Panama: Real estate on solid foundations
Latin America | 7 Aug 2013
The real estate market in Panama is edging towards maturity, buoyed by the booming economy, a major national spend on infrastructure and ample liquidity in the financial system.
Initial estimates from the national statistics agency (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censo) suggest the sector expanded by 9% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013, having notched up average growth of 7.8% in 2012 and 9% in 2011.
The city’s market for office space has been supported by strong macroeconomic growth and new business-friendly legislation, including the setting up of an incentive regime for multinational companies using Panama as a base for regional operations.
Vacancy rates for Class A office projects dropped to 7% from 12% in the second half of 2012, with the average monthly lease rate edging up from $23.30 per sq metre to $24.41, according to a study conducted by CB Richard Ellis (CBRE). New construction of Class A office space eased to pre-2009 levels in the same period, however, suggesting demand could now be levelling off.
CBRE’s study found Panama City’s residential market to be relatively stable. New unit construction eased, in keeping with a rising 76% absorption rate and falling sale prices for Class A real estate. The gross absorption rate across the wider market stood at 77%, with a total of 3346 units reserved from 4330 under construction.
However, there are signs that the retail market in Panama City could be edging towards occupancy saturation. Monthly lease rates fell from $41.31 per sq metre to $40.16 in the second half of last year, while vacancy levels in shopping centres rose from 6.1% to 9.1%. An additional 97,325 sq metres of new retail space was under construction as of late 2012.
Despite its overall impressive growth levels, Panama’s real estate market faces a number of challenges. The country ranked 75 out of 97 nations in the 2012 Global Real Estate Transparency Rankings, behind Mexico (43), Argentina (58) and Costa Rica (70). Jones Lang LaSalle, which publishes the list, described Panama’s transparency level as “low”, adding that a lack of both sophisticated investment vehicles and general market fundamentals were instrumental in determining the country’s position.
Panama also faces a major national housing shortage. The most recent estimates from the Ministry of Housing (Ministerio de Vivienda y Ordenamiento Territorial, MIV), published in 2010, put the shortfall at 136,665 units, against total national supply of 896,050.
The MIV launched a series of social housing programmes in 2010 as part of a target to reduce the shortfall to 30% and increase supply by 4.6%. Once completed, the five-year programme, backed by a $576m investment package, is expected to have benefitted an estimated 344,000 Panamanians. With $268.8m still to be spent, work is expected to accelerate during the second half of 2013 and through 2014.
The real estate sector is expected to continue maturing, with both the private and public sector helping to drive it forward. The government took a small, but significant step forward in May 2012, when it amended its regulations to create a new tax and financial framework covering the purchase and sale of real estate property. The legal changes paved the way for the introduction of key incentives aimed at supporting the housing market, including more favourable interest rates for first-time buyers and tax exemptions for residential home improvements. Ongoing support from the government, together with sustained growth in the private sector, will set the real estate market on course for further expansion in the medium to long term.
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