Q2/2023 THE ECONOMIC GROWTH OUTLOOK BRIGHTENS ACROSS CEE
Despite the challenges, the economies of the CEE countries demonstrated more resilience than anticipated by leading think tanks in 2022, which can be attributed to relatively strong consumer demand in most CEE countries due to lifted pandemic restrictions and significant Ukrainian refugee spending. Additionally, CEE countries maintained tight labour markets with low unemployment rates compared to the rest of the EU.
Most CEE-6 countries are expected to show modest GDP growth in 2023, with improved expectations compared to the previous quarter. Steady economic growth is predicted for 2024-2025.
Across all CEE countries, except for Hungary, the HICP is projected to decrease annually in 2023. Starting in 2024, inflation is expected to recede to single digits, providing additional relief to economies.
The tightening of financing conditions will affect investment in CEE and the EU, but as economic activity gradually normalises, investment growth is predicted to regain momentum.
Strong occupier demand and nearshoring potential in CEE maintain low vacancy rates despite significant new supply
- The fundamentals of the industrial property market in CEE remain strong. Nearshoring offers further opportunities for the region, particularly in the automotive, machinery and equipment, apparel, and consumer goods sectors.
- The H1 2023 new supply of industrial space amounted to ca. 3.8 million sq m, with a total of over 7.6 million sq m added in the past 12 months, expanding the market by 16%. As of June 2023, CEE’s modern industrial and warehouse space exceeded 59 million sq m; Poland accounted for 52% of this, followed by the Czech Republic with a 19% share.
- About 5 million sq m are currently under construction in the region, with Poland and Czechia making up 42% and 27%, respectively. At the aggregate level, the share of pre-leased space under construction has gradually decreased from 61% in Q2 2021 to 44% in Q2 2023, except in Czechia and Romania, where only 39% of space under construction was available for occupation.
- Occupier demand diverged across CEE in Q2 2023. While regional gross take-up remained steady compared to the previous quarter, it dropped by 32% year-on-year. However, on the country level, industrial demand remained very robust in Czechia and Slovakia. Net absorption stayed positive for CEE as a whole and in each country except Hungary, but it was below the Q1 level and the 5-year quarterly average.
- Despite slight upward corrections in Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic, vacancy rates stayed single-digit across all markets, notably remaining below 2% in Czechia and Bulgaria.
- In Q2 2023, prime industrial rents increased in all CEE markets except Romania compared to Q2 2022. Poland saw the most significant rental growth at +35% year-on-year, despite a 5% quarterly decline in Q2. The highest regional prime rent for ambient warehousing space remains in Czechia at €7.75 per sq m per month.
Stable prime rents, a slowdown in development activity, and occupier demand largely driven by lease renewals
- In Q2 2023, the CEE-6 aggregate gross take-up grew by 12% y/y and by 28% compared to Q1. The cumulative net absorption experienced, however, a downward trend.
- Office development varied across the CEE capital cities, but an overall deceleration in new supply dynamics is evident, not only by the declining 12-month rolling indicator of new completions in the region but also by the decreasing delivery pipeline currently under construction. Still, around 1 million sq m of offices are currently under construction, with 73% of this on a speculative basis. Budapest and Warsaw collectively account for 50% of the stock under construction in CEE.
- In Q2 2023, CEE capital cities saw a decline in vacancy rates compared to Q2 2022, except for Budapest, where availability surged by 27%. Since Q4 2018, Prague consistently boasts the lowest office vacancy rate, while Sofia and Bucharest record the highest.
- In Q1 2023, prime office rent experienced a continued upward trend in all capital cities of CEE, except for Warsaw. Also, the rental gap within each market has widened between various office schemes, subject to location, efficiency, ESG compliance, and other attributes.
- In Q2 2023, prime office rent in all CEE capital cities held steady from the previous quarter, except for Bucharest, which saw further increases. On an annual basis, rental growth was observed across all the cities in focus, ranging from 2% in Budapest and Warsaw to 16% in Bucharest. Prague commands the highest prime rent within the region, followed by Budapest, while Warsaw experienced a more moderate increase in prime office rent during 2022. Sofia maintains the lowest prime in CEE. Rental rates vary significantly between office schemes within each market based on their specific location and quality attributes.
Despite all the challenges, retail schemes across various formats performed well in CEE
- Despite the challenges posed by surging inflation in 2022 and H1 2023, the highest in the EU, impacting purchasing power and costs for retailers and developers, a positive trend toward decreasing inflation and enhanced domestic spending emerged in Q2 2023 across CEE. Inflation will recede to single digits by 2024, providing further relief.
- Retail schemes have performed well, with retail sales meeting or surpassing pre-pandemic levels. While shopping centre footfall is generally lower, visitors now tend to visit retail schemes with specific intentions to buy and spend more.
- A slowdown in development activity is evident in the CEE retail property sector, particularly within shopping centres. As of Q2 2023, around 1.3 million sq m is under construction in CEE-6, with 63% in retail parks. Developers are prioritising the refurbishment and extension of existing shopping centres and the construction of new retail parks.
- CEE countries consistently attract new brands, with at least 47 new market entries recorded in 2023 and more planned by year-end. Dynamic expansion is notable in discount non-food retailers, affordable clothing, sports stores, and F&B. Czechia and Poland remain the most attractive CEE markets for entry.
- In Q2 2023, prime rents for high street retail space across CEE remained steady compared to the previous quarter, while they increased for retail parks and shopping centres in certain countries in the region.
Robust ADRs drive the performance of hotels across CEE, although occupancy rates continue to lag behind pre-pandemic levels
- In H1 2023, the CEE-6 region saw 8 hotel transactions worth around EUR 152 million, involving 917 rooms. Regarding the hotel investment volume, Hungary led with the sale of the Sofitel Budapest to local investor Equilor for EUR 87 million, while the Czech Republic and Romania contributed the remaining €47 million and €18 million, respectively.
- Looking ahead, the CEE-6 region anticipates increased hotel investment volumes, with several transactions expected to close by late 2023 or early 2024. This recovery is driven by robust hotel performance, especially ADR, and the anti-inflationary nature of hotel assets.
- The pricing gap between sellers and buyers is narrowing, with more motivated sellers seeking to deleverage and improve their credit lines, resulting in more assets offered to the market. Well-capitalized, cash-rich investors are showing interest in hotel assets due to the strong fundamentals of the hospitality industry.
- An estimated €4.2bn of capital was raised by 11 significant funds targeting European hotels, with some funds allocated to the CEE region. Financing costs, a significant hurdle for hotel sales, are expected to improve alongside stabilising inflation rates.
- In H1 2023, CEE-6 hotels experienced an upward trajectory, with a 20% ADR growth compared to the pre-crisis H1 2019. Occupancy remains 11% below 2019, but RevPAR increased by 6% to an average of €66.
- The positive outlook for the CEE-6 region is bolstered by factors including a limited supply pipeline, proximity to major large source markets like Germany, strong leisure demand in Prague and Budapest, and robust domestic demand in Warsaw/Poland. This upward trend in the CEE-6 region is expected to continue, with ADR growth slowing but occupancy growth maintaining momentum, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, similar to most other European hotel markets.
CEE investment activity is expected to rebound in the second half of 2023 as the market adapts to the new normal
- In the property market, during H1 2023, CEE saw the lowest H1 investment volumes in a decade, as the region adjusts to the higher interest rate environment.
- However, pockets of activity persist across CEE despite a deteriorating sentiment for real estate, while local and regional capital remains engaged. The improving Czech economic outlook and banking sector sentiment may enhance pricing and activity. In Poland, investments are largely centred on the logistics and industrial property sector, while core retail is gaining relative attractiveness as the asset class. Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania are witnessing subdued transaction volumes, primarily driven by local investors who frequently acquire properties at a discount.
- The occupational markets driving income for real estate begin to diverge. In Czechia, the hotel and retail sectors remain stronger than other sectors. Meanwhile, in Poland, office demand remains resilient in the CBD but weaker in the peripheral submarkets. The industrial and logistics property sector sustains healthy demand, focusing more on manufacturing than logistics. The recent rapid increase in rents is expected to level off now.
- The second half of 2023 is expected to bring improved pricing stability as interest rates reach their peak and investors gain clearer insights into price discovery.