The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, the published-six-times-yearly compendium of anecdotes from every corner of the economy, issued its newest edition yesterday. Within, we learn the commercial real estate market, viewed from a national perspective, is showing good signs – expansion in transactions and construction plus rising rents characterize many of the Fed’s twelve districts.
Commercial real estate activity expanded further in most Districts. Construction and sales rose only slightly in Boston, Kansas City, and St. Louis but grew at a faster clip in Cleveland and Dallas. In the Atlanta District, construction activity expanded moderately, but contractors reported tight supply conditions, with construction backlogs of one to two years. Contacts in Richmond and New York noted strong growth in industrial construction, and vacancy rates for industrial space fell to 10-year lows in the latter District. Commercial leasing activity strengthened in New York, Richmond, and San Francisco, but grew at a softer pace in Philadelphia, where contacts described the market as in a “lull, not a retreat.” Vacancy rates on commercial properties increased along with completions in the Kansas City District. Commercial rents edged up in various Districts, including in Dallas and San Francisco. Contacts in several Districts cited only modest expectations for sales and construction activity moving forward, due in part to economic uncertainty surrounding the November elections.
While not a commentary on the views of Fed officials, the Beige Book nonetheless provides a handy barometer for regional and national economic activity ranging from commercial real estate to finance, consumer spending, tourism and other major areas.
Last week saw the publication of the latest Beige Book, the six-times-annually published economic activity report from the Federal Reserve Bank that looks at the whole country divided by Federal Reserve Districts. You can read the entire Fed Beige Book after the link. Below find the key takeaways for commercial real estate nationally:
Real Estate and Construction (Nationwide)
Most reporting Districts characterized nonresidential real estate activity as modest to moderate; Boston and New York indicated little change. Rental rates rose in more than half of the reporting Districts, and vacancy rates were mixed. Most Districts reported modest or moderate growth in commercial construction, and the Dallas District noted high levels of industrial construction in Dallas-Fort Worth. Contacts in the Atlanta District expect construction activity to increase slightly, while contacts in the Philadelphia, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Richmond Districts expect overall commercial real estate activity to continue to strengthen at least modestly.
Banking and Finance (Nationwide)
Lending activity appears to have improved on net. Loan demand grew on balance in the Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco Districts. Cleveland, Richmond, and Kansas City reported stable credit demand, on balance, while Dallas noted some recent softening. Philadelphia reported the strongest loan growth for autos, commercial real estate, and commercial and industrial deals, while residential lending was flat to down.
Banking and Finance (Chicago District) Financial conditions tightened slightly on balance over the reporting period. Financial market contacts noted greater illiquidity in the bond market. In addition, a contact in commercial real estate financing reported a decline in interest from institutional investors amid concern that the commercial real estate market was overheated.
Construction and Real Estate (Minneapolis District)
Commercial real estate activity was moderate to strong since the last report. Retail, office, and industrial vacancies in Minneapolis-St. Paul have been falling and rents have been rising, according to multiple industry reports. In northwestern Montana, commercial vacancies “have mostly disappeared,” with rates stabilizing at about 5 percent, said a local source, while the Rapid City market “has been extremely active these last couple of weeks of the year.” […]
The Federal Reserve publication entitled the Beige Book is not, as its title might suggest, a handbook for interior designers with a preference for inoffensive colors. It is an eight-times yearly published report of the Federal Reserve Board also known as Commentary On Current Economic Conditions. The reports gather “anecdotal information on current economic conditions” in each of the eight Federal Reserve Bank Districts.
The Beige Book publication schedule for 2013 is:
The commercial real estate industry finds good news in the most recent beige book, along with somewhat mixed indicators. March 6, 2013’s Beige Book reports:
Most [Federal Reserve] Districts reported expansion in consumer spending, although retail sales slowed in several Districts. Automobile sales were strong or solid most Districts, and tourism strengthened in a number of Districts. The demand for services was generally positive across Districts, most notably for technology and logistics firms. Transportation services activity was mixed among Districts, although the majority of contacts were optimistic about future activity. Manufacturing modestly improved in most regions, with several Districts reporting strong demand from the auto, food, and residential construction industries. Residential real estate markets strengthened in nearly all Districts and home prices rose amid falling inventories across much of the country. Commercial real estate activity was mixed or improved slightly in most Districts, and financing for commercial development remained widely available. Overall loan demand was stable or slightly higher across nearly all Districts, and several bankers noted stiff competition for qualified borrowers. Agricultural conditions varied across the country, with some areas continuing to suffer from drought while others reported considerable precipitation and improved soil moisture levels. Districts reporting on energy activity indicated modest expansions in crude oil and natural gas exploration, while mining activity slowed.
Overall commercial real estate conditions were mixed or slightly improved in most Districts. Commercial real estate activity grew modestly in the Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, and St. Louis Districts, and activity in the San Francisco District expanded. Boston and New York reported mixed activity, while the Kansas City and Dallas Districts noted few changes. Although some modest growth was reported in the Chicago District, the level of activity remained weak, and commercial contractors in the Cleveland District noted a slowing in activity, particularly for defense-related projects. Office vacancy rates declined across most of the New York District, and industrial vacancy rates in upstate New York posted their lowest levels in three years. Richmond contacts described the supply of Class A office space as tight, which they attributed to the absence of new construction. Commercial development and leasing activity increased in the San Francisco Bay and Seattle markets, fueled by sustained growth in the technology sector. Commercial construction improved by varying degrees in the Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts. Respondents in the Boston District expressed concerns about overbuilding in Boston’s apartment market and office sector, while Philadelphia contacts noted an increase in energy-related projects and repair work resulting from Hurricane Sandy. Cleveland, Atlanta, and Chicago reported high demand for manufacturing space, with some Chicago manufacturers leasing temporary space to accommodate increased demand. Credit for commercial development and transactions was widely available, although Boston noted a large decline in loan demand and contacts in the Cleveland District said financing difficulties continued.
Loan demand was steady or increased across all the Districts that reported. Residential real estate loan demand was strong in the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta and Chicago Districts, mainly driven by refinances due to continued low interest rates. Demand for commercial real estate loans was also strong in the Cleveland, Richmond, and Kansas City Districts. Auto lending increased in the Cleveland and Atlanta Districts, and Philadelphia and Dallas cited growth in energy-related loan demand. San Francisco continued to report a slowdown in venture capital and private equity activity, but contacts noted an increase in the number of private technology companies moving toward an IPO.
Asset quality improved at banks in the Philadelphia, Kansas City and San Francisco Districts. Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta and San Francisco lenders reported high competition for qualified borrowers. Borrowing standards were reported to have been loosened in some Districts. Atlanta contacts noted additional loan capacity, but continued to be cautious with loan activity. Cleveland bankers considered cost cutting measures, including layoffs, due to shrinking net interest margins. New York contacts indicated a decrease in loan spreads for all loan categories, particularly residential mortgages, and bankers in the Chicago District said that very few mortgage originations were being kept on their balance sheets and that interest rate swaps were being utilized to hedge against a potential rise in interest rates. Bankers were generally optimistic about future activity in the Philadelphia and Dallas Districts for the near term, but Atlanta bankers expected activity to ease toward the middle of the year.
The Federal Reserve has issued some changes concerning commercial real estate. One is a clear positive in its new Beige Book, or collection of economic conditions across the country, and another change is more ambiguous — a proposed update in the Fed’s capital requirements made of banks.
First, the good news:
The Beige Book: Demand Is Up For Commercial Property Loans
A piece in Credit Union Times tells the tale of the Fed’s new Beige Book, that report of nationwide economic conditions. The new Beige Book contains reports from several districts across the Federal Reserve System that delinquencies on commercial loans are down, and that has fueled demand for more commercial property loans.
According to the Fed, the Atlanta district led the way with the greatest increase in demand for commercial loans:
A number of districts, including Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco, said loan pricing remained quite competitive. Several districts noted increased demand for capital spending loans.
The Fed said lending standards were relatively unchanged to slightly easier across districts and loan types. Most district banks said loan delinquencies continued to decline as credit quality remained solid and loan quality improved.
“Given the woes from the past couple of years, whether intellectually or emotionally perceived, the reports should be seen as good news for the industry,” according to Brian Turner, director and chief strategist at Catalyst Strategic Solutions, a subsidiary of Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union in Plano, Texas, in his latest analysis.
Second quarter data from the NCUA shows loan growth at an annualized pace of 0.4% so far this year as a 3.1% increase in vehicle loans and a 1.5% increase in real estate loans were offset by a 13.5% decline in unsecured credit cards, Turner said.
Still, weak consumer spending induced by job insecurity, falling values and volatile stock market performance have all contributed to modest loan growth, Turner noted, adding nationally, this has sent consumer spending growth down to 1.4%.
Prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and based on information collected on or before May 25, the Beige Book contains current economic conditions by district through reports from bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources, according to the Fed.
On The Other Hand: Upped Capital Requirements for CRE Lenders Proposed
The Federal Reserve on Thursday released a proposal that would implement a global agreement known as Basel III capital rules for banks, including a measure that would assign a higher risk weight to commercial real estate loans that are included in a calculation for how much capital an institution needs to hold as a buffer. The Fed assigns a higher 150% risk weight to exposures to commercial real estate loans, up from a current 100% risk weight. The Fed said these loans presented elevated risk over “several recent economic cycles.” Based on the proposal, which implements the international accord, banks will be required to hold the strictest form of common-equity capital of 7% of their risk-based assets, phased in between January 2013 and 2019.
While our pinstriped friends will no doubt point to this — or any intervention on the part of their regulators — as the convenient excuse for their current miserly credit posture to secondary-market-and-below commercial property deals, the fact is not much else can or should be expected in the wake of a financial crisis brought on in the first place by monumentally bad risk management on the part of banks. The question is how many of us will end up dragged into the woodshed with them?