Eq: Real Estate
An event happened this week in the commercial real estate space that feels as though it might be seen as a canary in the coal mine for the forthcoming real estate crisis. The largest (and probably most famous) mall in the US—Mall of America—just fell behind on its $1.4 bn mortgage payments. The owner of the mall, which features over 500 stores and a theme park, missed its mortgage payments in both April and May, reports the Financial Times via Wells Fargo documentation. The owner, called TripleFive Group, has reported to Wells Fargo that it has suffered hardship because of COVID. Presently, nationwide about 1 in 5 loans bundled in CMBS are now on “watch lists”.
FINSUM: For context here, Macerich, which is one of the biggest mall owners in the country, disclosed that is has only collected 18% of rent it is owed in May.
There have been all kinds of predictions for how COVID will affect real estate. The virus’ implications for commercial real estate are clearly bearish, at least in the short-term, but residential is a different story. While viewings are done, supply of housing is so tight that prices in April actually rose from last year despite the huge disruption to the economy. Home owners don’t want to move right now, so either aren’t putting their homes on the market, or are taking them off.
FINSUM: The other key thing to bear in mind is that home equity/leverage was in a very healthy place as this crisis unfolded, so homeowners are not underwater like they were in the last big crisis. Thus, there is a lot less pressure to fire sale.
Hotels are increasingly in trouble. About a quarter of all hotels in the US are now behind on their loan payments. COVID has obviously had a huge effect on hotel occupancy rates, which is now causing financial difficulties for the hotels and their lenders. The situation echoes other data from across the commercial real estate sector. For instance, Vornado Realty Trust yesterday said that it had only collected 53% of retail rents in April, and 90% of office rents.
FINSUM: We think it is critical to remember that re-opening is not a sign that all is clear in commercial real estate. Even once they re-open, restaurants and retail stores are still very likely to be doing MUCH less business than before they closed, and since a lot of cash reserves have probably been used up, their financial situation and thus the sector are just going to grow more precarious.
A lot of calculations are being done to see which states will be most hard hit by the current coronavirus lockdown. Within those assessments it is becoming clear that specific housing markets will be hit hard too. The states that look likely to have their housing markets fall the most are New Jersey, Maryland, and various counties elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Specifically, Sussex County (NJ), Charles County (MD), Atlantic County (NJ), Passaic County (NJ), Rockland County (NY), Orange County (NY), and Sussex County (DE).
FINSUM: These are all the locations you’d expect. The percentage of income it takes to manage a mortgage and other ownership expensive is quite high in these areas, so there is going to be a surge in delinquency.
After about three years of being a laggard and worrying investors that a recession may be coming, US real estate looks to be turning the corner. Not only have home sales been rising, but new mortgage data looks very encouraging. Home lenders extended $2.4 tn in new home loans last year, the most since 2006. That figure is a whopping 46% increase from 2018. One economist from Freddie Mac described the situation bluntly, saying “When a large and cyclical part of the economy—housing—is starting to improve, it’s a good sign for the economy at large”.
FINSUM: It is important to note that most of this was refinancing activity because of the drop in rates, so it is not as massive an increase as it appears. Still, good momentum.
US Real estate has been a worry spot for the last few years. For the last three years or so everyone thought real estate might be the initial signal that the economy was headed lower. However, that never materialized and real estate has been looking modestly better for the last several months. The end of 2019 continued that streak as existing home sales rose 3.6% in December as low unemployment helped support the housing market.
FINSUM: We think the housing market is just solid and steady right now. No huge speculative gains, no gigantic increases in debt etc. It is a nice contrast to publicly-traded securities!