The top executives at South Africa’s largest listed real estate group, Growthpoint Properties, on Monday gave an ominous warning that commercial property valuations in the country could plunge by between 10% to 20% over the next two years in the wake over the Covid-19 fallout.

Responding to questions during an investor conference call, Growthpoint’s group CEO Norbert Sasse said that SA’s economic contraction is being exacerbated by Covid-19, which will have an impact on commercial property values.

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“Clearly valuations are coming under even more pressure… [Commercial property] values are likely to drop by between the 10% to 20% range over the next 12 to 24 months. Driving valuations down is the lower income [from rentals],” he said.

In an interview with Moneyweb ahead of the investor call, Estienne De Klerk, CEO of Growthpoint’s South African operations, shared similar sentiments.

Asked about the impact of the Covid-19 economic fallout on Growthpoint’s property valuations, he said valuations were generally “commented on” and included in the group’s year-end results, which are published in September. He could not give exact figures, but said devaluations were likely.

“Intuitively, if you are getting negative rent reversions and have to offer rental relief considering Covid-19, property devaluations are to be expected. I would say the [commercial] property industry can anticipate reductions in valuations of up to 20%,” he told Moneyweb.

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Most listed property companies have been coy about commenting on the expected decline in commercial property valuations, due to “the fluid situation” and “unprecedented uncertainty” around Covid-19. Growthpoint did not mention SA valuations in its investor update presentation document, however, several analyst and investors questions the executives about possible declines in valuations during the conference call.

A JSE Top40 Index company, Growthpoint is regarded as a bellwether in the industry, not just in terms of size, but in terms of transparency. It has a local and international portfolio of office, retail, industrial, logistics, hotel and hospital properties and investments worth more than R150 billion.

Its South African portfolio, including a 50% stake in Cape Town’s iconic V&A Waterfront, is valued at almost R89 billion.

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Responding to further questions from analysts on the issue, Sasse, however, noted that the expected drop local commercial property valuations for Growthpoint specifically is likely to be less severe, due to the group’s strong balance sheet and conservative valuations.

“For Growthpoint, we expect valuations to drop by between 10% to 15%… [Our] valuations will need to drop by more than 30% to affect our debt covenant levels. We don’t expect this,” he said.