CBRE Global ViewPoint
By: Raymond Torto, Ph.D., CRE®, Global Chairman of Research The following is a summary of remarks by Dr. Torto to the annual BCA conference in New York City on September 23, 2013.1 There are early signals that the U.S. economy and even the interest rates will be higher in the future. The questions are: global economy are showing more promise than they have To what level will rates rise? (When they will rise is a “known for the last few years, with only a long-term shutdown, pos- unknown” at this point.) And, what will such an increase do sibly morphing into default in Washington, D.C., looming as the largest near-term risk. Better economic conditions will Current cap rates in the U.S. are in the 6.5% to 7% range. lead to the Federal Reserve tapering its quantitative easing Compared to the current level of long-term rates, the spread (QE) program and, in turn, rising interest rates. between the 10-year U.S. Treasury and property-specific In this environment, commercial real estate (CRE) investors cap rates is in the range of 400 basis points, down slightly since the middle of last year. This is shown in Figure 1, along 1. What will happen to CRE prices when interest rates with a projection by CBRE Econometric Advisors2 for these spreads. Note from the chart that current spreads for each 2. Is it time for investors to shift their focus from core assets property type are very close to the peak levels seen at the 3. Given the technological disruptions happening to many The wide spread of cap rates over Treasury notes reflects business models, what are the likely impacts of these several aspects of today’s CRE market. First, investors are not pricing off an abnormally low risk-free rate. Rather, they While it is unclear as to when policy action by the Fed will are thinking long term and know that current Treasury rates change, CRE is in a strong position to withstand an expected rise in interest rates. Furthermore, the opportunities in sec- ondary markets are already occurring in the U.S., and con- tinuing to exist in Europe. Investors should also expect that technological disruptions will affect not only overall demand for real estate, but also property design and even location. Obsolescence of design and location are risks to be deliber- ated when investing today, along with the usual issues of ThE FEd and CRE
With the 10-year U.S. Treasury rate hovering around 2.7%, Q4 1999 Q1 2001 Q2 2002 Q3 2003 Q4 2004 Q1 2006 Q2 2007 Q3 2008 Q4 2009 Q1 2011 Q2 2012 Q3 2013 Q4 2014 Q1 2016 Q2 2017 Q3 2018 well below any long-term norm, everybody is expecting that Source: CBRE Global Research and Consulting, Q2 2013.
are not normal. For this reason, we believe that CRE is any, this surge had on pricing.4 They reported that only 6% not in a price bubble as some have suggested. Second, of the deals under contract or in the marketing stage were because of extraordinary economic uncertainty in the re-traded due to the interest rate increase. There were market, the risk and liquidity premium embedded in the several reasons for this, but what stood out in the analysis was investors’ perception that leasing fundamentals are improving—i.e., CRE earnings were growing—and the Our outlook is for a narrowing in spreads as two fac- pressure to place capital among investors remains strong. tors—the improving economy and stronger CRE funda- mentals—will offset the increase in interest rates. Rising OPPORTuniTiEs in sECOndaRy assETs/
interest rates will be a reflection of an improving economy MaRkETs?
and, with this, the risk premium will fall. Additionally, Over the last few years, investors in CRE have been risk- an improving economy will advance the prospects for averse, positioning their capital in core or prime assets/ growing CRE earnings, or net operating income, which markets. Generally speaking, prime assets house the also will help to reduce the spread. In other words, we strongest tenants in the best locations. This investment expect that there will not be a one-to-one relationship posture has created a wide spread between the cap rates, between the rise in interest rates and the growth in cap or yields, of prime assets and secondary assets/markets. rates. Rather, our analysis shows that interest rates will This has been particularly pronounced in Europe, where likely rise about 200 basis points, while cap rates for the the spread between primary and secondary retail and market as a whole will grow from 60 to 120 basis points, office yields has widened to 300 basis points since 2008, depending on the property type.3 Implicit in the forecast though it has leveled off over the last few quarters.5 The in Figure 1 is the expectation that interest rates will settle same phenomenon has occurred in the U.S. between so into a normalized rate of about 4% to 4.5%. called Gateway markets and non-Gateway markets.6 Furthermore, there is excess capital in the world, and The spread is wide because investors turned to those when the Fed tapers its QE bond purchases, this excess real estate assets/markets that reflected more bond-like capital will limit the extent of the rise in interest rates. qualities—i.e., safe income—amid concerns of uncertain When tapering will begin is still uncertain, but in a world economic growth over the past few years. Now, on the where much of the future economic growth is expected to cusp of a better economic outlook, is it time to look for come from countries that have very high savings rates, unlike the U.S., the surplus of savings and of capital will The evidence indicates that markets are already reflect- be extraordinary. In sum, the implications of this analysis ing this shift in investing preference in the U.S., and that are that rising interest rates will not adversely affect CRE there are opportunities in Europe. A recent study by CBRE prices. Rather, growing earnings will offset the rise in the Americas Research shows that since Q2 2012, investors risk-free rate at this stage of the cycle. in the U.S. have started to bid up the prices of assets in While econometric analysis is one way to investigate the secondary markets versus those in Gateway markets. At question of how rising interest rates might affect CRE the same time, a study by CBRE in Europe has shown prices, another is to study contemporary history. From the spread between primary and secondary assets has mid-June through the end of the summer, we saw long- stabilized over the first two quarters of 2013, following a term interest rates in the U.S. surge 100 basis points from lengthy widening trend, and they expect investors will focus about 1.7% to 2.7% due to expectations of changes in on secondary assets in the second half of 2013 and into Fed policy. The CBRE Capital Markets group analyzed its next year. They also undertook some econometric analy- book of business during this period to see what effect, if sis that shows that secondary assets are less susceptible to interest rate hikes than core assets. The argument For instance, some of the “hotter” submarkets in recent is secondary bond yields have remained elevated and years include SOMA in San Francisco, Midtown South did not fall in response to ultra-low interest rates, while in Manhattan and Hillsboro in Portland, Oregon. These some prime yields were bid down in markets perceived are examples of places where tech firms have located, as safe havens. As such, secondary yields show excep- and which seem to be the preferred “work-live-play” tional risk premiums and should benefit proportionately locations, which are seemingly favored by occupiers in more from stronger economic conditions.7 Anticipating the new, “hot” locations represents an op- disRuPTORs
portunity for CRE investors and occupiers, while avoid- Technological advances create opportunities and pose ing the obsolete location is a concern. For example, the risks for CRE. The internet has—and is—disrupting the traditional business models for music, movies, television center of business in the City of Boston has for more than 300 years been located in the Financial District at shows and book stores, among many others. These the intersection of State Street and Congress Street. In business model changes translate into shifts in demand the 1970s and 1980s, major office building were built for retail CRE, as retailers develop multi-channel models that offer both in-store and internet shopping experi- at this location, and vacancy rates in the buildings on the four corners8 have consistently been below that of the city as a whole and the Financial District submarket. In the office property sector, there are similar instances of disruption. Many tenants today are thinking carefully Figure 2 shows the history of the vacancy rate for the about the design of their office space. Since work in four major office buildings on the “corners” versus the the knowledge world is “what one does, not where one vacancy rate for a new and upcoming submarket called goes,” and it is believed that knowledge and its applica- the “Innovation” or Seaport submarket. Notice that, tions require innovative and collaborative efforts, the beginning in 2009, the vacancy for the four buildings design for office space is changing from the traditional started to rise as the Great Recession took hold in Boston four walls and rows of cubes to more open, flexible and the tenants of these traditional office buildings—such spaces. Additionally, in a digital world, storage is less as law firms, financial firms and accounting firms—were of a space requirement and law firms, as one example, downsizing. Vacancy in these four buildings peaked in Figure 2: Boston 4 Towers at Center vs. Innovation A lot has been written about how firms are engaging in “Workplace Strategy” to attract and retain talent, to promote innovation, productivity and knowledge. Some see this as only a fad, at best, or a pretext, at worst, to lower occupancy costs by reducing the amount of square footage leased per desk or per worker. From a real estate perspective, more people per square foot has implications for building systems such as HVAC and parking ratios. But we see an additional implication with regard to locational preferences: these designs some- times require new buildings and even new locations. Source: CBRE Econometric Advisors, data as of Q4 2012. 2011 at over 20%, and has come down a bit since to 18%. However, a major tenant in one building—a law CRE has done very well over the last few years. Returns firm—is moving out soon and building a new office in in the U.S. have been in the low double digits, and the forecast of most observers are for CRE returns to be in the high single digits through 2017.9 With CRE earnings, or As such, CRE investors in the traditional properties in the leasing fundamentals, expected to do well in the future, Financial District face not only a cyclical phenomenon which will offset, to some degree, cap rate increases, from the Great Recession, but clearly a structural change investors have opportunities to realize significant gains in the market. If these traditional locations are not pre- from CRE investments. However, they need to be aware ferred by tenants, the investment performance of these of the risk of obsolescence in design and location result- properties might be subpar for a long time.
ing from technological and workplace shifts.
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1. BCA is an independent research company 4. CBRE Capital Markets Flash Conference Call providing security research to institutional investors Notes and Reference Points, September 12, 2013.
since 1949. Approximately 500 investors were in attendance. 5. EMEA ViewPoint: European Market Outlook: Stronger Pulse Revives Risk Appetite. Peter Damesick, 2. The Investment Outlook, CBRE Econometrics Neil Blake and Richard Holberton, September 2013. 6. Gateway and Non-Gateway Office Markets, 3. We do expect variations by city. There is also CBRE Americas Research, September 2013. The interesting research within CBRE Econometric European and U.S. studies are different and not Advisors on the role of short-term versus long-term directly comparable, but they are indicative that the interest rate movements and the implications for cap U.S. market had already moved versus the European rate movements (See Serguei Chervachidze, “Not Just one Rate: Term Structure Matters in CRE Asset Pricing,” CBRE About Real Estate, August 13, 2012.) 7. EMEA ViewPoint: European Market Outlook: Also, our colleagues in EMEA believe that in prime Stronger Pulse Revives Risk Appetite. Peter Damesick, EMEA markets, such as London and Paris, there is a Neil Blake and Richard Holberton, September 2013.
strong, long-term, one-for-one relationship between 8. In fact, there are five corners due to the street prime yields and bond yields that has broken down design and the fact that the Old State House—an to some extent in the recent period of very low bond historic landmark built in 1713—is in the middle of yields. This implies that prime CRE yields will be stable—or might even come in—in the short-term as rental growth picks up and financial conditions 9. PREA Consensus Forecast Survey of the NCREIF normalize, but that they will increase in the long term. I think the flow of capital in these markets will temper any such upward movement. R
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Neil Blake, Ph.D. Head of Research, UK and EMEA Global Research and Consulting t: +44 20 7182 2133 e: [email protected] GlObal researCh and COnsulTinG CBRE Global Research and Consulting is an integrated community of preeminent researchers and consultants who provide real estate market research, econometric forecasting, and corporate and public sector strategies to investors and occupiers around the globe.
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