Monday, November 2, 2009

Federal Reserve Commentary on CRE

Jon D. Greenlee, Associate Director, Division of Banking Supervision and Regulation of the Federal Reserve testified today before the Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives. His remarks include the following on commercial real estate:
Prices of existing commercial properties have already declined substantially from the peak in 2007 and will likely decline further. As job losses have accelerated, demand for commercial property has declined and vacancy rates have increased. The higher vacancy levels and significant decline in the value of existing properties have placed particularly heavy pressure on construction and development projects that do not generate income until after completion.

As a result, Federal Reserve examiners are reporting a sharp deterioration in the credit performance of loans in banks’ portfolios and loans in commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS). At the end of the second quarter of 2009, approximately $3.5 trillion of outstanding debt was associated with CRE, including loans for multifamily housing developments. Of this, $1.7 trillion was held on the books of banks and thrifts, and an additional $900 billion represented collateral for CMBS, with other investors holding the remaining balance of $900 billion. Also at the end of the second quarter, about 9% of CRE loans in bank portfolios were considered delinquent, almost double the level of a year earlier. Loan performance problems were the most striking for construction and development loans, especially for those that financed residential development. More than 16% of all construction and development loans were considered delinquent at the end of the second quarter.

Of particular concern, almost $500 billion of CRE loans will mature during each of the next few years. In addition to losses caused by declining property cash flows and deteriorating conditions for construction loans, losses will also be boosted by the depreciating collateral value underlying those maturing loans. The losses will place continued pressure on banks' earnings, especially those of smaller regional and community banks that have high concentrations of CRE loans.

The current fundamental weakness in CRE markets is exacerbated by the fact that the CMBS market, which previously had financed about 30% of originations and completed construction projects, has remained closed since the start of the crisis. Delinquencies of mortgages backing CMBS have increased markedly in recent months. Market participants anticipate these rates will climb higher by the end of this year, driven not only by negative fundamentals but also by borrowers’ difficulty in rolling over maturing debt. In addition, the decline in CMBS prices has generated significant stresses on the balance sheets of financial institutions that must mark these securities to market, further limiting their appetite for taking on new CRE exposure.