Mortgage Observer

The Weakening State of Underwriting

Sam Chandan

The commercial real estate finance industry has entered 2014 with a renewed sense of confidence. The incautious tone at the first quarter’s outlook conferences belies the industry’s recent history and the losses incurred on precrisis lending activities. Instead, heady predictions of higher lending volumes are being proffered as unequivocally positive signs of better days ahead.  More is better in the mundane calculus, and the next year will undoubtedly see more lenders in more places enabling investment by a wider range of borrowers. We are hard-pressed to show serious evolution in our approaches to credit risk measurement. But as long as we ignore that capital flows and the cost and capacity for leverage influence prices and risk-taking, there is no cause for a more prudent analysis.

Read More

Mortgage Observer

Life Companies Face Renewed Competition

Sam Chandan.

The initial recovery in commercial real estate investment activity has been rewarding for life company lenders. Absent robust competition to originate mortgages to institutional borrowers, life companies have expanded their share of the secured debt market while working to hold the line on underwriting standards. It has not been a volume game. The enhanced liquidity from life company lending has been narrowly focused, with the lion’s share of the benefits accruing to a privileged class of well-heeled borrowers. In this segment of the market, life companies offer their most competitive terms. As debt market conditions improve, they are butting up against other lenders. For life companies, this more crowded landscape is a counterweight to improving economic projections and growth in the number of qualified borrowers.

Read More

Mortgage Observer

Commercial Property Markets in a World of Rising Rates

Sam Chandan.

More than three months after the summer’s initial spike in Treasury yields, commercial real estate investors are breathing a little easier. Third-quarter 2013 data show a modest impact on cap rates and borrowing costs from higher interest rates; neither increased in lock step with their baseline costs of capital. In actively contested segments of the market, including most institutional markets, cap rates were flat or increased only slightly during the quarter. In the extreme, cap rates for the most coveted assets inched lower. 

Read More

Mortgage Observer

Sam Chandan Takes the Pulse of the Banks

Sam Chandan.

Banks’ reengagement with commercial real estate investors showed no signs of slowing in the third quarter of 2013. For well-established borrowers in Manhattan, financing constraints may seem like a historical footnote. The same cannot be said for every corner of the industry, though conditions are improving. A preliminary tally of mortgages originated through mid-September points to more banks lending in more places against a widening spectrum of income-producing properties. Delinquency and default rates are declining, as fresh mortgages dilute the shrinking pool of banks’ legacy debt. Financial dislocations still present obstacles for many credit-worthy borrowers removed from the confines of prime markets. But the data shows that debt, alongside equity, is increasingly predisposed to straying from its safe havens.

Read More

Mortgage Observer

Retail Credit Quality Will Strain as CMBS Issuance Surges

Sam Chandan.

Fueled by investors’ renewed appetite for risk and the relative stability of bond yields, CMBS issuance in 2013 is pacing far ahead of last year. By early May, volume had surpassed $30 billion, roughly three times the 2012 year-to-date tally. An uptick in the number of well-qualified borrowers is only part of the story. As it expands, the credit quality of the larger underlying pool shows signs of an increasingly flexible approach to underwriting. Too many investors are unfazed by the credit drift, largely content that anchoring to existing cash flow obviates risk along other dimensions. Fitted with blinders, those investors run the chance of being outflanked by new drivers of loss, including inadequate cushions against rising interest rates. As the cyclical attention to risk dissipates, a longer list of ratings agencies in the post-crisis era still brings fresh perspectives to the marketplace. It has also invited a new round of ratings shopping. Read More

the lead indicator

Shock Therapy, Japanese Style

chandan silo for web

The Bank of Japan’s campaign of shock and awe is approaching its half-year anniversary. Early results are mostly according to plan. The economy expanded at a relatively brisk pace in the first quarter. Though it’s purportedly not the goal, the yen has fallen 20 percent against the dollar. The Nikkei’s broad stock indices are up sharply, even after last Thursday’s 7 percent dive. Retail sales data due this week could get a lift from a modest wealth effect. Read More

the lead indicator

What Do Goldilocks And The Economy Have In Common?

chandan silo for web

The inflation hawks were sent packing again last month when reports showed prices falling. The latest Economist poll of forecasters pegs inflation below 2 percent until at least 2015. That’s not far removed from the local view. As part of its expectation-setting exercise, the Fed sees its preferred measure—the personal consumption expenditures price index—holding below 2 percent now and over the long run. Read More

Mortgage Beat

The (Improving) State of Construction Lending

Sam Chandan.

Construction lending has registered a marked improvement over the last six months, in top-rung metro areas and increasingly in secondary markets as well. During the financial crisis and for most of the period that has followed, development financing has been reserved for the most rarefied opportunities. With the exception of the apartment sector, the search for new projects has generally brought us back to New York and the other cardinal metros. Eager developers chancing upon opportunities elsewhere have found themselves hamstrung by hesitancy among potential anchors, reluctant banks and skeptical regulators. That is changing. Read More

opinion

New Columnists, More Opinions, Now!

If you hadn’t already noticed, The Commercial Observer late last night added seven new columnists to its already formidable roster of real estate thought leaders.

Indeed, along with veteran prognosticators Robert Knakal, Sam Chandan, Richard Persichetti and Robert Sammons (back from a short hiatus), we’re now happy to welcome David Greene, Christopher Havens, Barry LePatner, Kenneth McCarthy, J.D. Parker, Joshua Siegelman and Scott Spector. Find web-exclusive columns along the right rail of our website every week. Read More

the lead indicator

Tax It All or Don’t Tax at All

chandan silo for web

The Senate has taken up the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would upend the overlong tax holiday for Internet commerce.

It’s not that online purchases have been tax-free. Unless you are in one of the few jurisdictions with no sales tax, your opportunity for a good-citizenship declaration of online purchases comes every April 15. Predictably, only a tiny share of American taxpayers seizes the chance. Read More

the lead indicator

Power, This Time for the Keynesians

Sam Chandan

Speaking of power, the Austerians have lost one of their most powerful corroborations. At least for political purposes, the oft-cited and rather particular relationship between sovereign debt and growth has been sundered by a graduate student’s homework assignment. Never has so much of consequence turned on a spreadsheet error. Read More

the lead indicator

A Bridge Too Far: It Isn’t a Lack of Funding Keeping Infrastructure From Being Built

chandan silo for web

Ask someone if there’s a problem with American infrastructure and there’s a good chance he’ll point at the nearest bridge.

It needn’t be a grand structure. As a generation of Wharton alumni will confirm, crossing the Schuylkill by way of the modest South Street overpass was a risky proposition until just a few years ago. In its dying days, the bridge was closed to heavy vehicles but open to daredevil and presumably light-footed Penn students. The long-deferred move to replace the 1923 bascule bridge began in 2008, which happened to coincide with city engineers’ declaration it would not survive another winter. Read More

the lead indicator

Employment Remains the Weakest Link of the Recovery

chandan silo for web

It’s been clear since long before the Great Recession that something is amiss in the labor market. Unbeknownst to the most recent crop of college graduates, this is not our first “jobless recovery.” That term was introduced to the popular lexicon in the early 1990s. It was revived in 2003; more than a year into that recovery, the turnaround in employment had never been weaker. In retrospect, those were halcyon days when compared with our current run.

What’s gone wrong? Read More

the lead indicator

Girding for Growth in Midtown

chandan silo for web

There are good reasons to envisage a refresh of Midtown Manhattan’s office inventory.

A prolonged lull in construction has left us with an abundance of heirlooms but few modish buildings. As a global center of finance, Midtown East’s built environment compares especially poorly with its peer markets. Average rents are much higher in London, but the premium over Midtown is less pronounced when comparing our small basket of best apples with theirs. Rezoning with an eye to new construction has its winners and losers. As new properties come online over the next decade, incumbents saddled with older buildings may find their highest and best use takes them outside the office sector altogether. Read More