The initial euphoria surrounding the introduction of a working vaccine to combat covid-19 is subsiding. But will private real estate executives be going about radically revamping business plans on the probability that meaningful economic recovery will transpire far sooner than previously expected? Probably not.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech’s announcement on Monday that its vaccine candidate was more than 90 percent effective has sent stock exchanges soaring. It dragged plenty of stocks particularly hammered by the pandemic back from the brink.
The listed real estate impact was profound. The FTSE NAREIT All Equity REITs index of US REITs flew up 8.9 percent on the day. Meanwhile, stocks from troubled property sectors recovered some losses, such as London office landlord Great Portland Estates, which rose by 12.58 percent, and Hotelier Intercontinental Hotels Group, up by 11.25 percent. Even Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, a giant retail property business currently facing shareholder revolts, saw its stock rise 23.36 percent and Cineworld, the world’s second biggest operator of cinemas, leapt up by 38.4 percent.
Some of this dramatic public market movement has slowed in the days since. But the week is finishing with much of the returning value still in place.
As to be expected, the private side of real estate capital markets has been more measured. Indeed, private real estate moves will come around the edges of strategies given most managers have plotted longer-dated, leverage- and development-lite courses through this exogenous – but essentially non-financial – event.
Los Angeles-based Colony Capital will be one of them. Chief executive Marc Ganzi told this week’s virtual PERE America conference how the news of successful vaccine trials was predictable and has done nothing to either the $47 billion manager’s strategy to sell off its non-digital assets, nor its appetite to eat into a pipeline of 40-odd deals valued at more than $20 billion in 2021.
Pfizer forecasts 50 million vaccines in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion next year, but Ganzi reckoned another four to seven months of disruption still lay ahead regardless.
Big institutional investors concur. One sovereign wealth fund investor limbering up for next week’s PERE Europe virtual event told PERE yesterday how he also was unsurprised about the materializing of a workable vaccine. He downplayed the initial listed sector movements beyond the implication that many companies on the brink of bankruptcy – because their real estate was managed against short-term cashflow requirements – may now well survive.
Beyond the muted reappraising of strategies, however, there might be further investing potential to be explored in the housing of the vaccine itself.
Speaking shortly after the Pfizer-BioNTech announcement, Blackstone president Jon Gray acknowledged as much when he pointed towards the need for greater cold storage capacity to ensure the vaccines are kept beneath the -94 degree requirement. However, the firm was muted when approached by PERE to talk about any plans to invest in the space further than its minority investment in Cryoport, a cold storage provider for life sciences organizations. Within the firm’s $90 billion of logistics property, Blackstone said cold storage was “not a significant piece.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech announcement is undoubtedly welcome news. It certainly offers a degree of optimism that 2021 may bring relief from the pandemic’s current widespread suffering. But for institutional capital and its management, beyond strategic adjustments at the margins, industry trends already in play are unlikely to be meaningfully disrupted.