One industry that appears to have withstood being entirely affected is logistics. In fact, across Europe it has proved to be a vital lifeline for many, ferrying goods between locations and countries that have kept industries afloat and provided the essential supplies that many were looking for.
Whilst there have been notable delays on an international level as long queues formed at some European borders, the European Commission was able to create ‘Green Lanes’ which has allowed lorries with essential supplies to be prioritised. On a localised level however, logistics has been able to operate smoothly and meet the high demand, particularly from food and beverage and pharmaceutical industries. With brick-and-mortar stores having been closed down, e-commerce has been the go-to option for many consumers. Safety measures put in place in warehouses, along with not being able to restock quickly enough, has meant the supply chain has been significantly slowed down but across Europe at a localised level, logistics has continued to function efficiently.
The logistics market during Q1 2020
Before the Covid-19 crisis really took hold, the logistics market was faring well. In Q1 of 2020 after experiencing transactions of record volumes for three years, take-up declined by just 4% in the six largest European markets. After experiencing these record volumes for such a period it was inevitable that take-up would decline, even without the impact of the virus. Despite this slight knock to the upward momentum, industrial and logistics investment rose by 22% across Europe, showing that investors were still keen to buy into the asset class. Proving this point, Q1 of 2020 saw the highest first quarter recorded in the last 15 years, with investment reaching €8.8 bn. As Anita Simaza, Head of Logistics and Industrial Europe at BNP Paribas Real Estate outlines, “The past few weeks have and will change many things, but the Q1 of 2020 investment volume for European logistics and industrial reached the highest first quarter result ever.”
Logistics and industrial: Q2 and Q3
Whilst the first quarter of 2020 saw little impact from the health crisis, the impact will be felt much more in Q2 and Q3. Many lease signatures and negotiations are delayed and vacant space is predicted to increase, meaning there will be somewhat of a slowdown across the asset class. This in comparison to other asset classes, like retail or hotels, is still relative as logistics continues to bridge the gap between consumers and their need for essential food, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals supplies.
The asset class after the crisis
Across whole industries, the health crisis is promoting new ways of thinking and in some cases accelerating trends that were beginning to pick up momentum. E-commerce is one such trend that was becoming more prevalent in many countries but was held back by consumers’ desire to still have access to brick-and-mortar structures. With the current crisis inciting people to maintain physical distance and become more aware of the risk of transmission, there may be a reluctance to going back to shops and an increased preference for shopping online. This might well normalise the idea of buying goods online and perhaps help e-commerce penetrate countries where online shopping hadn’t been so present. To this end, many companies are looking to expand the types of warehouses in their portfolio. The French supermarket Monoprix, has for example, recently added a new XXL to its portfolio and Amazon has opened smaller warehouses in city centres in the US, allowing warehousing solutions closer to urban areas. These new offerings go some way in demonstrating the need for a new approach to e-commerce and its ever-developing relationships to logistics.
Another trend that was also beginning to be more widely seen in logistics before the crisis was the use of technology in warehouses and distribution chains. Over the last few years, there have been notable innovations within the logistics and industrial sector as technology was established to create greater productivity in the face of skilled labour shortages. Technological solutions such as smart buildings, robots, drones, IoT devices and 3D printers have all been promoted as ways of driving forward efficiency, allowing the sector to improve time scales and the precision of manufacturing. The American company DHL Supply Chain has already actioned the use of 1,000 automated robots into their warehouses that will be rolled out at the end of the year. The aim is for the robots to work alongside employees, helping with monotonous tasks and reducing the rate of errors. With the Covid-19 crisis having massively impacted our need for technology to help ensure health and safety measures are upheld, it seems more than ever an opportune time to champion these innovations and roll them out across warehouses and the logistics asset class as a whole.
Logistics has proven to be resilient, boosted by e-commerce activity more than ever.
Investor interest across Europe
Even before the lockdown came into effect, consumers across the UK went on sprees for food shopping, meaning staple grocery items such as flour, eggs, yeast and pasta quickly became unavailable. As such, many turned to online grocery shopping as a way of avoiding the large supermarket queues, which has meant pressure has been put on the supply chain. In terms of investment, despite a slow down at the start of the year, investors continue to gather capital for the logistics sector and remain confident of its ability to withstand the crisis.
Despite the Covid-19 crisis and the scarcity of many products, investment in logistics continued to thrive in Q1 in Germany.
Investor appetite for logistics remains strong in France, having been very dynamic in Q1.
Having seen a rise in investment in Q1, investors from the Netherlands are exercising caution and many mandates have been put on hold. These are expected to be picked up again once the situation resolves but will undoubtedly mean investment volumes will drop in Q2 and Q3.
Whilst Spain experienced outstanding volumes of investment over the last two years, the market has slowed significantly in the face of the health crisis. On-going deals are expected to go ahead but those in the final stages are likely to be delayed.
Q1 saw a sharp increase in investment volumes as a result of portfolios acquired by investors from China, Singapore and South Africa. Thanks to low labour costs and Poland's strategic positioning, investment volumes have continued to fare well.
What happens next?
As indicated by Shippeo in its Supply Chain Recovery Index, the real time view of the supply chain shows that the logistics chain across Europe is beginning to restart, even if it does so at a greatly reduced pace. Logistics has throughout the lockdown across Europe been affected but remained resilient thanks to the continued demand for the supply of goods. This period has highlighted the strength of the asset class, particularly at a local level and demonstrated to investors that it remains a robust investment option. Having a more secure income generation, logistics is certainly expected to see a fall in investment volumes but most likely less so than other asset classes. With e-commerce likely to come out of the crisis stronger, a further boost to the sector may well be experienced, as demand for space at ports and airports becomes a priority, allowing for faster delivery times over long distance deliveries.
As Vincent Robion, Head of Research for European Logistics at BNP Paribas Real Estate sums up, “As a result of the lockdown, industrial and logistics activity has been massively slowed down but investors and occupiers are actively preparing the exit from the crisis. Logistics has proven to be resilient, boosted by e-commerce activity more than ever. The exit from the crisis will be intrinsically linked to the how people will consume in the future, as well as the financial conditions which may be less attractive.”