Browse Tag: credit

REIT Risk: Bank Borrowing Rising

English: US Bank tower in Denver, Colorado. Are banks a source of REIT risk?

The real estate investment trust (REIT) is an investment vehicle with a particular sensitivity to borrowed capital. REIT risk tied to capital source is heightened because the legal structure of a REIT is centered on distributing the vast majority of its earnings to shareholders.  This means the REIT is prevented from holding back significant capital reserves, which in turn means it must borrow to finance its acquisitions and operations.  That borrowing takes the form of credit from bondholders and from banks.

Taken by itself, the REIT structure’s dependency on external capital need not present untoward risk to the REIT, but the borrowing side needs balance to protect the REIT from overexposure to a certain type of borrowing.  Between the two tradition avenues, commercial banks and bond issuance, US REITs are increasingly exposed to bank credit.

According to a new REIT risk report by investment ratings agency Fitch, US REITs have doubled their exposure to bank borrowing over the past seven years. Fitch put the borrowing from commercial banks at 8.5% of total REIT debt in 2010. That figure is now 16.5% as of year-end 2016.

Access to multiple forms of capital is a characteristic of investment-grade REITs, and a weakening in the unsecured bond markets would challenge REITs to tap additional unsecured bank borrowing. Fitch has viewed negatively companies with less mature capital structures that rely on fewer sources of funding. The inability of issuers to obtain cost-effective unsecured funding via the bond or bank market could cause rating downgrades or negative outlook changes.

Two Environmental Factors: Low Interest, High Profile

The changes come as REITs have literally come into their own as an equity investment — 2016 was the year that REITs received their own sector classification from Standard & Poor, taking them out of the wider category of “finance” and into a spotlight of their own.  That move boosted REIT stocks in the investing public’s eye at the same time that very low interest rates have prodded REITs seeking capital toward corporate bond issuance and the risk premiums that go with these bonds.

Both factors have emphasized the viability of REITs as an investment class, but the rise in one kind of vital borrowing that will be sensitive to Federal Reserve interest rate moves, which can almost go nowhere but up — is seen as a signal by Fitch that balance in borrowing sources is something REITs need more of as a class.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can Having The Wrong Facebook Friends Interfere With Your Financing?

In commercial real estate, as with most commercial financing, a borrower’s personal credit rating looms large in the eyes of “A” list lenders offering the most attractive interest rates.

A recent patent filed by Facebook has raised eyebrows, suggesting that the credit ratings of your Facebook friends could possibly affect decisions made by lenders about you — or by extension, about any entity doing any borrowing where your personal liability is a factor.

As reported in The Atlantic by Robinson Meyer, the online giant Facebook recently made a patent filing totaling many pages, saving the best for last. Nestled toward the tail of Facebook’s US Patent And Trademark Office filing, under a heading “Summary Of The Invention,” (a list containing technologies they seek to patent) Facebook included the following paragraph:

When an individual applies for a loan, the lender examines the credit ratings of members of the individual’s social network who are connected to the individual […]. If the average credit rating of these members is at least a minimum credit score, the lender continues to process the loan application. Otherwise, the loan application is rejected.

The suggestion is that Facebook seeks a patent on the ability to speak to your creditworthiness by allowing analysis of the creditworthiness of your Facebook friends.  Conspicuously missing from the above wording: any mention of a fair analysis of your own hard-earned credit rating.

A Return Of Redlining?

Critics of the practice of amassing Big Data from every corner of the lives of consumers, tenants, or users of a social media platform like Facebook have warned for years about future unintended consequences. It doesn’t take much imagination to see Facebook’s proposal as one such problem. What’s more, the future isn’t the only place where data about borrower’s surroundings have been unethically treated as conclusions about a borrower’s creditworthiness. In the context of the real estate industry, the notion of making credit decisions based upon one’s “neighborhood” has a specific and sad social-legal history, called redlining.

Decades-Old Legal Framing

The recent shifting picture of technology innovation having its way with the credit scoring industry — itself worth its own post — runs up against the legal barriers set down in 1970 under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and, in the case of any loans issued on the basis of such reporting, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.  Any classification of Facebook as a credit reporting agency akin to TransUnion or Experian would be a application of laws written decades before social media information began to voluntarily flow from all of us, a troublesome and awkward legal situation to say the least.

While this patent application is preliminary and comes with no evidence Facebook is actually using or marketing credit data on its users, at least one overseas company is claiming to aggregate Facebook and other social media data to provide lending decision support.  From the Atlantic piece:

Which isn’t to say that social-network-based credit is an irreparably bad idea. In countries that do not have America’s financial system, friend scores can help extend credit to those who need it. In Mexico, Columbia, and the Philippines, a company called Lenddo already analyzes someone’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to gauge their creditworthiness.

Newest Warning From The East

As if on cue, we find a very recent announcement by China’s government, saying that it will be holding certain online actions of its citizens and their social media friends in bad light credit rating-wise. This news, taken seriously by the ACLU  serves as yet another warning among many:

These days, it’s worth keeping in mind that online, we’re all a small part of Big Data.