With Ginza land prices above bubble-era highs, real estate analysts expect correction


Land prices in Tokyo’s central Chuo Ward, home to the famous Ginza shopping district, have jumped by 51 percent in four years. In Osaka, they are up by nearly half.

Booming construction of hotels, office buildings, shopping centers and apartments, financed by record lending for real estate by banks, has driven the gains. Now some property investors surveying the market are anticipating price corrections.

Satoshi Horino, president of Mori Trust Asset Management, said he is hearing stories about appraisers calculating returns based not just on purchase price and income, but by adding further price gains, a bold assumption in a country afflicted for years by price declines. He sees this as a contrarian indicator, another sign a reversal is coming.

“It shows land prices have come to a pretty good level,” Horino said. “Prices will fall but I just don’t know when. There is an oversupply of properties — no doubt.”

Hiroshi Kodama, president of Kodera Co., a 100-year-old property agent located in Ginza, said it is a “commonly shared view” that selling will begin next year, with land prices gradually declining, possibly as much as 50 percent from their peak, based on past price patterns.

“There is no doubt that land prices will fall,” Kodama said.

In an April report, the Bank of Japan said about 40 percent of the nation’s smaller regional banks could suffer losses if commercial land prices drop by just 20 percent. Banks’ “lending stance is the most aggressive since the bubble era,” the financial system report said.

The BOJ says that while the real estate market warrants close monitoring, it isn’t overheating. BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda has said the bank will continue to closely monitor the effects of its stimulus on markets.

The long period of rock-bottom interest rates that followed the global financial crisis fueled huge rises in property markets from Hong Kong to Sydney to London. In Japan, gains began after the BOJ launched its quantitative easing in early 2013, seeking to sink already-low interest rates and revive investors’ “animal spirits.”

As the yen fell, foreign visitors began rushing to Japan, their numbers about tripling from 2012 to a record 24 million last year, just as preparations began for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. There was a potent effect on the property market. Investors piled in.

The BOJ has also helped boost the market by directly buying shares in real estate investment trusts. The central bank held ¥390 billion ($3.6 billion) of the ¥16 trillion J-REIT market as of May 20, with a standing pledge to buy ¥90 billion a year.

Global commercial real estate services company CBRE Group said in an April report that capital-raising by J-REITs during the first three months of the year was the third-highest for the first quarter since its survey began in 2005.

Both supply and prices have surged in the markets for offices, hotels and housing. Office prices in Tokyo are at their highest since 1994, with a land ministry price index having risen 48 percent since 2012. Office space in large buildings in central Tokyo will expand by nearly half in the next three-plus years, putting downward pressure on prices, according to Sanko Estate Co., an office leasing and consulting firm.

Investment has also poured into shopping districts in Tokyo and Osaka. Home to luxury brands such as Hermes and Gucci, Ginza boasts the most expensive single piece of property in Tokyo, at ¥50.5 million per square meter, according to the land ministry. That is nearly double the price of the most expensive property just four years earlier, and nearly a third more than the priciest at the peak of the bubble in the early 1990s, according to ministry data.

In Tokyo’s housing market, there are already signs of excess supply. Unsold new apartments and new housing for rent in Tokyo both reached multiyear highs last year. Deutsche Bank real estate analyst Yoji Otani has forecast that housing prices in Tokyo will fall more than 20 percent in the next two years.

Foreign institutional investors have been net sellers in fiscal 2015 and 2016, by ¥580 billion and ¥150 billion respectively, according to a survey by Urban Research Institute Corp., a unit of Mizuho Financial Group. But Shinichi Hasegawa, the head of the Singapore office of real estate consulting firm B-Lot Co., whose clients are mostly foreign investors, shrugs off any pessimism over Japan’s property market.

“Japan is very cheap from a global perspective,” Hasegawa said. “It’s true that some areas like Tokyo are becoming expensive but if prices go down, foreign buyers will see it as a chance to buy and more properties will be owned by them.”

To be sure, even at elevated prices Japanese commercial real estate offers attractive yields. The yield on Tokyo office properties, for example, offered a spread of more than 4 percentage points over the benchmark 10-year Japanese government bond, Deutsche Bank said in an April report.

“I have no complaints about the BOJ’s monetary stimulus,” Hasegawa said. “They are just so helpful.”

Many hotel developments are now being carried out with plans to sell to J-REITs or other investors either immediately after completion, or once occupancy has stabilized, CBRE said in a report last September.

Hotel transaction volume had more than tripled from 2012 to 2015, while new hotel development was accelerating and the supply of rooms would increase as much as 30 percent in both Tokyo and Osaka by 2018, according to the report.

Still, CBRE warned of an acute shortage of properties if the government’s target of 40 million inbound tourists by 2020 is achieved.

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