With COVID-19 causing major disruption across the globe and world leaders labelling it as the greatest test in recent history, SPS takes a look at how different sectors in Myanmar are being impacted by and dealing with, the pandemic’s implications for the real estate market in Myanmar.
SPS have formed a robust understanding of the current real estate market by talking to a variety of tenants, landlords, investors and operators and learning how COVID-19 affects them. This will be the first in a series of reports in which we will look at the impact that COVID19 is having on individual real estate sectors in Myanmar.
This initial article will give a brief overview of each sector, whereas, the subsequent reports in this series will provide more detailed insights sector by sector for the office, retail, industrial, hotels and tourism, co-working and residential sectors.
To make sure you stay up to date with how COVID-19 impacts these sectors please register for the series of reports by following the link below or contact us directly for bespoke consultancy on your real estate strategy.
There are three main stakeholders in the office market that have been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 and the disruption it has caused. Tenants, owners and developers have all been significantly impacted and have had to remodel their business plans to deal with this crisis.
Tenants have been immediately impacted by COVID-19 as the slowdown of FDI, disruption to supply chains and the postponement of expansion plans has resulted in a sudden contraction of business operations and therefore cashflow.
Office owners are also feeling the pressure of COVID-19 as tenants find it harder and harder to maintain sustainable cash flows. Owners of Grade A offices are particularly concerned as they have only just started to recover from a period of high vacancy and falling rental rates. Although the impact may not have been as immediate as on other aspects of real estate, developments that are currently under construction are now being affected by COVID-19.
Developers currently constructing Grade A offices in Yangon, have told SPS that project completions will likely be delayed by up to three months, in some instances, as construction sites are closed and workers are told to remain home to contain the spread of the virus.
At present all three stakeholders have indicated that they are employing strategies to minimise losses and risk of virus transmissions. Tenants have commented that they are employing work-from-home measures where they can and suspending business development and marketing campaigns whilst focusing their efforts on business continuation. However, most tenants that SPS spoke to have advised that they will assess their operations within three to six months and conclude whether harder measures are required if the pandemic persists.
Owners have indicated that their office towers in Yangon will continue to operate, albeit with heightened health and safety measures to make sure tenant welfare and hygiene levels are of paramount importance.
Owners have also suggested that they have not offered rental relief as of yet, however, they do expect that tenants will begin requesting reductions should the pandemic persist for over four months. Yuan Cheng, Leasing Director at AMSS, commented that “we are working closely with all our tenants and assisting them in any way we can to ensure their continued occupation of the retail and office areas at Kantharyar Centre.”
As mentioned earlier, developers of current constructions have sought to control the situation by suspending the construction of ongoing developments. After COVID-19 all three stakeholders have different expectations of how this current crisis will impact them in the longer term. Tenants suggested that the entire business landscape could be altered after the virus is contained. Tenants told SPS that there would likely be a period of “catch up” and reorganisation as businesses recover from the economic implications of COVID-19. Tenants also commented that moving forward they would likely expect a higher level of cleanliness and hygiene control from property management teams.
Office owners indicated that they expect this COVID-19 outbreak to be followed by a relatively quiet period in terms of leasing activity whilst uncertainty remains for three to five months. Following this period, office owners indicated that they believe leasing activity will return to the heights it was at before the COVID-19
Post COVID-19, developments due for completion in Q4 2020 or Q1 2021 are likely to be among those that are more affected. Developers have suggested that leasing activity is likely to be sluggish during 2020/21 as businesses look to consolidate and take stock of the long-term financial implications of COVID-19. However, these developers have also indicated that there is likely to be only mild downward pressure on rental rates.
Developers suggested that prior to COVID-19, rental rates were at historic lows in Yangon and so after the virus is controlled their developments will still be in reasonable demand. They expect this demand to come
largely from existing tenants in Yangon that occupy inferior buildings, who are looking to upgrade their space to a more premium office, whilst only incurring a mild increase in their net effective rent.
Developments due for completion from Q1 2022 are confident that their market rental rates will remain relatively intact as they anticipate that the COVID-19 will have been contained and controlled by that point. As such, these developers expect that businesses will be looking to expand and make up for the lost ground encountered during the sudden economic downturn that was felt during the virus’ outbreak in 2020.
Retail is arguably one of the sectors that has been most affected by the COVID19 outbreak in Myanmar and across the globe. Retailers across Myanmar have noted that the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on their business as consumers self-isolate.
Several retail landlords have taken action against the virus by cutting opening hours, postponing promotional events and reducing staff and services. A number of these landlords have also decided to provide tenants with rental reductions and negotiated reduced fees for management charges.
F&B and grocery outlets have utilised online platforms to promote home delivery services which have allowed them to compensate for economic losses as consumers self-isolate rather than visiting shops and restaurants. Thailand
based Makro Myanmar Wholesale had scheduled for their outlet to open in April 2020 but are now postponing until after the COVID-19 threat is under control. Instead, they are currently accepting online orders for their products that can be delivered, along with new door-to-door delivery services that have been set up by most major wholesale and grocery retailers. James Hudson, Director of F&B for international distributor Worldbridge commented, “During this difficult period we have taken the opportunity to expand our private client base and create additional income streams. We have also actively sourced and secured other, more local, suppliers of produce to ensure we can keep supplying our valued customers.”
Non-essential goods items and leisure supply will likely be hit harder than groceries and essential dry goods following the crisis. As such it can be expected that the opening of new stores and retailer expansions will be suspended whilst this crisis plays out. The long-term structural shift online will likely be accelerated during this crisis, putting further pressure on retailers to offer unique and engaging shopping experiences.
Companies manufacturing labour-intensive goods for export have had to contend with shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic that are creating a challenging situation for continuing operations. At the start of 2020, as China imposed restrictions on travel and closed businesses, companies in Myanmar were facing critical shortages of raw materials that were sourced from China, which led to an early wave of factory closures in Myanmar.
As the COVID-19 pandemic went global, the companies that were able to maintain raw material supplies at the start of the outbreak are now finding their customers in European and North American export markets have cancelled all orders for the next 6 months. For many companies, the financial stress that this has caused has been too great. James Meisenheimer, Country Manager of Tractus Asia, a Foreign Investment Advisory firm based in Myanmar, told SPS “Our client exporting tableware to the United Kingdom and Europe has been put under considerable financial stress with the cancellation of all orders for the next six months that has led the company to close the factory, provide severance to their three hundred and fifty employees, and engage in discussions with the Myanmar government to accept the Force Majeure clauses in the contract that would annul rental payments to keep the business afloat.”
The world is expecting a “V-Shape” recovery from COVID-19 once the fog of the pandemic is lifted, but the immediate stress caused by the global economic downturn and continued uncertainty over when that recovery may begin could be too much for many companies operating in Myanmar. Speaking to SPS, James went on to say “I am already in the process of identifying potential buyers of the facility on behalf of my client.” In the long-term the closures of factories across Myanmar could represent new opportunities for purchases of distressed assets from existing foreign investors and new opportunities for Myanmar to promote itself as an investment location. However, the next few months will be painful for many companies in the sector.
The tourism sector in Myanmar was almost immediately adversely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Tim Buma, Director at Sanctuary Retreats, told SPS that “we began monitoring the situation in January when the outbreak started making headlines around the world, and the first set of booking cancellations shortly followed.” Tim went on to say that “Myanmar has become increasingly dependent on the Chinese market and so when COVID-19 emerged in China the tourism industry here was hit hard.
”Fast forward three months and tourism has virtually ground to a halt in Myanmar. Most holidaymakers that were in Myanmar have now left and with the closure of the international airports it is highly unlikely any foreign tourists will be entering the country in the coming weeks. With cases now confirmed in Myanmar, restrictions have also been implemented on domestic travel. As such, a growing number of hotels are closing their doors for the duration of April. Hotels in the country’s commercial hub, Yangon, have also suspended operations, with The Rosewood, The Strand and Savoy being among those that have temporarily closed their doors. Tim Reus, General Manager at Savoy, told SPS that it was “safety and security concerns for staff and guests meant that we had to make the difficult decision to close.”
Looking forward, it is likely that operations will be suspended until the COVID-19 outbreak has been contained and controlled, which could see restrictions and closures lasting well into H2 2020. However, Reus suggested that after COVID-19 is contained and controlled, Myanmar could benefit from being a relatively new tourist destination. He commented, “bulk tourism destinations like Thailand will likely struggle in the aftermath of COVID-19, whereas Myanmar may find it easier to bounce back as it is a unique destination and there will be fewer tourists required to fill the void.” Furthermore, SPS has received good feedback from hoteliers that they will use this time for renovations and refurbishment, as long as further restrictions on movement do not prevent them from doing so.
Similarly to hotels and retail, co-working’s dependence on the physical presence of consumers has meant almost all operations have had to grind to a halt. Seedspace, Impact Hub and Phandeeyar have all temporarily suspended operations and are not planning to reopen until the beginning of May or end of April at the earliest.
Interestingly, more traditional serviced offices, such as Kloud and Hintha Business Centre, have remained open and continue to operate, with the exception of public holidays when they would be closed in any case. It may be that serviced offices operate a slightly different business model and service that has meant they can continue to stay open during this COVID-19 outbreak. The more cellular layouts can encourage greater segregation between tenants than co-working spaces and these serviced offices have now adopted additional safety measures to minimise risks for tenants and employees.
Post COVID-19, the landscape for co-working space is uncertain. The short term impact of closures will put economic pressure on co-working operators that run on relatively low margins. In the long term, the forced move towards a work-from-home culture could cause further issues for co-working spaces as individuals continue habits learnt during self-isolation periods. Alternatively, Jes Petersen, CEO at Phandeeyar: Myanmar Innovation Lab, offers a more positive outcome for co-working spaces after the COVID-19 pandemic passes. Petersen told SPS, “compared to most other big cities around Asia, Yangon has a long way to go in terms of co-working. The main aspect is linked to changing the way that people work and perhaps this current crisis will accelerate that as people realise they can work more flexibly.”
At present, it is difficult to ascertain how the residential sector has responded to COVID-19 as at this point there has been little data showing a direct impact on the market. However, it can be expected that a significant number of Yangon apartments, condos and serviced apartments will become available as many foreigners are recalled or decide to return to their home nations.
Additionally, it has been reported that the uncertainty surrounding visas, stay permits and the legality of leases signed by foreigners has further encouraged foreigners to vacate their residential property in Yangon and return to home countries. The exodus of management level individuals to domestic nations may mean that serviced apartments are particularly vulnerable to losing tenants. However, as conditions improve, this sector is likely to recover quickly as business tourism picks up and management level staff return to Myanmar.
A number of real estate developers in Myanmar are still organising in-house sale events and completing transactions on properties. However, it is also the understanding of SPS that a number of developers have suspended construction of new residential buildings whilst the duration of the COVID-19 impact is unclear. The Central Bank has reduced interest rates which could encourage some individuals to invest in real estate assets, however, it is likely that most tenants and investors will suspend moving and investing until COVID-19 is controlled and there is a return to relative normality. Social distancing will make it increasingly difficult to carry out viewings further reducing the likelihood that residential transactions will take place in the short-term.
Evidently, COVID-19 is having a monumental impact on markets around the world and Myanmar’s real estate market is no different. The coming weeks will likely be shrouded in further uncertainty but SPS will be providing a sector by sector breakdown on how COVID-19 impacts your real estate over the coming weeks.
Make sure to register through the link below to stay up to date with COVID-19’s impact on Myanmar’s property market, or contact us directly for bespoke consultancy on your real estate strategy.