The perfect commercial real estate storm: NO NEW LEASE ON TRILLIONS IN DEBT

TRILLIONS IN COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE LOANS ARE COMING DUE

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General Growth Properties
KEY ASSET: South Street Seaport

A trillion-dollar storm is gathering over the commercial real estate landscape that’s threatening to add further pain to an already bruised US economy.

At the center of the worries is some $3.5 trillion in debt backed by everything from strip malls to offices and apartments across the nation — the lion’s share of which is badly underwater because this recession followed a five-year commercial property boom fueled by easy money and loose underwriting standards.

Now the owners of the less-than-full malls, apartment complexes and office buildings are succumbing to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression — because they can’t refinance the debt.

The commercial debt securitization market is dead.

“Because there is no securitization the system cannot process the wave of maturities coming due,” said Scott Latham, commercial property broker at Cushman & Wakefield.

“This is arguably the most important fact we’re going to be dealing with. If there’s no mortgage market that can feed the machine you’re just not going to have deals,” he said. “It’s going to be years before we recover and even when that happens we’re going to discover that we’re in a new paradigm,” Latham added.

About $1.4 trillion in real estate debt is set to mature over the next four years, with some $204 billion coming due this year alone.

Most of that debt won’t be able to be refinanced or restructured because lending standards have tightened and commercial real estate values have cratered since last year, according to Deutsche Bank analyst Richard Parkus.

The debt behind the commercial real estate boom, commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, entails pooling together commercial mortgages in apartment buildings, shopping malls or trophy offices in different locations, packaging them into bonds and selling them to investors.

CMBS issuance reached its peak with $230 billion transactions completed in 2007. Last year, as the market was dying, a relatively anemic $12 billion in activity was seen, according to industry newsletter Commercial Mortgage Alert.

The last time the markets saw a tsunami like this one was in the late 1980s during the savings and loan crisis, when builders overwhelmed the markets with commercial supply that went vacant for years.

However, this commercial real estate crisis, fueled primarily by developers and property investors getting easy access to relatively cheap loans, may be even worse than what’s come before. That’s especially the case since Average Joes and Janes are by extension huge landlords via pensions, endowments and mutual funds — which have big commercial property exposure over the past few years.

Broadly speaking, commercial real estate values are off by as much as 40 or 50 percent by some estimates.

By MARK DeCAMBRE
May 24, 2009

Source: The New York Post

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