I did my last long cycle ride in 1977. Got lost. Cycled 50 miles by accident. Never got on a bike again. So I feel a bit guilty drinking rosé to welcome the tanned, grimy heroes of Legal & General’s Cycle to MIPIM as they arrive at Savills’ Croisette cafe.
Theirs is a roll call of honour: 1,400km (900 miles in old money), 4am (UK time) starts, freezing limbs, unmentionably intrusive saddle sores and noses more red blister than breathing apparatus. Most of the blokes look like George Michael 1990 vintage – after a particularly eventful gig. Completing the Cycle is a fabulous achievement and all for the great cause of Coram: the children’s charity first sponsored by Handel and Hogarth and still doing tremendous work with children today.
Not that my own journey, dear reader, was uneventful. My plane was delayed by an hour because four planes were all trying to take off for Nice at the same time. It was MIPIM migration morning. Like the scene in Hitchhikers Guide when they send all the lawyers and estate agents to the other end of the universe. Don’t worry, they say, the useful people will follow you shortly.
Every year the whole real estate market decamps to Cannes, City of Festivals. Cholera and cost made Cannes great. The English first came here in the 19th century because Nice was disease-ridden and Antibes too expensive. They enthused about Cannes’ “exquisite purity of light and depth of shadow”. It’s still true today. The sky is simply a purer blue and the shadows a sharper black than even the sunniest day in (say) Cleathorpes. So the property industry, which (let’s face it) always knows where the fun’s buried, loves this place.
So it was a shock to everyone when MIPIM Day 2 dawned like Reykjavik on a windy Wednesday. It was groin-grippingly cold and raining not so much cats and dogs, as lions and wolves. It also made you realise how light makes this place. In the grey-cold haze, parts of Cannes started to look much like Portsmouth. Never forget the transformative power of sunshine.
As the whole market’s here, it’s a good time to take its temperature. There are worries about Brexit. Deals are on semi-pause until the result is known. Slowing China, cheap oil, market volatility and Trumpism are all troubling. It is not only the wind that’s chilling. But brighten up everyone. Cannes is where Edward Lear wrote the Owl and the Pussycat and Fitzgerald finished Tender is the Night.
Grab a glass of champers and look at that palm tree another way: low interest rates, diversification drivers and liability matching mean real estate will be a key asset class into the deep future. The US is strengthening and the Far East will slow, but continue to grow.
Rise above the cyclical pessimism and take a longer view. The western world’s enduring structural problems: infrastructure and housing deficits, ageing populations, pension and health care shortages, all make this one of the most interesting eras ever to be involved in real estate. Because the real estate industry is uniquely placed to help countries solve these problems. It can also do it with its usual joie de vivre. Santé!
Bruce Dear, head of London real estate, Eversheds