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.