Expert View: Property is booming, and the beano isn't over yet

Moscow is planning a 660m tower, the tallest in the world
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Money, Money, Money - that's real estate at present.

The commercial property tribe gathered in force a couple of weeks ago for their annual beano in sun-soaked Cannes - the extraordinary Marché International des Professionnels d'Immobilier (Mipim). Think Ancient Rome in suits and you'll get the idea. In commercial real estate, it's boom, boom, boom at present. But can it continue?

Trying to meet a Swiss banker on the croisette outside the Carlton during Mipim was one of the stupidest things I've ever done. Some 30,000 of the market's biggest movers and shakers were in town. The crush of flabby, be-suited realtors trying to steal my taxi had to be seen to be believed. Once on the road, it took an hour to crawl a couple of miles. And restaurants, if you could get into them, stuck specially Mipim-inflated prices on the menu.

Frustrating, but at the same time there is an unmistakable glamour to the event. Everybody who's anybody in real estate simply has to be there. Property Tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz had not one but two yachts present, while Morgan Stanley's team were ensconced on More - over 40 metres long - complete with Jacuzzi. The parties went on all through the night. Abba's "Money, Money, Money" seemed stuck on repeat.

Nevertheless, significant business is transacted. Property experts Cushman and Wakefield reportedly turned up with some 170 staff. At the crowded cocktail parties, deals were being struck and new partnerships established. I bumped into contacts from the four corners of the earth and had some of the highest rollers at dinners I hosted. I did good business.

This year's beano was the biggest ever and no wonder - markets are booming globally. In Europe, investment in commercial real estate was up 40 per cent to a colossal €242bn (£165bn) last year. That's €8m for each individual at Cannes. Some markets are really hot - take the office markets in Madrid and Lyons both up over 50 per cent, or Dublin (up 60 per cent).

Can this continue? Gerald Ronson spoke at the Savoy of the dangerous volume of money in the hands of new, young, players whom "I wouldn't hire... to do my shopping at Tesco's." Thank you Gerald. Just remember, he is poised to build a new City skyscraper called Heron Tower, so, obviously, even Mr Ronson thinks there is further to go.

In understanding what is going on in real estate (as in so many asset classes at present) it is crucial for investors to get their minds round what is happening in emerging markets. Two markets that were well represented in Cannes were the Middle East and Russia. (Rumour has it that one Russian delegation secured the Carlton Hotel for its cocktail party by offering the hotel five times as much as a French team the day before.)

Thirty regional Russian delegations alone came to Cannes. The Moscow market was up 60 per cent last year, and the city has plans for a massive flying saucer structure across a six-lane motorway, a kilometre long aquarium and, in 2010, a tower 5km from Red Square which is set to be 660m high - making it the tallest building in the world.

The Middle East is a similar story. Little Abu Dhabi, often in the shadow of glitzy Dubai, is developing in overdrive. A $3bn hotel was recently built with over 1,000 Swarovski chandeliers and a dome larger than St Paul's. When I was last in Dubai, the constant drilling, day and night, was intolerable.

These are just two developing markets. I could cite numerous others - not least India and China. The boom in global real estate reflects a market struggling to come to terms with the industrialisation of so many countries simultaneously. In this scramble to establish value, bubbles may well occur, but so favourable a backdrop is difficult to imagine. There's money still to be made in bricks and mortar.

Christopher.walker@tiscali.co.uk

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