This week, policymakers addressed proposed regulations to increase capital requirements for the nation’s largest banks, known as the “Basel III Endgame,” which could have a significant impact on available credit capacity for commercial real estate transactions, as well as undermine liquidity and economic growth.
The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy, chaired by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), held a Nov. 7 hearing focused on an array of federal financial regulations, including the Basel III proposal.
Chairman Barr stated that U.S. financial regulators have increasingly ceded portions of their authority to international and domestic intergovernmental organizations, which has decreased transparency in development of U.S. regulatory frameworks and reduced regulators’ accountability. (Barr’s opening remarks, Nov. 7 and Committee memo, Nov. 2)
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) and Subcommittee Chairman Barr recently requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the role U.S. federal banking agencies played in developing the recent international Basel proposal. (McHenry-Barr Letter, Oct 20)
The Senate Banking Committee announced that top U.S. financial regulators will testify on Nov. 14 about their sweeping plan to increase bank capital requirements.
Views from the Regulators
Federal banking regulators announced last month an extension of the comment period on the Basel capital proposal from Nov. 30, 2023 to Jan. 16, 2024. Additionally, the agencies announced a quantitative impact study to clarify the estimated effects of the proposal, with data collection due the same date as the comments—Jan. 16. (Fed news releases, Oct 20)
While the quantitative impact study is a positive development, the timing of the study fails to provide industry participants with the opportunity to assess its results or comment on the collected data before the Jan. 16 deadline. Regulators often grant the public ample time (120 days) to analyze and comment on such an impact study after it is released. (Roundtable Weekly, Oct. 27)
This week, Fed Governor Michelle Bowman criticized the scope of the Basel proposal in two speeches. On Nov. 7 and today, Governor Bowman stated, “While the capital proposal reflects elements of the agreed upon Basel standards, it is not a mere implementation of the Basel standards. In this proposal, the calibration—with a large increase in capital requirements for U.S. firms—far exceeds the Basel standards mandate. There has been growing support for improving the proposal’s quantitative, analytical foundations, including the need for and impact of capital increases of this scale.”
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) met in New York City yesterday to discuss the Basel proposal, other federal policies impacting capital and credit issues, and market conditions. RECPAC has established a working group on Basel III to develop comments, due by Nov. 30, on the Basel III Endgame proposal.
Approximately $5.65 billion in commercial real estate loans have been modified with extensions in 2023, with nearly 73% of the total from the office sector, according to a recent Trepp report. The rise in loan extensions—sparked by higher interest rates, lower valuations, and remote work—also come at a time when commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) have been subdued. (Trepp CRE Research Report)
Trepp reported that term increases of 1-12 months comprised the largest share (37%) of extensions. The largest quarter upon maturity came in Q2 2023, when $957 million in loans were extended.
Office properties comprised 72.9% of the total $3.2 billion in loan extensions, or roughly $2.4 billion. Trepp stated, “Of all property types, the office sector faces the steepest refinancing challenges as office properties are struggling with occupancy and financial performance in the post-pandemic era.” (Trepp CRE Research Report)
The increase in modifications follows a joint policy statement from federal regulators in June that encouraged financial institutions to work with borrowers on pending loan maturities. (Agencies’ joint statement, June 29 and National Law Review, July 9)
In March, The Roundtable had originally requested that federal regulators accommodate commercial real estate borrowers and lenders as the industry continued to endure a difficult time of historic, post-pandemic transition—and enthusiastically welcomed the Agencies’ subsequent, joint action. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30 and Roundtable letter to regulators, March 17)
During a Sept. 26 Marcus & Millichap webcast, Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey (above) said, “We’re seeing some impact. Trepp put out a report about loan modifications and extensions. Time is the most important aspect for the most challenged part of our industry, office. We have to let time settle in and let businesses and employers determine how they want to use office space going forward.”
Additionally, bipartisan legislation (H.R. 5580) introduced in the House last week would reduce the tax burden on a borrower that can arise when a troubled commercial real estate loan is modified as part of a debt workout. The Tenney-Higgins bill would build on existing tax provisions by effectively deferring cancellation of debt (COD) income. (Roundtable Weekly, Sept. 22)
The legislation, introduced by Reps Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Brian Higgins (D-NY), could help smooth the transition to a healthy and stable post-pandemic real estate market. The Roundtable’s DeBoer was quoted in support of the House legislation by GlobeSt,Connect CRE, and Commercial Observer.
Capital and credit policy issues facing CRE, especially office assets, will be among the topics discussed during The Roundtable’s Oct. 16-17 Fall Meeting (Roundtable-levelmembers only) in Washington.
Federal bank regulators this week approved a sweeping set of proposed changes that would increase capital requirements for the nation’s largest banks by as much as 20%, which could significantly affect liquidity available for commercial real estate transactions, impact asset values, and influence economic growth. Dissenting votes on the proposed rulemaking revealed rare disagreement among regulators, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell signaled a cautious approach to consideration of any final rule as a 120-day public comment period begins. (Axios and PoliticoPro, July 27)
New Capital Framework
The Fed, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) jointly approved the proposal, which would substantially revise the regulatory capital framework for banking organizations with total assets of $100 billion or more. Stakeholder comments on the 1,100-page proposed rulemaking are due by Nov. 30. (See Interagency Overview of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Amendments to the Regulatory Capital Rule, July 27)
Fed Chairman Powell voted for the proposal, but noted a significant tone of caution, stating, “Raising capital requirements also increases the cost of, and reduces access to, credit … threatening a decline in liquidity in critical markets and a movement of some of these activities into the shadow banking sector.” He added, “While there could be benefits of still higher capital, as always we must also consider the potential costs. As the financial system evolves, it is important that regulation evolve with it. I look forward to hearing from all stakeholders on how best to strike that balance.” (Federal Reserve Board – Statement by Chair Jerome H. Powell)
Statements were also issued by Fed Governors Michelle W. Bowman and Christopher J. Waller, who voted against the proposal. Extensive background information on the proposal is available on the Fed’s website, including a video of the Fed’s July 27 Open Board Meeting, Board memo, Fact Sheet, Statements and Federal Register Notices.
The proposed changes to large bank capital requirements would implement the final components of international banking regulations known as the Basel III “endgame” following the U.S. banking turmoil in March 2023. The agencies’ proposal would have a long phase-in period and not impact community banks. (CNBC, July 27)
Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer stated in a March 2023 comment letter to Fed Vice Chair Michael Barr and other key regulators, “At this critical time, it is important that the Agencies do not engage in pro-cyclical policies such as requiring financial institutions to increase capital and liquidity levels to reflect current mark to market models. These policies would have the unintended consequence of further diminishing liquidity and creating additional downward pressure on asset values. A deflationary spiral must be avoided at all costs. As recent events are only amplifying the contraction of credit, it is important for the Agencies to take measures to maintain sufficient liquidity levels and support positive economic activity.”
Fish noted that the agencies’ recent policy statement “is a bridge to the other side. It’s what the real-estate industry was asking for.” Rechler also praised the new policy and added, “Since the failure of the regional banks, regulators have come on very hard.”
Major refinancing pressures facing CRE are shown in new Trepp data released this week, which estimates $528.7 billion of commercial mortgages will mature this year—and increase to $532.8 billion next year. (TreppTalk, July 25)
Trepp notes the data indicates “the market is facing a wall, if not a mountain, of maturities that would make the 2015-2017 wall of maturities look almost inconsequential. During that period, roughly $1.1 trillion of loans were scheduled to come due.”
The Roundtable’s Real Estate Capital Policy Advisory Committee (RECPAC) plans to work on industry comments in response to the agencies’ proposed rulemaking.
Banks are increasing their efforts to modify troubled commercial real estate loans to prevent defaults, according to recent media reports. (GlobeSt and Bisnow, July 14)
Momentum on Modifications
“Lenders are offering borrowers loan extensions and modifications, selling derivatives to fix interest costs, and offering subsidized loans to investors to purchase defaulted loans” according to CRE analysts and industry data quoted by Reuters on July 12
The reported increase in modifications follows a joint policy statement from federal regulators last month that encouraged financial institutions to work with borrowers on pending loan maturities. (Agencies’ joint statement, June 29 and National Law Review, July 9)
Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer commented on the positive action by regulators. “This major step forward by federal regulators provides the flexibility that The Roundtable has consistently encouraged, and the relief many in the industry need, as the economy and communities struggle to move beyond the repercussions of the global pandemic,” DeBoer said. (Roundtable Weekly, June 30 and Roundtable letter to regulators, March 17)
Need for Liquidity
On July 20, Roundtable Chair John Fish (SUFFOLK Chairman and CEO) discussed the pressures facing CRE and the recent policy accommodation from regulators on Bloomberg’s What Goes Up podcast. “The biggest problem right now is the capital markets nationally have frozen,” Fish said.
On July 14, Roundtable Board Member Scott Rechler, above, (RXR Chairman and CEO) joined CNBC’s Closing Bell Overtime to discuss the impact of the credit crunch and the need for more liquidity in the market. (Watch interview)
A July 6 article by Carl White, senior vice president of the St. Louis Fed’s Supervision, Credit and Learning Division, shows that the proportion of nonperforming CRE loans remains low on an average basis and has continued to decline since 2020.
Low occupancy rates for downtown offices in various cities are leading municipal governments to incentivize adaptive reuse by encouraging the conversion of often-older office buildings into residential properties. A report this week from RentCafe forecasts that conversions mayincrease by 63% in coming years, after adaptive reuse peaked from 2019 to 2020. (GlobeSt, July 19)
In a positive development for the commercial real estate industry, federal regulatory agencies issued a joint policy statement yesterday on CRE loan accommodations and workouts that calls for “financial institutions to work prudently and constructively with creditworthy borrowers during times of financial stress.” (Agencies’ joint statement, June 29)
Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer, above, said, “We enthusiastically welcome and applaud the action of federal regulators to accommodate commercial real estate borrowers and lenders as the industry endures a time of historic, post-pandemic transition. Maturing office loans in particular face a new environment of higher operating and financing costs, much tighter bank lending requirements, and uncertainty in business space needs. This major step forward by federal regulators provides the flexibility that The Roundtable has consistently encouraged, and the relief many in the industry need, as the economy and communities struggle to move beyond the repercussions of the global pandemic.”
This significant action fulfills recent Real Estate Roundtable requests for regulators to provide more supervisory flexibility that would allow for the responsible restructuring of maturing CRE loans. The guidance is expected to encourage debt restructuring for certain office assets under pressure from remote work, high interest rates, and post-pandemic demand. (Roundtable Weekly, May 11 | Roundtable letter to regulators, March 17)
The June 29 joint agency statement was issued by the Office of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the Fed), the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).
The agencies noted that their policy statement builds on existing supervisory guidance issued in 2009, updates existing interagency supervisory guidance on commercial real estate loan workouts, and adds a section on short-term loan accommodations.
The new section on accommodations includes an agreement to defer one or more payments, make a partial payment, or provide other assistance or relief to a borrower who is experiencing a financial challenge. The statement also addresses recent accounting changes for estimating loan losses and provides examples of how to classify and account for loans affected by workout activity. (See 90-page policy statement on “Prudent Commercial Real Estate Loan Accommodations and Workouts”)
Approximately $1.5 trillion in CRE mortgages will mature in the next three years were originally financed when base rates were near zero. Refinancing this wave of maturing loans is complicated by the current debt environment, characterized by much higher interest rates, uncertain asset values, and illiquid capital markets.
CRE Part of Fed Stress Test
This week, the Federal Reserve also released the results of its annual bank stress tests, which included a severe hypothetical scenario of global recession, a 40% decline in commercial real estate prices, a substantial increase in office vacancies, and a 38% decline in house prices. The Fed noted the stress test focus on CRE illustrates that 23 large banks would be able to continue lending in the hypothetical scenario, despite heavy losses. (2023 Fed stress test results and CNBC, June 28)
“Today’s results confirm that the banking system remains strong and resilient,” Vice Chair for Supervision Michael S. Barr said. “At the same time, this stress test is only one way to measure that strength. We should remain humble about how risks can arise and continue our work to ensure that banks are resilient to a range of economic scenarios, market shocks, and other stresses.” (Fed news release, June 28)
The 2023 adverse test scenario model stated that declines in CRE prices should be assumed to be concentrated in properties most at risk of a sustained drop in income and asset values—offices that may be affected by remote work or hospitality sectors that continue to be affected by reduced business travel.
The Fed’s stress test report added, “The May 2023 Financial Stability Report highlighted elevated prices on CRE and the possibility of a large correction in property values that could lead to substantial losses for banks. The demand for offices, downtown retail, and hotels has seen dramatic and countervailing changes over the past several years due largely to the pandemic and resulting changes. While many bank CRE loans are held by smaller banks not subject to the supervisory stress test, the banks subject to the stress test hold approximately 20% of office and downtown retail CRE loans.”
Regulators have also recently signaled they are likely to adopt increased capital requirements for the nation’s biggest banks, while Fed governor Michelle Bowman this week spoke out against tougher regulations. (Axios, June 21 and June 26)
“We need to consider whether examiners have the appropriate tools and support to identify important issues and demand prompt remediation,” Bowman stated. “Increasing capital requirements simply does not get at this underlying concern about the effectiveness of supervision.” She added, “It is abundantly clear that regulatory and supervisory reform is on the way.” (Bowman speech and Bloomberg, June 25)
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, above, commented on Wednesday about the economic pressures on banks that hold a significant concentration of commercial real estate loans. Powell said, “We of course, we’re watching that situation very carefully. There’s a substantial amount of commercial real estate in the banking system. A large part of it is in smaller banks.” He added, “those banks will experience larger losses” but since the loans are “well distributed,” the issue is not likely to “suddenly hit and work its way into systemic risk” to the overall economy. (Fed news conference transcript, page 24 and Fortune, June 14)
The Fed Chairman spoke after the Federal Open Market Committee declined to raise interest rates this week for the first time in 15 months, after the Fed funds rate jumped from zero to more than 5% in less than a year and a half—the sharpest spike in rate increases in nearly 40 years. (Axios, June 15)
Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer stated during an April 7 Walker Webcast, “I don’t think anybody assumed a 12-year period of basically zero interest rates, followed by a steep 500bps increase in financing costs, immediately following a once-every-hundred-years pandemic that shut everything down and changed a lot of the ways the built environment would be used. I think all of this has to be allowed to settle through.” (Walker Webcast video and Connect CRE, April 5)
The Real Estate Roundtable continues to emphasize the need for federal regulators to allow more flexibility for lenders and borrowers to restructure commercial real estate loans facing potential default—as the Federal Reserve reported recently that CRE poses a potential risk to financial stability. (Fed’s Financial Stability Report, May 2023)
Today, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen presided over a meeting of the multi-agency Financial Stability Oversight Council, which will address financial stability vulnerabilities, developments in the commercial real estate market, and receive an update on the banking sector.
Maturing CRE Loans
Roundtable Member Willy Walker (CEO, Walker & Dunlop), above left, was interviewed June 15 on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street about defaults and other pressures facing commercial real estate, the industrial sector, and multi-family supply coming to market.
The Real Estate Roundtable’s Q2 2023 Sentiment Index dropped to an overall score of 41, three points lower than the previous quarter. Commercial real estate executives noted how remote work, high interest rates, operating cost escalations, and difficult price discovery has led to significant uncertainty in the post-pandemic office sector and reduced liquidity for nearly all commercial real estate asset classes.
Stress in Office Sector Threatens Cities, Jobs
Industry leaders also reported relatively healthy Q2 demand for industrial, multifamily, and strip center retail assets. Solid rental growth in multifamily, senior, student, and assisted living sectors was another positive trend reported by sentiment survey participants. (See entire Q2 report.)
Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer, below, said, “The commercial real estate market is at the center of a major transition. Maturing office loans in particular face a new environment of higher operating and financing costs, much tighter bank lending requirements, and uncertainty in business space needs.”
“However, while there is relatively good current news from non-office CRE sectors, the combination of reduced liquidity, increased costs, and post-pandemic business uncertainty threatens to spread to these other sectors as well—and potentially cause great damage to communities, jobs, and the economy. Federal financial institution regulators must act quickly to provide greater supervisory flexibility—as they did in 2009, 2020, and 2022—to allow lenders and borrowers to responsibly restructure the large amount of maturing commercial real estate loans.”
“Businesses and individuals need more time to transition their space needs to the post-pandemic economy. Greater certainty in demand will allow commercial real estate markets, particularly the office sector, to stabilize and revert to its dominant position as the source for local budget revenue. In addition to regulatory flexibility, positive public and private action to encourage in-person, return-to-work policies is needed, where appropriate. As some buildings will need to be reimagined entirely, policy reforms are needed to encourage those buildings to convert to other uses such as housing,” DeBoer added.
The Roundtable’s Sentiment Index—a measure of senior executives’ confidence and expectations about the commercial real estate market environment—is scored on a scale of 1 to 100 by averaging the scores of Current and Future Sentiment Indices. Any score over 50 is viewed as positive.
The Q2 2023 Real Estate Roundtable Sentiment Index registered an overall score of 41, a decrease of three points from the previous quarter. The Current Index registered 27, a four-point decrease from Q1 2023, and the Future Index posted a score of 55 points, a decrease of three points from the previous quarter.
Participants noted the continued disparity between asset classes as well as within them. On one hand, rental demand continues to hold up in the multifamily and industrial sectors. Hotel and retail markets are also largely performing well and niche asset classes continue to generate interest and attract capital. On the other hand, while Class A offices remain desirable, the rest of the office industry is struggling to reposition itself.
Similar to last quarter, 93% of survey participants believe that asset values have repriced to the downside vs. last year. However, limited trades in 2023 are making it difficult to gauge the market. Survey respondents continue to observe wide disparities in bid-ask spreads.
The availability of capital, both debt and equity, continues to be a pressing topic. Regarding the availability of debt and equity, 93% and 75% of survey participants, respectively, believe that today’s conditions are more difficult than a year ago. While the cost of capital has universally increased, platform scale and relationships largely determine access and ability to secure debt financing.
Looking to the future, 48% of survey participants stated general market conditions will be more favorable a year from now—although only 20 percent of respondents believe asset values will be more favorable in one year.
Data for the Q2 survey was gathered in April by Chicago-based Ferguson Partners on The Roundtable’s behalf. See the full Q2 report.
The Real Estate Roundtable brings together leaders of the nation’s top publicly-held and privately-owned real estate ownership, development, lending and management firms with the leaders of major national real estate trade associations to jointly address key national policy issues relating to real estate and the overall economy.
This week, Real Estate Roundtable leaders emphasized the need for federal regulators to allow more flexibility for lenders and borrowers to restructure commercial real estate loans facing potential default—as the Federal Reserve reported that CRE poses a potential risk to financial stability. (Fed’s Financial Stability Report, May 2023)
Request for Time
Real Estate Roundtable Chair John Fish, above, (Chairman and CEO, SUFFOLK) summarized the industry’s views in a May 9 MarketWatch article, noting that the Fed and regulatory agencies should grant more flexibility for borrowers, including corporate real estate developers, to restructure CRE loans.
Fish explained how an impending wave of $1.5 trillion in CRE loans—combined with tight lending conditions and higher, unsustainable interest rates—could stifle construction and development in major cities struggling to bounce back from the pandemic. (MarketWatcharticle pdf)
Post-pandemic CRE values have dropped $453 billion, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, especially in cities with high vacancy rates due to ongoing work-from-home policies. Prior to the pandemic, 95% of U.S. offices were occupied. Today, that number is closer to 47%. Collapsing property values are threatening the fiscal health of cities across the nation. (GlobeSt, March 3)
Defaults on CRE loans hit a 14-year high in February. Fish emphasized that further economic damage can be avoided if federal regulators grant additional time for markets to stabilize, as they have done in the past. (See regulatory notices from 2009, 2020, and 2022)
“We are going to have to figure out a plan with the federal government to allow banks to have some time to work through some of these loans. It has been done before, so you can restructure, and get more equity into the deal, so that we don’t see this cascade of defaults that we’ve already started seeing happening. There has to be some thought to give banks, owners, and developers time to restructure loans,” Rudin said.
On Monday, the Fed released its bi-annual Financial Stability Report—a survey of market experts, economists, and academics that assesses concerns about the nation’s financial and economic health. The report, which includes a special section on commercial real estate-related risks, identifies CRE asthe fourth-largest financial stability concern. (Commercial Observer, May 10 and ConnectCRE, May11)
Many survey respondents noted CRE as a “possible trigger for systemic risk,” listing concerns about higher interest rates, valuations, and shifts in end-user demand. “With CRE valuations remaining elevated … the magnitude of a correction in property values could be sizable and therefore could lead to credit losses by holders of CRE debt,” according to the May report. (GlobeSt, May 10)
Over the first quarter of this year, the SLOOS shows a majority of banks reported concerns about an uncertain economic outlook, reduced tolerance for risk, worsening of industry-specific problems, and deterioration in their current or expected liquidity position. Mid-sized banks generally reported tightening both price and non-price terms more frequently than the largest banks and other banks, according to the loan officer survey.
The Roundtable continues to urge federal regulators to issue guidance that would give financial institutions increased flexibility to refinance loans with borrowers and lenders. The various market pressures facing CRE will be discussed during The Roundtable’s all-member Annual Meeting on June 13-14 in Washington.