Commercial Real Estate Investors: How to Adjust to Rising Rates

Mortgage Rates Rise as Lenders React to Market Pressures

In response to a growing economy and inflation pressures, the bond markets, and now the Federal Reserve, appear positioned to support higher short term and long term interest rates. In a move that had been long anticipated, the Fed moved the target for the Fed Rates up 25 basis points from 0.5% to 0.75 % in December. It is expected that the Fed Rates could move two to three times more in 2017 depending on the rate of growth experienced this year. Prior to the Fed decision, long term bond rates moved in reaction to the election, with the 10-Year Treasury going form a three-month low of 1.74% to a three-month high of 2.60% in less than a month. Bond rates have since settled back below 2.40% as of January 17, 2017. This move represented a lot of pent up desire to sell bonds and buy stocks. Early indications are that mortgage rates, both residential and commercial, have moved in similar fashion as lenders quickly react to market pressures. This dynamic is likely to continue for much of 2017. If you invest in commercial real estate, here is how to adjust.

Future Growth in Economy, Jobs Could Increase Demand for Commercial Real Estate

First, realize that these moves in interest rates are related to the anticipation of good news, specifically, about the macro economy and to some extent stock prices. GDP has been reported to have grown at 3.5% in the 3rd quarter of 2016 before any potential “Trump” Man using a modern interfaceeffect could be measured. Job growth has mostly sustained at robust, consistent levels as unemployment sits at near full employment at 4.7%. Of course, the biggest impact has been stock equity prices. The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average have risen approximately 10% since the election as a result of anticipated future growth. This future growth in the economy and jobs, if it materializes, will also mean increased demand for all types of commercial real estate, resulting in a possible rise of rental rates and occupancies.

Second, interest rates, assuming they continue to rise, are still far below long term averages. For historical reference, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury averaged 3.58% from 2001 through 2015, and they were much higher in the fifteen years prior. Through this same period of time leveraged private real estate averaged an annual total return of 13.71%, according to the Lakemont Group (analyzing NCREIF return data), beating the average annual return on REITs, 13.19%. Therefore, real estate has and can continue to perform well in higher rate environments.

Finally, rising rate environments require different management strategies than flat or falling rate environments. As inflation is the natural companion of rising interest rates, the ability to push rents upward over time should, in theory, be easier. Flat long term leases are not as advantageous, and will not create as much value on a relative basis. In general, the more realistic upside potential a property’s rent roll presents, the more it could be worth. On the other hand, expenses are likely to rise at a faster rate. Therefore, lease structures that pass expenses, or at least their annual growth, on to the tenant will result in better cash flow and higher valuations. There is also the issue of borrowing in a rising rate environment. For long term holds the answer seems simple – fix long term rates. In reality, it’s much more complex, as accepting a variable rate will result in the greatest present day savings, but with more long term risk. The spread between variable and fixed rates historically gets much wider when lenders expect rates to rise in the near and long term future. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it may actually be more prudent to borrow at variable rates today than before. As long as the property can grow rents and the tenants can absorb increases in expenses, cash flows may be higher, even for the long term.