Companies are beefing up so-called ‘nonqualified’ retirement plans to attract and retain C-suite talent

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Office owners are cheering for corporate bosses. Stock valuations for landlords like France’s Gecina (GFCP.PA) and Boston Properties (BXP.N) have halved since the pandemic as hybrid work boomed. But with the likes of Alphabet's Google (GOOGL.O), BNY Mellon (BK.N), and JPMorgan (JPM.N) demanding staff spend most of their time in the office as well as labor markets loosening, the sector has a shot at a revival.

JPMorgan’s Chief Executive Jamie Dimon championed the merits of “being together” back in April. The touchy-feely message came with a harsher demand for senior staff to return to the office five days a week or face “corrective action.” BNY Mellon, another U.S. financial giant, issued a similar edict in March. Tech companies are joining in. (AMZN.O), Google, and ironically even Zoom Video Communications (ZM.O), the telecommunication group that epitomized the pandemic-era shift to remote working, have asked staff to increase attendance in the office. Those moves may herald a requirement for a return to a five-day office week.

Reuters Graphics
Reuters Graphics

For now, offices in business hubs like London, New York, and San Francisco remain very empty. Average office attendance is only 35%, according to AWA, a consultancy that studied companies in 22 countries during April and May of 2023.

Still, a mass exodus of tenants is unlikely as office leases in financial districts like London’s Canary Wharf have around 10 years left. But investors fear that once leases come up for renewal, companies will cull space. This is already happening. In the past 12 months, 20% of companies whose leases of larger buildings were due to be renewed reduced their office space in London, according to real estate service and investment firm CBRE (CBRE.N).

That’s why office owners’ valuations are in the basement. U.S.-listed landlords like $20 billion Alexandria Real Estate Equities (ARE.N), $10 billion Boston Properties as well as France’s 7 billion euro Gecina recently traded at half the forward earnings multiples they enjoyed before the virus emptied offices.

Landlords must hope companies are successful in driving the white-collar herds back to the office. Much will depend on talent’s bargaining power. So far, Dimon and fellow corporate leaders had to tread carefully as a tight labor market allowed employees to jump ship easily. But U.S. job vacancies hit a two-year low in June, while available jobs and salaries are falling in Britain. If bosses have it their way, office stocks may come back from the dead.

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