In 2011, investors from Spain and Germany accounted for nearly all of the $446 million in Manhattan investment from Eurozone countries, according to data from Real Capital Analytics. That was more than double the volume of 2010, when investors from France, Italy and Germany, the primary European investors that year, accounted for $198 million in trades. (The data covered trades of at least $2.5 million that were either closed or in contract, and deals where the Eurozone investor was the sole or majority partner.)
These mid-nine-figure numbers are not huge amounts for Manhattan investment sales. As The Real Deal has reported, Canadians alone accounted for nearly $1.5 billion in Manhattan trades in 2011. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom — which is a member of the European Union but not on the euro — accounted for more than $891 million in 2011 and poured more than $1.8 billion into commercial real estate here between 2007 and last year.
In addition, nearly three-quarters of the Spain-Germany total stemmed from the $324 million March purchase by Spanish-based Inditex of the 39,000-square-foot retail portion of 666 Fifth Avenue.
Still, the amount of money that Eurozone countries are pouring into Manhattan commercial properties is enough for New York brokers and lenders to notice.
“What we have seen, obviously, in the last six months is a pretty significant slowdown [in Eurozone investments in New York] because of all the sovereign debt and euro issues that are going on across the board, predominantly in Western Europe,” said Arthur Milston, a managing director at international brokerage and advisory firm Savills.
Investor skittishness over recent government changes in Greece, Italy and Spain — and the social unrest that accompanied them — are contributing to this slowdown. This year’s French presidential election, in which President Nicolas Sarkozy is being challenged by Socialist leader François Hollande, is also contributing to the overall uncertainty.
The anxiousness has helped to prompt a sell-off of assets across the U.S., and will contribute, analysts say, to the lower investment here in 2012. Two recent major examples highlight this:
In late November, Société Générale SA, France’s second-largest bank, agreed to sell $600 million of commercial property loans to an Australian money manager. A firm spokesman declined to say if any of the loans were tied to New York property. But according to a top executive quoted by Bloomberg News, the bank was selling the assets because of pressure on Europe’s largest lenders to boost capital and cut the size of their balance sheets.
“[The bank] is going through some changes right now because of the European situation, and as part of that they are cutting down on some businesses,” said Naseem Haffar, the U.S. head of loan sales and trading at Société Générale.
Also in November, Germany’s Deutsche Bank said it was considering reshuffling its asset-management businesses, including selling off its RREEF real estate arm, which has more than $60 billion in office, industrial, retail and multifamily assets under management worldwide. A spokeswoman declined to say which of those might be in New York.
The main reason for the divestment? New EU regulations that the bank said are making the management of the assets more difficult.
A Deutsche Bank spokesperson told The Real Deal that it was too soon to speculate on the fate of the bank’s recent real estate acquisitions.
But in July, RREEF acquired the 11,862-square-foot retail condo at 415 West 13th Street, which houses an AllSaints clothing store, for an institutional investor for an undisclosed sum in an off-market deal. A few months before, it had acquired the 16,742-square-foot retail condo at 473-475 Broadway, housing retailer Scoop, for another investor.
“European banks, compared to American banks, are undercapitalized, and many of them are in the position of having to increase their capital cushions,” said Sam Chandan, president and chief economist of real estate research firm Chandan Economics. “They generally have two choices to do that: They can find equity, or they can sell some assets. The way the regulatory environment is moving in Europe right now, there are some banks that are having to liquidate assets, including high-quality assets in major markets.
“For every loan they have, they have to hold some capital,” he added. “And right now the capital requirements are going up. If you can’t raise the money to build those cushions, you need to liquidate some assets.”
On the investment side, analysts say that because of its relatively stronger banking system and sounder economy, the Germans will lead any Eurozone spending for New York properties. Most of these properties, they predict, will be either higher-end retail or office buildings.
Multifamily, on the other hand, is not expected to command as much attention — because, as one broker put it, “everyone’s interested in multifamily.”
“Our feeling, based on conversations we’ve been having with people,” Milston of Savills said, “is that there will be interest in 2012. A lot of that interest will come from German buyers. [But] beyond the German fund buyers, it will be spotty.”
One top Manhattan investment sales broker, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that Eurozone investors may take advantage of the economic crises in their home and neighboring countries. They will buy up properties there, the broker predicted, rather than invest in New York, one of the world’s pricier markets.
In the end, the ongoing euro crisis may mean a geographic shift in focus in 2012 for New York brokers, investors and lenders.
It could end up being a permanent one if the latest deal, forged in Brussels last month to form a more perfect fiscal European Union, doesn’t hold.
“I know you’re not asking,” Milston said, “but I can tell you that we expect the investors from Asia to be a lot more active than Europeans.”