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Shelter – the latest in our series of thematic pieces after food and water – is the third staple thematic requirement. Irrespective of our culture, wealth, nationality and location on this planet, without these three staples we will perish.
Within food, we looked at how the planet will feed itself in the future, with a growing population and a growing demand for meat (an inefficient product to produce). Within water, we looked at some of the challenges of accessing potable water in the face of new weather patterns and climate change.
Shelter is arguably more open to interpretation than the first two. If you redefine shelter as real estate then it is comfortably the most familiar of the three to investors. The question then is, ‘If as an investor you already own a home, should you consider investing into shelter?’ Investors historically have liked real estate, aside from a place of refuge and rest, as a tangible store of value. Whether you are buying a homebuilder as a stock, a real estate fund, or investing and developing your own real estate projects, almost every investor will have some aspect of real estate sitting within their portfolio – even if it just sits within the ‘alternatives’ section.
Over the last 10 years, new tech giants have emerged that have transformed how we use traditional aspects of our life.
We look at this from a different perspective. Over the last 10 years, new tech giants have emerged that have transformed how we use traditional aspects of our life. Airbnb transformed the rental/ hospitality industry, Uber transformed the taxi industry and Amazon transformed the retail industry. When we consider shelter, we think too about the impact and future of housing. This ranges from the use of 3D printing and modular housing, though the concept of providing shelter to millions of refugees forced to relocate, to the incorporation of technology and smart devices within the home.
How ‘online’ are consumers comfortable with their houses being? The use of technology in various forms has completely changed how we interact with our homes. Indeed, the very concept of ‘interacting with our house’ would sound incredibly foreign to a 1990s consumer. Nowadays, though, your house knows when you are on your way home and automatically switches on the central heating. You can turn on the lights, the TV and the coffee machine without getting out of bed or lifting a finger, simply through verbally interacting with smart devices in your house. As we move towards a world of AI – our houses can ‘learn’ how we like to operate – smart automation will take hold. If we come back late after a dinner, for example, the heating will be on, and the coffee machine will kick in later than normal given the late finish – unless it is a work day and our house can read our calendar and knows that we have an important meeting the following morning, so it turns on the lights and the radio to force us out of bed. Imagine, we could be nagged by our own houses in the not too distant future – but how far can these concepts take us?
Modular housing is a very different crossroads between housing and technology – the ability to fight housing shortages through the faster construction of homes through a combination of modular housing, pre-fab housing and 3D printed housing. The UK is one country that faces a housing shortage which doesn’t seem to be improving despite promises from politicians. Japan is facing the other extreme of the problem with more than 8.5m homes reportedly vacant – which reportedly equates to around 14 per cent of the total housing stock.
One of the countries with a large focus on modular housing is China, which has been focused on the fast construction of high rise buildings through a combination of modular and 3D printing.
China is increasingly seen as the global expert on mega-projects, given the number and scale of the cities that have been both planned and constructed there.
Across the world, affordability of housing is another concern. China has one of the highest home ownership rates in the world at ~89.7 per cent. In comparison, the UK sits at 65 per cent, Germany at 51.5 per cent and Spain at 76 per cent. Affordability in China is a concern given housing costs in cities compared to salary levels. Income levels have increased substantially over the last 20 years, but housing costs have increased by more than 400 per cent, making it harder for first time buyers to get on to the market. China is increasingly seen as the global expert on mega-projects, given the number and scale of the cities that have been both planned and constructed there. The impact of millennials on home ownership (not just in developed markets but in emerging markets) is also being felt. China has circa 400m millennials that are going to be contemplating home ownership in the coming years. How, and also where, will they all be housed?
As we outlined in our Q4 2019 investment outlook, real assets are increasingly an essential building block in a truly diversified investment portfolio. In recent years, investors have turned their attentions towards niche property sectors to uncover sustainable long-term income investments, supported by structural trends with a low correlation to the wider economic cycle. Some of these niche sectors, such as student accommodation, have seen their yields compress but other sectors remain underappreciated, offering not just attractive risk-adjusted returns today, but the potential for future yield compression as they become more mainstream.
This article is an extract from our Q1 2020 investment outlook which looks back at the performance of our model portfolios in the preceding quarter, shares how we expect markets to react in the months ahead, and puts a spotlight on some investment themes and ideas with great potential. To download your complementary copy, visit this page.