PARIS — Russia has dislodged France as Europe’s largest shopping center market, even as a deep economic crisis prompts many retailers to suspend store openings, according to new research from real estate adviser Cushman & Wakefield.
Russia accounted for more than half of all shopping center space added to the market in the second half of 2014, according to Cushman & Wakefield’s latest European Shopping Center Development report.
However, much of this space is standing vacant as investors remain cautious about geopolitical tensions between Russia and neighboring Ukraine, which have given rise to European Union trade sanctions.
“The Russian retail market has been under unprecedented pressure since March 2014,” said Maxim Karbasnikoff, Cushman & Wakefield’s head of retail services in Russia.
“In addition to the Ukrainian crisis and following sanctions, ruble and oil depreciation, especially in the second half of last year, has placed occupiers into a near-panic situation. Unsurprisingly, the exceptional volume of new supply delivered remains partially vacant, with occupiers being more focused on the optimization of the existing network, rather than opening stores without economic visibility,” he added.
“Nevertheless, stable retailer sales in Q1 2015, recent ruble appreciation, low vacancy in existing malls and a somewhat more limited pipeline of new projects makes us think the market is showing signs of resilience and has now entered into a consolidation phase,” Karbasnikoff said.
Russia’s total shopping center space rose to more than 190 million square feet at the end of last year, narrowly overtaking France and ending its 43-year dominance of the European market, Cushman & Wakefield said. The U.K. was Europe’s third-largest market with 184.1 million square feet.
“Western Europe’s biggest markets have seen an increasing number of extensions and refurbishments as developers seek to ‘future proof’ small or outdated centers, while Central and Eastern Europe is still dominated by the creation of new, dominant regional centers that serve a wide catchment area,” the report said.
“These trends will continue over 2015 and 2016, with Russia and Turkey continuing to dominate the development pipeline as overall density in these countries remains low — albeit the completion of projects in Russia will be subject to financing conditions, which are now more limited than they were 12 months ago,” it added.
Investment in shopping centers totaled 21.1 billion euros, or $28 billion, in 2014, fueled by a strong performance from the U.K., which accounted for almost a third of all transactional activity across Europe, in addition to growth in Spain, France and the Netherlands.
Total shopping center floor space across Europe grew 3.3 percent over the year, Cushman & Wakefield said. All dollar rates are calculated at average exchange rates for the period concerned.
“In Western Europe, a shortage of prime stock in many countries is leading investors to seek the best opportunities in secondary markets in their search of higher yields. As investor search areas expand, Central Europe is back on the agenda for many, with strengthening economic fundamentals boosting the Czech Republic in particular — a new hot spot for international investors,” the report found.