We are cautiously optimistic on the outlook for the Dutch economy, following a marked pick-up in growth in the course of 2016 as the Dutch economy appeared to shrug off the initial shock of the Brexit vote. Unemployment continued to fall in 2016 and consumer confidence reached the highest level since the 2008 financial crisis and these factors will all have a positive impact on the Dutch retail sector in the year(s) ahead. In addition, persistent low inflation is set to boost consumer spending by some 2% annually for the foreseeable future. All in all, this is likely to increase demand for retail space in the main shopping areas of the larger Dutch cities, especially the cities in the Randstad urban conurbation, and in district shopping centres with healthy catchment areas.
Urbanisation and demographics key factors
Population growth and urbanisation will continue to be key trends in the coming years. Both the total population and the total number of households in the Netherlands will continue to grow in the coming decades. However, demographic growth will be concentrated in the core regions of the country, with the biggest growth forecast for the cities of the Randstad urban conurbation. Due in part to the aging of the population and the movement of younger people to the cities, other parts of the country will see a decline in population, which will affect the qualitative and quantitative demand for retail space in the decades ahead.
Polarisation set to continue
In view of these trends, the value gap between primary and secondary locations is likely to widen in the years ahead. This will affect both high street retail and local shopping centres, and there will be both winners and losers on these fronts. The major cities are still the best positioned to take advantage of demographic, economic and technological developments. Central shopping areas in these cities will continue to outperform and deliver strong returns, as will district shopping centres with healthy catchment areas throughout The Netherlands. The losers are likely to be central shopping areas in medium-sized and smaller cities and ancillary shopping areas without an adequate supply of non-daily shopping retail outlets.
Physical and digital shops converge
Online sales are continuing to increase and will be a key factor in the retail market for many years to come. However, as online sales are largely confined to a small number of retail segments, such as travel, electronics, media and clothes, the impact on the retail market as a whole will be limited. Also, a number of major online retailers have now opened or are planning to open physical stores to boost brand engagement and client loyalty.
Competition for investment-grade retail real estate increasing
The demand for high-quality retail real estate is rising steadily, fueled by increased activity among Dutch investors and an influx of foreign capital from international investors. Dutch retail real estate is still attractively priced when compared with prices in other key European markets, such as London, Paris or Munich. This is pushing up prices for prime properties and will make it more challenging to find and acquire new assets at the right price.
We believe that prime retail locations that excel in our strategic segments of experience and convenience will be the most future-proof investments in the years ahead. The Fund will therefore continue to optimise its portfolio, by investing in distinctive and high-quality high street retail units in the major shopping cities (A1 locations) and in well-positioned daily shopping centres with a clear focus on convenience.
The retail market as a whole is still facing many challenges. However, we made solid progress in terms of portfolio optimisation and the (re)development of several key assets in 2016. We believe this has put the Fund in an even stronger position for the future. We will continue these efforts in 2017, again taking delivery of new assets and reopening redevelopments for business.
Amsterdam, 20 March 2017
Bouwinvest Real Estate Investment Management B.V.
Dick van Hal, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Statutory Director
Arno van Geet, Managing Director Finance
Allard van Spaandonk, Managing Director Dutch Investments
Stephen Tross, Managing Director International Investments