The sorry state of REITs in America

For a no-nonsense explanation about the problems faced by real estate investment trusts from across the pond, look no further than ContrarianProfits. Unless, of course, this sort of writing scares you off.

If you carefully consider the combined statistics on commercial mortgage debt, equity, and future rental cash flows, you come to the conclusion that the value of many REITs is permanently impaired. Even if a core group of higher-quality REITs escapes bankruptcy, their equity will still be impaired because lenders will only refinance properties on very tight terms: strict covenants, high interest rates, and requirements of hefty equity infusions into upside-down properties. This is a transfer of wealth from REIT shareholders to creditors. This wealth transfer is occurring through many channels, but the most important one relates to claims on future rental cash flow, which will be bleak regardless of who owns it:

  1. Creditors will take a higher share of those rental cash flows via higher interest rates
  2. Of the cash flows that trickle down to shareholders, they will be divided up among more and more REIT shares as we see more and more dilutive secondary offerings

This unprecedented collapse in commercial real estate fundamentals means that for the next few years, you can throw out the analyses that rely on “cap rates” to value REITs. Distressed sellers and vulture buyers will make up the bulk of commercial real estate transactions for at least the next few years. Equity looking to invest will be scarce, so it will demand very low prices and high potential returns to invest.

Between now and 2013, $1.6 trillion in commercial real estate debt will mature. Bankers know this, so they’re going to keep conditions very tight for any refinancing that they grant. Plus, a hefty chunk of this debt is held by commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), in which the lenders cannot sit across the table and renegotiate with stressed borrowers…

Not fun reading, unless, of course, you’re a glutton for punishing distressed owners.


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