Real estate’s commercial side looks bright in 2011
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own
American commercial real estate used to be a sucker’s bet. Think Lehman Brothers’ interest in Archstone-Smith, the disastrous 2006 purchase of New York’s Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village complex for $5.4 billion, and a host of other deals in which investors and their lenders got in way over their heads.
After Lehman’s failure in September 2008, many expected a day of reckoning in commercial real estate much like that seen in the housing market. But it may not happen.
In 2010, large city markets like New York, Los Angeles and Washington have primed the pumps for a broader market recovery. A combination of big-ticket sales — Google, for instance, recently paid $1.8 billion for a Manhattan office building in one of the biggest deals since Lehman collapsed — and solid returns on some investments has breathed life back into commercial real estate.
Money is already starting to flow into second-tier markets like Houston, Dallas and Seattle as real estate investment trusts and private equity reach for higher-hanging fruit. That should continue in 2011. Not only is real estate a rare relatively cheap-looking asset class, but a faster economy should, at least at the margin, help reduce vacancy rates and increase cash flow.
Such a virtuous cycle could put a solid floor under prices. National valuations rose in October for the second consecutive month but they’re still nearly 42 percent off their peak, according to Moody’s Investors Service. That’s important for owners and lenders who inked deals during the boom.
They’ll be competing for refinancing in 2014 through 2017 from lenders who will probably impose much stricter standards. Nearly $430 billion of loans repackaged into securities will mature in that four-year period, according to Amherst Securities Group. The total amount of maturing debt will be much higher.
Ultimately the U.S. economy, and specifically job creation, will dictate demand for offices, apartments and shopping malls. Especially in the hardest-hit local markets, that means at best sluggish improvement in the near term. Still, even a shallow recovery in 2011 is a far better outcome than the implosion once feared.
(Editing by Richard Beales and Martin Langfield)