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Central London commercial property market investment up over a quarter

Commercial property investment in Central London (the City and West End) rose to £3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2019, a 28 percent increase on the £2.5 billion invested in Q1 2018, according to new data from Savills. The firm also claims that investment volumes in Central London in Q1 2019 were also higher than those in Q1 2015 before the UK’s referendum to leave the EU, when they reached £3.14 billion.

According to Savills, US buyers have been the most active investor group in the Central London market in the year to date, accounting for £1.43 billion of transactions (45% of the total), although this has only been across four properties. Domestic buyers are leading the way in terms of numbers of deals acquiring 23 assets, totalling £906.6 million (28%).

Savills highlights that, despite uncertainty in the market, there have been significant capital flows into Central London real estate in Q1 2019. Citigroup’s acquisition of its EMEA Headquarters at 25 Canada Square in Canary Wharf for approximately £1.10 billion is clear evidence of continued confidence in the Central London market.

The sale of 25 Canada Square (pictured) is the eighth deal above £1 billion to trade in Central London over the last five years, joining the likes of 1 Plumtree Court, EC4 (£1.16 billion) and 5 Broadgate, EC2 (£1 .0 billion) which sold in 2018. Savills figures show that 2019 has been a year which has picked up pace, with only 15 properties trading in January to February. March, however, saw 24 deals transact totalling £2.09 billion.

Stephen Down, head of Central London investment at Savills comments: “Despite the well-noted uncertainty hanging over the UK at the moment, this has not stopped a number of commercial property investors from recognising London’s innate strength. Several of them actually see now as an opportunity and the deals that are offered to the market still seem to draw in a healthy level of prospective buyers, both domestic and international. We have seen a particularly strong appetite for commercial development and opportunistic stock, which is a response to the structural supply shortage that Central London is facing in the office sector.”

by Neil Franklin

Soruce: Workplace Insight

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Scottish commercial property market outperforms UK in several sectors

SCOTLAND’S offices, retail and alternatives property markets all significantly outperformed the UK markets in 2018, according to data released by leading property consultant CBRE yesterday.

Their research revealed that the annual Scottish all commercial property total return for 2018 was 5.6%, only slightly lower than the UK all property return of 6%.

Industrials in Scotland also had a strong end to the year, achieving the highest return of the three main sectors.

Office and industrials returns in Scotland have increased year on year, with offices achieving 8.2% compared to 5.9% in 2017, with industrials increasing from 7.9% to 8.6%.

Offices were 2% ahead of the UK figure of 6.2%, while retail returned 4.7% compared to the overall UK figure of minus 1.1%.

Alternatives continued to be the best performing sector in Scotland, and the only one to achieve double-digit returns in 2018, with 10.6% compared to the UK’s 7.5%.

CBRE said that given the current challenges facing the retail sector, it is unsurprising that at year end the outlook remained subdued.

Compared with performance for the whole of the UK, Scottish returns have been more resilient in the final quarter of 2018. At the all property level, the picture is very similar –with UK returns down by almost 1.5% and Scottish returns unchanged.

During the last quarter of the year, £642 million of stock was transacted in Scotland, demonstrating a strong final quarter, and bringing the annual total to £2.49 billion in 2018. This is broadly in line with the £2.5bn achieved in 2017.

The retail sector total was boosted by the controversial sale of Fort Kinnaird Retail Park, located on the eastern edge of Edinburgh, which was acquired from The Crown Estate by M&G Real Estate for £167.25 million, with none of that sum accruing to the Scottish Government despite the Crown Estate being devolved.

David Reid, associate director of CBRE, said: “It’s great to see the industrial and logistics sector in Scotland performing strongly again during 2018 with sharpening yields and increasing rental and land values within prime locations.

“With this backdrop we are seeing increasing developer appetite for speculative schemes and there are a number of occupier pre-lets on the horizon during 2019.”

By Martin Hannan

Source: The National

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FCA keeps close eye on UK commercial property funds

The UK financial watchdog is seeking daily updates from commercial property funds following significant withdrawals from the sector in December.

The UK Property sector saw £315m in outflows during December. It is seen as particularly vulnerable to any problems from Brexit, as international buyers are an important source of demand for commercial property.

At the same time, investors have become increasingly concerned about the weakness in the retail sector. Landlords are being forced to accept non-commercial terms from tenants in difficulties.

The FCA is taking an interest because the last time the sector saw significant outflows, the funds had to stop investors redeeming their shares. Investors couldn’t get their capital out for a period of time. This happened in the wake of the Brexit vote in 2016 and during the global financial crisis in 2008. The funds ultimately reopened and investors could trade as normal.

The largest funds, including those from M&G and LGIM, hold property shares and cash to help them meet redemptions. They would otherwise have to sell off large buildings quickly, which can be difficult. They may also need to sell their prize buildings – for which there is the strongest market – while hanging on to their existing, weaker buildings.

Investors using investment trusts to access the commercial property sector aren’t affected by the problems.

Source: Your Money

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Commercial property investment in the north falls to five-year low

COMMERCIAL property investment in the north fell to its lowest level since 2013 last year, according to a new industry report.

The latest Lambert Smith Hampton bulletin shows that the £176.6 million investment volume recorded in 2018 was 48 per cent lower than the previous year and 12 per cent down on the 10-year average.

After a slow start to the year, the quarterly activity exceeded £50m for the remainder of 2018, boosted by the beleaguered retail sector.

Retail transactions accounted for almost half of the activity in 2018, with notable deals including the Belfast sale of 40-46 Donegall Place for £16.4m, the acquisition of Bow Street Mall in Lisburn for £12.3m and the purchase of the Newtownards-based Castlebawn Retail Park for £7.2m.

Office activity also picked up in the second half of the year, largely driven by two Belfast deals – the sale of the Metro Building for £21.8m and the £15.2m purchase of Obel 68.

There was further positivity noted within the alternative sector, with car parks, car showrooms, gyms and hotels among the assets that changed hands in 2018.

Private Northern Ireland investors remain the most active and accounted for a third of investment volume last year, while institutional activity increased from 11 percent of volume in 2017 to 21 percent last year.

Notable institutional transactions included CBRE Global Investors £18.4m purchase of the NCP Car Park on Montgomery Street in Belfast and Corum Asset Management’s purchase of 40-46 Donegall Place.

Martin McCloy, director of capital markets at Lambert Smith Hampton, admitted that the ongoing political uncertainty has impacted on the local market.

“ The challenging political environment has undoubtedly had a negative effect on investment activity over the past two years, with 2017 boosted by the £123m sale of CastleCourt Shopping Centre,” he said.

“While overall the market has demonstrated a level of resilience, there is a lack of supply of good quality assets and investor caution is evident.”

Looking at the year ahead, Mr McCloy said the trend of a quiet first quarter is likely to be exacerbated by the upcoming March 29 Brexit deadline.

“Both buyers and sellers are delaying decisions until there is clarity on the withdrawal agreement or on no agreement, as the case may be.”

“Investment activity is expected to pick up when the terms of the future relationship are clearer and the transition period begins,” he added.

Source: Irish News

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Political uncertainty ‘takes toll’ on Scottish commercial and industrial property market

The “protracted uncertainty” caused by the ongoing Brexit standoff is taking its toll on commercial and industrial activity in Scotland, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The results of the Q4 2018 RICS Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey show that growth in workloads within Scotland’s commercial and industrial segments declined with a net balance of -14% and -7% of respondents reporting a drop in activity, respectively, during Q4 2018.

However, the activity across construction sectors varied, with a net balance of +17% of contributors to the RICS survey reporting growth in private housing workloads across Scotland. Public sector workloads were mixed, but surveyors reported growth in housing with a net balance of 8% seeing an acceleration to growth in public sector housing. Infrastructure workloads also remained steady with a net balance of 8% seeing a rise in workloads over the quarter.

Anecdotal evidence from respondents suggests that the housing market slowdown, coupled with ongoing policy ambiguity related to Brexit, is weighing on business investment decisions. When asked how business enquiries for new projects or contracts have fared in the past three months, 10% more respondents across the UK reported an increase rather than a decrease compared to 24% in Q3. Growth in repair and maintenance work remains modestly positive.

Looking at factors across the UK constraining activity, financial constraints are reported by 78% of surveyors to be by far the most significant impediment to building. Difficulties with access to bank finance and credit, along with cash flow and liquidity challenges, are often cited reasons alongside generally less favourable cyclical market conditions. When asked how credit conditions have changed over the past three months, 20% more respondents report a deterioration rather than improvement.

Shortage of skilled labour continues to pose a significant challenge almost half of respondents in Scotland, particularly with regard to professional services such as quantity surveying. The challenges for the procurement of labour differ by role. Looking at the UK as a whole, 64% of surveyors expressed the view that workers from the EU were not important to their hiring requirements of surveying professionals, and the solution to this issue remains firmly domestic within the training and education areas with 68% of contributors to this survey citing education as the most effective policy tool in addressing the current skills dilemma, compared to 15% for immigration.

However, as the Brexit deadline draws near it should be noted that EU nationals are an important part of the mix particularly with regards to addressing the skills issue in increasing capacity to build on construction sites. With EU nationals accounting for eight percent of the UK’s construction workforce, this accounts for well over 175 thousand people, according to recent RICS figures.

In terms of geographical breakdown across the UK, workload growth is now reported to be decelerating across all regions. London and the Southeast were particularly affected with a lack of growth across the private housing, commercial and industrial subsectors buoyed by positive momentum in infrastructure and public spending. Over the past three months, new business enquiries were strongest in the North (+24%) and weakest in Northern Ireland (-21%). Meanwhile, year-ahead expectations for workloads and hiring are the most resilient in Scotland with net balances of +38% and 31%, respectively.

Tender price expectations over the next twelve months throughout the UK are expected to be squeezed with 51% and 40% more respondents envisaging greater price pressures in the building and civil engineering areas, respectively. The expected increase in tender prices reflects higher input costs and ongoing competitive bidding pressures for businesses. Expectations on industry profit margins have been flat for the second consecutive quarter in Q4 2018.

Jeffrey Matsu, RICS senior economist, said: “The protracted uncertainty engendered by the Brexit impasse is becoming ever more apparent with workloads in the commercial and industrial sectors grinding to a standstill. While the challenges are particularly acute in London, the additional £1 billion in additional HRA borrowing to fund council housing has begun to stimulate activity. The subsequent scrapping of the cap in last year’s Budget has the potential to accelerate this positive trend in the public sector over the coming years.

“Capacity remains an ongoing constraint for activity more broadly, however, with surveyors reporting a ramping up of new hiring even despite a moderation in business enquiries. Continued access to a qualified pool of non-UK workers to support this growth will be as important as ever, particularly for work on construction sites.”

Source: Scottish Construction now

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Outlook 2019: Commercial property sector preparing for a supply shortage

After a solid 2018 in the commercial property sector, the north has to prepare itself for a supply shortage in 2019, according to Craig Burrow, Leeds Director at Bruntwood.

Speaking at TheBusinessDesk.com’s Outlook 2019 seminar, Burrow said: “From a commercial property perspective it’s been a very good year generally. Leeds particularly is having another strong year in terms of the office market take-up. We’ve also had a great year with the completion of the Platform building in the city centre.

“We’ve seen rents rising, occupancy rising, and investment transactions have hit record highs in Northern Powerhouse cities.”

However, Burrow did say that “one of the biggest challenges” for Bruntwood going into 2019 was the “supply shortage” in the north.

As for the challenges facing Liverpool, Philip Rooney, managing partner at the Liverpool office of DLA, said: “What we don’t have here is top quality office space, and we definitely need more of it. If we have that, then Liverpool will become a far better competitor to other cities.

“This is a fantastic place to live and work, it is absolutely the place to be now, so we need to make sure companies are attracted to come here.”

Despite this, Adam Higgins, co-founder of Capital & Centric, said he believed that the success of neighbouring city Manchester would eventually begin to benefit Liverpool from an office take-up point of view.

He said said: “What Manchester has done in the last couple of years really well is attract office occupiers coming up from London, but the city is now getting to the stage where office space is going to become more and more expensive.

“Companies moving into new builds in Manchester will be paying around £36 – £37 a sq ft, whereas Liverpool is down in the mid twenties. Some businesses just won’t want to pay those rates in Manchester which means they will start to look at Liverpool.”

Tom Kelsall, partner at the Manchester office of DLA Piper, commented on the importance of keeping Manchester’s developments connected and act as part of a community almost.

Kelsall said: “The combined authority have an important job over the next several years to pull together different parts of the area’s communities and make sure Manchester continues to grow. What we don’t want is single assets out in the middle of nowhere that don’t feel connected to the rest of the city.”

Speaking of the office occupier market, Vivienne Clements, director at Henry Boot Developments, said: “We have seen a lot of success this year within the employment scheme Markham Vale. This year we have seen major decisions being made to commit to Sheffield.”

Following the success of Henry Boots Developments this past year, Clements also said they have now “gained an insight across the board” in relations to companies that take up space in studio business park developments.

She explained: “The confidence that Sheffield can take forward is that good quality mid-range companies, who can afford to buy their own building, are attracted to the area. Out of the 16 companies that we’ve brought to Markham Vale, five of those have already expanded further onto the site and one of those expanding is doubling its size just in a five year period.

“We can take confidence in that we have a really strong base and we need to nurture that base because when it comes to a recession they are the backbone that we call all resort back to.”

David Wilton, Chief Financial Officer at Sumo Digital, also spoke about the city’s growing technology sector, and the importance of using this momentum to attract other global tech companies to take office space in Sheffield.

He explained: “It it fantastic that Sheffield is becoming a tech centre of excellence. The foresight that drove the movement away from traditional, old fashioned engineering businesses to a more tech end digital city was great.

“We now need to invest more in tech, and that is about training the right people and attracting the right people to this area.”

Source: The Business Desk

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North’s office market reports record 2018 in year of political uncertainty

THE Northern Ireland office market enjoyed a record 2018, with more than double the business reported in the previous year.

CBRE’s latest Real Estate Outlook report shows the office sector in the north is flourishing, with a record 885,023 sq ft of take-up reported across 84 transactions

Notable office deals completed in 2018 include PwC’s move to Merchant Square, the Northern Ireland Civil Service to 9 Lanyon Place and the opening of the new Allstate Belfast base at Mays Meadow.

CBRE managing director, Brian Lavery believes the local office market is well placed to continue on an upward trajectory in 2019.

“Foreign direct investment in the region remains strong and indigenous technology and professional services businesses are growing as the latest office accommodation results indicate,” he said.

“We believe that Northern Ireland can capitalise on ‘north-shoring’ opportunities from London and Dublin going forward into 2019 and beyond despite Brexit dominating the landscape because of the supply of talent and the attractive costs base.

“Currently we only have around 250, 000 sq ft of Grade A office space available fragmented across a number of buildings underpinning the need for more investment in this space. Alongside this office space growth, we are also seeing the green shoots of demand for residential living in the city centre. We believe this is the trend to track in 2019 and beyond as investors across the UK and globally continue to look for opportunities in this area.”

In spite of the relative positivity within the commercial property market, a lack of investment is a cause for concern, with the ongoing political uncertainty cited as factors in a decline in activity.

Key transactions over the last 12 months included the sale of Metro Building in Belfast to a local investor for £21.8m; the £18m acquisition of the NCP Car Park at Montgomery Street, Belfast by CBRE Global Investors; and Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ purchase of the Obel Building for £15.2m.

“At present, Northern Ireland does offer a unique investment opportunity, although success will be dependent on a Brexit deal which prioritises the local business and economy,” Mr Lavery added.

Meanwhile it has been confirmed the Northern Ireland Investment Fund, launched by CBRE Capital Advisors at the start of 2018, has already invested 30 per cent the initial £100m allocation.

CBRE is expecting to announce a suite of additional loans to fund the development of hotels, high-tech research facilities, energy efficiency and industrial infrastructure with employment space in a variety of locations across Northern Ireland in the coming weeks and months.

Source: Irish News

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Investing in commercial property: beware the Brexit clause?

Last month saw an apocalyptic picture painted about the impact of Brexit. The Bank of England warned that commercial property values could fall 48% in the event of a No-deal – worse than the global financial crisis – and even a more “orderly” Brexit could see a 27% drop.

The severity of the warning seemingly took many by surprise. However, the negotiations and the resulting wider economic uncertainty have been impacting commercial property valuations and tenant demand for some time.

‘Brexit clauses’ have become a feature of commercial property valuations since the Referendum, stipulating that values can’t be guaranteed following the March deadline. But while previously, these clauses were typically buried in the “boilerplate” wording, now they’re front and centre, presenting a much bigger obstacle for institutional investors. Funds are increasingly sitting on their hands, with some suspending or aborting live deals, reluctant to gamble stakeholders’ money in a market with such a blind spot.

Silver linings, not Brexit blues

But this isn’t Armageddon. One person’s risk is another’s opportunity and the vacuum left by institutional investors has left the door open for cash-rich private or family office investors. With no institutional shareholders and often no short-term debt pressures to satisfy, they can take a longer-term view. They’re actively looking to price and pursue risk, especially (soon to be) vacant properties and will remain a force to be reckoned with in this period of Brexit limbo.

A simple reading of the Central Bank’s numbers also ignores the fundamentals underpinning UK real estate. The headlines might say differently, but our major cities continue to be buoyed by overseas capital. Over three-quarters of the £5.3bn spent on Central London office transactions in Q2 this year came from foreign buyers.

So before everyone pours freezing cold water on the market, we should remember that Sterling’s devaluation has ensured that UK real estate remains attractive. And, with investors now getting more bang for their buck, we’re arguably more appealing than other territories. Compared to many other competitor markets we have more transparent, real-time data available, alongside a mature professional infrastructure and easy access to finance to aid investment decisions.

There’s also the intangible: certain investors will always want to be in the UK and feel a sense of inherent security investing here. It may not feel like it now, but historically we are far more politically stable than many other countries and have a well-established rule of law. Depending on where you sit, these are key factors for investors’ wish lists.

Yes, Brexit presents significant challenges. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise. But it doesn’t have to be a perennial spectre. Some might argue that the uncertainty generated by a potential change of government at Westminster because of Brexit – rather than Brexit per se – is a bigger concern and would have a more significant impact on investment decisions. With continued resignations and reshufflings, no one can say for certain what will happen politically.

When the dust settles however, just as after every major disruption to the sector in the past 30 years, we’re likely to find that a number of risk-savvy, cash-rich operators have done well from the uncertainty and will be well-positioned for whatever the post-Brexit World throws at us.

Source: Property Week

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Get ready for the commercial property data revolution

In these uncertain times, modern commercial real estate landlords and operators have turned to technology and data to weather the storm and gain a competitive advantage. Those that do so are arming their companies with an ability to quickly pivot operating models, reallocate investment to counter risk and capitalise on opportunity.

The right software lets you future-proof your business, enables you to understand performance in real-time and most importantly helps you predict what’s next – the biggest hotspots and opportunities, which team members are doing well, and who needs some support.

You don’t have to look far to see the transformative power of data and examples of how it is successfully being applied to drive digital transformation. Take the financial sector, where unleashing the power of data has not only streamlined workflows but also enabled firms to grow their businesses through powerful AI applications that personalise their services.

According to a 2017 Forrester report, there is an increasing gap between financial firms that embrace technology to fuel growth and business transformation and institutions that continue to do business in traditional ways.

The evolution of the stock market also highlights the value that technology and actionable data unlocks. Look at the New York Stock Exchange. Thirty years ago it was characterised by highly inefficient and manual processes and opaque information. Today? Technology has transformed the way the market operates and traders are able to leverage real-time data and algorithmic trading to execute deals in nanoseconds.

The commercial property sector is making great strides in using new software offerings such as leasing and asset management platforms to capture and analyse data. Landlords and brokers are using the resulting insights to make better decisions that move the needle. We’re fast approaching the next major frontier – market benchmarks.

Using real-time market data to make better decisions has been the standard in our own backyard for other property types such as multi-family and hospitality for some time. RealPage Yieldstar® helps PRS owners leverage market data to determine pricing in real-time and for hospitality the STR Global Report helps landlords benchmark a hotel’s occupancy or revenue that day.

Unlike PRS real estate or the hotel space, when it comes to office, industrial or retail properties, market leasing data on pricing, tenant demand or operating efficiency within buildings is neither transparent to the market nor recent.

We are working hard to develop the ultimate market benchmark. In June, we announced plans to launch VTS MarketView™ – the industry’s first real-time benchmarking and market analytics. For the first time, VTS customers will be able to compare their own property-level performance against market-wide data on our platform.

Aggregated and anonymised, this data and insight will be embedded in users’ daily leasing and asset management workflows and presented in context to drive better decisions, informed by key market-wide metrics such as net effective rents, concessions, leasing spreads and velocity, level of tour requests and deal conversion rates.

For the commercial property industry, the possibilities for how technology and data can be applied are endless. For example, AI could be applied to real-time market benchmarks to provide landlords with property-specific predictions and recommendations for maximising asset value.

These are exciting times, but not without risk. Now, more than ever, it’s time to embrace the data revolution or risk being left behind.

Source: Property Week

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Yorkshire commercial property market feels impact of Brexit uncertainty

The commercial property market in Yorkshire and the Humber is feeling the effects of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations.

The region has seen tenant demand for offices, retail space and industrial property fall throughout the last quarter, according to the Q3 2018 RICS UK Commercial Property Market survey.

Due to the continued uncertainty, RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) is calling on the government to review the business rates system in the upcoming Budget.

Respondents to the quarterly survey said that occupier demand for offices in the region fell during the last quarter of the year (Q3) with 18% more respondents reporting a rise in tenant demand for office space (down from 38% in Q2), whilst 41% reported an increase in demand for industrial space (down from 46% in Q2) and 41% saw a decline in occupier demand for retail property.

This is most likely because the retail sector is struggling amid the tough market conditions and the boom of online retailers.

Respondents also reported a lack of available office space and industrial property in the region, but 32% saw a rise in the availability of retail space during Q3, prompting landlords to continue to offer incentive packages.

To help provide a boost for the High Street and the wider commercial property market, RICS is calling on the government to review the business rates system in the upcoming Budget.

Hew Edgar, head of policy at RICS, said: “People want a vibrant high street at the heart of their community. Yet the combination of Brexit uncertainty and competition from online retailers mean small independent businesses, in particular are finding it harder to stay afloat.

“That’s why we are calling on the government to use the Budget to review business rates, with the aim of improving the whole system and help provide a shot in the arm for our ailing high streets.”

Looking at investments, all commercial property types – except the struggling retail sector – saw a rise in enquiries from potential investors with 55% of respondents reporting an increase in investment enquires for industrial space, and 30% seeing a rise in enquiries from investors for office property.

Looking ahead, the lack of available office space and industrial property in the region is predicted to impact rents over the next three months – across both these sectors – with 25% of respondents expecting office rents to increase (up from 21% in Q2), whilst 35% of respondents expect rents to rise for industrial property (up from 27% in Q2). Retail rents are not predicted to rise over the coming three months.

In each quarter since the Brexit vote took place, survey participants have been asked if they have seen any evidence of firms looking to relocate at least some part of their business as a result. Throughout much of this time, the proportion reporting they had seen signs of this type of activity remained at around 15-18%. Interestingly, however, this picked up to 25% in the latest results.

Tarrant Parsons, RICS economist, said: “The commercial real estate market continues to be characterised by a stark contrast between the struggling retail sector and the strong performance of industrial property.

“Trends are a little more mixed in the office market, depending on which part of the country you look at, but the overall picture remains broadly steady. The uncertainty engendered by the ongoing Brexit process now appears to be having a greater bearing on tenant decisions when it comes to taking up commercial space, with a lack of clarity regarding the final trading relationship causing some hesitancy.

“That said, investment activity remains reasonably solid, as the latest results point to a stable quarterly trend in demand and a continued decline in supply.”

Source: The Business Desk