Friday, 6 September 2013

And now ladies and gentlemen, bring your hands together for...

...all those private sector organisations that produce economic statistics on the sectors and topics that the official statisticians can't or won't or shouldn't.

It's a win-win all round. The sponsors get various commercial payoffs - publicity, kudos, and credibility for being on top of their trade - and the users get information they wouldn't otherwise have. The banks are particularly good at it - the ANZ's monthly business confidence, consumer confidence (with Roy Morgan) and commodity price surveys are well nigh indispensable for understanding where the economy is at, as are the BNZ/Business NZ monthly indices of manufacturing and services, and there's some excellent non-bank stuff available, too, notably the NZIER's Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion.

In some areas of the economy private sector data is pretty much all we've got. Commercial property is probably the best example. It's an important sector, with (for example) strong links to the potential for financial instability (both our 1987 share market crash and our recent finance company collapses had important elements of unwise or excessive commercial property development). But you'll have your work cut out for you trying to find out anything much about it from official or semi-official statistics. That's no criticism of the official statisticians by the way: they can normally rely on the private sector to provide good data on financial and investment markets, as the participants have good incentives to make this information available to would-be customers. It would be a waste of scarce official statistical resources to have (say) a Statistics NZ index of share prices.

So, partly as a public thank you to the organisations involved, and partly as a handy guide to folks who might have an interest in what's happening in the commercial property sector and/or what it might be telling us about the wider economy, here's my list of useful places to go.

For the New Zealand market, first stop has to be Colliers research reports. You'll find vacancy rates, yields, sales volumes, commentary, and forecasts nationally, by region, and by sub-sector (office, industrial, retail). They also do a very good quarterly Property Investor Confidence Survey (available at the same location). The other essential is the Property Council of New Zealand/IPD Property Index, which goes a long-term series on the total return from holding property (and splits it into income and capital components), both nationally and for sub-sector. The easiest place to find it is at this page on the IPD website - go to the drop-down box on the right hand side where it says 'IPD Property Indices' and select New Zealand. For some reason the Property Council hasn't put the latest results on its own website for some time.

For Australia, again Colliers are very good, as are Jones Lang LaSalle. I particularly like their quarterly Retail Centre Managers' Survey, which gives you a terrific insight into what's going on in the retail trade (particularly important at the moment, when the key to the Aussie outlook is whether domestic demand will pick up enough to offset slowing resource project investment). The Aussie Property Council material is also good: again they do a commercial property index in association with IPD (see link above), and while some of their research is not free, you can get a good enough flavour of the guts of it from their media releases. The NAB economists also produce a formidably detailed quarterly commercial property survey.

For global property markets, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has a qualitative survey of the property markets, covering investor and occupier sentiment, rental and capital value expectations for the next quarter, and the supply of and demand for distressed property, for a very wide range of countries, with some commentary. To see the whole thing you'll need to register on-line with the Institution, but that's no hassle, and it's free. The Institution also breaks out the Oceania results, which means Australia and New Zealand: as you'll see if you download it, currently our commercial property market is doing rather better than Australia's, reflecting the different points our economies are at in their business cycles.

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