Why industrial wasteland is the new battleground for property giants
工业废弃地何以成为地产巨头的新战场

【双语】仓储之王 The warehouse king-书迷号 shumihao.comIN THE LATE 1990s Hamid Moghadam, an Iranian-born property developer, made a $5m bet on Webvan, an American online grocer. It was a bust. Webvan was one of the most spectacular casualties of the dotcom crash. More galling still, Mr Moghadam turned down the opportunity to invest in another e-commerce upstart called Amazon, thinking its focus on books was too narrow compared with groceries. Yet some people can win even by losing. Sensing a potential bounty in the online craze, the firm he co-founded, AMB, sold its portfolio of shopping centres and bought millions of square feet of warehouse space on the tarmac of American airports instead. “We got the company wrong, but we got the big trend right,” he says. Two decades later the company he heads, Prologis, is Amazon’s biggest landlord. Mr Moghadam, now 63, stands tall over the world’s warehouse business.

上世纪90年代末,出生于伊朗的地产开发商何慕德(Hamid Moghadam)向美国生鲜杂货电商Webvan投下了500万美元。这笔投资以失败告终。Webvan是互联网泡沫破灭时损失最惨重的公司之一。更令人恼火的是,何慕德拒绝了投资另一家名叫亚马逊的电商新贵的机会,他认为它专注于图书,与生鲜杂货相比业务过于狭窄。不过,有些人即使失败也是为了赢。在网络热潮中嗅到潜在商机之后,他共同创办的AMB公司卖掉手上的购物中心资产,转而买入了美国机场停机坪上数百万平方英尺的仓储空间。“我们押错了公司,但押中了大方向。”他说。20年之后,他掌管的安博(Prologis)已成为亚马逊最大的房东。现年63岁的何慕德也在全球仓储业务中独占鳌头。

A Stanford graduate who got his start in property because no one else in America would hire him during the Iranian revolution, Mr Moghadam has made a career of bold bets. In 2011, with property still reeling from the financial crisis of 2007-09, he led a bumper deal to unite AMB and Prologis, a bigger rival, with a combined $46bn of owned and managed assets. Since then the property-investment firm has expanded globally. It has assets of $125bn and floor space of 1bn square feet (90 square kilometres, or a Manhattan-and-a-half). A surge of e-commerce during the covid-19 pandemic has helped underpin its share price; its market value of $68bn is just below an all-time high. Yet Mr Moghadam is not alone in realising that the humble shed can be as good an investment in the e-commerce era as shovels were during the Gold Rush. Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative-asset manager, invested more than $25bn last year in warehouses in America and Europe. It calls logistics its “highest-conviction global investment theme”. A battle over industrial wasteland is under way.

从斯坦福大学毕业后,何慕德投身地产业,因为在伊朗革命期间美国没有其他公司肯雇他。他通过一系列大胆押注闯出了一番事业。2011年,房地产行业仍在2007至2009年的金融危机之后苦苦挣扎,他牵头完成了一桩大手笔交易,将AMB与体量更大的竞争对手Prologis合并,自有资产和管理资产总值合计达到460亿美元。自此,这家地产投资公司开始了全球扩张。它拥有1250亿美元的资产,建筑面积达90平方公里(相当于1.5个曼哈顿)。新冠疫情期间电子商务活动激增,推高了公司股价,目前市值达到680亿美元,仅略低于历史最高水平。不过,并非只有何慕德一人独具慧眼地意识到,在电子商务时代,简陋的库房也能成为极好的投资,正如淘金热时期的铁锹一样。世界最大的另类资产管理公司黑石集团(Blackstone)去年在美国和欧洲的仓库投资逾250亿美元。黑石将物流称为“全球最令人信服的投资主题”。一场对工业废弃地的争夺战正在打响。

It is hard to imagine Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s high-society boss, talking as passionately about the nitty-gritty of logistics as Mr Moghadam (who has a fraction of Mr Schwarzman’s wealth). Yet a contest between the king of warehouses and the baron of private equity will be worth watching. It will not just shape the future of e-commerce. It will change the urban landscape, too.

很难想象黑石集团的名流老板苏世民(Stephen Schwarzman)会像何慕德(身家只有苏世民的一个零头)一样热情洋溢地谈论物流的运作细节。但仓储之王和私募大亨之间的竞争值得关注。这不仅将塑造电子商务未来的面貌,还会改变城市的景观。

To see why, cycle, as Schumpeter did on a recent weekend, up London’s Lea Valley, an idyll of canal boats and riverside vegetable gardens running from the graffiti-covered East End to the capital’s north. Stop at the Ravenside Retail Park, a place of shuttered stores like Mothercare, a well-known British brand, and Maplin, an electronics retailer. It is destined to become ground zero for the retail apocalypse. In January Prologis spent £51m ($68m) acquiring the site, just before covid-19 accelerated the agony of its remaining tenants. In a few years, once they, or their leases, expire, Prologis hopes to turn the area into a multistorey warehouse for e-commerce firms like Amazon. That is part of a global pattern. In America such logistics hubs are rising from the rubble of dead shopping malls.

要了解个中缘由,不妨像本专栏记者在近日的一个周末那样,跨上自行车,从涂鸦密布的伦敦东区出发,沿着伦敦的利河谷向北骑行,一路上是运河船只与河畔菜园的田园风光。在Ravenside零售园驻足,这里到处是门窗紧闭的店铺,例如英国知名品牌Mothercare和电子产品零售商Maplin。这里注定要成为零售业末日的原爆点。今年1月,就在新冠疫情令其余租户的困境雪上加霜之前,安博斥资5100万英镑(6800万美元)买下了这块物业。等再过几年这些租户倒闭或者租约到期,安博希望将这个地方改造成为服务像亚马逊那样的电商企业的多层仓库。这已经成为一种全球模式。在美国,这样的物流中心正纷纷从荒废的购物中心中崛起。

It is easy to dismiss the warehouse business. As one industry boss puts it, investors used to think of it as “four walls and a roof that you hope doesn’t leak”—in other words, highly commoditised. Yet Mr Moghadam says it is enthralling. The first task, he says, is to decide on which end of the supply chain to be. He settled on mass consumer markets around the world rather than serving producers, because, as he puts it, “Consumers do not move, factories do.” As a result, his warehouses sit close to huge urban areas where land is scarce. It also requires patience. In America it has taken decades for e-commerce to eke out a double-digit share of retail spending. Lockdowns have turbocharged the shift. Before the pandemic about a fifth of Prologis’s warehouse construction was for e-commerce, and the rest for other forms of logistics. The e-commerce share is now as high as 40%, Mr Moghadam says.

仓储业务很容易被人忽略。正如一位业内老板所言,以往投资者觉得仓库不过是“四面墙加一个屋顶,不漏水就好”——换言之,就是高度日常商品化的东西。但何慕德说它激动人心。他说,首先要决定靠近供应链的哪一端。他在全世界都选择了靠近大众消费市场而不是去服务生产商,他说这是因为“消费者不会动,但工厂会”。因此,他的仓库都紧邻土地稀缺的大都会地区。还需要有耐心。在美国,电子商务花了几十年时间才艰难拿下了零售支出的两位数份额。各地封城大大加速了这一转变。在疫情大流行之前,安博的仓库中只有大约五分之一用于电子商务,其余用于其他形式的物流。现在电子商务的占比已经高达40%,何慕德表示。

Storage-space race

仓储空间竞赛

Two other challenges for warehouse developers are ensuring customer loyalty and a stream of financing. Stockmarket analysts play down Blackstone as a threat on the first count. They say private equity’s “buy it, fix it, sell it” mentality prevents logistics firms from building the long-term relationships that enable them to move with their clients around the world. But Blackstone’s staying power should not be underestimated. It started its warehouse portfolio a decade ago. It currently owns 850m square feet of logistics space globally. It has $45bn of investor money earmarked for property transactions. Prologis says it has more than $13bn in such “dry powder”. It has also used stock in recent transactions.

仓库开发商面临的另外两个挑战是确保客户忠诚度以及源源不断的融资。在第一点上,股市分析师并不认为黑石是一大威胁。他们表示,私募股权“买下,改善,出售”的思路让物流公司难以与客户建立起长期关系,然而只有长期关系才能让它们跟随着客户去到世界各地。但黑石的耐力不可小觑。它十年前就开始了仓储投资组合,目前在全球拥有8.5亿平方英尺的物流空间。它有450亿美元的投资者资金专门用于物业交易。安博表示拥有超过130亿美元的此类“干火药”。它还在近期交易中采用了换股的手法。

The pandemic may make the warehouse business yet more attractive. As tenants struggle to pay rent, bad debts are rising. But unlike the slump a decade ago, pre-pandemic utilisation rates were high, and e-commerce increases demand for space, because online retailers must stock a wider variety of products. “This is the tightest real-estate market that I have ever seen,” Mr Moghadam says. That will put a floor under rents in the future, he believes.

这次疫情可能会使仓储业务的吸引力进一步提升。随着租户无力承担租金,坏账正不断增加。但是与十年前的经济衰退不同,这次疫情前仓储利用率就很高,而电子商务又增加了对仓储空间的需求,因为线上零售商必须为更多种类的产品备货。“这是我见过最紧俏的房地产市场。”何慕德说。他认为这将给未来的租金构筑一道底线。

That future is likely to be ever closer to large urban or suburban areas, as online retailers strive to shorten delivery times. Until recently, the trend was constrained by a lack of land and labour. Neither city officials nor workers looked favourably on warehouses. The pandemic may change that. The blight on shops and hotels will free up space. Unemployment will make logistics jobs more attractive, as Amazon has recently demonstrated.

随着线上零售商竭力缩短送货时间,这样的前景愈趋于在大城市或城郊地区成为现实。直至最近,这种趋势还受到土地和劳动力短缺的制约。无论市政官员还是劳动者,都对仓库缺乏好感。疫情可能会使情况改观。生意萧条的商店和酒店将会腾出空间。失业潮之下,物流工作会更有吸引力,正如亚马逊最近所展示的那样。

Moreover, Prologis wants to burnish the industry’s image. To see how, cycle back down the Lea Valley to the heart of the East End, where it hopes to refurbish a listed four-storey warehouse dating back to the Victorian era. The aim is to include storage, light manufacturing, creative industries, a gym and a coffee shop. It will be solar-powered and surrounded by green space. A few decades ago abandoned industrial warehouses became trendy places to live. Those of the future may even be alluring places to work. ■

此外,安博还想美化这个行业的形象。想知道它怎么做,请再沿着利河谷骑行,回到伦敦东区的核心地带。在这里,安博希望翻新一个可追溯到维多利亚时代的受保护的四层仓库建筑。其目标是综合仓储、轻工业、创意产业,还有一家健身房和一个咖啡馆。该建筑将使用太阳能供电,四周绿地环绕。几十年前,废弃的工业仓库变成了时髦的居住场所。未来,它们甚至可能会成为诱人的工作场所。