From the editor: Tough decisions to come on letting people go

I am hearing of a 60-strong UK-facing real estate firm taking the decision to let people go within its investment team. 

If true, that is despite reassurances from the UK government that it will cover up to 80% of salaries if companies keep their employees on. One problem is that the promise is to cover up to £2,500 (€2,700) a month. Investment professionals earn a lot more than that. And anyway, details of the scheme for bosses to claim 80% of wages remain unclear. Plenty of UK companies from all walks of life are looking into the wage support initiative. They think there is a lot more information yet to come from the government. But for some, it seems they are concluding it is not worth waiting around and it is better to let people go now given there is not much real estate transaction activity.

Some deals are getting over the line, yes, but otherwise a lot is on hold.

Still, for a firm to already release investment professionals feels a bit trigger happy. A firm might opt for redundancies if it feels it cannot find opportunities that fit the stated strategy or lacks confidence in being able to raise a new fund. But many are still sitting on dry powder. They are re-evaluating existing transactions. Those firms that negotiated ‘good deals’ prior to the crisis are now more interested in how to buy into “great deals” in what they presume will be a distressed market. For opportunistic buyers, this could be their time.

Such firms are not yet sure how lenders will react, but for the right kind of defensive asset such as residential property this might not be a problem.

It is already clear that those firms with significant operational real estate assets such as hotels in the portfolio have a sudden headache to deal with. They have a big task on their hands and need to keep their asset management professionals on board now more than ever. If they have dry powder or are confident in getting traction with investors to raise fresh equity, they will also want to keep their investment people.

As usual nowadays, there has been much corona-related news around in the last 24 hours. Here are a few things that stood out:

1 The ongoing bleeding of operational assets such as hotels and retail. Spain’s Merlin has suspended rent payment for all its retail and hotel occupiers that have been forced to close their doors. In the UK, Unite is cancelling rent for students that go back to their homes for the remainder of the academic year.

2 The reaction from business to President Trump’s vision of reopening the US economy in mid-April after the end to lockdown measures is, ‘it is not that simple’.

3 Goodwill gestures abound. In the UK, McCarthy & Stone has offered the use of 300 newly- built apartments to NHS staff and elderly patients recovering from coronavirus.

4 Mipim is no longer in June. It is now to be held in Paris in September over two days. Paris is nothing like Cannes. Will the big firms be up for an event that will see people occupying hotels scattered across the city?

5 DBRS Morningstar thinks advanced economies can weather the storm. They have enough fiscal space to implement economic measures to mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis. ‘Compared to the years preceding the last global downturn, economic fundamentals are stronger across most of the major economies,’ says Thomas Torgerson, co-head of sovereign ratings.

6 Google searches for home improvement stores remaining open have increased 3300%.