Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Fed's Lockhart on Real Estate

by Calculated Risk on 3/04/2009 08:04:00 PM

From Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart: On Real Estate and Other Risks to the Economic Outlook A few excerpts. First on the rental market:

I should also comment on the weakening multifamily residential real estate picture. No two rental markets are exactly alike. But to generalize, those markets trending the worst probably share one or more characteristics. They had excessive condo construction or condo conversion activity. Such markets are seeing unsold units return as rentals. They had very high home price appreciation in the years 2004—07 with large amounts of speculative house construction activity. Today, in several markets, houses compete with apartments as rentals. And they have been experiencing high and rising foreclosure rates.
Although Lockhart mentioned that houses are competing with apartments as rentals, he doesn't mention that this is happening for two reasons: 1) homeowners who can't sell their homes (or are "waiting for a better market") are renting their homes, and 2) many REOs are being purchased by cash flow investors as rentals helping to increase rental supply and push down rents.

And on Commercial real estate (CRE):
While historically smaller than residential real estate, commercial real estate (or nonresidential structures) accounts for a not-insignificant portion of the American economy—at least 4 percent of GDP directly and perhaps more, depending on estimates. ...

There are currently some $2.5 trillion of commercial property loans on the balance sheets of financial institutions and in commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) markets. In contrast, residential mortgage debt amounts to about $11 trillion.

Some 25 percent of commercial real estate debt is securitized, compared with 60 percent of outstanding home mortgage debt. The volume of CMBS has more than doubled since 2003, a bit faster than the growth of overall commercial real estate debt.
This is good data. Although the CRE bust will be significant, it will not be as large an impact as the residential bust.
There are several subsectors of commercial real estate: retail, office, hotel, and industrial. All are facing problems.

There is a growing imbalance of retail space for several reasons. A lot of new retail space was added in areas that saw a high level of home construction, much of which has not been absorbed.

This imbalance is aggravated by general weakness in the retail industry. Established retail centers are seeing rising vacancy rates. When an anchor tenant leaves a shopping center, or overall occupancy falls below a threshold level, other tenants are often free to cancel their leases. Industry data indicate that abandoned retail store expansions and store closings have reached levels not seen since the recession and real estate slump of 1991–92.

The hotel subsector is facing excess supply in the face of soft demand. Occupancy rates declined about 8 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to industry sources. Summer tourism was hurt by high gas prices, and now business travel is declining as companies scale back in a weak economy.

Also, with the decline in the economy and rising unemployment, office and industrial vacancies have been rising. In virtually all segments of commercial real estate, there is downward pressure on property values because of new construction coming on stream—construction started before the recession fully set in—coupled with the effects of the economic downturn.

Interestingly, the only property type currently withstanding downward pressures is warehouse. This seems to be, perversely, at least partly because of the back-up of inventories resulting from weak consumer spending and adverse retail and manufacturing conditions.
This gives me an excuse, in the next post, to update the graphs of office, mall and hotel investment based on the revisions to Q4 GDP.