Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Liberty Property Trust on Leasing and Cap Rates

by Calculated Risk on 4/28/2009 03:46:00 PM

Here are a few interesting comment from the Liberty Property Trust conference call (ht Brian). Note LRY is a REIT specializing in industrial and office properties.

Let me turn to our operating performance and real estate fundamentals. Normally the first quarter is our slowest quarter for the year. But in addition, we clearly felt the full impact of the economic downturn in our markets. We leased 2.8 million square feet in the quarter, down 50% from our leasing productivity in the fourth quarter. This decline is totally consistent with what we are seeing in the markets, a 40% decline in deal activity from 2008 levels. Occupancy declined to 90.1% driven by a decline in our renewal percentage to 54.1%. This renewal decline was driven by our industrial portfolio, since our office and flex renewal rates were 72 and 63% respectively. What happened were three large industrial expirations that simply shut down their operations. A pattern that I think we are going the see more of throughout the rest of 2009. Consistent with the competitive nature of the markets, rents were flat.
We are seeing the manifestation of the [soft economy] as more tenants downsize at the end of their lease. On last quarters call we discussed a recent trend where tenants were asking for rent relief and for the most part we were saying no, but more recently we were seeing an additional trend where good tenants with strong credit come to us before the end of their lease looking for rate reduction in current rent in exchange for additional lease term. In these instances we conduct a thorough economic analysis considering the credit of the tenant, the length of the proposed term, the health of the market and the extent to which we do business or could do business with that customer in multiple markets to. To date we are only completed a few of these “blend and extend” transactions, but we believe in a tenant driven market tenants will continue to ask their landlord to participate. While our portfolio has higher occupancy than the market in most of our cities, aggressive competitive behavior is rapidly affecting rental rates and concessions. On new leases and to a lesser degree on renewal leases, market rents are generally lower, varying by product type availability of competitive space, size, credit and term. The range is wide from slightly up to down as much as 20%. Concessions on new leases primarily in the form of free rent have increased during the first quarter and also vary by market and by lease term. Some leases have none. Some leases a few months and some as much as one month per year to as much as six months in the lease…A new phenomenon that is beginning to have a positive impact on our ability to get deals done is the fact that tenants and brokers that represent them are now underwriting landlords [for credit quality].
New tenants are making sure their landlords will stay in business! And from the Q&A on cap rates:
Analyst: With $100 million of asset sales that you guys are looking to do, are you looking for a range of cap rates or what kind of timing you are looking at there?

LRY: We’re staying with our original guidance on the range which I believe was eight to 11% ...

Analyst: Maybe I missed it but for the 35 million that you sold in the quarter did you guys provide a cap rate on that.

LRY: It was about mid nines.
These are probably industrial buildings with higher cap rates than offices or retail, but cap rates have clearly risen significantly. Rents are falling, cap rates are rising - and that means prices are cliff diving.