PIMCO: There's a storm brewing in the real-estate market

Pimco is out with an urgent warning out about the US commercial real-estate market.

In a report Monday, Pimco’s John Murray and Anthony Clarke wrote that the capital flows that propped up the market since the housing crash are now decreasing.

And that spells trouble ahead.

From the report (emphasis added ):

“Storms form when moisture, unstable air and updrafts interact. Similarly, a confluence of factors — volatility in public markets, tightened regulations, maturing loans and uncertain foreign capital flows — is creating a blast of volatility for U.S. commercial real estate (CRE) that we anticipate could lower overall private U.S CRE prices by as much as 5% over the next 12 months.

Last month, Deutsche Bank analysts similarly warned about a decline in commercial real estate; they noted that various measures of on-the-ground spending were near or above 90% of the levels where they last peaked between 2002 and 2008.

Pimco observed that real estate investment trusts (REITs) — securities that invest in real estate and trade like stocks — have been recently slammed together with the equity market.

They observe a 71% correlation between S&P 500 and REIT returns since the beginning of 2015. The S&P 500 has risen just 0.3% since then; REITs have also been virtually flat.

This trading pattern has placed REITs below their net asset value (their value, excluding liabilities, divided by the number of outstanding shares), increasing net sellers of commercial real estate.

Regulation will also continue to be a challenge, PIMCO said. New rules since the financial crisis have prompted banks, which act as market makers in commercial mortgage-backed securities (or CMBS), to slim their dealer inventories.

We already saw a liquidity constraint in February, when hedge funds tried to sell their positions but banks couldn’t make a market, sending CMBS down as much as 20% in weeks.

There’s also a looming liquidation event, as $200 billion of 10-year CMBS loans mature over the next three years. PIMCO notes that many fund managers have held on to them because of the fees, but could now exercise their right to force liquidation.

Amid all these challenges, there are opportunities for investors that understand commercial real estate, Pimco said. For example, sell-offs in stocks would create opportunities to buy them cheaply.

“For flexible capital, this storm might be a welcome one indeed,” Pimco said.

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