Property demand pushing up Bulgarian residential construction

Written by Dragomir Belchev, EPI – EECFA Bulgaria

Construction activity

Since the start of the pandemic, the activity of construction companies in Bulgaria was hindered by economic uncertainty, the government’s anti-COVID measures and the lack of workforce due to quarantine or illness. Therefore, during the period of March 2020 – March 2021, NSI (National Statistical Institute) data shows that building construction decreased by 8.4%. However, the sector has signs of recovery as in March 2021 building construction production index increased by 8.0% for the first time compared to the same month a year earlier.

Short-term indicators also suggest the improved confidence of investors after the hesitant 2020. In the first quarter of 2021, permitted floor area was 11.0% more than in Q1 2020, and almost 4% more than Q1 2019. The same trend, but with stronger dynamics, is also observed regarding started floor area. During the first quarter, accumulated construction permits resulted in starting of more than 660 000 sqm., which is nearly 25% more than in the corresponding quarter of 2020, and by 5.5% more compared to 2019.

Sofia (Bulgaria) – Source: unsplash.com (photo taken by Georgi Kalaydzhiev)

Residential property market

Despite the experienced difficulties, residential construction is remaining in the center of investors’ attention due to the growing residential property market especially in the largest cities (Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas, etc.). After the initial withdrawal of buyers in the middle of 2020, it became clear that there would be no evident shift on the residential property market.

Regarding the supply side of the market, 15 623 new dwellings were completed last year (Q2 2020 – Q1 2021), which is 17.4% higher than a year ago and is the highest figure in the last 10 years. Still, this cannot catch up with demand which pushed prices up at the end of 2020 and in early 2021. The number of transactions went up in the first quarter of 2021 by 17% compared to the same quarter of 2020, and it is actually the strongest first quarter in the last 5 years. The ongoing housing price increase intensified after 2015. Since then, the accumulated price growth has been over 41%.

There are several factors contributing to the ongoing process:

Low interest rates on housing loans: last year banks improved the conditions of granting loans. The average interest rate on housing loans in March 2021 is 2.75%, which is historic low. The increasing interest in buying a home resulted in a 6% growth of newly granted loans in the period of April 2020 – March 2021 compared to the same period a year earlier. In Q1 2021, 20% of all deals are financed with bank loans but there are significant differences between cities. In Sofia, where buying a property is the most expensive, nearly half of the deals are financed with the banks’ help. In Varna the share is 32%, while in Burgas and Plovdiv the respective deals are 30% and 25%.

Low deposit rates: interest rates on deposits are close to 0% as in the last months some banks started to refuse taking new term deposits, which shifted people’s savings into real estates as the most reliable option.

Speculative investment: investors’ invest in acquiring properties in early construction stages with intentions to re-sell after the completion, which generates additional demand, and increases prices. Additionally, the growing profitability of the real estate market attracts the savings of people working abroad who look for investment opportunities in their country of origin.

Residential construction forecast is available in the EECFA Construction Forecast Report Bulgaria that can be purchased on eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.

Press Release on EBI Construction Activity Report Hungary Q1 2021

No improvement visible in Hungarian construction industry

The latest EBI Construction Activity Report has found that the stagnation of the total value of started construction works has not stopped. Between January and March 2021, construction works in the sector started on HUF 421bln. This, although not greatly different from the values seen in the previous three quarters, is still the lowest Activity Start indicator of the last two years. Compared to the January-March periods of the previous two years, 2021 started clearly weaker: against the positive Q1 2020, the decline was about 35%, but even over the same period in 2019, there is a 15% decrease.

Weak Q1 for building construction

The value of building construction projects in Q1 2021 showed a major decline over the same period of 2020 which brought an outstanding Activity Start, but compared to the other quarters of last year, the total value of started construction projects increased during three months.

In Q1 2021, a total of HUF 340bln worth of building construction projects entered construction phase, which was a weak three-month period compared to previous years. The previous trend also applies to non-residential buildings within building construction, where the Activity Start of EBI Construction Activity Report accounted for HUF 261bln.

Even though the drop was considerable compared to last year’s exceptionally high Activity Start in the first quarter, the value of construction works started for three months did not greatly differ from the other quarters of the year and the first three months of previous years. Among the biggest non-residential projects that began in Q1 2021, besides the construction of two office buildings, are the Water Fun Park in Győr, the second phase of Mercedes K1 press plant in Kecskemét, CTPark in Vecsés and HelloParks logistics centre in Maglód. The fortress reconstruction in Diósgyőr also started, along with Hunguest Hotel Panoráma Hévíz project and the construction of the Ice Age interactive showroom of the Zoo in Nyíregyháza.

EBI Construction Activity Report examines the situation of the Hungarian construction industry on a quarterly basis, including the volume of newly started construction works, and the value of projects completed in each quarter in aggregate and by segment as well. It is prepared by Buildecon, Eltinga (creation of indicators and development of algorithms for aggregation) and iBuild (project research and project database). Full publications can be purchased at ebi@ibuild.info.

Plunge in road and railway construction

Civil engineering saw a dramatic plunge; in Q1 2021 the value of such projects entering construction phase contracted by almost half compared to Q1 2020. Between January and March this year, only HUF 82bln worth of civil engineering projects were launched, evoking 2015-2016 levels, and representing one of the lowest values in the last five years. The drastic drop in road and railway projects largely contributed to the particularly low level of Civil Engineering Activity Start indicator of EBI Construction Activity Report. Since 2013, Q1 2021 has registered the third lowest value of started civil engineering projects.

The first three months of 2021 barely saw the start of any major road and railway projects. The Activity Start indicator of non-road and non-railway civil engineering projects also sank to HUF 63bln, marking the second lowest amount since 2016. At the same time, Q2 2021 may bring improving numbers in civil engineering as two major projects began in April: 1) the construction of the new Danube bridge between Kalocsa and Paks and the connecting road network, and 2) the construction of the M6 motorway stretch between Bóly and the Hungarian-Croatian border. Also, the EU budget cycle 2021-2027 starting this year is set to provide fresh funds for civil engineering projects.

Regional balance

In Q1 2021, the distribution of the value of construction works among the three regions was quite balanced. While the share of Central Hungary slightly dropped compared to the period of 2014-2020, the share of Western regions rose by the same rate. The share of construction projects started in the Eastern regions remained unchanged.

New impetus in multi-unit housing construction

From January 1, 2021, VAT rate on new home sales was lowered again to 5% from the 27% in 2020, giving a new impetus to multi-unit housing construction this year. The Activity Start value of EBI Construction Activity Report in 2021 thus might be way higher than in 2020. This process has already begun and is confirmed by data for the first quarter of this year. It shows that after a steady decline in last year’s Activity Start, growth resumed in January-March 2021: multi-unit housing projects began at almost the same value as in the same period in 2020. The value of Activity Start indicator for Q1 2021 was HUF 79bln which was surpassed by only two quarters in 2019 and 2020.

Unlike Activity Start, the Activity Completion of EBI Construction Activity Report increased steadily last year. This growth came to a halt in Q1 2021, but it comes as no surprise because the value of completed projects is traditionally a bit lower in the first quarter of a year. In the rest of the year, considering the expected completion dates, the value of completed multi-unit projects may remain as high as in the previous year.

Budapest & metropolitan area dominating multi-unit housing projects

In the first three months of 2021, launched multi-unit housing projects mostly concentrated in Central Hungary. The share of this region was 79%; a major increase compared to the average of 60% in 2014-2020. In parallel, the share of both Western and Eastern regions went down. The already low 15% share of Eastern regions fell to 5% in Q1 2021. The launch of several large-scale projects such as Phases 2 and 3 of Park West, BudaBright, Phase 3 of Waterfront City, BudaPart BRF and Sasad Resort SR6 contributed to the growth in Budapest.

Traditionally, larger-scale construction projects start in Budapest than in the countryside, and thanks to the already approved but not launched projects, developers here could react to the VAT change more rapidly. The increase in the share of larger projects is shown by the fact that although the Activity Start value improved compared to previous quarters, fewer projects started during the quarter than before.

Original article in Hungarian: Tünde Tancsics (ELTINGA)

English version: Eszter Falucskai (Buildecon)

Serbian construction: one of the strongest growth cycles in recent history

Written by Dejan Krajinović, Beobuild Core D.O.O., EECFA Serbia

During the last six years, between 2015 and 2020, our forecasts closely followed the significant turnaround in Serbian construction, which rolled out into one of the strongest growth cycles in recent history. The powerful surge in construction outputs surpassed all initial expectations, and there are a number of converging factors behind its formidable result. The recovery after the recession gradually transformed itself into a fully-fledged construction boom, which more than doubled Serbia’s construction outputs, from EUR 2 billion in 2015 to EUR 4 billion in 2019. Even the pandemic in 2020 didn’t change the very positive outlooks, although it did cause a slowdown and negative consolidation of construction outputs by some 5% at constant prices. The expected growth should return in 2021 and all indicators are still on the side of our initial forecast.

How ‘good’ is EECFA’s Sample Report?
The 3 charts compare our 3 forecasts for total construction output at constant price as 2014=100 index. Forecast figures are dotted, factual figures are solid lines.

Three of our previous forecasts for total construction output in Serbia
(source: EECFA)

The chart on the left shows our first forecast for 2018. It was published in June 2016 and this is our sample report. (See the full PDF and the corresponding XLS file.) The factual 2018 figures were published in the 2nd half of 2019.

The chart in the middle is our forecast issued in Winter 2019, where the 2018 figure is therefore the final one. 2018 factual data are very close to what was foreseen in June 2016.

The chart on the right is our latest forecast, including the 2019 factual figures, which was published in the meantime. Although we were very optimistic for 2019, the final results turned out to be even better.

Reforms as a prelude

With political changes in 2013, Serbia embarked on a reform path that is slowly proving to be one of the main pillars behind its success story. The initiation of the ongoing cycle happened with the new permit laws implemented in 2015, but this was also followed by new and flexible labor laws, as well as a number of smaller legislations. The new permit laws and the introduction of e-permits made administrative processes very fast and transparent, where the World Bank ranked Serbia in the Top 10 most efficient permit systems in the world. These were critically important legal reforms, which laid ground for investments in practically all construction segments. The reforms started in deep austerity, with tough fiscal reforms including linear pay cuts, halt in state funding and the cancellation of all government programs affecting construction. At the time, it would be impossible to see all the implications we see today, particularly the speed of overall changes.

Tango of public and private

What came as a new strength for this cycle in 2017 was the removal of the austerity measures after the successful fiscal consolidation. Not only public debt was reduced, and budgetary deficits closed, but the Government funds are returning as one of the major contributors in construction. This is a key factor in infrastructure, but also in various public buildings and residential construction. With all weaknesses and possible risks involved, it was very easy to underestimate the scale of the recovery. While an amazing performance of civil engineering was largely expected, the results in the construction of buildings came as a pleasant surprise. Only between 2016 and 2020, the levels of output in building construction almost doubled. The total amount grew from EUR 900 million in 2016 to EUR 1.7 billion in 2020, with a strong contribution of residential, commercial and industrial sub-segments. The star performer is the residential segment that pushed us to make several upward revisions during the last 5 years, as permits consecutively broke all expectations.

Strong foundations

In 2020, the positive effects of the boom affected literally all construction segments, and the brewing activity continued even during the pandemic. Already in the second half of 2020, the situation stabilized, and investments were desperately waiting for a full normalization. Permit numbers recovered, land and home sales returned to pre-pandemic levels and none of the investors cancelled their construction start. The overall economy is a strong supporter of the property market and conditions have been improving year by year. Most foreign investments went into manufacturing, giving a strong foundation for a sustained economic growth in the coming period. During 2020, Serbia’s GDP fell only 1.5% compared with 2019, while exports and investments continued to grow. This means we can expect a strong rebound of the economy in 2021, where GDP is expected to grow between 5%-6%. Similar growth rates are expected in 2022, as well.

Multi-vector policies

By not being a member of the European Union, Serbia was unable to access EU development funds for stable financing of its transport and other civil infrastructure. For years, the regional infrastructure was neglected, until an old friend came to the rescue. In 2009 Serbia signed a strategic cooperation deal with China, which provided full financial and logistical support in infrastructure development. The first project started in 2011 and since then, projects Serbia contracted with China have been worth over EUR 10 billion, including motorways, high-speed railways, energy, and public utilities. The Sino-Serbian partnership has been growing by the years and beside preferential development funds, it now covers a wide cooperation in various interstate projects, from education to security. Chinese companies also invested several billion of euros in the Serbian industry, including mining, metallurgy, electric and home appliances, car parts, etc. We can expect this cooperation to deepen further in the coming years, with even larger-scale projects and investments on the horizon.

How much steam in this cycle?

This is not an ordinary construction cycle, at least not in its length, potency or context. Although, construction output levels were on their historical bottom when the cycle began, its size and distribution prove this is a farther-reaching process. Such a strong recovery in construction levels is indicating an economic shift, which could produce a sustained expansion in the coming years. It can be expected for Serbia to reposition itself as a leading regional economy, and construction outputs to continue breaking historical records. While some of the construction sub-segments will eventually mature and consolidate, the overall trend in total construction figures will maintain an upward direction for several more years. The huge and long-delayed civil-engineering projects will lead construction growth in the forecasts, but buildings shouldn’t fall too much behind. The basis for growth in the construction of buildings is also strong, but its trajectory will be less pronounced and more cyclical.

Ongoing expectations

Current forecasts are showing the cycle will continue until 2023, with a particularly strong performance of civil engineering. Major civil sub-segments will be roads and railways, but other transport infrastructure and energy will also likely break new records in the coming period. Building construction should decelerate its growth rates and even top this cycle in some segments, but the overall trend is to remain positive. We expect the residential segment to maintain its growth rates until 2023, while the non-residential one will probably consolidate in 2021 and return to growth in 2022. It is possible that this cycle can even surpass the current estimates in some scenarios. A lot of external factors can affect mid-term forecasts, so it still remains to be seen how it will all play out.

Housing stock and renewal ratio in Europe in the last decade: Turkey leading the way

Written by Bálint Parragi, ELTINGA-EECFA-BUILDECON

We have examined the relationship between the renewal ratio and the actual stock in Europe (across countries covered by EECFA and EUROCONSTRUCT) during the last decade (see figure below). The renewal ratio is the ratio of the newly built homes between 2011 and 2020 and the housing stock at the beginning of 2020.

EECFA covers the construction markets of Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, and Ukraine. EUROCONSTRUCT covers the construction markets of Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

When analysing the data, we have found three different country groups:
(Click the heading named Group in the table above to rearrange the order)

  1. A heterogeneous group of countries with a building stock smaller than 10 million. There are some countries, mainly from Central-Eastern Europe and the Balkans with exceptionally low renewal ratios (lower than 5% during these ten years): Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. Czechia and Romania also have renewal ratios very close to 5%. Except for Portugal, all countries in Western and Northern Europe within this first category have a higher renewal ratio: in Finland, Switzerland, and Austria, every tenth building was built during the last decade.
  2. This group consists of countries with a bigger building stock, but relatively low renewal ratios. Southern Europe (Italy and Spain), the United Kingdom, Germany, and Ukraine fall under this category. Only 3%-6% of their building stock was built during the 2010’s.
  3. This category comprises countries with the highest renewal ratios in the last ten years. Poland and France have similar building stock sizes to the ones in Ukraine and Germany, respectively, but their renewal ratio is significantly higher; around 11%. Poland is especially outstanding among the postsocialist countries with a bit more than 11% renewal ratios between 2011 and 2020, followed by Slovakia (8%). There are two absolute outliers; Turkey and Russia with the two highest renewal ratios: 28% and 15%, respectively, in 2011-2020. In Turkey, almost every third building is only just 10 years old or newer, and in Russia, it is every seventh. Russia has of course the largest building stock in Europe (almost 70 million buildings), but its great renewal ratio means that they built as many buildings in the last decade as there are in Romania in total. And Turkey built more buildings in the last ten years than Poland, Ukraine, Spain, the UK, and Italy combined.

Although in this piece renewal ratio is defined as newly built homes / building stock, it is always good to have in mind that not only new housing construction contributes to the renewal of the stock, but also renovation. In some countries, typically in Western Europe, its contribution to renewal is even higher than that of new construction. In our forecast reports you may find the development stories for both new and renovation types of works.

Ukraine’s construction market amid the pandemic in 2021: a mixed bag

Written by Sergii Zapototskyi – UVECON, EECFA Ukraine

Since Ukraine is dependent on global economic changes to a great extent, the global crisis triggered by the pandemic has greatly affected its construction industry. Let’s see how.

Good news, bad news

The pace of housing construction significantly slowed down in Ukraine; the index of construction products for 2020 in the residential real estate segment amounted to 81.5% in comparison with 2019. At the same time, the average price per square meter grew by 6.5%. Yet the volume of non-residential constructions remained almost unchanged (99.3%) and civil engineering constructions even outstripped 2019 (111.6%) due to the implementation of the state program dubbed ‘Big Construction’ within which more than 3.9 thousand km of roads were repaired, and 114 schools, 100 kindergartens and 101 sports facilities were either built or reconstructed.

Source: freepik.com

As a real estate expert evaluation shows, more properties are being bought in the large cities of Ukraine such as Kiev, Odessa, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Lviv. The reason is the growing population number which is a good stimulus for the economy, construction, the development of engineering and social infrastructure, as well as business activity. In these cities, including the capital city, this year might see a further rise in prices and a greater revival of the real estate market (an increase in construction projects of residential complexes, cottage settlements, low-rise residential buildings, office and shopping centers, underground and ground parking lots).

The latest EECFA Construction Forecast Report Ukraine can be purchased on eecfa.com.

Residential

Influencing factors and reform on the downside

In 2021 the key influencing factors, which are also the risks for the real estate market of Ukraine, may be the failures of healthcare and vaccinations, which will lead to the disappointment of consumers and a passivity on their side.

And this year the factors making real estate investment risky will not be eliminated either: corruption and administrative/regulatory problems like the reform of SACI (State Architecture and Construction Inspectorate of Ukraine). SACI was planned to be liquidated on grounds of being a “corruption department”, and a transparent system for issuing permits and construction supervision was to be created instead. But what happened was that the market was simply halted. The system is on the brink of collapse; already built facilities are not being put into operation and many projects scheduled to start last year were postponed by developers. A series of defaults by high-profile developers (Arkada Bank, Ukrbud, etc.) also undermined investor confidence in the residential segment – financing housing construction in Ukraine is mostly carried out at the expense of future homeowners.

Suburban housing construction and mortgage program on the upside

Amid the pandemic most buyers are focusing on suburban housing construction as during the lockdown the remote work scheme emerged and many companies are willing to permanently switch to it. Thus, living in a city with its transport and environmental problems lost its lure for many when one can live 20-30 minutes away from the city in a comfortable suburban home. We are returning to the concept of full-fledged satellite cities with various types of buildings (multi-storey terraced houses, townhouses, cottages, etc.). Therefore, the growth in the volume of suburban construction seems to be a promising trend for the market this year, and possibly in subsequent years as well.

In March 2021 a new government program for providing preferential mortgage loans is expected to be launched. Mortgages at 7% are a long-awaited tool to revive Ukraine’s construction market and reduce the cost of housing loans. Developers say affordable lending could increase home sales by at least 10%.

Commercial

The commercial real estate sector in Ukraine had a significant blow due to the lockdown:  rising vacancies, dropping rental rates, and new construction works still being postponed.

Retail

Retail was the first to be hit by the spring 2020 lockdown as many shops and malls were closed. In November 2020, there was a so-called ‘weekend lockdown’ in effect, while a full lockdown occurred from January 8 to 24, 2021. During the lockdown consumer demand fell sharply, but then it recovered quickly. The NBU (National Bank of Ukraine) estimates that the pandemic-related crisis hit this segment less than it did offices as it was boosted by rising incomes and the quarantine flexibility (the entertainment segment was hit hard, though). Vacancy rates in the market rose by 5.4pp, and the average daily traffic in shopping centers sank by 25%-40%. In large cities of Ukraine, new supply in 2020 was about 113.5 thousand sqm. GLA, and even more shopping centers are planned to be completed in 2021-2022. This year, for instance, at least three shopping and entertainment centers are to open in Kiev (​​147.5 thousand sqm. GLA) and two in Kharkiv (122 thousand sqm GLA), among others.

Office

Offices were hammered by the pandemic, which led to a drop in rates to 10% in total in the first half of 2020. The balance of supply and demand will likely deteriorate in the near future. At the end of 2019, developers announced to release a significant volume of new supply for 2020 (about 230 thousand sqm). However, by end 2020, the real indicator of new supply was 105 thousand sqm, and completion dates for the rest was postponed to 2021-2022. Only 49% of the total office space announced for 2020 was completed last year. Now supply exceeds demand, but the situation will likely change if business activity in Ukraine revives after the pandemic subsides.

Hotel

The nearly 70% decline in passenger traffic at airports caused a decrease in hotel occupancy to the level of 15%-20% during the strict lockdown and to the level of 30%-35% in the laxer period. (For comparison, in the pre-quarantine period it was 53%). Thus, new formats had to be introduced, so an office/co-working component or service apartments were added to the hotel function.

Industry

Growth in online commerce in the pandemic increased demand for warehouses, making this segment the most resilient in the current crisis. In the long term, a decrease in vacancy and an increase in rental rates for warehouse and industrial premises are expected due to hiked demand, limited supply and the small number of projects under construction.

Q1 2021 Permit-Completion: enhanced

Updated with Q1 2021 data on 14 June

We have an all new Permit-Completion visualization of the 8 EECFA (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine) + 1 Euroconstruct countries (Hungary).

Open the full visualization with the link below and come back here for hints:

EECFA Permit-Completion Quarterly – 14 June 2020

Beside updating it with Q4 2020 data, we have enhanced it with some new features. We think that it is friendly to use and does not require too much explanation, so we just would like to give you 5+1 hints here.

1. There is no separate Residential and Non-residential viz any longer, all data are integrated into one viz:

2. There is an additional sheet for cross-country comparison of permit data:

3. On the country-by-country sheet the graphs are in pairs horizontally; level on the left, yearly change on the right:

4. Use the tooltips and click to highlight:

5. On the cross-country comparison sheet residential and non-residential permits are shown together by default, but you can filter out any:

+1. I love full screen view, no distraction whatsoever (below the viz, bottom right corner):

Go to the viz: EECFA Permit-Completion Quarterly – 14 June 2020

We are updating this viz quarterly, and in case you need construction forecast for these countries, please get in touch with our customer relations manager at eszter.falucskai@eecfa.com for an offer for the current EECFA Forecast Reports.

Will Covid-19 be remembered as ‘the good crisis’ for Slovenian construction?

Written by Dr. Ales Pustovrh – Bogatin, EECFA Slovenia

Construction output in Slovenia decreased by two-thirds between 2008 and 2015 as the effects of the global financial crisis lingered and the Slovenian banking system needed restructuring. Early signs are showing that the pandemic will have much less impact and might even prove to be beneficial to the construction sector in 2021 and beyond.

Pod Pekrsko gorco project, Maribor, Slovenia – Source: https://ssrs.si

In 2008, the Slovenian construction reached levels it had never reached before since the country became independent. According to EECFA’s research, its total construction output exceeded EUR 4,6 billion in that year, which as we know now, was unsustainable. Construction output decreased for the next 8 years and embarked on a low of EUR 2,2 billion in 2016 before rebounding to an estimated EUR 3,4 billion in 2020.

Then Covid-19 struck and the whole economy entered another crisis. With lockdown measures and restrictions to the physical movement of people, including workers, it was possible that construction would once again feel the burden of a general economic crisis that might force it into a full depression. In practical terms – how can construction workers construct new projects if they are not even allowed to work in groups on site?

After some initial confusion, it quickly emerged that Covid-19 will not have the same effect on the industry. Construction was able to continue its operations unhindered. Unlike in the Great Recession, banks have kept crediting new construction projects and at very low interest rates. Disposable income of the population has not decreased due to generous anti-crisis measures supplementing the lost income. And the government was willing to run large budget deficits as it was able to borrow at virtually zero cost on international bond markets. A part of these financing was invested in different construction projects, including in health building constructions.

Additionally, a fragile coalition of centre-left parties under Prime Minister Sarec fell apart in Spring 2020 and was replaced by centre-right coalition under the new Prime Minister Jansa. His agenda is also based on implementing some long-stalled construction projects, including the new high-voltage electricity distribution network connection with Hungary and the start of the construction of the new hydroelectric power plant near Mokrice. Some previous large construction projects have been continued or even accelerated, including the start of the construction of the so-called 3rd national road axis, as well as the planned expansion of the Slovenian railroad network that would capitalize on the ongoing construction of the new railroad connection toward Port Koper.

With these big-league construction projects and numerous smaller, privately funded ones, initial data on construction output in 2020 show that instead of decreasing, it might have actually slightly increased even during the health emergency and the accompanying economic recession. Additionally, with strong economic rebound predicted for the time after the emergency, potentially as soon as in the second half of 2021, construction output might grow further.

EECFA’s Winter 2020 forecast is envisioning for Slovenian construction a 0,3% real growth in 2021 and 1,7% in 2022, but with an upside potential.

Segment-level construction forecast is available in the EECFA Winter 2020 Construction Forecast Report Slovenia that can be purchased on eecfa.com

The new government has presented an ambitious long-term plan for civil-engineering, health and nursing home construction for the next few years (although it implementation will greatly depend on the results of the next election in 2022).

It will also have plenty of financing available from the comprehensive EU Recovery Plan. In Slovenia’s national recovery and resilience plan, the European Commission has confirmed access to EUR 5.2 billion for the 2021-2027 period. All in all, it is becoming clear that unlike in the previous crisis, access to funding for construction will not be a problem this time.

EBI Construction Activity Report Q4 2020 Hungary

Value of started construction projects on downward track in Hungary

Due to the pandemic, construction industry in Hungary last year registered a significant fall and the last quarter couldn’t save the year either. The latest EBI Construction Activity Report has found that Q4 2020, similarly to the low-value Q4 2019, saw the start of construction works at a value of HUF 442bln. Owing to the massive drop in mid-2020, 15% less construction work started than in 2019 and 30% less than in 2018. In 2020 the Activity Start Indicator of EBI Construction Activity Report accounted for less than HUF 2000bln (HUF 1990bln). And the decline affected all major subsectors.

The EBI Construction Activity Report Hungary examines the situation of the Hungarian construction industry on a quarterly basis, including the volume of newly started construction works, and the value of projects completed in each quarter in aggregate and by sector as well. It is prepared by Buildecon, Eltinga (creation of indicators and development of algorithms for aggregation) and iBuild (project research and project database). Full publications can be purchased at ebi@ibuild.info.

Building construction registering yet another decline in activity

Although 2020 saw quite a strong start in building construction, the momentum slowed down from Q2 on. As per the latest EBI Construction Activity Report, except for the first three months of 2020, construction works in building construction started at a lower value than in the previous period. In Q4 2020 the Activity Start of EBI Construction Activity Report amounted to only HUF 280bln. Overall, the value of building construction works started last year was HUF 1353bln, much lower than in 2019 and 2018, compared to which the difference was 10% and 17%, respectively.

The main reason for the decline is the great drop in the number of multi-unit buildings. The total value of such projects entering construction phase in Q1 2020 even exceeded the numbers of Q1 2019. Yet, the shrinkage in the following 9 months was so large that the value of projects started in 2020 fell to the level of 2015-2016 in the segment, showing a decline of almost 40% over 2019. In case of non-residential buildings, there was hardly any discrepancy in Activity Start between 2020 and 2019.

The biggest projects launched in Q4 2020 include the construction of Hotel Hévíz in Hévíz, the restoration and development of the Citadel in Budapest, and the construction of several rural industrial and factory buildings such as Nestlé Purina pet food factory in Bük or the ZalaZone military plant in Zalaegerszeg.

Q4 2020 no savior of civil engineering

2020 was a mixed year for civil engineering. In Q1 it managed to maintain the Activity Start value of the same period of the previous year, and Q4 was 70% higher than the end of 2019. In contrast, the middle of the year was well below the 2019 figures with the value of construction works started in Q2-Q3 dropping by 45% against mid-2019. Overall, the HUF 636bln Activity Start indicator for civil engineering in 2020 was almost 40% lower than the average of 2017-2019. But compared to the 2010-2016 average, this value is still 25% higher, so the period between 2017 and 2019 can still be considered outstanding.

Within civil engineering, the total value of started construction projects in road and rail segments decreased by 32% over 2019. In case of non-road and railway construction, the drop was also significant, but we could see a more modest (15%) decrease than previously presented in the Activity Start of EBI Construction Activity Report.

The highest-value civil engineering projects launched at end 2020 comprise for example, the start of construction of the Budapest Athletic Stadium and the ZalaZone automotive test track in Zalaegerszeg.

Central Hungary’s growing share

Looking at all started construction works, Central Hungary and the western regions of Hungary closed 2020 with almost the same Activity Start value as they did in 2019, with the indicator even slightly growing. But in the eastern regions, the total value of projects entering construction phase plunged (by 41%) with the decline occurring mostly in the second half of 2020. Thus, Central Hungary and the western regions increased their share in the value of started construction works, while the share of eastern regions went down to 25%, according to the latest EBI Construction Activity Report.

2021 might be a better year for the multi-unit segment

The pandemic-related economic downturn, combined with the resetting of the VAT rate to 27% as of early 2020, resulted in a remarkably low Activity Start in the multi-unit housing market last year. The last half of 2020 recorded such low numbers that can only be found in the years 2014-2015. However, the newly introduced 5% VAT rate from this year on could halt the plunge and even generate growth in the segment, which would allow the market to return to much higher Activity Start numbers this year.

When looking at Activity Completion indicators, we get a completely different picture as the total value of completed projects last year amounted to a record high of HUF 424bln. This is 40% higher than the previous peak in 2019 and it doubled compared to 2018. Preliminary data for 2021 are expected to have a similarly high value in completed projects.

The 40% countrywide decline in the Activity Start of multi-unit housing was uneven in the regions. In Budapest, the value of projects started in 2020 went down by only 9% against 2019. However, in all other regions the decrease was more than 40%, while in Pest county it was 85%. Due to these tendencies, regional shares have also changed. Because of the importance of Budapest, more than two thirds of the value of the started multi-unit construction works was concentrated in Central Hungary. The western and eastern regions remained well below their multi-year average.

Growing mood for hotel construction, stagnant Budapest

Last year also exceeded the record high value of 2019. In 2020 hotel construction works started on HUF 91bln, a 6% increase like-for-like. The last quarter of last year was outstanding with HUF 36bln of Activity Start registered, according to the latest EBI Construction Activity Report. However, this amount was distributed differently than in previous years between the capital city and rural areas. While there was a roughly 50%-50% share in 2019, in 2020 Budapest only had a 13% share and the rural Activity Start accounted for 87%. Such a low value has not been registered in the capital city since 2016. This is in sharp contrast to the 82% rural annual growth but even in this case, there are major regional differences. In 2020, the two regions pulling the segment were northern Hungary and the Lake Balaton area. For example, at the end of last year, the construction of Hotel Hévíz (Hévíz) and the Hampton by Hilton hotels (Budapest) started. Earlier last year the construction of Minaro Hotel Tokaj, Green Resort Balatonfüred and BalaLand Hotel began.

In 2020, the value of completed hotel construction works also continued to grow, with a total of HUF 48bln worth of hotel completions (a 33% increase). Regionally, the capital city had a higher share in the total value of completed projects (two-third) than in the case of started ones. This year is also expected to see a growth in completions and hotels could be completed at an even higher value.

Completed projects last year include Botaniq Castle (Tura) and Kozmo Hotel (Budapest), while works are expected to be completed in the first half of this year in Budapest for Matild Palace, InterCity Hotel and B&B Hotel. In the countryside Mária Valéria Hotel in Esztergom, Erzsébet camps in Fonyódliget and the youth sports accommodation in Felcsút can reach completion.

Soaring education-related projects

In 2020, construction works on educational buildings started at an outstanding value. Although the peak of HUF 140bln in 2018 was not achieved and fell short of the value of 2019 by a few percentages last year, it is the third most successful year with projects having started on HUF 120bln, far exceeding the average of HUF 44bln in 2000-2016. For example, 2020 saw the start of construction in EMC Measurement Lab server center in Budapest on HUF 16bln, the Semmelweis University Faculty of Medical Sciences, Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine and St. Angela Franciscan Primary School and Grammar School, and the University of Debrecen Innovation Center and Learning Center. The renovation and expansion of the Szeged Medical Sciences Training Block can start at the beginning of this year.

Education-related construction projects amounted to HUF 102bln in Hungary in 2020, and the outstanding trend of recent years can also be felt in completions. For example, the construction of the partly R&D center Univerzum Office Building in Budapest, the renovation of the campus of the Faculty of General Medicine of the University of Pécs and the reconstruction of the Ludovika Wing Building, as well as the construction of the Rózsakert Demjén István Reformed High School were also completed. In the short term, even more projects may reach completion with several of them being in Pest County. In Érd, the renovation of Batthyány Sports School and Primary School and the vocational training center of Kós Károly Vocational High School, as well as the construction of Fenyves-Parkváros Public Education Center and the construction of a primary school in Biatorbágy are planned.

Despite the pandemic home prices in Romania are increasing. But why?

Written by Dr. Sebastian Sipos-Gug – Ebuild srl, EECFA Romania

Spectrum Residences, Constanta, Romania. Source: re-act.ro

One year later.

In January 2020, the World Health Organization started issuing the first warning of a novel coronavirus emerging, and on 26 February the first case was confirmed in Romania. Measures taken to try and contain it led a state of emergency and a lockdown introduced on 16 March. One year later, we can look back at how the residential real estate market reacted to the pandemic and the economic crisis that accompanied it, and we can make an attempt to understand where the market might go next.

To start with, prices on the residential real estate market in Q1 2020 reached their highest value in the past decade and an unease started to permeate the market with flashbacks to the 2008 credit crunch and the massive drop in prices and transactions that followed. This made many developers rush to complete projects before the market collapse, a trend we described in a previous blog post.

Prices did indeed start to drop slightly by Q3 2020, but they remained at a level higher than that of the previous year and by the end of the year the early indicators pointed to a return to growth. This has been pointed out in other markets as well and seems to have impacted a large number of developed and developing economies. However, each country is different, and in the case of Romania, albeit some of the causes of this phenomenon are shared, the outcome and forecast might be different.

Residential forecast is available in the latest EECFA Construction Forecast Report Romania that can be purchased on eecfa.com

Everything is relative and so are prices.

One can wonder if these prices are too high, and if they might grow further or if we’re looking at a potential bubble that will burst in the near future. We previously addressed some of these questions in (yet) another blog post.

Since then, the main factors have changed in light of the pandemic, but it might still be useful to look at the same ratio between income and home prices that we analyzed then and bring it up to date. In 2007, the average net monthly income could buy you approximately 0.20sqm of an average located two-room apartment. By 2017, when we last ran this test, one could buy 0.46sqm with the average wage. For 2019 and 2020 alike, our estimates place this indicator at 0.50sqm and so home prices relative to income actually seemed to be relatively stable.

Why some prices were expected to fall and why they haven’t.

While in general there might be a plethora of reasons for residential prices to drop, in the case of the pandemic-related economic downturn we were initially looking at several factors, somewhat similar to those we saw in 2008, such as unemployment, lower income, higher mortgage default rates, stricter lending criteria, higher interest rates and/or a rush to sell off properties by underfunded developers. In the case of the pandemic, some of these did indeed happen:

  • Employment did indeed decline between March and November 2020, but only by 2%-3% compared to the same months of the previous year (source: NSI). This was largely due to the employment protection measures taken by the government, which provided incentives to furlough personnel rather than firing them.   
  • Average income rose during the pandemic. Even in April and May, the months worse hit by the lockdown, net wages actually grew by 2% over the same months of 2019 (source: NSI). This was also maintained by the furlough scheme that provided payments of up to 75% of wages for the employees of companies affected by the pandemic.
  • Loans past due declined. By November 2020, the share of loans past due in total loans was 4.83%, down from 5.46% in November 2019 (source: NBR). Granted, this is still far from the 1.24% average we saw in 2008 but is well within the general descending trend of the previous three years. There was some government support in this segment as well, with the possibility of postponing loan repayments for those negatively impacted by the pandemic, and some banks also took their own measures in this direction.
  • Lending criteria and interest rates. Lending conditions remained relatively stable while interest rates for mortgage loans declined slightly by November 2020 over November 2019 (-0.5pp, source: NBR). This was partly due to the impact of the tax change in late 2018 that raised interest rates in 2019 over their trend and was later reversed.
  • Developers had a more secure line of financing. While during the previous recession in 2008 a lot of development was carried out through credit, by early 2020 many properties under construction were pre-sold, and down payments on these provided the necessary cashflow to continue building and even wait longer to find buyers in order to sell at a better price.
  • Furthermore, due to the reduced spending possibilities with the shutdown of non-essential travel, in-restaurant dining and entertainment venues, spending habits changed. Despite income slightly growing (on average), the saving rate went up and thus by end 2020 the population had a lot more money saved on their accounts, even if the term deposits didn’t go up as much. This high level of very liquid capital can be used to fund residential investments, be it renovation, construction or purchasing a new home.

Where the market is heading.

The longer-term trend of price increases on the residential market continues to be the most likely scenario as demand continues to outpace supply in many of the larger cities like Bucharest or Cluj Napoca. Some potential events would bring merit to a more pessimistic outlook:

  • Changes in employment and income might be ’ticking bombs’. As said, a lot of the market stability is due to government intervention in preventing mass unemployment and ensuring a minimum income. Once these braces come off, there are genuine concerns that the labor market might see a correction, which would have a negative impact on the residential real estate market. The risk of this is somewhat low, though, since a large portion of those furloughed have returned to work (with some notable exceptions in the hospitality industry), but a small correction could still happen.
  • Medium- and long-term changes in work trends. With the surge in remote work due to the pandemic measures, one can wonder if this would lead to more structural changes in the way people work in the future. If remote work becomes more common for a significant proportion of people, this will have a massive impact on the residential market. It would lower demand in large cities and increase it in metropolitan areas and smaller cities. This would be somewhat limited in the case of Romania, though, as the country still has relatively large economic segments being less prone to remote work such as manufacturing and construction.
  • We are already noticing some changes in home buyer preferences. After spending more time at home, either in lockdown or from working at home, home buyers now focus on larger homes, preferably with a yard or at least a large balcony.

Case in point: Cluj Napoca.

Taking Cluj Napoca as an example, the local real estate market is seeing massive demand increases as young people, mainly in the IT field, move to the city to study and take up work. They enjoy higher-than-average income and living in the city gives them proximity to various entertainment and services options, access to a booming labor market, entrepreneurship, and business opportunities. But they also have some major downsides: high rents and residential prices that chip away at their income, gridlocks, light and noise pollution and many other disadvantages of living in a city. With the advent of the work-at-home scheme, they might be more interested in relocating to homes in the neighboring rural area (even more so than they are now) and thus retain a higher share of their wages without the downside of commuting. This would put less pressure on the residential market in the city itself, and lead to lower rents and prices. The city thus becomes less interesting for developers and construction might slow down.

The conclusion.

Despite the pandemic, home prices are seemingly growing. While this might seem strange at first, the actual impact of the current recession on home purchases is limited since the average individual still has their job with a similar or even higher income and is actually spending less of their income on goods and services and thus can afford to save for a down payment. 

In the shorter run, the market shows some signs of overheating, but is far from brittle. If the pandemic recovery turns out to be lengthy and there are major changes in the way work is done, it could limit prices and drive them down temporarily. However, if you are holding out in buying a home waiting for prices to collapse, you might be in for a bit of a disappointment.

EECFA 2020 Winter Construction Forecast – 2nd Pandemic edition

The 2020 Winter EECFA Construction Forecast Report was released on 8 December. Full reports can be purchased, and a sample report can be viewed at www.eecfa.com. EECFA (Eastern European Construction Forecasting Association) conducts research on the construction markets of 8 Eastern-European countries.

Southeast Europe

Building construction markets of the Balkan EECFA countries as a whole have shown resistance during the pandemic so far. Nonetheless the region is foreseen to have yet another negative year in 2021, before expansion can return in 2022. As the current EU programming period is nearing its end, civil engineering is expected to be the driving force in the upcoming period, well outperforming building construction. The total construction market is projected to side move in 2021, and 2022 could bring a growth of around 4%. Based on its priorities, the NextGenerationEU recovery fund is also supportive for both building construction and the civil engineering sub-markets. Its specifics (for what and when) on country level are yet unknown, though.

Bulgaria. The expected economic recovery should bring the Bulgarian economy back to pre-crisis levels by end 2022 with both exports and consumption contributing positively. Having it in mind, the future of residential construction remains positive despite the economic uncertainty. In short term, purchasing power should be affected, but in general, demand for new housing projects in big cities should remain. Non-residential construction will also be held back by dropping demand for commercial and hotel projects, and the projected slow and uneven economic recovery. Civil engineering in the future should be driven by EU funding as well as by the national budget. After major growth in total construction output in 2019 (+19%), 2020 will likely see a drop of 4.9%. Approaching the end of the programming period in 2021 and 2022, total construction will likely increase by 4.4% and 5.2%, respectably, in real terms.

Croatia. The effects of COVID-19 and the Zagreb earthquake on the Croatian construction industry will vary greatly from sector to sector. Thanks to swift, massive EU financial assistance, some sectors will even benefit from the disasters. These sectors include civil engineering generally and especially those CE sectors in which projects can be implemented rapidly. For buildings sectors, results are mixed. Some were harshly battered and will take years to recover. Others barely felt the catastrophes’ consequences. With few exceptions, the trends that underlay buildings sectors’ growth before these events will remain the primary drivers of buildings output in the medium and long run. In the short term, disaster-relief spending will benefit some.

Romania. Pandemic impact on construction was felt less strongly in 2020 since ongoing projects were not halted and thus the market slightly grew (3.8%). With the entire economy taking a few years to recover after the 2020 crisis, total construction output in Romania should drop in 2021 (-2%) and start recovering in 2022 (+2.8%). The pandemic will water down the housing subsector next year as fewer-than-expected new projects began this year and the recession should also continue to reduce purchasing power. In non-residential, retail and hotel were battered most. Office construction is in hiatus due to lower demand for new construction with the expansion of work-at-home scheme and with businesses rethinking the use of traditional offices. The drop in international trade set back industrial construction, but as borders open and exports start picking up, recovery may come too. Civil engineering is the brightest spot with an estimated growth in government investment as 60% of the EU funding for infrastructure is still unspent from the 2014-2020 budget.

Serbia. The developments in 2020 are marked by the reoccurring pandemic and during the year, movement restrictions were introduced twice, having a very negative effect on all service sectors. Furthermore, it is now certain that pandemic effects are to extend into 2021 and the best-case scenario means the economy will take the entire 2021 to recover. With still large uncertainty looming for next year, the forecast still carries a lot “ifs” and the government spent over 10% of GDP for various stimulus measures aiming to mitigate the effects of the interruptions. While the recovery in the second half of 2020 was strong, the new restrictions in October and December again impacted developments and stopped the normalization. Luckily, the realization of big public infrastructure projects has been steady and growing, which has helped growth in construction outputs, and private investments are still not subsiding. Strong credit activity and market fundamentals are also supporting recovery, but lingering foreign demand and slow recovery in the service sectors continue to dim the prospects.

Slovenia. Construction industry was less disrupted by COVID-19 that some were fearing. Even though construction output is estimated to have dropped by 4.8% this year, it will likely rebound next year close to the 2019 level and should expand further in 2022 on the back of civil engineering where big projects are continuing apace. The Second Railway Track to Port Koper, the Third Axis Road construction and the Karavanke Tunnel expansion all continued in 2020 and were less disrupted by the lockdown than expected. Non-residential construction, on the other hand, will suffer from the lingering effects of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and the consequent lower investment in industrial and commercial segments. Similarly, residential construction is subdued for the time being due to the pandemic but may return to growth path towards the end of the forecast horizon based on historically low interest rates and good availability of credit financing.

East Europe

Dragged down by Turkey, the decline in buildings construction started in the Eastern region of EECFA as a whole well before the pandemic struck. And 2020 is also expected to see a negative year. From 2021 on recovery could start, but the level of 2018 is not projected to be reached on the forecast horizon. The civil engineering submarket of the region also contracted massively already in 2019 and further decline is our scenario for this year. From 2021 on this submarket could turn to positive and we are optimistic for 2022 as well. Total construction market of the Eastern region is forecast to grow by around 3% in each of the upcoming 2 years.

Russia. This year has seen several negative factors blasting construction industry in Russia, and the economy, such as falling oil prices, the devaluation of the rouble at the beginning of the year, and the pandemic with its related lockdown and restrictions. This caused a massive decline in real incomes, a deterioration in investment climate and a downturn in business activity. One way or the other almost all construction segments felt the pain and decline in total construction by end 2020 is to be 5.8%. It is better than our summer 2020 predictions, though; the government’s economic recovery plan turned out to be quite effective and allowed us to slightly improve our forecast. Return to growth in construction is possible already in 2021 (+0.3%), and by end 2022 a much more confident positive dynamics (+4.1%) is expected based on the likely recovery trends in all segments on the back of state support and the launch of big infrastructure projects.

Turkey. The economy was marred during the 3 months after COVID-19 appeared on 11 March in Turkey. Anti-COVID measures put in place caused massive declines in industrial production, including construction, and in GDP. Lifting most measures and introducing a subsidy offering soft loans by the three state-owned banks on 1 June 2020 served as an important stimulus for the economy and the construction sector. Together with a historical peak in housing transactions in July 2020, building starts began to grow, although there is a big backlog of construction in almost every sector. Rising inflation and construction costs owing to the depreciation of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies would be the primary concern for the construction sector in 2021.

Ukraine. Construction this year showed a negative trend compared to last year. After a relative growth in Q1 2020, there was a significant dip in Q2, followed by a gradual recovery in Q3-Q4. Nominally, at end Q3 construction reached last year’s indicators in the volume of works performed, but with inflation considered, the drop is still 2%. In the same period last year, construction showed a rise of 23.5%. Key negative factors this year are the COVID-19 crisis and the reform of the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate that started almost simultaneously with the lockdown in early spring. As a result of falling population incomes and complications in obtaining construction permit, the volume of housing construction slumped. Civil engineering fared well thanks to a state program and the redirection of part of the money from the Covid Fund into the subsector.

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Source of data: EECFA Construction Forecast Report, 2020 Winter