The Eurozone crisis hit many countries, but few if any were hit as hard as Spain. The value of the country's property market, and the level of interest displayed by investors, has plummeted since the crisis began. Now that 2014 has at last shown some positive market trends, could this be the time to start investing again?
Not so long ago, Spanish property was in a boom. Construction and real estate collectively accounted for 18% of the nation's total GDP. 2007 saw a €30 billion market cap, but now this has shrunk to just 10% of that. But now, Spain's economy is finally showing signs of recovery. The Spanish stock market has been trending upwards for a year and a half, and banks have begun offloading their assets.
In the world of property investment specifically, this year has also seen some strong listings from investment trusts. In particular, Merlin Properties REIT managed to raise a respectable US$1.7 billion in June. This did not quite meet the company's hopes of raising US$2 billion, but nonetheless it has widely been taken as a sign of a strengthening market. The appearance of a recovery is convincing enough to bring a number of high-profile investors and major fund managers into the Spanish real estate market.
For instance, Stuart Mitchell, founder of SW Mitchell and SWMC European fund manager, is optimistic about the future of investments in some Spanish companies such as construction firm Sacyr Vallehermoso. Mitchell has also taken an interest in some of the country's banks now that signs of recovery are showing, including Banco Popular and Santander.
Other investors have also been paying attention to Spanish banks in a way to take advantage of recovery. However, some have looked on them in a very different way. Rather than looking at the banks themselves, they look at the way banks have started to offload property assets they hold. With prices still low as a result of the crisis but improvement looking like a very real prospect in the near future, many investors believe that the properties flowing onto the market from the Spanish banks represent good opportunities for investment.
According to T. Rowe Price's European portfolio manager, Dean Tenerelli, "We are at an interesting juncture as real estate in Spain has reached a trough… and there is an abundance of low-cost property on sale." Tenerelli goes on to state that Real Estate Investment Trusts are now being established specifically to capitalize on the low prices at which banks are selling properties to meet capital reserve requirements.
However, while European markets are recovering in general and the signs in Spain are promising, any recover for the Spanish real estate sector is in its early stages at best. Tenerelli seems conscious of this, and this is reflected in the advice he gives to investors who are keen to capitalise on it. "At this early stage," he says, "it is important to identify high-quality companies that can sustainably grow and deliver high return on capital as Spain's rental market matures."