of the French economy with the first announcements of savings plans or layoffs in some large companies such as Air France and Renault. The plan presented by the carmaker provides measures to achieve €2 billion in savings and the potential closure of 3 factories, including the legendary Flins factory which could halt car production in the near term.
France therefore opens the chapter on the economic consequences of the health crisis, and we think that this is only the beginning. Some major names in the retail sector also report serious difficulties: After André, Orchestra-Prémaman, 5àsec, Pacific Peche and Tie Rack. And now it is Alinea and NAF NAF's turn to go into receivership. This procedure is applicable in the event of payments cessation; it aims to enable the safeguarding of the company, the maintenance of activity and employment and the settlement of liabilities. Potential buyers have made themselves known but no decision has been made.
The first court ruling ordering an insurance company to compensate a restaurant manager for operating losses suffered since the start of the crisis has been announced. The decision opens a breach in the fight between restaurateurs and insurers. Some insurers have already announced exceptional lump sum compensation payments.
One week after the end of a ‘strict’ lockdown, a first and obviously incomplete assessment can be drawn. It highlights a clear desire on the part of companies to restart their activities, while emphasising the operational difficulties of this recovery, and the additional costs generated (purchases of protective equipment, lower productivity, division of team work etc.). For some business sectors, this additional cost could range from 10% to 30%, already for some, these additional costs have had to be passed on to the end user.
The new health security protocols also generate significant additional costs for retail activities. While all shops - except bars, restaurants and leisure facilities - have reopened since 11 May. According to initial estimates, this additional cost can represent up to €100,000 for a supermarket, if we include protective equipment, employee bonuses and the payment of additional hours necessary to replenish the shelves during store closing hours.
The equation is therefore not so simple. However, it is a better situation than for tourism, where activities are still on hold even though the Government has just validated the principle of holidays for all French people in July and August - everywhere in France, and overseas (DOM TOM). Full refund measures have been put in place if reservations must ultimately be cancelled. Online booking services and SNCF (National Train Services Company) have consequently recorded strong activity since this announcement.
D-day for the end of lockdown in France started with the reopening of public transport, schools, non-essential shops, except bars and restaurants and large shopping centres in the Greater Paris Region.
A new era therefore opens for a period of 3 weeks and in a country cut in two between red departments (North-East of France) and those green. At the end of May, if the indicators are positive, a new phase may begin, notably with the reopening of cafes and restaurants, which have been closed since 15 March. The next few weeks are therefore crucial.
On the commercial real estate market, a survey lead by the Capital Markets team at Cushman & Wakefield France shows that 66% of the investors questioned are still active in the market and ready to buy assets with a letter of interest. They have a volume of more than €47 billion for their future acquisitions but only €17 billion of assets would - according to respondents - be sold. About 2/3 of respondents have not changed their investment strategy. The strategy changes when it comes to asset allocation in portfolios (21% of respondents see an increase in logistics and residential assets and a decrease in retail assets) and / or the investment risk profile (16% of respondents). A return to normal is expected in 2021, with a decompression of prime yields anticipated for 77% of the respondents. Its size varies according to the asset types considered: the more resilient residential (around 25 basis points), and the more impacted shopping centres (more than 100 basis points).
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While the first figures of the economic recession (-5.8% in the 1st quarter 2020) for the French economy were published last week, everyone's eyes are looking at the end of lockdown announced for 11 May. This date has yet to be confirmed and the next few days will therefore be crucial to prepare for the return to a ‘new normal’ which raises many questions.
For corporates, a return to work protocol sets the main principles for the organisation of spaces and employees (4 sq m per employee, direction of movement in spaces, disinfection and wearing of masks etc.), but the Government invites companies to continue to work from home. A recent survey indicates that 74% of companies also plan to develop home working in a sustainable way after the crisis (mostly with the updating or implementation of a charter or agreement).
There are also many questions about the conditions and use of public transport and even more about the re-opening of schools, colleges and high schools, and in the first place for kindergartens and primary schools. On the retail side, the opening of shopping centres with a surface area of more than 40,000 m² is subject to a prefectural decision, while the ban remains for bars and restaurants.
The soap opera of discussions on the payment of rents during the confinement period has just experienced a new rebound last week: the second amended finance law for 2020, adopted on 23 April allows landlords to deduct tax debt forgiveness from rents agreed between 15 April and 31 December 2020 under certain conditions:
- The tenant must be a company
- When the landlord is also a company, the landlord and the tenant must not belong to the same group
- When the landlord is an individual and the tenant business is operated by a person belonging to his family circle, he must be able to justify the tenant's cash flow difficulties
Being able to deduct charges relating to abandoned rents has also been confirmed.
Finally, tenant companies will be able to deduct from the profit they have to declare, which corresponds to the forgiveness of rents, their tax loss carry-forwards, without applying a limitation over €1 million.
This measure should finally clarify the situation at a time when companies are preparing to reopen from 11 May. The end of lockdown poses a myriad of practical questions and will generate additional costs linked to the necessities of social distancing, which are still in force.
As France begins its 5th week of lockdown and the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis mutated into a severe economic crisis (-8% announced for the GPD in 2020), the tone mounts between the landlords and the retailers.
A few owners announced very early on the cancellation of the rents, placing themselves in the middle of an ethical question. Retailers are asking for rents and charges to be cancelled, at least until the end of the confinement. On 11 May so-called non-essential shops will be able to reopen (essential shops have remained open). In mid-July bars and restaurants will be able to reopen.
All retailers have left the CNCC (National Centre of Shopping Centres) and 12 professional associations are now speaking with one voice. In a press release dated 17 April 2020, the CNCC, as well as other associations representing landlords (AFG, ASPIM, FSIF, FFA, CAISSE DES DEPOTS Group) asked its members to spread rents over 2 years for small children’s shops, normal payment for large brands and a case-by-case approach for medium-sized businesses. Next week will see a clarification of the situation as the Government is now clearly putting more and more pressure on landlords…
French President Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday 13 April a possible exit from confinement on 11 May, subject to strict compliance with gradual social distancing measures.
The French economy must remain at a low activity level for another 4 weeks. This has already put more than 8 million workers in partial activity and plunged the gross domestic product to -6% in Q1 2020. Each fortnight of confinement leads to a loss of annual GDP close to -1.5%. Businesses financial situation is therefore worrying, and leasing or investment in the commercial property market already reflects this.
In this context, during Q1 2020, the office market in Ile-de-France experienced its worst performance of the decade with barely 340,000 sq m of take-up (-37% year-on-year).
At the same time, activity was particularly dynamic on the investment market with €7.3 billion invested. Obviously Q2 will be strongly impacted by the near impossibility of signing any deal; transaction volumes will therefore proportionally decrease considerably. All eyes are therefore on Q3 hoping for a recovery.
At the dawn of the fourth week of lockdown in France, the impacts of the COVID-19 health crisis are beginning to take shape economically.
415,000 companies and almost 4 million people - figures as of 1 April 2020 - now benefit from a ‘partial activity measure’, which means the State pays a part of company wages. These are mainly companies with fewer than 20 employees (42% of employees) working in the retail sector (21.4% of requests), accommodation and catering (15.7%) and construction (14.3%) sectors.
The dialogue between the professional federations and the State - which commenced at the start of the crisis - continues to ensure the right conditions for resuming economic activity:
- A recommendation to allow building activity to resume partially, while ensuring the safety of employees was validated by the Government and was made public on 2 April 2020.
- The time limits for appealing administrative acts (building authorisation, building controls, declaration of intention to dispose of, etc.) could be shortened.
- The digitalisation of transactions (notarial deed online, electronic signatures of the parties) could facilitate the completion of real estate transactions with purchase and lease contracts.
As part of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, the French Government ordered the confinement of people from 17 March, in parallel with the closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses, announced on 14 March.
During this health emergency, Government action in respect of businesses has been strong and rapid:
- The postponement of tax deadlines and social security for the month of March.
- The public assumption of partial activity costs.
- The State guarantee of up to €300 billion in loans on bank loans to companies enabling them to consolidate their cash.
- An emergency aid of €1,500 will be paid at the beginning of April to the smallest businesses - a solidarity fund is created for this purpose, which will be matched with €1 billion, including €250 million from the county institutions.
Few measures directly affect the commercial real estate market in France. However, there are no penalties nor interest on arrears in the event of rent non-payment. This measure is applicable during the duration of the health emergency and the following 2 months for companies eligible for the solidarity fund.
It is too early to measure the impact of these measures on the real estate market. The National Statistics Institute has already estimated the economic loss of -35% compared to a ‘normal’ situation.