Eq: Real Estate

Many asset managers are increasingly confident that private real estate is at or very close to the bottom of its cycle and presenting an opportunity for outsized returns. It’s a major shift from last year when many funds had to put limits on redemptions. This year, institutional investors are increasing allocations in anticipation of an improving macro environment.

 

Additionally, many believe that concerns about commercial real estate are exaggerated. Other than the office sector, most segments have strong fundamentals. Recently, deal volume has improved as sellers have come down on price. Overall, it’s estimated that prices are down on average by 18.5% from the peak.

 

Over the last decade, private real estate in the US generated annual returns of 6.4%. According to James Corl, the head of private real estate at Cohen & Steers, returns will average between 10% and 12% in 2024 and 2025. He added that returns in private real estate are highest a year after the Fed stops tightening. 

 

Many investors are anticipating attractive deals in the coming months as there could be several forced sellers with many borrowers needing to refinance at higher rates. Over the next 2 years, $1.2 trillion of commercial real estate loans will mature. At the end of the year, it was estimated that about $85.5 billion of this debt was distressed. 


Finsum: Asset managers are increasingly bullish on private real estate. History shows that the asset class generates outsized returns in the periods that follow the end of a Fed tightening cycle. 

 

An unusual recurrence in the markets is the ‘January effect’. This is the phenomenon of downgraded debt consistently outperforming in the first month of the year. This has taken place in 18 out of the past 21 years. 2024 is no different as the ICE US Fallen Angel High Yield 10% Constrained Index outperformed the ICE BofA US High Yield Index by 56 basis points. This year, the fallen angels index is composed primarily of real estate, retail, and telecom. 

 

JPMorgan sees some risks of further downgrades in the coming months. Currently, the high-yield market is collectively worth $1.3 trillion. Of this, $1.05 trillion is rated BBB- by at least one rating agency, and $111 billion is on negative watch by at least one agency. The bank sees risk of sector-specific weakness in real estate leading to more downgrades. It also notes a lesser risk of the economy slowing leading to more downgrades.

 

Over the last 3 months, 5 REITs have joined the fallen angels index and now comprise 12% of the index. Some issues are leverage, lower renewal rates, lack of recovery in office vacancies, and higher insurance costs. The sector is expected to remain under pressure, especially in commercial real estate, as $2.2 trillion in loans is expected to mature between now and 2027. 


Finsum: REITs are the largest component of the fallen angels’ index due to secular issues in commercial property and cyclical pressures created by high rates. 

 

There have been concerns that the housing market could be on the verge of a decline given the stress created by high interest rates and a weakening economy. However, one reason to be sanguine about the housing market despite near-term headwinds is that household balance sheets are in strong shape.

 

It’s sufficient to dismiss alarmists who see another housing crash on the scale of the financial crisis and Great Recession in 2008. While economic headwinds have started to damage the standing of renters, young people, and those with lower FICO scores, there is no indication that homeowners are in a troubled position.

 

In fact, bankruptcy and foreclosure rates have remained low even after the expiration of the CARES Act moratorium. This is a departure from the Great Recession when many households were overly leveraged, and higher rates led to a surge in foreclosures. Another major difference is that regulations have led to higher lending standards and the disappearance of exotic mortgages. 

 

Following the housing crisis, most buyers gravitated towards 30-year fixed mortgages. Periods of ultra-loose monetary policy also led to major waves of refinancing. Cumulatively, this means that the vast majority of households continue to enjoy low rates and have seen the value of their homes rise. 


Finsum: Inflation and higher rates have been damaging to certain segments of the population. Yet, homeowners are an exception as they have locked in low rates, while showing little indications of stress.

 

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