Archive September, 2012

(II) CONSTRUMAT 2011: Construction fair in Barcelona

23 September, 2012 No Comments

Construmat 2011 focused on internationalization and in recapturing the refurbishment business, which is growing at a rate of 11%.

In the process of Internationalization, an agreement was reached with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT)  – 中国 国际 贸易 促进 委员会 – whose goal is the promotion of international trade, developing economic agreements with foreign countries through the creation of professional networking to export the construction exhibition into China. The show took place in July, 2012 in Beijing, to which 200 local and international organizations attended, and who performed many activities dedicated to sustainable construction. The China Council promoted the participation of exhibitors, visitors and the industry associations in the country.

It is difficult for European companies to compete with the prices of major Chinese builders, however they can compete in the products’ quality. The idea was that Construmat China, besides offering sustainable products, offered finished products such as faucets, fences, painting and ceramics.

Here are some highlights regarding the current Chinese real estate market (some mentioned in previous posts):

1-For the most part, the idea of refurbishing buildings is not shared by Chinese, and as a consequence buildings degrade within few years, which are then subject to demolition, and then rebuilt from ground. In general, the quality of the materials used in construction is not good which brings to the eye the need to restore / paint facades.

2 – However, the Chinese market demands a European based design for their homes. The demand for designers / architects for residential or resort projects of a European – Spanish style can be very attractive. In fact, in one of the Chinese real estate fairs I visited last year, a leading developer requested a European technician capable of completing a Spanish-style design for a residential mega-project.

Brazil could be the next destination to host this fair with its own brand despite the deal not being closed yet. It is a country that everyone talks about. It’s a popular country given its economic growth, its upcoming sporting events (Olympic Games…), and for being an emerging market with great growth potential… The fair would be a great gateway to the Latin American market!! In the show held in Barcelona last year, ​​Brazil was the foreign country with the highest number of exhibitors.

The Manifest: The construction sector joined hands and elaborated a manifest in which they demanded support to overcome the crisis. They requested measures to support new construction, rehabilitation, and to maintain the appropriate level of investment in building as well as the level of attraction of foreign buyers for the residential sector. This was presented by the President of Construmat, J. Miarnau (Comsa-Emte), along with SEOPAN, the Association of Builders and Promoters (APCE), and the Colleges of Spanish Architects.

Sustainability: I would like to stress the European Solar Decathlon, a competition of scale models of solar buildings that involved fifteen European countries. A forum dedicated to sustainable thinking, with national and international presentations.

Rehabilitation in Spain: is the segment within the construction sector that is experiencing considerable growth.

(I) Construmat 2011: Internationalization process to China and possibly to Brazil

20 September, 2012 No Comments

(Video with English Subtitles)

Construmat 2011, the International Exhibition of construction that was held in Barcelona in 2011, renewed its biennial meeting announcing its progress despite the crisis. The Organization signed an agreement for this show to take place in China in 2012, aiming to help the brick industry penetrate in the Asian market. At the same time they were also awaiting to close a deal with Brazil, to host the show there, with the consequent impact on the Latin American market.

In Spain, it is the most important exhibition of the construction industry, and in Europe one of the largest along with Batimat. The following take place during the show:

* Is a place where builders, developers, architects, and manufacturers of materials converge.

* New processes and developments of innovative materials arise.

* It is a meeting point to analyze, discuss and present the major technology releases, market news, and new industry trends.

Due to the current crisis, demand for construction material has fallen in Europe. Companies that want to grow must go outside (which is also a way to dispose of the surplus in construction machinery that Spain currently holds). Construmat helps especially SME’s, which are the ones that present more difficulties to send missions to China, by participating on their expansion process and advising them about the peculiarities of  other markets (i.e the large Chinese market). Construction is growing dramatically in China due to the internal migration of people from rural areas to the big cities (which I explained in previous posts).

The internationalization of companies that manufacture building materials that were already positioned in other foreign markets, has allowed them to increase their sales (i.e. the group Cosentino, producer of Silestone). According to an interview published by El País, May 15, 2011, Cosentino was well positioned in the U.S. market and stated that 70% of its revenues were from outside of Spain, and hoped to reach 82% in 2013. Its main projects during 2011 were to enter in Asia and Latin America, and to have a total of 30 people in their ​​R&D department, currently focusing its research on new technologies and designs, such as ECO (its organic product, winner of a European award…) “What gives us strength is to do different things“.

(III) Real Estate in CHINA: Real Estate fair

20 September, 2012 No Comments

* Overseas Property & Investment Show-Beijing. * International Real Estate Fair-Dalian (April 2011). Exponents of the rapid growth of the housing market in recent years.

Being able to attend to both fairs gave me an idea of ​​the volume of business that the real estate sector moves in this part of the world. It is surprising to see how vague foreign investment is in the residential market, and not just Spanish, but European or American investment in this huge potential market (has an estimated population of 1,500 million). To outline some examples, there were English real estate developers (they’ve been introduced in China via Hong Kong), some Canadian developers, and only one Spanish developer (sold Chinese customers the Spanish product). The remaining foreign representation was made up of some other Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, always as product vendors of their own material, since they are easily accessible to Chinese customers by its geographical proximity and generally with great weather.

These are some of the market trends offered in both fairs:

1 – A house or an apartment in European style communities, with clear influence from the French, Spanish, or Italian styles…, In many cases, located on the outskirts of large cities, since high speed rails allow a rapid communication with downtown.

2 – At the same time, a futuristic oriental architecture is rising in China (as I stated in my last post;  Mad Architects Studio in Beijing).

3 – A flat in the city, or near it. The last case referred to the second or third ring depending on its distance from the center of the city. For example, we would find these new skyscrapers whose floors are pretty much alike, are built in a simplistic way, do not attempt to follow any architectural trend, and whose solely purpose is to host as many people as possible.  That is to meet the needs arising from the internal migration that China is suffering. These flats are characterized to have 1 or 2 rooms (with little light), and long corridors.
Right now, it seems that China has become the leading country in the amount surface built each year: around 2 Billion square meters per year in recent years. About 30% of the world’s concrete and steel is used in China’s construction. In contrast, these buildings don’t last long, and buyers are not interested in second hand properties. In Europe instead (i.e. Spain), the second hand market is quite active, where remodeling is a common practice because houses last on average 50-60 years. In some cases, especially in large cities even more than 50 or 60 years as we intend to protect our historic patrimony. In addition, the owner of an apartment in Europe is also owner of the land on which the building is built.

In the Chinese model, land is state property and the buyer of an apartment has only the right on the ground for 70 years. The state auctions the land to private or public developers, creating the main source of revenue for local governments. This explains in part why so many are demolished in order to build new ones: the more space, the more buildings can be built.

(III) Mipim2011 the World’s property market: analyzing topics

14 September, 2012 No Comments

In this second post I limit myself to make a synthesis of ideas presented in Dr. N.Roubini’s conference at MIPIM 2011.  Due to the length of the presentation, I focused on what might be more relevant for the real estate investor. Nonetheless, for those who want full details about the presentation, I included the full video in its original version in my previous post.

Core Observations:

1-The question that Dr. Nouriel Roubini arises: Can countries such as China and other emerging countries tighten their monetary policy and their exchange rate to reduce inflation and maintain economic growth in order to get a soft landing of the economy rather than a hard one?

The strength of the economies of the growing emerging markets encourages the risk of a higher inflation. In these markets, there is a clear economic overheating, excessive credit growth, and note that about two thirds of their consumption basket is: oil, energy, food and transportation

2 – A vivid example would be the current situation in the Middle East: What’s happening right now in the Middle East? Nobody could foresee the political movement that took place in early 2011. We don’t know if this is going to stabilize soon, or if it will spread to other countries. This can have an effect on oil and energy prices … In such case, what would be the consequences of higher oil prices?

* There will be a severe problem of inflation of the overheated emerging markets.

* A lower risk of inflation in developed economies since the recovery from the financial crisis is very slow

* It also has an impact on economic growth. Specifically a destabilizing effect in the investor and consumer’s confidence in particular…

3 – In recent years there has been a massive injection of liquidity into the global economy. There were massive fiscal stimulus in the US, Japan, Europe, and other emerging markets, but if we take a look at the current market (as of 2011) we realize that we are in the opposite side: there is less monetary stimulus and more fiscal austerity (countries in Europe and the UK started to cut on spending and tax incentives, as well as the US, who began to cut costs ….. The question is: Will the private market have the possibility to consume in order to have economic growth when some of the fiscal and monetary stimuli are gone?

Areas with potential growth: the U.S. at a 3%, some parts of Europe at a 1.5 to 2%, and emerging markets, eastern countries and South America at a 5-8% growth rate.

4 – TURKEY

Turkey’s growth prospect is very optimistic for the medium to the long term. There is still growth in its population and as a consequence there is a significant domestic market (As a contrary, China’s population is decreasing). It can be a fast-growing economy although structural reforms need to be done. If these reforms are made at a regular pace, the forecast of growth for the future is very positive (real estate growth comes along).
5-RUSSIA

Prices will increase reasonably which will improve Russia’s fiscal balance, and consequently its economic growth. However, the fact that Russia is not a very well-diversified economy prevents growth of being even greater. For example, in 2010 where there was a global economic recovery countries such as India or China grew at a 9% rate or Brazil at a 7.5%, but Russia instead, grew at a 4.5% rate.

Its current situation (as of 2011) is slow growth and a 2 digit inflation, and unless structural reforms are put in place to accelerate growth, the former will be slowed down. Even though Russia has great potential for growth given its vast natural resources, a good education system, and good scientists, there will be a direct relationship between what happens to oil prices and the growth of Russia. If oil prices rise the Russian economy will be stronger because it will improve the country’s economic balance. But, what should really be a concern is the long-term growth of their economy, and foreign investors are aware of it, and with it, aware of the risk of expropriation.

6-USA

Currently there is an oversupply of existing houses. Home sales fell up to 80% of its highs, even though now are gradually increasing. However, home prices are still adjusted downward, inflation is present in the economy, unemployment is still high and people who are forced to leave their homes because they can’t pay their mortgages. Prices have adjusted by a 30%, but may have not bottomed out, and it might require a longer period of time for these adjustments to run out.

7 – EUROZONE

Fiscal austerity is urgently needed in the Euro zone, the UK and Japan. Even though a period of austerity is a “must”, it will have in the short term a negative effect on economic growth. Austerity means to cut on government spending, to fire public officials… but it will make the economic recovery more effective in the long run.

(II) Mipim2011 the World’s property market: analyzing topics

13 September, 2012 No Comments

I would like this post to be a meeting point for reflection in this crucial time for the real estate and the financial sectors.  Dr. Nouriel Roubini in 2006, was one of the few to alert the financial community of the crisis that was underway.

Nouriel Roubini, who attended to the 2011 economic forum in Davos, is an advisor in the subject of international economics to the White House, the IMF, The World Bank, and is a professor at NYU’s Stern’s School of Business, and Yale University. Mr Roubini has a Phd. in economics from Harvard University among many other degrees and awards for his work.  In this video Mr Roubini presents in a schematically way the current and future situation of the advanced economies and emerging markets so that real estate investors can direct their investments to markets that they consider will have greater potential of response.

* In the first part of his presentation in 2011, Mr Roubini highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the global economy today:

-Positives:

1 + Despite the severe economic and financial crisis, we are at a stage in which we perceive a slight recovery. In the last two years (counting from 2011 and back) the economy, both in emerging countries (Brics..) and advanced economies (USA and parts of Europe) has shown symptoms of growth.

2 + Due to the crisis, corporations in both the U.S. and Europe have had to cut on expenses (personnel, and overall costs…). Therefore, they are now more prepared to invest as they are stronger than two years ago. HOWEVER, the question posed by Roubini is: Will these companies decide to invest in advanced economies (which are slow-growth countries) or in emerging market economies (for faster growth)?.

3 + The rapid growth of the economies of emerging markets, presents itself to the public as the new item that can be the locomotive of the world’s economy (until now it was solely the US and the advanced economies). Mr Roubini does not only speak about BRICS, China, or India, but also other countries from Central Asia, Middle East and Latin America, where great progress is taking place, as these markets are growing very rapidly.

For the real estate market, growth in emerging markets will be a positive event in the medium to the long term, as it leads to industrialization, and thus to the urbanization and the improvement of infrastructures. China and India are currently under a process of rapid and massive urbanization and industrialization.

4 + 2010 was a year of “risk on” “risk off”. Last spring season people got worried amid the recession in Greece, and the US’s double dip recession.

However, throughout the fall, things began to improve in the financial markets, and when looking at the overall 2010, we could say that it ended up with better perspectives as a result of the fiscal stimulus in the U.S. and other measures taken in Europe to help the countries whose economies were in trouble.

Since the global economy is slowly recovering, it follows that financial markets will also recover (becoming a vicious cycle). It would be the opposite of what happened in 2008 when prices and investment sunk, causing the economy to contract.

- Negatives:

1 – In many advanced economies, the recovery is almost inexistent, due to the large amount of debt of the public and private sectors. This will slow growth since corporations and governments must spend less and save more to reduce debt.

2-This paragraph is related to the previous one. There is a significant and sudden increase in risk of the advanced economies. Not only in countries of the Euro zone such as Spain, Greece, Portugal or Ireland but in countries such as the US, the UK, or Japan among others, due to budget deficits and a big stock of public debt. This increased risk due to public debt will remain a problem for many years to come.

Besides the amount of public debt in these economies, another factor comes into play; the aging population will mean an additional cost to social security, pensions, medical care for the elderly, … this will rise even more their debt.

3 – The financial and economic problems still exist in the Euro zone:  in countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and other potential countries, whose financial problems are becoming chronic and won’t be resolved anytime soon despite the aid given by the European Union. We also have to take into account that Spain and Ireland had the real estate bubble, which in hand with a large amounts of private debt will be even harder to straighten up.

Some of these countries are losing competitiveness in the Euro zone, and are experimenting a negative growth. Spain, Ireland and Greece are still struggling with a contracted economy, while Italy’s is a bit more positive.

A summary of the existing problems:

a-Large deficit and public debt as well as private debt

b-Lack of competitiveness in the international market

c-Lack of structural reform

d-Lack of economic reform.

4-Important public sector debt: lets take the US as example and set the problems the country faces

-Unemployment is high and job creation is insignificant.

-The housing sector has fallen again since 2010 to 2011, with the consequent negative effect on consumption. Failure to pay home mortgages requires owners to leave their homes.

-The states government’s fiscal deficit is very high. While Europe and the UK, are paying attention to their own fiscal problems, in the U.S., politicians don’t conclude any measures.

Until this point of the presentation, we have discussed Roubini’s  global economic analysis. In the next post, there is a reference to emerging economies, entering to further analyze the current economy and future prospects in certain specific countries.

Japanese earthquake + Tsunami. NEW challenge for the anti-seismic architecture and engineering.

12 September, 2012 No Comments

Due to our profession, we deal on a daily basis with homes, buildings, plots etc, and it was easy to be touched by the enormous destruction that Japan suffered on March of 2011.

After the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that Japan suffered last year, the response of Japanese architecture has been astonishing. Today Japan has the best buildings in the world to withstand possible future earthquakes. These buildings have been designed in such manner that allows them to absorb the vibrations, replacing a sudden movement with a more balanced swing. Many years ago, Japanese homes were built from bamboo and rice paper which, during earthquakes, allowed them to swing instead of cracking. And even if the homes cracked, they were easier to repair and at a lower cost.

This is a brief summary of the earthquake-resistant architectural features used in Japan:

Shigeru Ban (Tokyo 1957) is an architect and consultant to the United Nations who builds shelter for the UN in disaster zones. He emphasized in an interview (in Spanish Newspaper “EL PAIS” 03/20/11) that no building built after 1981, when construction laws were amended, had collapsed during or after the earthquake. Ban states that earthquakes are not what causes so many people to die, it’s the consequences of it, in other words the building’s debris when they collapse. He also added that, after the tsunami, it would be wise to modify the cities’ urban plans and build brick buildings of at least four stories high by the coasts, in order to function as a protective wall in case of future tsunamis.

For the half a million people who were temporarily sheltered in athletic stadiums for months until temporary homes were ready, the government installed a system based on hard cardboard tubes and paper to create individual spaces. With this structure, families intend to dissipate a reality, that is, psychologically very hard to accept; the lack of privacy.
What is the Japanese anti-seismic architecture about?

Basically, the buildings’ structures are highly reinforced performing a vertical weight distribution, in other words, the lower floors support more weight. The broader the base of the building, the stronger it will be during an earthquake.

The buildings are symmetric and elastic to better absorb the ground’s vibration. The law requires a separation of several inches between the medians of the blocks to allow buildings to move but without  hitting each other, thus avoiding the domino effect between buildings. Mr. J.Garcia Rodriguez, PhD in Architecture from the University of Navarra, compares the behavior of a building under a seismic action to that of a whip when swung. In this comparison, the earthquake would be the hand that moves the whip, and the building is the whip spreading the earthquake’s energy. To deal with this uncontrolled movement, Japanese architecture proposes two solutions:

1-An architecture based on a small number of floors. These buildings are built with rigid structures that resist the impact with little deformation, thus the earthquake’s impact is smaller.

2 – However, in taller buildings, they choose to build more flexible structures. They are designed to oscillate laterally (as the whip would) in a safely manner without major damages. Steel is used in these structures, as it is highly resistant and ductile.

Down below I’ ll give you some highlights on the Japanese housing market as of 2011:

* From 2007 and on, housing prices began to rise out of control due to the increment in prices of building materials as those materials ought to be able to withstand frequent earthquakes. Buildings should be no more than 30 years old, so as a consequence rental prices also soared in recent years. The value of Japanese homes ​​varies depending on the land it is built.

* In Japan the magnitude of a house is measured in tatami, equivalent to 1.6 square meters (from now on m2) approximately. The average dwelling size is usually 90 m2 (3-4 bedrooms) and home of more than 100 m2 is considered a luxury. In general, Japanese people prefer buying a home than renting it, but due to the high prices not everyone can afford it, the main reason for their high index of young and elderly adults living with relatives. However, there is still the opportunity for one to live independently. There has been a curious form of housing: people who cannot afford to either purchase a home or to rent it, can sleep in Cyber Cafes, in which for only 10€ are entitled to a small room with a sofa, TV, and a computer with internet connection.

* It is a real estate market, in which there are almost no legal restrictions for foreign investors to buy property in Japan.

***** Two weeks onset of the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that devastated part of the country, with 27,000 casualties between deaths and missing people, plus the nuclear crisis (more updated info in International Atomic Energy Agency, www.iaea. org, Spanish Embassy in Tokyo) had the international community very aware of Japan. We felt for the Japanese, …. and we shall remark what an example of organization and integrity in such a moment in their lives they were for the rest of us. Following in this tonic, I wanted to make a post, (avoiding catastrophic images) with the intention of highlighting the human effort made in the form of anti-seismic architecture to counteract the continuous devastating effects of the earthquakes affecting the country, thereby preventing an even higher number of victims.

From here, I wanted to convey solidarity and support to the Japanese people and their victims.

I include links to press reports during the later days of the catastrophic events:
http://www.elpais.com/articulo/internacional/Japon/sigue/luchando/evitar/catastrofe/nuclear/elpepuint/

http://www.bloomberg.com/video/67661252/

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/03/10/501364/main20041987.shtml