Having lost more than £1bn after Covid-19 arrived in the UK, British Land has bounced back, making £960m profit after tax for the year to 31st March 2022.
Chief executive Simon Carter said that current economic volatility could benefit property owners.
“The UK economy responded well to the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, expanding by 7.4% in the calendar year and by March was 1.2% above pre-Covid levels,” he said. “However, the combination of Covid, Brexit and rising energy prices has reduced capacity in the economy, putting pressure on prices towards the end of the year. Inflation has risen faster than expected, up 7% in March 2022 compared to up 6.2% the previous month and in response, interest rates have been increased. Consumer confidence has weakened since the summer with concerns around rising prices and the prospect of a real income squeeze weighing on sentiment but unemployment has quickly recovered to pre pandemic levels at under 4 %. Most forecasters are still expecting growth for the 2022 calendar year but with risks to the downside if the economic impact of the war in Ukraine worsens. Given this broader macro context and with investors concerned about the impact of rising inflation and interest rates, they are rotating out of bonds and increasing their allocation to direct real estate, focused on subsectors with pricing power and affordable rents.”
He also offered his assessment of the current state of the construction market.
“The construction market has changed significantly over the year,” he said. “Initial increases in raw material costs were due to the combination of supply chain issues, sustained global demand and reduced supply which were primarily Covid-19 related. Manufacturing closures, reduced production and shipping provision, combined with increased demand for raw materials, such as iron ore and timber, from China and the USA as they emerged from the pandemic put upwards pressure in input costs. These price rises were initially sheltered by contractors keen to secure pipeline; however, the levels of workload and magnitude of cost increases have inevitably pushed up tender pricing. Wholesale energy cost increases, shortage of labour, increased cost of materials, elongated supply programmes and an increase in construction activity has resulted in upward inflation pressure. These issues were beginning to reduce at the end of 2021 and early part of 2022, with both supply improving and costs decreasing. This changed with the Ukraine war, which has further destabilised the global supply chain, removing Ukraine and Russian goods and services from the market. This reduction in supply, together with the spike in energy prices resulting from the war, elevated tender price inflation once again.”
He continued: “Our inflation forecast (based on tender price inflation) has increased to around 8-10% in 2022 from our previous forecast of 4.5%, but we expect that to moderate over the next 18 months as wages and commodity prices remain elevated but do not increase at the same rate. Our forecast for 2023 and 2024 is around 4-5% (from 3.5%). We expect the rate of increase to moderate and capacity to emerge as some development projects in the market are deferred or cancelled. We review inflation drivers to ensure our contingencies and cost plans are robust to deal with the market fluctuations. Having maintained momentum on our development programme throughout the pandemic, we have been able to place contracts competitively and 91% of costs are fixed on committed developments. We have built up excellent relationships with Tier 1 contractors and throughout our supply chain so we are confident of placing mutually attractive contracts for our near term developments.
“Higher land values mean that returns from London developments are more insulated to cost inflation than development in other parts of the country and we anticipate being able to achieve the modest increase in rents required to offset any further cost inflation above our base case.”
Last month construction cost consultant Turner & Townsend revised its UK real estate inflation forecast to 8.5%, up from 4.5% that it had been expecting at the start of the year. [See our report here.]