- Deglobalization has had profound implications for portfolio construction in listed assets. Conversely, with real estate, there are indications that the asset class has become more global in recent years.
- Return dispersion across national markets has decreased, while property type has become a more important return driver across all markets, suggesting stronger international alignment, as cross-border transaction volumes have remained stable.
- Institutional real estate investors could still face challenges from deglobalization, but a historical preference for more transparent and stable markets may help counterbalance some of them.
Real estate has historically exhibited a strong home bias, with investors favoring their local markets. Where investors have sought offshore exposure, they have typically favored markets that offer higher levels of transparency, better governance and stability. This is not to say that investors have not allocated to markets that are less transparent than their home markets. Nor that they have not pursued strategies higher up the risk curve when they invested in foreign markets. But in aggregate markets with higher transparency and government ESG scores have tended to attract more real estate capital.
Globalized real estate drivers in a deglobalizing world
The demand for international real estate is driven by the world’s largest institutional investors, many of whom have explicit global real estate investment mandates. Surveys of investor intentions show continued strong demand for cross-border investments among this group.1 Despite this sentiment, the share of the volume of cross-border transactions, as tracked by MSCI Real Capital Analytics, has remained relatively stable over the last decade, ranging between 19% and 26% of total quarterly transaction volumes.2
Even with relatively stable flows across borders, there is evidence that real estate may have become more global based on return behavior. There has been a notable decline of total-return dispersion across national markets in the MSCI Global Annual Property Index since 2008. At the same time, the spread of returns across property types has increased across all markets as technology changes (like the rise of e-commerce) and the pandemic have disrupted real estate markets, causing headwinds for sectors like retail and office but boosting other sectors like industrial. These trends point to potentially stronger international alignment in the asset class: Unlike in much of the previous two decades, since 2019 there was a greater opportunity for outperformance from allocation decisions based on property type, rather than country.
Return dispersion decreased across national markets but increased across property types
Source: MSCI Global Annual Property Index
Could deglobalization affect real estate?
Political populism, the COVID-19 pandemic and increased geopolitical tensions have all contributed to concerns about deglobalization. Business cycles may become desynchronized, leading to wider variations in the performance of equity and bond markets across countries, lower correlations and higher volatilities. The investment impact of this trend emerged in recent years: In equities, correlations between countries and regional blocs have declined.
Going forward, global investors in bonds and equities may respond by taking a more nuanced approach to asset allocation — for example, by considering new, more focused country allocations for broad allocation decisions (geopolitical blocs, energy importers versus exporters or autocracies versus democracies) and placing greater emphasis on risk factors exposed by the war in Ukraine, such as sanctions risk, reputational considerations and currency convertibility. While it is possible that similar deglobalization headwinds may emerge for real estate investors, there are several factors that could mitigate this.
One example is that, as mentioned earlier, transparency, governance and stability have always been important considerations for global real estate investors, as it is an opaque and illiquid asset class, where asset-investment life cycles are typically measured in years (the median holding period for assets in the MSCI Global Annual Property Index has been six years). The result is that markets with higher transparency, better governance scores and stronger institutions represent the lion’s share of the opportunity set and transaction volumes.
Transparency, governance and stability have mattered in real estate
Where available, market-size estimates are sourced from MSCI’s Real Estate Market Size Report 20/21. For the remaining countries, market size is assumed to be 10% of GDP. Source: JLL, Our World in Data, MSCI
Institutional real estate investors may therefore have less exposure to countries significantly exposed to decoupling risk due to deglobalization. Of the approximately USD 2.3 trillion of assets that MSCI tracks in the MSCI Global Annual Property Index and MSCI Asia Annual Property Index, over 91% of the capital value was invested in liberal democracies with real estate markets rated as transparent or highly transparent by JLL.
Nevertheless, deglobalization could have knock-on effects that impact real estate. For instance, increased political polarization and pandemic-induced supply-chain disruption could drive “nearshoring” and changes to international trade patterns.3 These changes could in turn affect the volume, nature and location of real estate demand. For example, a move from just-in-time to just-in-case logistics could increase demand for industrial-warehouse space and see some of that demand shift away from markets that are further afield and more vulnerable to potential trade disruption.
While deglobalization could result in profound consequences in asset allocation and portfolio construction, different asset classes may be affected in different ways. The distinct features of the real estate investment process, as opposed to that for listed equities and bonds, as well as the nature of the opportunity set typically available to global real estate investors, may mean that real estate could be less directly exposed to the effects of this investment megatrend.
The authors thank Alexis Maltin for her contributions to this post.
1For example, see: “2021 Institutional Real Estate Allocations Monitor.” Hodes Weill & Associates and Cornell Baker Program in Real Estate, Nov. 10, 2021.
2It should be noted that purchases made by third-party managers on behalf of offshore investors will count toward domestic volumes rather than cross-border volumes and thus may underestimate total cross-border capital flows.
3Nearshoring is the practice of transferring a business operation to a nearby country, especially in preference to a more distant one.