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The first proper U.S. financial market tremors of 2024 have been felt and unsurprisingly, perhaps, commercial real estate is at the heart of the dislocation.
Unsurprising, at least, to the thousands who descended on Miami this week for the investor conferences and meetings collectively termed “Hedge Fund Week,” who put commercial real estate as perhaps the most scarlet of red flags for the year ahead.
Just as New York Community Bancorp shares were plunging nearly 40%, unleashing the biggest sell-off in regional U.S. bank stocks since the shock of March last year, some of the most powerful names in finance were sounding the warning.
“There’s going to be a reckoning. How contained that is is TBD (to be decided),” Drew McKnight, co-CEO at Fortress Investment Group, said on a panel at the iConnections Global Alts 2024 conference on Tuesday.
“Even in a benign environment, even in a soft landing … that is an area that will provide stress. I don’t think it will be a bloodbath … but there is turmoil, and the worst of that turmoil is yet to come,” he said.
McKnight was one of four on the “Wall Street Titans Panel” alongside Third Point’s Dan Loeb, Oaktree Capital Management’s Armen Panossian and Apollo’s John Zito. Hundreds of billions of dollars of assets under collective management, and a collective wariness towards commercial real estate (CRE).
To be sure, none called an immediate crisis or crash. And the Federal Reserve’s rapid and highly effective response to the regional banking shock last March shows that policymakers have the hoses to put out fires were they to appear again.
Instead, there could be a steady drip over the coming years of borrowers refinancing mortgages at significantly higher interest rates, buildings remaining empty, and asset values heading south.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but I can see lots of situations where the debt comes due that it’s going to be very hard to warrant anywhere close to where these valuations are today,” warned Apollo’s Zito.


According to Goldman Sachs, some $1.2 trillion of commercial mortgages are scheduled to mature this year and next. That’s almost a quarter of all outstanding commercial mortgages, and the highest recorded level going back to 2008. The biggest single holder are banks with a 40% share.
Other estimates put the “maturity wall” as high as $1.5 trillion.
Whatever the number, it is lot of borrowers having to refinance mortgages at two or even three times higher rates thanks to the 500 basis points of Fed rate hikes over 2022-23.
They won’t all be able to do that, putting lenders on the hook too. And small U.S. banks are on the hook more than most – Apollo’s chief economist Torsten Slok estimates almost 70% of all CRE loans outstanding is held by small banks.
Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood Capital Group, an investment firm focusing on real estate with around $115 billion of assets under management, sounded an even gloomier note on the CRE sector and banks that lend to it.
“The office market has an existential crisis right now,” Sternlicht told the Global Alts conference. “It’s a $3 trillion asset class that is probably worth $1.8 trillion. There’s $1.2 trillion of losses spread somewhere, and nobody knows exactly where it all is.”
Yet all that said, the Fed’s response to last year’s regional banking shock – namely the liquidity injection via the Bank Term Funding Program (BTFP) – and the subsequent rebound across financial markets are powerful reminders not to get too carried away.
The Fed has said the BTFP will be wound down in March, but few investors would bet against the central bank quickly reopening it or even creating new tools to provide liquidity or backstop the market should the need arise.


Source:  Reuters

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“Bad” doesn’t adequately express the last few days for New York Community Bancorp.

As the close of Thursday, shares were down 44.6% after the bank revealed a 2023 Q4 loss of $252 million rather than the Q3 $207 million gain. Markets remembered that there are still significant concerns about commercial real estate and its loans.

New York Community had acquired much of the deposits and loan assets from failed Signature Bank, and it added a $552 million provision for future credit losses, plus $185 million in net charge-offs, plus cut dividends by 70% to bolster capital.

Despite repeated assurances from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury department that banks are fundamentally sound, real-time results for banks have become reminders to markets that all is apparently not well.

The problems facing New York Community were more than Signature. A New York co-op loan that wasn’t in default nevertheless is now up from sale because of “a unique feature that pre-funded capital expenditures.” There was also an “additional charge-off on an office loan that went non-accrual during the third quarter, based on an updated valuation.”

Even worse, all this was unanticipated by investors because the bank had not prepared markets for the bad news.

From a market view, compounding all this was that the acquisitions from Signature and 2022’s acquisition of Flagstar Bancorp boosted New York Community’s total assets to more than $100 billion. That put the institution, as it noted, “firmly in the Category IV large bank class of banks between $100 billion and $250 billion in assets and subjecting us to enhanced prudential standards, including risk-based and leverage capital requirements, liquidity standards, requirements for overall risk management and stress testing.”

Moody’s placed the bank on review for a downgrade

But there was compounding news from elsewhere in the world, as the Wall Street Journal reminded. Azora Bank of Japan saw shares drop 20%, “the maximum allowed on a single day under stock-market rules, after it said losses in its U.S. office-loan portfolio will likely lead to a net loss for the year ending in March.” The annual loss will be the first in 15 years and its president will step down April 1. And then, Deutsche Bank “increased loss provisions in its U.S. commercial loan book nearly fivefold from 2022’s fourth quarter to 123 million euros, equivalent to $133 million.”

Concerns about conditions in CRE might push banks into restricting lending even more, which would reduce available financing and make the industry more dependent on alternative funding sources, like private equity, with significant higher financing costs than commercial banks.

Or as Morgan Stanley’s Mike Wilson put it to Bloomberg: “It’s not a systemic issue. It’s a weight on credit growth [and] the companies that are reliant on that kind of funding are going to see that’s a paperweight for them.”


Source:  GlobeSt.