• Transatlantic divide on credit crunch impact

There is growing evidence that the credit crunch is beginning to make itself felt in the so-called real economy. But while clouds look increasingly ominous on the European side of the Atlantic, some in the US are arguing that the recession may be much milder than first feared.

In Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy are leading the charge into a downturn with economic growth slowing in all three countries. And even the most optimistic hoteliers accept that the hotel trading remains as coupled to GDP as it always has been.

While trading has so far remained robust the economic downturn is feeding through directly into the property markets in these countries with both the UK and Spain in particular suffering a slump in values. Most of the headlines have focused on the residential property market but the impact on commercial property is perhaps even more marked.

And this impact is being felt in all areas: values are down, transaction volumes are markedly down and development is down.

On the latter point, development, Savill's regular monthly survey of UK commercial development activity hit an all time low in the 62 months of the survey's existence. The survey breaks down into three areas: office; retail and leisure; and industrial and warehouse. All three have been similarly impacted.

"Until the debt market eases, and uncertainty about tenant demand relaxes we expect developers to remain cautious," said Mat Oakley, head of Savills' Commercial Research department.

While hoteliers are claiming that their pipelines have so far escaped unscathed, it is surely only a matter of time before some impact is felt.

Certainly, a case can be made that for smaller projects where the developer is being financed by banks with which it has a strong existing relationship are still going ahead.

Debt can be found for such developments, although it is more expensive and harder to obtain. But all is not as rosy as some lenders are trying to imply.

Some lenders – particularly those with substantial existing exposure to highly leveraged loans – are effectively out of the market.

Restructuring is under way at a number of banks which implies they do not envisage a swift recovery. Hotel Analyst understands that a number of banks have recently trimmed teams that specialise in hotel lending.

For other lenders business while hardly "as usual" is at least active. Indeed, deals are being funded. For example, last week BDL Select Hotels bought Paten & Co, a four-strong provincial hotel group. The agent, Colliers Robert Barry, said that it had been seeking offers in the region of £45m for the 400 rooms in the chain.

BDL's CEO John O'Malley said: "The purchase of Paten Hotels is the first step in assembling a portfolio of good quality, independent mid-market hotels. We are currently in negotiations with other independent operators with a view to expanding the portfolio."

There was also further news of hotel development activity in the past week with London Trocadero winning planning consent for a 476-room hotel which is earmarked as an Ibis.

In the wider economy, the news grows bleaker on the European side of the Atlantic by the day. Interest rates look unlikely to be lowered anywhere near to the level of the US with both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank signalling that rising inflation is the priority rather than stimulating the economy.

In the US, by contrast, optimism is increasing. The Wall Street Journal this week ran a headline "Recession? Not so fast, say some". The story pointed to a number of previously bearish commentators who were now moderating their tone, including former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan who last month said the US was going through the "most wrenching" crisis since the Second World War but is now describing it as an "awfully pale recession".

Bears say that this is simply the US experiencing a W rather than a V shaped recovery, with the second dip being worse and more prolonged. Perhaps, or perhaps things might turn out less bleak than feared on both sides of the Atlantic.

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