Finance  ·  earnings

CBRE Reports Strong Q4 Earnings With Nearly $32B in 2023 Revenue

The brokerage is also bullish that office will recover and pave the way for increased leasing revenue

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Even in a difficult year for capital markets, CBRE (CBRE) still found a way to make money. 

On the heels of a pair of recently announced strategic deals with J&J Worldwide Services and Brookfield Properties, the global brokerage powerhouse reported strong fourth quarter earnings Thursday, as quarterly revenue rose year-over-year and 2023 total revenue reached nearly $32 billion, an increase of 4 percent on the year.    

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“Even though 2023 was a difficult year for commercial real estate, we delivered the third highest full-year earnings in CBRE’s history, as our resilient businesses continued their strong growth,” said CEO Bob Sulentic on the earnings call. “This partly offset market driven revenue declines in businesses that are sensitive to interest rates and debt availability.”

CBRE announced a partnership with Brookfield Properties in January 2024 to work in tandem with the firm on property management for its 65 million-square-foot commercial real estate portfolio. Moreover, CBRE announced on Feb. 5, 2024 that it plans to acquire J&J Worldwide Services for $800 million to bolster their footprint in the U.S. federal government property sector, which is often defined by long-term contracts. 

Together the two deals will fall under the firm’s “resilient business” asset class lines, a wide array of businesses that contributed to $1.6 billion in segment operating profit for CBRE in 2023. Other CBRE resilient business lines include Global Workforce Solutions (GWS), loan servicing, valuation, property management, and recurring asset management fees.

The firm expects its resilient business line to generate $1.8 billion in profit in 2024, according to CFO Emma Giamartino

“This would represent a sixfold increase from 2011, the first full year of market recovery following the Global Financial Crisis,” said Giamartino on the call. “We expect 2024 to be the beginning of a market recovery, albeit a more modest one.” 

Overall, CBRE’s annual revenue rose from $30.8 billion in 2022 to $31.9 billion in 2023. 

However, even a difficult market characterized by interest rate increases and lending pullbacks made its pain felt on the brokerage. 

Assets under management fell from $149.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022 to $147.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2023, a drop of nearly $2 billion. The firm’s development business cratered as revenue fell from $151 million in the fourth quarter of 2022 to $106 million in the fourth quarter of 2023, a decline of 29 percent. 

However, both Sulentic and Giamartino emphasized that they are “cautiously optimistic” that the worst is over for office property leasing, specifically for Class-A properties, which is one of the foundations of CBRE’s business, as it generates two-thirds of the firm’s leasing revenue.

“We expect leasing to grow modestly in 2024,” said Giamartino. “Leading indicators from our data partners … indicate U.S. office finance has been gradually turning up over the last six months. The growing consensus of an economic soft landing coupled with the apparent stabilization of office utilization rates may make more employers confident enough to commit to office leases.” 

When pressed on the evidence that proves office has finally stabilized, Sulentic said that the asset class has bottomed out and that there is “an avalanche” of anecdotal evidence that proves that companies are committed to leasing offices going forward. 

“There’s just a clear amount of pressure from companies to get their people back into the office for all kinds of reasons,” said Sulentic. “You can’t talk to a corporate that would tell you that office building occupancy — either in buildings they own or lease— isn’t important to their business. You’re seeing people redoing their space, trying to make it a better environment for their employees, to make them more efficient and more engaged.”

“Class A buildings that create that opportunity are seeing record rents in a number of markets,” he added. “Buildings that aren’t are struggling and will continue to struggle.”

Brian Pascus can be reached at bpascus@commercialobserver.com

An earlier version of this article incorrectly dated the closings of the Brookfield Properties partnership and the J&J Worldwide partnership. Those deals were made in early 2024, not 2023, as noted previously.