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Qatar’s real estate market faces reality check ahead of World Cup

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DOHA/DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s Doha Tower, a spike-tipped cylinder that glows orange at night, won an award when finished in 2012 amid a Gulf-wide real estate boom, but today about half of its 46 floors are empty.

Towers under construction are seen in Doha, Qatar February 5, 2019. Picture taken February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

The office tower, now a familiar part of the capital’s high-rise skyline, has run foul of what real estate brokers, bankers and analysts say is an oversupplied Qatar property market ahead of the 2022 World Cup that mirrors a real estate downturn in the wider Gulf region after a drop in oil prices.

Qatar has the added challenge of a diplomatic, trade and transport boycott imposed on the Gulf Arab state by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt over allegations that Doha supports Islamist militants, a charge Qatar denies.

The protracted row has made it tough to lure would-be foreign buyers of residential or commercial space.

Residential prices are down about 10 percent from June 2017, when the boycott began, and office prices have fallen by a similar rate, according to analysts and economists. Rents are down 20 percent from three years ago, they say.

“Qatar’s property sector has been one of the main casualties from the blockade that was imposed in mid-2017,” Jason Tuvey, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

The property downturn has so far not translated into bad loans, as bankers say borrowers holding sluggish real estate assets tend to be among the country’s wealthiest.

“They have capacity to withstand the market … I don’t see a major threat,” Doha Bank CEO Raghavan Setharaman said, when asked about his view of the real estate market.

A banker at Al-Khalij Commercial Bank said banks like his have been restructuring many property loans in recent months, extending them to 20-year payment periods from 10 in some cases, to keep business moving for developers hit by slow demand.

But with the World Cup edging closer, real estate experts say long-planned projects are now set to flood the market, even as buildings in prime locations, like Doha Tower, sit idle.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens when they (real estate prices) are really put under pressure in a year’s time, when a lot of new supply hits the market,” Johnny Archer, Associate Director of DTZ, a Doha-based real estate firm, said.

WORLD CUP FRENZY

Tiny but wealthy Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter, plans to increase residential space by about 50 percent and office space by 40 percent in the next three years, partly on expected demand from the World Cup, according to a report published last week by real estate company DTZ.

The lion’s share of construction underway is for high-end residential towers, white-collar office space, and luxury hotels and shopping malls.

FIFA requires Qatar have at least 60,000 hotel rooms in place for the month-long World Cup tournament, which Qatar estimates will draw about 1.5 million fans – more than half of its roughly 2.6 million population.

Qatar has about 26,500 rooms and will add another 15,000 by 2022, DTZ’s report estimated. The rest will be met by rooms aboard cruise ships and in desert camps, according to the local World Cup organizing committee. These camps are expected to be bedouin-style accommodation to give visitors a taste of desert life.

Much of the building is in an entirely new city, Lusail, a 38-square kilometer stretch just north of Doha dotted by commercial towers, hotels, and shopping centers at various stages of construction.

Lusail is being developed by state-controlled Qatari Diar Real Estate Company, which envisions it hosting 200,000 residents and 170,000 employees. It is anchored by Qatar’s largest World Cup stadium, an 80,000 seat venue that will host the opening and closing matches.

Colliers International, whose office was an early entrant to Lusail, says getting companies to fill a rush of towers coming online ahead of 2022 will be a daunting task.

“There is significant office oversupply and while the 2022 FIFA World Cup will help absorb space, new industries are required to bring large office occupiers in the medium to long term,” said Colliers’ Qatar country director Adrian Camps.

In a bid to spur activity, Qatar last month ratified an investment law allowing foreigners full ownership of companies, and for years Qatar has designated certain high-end areas like Lusail open to foreigners, but brokers say demand remains low.

Shopping malls, lacking the Saudi or Emirati shoppers who once flocked to them before the boycott, are among the most visibly affected, with some having to shutter shops in recent months.

New malls are being built anyway.

Slideshow (4 Images)

Total retail space has doubled in three years and will grow 50 percent more by 2021 with nine new malls, according to DTZ.

Beyond 2022, Qatar real estate faces an uncertain outlook. Aside from soccer stadiums, Qatar has not specified legacy plans for what happens to infrastructure developed for the World Cup after the tournament.

“There’s too much uncertainty as to where that demand specifically is going to come from,” Richard Rayner, who surveys property for DTZ said.

Reporting by Eric Knecht in Doha and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; Editing by Saeed Azhar and Jane Merriman

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Hong Kong protests create potential problems for Ottawa, says academic

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There are four or five flights a day from Vancouver to Hong Kong during the summer season. When they land this weekend, passengers will be met by a sea of protesters staging a three-day occupation of the Hong Kong airport’s arrivals hall.

The protesters are seeking international attention as the city enters its tenth straight weekend of political demonstrations that have, at times, been chaotic and violent.

Airport authorities are taking extra security measures and the Canadian government has raised its travel advisory.

Aside from monitoring local media and avoiding areas where large protests are unfolding, there are several issues for Canadians and Ottawa to consider.

“It’s a perfect storm of domestic tensions playing into international views on Beijing’s intentions and policies,” said Paul Evans, a global affairs professor at the University of B.C. “The dissatisfaction fuelling the protests is, in part, about feelings about freedom, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy. But it is also about material concerns related to housing, social services and career prospects.”

The oft-quoted number of Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong is about 300,000. This is an estimate made in 2011 by the Asia Pacific Foundation, which, at the time, said it was based on “conservative assumptions” and that a higher estimate would be over half a million.

There are concerns that, should the situation spiral out of control, there would be protection issues for the federal government to manage. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June 1989, several thousand Canadians were airlifted out of China. But the large number of Canadians in Hong Kong would make evacuation and consular protection much more challenging.

A more immediate issue is Ottawa’s response to the prospect of protesters fleeing arrest by Hong Kong authorities and seeking refuge in Canada.

“Vancouver is already in the global spotlight as a result of the (Huawei executive) Meng Wanzhou arrest and hearings,” said Evans. “Considering the huge number of connections between the two cities, managing requests for political asylum has the potential to put Vancouver in the spotlight in an even bigger way.”

Despite the advisory, many in Hong Kong report a sense of order now that they have adjusted and life is continuing around the protests.

“Local social media is providing good updates regarding the locations and times of the protests,” said Eric Li, a professor of marketing at the University of B.C. Okanagan who is visiting family in Hong Kong and doing some research.

He added that some visitors might be getting limited information if they are only relying on official announcements from government channels.

Li said he feels safe, but “there has been more tension and conflict between the government and police and citizens as well as businesses. The pro-(Beijing) camp and protesters are criticizing each other and there are also (arguments) within families and between friends and colleagues.”

Li has been trying to be “neutral” as a “personal choice. As a person who calls Canada ‘home,’ and Hong Kong ‘my hometown,’ I should say the young protesters are very well-organized and disciplined. The government should actively engage youth in their planning rather than excluding them in the process or putting them in an opposition position.”

“It’s crucial for the Hong Kong government to take a few steps to resolve conflicts through providing open conversation with key stakeholders and young leaders. And protesters should remind themselves the purpose of the (protests) as well as the consequences of their (actions).

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PROREIT buying office, industrial buildings in Ottawa, Halifax

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(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

“These acquisitions provide meaningful increases in our industrial sectors and expand our presence in Ontario and the strengthening Halifax market,” president and chief executive officer James Beckerleg told RENX.

PROREIT (PRV-UN-T) is acquiring a fully occupied boutique office building in Ottawa’s central business district. It’s surrounded by tourist sites, multiple restaurants and retail offerings.

PROREIT is also purchasing a class-A mixed-use, multi-tenant flex industrial property in the west-end Ottawa suburb of Kanata. It includes an office and a research and lab facility with what the trust calls exceptional power, air handling and cooling specifications.

The building is fully leased and its tenants are in the material sciences, defence, communications and medical technology fields.

The two Ottawa properties have a combined gross leasable area of 338,000 square feet and a weighted average lease term of 6.6 years. Many of the leases include contracted rent steps.

While the property addresses and additional details are confidential until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said they’re both institutionally owned and have been maintained to high standards.

The addition of the Ottawa properties will increase PROREIT’s portfolio exposure to the Ontario market to 29.1 per cent by gross leasable area and 29.3 per cent by base rent, making it the REIT’s largest provincial market. It increases the Ottawa portfolio to approximately 620,000 square feet.

“We entered the Ottawa market with our $52-million portfolio acquisition of five office properties last year,” said Beckerleg. “This fits our strategy of investing in strong markets where we can increase our exposure to both of these industry sectors.

“Ottawa is seeing significant growth in office and industrial properties.”


PROREIT’s new Halifax acquisitions

PROREIT has a contract to acquire five light industrial buildings with clear heights of between 18 and 24 feet in Halifax’s Burnside Industrial Park. The portfolio represents 358,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

The buildings are 93 per cent occupied with a weighted average lease term of 4.1 years. Many of the leases include contractual rent steps.

While more details won’t be made available until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said the condition of the buildings is similar to its Ottawa office purchases. The five buildings have been institutionally owned and maintained at a high level.

“The Halifax industrial market has enjoyed declining vacancies in line with the expanding Halifax economy,” said Beckerleg. “There has been a marked increase in institutional interest in the Halifax industrial sector.

“We like this market. Again, it fits our strategy of focusing on mid-size cities with strong investment metrics.”

PROREIT’s $50-million offering

As part of its funding for the purchases, PROREIT will issue 7.15 million shares on a bought-deal basis at a price of seven dollars per unit, for gross proceeds of approximately $50 million, to a syndicate of underwriters.

PROREIT has also granted the underwriters an over-allotment option to purchase up to an additional 1,072,500 units on the same terms and conditions, exercisable at any time, in whole or in part, up to 30 days after the closing of the offering. It’s expected to close on or about Aug. 16.

“This capital raise, our first since graduating to the TSX, is the largest in PROREIT’s six-year history,” said Beckerleg. “We believe listing on the TSX and consolidating our units to trade in the seven-dollar range has substantially broadened our potential investor base. We believe the success of this capital raise confirms that.”

The Ottawa and Halifax acquisitions will be funded with approximately $30.8 million in cash from the offering and approximately $67 million in new mortgage financing at a weighted average interest rate of 3.4 per cent.

PROREIT intends to use $13 million from the offering to repay debt.

Impact of acquisitions on PROREIT’s portfolio

Upon completion of the acquisitions, PROREIT will own 91 income-producing commercial properties representing approximately 4.4 million square feet of gross leasable area and $625 million of gross book value, with a weighted average lease term of 5.7 years.

The acquisitions will also increase PROREIT’s industrial and mixed-use exposure by another 636,726 square feet to more than 2.8 million square feet. That represents 64 per cent of its total gross leasable area and 46 per cent of its total base rent.

While PROREIT has no other immediate acquisition plans, Beckerleg said opportunities are always being reviewed.

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Moncton Airport Receives $8.34-Million From Ottawa To Boost Cargo Export Capacity

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MONCTON – The federal government is investing $8.34-million and creating 140 temporary construction jobs to expand the cargo operational infrastructure at the Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport.

The airport’s cargo business has been quickly expanding in recent years, mostly because of the demand for live and fresh seafood products in China. In 2018, it posted a record for the shipment of cargo abroad, with 16 flights carrying over 1,000 tonnes of live seafood to Asia and Europe. It was the first time the airport saw a steady flow of local products being exported to international markets on large, dedicated cargo flights.

Airport CEO Bernard LeBlanc says the rapid growth makes new investments necessary. Passenger and cargo planes share runway space, he says, which restricted flights in and out of the airport for both types of traffic. The new investments will “eliminate bottlenecks” for cargo and passenger travel.

“We’ll be able handle cargo traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said LeBlanc in a phone interview with Huddle. “It opens up possibilities for more growth.”

The federally funded project includes the following upgrades:

  • Expanding Apron 8 to accommodate more cargo flights without affecting passenger aircraft traffic.
  • Expanding the de-icing pad to allow for de-icing of cargo aircraft and passenger aircraft.
  • A new de-icing fluid management system to comply with environmental regulations.
  • Overhauling and reconstructing the road connecting the airport apron to cold storage and cargo staging facilities.

The new investments will help grow the live and fresh seafood exports with more regularly scheduled flights to places like China. But LeBlanc says it will also open up opportunities for other products too. For example, the airport recently received a call from Malley Industries about shipping an ambulance to Israel.

Accommodating these kinds of requests is harder when the airport has mostly chartered flights that have to work around passenger travel services, he says.

“Once you get more regularly scheduled cargo flight services, it makes it easier to ship other products as well,” said Leblanc.

LeBlanc says work could begin next spring and be completed by October of the next year.

The federal government is making these types of investments in airports that are seeing increased economic activity from cargo exports. Last November, the Halifax Stanfield International Airport received $23-million in government funding to expand its cargo facilities to reduce congestion, among other things. As in Moncton, the investment was driven by strong demand for fresh seafood in China and Europe.

Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health and Member of Parliament for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, sayS the airport drives export growth by opening up new opportunities for local businesses.

“The Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport is a key factor in the growth of the Moncton economy,” said Petitpas Taylor in a release. “The improvements will create more options for cargo aircraft and help businesses get more products to market.”

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