SPECIAL REPORT: PROPERTY MATTERS

Fifa World Cup 2014

Sport raises housing stakes in Brazil

Analysts split on role World Cup has played in surging market in Brazil, writes Peta Tomlinson

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 5:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2014, 5:48am

After successfully staging football's World Cup, Brazil has something else to offer: property. However, will time ever be called on a bull run that has seen house prices almost double since 2008?

Fitch Ratings kicked off the conversation with its report in February which suggested not - at least not this year.

The pace of price increases has slowed since the end of 2011, the Fitch report conceded, but decreases "are not expected because of demand-supply imbalances".

Many have equated surging home prices with Brazil's successful bids for the 2014 Fifa World Cup, and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

"Hosting two of the world's major sporting events within the space of two years has increased the need to improve infrastructure and the evidence is there for all to see in Brazil's major cities," says Loxley McKenzie, managing director of Colordarcy.com, a London-based property investment company. With an economy that has grown rapidly, he adds, "Brazil looks set to continue offering investors high emerging market returns at low risk".

The country has not ranked outside of the site's top 10 countries for over 12 months, thanks to its potential for capital growth
Dan Johnson, director of TheMoveChanel.com

Property website TheMoveChannel.com entered the game by comparing the housing markets of every country taking part in the World Cup, ranking them for demand, accessibility, appeal and price growth.

Brazil finished a creditable third, behind the United States and Britain. South America's largest country was also one of the pundits' favourites - inquiries for Brazilian property soared 50 per cent in the weeks leading up to the World Cup.

The country has not ranked outside of the site's top 10 countries for over 12 months, thanks to its potential for capital growth and thriving tourist industry, TheMoveChanel.com director, Dan Johnson, says. However, Brazil's recent rise in popularity is "undoubtedly influenced by the World Cup".

"Interest was driven primarily by Rio Grande do Norte, home to Natal, one of the tournament's stadium cities," he says.

"The northeast region accounted for 44 per cent of Brazil's inquiries in May, followed by neighbouring Ceara, home to Fortaleza, another World Cup host, which accounted for 34 per cent of inquiries."

US real estate may be top of TheMoveChannel's table, but the number of inquiries for American property is steadily dropping as buyers turn elsewhere.

As a result, many recovering countries in Europe and further afield have seen demand increase or stay steady, says Johnson, but "Brazil is the place where the most money is heading".

However, Fitch said the nation's surging house prices were more likely due to "massive credit expansion". The sustained decrease of historically high interest rates, increased availability of cheap savings as deposit money and legal reforms that streamlined the foreclosure process were all cited as factors in the report.

"As banks tried to increase mortgage lending, loan maturities were extended and loan-to-value limits were relaxed," Fitch said.

"Supply has not kept up with surging demand for property ownership, creating an imbalance that is unlikely to be solved in the short term." Brazil, Fitch said, "suffers from a general lack of good-quality homes".

Meanwhile, property owners have been cashing in on the thousands of visitors who flooded into Rio de Janeiro.

The blogosphere's been abuzz with reports that, during the tournament, Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho, a two-time Fifa Player of the Year, was renting out his five-bedroom Rio villa for US$15,000 per night.

Local real estate agents were reportedly taking bookings worth thousands of dollars for luxury homes for the duration of the World Cup. A report by Euler Hermes Economic Research (EH) says the hype will be shortlived. "Neither the World Cup nor the Olympic Games will boost Brazil's economy," last month's report suggests. EH expects growth to remain low at 1.8 per cent this year, and 2.1 per cent in 2015.

"We estimate these sporting mega events to add, at best, 0.2 percentage points [pp] to real GDP growth in 2014, and less than 0.1 pp on average per year in 2015-2016."

The two mega events have highlighted inherent weaknesses of the Brazilian economic model, EH's report argues.

"On the back of growing social discontent generated by the surge in inflation, this could be the catalyst for economic policy reforms as presidential elections are in October."

The EH research team says there is no evidence of a real estate bubble forming in Brazil, "despite the organisation of these two major sporting events in a row".

Other reports also suggest that Brazil was already a winner before the tournament started. Jones Lang LaSalle says there is "no doubt about it: the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games are already having a positive impact on the Brazilian real estate market".

Rio de Janeiro enjoys a "privileged position" by receiving the related infrastructure upgrades - investments in public transport, the hotel sector and the renovation and construction of new real estate developments will be a legacy for the city after the events, says Mônica Barg, the Rio-based director of leasing at Jones Lang LaSalle.

"This changes the business environment, creating more opportunities for the city."