After an eventful year during which the China market continued to fall under the influence of restrictive policies, DTZ believed it would be interesting to gauge real estate players' outlook for China's property market in 2013.
DTZ Research conducted a cross-sector and cross-regional survey of those with an interest in the mainland property market for their views on market demand in the New Year, their financing and portfolio growth prospects, and what factors would be most important in driving their portfolio development.
Despite a harsh external environment and relentless government control over local property markets, respondents were generally positive about prospects for both occupier- and investment markets.
On the residential market, sentiment swung towards increasing occupier demand in the coming year. However, respondents were far more cautious about investing in residential projects. This is understandable given the purchase restrictions in force in the past two years, and the difficulties in raising capital for residential development.
Demand in the residential occupier market was viewed as more sustainable because of strong end-user demand.
In the retail, office, and industrial sectors, respondents expected strong demand from both occupiers and investors. This positive sentiment is largely attributed to the strong GDP and domestic consumption growth that China is still enjoying.
Players in the office and retail sectors viewed their own market more optimistically, but the industrial market seemed to be an exception, since industrial specialists were more negative about their own market's investment prospects. Perhaps this is because industrial operators had a difficult year in 2012, dealing with problems in logistics, export markets, and the sourcing of land.
Our own analysis sees the industrial sector in a more positive light. It is true that the sector suffered from limited capital returns in the past five years compared with other commercial sectors. But in the medium to long term, it will benefit from China's industrial restructuring aimed at boosting domestic consumption.
R&D centres and logistics parks are all benefiting from this effort and we believe total returns from investment in the industrial sector will rival those of the office and retail sectors.
The DTZ study also analysed the debt financing prospects of players in the China market. Respondents in general did see an improvement in their debt financing prospects, but more negative views were expressed by those focused on local markets in China where many were expecting the conditions for capital raising to worsen in the coming year.
Moving geographies from the players active in nationwide markets to Asia Pacific and global players, as funding sources begin to widen, so did sentiment improve.
Sector-wise, while more residential respondents expected worsening financing prospects, it is interesting that more retail market players expected improvements in sourcing capital. This is a reflection of the policy environment in China where restrictions in the residential market are offset by the need to boost domestic demand.
We also asked respondents to give an assessment of the development of their China portfolios. By geography of activity, a majority of the respondents expect their portfolios to increase. Players who are active in the Asia Pacific region and in global markets were the most positive about their China plays, followed by those who are mainly active in China's nationwide markets.
Players who were only active in the local markets in China were the least positive, with more respondents expecting their portfolios to decrease or to remain unchanged.
There was a wide variation among various types of organisations. Developers were most positive about increasing their portfolios, followed by real estate funds, which were also very positive about increasing their portfolios in the coming year. Corporations were cautious, expecting portfolios to remain unchanged, and individual investors expected decreases in their portfolios.
Grouped by sector, residential, office and retail players mostly expected an increase in their portfolios. In the industrial market, a higher proportion of players expected a contraction in their portfolios, even though most still expected an expansion.
So what will drive portfolio developments in the coming year? Respondents saw support coming more or less evenly from policy, capital growth, outperformance of return on capital, quality of assets or exploring new growth markets.
By geography, players active in the Asia Pacific and in the rest of the world believed the quality of assets would be vital in driving portfolio growth this year, while those in Greater China placed most emphasis on policy support from the government.
Rising office rents in the CBDs of Beijing and Shanghai, for example, were identified as the result of a lack of quality office stock. Office investors are perhaps more concerned about return on investment, while retail players are also looking at new inland growth markets.
Industrial players, who face a difficult operating environment in the Pearl and Yangtze deltas, said new growth markets were important, and we now see rapid progress in logistics, manufacturing and innovation parks in central China.
In summary we envisage a generally positive outlook for both occupier and investment markets. Across different sectors and regions, returns on China investments are expected to be attractive. A lingering overall concern of the debt financing situation in the coming year did not dampen confidence in securing capital in domestic consumption-driven sectors such as retail.
David Ji is DTZ's Head of Research, Greater China.