(Reuters) - Hotel deals will approach $30 billion worldwide this year, about on par with 2011, as uncertain economic conditions and fragile debt markets make buyers cautious and selective, hotel investment services firm Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels.
Banks looking to rebuild their balance sheets will be a key driver forcing sales of hotel assets this year, and mega-deals of $1 billion or more are likely to be few.
But there will be good buying opportunities in core markets such as the United States, Japan, Britain and Southern Europe, as distressed properties will be available at well below their peak values, according to the company's global hotel investment outlook for 2012.
"We are expecting the economic environment to be pretty difficult so in a certain regard that's going to be a damper on the deal volumes," Arthur de Haast, chairman of Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, said in an interview.
"But at the same time there are a lot of other factors that are pushing activity, particularly relating to restructuring and the need for banks to deleverage their balance sheets."
He said hotel deals would likely top $30 billion for 2011, which would mark a second straight year of increase. "We're not going to see a lot of growth in the market this year compared to 2011, but we don't see it falling off too significantly," de Haast added.
Turbulent financial markets have not suppressed buyers' appetite for deals, but difficulty in obtaining financing and reduced availability of bank lending will subdue them, the company said.
Banks in the United States and Europe with significant exposure to real estate will continue to foreclose or induce owners to sell their hotel assets. Activity by banks in Southern Europe and Japan -- regions where those institutions have not placed distressed properties on the market in a big way -- will likely pick up in 2012.
Real estate investment trusts based in the United States were active buyers of property in the first half of 2011 but are expected to be less active in the coming year, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels said. A REIT uses pooled capital to purchase and manage property but must pay dividends.
"We don't see the equities market recovering strongly and therefore it's going to be hard for them to do deals to raise new money," de Haast said.
Still, U.S.-based private equity funds that have capital will be in a good position to make acquisitions and may benefit from REITs' decreased activity, he said.
De Haast also said 2012 may bring only a few sales that top a billion dollars. "Because of the lack of liquidity, particularly in the debt markets, it is very difficult to execute major deals," he said.
The United States, France, Germany, UK, Singapore and Australia are expected to be the most active hotel transaction markets this year as they were in 2011.
Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, a unit of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL.N), advised on more than $4 billion of global transactions in 2010.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)