Blueprint: PIMCO’s Trausch warns of looming ‘tsunami’ of debt, AXA’s Scemama takes on the ESG critics, the ECB strikes note of calm on banks’ CRE exposure

PIMCO’s Francois Trausch warns of a funding gap if rates do not come down amid a looming tsunami of refinancing; AXA IM Alts' Isabelle Scemama speaks out against the ESG pushback as the firm prioritizes returns amid efforts to decarbonize its global property portfolio; the ECB offers a note of calm on banks' exposure to real estate; and more in today’s special edition briefing from the PERE Network Decarb Forum and PERE Network Europe Forum, exclusively for our valued subscribers.

They said it

“If it doesn’t put a decent dent in our portfolio, it’s probably not worth our human capital time, which is actually probably more of a resource constraint than our financial capital”

James Boadle, senior vice-president of Europe at Oxford Properties, on the importance of scalable strategies, speaking on day one of PERE Europe

What’s new

PERE Network Forum, London

A new take on the risk-return dynamic

Higher returns have been commonly associated with higher risk and lower returns with lower risk. Now, real estate investors are looking for higher returns with lower risk. Daniel Oh, director, Europe and global real estate at Korea Investment Corporation, told members at PERE Europe on Tuesday he believes it is now a “buyer’s market” with more supply than demand compared with this time last year. For the past six months, the sovereign wealth fund has been able to be more selective and find investments with more favorable risk-adjusted returns, Oh said, speaking during an investor panel on day one of the conference.

Meanwhile, Nael Mustafa, chief executive officer at Middle Eastern investment firm GFH Partners, noted his investors have asked for value-added returns for core-plus risk. While such a risk-return expectation is challenging to meet, his approach is to focus on portfolio composition, such as investing in assets that require development work rather than stabilized assets, he said on a separate keynote panel.

A note of calm

In recent months, noises from the European Central Bank have suggested concern about commercial real estate’s potential to destabilize the eurozone financial system. Earlier this month, property finance industry bodies had their say, telling affiliate title Real Estate Capital Europe the ECB’s concerns did not reflect the situation as they saw it. But on stage this week, a senior economist from the ECB, Livio Stracca, struck a note of calm about the central bank’s take on real estate.

Stracca, deputy director general, macro-prudential policy and financial stability at the ECB, told REC Europe editor Daniel Cunningham in a fireside conversation the central bank does not generally view bank lenders as overexposed to the sector, although it has an eye on some institutions in which exposure is concentrated. An area of greater concern, he went on to say, is open-ended real estate investment funds, in which he described a liquidity mismatch. “It’s a sector [of] over €1 trillion, so it’s not a marginal one,” he added. Read more here.

Rate hikes… the series?

Francois Trausch, the chief executive officer and chief investment officer of PIMCO Real Estate, likened the level of drama in the commercial real estate market to a Netflix series. On Tuesday, he told members: “Right now, we are in the middle of Season 2, which started well as the central banks in the US and Europe signaled the rate hiking cycle was over.” The executive added this clarity on debt costs has now “got people talking to one another.” However, Trausch predicted trouble in forthcoming episodes, with the refinancing challenge as a key protagonist.

“If rates stay where they are and do not come down as quickly as expected then of course, you are going to have another issue… which is the funding gap,” he explained, predicting the season finale will show borrowers struggling “in large numbers” and higher debts costs create a “tsunami” of refinancing requirements. You can listen to his conversation with PEI Group’s Jonathan Brasse on the Spotlight podcast here.

Trending topics

Tracy Stroh, GIC, PERE Decarb Forum

Pushing back against the ESG pushback

Much of the pushback against ESG has to do with the argument that sustainability should not be prioritized over returns. One executive who is pushing back against that pushback is Isabelle Scemama, global head of AXA IM Alts, the alternatives business unit of the French insurer AXA Group. During the keynote interview at PERE’s inaugural Decarb Forum on Monday, the executive spoke with GIC’s head of European real estate Tracy Stroh about how AXA IM Alts will not compromise on the return of its property investments as it pursues decarbonization targets of its €85 billion global real estate portfolio, including achieving net zero status by 2050. “Each single euro or dollar or pound we inject in the building has to translate into additional return and so into additional cashflow,” Scemama said. She also countered anti-ESG critics by saying: “Ultimately, not doing anything is also a big challenge for the quality of the portfolio, its liquidity and its financial performance.” For more on Scemama’s interview with Stroh, check out our coverage here.

To each their own

If you ask three different private real estate market practitioners how to measure decarbonization in real estate, you could well get three different responses. An array of measuring tactics was demonstrated in an asset managers panel at PERE Decarb, comprising senior executives from Nordics managers Urban Partners and Slatto and German insurer platform MEAG. UP chief executive Claus Mathisen pointed to his firm’s self-imposed carbon tax as a suitable tool, while Annachiara Torciano, Slatto’s head of ESG and communications, said her organization aligns more with directions set out by the EU’s taxonomy. Diana Louis, head of alternative assets ESG integration at MEAG, meanwhile, said combining an internal initiative with guidelines set by external bodies was her firm’s solution. MEAG cross-references Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor guidelines with the average emissions of its existing €16 billion real estate portfolio, using the latter as a benchmark floor, she explained: “If an asset is below our status quo, we won’t buy it.”

Data snapshot

On day two of PERE Europe, PERE‘s research and analytics team offered a sneak peek at the latest fundraising numbers, which show capital raising volumes for Q1 2024 basically on par with that of the first quarter in 2023, with $19.4 billion raised in the first three months of last year versus $19.7 billion this year.

Investor watch

KIC’s European alternative tilt

The Korea Investment Corporation is looking to boost its allocation to alternative real estate sectors, having an already significant exposure to office. “Portfolio construction-wise, we are tilting more towards a less exposed angle, which are the alternative sectors at the moment,” said Daniel Oh, director of global and European real estate at the sovereign wealth fund. While alternative sectors had a “fundamental attractiveness,” he expected European alternative strategies to potentially be easier to get investment committee approval. This is because the supply-demand dynamics were strongest in the region relative to geographies like the US, according to Oh. “Size-wise, it could be granular for living sectors in the UK or pan-Europe,” he said. “But these sectors have a quite unique angle for global investors investor like us, when we always need to fight for the budget against the other regions.”

Not thinking big on alternatives

Other investors were not as bullish on alternatives. “The alternative sectors are intriguing, but they are small,” Damien Webb, deputy chief investment officer and head of international at Australia’s Aware Super, said during a fireside chat on day two of PERE Europe. Projected to grow its AUM to more than A$250 billion ($160 billion; €150 billion) in the next few years, the A$167 billion superannuation fund needs to deploy a significant amount of capital, according to Webb. While Webb’s team has looked at industrial-adjacent sectors such as cold storage, he thought traditional property sectors such as office and retail were too big to ignore for a diversified real estate portfolio. Currently, 75 percent of Aware’s A$10 billion real estate AUM is allocated to the living and industrial sectors, with the other 25 percent in Australian retail and office.

This week’s investor meetings

Wednesday, April 17

Thursday, April 18

Friday, April 19

Today’s letter was prepared by Miriam Hall with Jonathan Brasse, Evelyn Lee, Christie Ou, Daniel Cunningham and Lucy Scott.