As real estate investment hubs, Latin America’s major cities rarely compare to other world capitals. However, changing regulations combined with investors scouring the globe for growth could bring fresh liquidity into major metropolitan areas like São Paulo and Mexico City, according to panelists speaking at the ULI Latin America Conference in February.
“We have a team that analyzes all of the 150 most important global cities to try to understand which has the best momentum at any given time,” Pedro Azcué, CEO of Mexico and greater Latin America for Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), told the crowd at ULI Latin America and Caribbean Conference held in mid-February at Miami’s Ritz-Carlton South Beach. “None of the cities are in Latin America, which is somewhat troubling.”
The office market, which is the predominant focus of many investors, in Mexico City and São Paulo sits on the lower end of JLL’s “property clock” that tracks how cities’ real estate cycles ebb and flow, Azcué said.
The two “are markets that have seen or experienced a decrease in rent because of the oversupply and the local conditions,” he said. “Mexico City and São Paulo are the markets that have suffered the most in 2016 in terms of value depreciation.”
That could, however, indicate buying opportunities in Mexico City, where the weakening peso looks attractive to investors from countries with stronger currencies.
Within the region, investors are also scouring their neighbors’ best markets as many—particularly those overseeing public pensions—chase yield in a world of low interest rates.
“It’s easy to lose sight of how unusual this rate environment is compared to what we’ve seen historically,” said Eduardo Roman, director of research for the Latin American Private Equity & Venture Capital Association. “We have hundreds of basis points to run to get back to where we were.”
With long-term yields so low, Roman said a recent study his association conducted found that nearly half of Latin America’s limited partnerships said they were looking to increase their real estate exposure.
“They said real estate is the single most productive sector in the region and only second to consumer retail,” he added.
Along with those investors, public pension portfolio managers are expected to soon flood the market with capital after governments across the region loosened regulations allowing more money to be allocated to alternative investments like real estate.
The model for those and private companies in the region appears to be based upon Mexico’s Fideicomiso de Infraestructura y Bienes Raíces (FIBRA). They were launched in 2012, following years of legislation to develop a framework for companies similar to real estate investment trusts. The first, called Fibra Uno, was founded by the El-Mann family who for almost four decades dominated parts of the Mexican real estate industry.
“Brazil is more developed for REITs, Chile has had regulations since 2007, I understand that Peru is working on that right now, and Colombia only has one,” Roman said. “I think it’ll be really important if the REIT market is available in these countries because, from an institutional point of view, REITs provide attractive, risk-adjusted returns, and it’s a great tool to gain exposure to real estate.”
But none of it comes without risk, particularly when dealing with publicly traded companies whose stock prices and valuations can fluctuate independent of their fundamentals. That, in turn, might keep some investors in private structures that are not as susceptible to volatility.
“You see the impact of global shocks like interest rate changes, projected rate changes, and elections in the valuation, whereas in the private funds you’re getting your value with a long lag,” said John Worth, senior vice president of research and investor outreach for the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts. “It feels like there’s a multiyear gap in terms of REITs trading at a discount to private real estate, but ultimately that gap has to close.”
Panelists also noted that America’s new president could have some impact on the flow of capital in and out of the region. Carlos Rosso, president of the Related Group’s condominium division, said that one key factor won’t change.
“Miami is still the best place to invest in Latin America,” he laughed. “But unfortunately, the mood has changed a little bit, and Latin American investors are looking at the U.S. as a big question mark and are unsure of what’s going to happen.”