The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents continued to increase to 740 (6 April). The vaccination rate of the adult population is currently 15.5% with one dose and 6.6% two doses (6 April). The Government has also publicly admitted that the aim to vaccinate everyone in the adult population with one dose before 30 June is no longer achievable.
A suggestion to extend the rental support to not only include Q1 but also Q2 2021 has been communicated by the Government, the decision is however conditional on being granted prolonged permission by the European Commission, which was granted for Q1. The support would cover 50% of prior landlord rent reductions and aims to help businesses being affected by COVID-19 in Sweden.
The real estate market is, in many senses, business as usual with the transaction figures for Q1 reaching SEK 40bn (in line with the strong start of 2020). Investors have a good appetite for new deals. Domestic investors have dominated real estate investment activity during Q1 2021, comprising 75% of the buyers and 90% of the sellers. Active international investors originate from the US, Germany, Norway and Japan. The most popular segments continue to be residential and industrial, together comprising approx. 60% of the total transaction volume.
The third wave of COVID-19 in Sweden continues, with the 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents increasing to 566 (18 March). The vaccination rate of the adult population is currently 11.1% with one dose and 4.7% two doses (19 March). The vaccination programme is progressing slowly due to limited delivered vaccines and continuing pause of using the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Swedish economy is still performing well, and the unemployment rate remains stable in February at 8.8%.
The pandemic is currently still mostly impacting the hospitality and retail sectors with limiting restrictions valid until 1 April. Last year the hotel sector was especially hit with accommodation income decreasing with 47%, when comparing to 2019 (Statistics Sweden & Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth). The hospitality sector and hotels are continuing to suffer in Q1 2021 with the occupancy rate falling from 56% in February 2020 to 24% the same month this year according to the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. Corresponding figures for Stockholm are 57% falling to 20%.
With department stores restricted to a maximum of 500 people, it has been of interest to redefine them to galleria or shopping centres to avoid the imposed limitations; this was applicable to NK in Stockholm CBD.
Discussions on Sweden entering a third wave now continue as the 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents increased to 515 (4 March), and with many families recently celebrating sports holidays, the Government urges caution but keeps society open. The vaccination share of population (over 18 years old) with one dose is currently 7.3% and two doses 3.6% (5 March).
Further restrictions were introduced on 6 March (valid until 11 April), impacting principally the retail sector and sports facilities, by adding to the maximum 1 customer per 10 sq m, to a maximum of 500 people in larger buildings. Shopping centres and stores are asked to advise people to shop alone. Restaurants inside shopping centres are only allowed to serve one person at a time, contrary to regular restaurants which are allowed to serve up to 4 people. Restaurants must stop serving from 20.30 - 05.00 as of 1 March.
The results from the Cushman & Wakefield Swedish Property Investor Confidence Index for Q1 2021 paints a continuing optimistic view. Excluding the expectations on demand for retail space and yields, most other segments are highly attractive, and the risk appetite is also returning for assets outside of the traditional stable cashflow deals. The bonus question of whether an office vacancy is considered an opportunity or a risk, divided the investors into two nearly identical sized groups. The best potential for total return in the coming 6 months is expected from properties for public use, followed by residential and logistics, with all segments benefiting from the behaviour shifts during the pandemic.
The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents is increasing slowly again, to 411 (18 February), this is highlighting discussions on how to tackle a potential third wave. The new temporary pandemic law gives authorities the ability to demand the closure of private businesses such as stores and gyms etc., and thereby, potentially for the first time, introduce a lockdown in Sweden. Additional discussions about compensation for such closed businesses are not yet resolved.
Vaccination share of the population over 18 years with one shot is currently 4.7% and two shots 2.1% (18 February). Testing was introduced for returning citizens at the national airport of Arlanda on 18 February. It is a new requirement when travelling back to Sweden, with the first test on day of landing and then an additional test at home 5 days later.
One of the sectors suffering the most from the current situation is restaurants, causing concerns for city centre life post-pandemic. However, the share of total foreclosures has decreased in January 2021 by 19% compared to January 2020; the most positive development since 2015 according to UC and it supports a positive movement in Swedish economy in general.
The transaction market is currently active with high demand for stable cash-flowing assets such as residential, public properties and logistics. The pressure on these segments is opening up for value-add assets as investors are looking for higher returns and several deals within the previously pressured retail segment have closed this far into Q1.
A beautiful layer of snow and occasional sunshine currently eases the situation for Swedes, many of whom also take the time to visit the Swedish alps. The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents has decreased further to 404 (4 February), putting less pressure on hospitals. Discussions about the risk of a third wave, like in other countries, are ongoing within the authorities. Vaccination share of the population over 18 years with one shot is 3.36% and two shots 0.54% (4 February).
Non-citizens now must provide documented evidence of vaccination to enter Sweden as from 6 February, this action is aimed at preventing new infections from the new versions of the virus.
Sweden is still not implementing any lockdown; most shops and restaurants are still open for business. Since the closing of the border to Norway (valid until 31 March) border retail is again suffering from a declining customer base.
The office leasing market is still active, mostly with sitting tenants prolonging rental contracts. We are noticing tenants reduce their space in new leases, especially in the inner city of Stockholm. The vacancy level is still low and, outside of the city centre, in some areas even decreasing between Q3 and Q4 2020.
The light at the end of the tunnel is becoming more evident as spring is approaching. With the 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents decreasing to 588 (21 January), the current situation is still most severe in Skåne. Share of the population vaccinated was 1.4% as of 16 January. Further to Denmark and UK borders being closed, Norway has been added (borders closing 25 January - 14 February) due to the new mutated virus. The recommendation to work from home has been extended to 7 February.
The Swedish Government has suggested a new rental support for Q1, like the one from Q2 2020 with some tenants getting a 50% discounted rent. The rent is first subsidised by the landlord with half reimbursed by the Swedish State after the lease period has ended. The support is much needed by many tenants but also criticised as it is only for certain sectors and does not reach new tenants. It has also caused some friction between landlords and tenants as the regulations are not clear on when it is applicable. The landlord association has suggested a support aimed directly to tenants to avoid confusion. In the case of a lockdown, which is now allowed with the new temporary pandemic law, closing businesses are to be compensated by the State as per information on 18 January.
The office market is impacted by the pandemic with the increasing trend to sub-let offices. Our latest analysis of the Swedish office market states that the phenomenon is most common in Stockholm CBD, read more about it in Office Snapshot Sweden Q4 2020.
The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents stabilised during the Christmas break, albeit at a high level (725 on 7 January). An increase is expected as normal testing rates have reassumed after the holidays. The vaccine program started on 27 December, prioritising risk groups and essential workers. Distance learning was extended to include high schools and face masks are now recommended when using public transport, applicable from 7 January.
The new more transmittable version of the virus has so far generated 17 confirmed cases, with a majority of these contracted in the UK, but also 5 locally in Sweden. Recommendations for returning travellers are stricter now compared to last spring and as of 22 December, only Swedish citizens are allowed entry from the UK and Denmark (valid until 21 January).
A new temporary pandemic law was passed in Parliament on 8 January, giving the Government the ability to demand shopping centres and gyms close if they are not following restrictions (valid 10 January 10 - 31 September). The latest rule allows 1 customer per 10 sq m, with the max number of people allowed signposted at the entrances. Breaches may be fined and if repeated the facility can be closed by the authorities.
The summary of the Swedish transaction market in Q4 is finalised – and the numbers did not disappoint. Several large deals were signed in December, adding up to SEK 80 billion for Q4. Cushman & Wakefield registered a 20% decrease in annual volume compared to the record year of 2019, with most active segments being residential (36%), industrial (20%) and office (17%).
Several numbers are giving us a better picture on what happened in 2020. A 14% increase in new company registrations in 2020 compared to 2019 could have a possible positive effect on the office leasing market in the longer term. A 45% increase in restaurant bankruptcies in the same period continues to reduce demand for retail space.
The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents continues to increase, reaching 684 on 3 December. Recent new restrictions include preschool children having to stay home if a family member has tested positive for COVID-19 and upper secondary schools moving to online teaching from 7 December. Swedish Authorities plan to vaccinate approximately 2 million people during Q1, prioritising risk groups and essential workers.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended the advice against unnecessary travel to Estonia, Ireland and Latvia to the 16 December. Travel from countries outside the EU, the EEA and the Schengen area is advised against until 31 January 2021.
Swedish GDP increased with 4.9% in Q3 compared to Q2 and the Swedish Central Bank is leaving the repo rate at 0%.
The recommendation to work from home was reiterated in recent weeks, however, occupiers have now moved further along with their future office project plans for a physical return to the office in 2021. A large office leasing deal for Statistics Sweden in the regional city of Örebro is interesting as the signed space was reduced by approximately 25% from the original search enquiry. It will have less desks as employees will continue to be allowed the flexibility of working from home after the pandemic.
The trend of sub-letting excessive office space is also intensifying, especially in Stockholm. Shopping centres and restaurants remain open but suffer from low footfall.
As the 14-day running infection rate per 100,000 residents in Sweden reached 562 on 19 November, the Swedish Government declared that as of the 24 November no more than 8 people may gather publicly (a reduction from 50). Organisers in breach of this could be fined or risk jail for up to 6 months with the new restriction initially valid for 4 weeks. The current situation will impact the hospitality and F&B industry especially, which has the additional restriction of not being able to serve alcohol after 22.00.
Furthermore, regions may stop visits to elderly care homes. Upper secondary schools may, in some cases, need to move education online.
The Government has prolonged the economic furlough support for companies for a further 7 months from early November, to decrease the risk of rapidly increasing unemployment.
The business adjustment support is being extended to the end of the year, with wishes from the business community to extend it further.
The real estate transaction market is still highly active with many deals expected to close before the end of the year. Occupiers looking for new office space in Stockholm can today expect up to 3 rental free months on a standard 3-year contract, a shift from previously no rental free months pre-COVID.
Stock market activity has been very positive with over a 12% increase in the Swedish OMX30-index between 1 November and the end of last week, showing an optimism in the market which, to some extent, is supported by the news of upcoming vaccines.
In the past two weeks all larger cities in Sweden had an increasing rate of new infections. To tackle this the municipalities have followed the lead of Uppsala, in recommending that people avoid socialising with anyone outside of their own household for the coming weeks. The 14-day running country infection rate per 100,000 residents was 314 on 5 November and the testing capacity is currently already under pressure in Stockholm. Some regions have also pulled back the number of people in organised gatherings from 300 to 50. Sports are now in many cases limited to children and professionals only.
This past week one of the largest real estate companies, SBB, closed a SEK 2.7 billion deal by acquiring the residential company Sveafastigheter; 6,000 out of 7,100 apartments in the portfolio are located in Stockholm. The buy makes SBB one of the larger private owners of rental apartments in Sweden and supports the trend of residential now being one of the most attractive segments for investors.
As a reaction to the pandemic and a potential loss of demand for commercial space, the Swedish Government has signalled it will investigate easing the zoning restrictions to enable conversions to residential. The flexibility is welcomed by the real estate community, however limitations in buildings developed for specifically retail and offices may not be ideal for these conversions and not really solve the housing shortage which politicians aim to reduce.
The construction sector is expecting a shift in 2021 from a reduction in commercial and residential to an increase in infrastructure investments.
As the infection rate in Europe goes up, Sweden is not immune to the trend. Certain local areas, mostly in larger cities, are having increasing problems with a growing infection rate.
The past week the Public Health Authority and Uppsala municipality agreed to add further restriction recommendations in the city of Uppsala (a student city near Stockholm) to limit the pressure on the health care system.
Residents are recommended to avoid all types of commuter transportation and socialising with anyone outside of their own household. The restrictions are initially applicable until the 3 November. The previous further national limiting restrictions for people over 70 years old have been lifted, as the risk of mental health issues are considered higher than the risk of infection. A total of 39 people with confirmed COVID-19 were in intensive care last week.
On 16 October, the Swedish Government decided to increase the number of people in organised gatherings from 50 to 300, as long as at least a one metre distance is ensured between visiting parties. A help for both culture and sporting events, however still limited for larger arenas. Nightclubs are not included as they have a new restriction of 50 people maximum, from a previously open number.
Denmark closed its border to Sweden this past week, something that Norway did on 9 October, making travelers to most of Sweden quarantine when returning. This decision has had a huge negative effect on retail in the border areas of Sweden. Increasing vacancies are generally noticed within the retail segment, with shopping centres and city centres suffering from changed habits. A positive is that retailers with a successful online presence are currently complementing the digital platforms by expanding with physical stores and doing this in various types of locations around Sweden.
The transaction market is active with many international investors visiting these past weeks. Also, with a strong domestic market the competition on deals is significant. We will continue to see a gap between the amount of capital that is invested in comparison to the number of deals that will be done and therefore yields will continue to compress in most segments.
The trend with an increasing number of infections in Stockholm, Skåne and especially the university city of Uppsala has caused the Public Health Authority to yet again urge caution.
A planned 400 people student party in Uppsala this past weekend was cancelled last minute after severe criticism, with the Minister of Higher Education and Research addressing all students.
The office sector is very much on the radar. Local real estate media held interviews with 30 big employers in Stockholm on how they manage the physical office and what their future space demand might be. The occupancy rate ranges from 0% to approx. 50%, but most common is an occupancy of 15-30%. It is also evident that the demand for future office space is still unclear as many companies focus on managing the current situation. In our own client discussions, we notice that smaller employers are generally more flexible in allowing more people back to the office, in rare cases up to 100%. This liberal trend is also more common outside of Stockholm.
According to a new report from Invest Sweden, Stockholm is the third largest office hub in Europe for companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list, with many in the ICT sector; a sector that is thriving in the current environment.
The transaction volume for Q3 came in at approx. 28,4 BSEK, clearly lower than Q3 of both 2019 (71,6 BSEK) and 2018 (52,9 BSEK). However, international investors are back with 30% of the total transaction volume, after almost no activity in Q2. The Stockholm region accounted for 40% of the transaction volume, also a clear shift from Q2. The most transacted sector was multi-family (38%).
The Q2 figures for online shopping showed a 49% increase in volume compared to Q2 last year and the annual growth for 2020 is expected to be 33%, landing on 115,7 BSEK according to PostNord. This further supports the growth for logistics and last mile properties. Christmas 2020 is expected to boost online shopping to new heights.
Stockholm and some other areas in Sweden are experiencing increased levels of infection, however still from very low levels and nothing that puts pressure on the health care system. New cases are now noticed in all age groups, and no longer only among the younger generation (20-29). The Swedish Prime Minister has urged people to stay cautious in a special press conference last week, pressing the long-term perspective of fighting the virus.
With the volume of sub-letting office space available in Stockholm increasing, and the number of new potential occupiers interested decreasing in the short term, the segment has caught the attention of banks. With a new colder season approaching and a lower long-term office occupancy due to WFH, mainly in other parts of the world but also in Sweden and primarily in Stockholm CBD, has caused nervousness regarding assets without certain long-term income potential extending from retail to also within this segment.
The transaction market is active with more buyers than sellers and a high appetite for stable cash flow properties, where we can now notice a shortage of objects, just like before the pandemic. Public properties have noticed an increased positive swing during the past spring and one of the largest players (SBB) also recently announced that they are creating a new leg, focusing on properties aimed for mainly defense and custody purposes. Those properties are a traditionally publicly owned part of the segment with high investment needs ahead.
The coronavirus infection rate in Stockholm is still very much under control, comforting for many Swedes and shifting focus to the economic and political situation. The overall consumption figures for Sweden has shown an increase in activity in 2020 compared to 2019, however this is not benefitting all sectors; fashion and shoes have been struggling and received the most government support during the spring.
The hotel market noticed an upswing during the summer compared to this spring but with a fallback again in August. The locations which have recovered best are outside the larger cities, which are still struggling with lower occupancy. This sector is now hoping for the return of business travel during the fall. With crisis being the mother of innovation, the challenges of this past spring have now created new business ideas which may have an impact on the Swedish real estate market ahead. The large hotel chain Scandic launched their new coworking offer with flexible opportunities to work in all their hotels all over the Nordic countries, Poland and Germany, creating the largest coworking network in the region.
The traditional Swedish furniture store IKEA is launching its first secondhand store in the renowned recycling mall of Retuna in Eskilstuna, adding sustainability further to their business plan.
Investors are returning to invest and are positively open to both projects and forward-funding solutions to increase portfolios ahead.
With a stable low number of new infections and with health care under control, the Swedish society is eager to return to a more normal life after the summer, which is noticeable especially in the driving situation in Stockholm as commuting on public transport is not recommended. Many real estate investors and developers are also back in the office and planning for new deals and projects ahead.
As of the 1 September, many shopping centres are returning to normal opening hours after previous limited ones. Retailers have mixed opinions about this being in different situations, with some welcoming the change and others fearing the increased costs may increase risk for bankruptcies ahead.
The latest Property Investor Confidence Index show a more optimistic outlook compared to our COVID-19 special edition in April. Demand for retail and also for office space is still expected to drop, however not as significant as in Q2 and still from low vacancy levels for offices. Most positive yield development is expected in the residential segment with 20% believing yields to drop. Investors are open to invest more than divest, a positive sign for the transaction market. Adding to that, financing conditions are believed to improve or stay unchanged, a drastic improvement since Q2 this year.
The number of new COVID-19 infections have in recent weeks shown a larger number of contractions especially in the age group of 20-29 years. No specific measures have been taken considering this, universities and all other higher education are still planned to go back to normal after being managed through distance learning this past spring. With a record high drop in GDP for Q2 in -8.6% and a negative trend of unemployment, currently travelling north of 9%, there are concerns of the national economy ahead. The prognosis from the National Institute of Economic Research looks better, landing on an increase of GDP with approximately 2% for Q3.
The conversion aid for companies struggling during the pandemic is available to apply for until the end of August. So far over SEK 600m has been paid out, predominantly to companies within the hotel and restaurant sector in Stockholm, followed by the transportation and retail sectors.
The office market is currently under scrutiny as occupiers are looking into optimising their workplace strategies due to high productivity during the working from home period this spring. The trend is also driven by many companies also looking into cost optimising their organisations to stay competitively ahead. Cushman & Wakefield in Sweden is currently helping occupiers in analysing the best office strategy for their specific business needs.
The investor interest in office properties has returned but the supply, especially in Stockholm, has been limited and price levels have therefore not been tested properly yet.
The Norwegian borders have been temporary open for a couple of weeks, leading to extensive retail sales on the Swedish side but are now closing again.
The number of new COVID-19 infections has steadily decreased in Sweden during the summer, however, on 30 July the Swedish Public Health Agency recommended the Swedish population to continue to work from home when possible also during the autumn. The purpose is to limit the number of people using public transport and reduce the risk of a second wave of infections.
The confidence index of business representatives is at the moment showing more optimism than private consumers, the opposite of the situation during the spring. However, the business community has now raised concerns that government subsidies to different sectors are not communicated to continue as per during Q2 and asking for clarification ahead.
As the private housing prices have been summarised in SBAB Booli housing price index (HPI) for July it is evident that the pandemic worries of the spring have been eased with housing price increases in all parts of Sweden, excluding condominiums in Stockholm which decreased with 0.3% for July.
However, detached houses in Stockholm have seen a positive 5.6% increase since the beginning of the year. Since the price dip in April most markets have recovered, and the main current concern is that new construction projects are not purchased on plans in the same extent as previously.
The increased number of testing during the past weeks (currently 60,000/week) has led to a trend of a higher number of confirmed infections, however with more mild symptoms compared to earlier months. The increasing number of infections is currently strong predominantly among the younger population. The number of patients in need of intensive care and the rate of the daily deceased is continuing a slowly declining trend.
When finalising the transaction figures for Q2 2020 we can clearly notice the pandemic impact on both geography and different segments. A majority of active investors during this period have been Swedish, 97% of the sellers and 83% of the buyers. Primarily active domestic factors have also led to more transactions in other parts of Sweden (64%) than in the traditionally strong markets of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, showing the pandemic effect on geographical allocation.
Residential transactions represented 47% of the total volume, offices 31% and industrial/logistics 8.5%, comparing to normally more equally distributed market shares. This indicates an interest in traditionally more stable assets and properties connected to changing work and shopping habits. Largest volume refers to transactions with underlying property value in the range SEK 200-499 million (32%), followed by larger transactions in the range SEK 1,000-1,999 billion (19%).
The previous recommendation for Swedish residents to not leave the country has been lifted (from 30 June), opening up borders to; Belgium, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Luxemburg, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain (incl Monaco, Vatican City and San Marino). From 15 July travel to the EU, ESS and Schengen countries will be allowed and to the rest of the world from 31 August.
Larger testing has finally been launched with the broader public and resulted in an increased number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This has put Sweden on the WHO list for European countries risking a possible pandemic resurge, something the Swedish Public Health Agency has been opposing; stating that new cases are not severe and clearly connected to increased testing and that the number of patients in need of intensive care is continuing to decrease.
The transportation industry has faced obvious problems with reduced travel and several smaller airports have either changed owners (Ängelholm from private to municipal) or communicated aheadplanned closing (Västerås), not solely connected to COVID-19 but to a pre-existing decrease in the number of passengers.
Real estate clients are more relaxed and returning to finalize deals before the upcoming Swedish traditional vacation month of July. However, with a slow start after this spring many of my colleagues are looking at hectic weeks and pushed vacations to deliver projects which were previously paused.
The city centre of Stockholm is returning to life and F&B businesses are recovering better than clothing retailers, which continue to struggle.
As of 14 June, the statistics show that 4,318 of the 4,874 confirmed deaths of COVID-19 in Sweden have been 70 years or older. This older age group especially needs to social distance, something that gets increasingly hard as time progresses and the longing for family and friends builds up.
To secure employee safety, Cushman & Wakefield is implementing the “6 Feet Office” concept at the Stockholm office. The concept has also been implemented at client offices to promote social distancing in the physical environment.
The transaction market has experienced a ketchup effect with large transaction volumes communicated in June. This means that a majority of deals, which were previously put on hold, have now transacted and more are also reaching the market this summer.
Leasing activity is ongoing within the office, retail and logistics segments. Subletting offices have become increasingly popular for tenants in need of reducing space and has opened up a market of attractive localities also in the previously fully let Stockholm CBD area.
From 13 June, Swedes may travel further than the current recommendation of 2 hours from a home address and go anywhere in the country. This ease is hoped to give local tourism a much-needed boost. Hotels are currently giving visible rebates on room rates for the summer, which may open for customers feeling safe enough to stay at hotels, and even for work this fall. People are recommended not to leave the country, unless necessary, up until 15 July. The Government communicated on 4 June that anyone with current or previous symptoms will be granted COVID-19 testing from now on.
Some retailers in Stockholm are experiencing increased footfall. Most rent reduction negotiations for Q2 are finalised and new discussions regarding Q3 have started. Retailers see a light at the end of the tunnel and in some cases are evaluating new opportunities. The transaction market has seen an ease with pricing rebates, reverting back to levels seen before the pandemic.
The office market is occupied with discussions about the future of the workplace and investors are curious about what the long term effects on the market may be. However, leasing is positive and even larger spaces are becoming interesting to a wider range of occupiers. Many tenants are also speeding up planned projects, primarily to reduce cost. Viewings with international clients are being successfully conducted through video presentations.
Sweden is currently standing out with more deaths connected to COVID-19 compared to both other Nordic countries and Europe. However, the trend is falling numbers and the previous problem within elderly care has improved. Testing is continuing to be an important issue and private alternatives have opened this week to meet the general demand.
Sporting events will open for all ages from 14 June, with restrictions on all activities - maximum 2-hour travel for amateurs and no crowds. The previous recommendation for home studies for upper secondary schools and universities will be withdrawn from 15 June.
RCA owned Datscha has delivered footfall data on major retail destinations, based on anonymised data of mobile phones in the area and comparing April 2020 to 2019. The data shows a sharp decline in traditionally popular city centre locations, with less of a reduction further out from the city centre. The retail real estate market is still focused on negotiations of rental reductions and generally weak on new leases.
Investors are active in the transaction market and deals are closing, mainly within the residential and public property segments. On the positive side, we have also seen a higher number of office deals, both in Stockholm and other parts of the country. On the negative side financing is a bit of a bottleneck comparing pre-Covid-19. The leasing market for offices is improving slightly and there is mainly a demand for smaller space.
The Swedish Government waited longer than other countries to add to the national crisis package, however, now it is one of the most generous worldwide, corresponding to approximately 15% of GDP, higher than in both Norway and Denmark and level with the US. The Swedish National Debt office announced preparations on Tuesday to add SEK several hundred billion to the government debt in the upcoming two years to finance this stimulus.
According to the Swedish National Debt office, the prognosis is 6% less produced goods and services in 2020 compared to last year, the largest drop in GDP for a single year since the Second World War. Unemployment is expected to rise from 7% to 10% during 2020 and to 11% in 2021. During the Financial Crisis the peak was 9%. The situation causes uncertainties for the real estate market with potential vacancies.
The previously mentioned government rental rebates, with the state covering 50% of a 50% rental reduction by landlords (to be repaid 1 July) has caused tensions between landlords and tenants. The underlying issue is the uncertainty about in which situations these rebates are applicable and expectations from many tenants have therefore not always been fulfilled. Real estate companies have communicated appreciation for economic support. Real estate companies have communicated appreciation for economic support, however, they also voiced concerns that conflicts are hard to minimize with a system that makes the landlord responsible.
The temporary travel ban to Sweden was extended to 15 June and applies to all foreign citizens attempting to enter from a country outside the EU, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland and UK. Swedes are still advised not to commute using public transport, unless working within the healthcare sector. This week domestic travel recommendations were clarified to a maximum 2-hour drive from a home address, so as not to burden the care system of other regions.
The real estate transaction market is still liquid for residential and public properties. Investors are becoming more cautious about offices and logistics deals, depending on the tenant situation. New creative financial solutions are helping some deals on the market, for example with the seller stepping in and lending funds to the buyer. Value-add has affected more than core properties. Landlords are softening in rent expectations on new leases and are much more focused on securing tenants, both old and new, to minimise the risk of vacant space.
On the project development side there is an ongoing reserved market with small new deals being added to current ongoing projects. However, several companies have reached out to get help with applying the 6 Feet Office concept to prepare workspace for employees coming back from their home offices.
Even though Sweden has fewer restrictions compared to other countries, behaviour has had an impact on consumption. However, not as gravely as experts predicted. A recent report from Swedbank, which includes data on card transactions (also including other bank cards) in Swedish stores shows a 17% decrease during the period 6-19 April, compared to the same period last year. Excluding grocery stores consumption has fallen 27%. The worst affected sector is hotel and restaurants combined, losing 50% for the same period, big cities are more affected compared to the rest of the country.
Other important events this week include addressing the high mortality rate in nursing homes connected to COVID-19. Data shows this group being over-represented and the Public Health Agency of Sweden is pressing for the urgency of improved hygiene and management. The issue of increasing the number of ongoing virus tests from the current 29,000 (week 18) to 100,000 a week is the aim for the upcoming weeks, communicated by the Government on 8 May and allocating SEK 1bn for this.
Real estate investors are still careful, but deals are closed with even a recent one within the challenged retail segment. Investors are increasingly demanding help with market analysis, both regarding future strategy and new deals but also on the occupier side with rental portfolio analysis. We are also observing international occupiers resuming previously paused dialogues regarding expanding business in Sweden. Positively, new leases have been signed. Two bankrupt retailers have been purchased back by previous owners, MQ (fashion) and Paradiset (grocery).
Sweden is shifting its focus from banks to the bond market. In February Swedish companies had outstanding bonds of SEK1,700bn, corresponding to a third of annual Swedish GDP or 41% of the total loan stock. The Central Bank has bought company bonds for the first time to aid liquidity, however, only for rated companies. Discussion to also buy non-rated high-risk bonds to support sectors specifically suffering from the pandemic. The Swedish Government presented a new SEK39bn turnover support to target smaller companies during the upcoming two months, maximum amount SEK150t/company.
The real estate transaction market is still mostly on hold with careful investors; however, we can notice that interest in less volatile sectors such as public properties, residential buildings and logistics where off market deals have been seen.
Smaller contractors are starting to show financial difficulties as many real estate companies have delayed planned projects. We can observe increasing leasing assignments as tenants are looking into reducing space, especially in the CBD area. A few tenants are also using the current situation to negotiate lower rents and built in flexibility into the contract. Occupiers are currently thinking about how to manage employees coming back to the office.
Retail is certainly suffering the most and opening hours have often been reduced together with restrictions on how many customers allowed in the store at the same time. The grocery segment is still looking promising.
Sweden’s economic activity is being discussed widely with suggestions on further Government aid for companies. Potentially a political majority support higher spending but the Government is holding back, focusing on EU discussions with capital injection needed in the south of Europe.
The beautiful weather has lured the people of Stockholm back out on the streets and restaurants have been criticised for not enforcing the maximum of 49 people gathering. Five restaurants have been closed by the police over the weekend for not improving routines. At the same time the health care capacity is under pressure and the number of new people infected has not gone down.
The real estate transaction market is still mostly on hold with careful investors, any activity is primarily off market deals. However, an increasing interest from potential sellers planning to divest is a positive sign since there are still active buyers out there.
The market for hotels, F&B and retail continues to struggle and discussions between tenants and landlords regarding how to handle rental payments goes on. However, a small number of tenants with strong balance sheets are looking at accessing prime locations.
Office occupiers have moved from crisis mode to planning mode. For the past 2 weeks some have undertaken viewings again; previous ongoing projects are now moving along, and new ones are starting.
The Government presented the Spring Amending Budget for 2020 last Thursday, including measures totaling over SEK 100 billion. The number is however low compared to many other countries and the Government has proclaimed that this is due to the economic boost being needed later. Sweden has so far not been in lockdown.
The real estate and transaction markets are still active but have cooled down significantly entering Q2. Uncertainties regarding future rental markets and cautious banks have reduced the active investor base. Potential buyers are asking for a COVID-19 rebate. The private residential market has also confirmed small price reductions on apartments in Stockholm and Gothenburg in March. The single home house prices have so far not been affected.
There are ongoing discussions between tenants and landlords regarding how to handle rental payments moving forward. On the other side, the grocery and health clinic segment are expanding and looking for new locations and a small number of tenants with strong balance sheets are also looking into accessing prime locations.
Office occupiers have in some cases left their wait and hold approach and started to do viewings again. During the last week we have also seen some market activity with a few closed deals. However, new tenants take their time in making decisions and landlords are noticeably preoccupied with handling struggling F&B and retail tenants.
Currently, there are discussions on the economic packages launched in Sweden, since what they entitle is still unclear and the magnitude is smaller compared to other countries. However, Sweden has so far not been in lockdown.
Many real estate companies have moved their business to home office and some even cutting down on working hours. The transaction market is still active but has cooled down significantly entering Q2. Uncertainties regarding future rental markets and cautious banks have reduced the active investor base of April compared to Q1, however, coming from record levels of SEK 40.7 billion for Q1 (SEK 31 billion SEK in Q1 2019). Potential buyers are also asking for a COVID-19 rebate.
Most retail and restaurants are open, but streets are almost empty with few transactions made. There are ongoing discussions between tenants and landlords regarding how to handle rental payments moving forward, entering a critical month with an expected rise in the number of bankruptcies for smaller retail and F&B tenants. On the other side, the grocery segment is expanding and looking for new locations.
Office occupiers have in some cases left their wait and hold approach and started to do viewings again, several landlords also provide digital viewings. On the negative side some international occupiers have not paid or only paid 50% of their rent for Q2. There are trends where some occupiers are starting to reduce office space and adapt the maintained parts.
Last week more economic packages have been launched. The Swedish Government reimbursed municipalities and regional health care with SEK 20 billion, and financial authorities have enabled banks to make it unnecessary to charge private residential clients amortisation for the upcoming year.
Many real estate companies have moved their business to home office and some even cutting down on working hours. The transaction market is cooling further as banks are becoming more cautious (since last week) and some previously active buyers are no longer presenting new deals to their investment committees in April. However, potential sales can still be done within residential and public properties.
Most retail and restaurants are open, but streets are empty with few transactions made. Bankruptcies are increasing and several mid-sized national clothing lines are closing their business.
Retail sector organisations on both the landlord and tenant side have recommended members to accept the temporary relief presented by the Government, with landlords reimbursed 50% of their rental rebates. Landlords are under pressure, focusing on crisis management and not on long-term opportunities. On the tenant side only the grocery segment is expanding and looking for new locations.
Office occupiers are maintaining their wait and see approach. However, in the past week some big leases have been announced with Government tenants. There is a trend for some occupiers to start reducing office space and adapt the maintaining part. International occupiers are now focusing less on Sweden and more on managing the homeland crisis.
Despite being one of the nations with relatively few contamination restrictions, the Swedish real estate market is still affected. Investors are expecting a risk premium which impacts all real estate segments, especially secondary markets. However, core, cash flow and residential properties are still attractive. This trend is connected to issues regarding inactive financing and economic uncertainty at the end of this pandemic. Project developments are ongoing, but planned future projects are being put on hold.
Most of retail and restaurants are still open, but the streets are empty with few consumers and suffering tenants seeking rent reductions. The Swedish Government presented temporary relief last week; between April and June landlords giving rental reductions to tenants will be reimbursed by 50%. National clothing brands, such as DEA Axelsson and Flash, have filed for bankruptcy and the number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming weeks unless there is additional Government support. Landlords are under pressure, mainly focusing on crisis management and with limited focus on long-term opportunities.
Occupiers focusing on digital healthcare, F&B and pharmacies are experiencing rising sales with some of them now needing to expand their businesses. Some Swedish occupiers are even planning to expand their business abroad. Digital maturity within organisations is essential for sales and production now.