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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Offices: vacant stares on wane

Offices: vacant stares on wane

Supply is dropping to meet demand

WHEN Cambodia’s tallest building Canadia Tower was completed at the end of last year demand for office space had hit a low in Phnom Penh at a time when the likes of property agency CB Richard Ellis were projecting a glut of new buildings over the next few years.

Cambodia’s capital was facing a major oversupply that threatened to slash rental prices, but CBRE Country Manager Daniel Parkes says suspended construction on major projects including Gold Tower 42 may be a blessing in disguise – Phnom Penh will now see about 25 percent less office space coming on line by 2013 compared to projections just a year ago.

The result is an expected downwards adjustment in supply that will match lower demand, he added, a knock-on effect from the economic slump.

“All in all the projected actual supply of new office space is less than it was two years ago and this change is quite favourable to the market,” Parkes told The Post yesterday.

In an updated report on property supply completed this week, CBRE now forecasts just 144,000 square metres of office space in the Cambodian capital by 2013, a major downwards revision on the 200,000 square metres projected at the end of last year.

Aside from Gold Tower 42 which is scheduled to include seven floors of offices, or about 17,000 square metres, continued delays at the International Finance Centre beside the Tonle Bassac River and at the much smaller Yellow Tower on the other side of the Japanese Friendship Bridge make up the bulk of the slowdown in construction over the next few years.

South Korean Developer Yan Woo had scheduled to complete Gold Tower 42 – which would replace Canadia Tower as the Kingdom’s tallest building – by the start of 2012, but since the project was suspended last month that completion date now looks to be in major doubt.

The IFC was due to add a huge 105,000 square metres in office space, around double the current supply, but it remains unclear when or if this project will ever be completed. South Korea’s GS Construction and Engineering has repeatedly declined to reveal its latest plans for the site. Meanwhile, the construction of Yellow Tower – a six-floor office building – has stalled at 30 percent completion, according to CBRE’s property report.

At the same time, realtors are cautiously optimistic that demand is starting to pick up.

“The key is demand and we see good demand for quality office premises offering international standards at a sustainable rental level,” said Parkes.

Although agents Mega Asset Management were still struggling to fill Canadia Tower’s new offices by the middle of the year, General Manager Susi said on Tuesday that occupancy was now at about 70 percent after a strong July in which tenancy doubled from 30 percent to about 60 percent. That means most of the tower’s 11 floors of office space are occupied.

“We’re actually kind of full,” she said, adding that an unnamed Chinese firm was currently in negotiations to take over the whole of the 20th floor.

But then MAM has had to offer big discounts to tenants in a bid to fill Cambodia’s tallest building, a sign demand remains highly elastic in relation to price, even if renters “don’t mind paying a little more for a Grade A building”, says Susi.

MAM has offered discounts of around 40 percent on the first year’s rent on a sliding scale that drops to a 20-percent reduction in the second and third years. Tenants are therefore not paying the full asking price of between US$30 to $35 – depending on the floor – until the start of the fourth year, added Susi, in most cases around mid-2014.

“Price is still one of the most important issues,” she said.

Starting at the much lower price of $15 per square metre, Delano Business Centre has also seen strong demand in 2010, raising occupancy from around 40 percent exactly a year ago to over 90 percent after attracting new tenants including KPMG, Nokia and ABA Bank.

“We never lowered the price,” Delano’s Chief Financial Controller Salik Subedi said.

The anticipated slowdown in office supply over the next few years would undoubtedly benefit Delano, he added, “but our space is already about full hence [this has] nothing to do with supply and demand [in the longer term]”.

Icon Tower, which like many new projects suffered a slow start after opening in January, has since also seen demand climb, said co-owner Eang Darryl.

“We are catching up with our occupancy target,” he said, without specifying the number of tenants in place except to say Icon would reach an expected 50 percent occupancy target by the end of December.

Darryl said he was confident Icon would be full this time next year even without lowering prices currently set at $10 to $15 per square metre.

“There is demand within the country from businesses currently in Grade C office accommodation or converted villas, and also new entrants to the Cambodian market,” said Parkes.

But of the new office spaces that have come online in the past two years, not all have seen demand recover in 2010.

Similarly priced B-Ray Tower, by comparison, had lowered rents from $15 to between $10 and $12 per square metre without adding more tenants in 2010, said Office Manager Leak Say. “Occupancy is the same [at about 70 percent],” she said.

It therefore remains to be seen to what extent demand continues to climb and whether supply will, in turn, match up.

K Properties is likely to launch the next major office development in Phnom Penh having completed 70 percent of its seven-storey International Business House, also known as K-Tower, on Russian Boulevard. Still, 2011 is expected to be a quiet year for major new developments, according to CBRE’s report.

The critical year is likely to be 2012 when Vattanac Tower, Phnom Penh Tower and perhaps Gold Tower 42 (if construction is not delayed more than nine months) are all due to come online in the capital around the same time. In total, that would mean an additional 125,000 square metres of prime offices hitting the market in the space of just a few months, more than the total current supply in Phnom Penh. Will the market be able to sustain such a huge influx of supply?

That remains to be seen, says Parkes: “How the office market fairs depends partly on the pace of inward investment and fortunes of the Asian and Global economies.”



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