SUCCESSFUL property investors in the next 24 months will be focused and knowledgeable, and know how to exploit value investing, says Tony Bales of Epping Properties. Supplied
After-inflation commercial property values were expected to continue declining in the second half of this year as more properties fall vacant.

This was according to FNB property sector strategist John Loos, who wrote in an outlook yesterday that the rising vacancy trend was unlikely to be halted by expectations of a mild economic upswing early in 2020, or the possibility of a repo rate cut in the near term.

Many commercial companies were struggling financially because of escalating vacancies and declining property values.

FirstRand forecasts a 1.2 percent rise in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 from 0.6 percent this year, and believes a 0.25 percent basis point interest rate cut might be imminent.

Loos said, however, they believed that GDP growth of at least 2 percent would be required to halt the rising vacancy trend.

Investec economist Annabel Bishop said markets were factoring in an interest rate cut this year, and some market participants for as early as the July 18 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting.

“Total commercial property fund returns are projected to remain in single digits in the process,” said Loos.

In addition, property operating costs were likely to increase because of strong increases in municipal rates and utility tariffs.

Tony Bales of Epping Properties said the most successful property investors in the next 24 months, given current market conditions, were going to be focused, knowledgeable players who knew how to exploit the concept of value investing.

He said over the past few years, most industrial and commercial properties had shown good capital appreciation and income returns, and many investors took to purchasing any available commercial or industrial property.

However, this would not be the case moving forward, and purchasers would need to ditch the generalist market investor approach if they wanted to see above-market returns.

Loos said another risk to commercial property was the deteriorating government debt situation, which increased the risk of rising bond yields, and with them property capitalisation rates, which would exert downward pressure on property values.

The two most up-to-date monthly data releases for the second quarter - June new passenger vehicle sales and the Manufacturing New Sales Index within the Absa Purchasing Managers Index - indicated that the first-quarter contraction was likely to continue.

The commercial property vacancy rate had increased from a multi-year low of 5.2 percent in 2014 to 6.9 percent in 2018.

Loos said above-inflation increases in municipal rates and tariff costs, most notably for Eskom, were likely to continue given the weak state of parastatal and government finances.

Municipal rates, tariffs and charges, as a percentage of commercial property company operating costs, were at 63.9 percent in the first half of 2018, from 41 percent in 2000.

Meanwhile, on the residential front, FNB economist Siphamandla Mkhwanazi said the House Price Index trended up in June, recording 3.5 percent year-on-year from 3.3 percent y/y in May, taking the average half-year nominal house price growth to 3.4 percent y/y. This was only marginally worse than the 3.5 percent y/y recorded in the same period in 2018.

Mortgage advances grew faster in May, recording 4.2 percent y/y, up from 4 percent y/y in the previous month.

Absa economic Jacques du Toit said, based on current trends in the short-term outlook, household finances and consumer confidence and growth in household credit balances, including mortgage balances, was, for the rest of 2019, expected to remain at levels seen in the first few months of the year.

However, Du Toit said an expected cut of 25 basis points in lending rates at the next MPC meeting this month would underpin the residential property market.