Fed Report Cites Office Loans as Potential Economic Vulnerability

The Federal Reserve Board’s semiannual Financial Stability Report, April 2024

Potential losses from certain office real estate loans are an economic vulnerability within the U.S. financial system—yet considered less of a threat than last year, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s semiannual Financial Stability Report. The Fed report noted that if inflation persists and higher interest rates linger during the ongoing, post-pandemic adjustment to remote work, a wave of maturing loans could pose CRE refinancing risks for regional U.S. banks. (Fed report | Bloomberg and Reuters, April 19)

Office Sector Risk

  • The financial stability report focused on four areas of risk, including asset valuations. CRE stress was the third most cited risk, moving down from second in last October’s survey. (KPMG, April 22, 2024 and Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 27, 2023)
  • This month’s Fed report also acknowledged unique strains on CRE, especially in the office sector, “where vulnerabilities have mounted in the post-pandemic period.”
  • The report added that continued economic pressures could reduce investor risk appetite and lead to a “more pronounced correction in commercial property prices.” This, in turn, could “reduce the willingness of financial intermediaries to supply credit to the economy” and further weigh on overall economic activity.
  • Despite ongoing concerns about CRE, the Fed survey also found that the issuance of non-agency securities started to recover in the first three months of 2024.
  • A separate report from DoubleLine shows signs of improvement for the commercial mortgage-backed securities market and other capital markets and notes that borrowers in some sectors, including office, are finding access to credit. (Bloomberg, April 24)

The Roundtable’s all-member June 20-21 Annual Meeting will include a Joint Research Committee and Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee Meeting to drill down into specific CRE capital and credit market trends and issues.

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Potential CRE Losses Cited as Major Economic Concern in Fed’s Financial Stability Report

Elevated commercial real estate valuations are increasingly viewed as a near-term risk that could stress the U.S. financial system, according to the Federal Reserve’s October 2023 Financial Stability Report. The central bank’s semiannual report also cited inflationary pressures, interest rate increases, and global economic volatility as vulnerabilities—even though survey data was collected before the recent escalation of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. (Fed’s Financial Stability Report, Oct. 2023)

CRE Risk Emphasized

  • Seventy-two percent of all participants in the Fed’s survey cited the potential for large losses on commercial real estate and residential real estate—along with persistent inflation and monetary tightening­—as major risks.
  • The CRE asset valuation problem noted in the Fed Report is influenced by an ongoing lack of price discovery, which creates significant refinancing challenges. GlobeSt reported Oct 24 on the report, noting that “With transactions down and many sellers holding off, waiting for improved pricing while a lot of buyers look for bargains in distress, it’s hard to tell how much properties should be worth.”

WorkPlace Return Pressure

  • The Fed report warns, “If the economy were to slow unexpectedly … investor risk appetite and asset prices might decline, and valuations in the office building sector appear particularly vulnerable given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding post-pandemic norms regarding return to work. A correction in office property valuations accompanied by even a mild recession could result in significant losses for a range of financial institutions with sizable exposures, including some regional and community banks and insurance companies.”

Additional risks that continued to feature prominently in the Fed survey were associated with the reemergence of banking-sector stress, market liquidity strains, and volatility.

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Fed Reports U.S. Financial Stability Risks Include Inflation, Asset Valuation Pressures, and Cyber Attacks

The Federal Reserve in Washington, DC

Near-term risks to the U.S. economy and financial system include inflation, asset valuation pressures and cyber attacks, according to the Federal Reserve’s semiannual Financial Stability Report released this month. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 4)

Stability Threats

Fed Report Risks Nov 2022

  • “Higher-than-expected interest rates could lead to increased volatility in financial markets, stresses to market liquidity, and declines in asset prices, including prices of both commercial and residential real estate properties,” the central bank states in its report.
  • The report warns that such effects could cause losses at a range of financial intermediaries, reducing their access to capital and raising their funding costs—and pose adverse consequences for asset prices, credit availability, and the economy.
  • Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard stated the American financial system has held up through the turbulent developments of the past year. She said, “Household and business indebtedness has remained generally stable, and on aggregate households and businesses have maintained the ability to cover debt servicing, despite rising interest rates.”

Cybersecurity Concerns

Financial Risks Chart - Federal Reserve

  • Respondents to the central bank’s survey on stability threats also noted continuing concerns about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, high oil prices and a potential conflict between China and Taiwan. Cyber attacks pose an additional risk that “could come as retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia,” according to the Fed’s report.
  • The Roundtable’s Homeland Security Task Force will hold a conference call on Monday, November 28 that will focus on a new Cyber Risk Summary briefing on Commercial Facilities—includes Commercial Real Estate—from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). [To register, contact Andy Jabbour of the Real Estate Information and Sharing Network (RE-ISAC)]
  • U.S. financial institutions processed approximately $1.2 billion in ransomware-related payments last year, a nearly 200 percent increase compared to 2020, according to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. (FinCEN report, Nov. 1)

Cybersecurity issues and CRE will be discussed during the next HSTF meeting on Jan. 25, 2023—held in conjunction with The Roundtable’s State of the Industry meeting. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 7)

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