A Statement On Ukraine from Kevin Maggiacomo, SVN President and CEO

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Commercial Real Estate and the Economy Are Holding Steady in 2017

FOUR MAJOR COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE SECTORS EXPERIENCED POSITIVE RENT GROWTH

Now that all the 1Q17 real estate and economic data has been posted and analyzed, it appears as though 2017 year to date is holding steady. All four major sectors experienced positive rent growth in the first quarter according to Reis, Inc. as apartments were up 6.01.17_BLOG SRVCS CUBE-010.2%, office was up 0.4%, industrial was up 0.6%, and retail was up 0.4%. These growth rates are slower than similar first quarters in recent years, but they still represent growing market demand levels. According to data from the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries Pricing, growth and appreciation slowed and the index was up 1.5% in 1Q17. CoStar, who’s equally-weighted national price index grew 4.8%. In regards to overall pricing performance smaller properties are dominating larger ones. The CoStar value-weighted index, which is dominated by larger properties, fell -2.8% over the same time period. This trend has been growing since the start of the year.

NEW SUPPLY REMAINS WELL BELOW RATES

Many of those who are reviewing the slowing pricing data and overall rate of effective rent growth are asking “is this a top?”. The best is answer is to wait to draw any conclusions. New supply of nearly all property types remains well below rates and some are even close to having an oversupply. As a result, sustained declines in real estate pricing or net operating incomes are highly unlikely at this point. The employment market, which historically drives demand for commercial real estate, is as healthy as it has ever looked. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an official unemployment rate of 4.4% which matches pre-2008 recession lows. Further, the “underemployment rate” (known as U-6, which includes marginally attached workers and part-time workers seeking full-time employment) has fallen to 8.6%, which is also close to pre-recession lows. Optimism by business leaders has resulted in increased hiring which, according to the Conference Board, grew to the highest level since 2004 as measured by its CEO Confidence score which reached 68 in the first quarter. This score is up from 65 which was the score at the end of the year. (Any reading above 50 indicates optimism.) The survey results of CEOs reveal there is a continued desire to hire in 2017, but finding qualified workers may be a challenge.

ECONOMY POISED FOR GROWTH

"Businesspeople making deal, focus on hands"The first quarter, which objectively was slower than 2016 readings, may not be indicative of the rest of 2017 and beyond. Arguably, the election result and corresponding rise in stock prices and interest rates was not forecast in 2016. As a result, it is possible that investment activity and price growth of commercial real estate slowed in 1Q17 for no better reason than buyers paused to assess what would happen to the capital markets given the changing landscape. While the new administration has yet to offer clear policy guidance, the overall assessment of the economy is that it is still poised and positioned for growth as of May 2017. In fact, many economists who predicted first quarter GDP would be slow, (the first reading was 0.7% growth according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis), have also predicted a late surge that could bring annual GDP growth to 2.5% or higher. This is why stock prices, and especially REIT prices, have remained relatively steady for most of 2017. The overall market is still optimistic and there is no reason change that view for commercial real estate.

Growth Expectations Return for 2017

BEA reports 3Q2016 GDP growth is highest in 2 years.

From the shadows cast by the Presidential Election earlier this month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released a big “surprise” during the end of October. However, coverage of this news was relegated to the back page due to the election. That news was reporting that the first estimate of third quarter GDP growth came in at an annualized rate of 2.9%, the highest reading in two years (full report). Following the election, stock markets rallied to set new all-time highs and interest rates spiked considerably, with the 10-year treasury moving from 1.82% to 2.32%, a 27% increase. While much of the election’s impact on markets has since been discussed, the underlying status of potential growth (irrespective of the outcome of the election) is probably the bigger story.

While first estimates by the BEA are notoriously prone to error and likely to be revised, quarterly financial results of many publicly traded companies seem to be equally aligned as are recent readings of consumer health and sentiment. So for the time being, the market expects the US economy to grow at a more robust pace than the “slow” sub 2% expectations held just a month ago. For commercial real estate investors this is not new news. Rents and occupancies have been growing for years, but the reality of operating in a rising interest rate environment is a new phenomenon. Assuming the present situation holds, it is rational to expect treasury rates and bank lending rates to drift upwards, occasionally in big steps for much of 2017. This should not cause any great calamity, but upward movements in cap rates should be expected in some markets and asset classes. Losses from cap rate reversion will be offset, at least partially, by continued growth in net operating incomes. However, this is more of a long term effect.

Recent third quarter results from multiple real estate data providers, including REIS, CoStar, and NCREIF, were all positive with some slowing in the rate of appreciation and rental rate growth. If these growth expectations hold, it is quite possible for 2017, and even possibly in 4th fourth quarter 2016, to show that we will experience much faster growth. There is some evidence that the election and its uncertainty was holding back economic growth in 2016 more than previously thought. With this uncertainty gone, and with initial first impressions that a Trump presidency will be pro-growth, it is possible that pent up demand may be released. Still, the transition will not be complete until January, and even then it will take time to see what policy changes and enactments will actually transpire. Thus, cautious optimism is all that can be warranted today. Currently, the stock markets are firmly in this mindset, with growth expectations overpowering fear.

The specific impact by the Trump administration on commercial real estate remains to be seen. Infrastructure spending, tax cuts, and regulatory roll backs all portend signify positive results. Of course, an unpredicted increase in inflation and higher interest rates could mollify these impacts if too unbalanced. Although rents have paced ahead of overall inflation for the past several years, by nature, this trend should reverse itself over time. So celebrate the New Year as most expectations looks positive for the near future following the election, but be wary of too much of a good thing.