Jones Lang LaSalle, the world's leading real estate investment  and advisory firm , today published its 2011 Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Real Estate Investor Sentiment Survey. The report indicates that although investment appetite exists, the region is missing out on significant regional and global capital flows because of the shortage of investment grade product and the lingering price gap between buyers and sellers.
While the survey is now in its sixth year, this is a newly launched institutional edition, which focuses on understanding the perspectives of the top 30 financial institutions investing in regional real estate markets. This latest version highlights two clear trends. First, the amount of overseas capital allocated to investing in MENA real estate is negligible. Second, although local investors are seeking to increase exposure within the region – particularly in those countries considered stable like the UAE and Qatar – activity is limited by type of product available and asset pricing that does not fully incorporate local market risks. In a region awash with liquidity, the lack of tenable investment opportunities leads investors to deploy capital overseas. Clearly, the MENA real estate markets have the potential to capture a much higher proportion of capital flows from both international and regional buyers. Unlocking this potential, however, will require a few adjustments: an increase in the product available; willingness of owners to transact with greater transparency; and realistic pricing that is benchmarked against global markets.
Andrew Charlesworth, Head of Capital Markets  for the MENA region at Jones Lang LaSalle, said: “Whilst recent events have created some uncertainty across MENA, there are areas within the region, particularly the GCC, where there remains a reasonable level of demand among local investors. The problem is one of finding and securing the right product at a price that makes sense.”
The report also indicates that investors continue to be frustrated by the lack of bank finance and the cost of financing when it is available. Increased risk aversion is leading investors and developers to adjust their corporate strategies and focus on building stable income generating portfolios. Lack of product, mispricing, and limited finance availability thwarts transaction, portfolio restructuring and rebalance of portfolio risk. Even for investment grade commercial properties (buildings in central locations of high demand with long term leases and strong tenant covenant) available in the region, institutional investors are simply not willing to purchase at yields available in mature markets like London. Together with limited transaction activity, the custom of privately conducting local investment deals discourages international investment and inadvertently stifles recovery of the regional real estate markets.
The 2011 Institutional Edition of the MENA Real Estate Investor Sentiment Survey focussed on understanding the perspective of 30 key regional – primarily institutional – investors, but the sample also includes some international investment groups to provide a global perspective.
Buyers outnumber sellers in all markets with a distinct polarisation occurring between those countries perceived as stable, like the UAE and KSA, and those still characterised by political uncertainty.
In the prevailing atmosphere of risk aversion, factors like political stability and security of income are at the forefront of investment decisions.
The majority of respondents indicated plans to increase investment in the MENA real estate market over the next 12 months. Actual transaction activity will remain constrained by the lack of suitably priced product.
In terms of yield spread, the lack of differentiation between cities and asset classes suggests investors are focussed on achieving a specific return threshold and thus are focussed on the strength of the tenant covenant rather than the asset risk.
Office assets remain the most attractive investment class for this investor base, but this preference is not necessarily in line with short term market conditions.Driven primarily by supply concerns in almost all sectors, investors anticipate further capital declines in many MENA markets.