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Morocco: At the crossroads of the world

MOROCCO: AT THE CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD

1 December 2014

With a unique geo-strategic position, Morocco has an open and diversified economy that is attracting substantial Foreign Direct Investment.

Located at the convergence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Kingdom of Morocco has a unique geo-strategic position that not only places the country at the doorstep of several countries, but also makes it a gateway to a market of nearly one billion consumers.

Morocco, the largest phosphates producer in the world, has embarked on an ambitious economic modernisation programme that has earned it a position at number 68 out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business, a ranking based on the best places in the world to do business.

According to Colliers Business Development Director Kenza El Alj, due to the country’s multi-faceted Arab, Mediterranean and African identity, Morocco enjoys stability and security on economic, social and environmental levels as showed by its resilience to the financial crisis and the Arab revolutions.

“The reasons behind this resilience are to be found in a set of proactive reforms and the reassignment of the executive power responsibilities through constitutional change,” said El Alj.

With a GDP growth rate of 4.8% for 2013 against 2.7% in 2012, Morocco maintains its development by supporting several projects and ambitious developments programmes, throughout the Kingdom. These projects include its 2020 vision for tourism, the emergence of its industrial sector and the development of several infrastructure projects.

“All these projects are testament to the changes and its integration into the world economy. Indeed Morocco aims to be a regional hub between Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and Africa,” said El Alj.

INVESTOR ATTRACTIVENESS

According to Colliers, thanks to a full slate of reforms and due to the strong stimulus given to the economy through major infrastructure projects, Morocco’s growth rate has rarely dropped below 4% over the past 15 years.

“Thanks to this vibrant growth, the Kingdom’s GDP has almost doubled during this period exceeding USD 100 billion in 2011. Liberalisation of its foreign trade has signed several free trade agreements with its major partners. These agreements are designed to remove trade barriers, facilitate cross-border trade in goods and services and increase investment opportunities for foreign companies in the country,” said El Alj.

The Moroccan economy is open to the international environment and attracts substantial Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), ranging in annual average between USD 1.5 and USD 2 billion since 2007.

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Colliers tip the upcoming development Casablanca Finance City (CFC) as a lucrative place to invest. CFC aims to be an economic and financial hub and a bridge between the north and the south of the country.

“CFC seeks to attract and encourage international institutions and investors to invest and operate in North, West and Central Africa and to choose Casablanca as a gateway across this region. CFC intends to build an all-encompassing ecosystem surrounding three business categories; financial companies, professional service providers and regional or international headquarters of multinationals,” said El Alj.

With tax benefits, CFC also offers benefits with regard to exportations turnover and net foreign assets gains made during the fiscal years. In addition, the offshore sector also witnessed obvious development in recent years and continues to show significant growth potential.

“Morocco is becoming one of the world’s leading destinations in offshoring, especially in the French-speaking countries. The country’s potential will create 100,000 jobs in 2015, reaching 20 billion MAD (USD 2.27 billion) as an estimated value of the sector’s turnover,” said El Alj.

REAL ESTATE MARKET

According to Colliers, while the real estate market is developing, the country offers huge investment opportunities yielding profits but also comes with its risks.

“Our advice to investors is to invest in the sectors where the demand from reputable companies is high. We recommend investments in offices, industrial parks and turnkey projects,” said El Alj.

Colliers tips Class A office buildings which offers projects with some of the best international standards. Rents here are around 180 MAD (USD 20.4) per sqm a month in Casablanca, with capitalisation rates around 8.5% – 9%.

Industrial parks offer standards that are at an international level, along with long-term leases with major local or international groups with capitalisation rates around 9% – 10%. In addition, industrial parks come with tax incentives from the government.

“It is important to remember that Morocco offers a full range of incentives for investors willing to invest in the country. In addition, an important factor to consider is to diversify investment in several classes of assets and several locations, both urban and rural, this will allow investors to dilute the risks,” said El Alj.

According to Colliers the top locations to invest include Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier. Casablanca is the economic capital of Morocco and has a bigger real estate market compared to the other cities with constant and stable growth. Tangier on the other hand is a city with dynamic industrial activity due to its port and automotive industry.

“For investors expecting a high level of return on investment and accepting a certain level of risk we advise the districts currently under development with high potential such as CFC, logistics area of Zenata and new towns such as Bouskoura and Bab El Bahr,” said El Alj.

El Alj advised that for investors looking for opportunities where risks can be controlled should stay in main economic areas such as Rabat and Casablanca and to focus on income producing assets such as office buildings, warehouses and the retail sector.

RETAIL AND OFFICES

Retail contributes to 11% of GDP and employs about 1.2 million or 12.8% of the labour force in Morocco, according to Colliers.

“Over the past decade retail has experienced the emergence of new patterns of trade, especially franchise networks within retail. The creation of new asset class malls can accommodate almost 3,000 franchise stores and modern trade and generate nearly 21,000 jobs,” said El Alj.

With the development of Al Mazar, Morocco Mall, Anfa Place and Carre Eden over the last four years, the sector has witnessed growth.

Casablanca has the main office stock with over one and a half million square metres of exclusive offices areas as of end of June, 2014. The Marina is a prime place in Casablanca to invest in office real estate. With a total area of 468,000 sqm the mixed-use complex includes offices, apartments, hotels and retail, according to Colliers.

Soon to be the financial hub of Casablanca, CFC will be completed in 2016. CFC will emerge as a major urban development with one million sqm making up the total area. According to El Alj another office development catching the eye of investors is Wessal Casa Port, the development of a new urban district in Casablanca. The port is expected to be completed in 2020.

CONCERNS

Colliers explains that some of the major investor concerns revolve around the lack of land plots in economic centres of interest.

“Investors come across difficulties to find available land plots, however the cities are expanding rapidly and new areas are being opened to development. In addition, there is also the lack of real estate investment vehicles,” said El Alj.

However he added that the authorities are preparing a draft law for the creation of a new investment vehicle in real estate on the model of the REITs, which will stimulate the real estate market and turn the investments towards the real estate sector, and will offer investors a regulated tool for long-term investments and liquefy the real estate sector.