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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Despite Ongoing Market Challenges, Industry Leaders Expect Improvements in 2024

Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer
Real Estate Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer

The Real Estate Roundtable’s Q1 2024 Sentiment Index confirms that commercial real estate property markets continue to experience significant challenges. At the same time, in the coming year industry executives expect monetary policy action reflecting lower inflation to bring greater stability in asset pricing and expanded availability of debt and equity capital. 

Cautious Optimism

  • Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey DeBoer said, “Our current Sentiment Index shows improved optimism by industry leaders, compared with previous surveys that highlighted significant market concerns. The Q1 sentiment continues to note challenges presented by ongoing tight capital markets, increased operating expenses, and the continuing uncertainty of post-pandemic, in-office work. However, as the interest rate environment appears to have settled somewhat, executives are now expressing increased optimism that values and capital availability will improve in 2024.”

  • He added, “As we look at the current and future landscape of commercial real estate, it’s clear that we are at a pivotal moment. With nearly $3 trillion of commercial real estate loans maturing in the next four years, it remains very crucial that lenders continue to work constructively with borrowers to reflect both current and expected economic growth. Markets and asset values continue to adjust and stabilize as office use, interest rates, and inflation begin to normalize.”

  • All indices of The Roundtable’s Q1 Index are up, compared to the previous quarter and one year ago. The 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 Economic Sentiment Indices.­­­­ Any score over 50 is viewed as positive. ­­­­

Topline Findings

The Real Estate Roundtable's Q1 2024 Sentiment Index
  • The Q1 2024 Real Estate Roundtable Sentiment Index registered an overall score of 61, an increase of 17 points from the previous quarter. The Current Index registered 53, a 21-point increase over Q4 2023, and the Future Index posted a score of 70 points, an increase of 13 points from the previous quarter. These increases point to cautious optimism in the real estate market.
  • There continue to be variations among asset classes and within specific property types as the real estate market rapidly changes. Industrial and multifamily are starting to soften, but retail and hospitality asset classes were identified as being surprisingly resilient. While many office properties have experienced a significant erosion in value, Class A offices continue to outperform.
  • An overwhelming 79% of survey participants indicate that asset values have decreased compared to the previous year. However, the potential end to interest rate hikes has instilled some industry optimism, with nearly 80% of survey participants expecting asset values to be the same or higher a year from now.
  • Survey participants continue to emphasize the challenging capital markets landscape, with 86% and 85% of survey participants suggesting that the availability of equity and debt capital, respectively, is the same or worse than a year ago. That said, 67% and 76% believe the availability of equity and debt capital, respectively, will improve a year from now

Data for the Q1 survey was gathered in January. See the full Q1 report.

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Federal Reserve Supervisors Focused on Banks’ CRE Lending Risk

Michael Barr

Federal banking regulators are closely monitoring risk factors in commercial real estate bank lending throughout the United States, according to comments today from Federal Reserve Board Vice Chair for Supervision Michael Barr. This week, the Fed also released scenarios for its annual stress test for large banks that includes a 40 percent decline in commercial real estate prices—one of several hypothetical risks designed to assess the resilience of the banking system in the event of a severe recession. (Barr speech, Feb. 16 and Fed stress test, Feb. 15)

Managing CRE Risks

  • Barr stated today, “Let me turn to supervision of a specific risk: commercial real estate. The reduced demand for office space and higher interest rates have put pressure on some CRE valuations, particularly in the office sector.”
  • Barr noted that Fed supervisors are “closely focused on banks’ CRE lending in several ways.” He explained that regulators analyze how banks measure and report their risk, what steps they have taken to mitigate the risk of losses on CRE loans, and whether they have sufficient capital to buffer against potential CRE loan losses. (Barr speech, Feb. 16)
  • He also stated that today’s heightened financial risk environment has led the Fed to downgrade firms’ supervisory ratings at a higher rate in the past year and increase its issuance of enforcement actions. Barr said, “We continue to evaluate whether we should temporarily require additional capital or liquidity beyond regulatory requirements where the firm has trouble in managing its risks.” (PoliticoPro, Feb. 16)
  • Bloomberg reported that regulators determined that 22 regional banks late last year had CRE loan portfolios that merit greater scrutiny. (Connect CRE, Feb. 15)

Wave of CRE Refinance Meets Price Discovery

Roundtable Board Member Scott Rechler (Chair and CEO, RXR)
  • Bloomberg also reported this week that commercial property deals in the U.S. are starting to pick up at deep discounts, forcing lenders to brace for increased pressure on maturing loans. (Bloomberg, Feb. 14)
  • Roundtable Board Member Scott Rechler (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, RXR) told Bloomberg that as more transactions add price discovery to the market, investors will have to recapitalize loans to reflect lower values.
  • Rechler said, “In 2024, we’re at that fifth stage of grief. People are now in acceptance.” He also commented on falling property values: “You can’t ignore that anymore. Depending on the severity of it, we’ll see who has actually marked appropriately and who hasn’t.”
  • RXR’s CEO told CNBC last week that “if you’re a borrower who’s willing to invest money, banks are willing to reduce their loan balances to reflect the current environment.” (CNBC, Feb. 6 and Roundtable Weekly, Feb. 9)
  • The Wall Street Journal reported this week that investors are starting to show interest in properties where building owners are unable to extend their loans. The article cites Trepp data that shows more than $2.2 trillion in commercial mortgages are scheduled to mature between now and the end of 2027. (WSJ, Feb. 12)

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported this week that 20 percent ($929 billion) of the $4.7 trillion of outstanding commercial mortgages held by lenders and investors will mature in 2024. That represents a 28 percent increase from the $729 billion that matured in 2023, according to MBA’s Commercial Real Estate Survey of Loan Maturity Volumes.

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