American Offices Are Being Sold at Discounted Rates, And That's Stressing Out Regional Banks - The Average Joe

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    American Offices Are Being Sold at Discounted Rates, And That’s Stressing Out Regional Banks

    Rhea Lobo

    June 18, 2024

    High vacancy rates are opening doors for buyers — literally and figuratively — but not everyone is ecstatic. Buyers are acquiring properties at discounts of up to 70% thanks to rising office vacancies. While these are steal deals, they also signal ongoing pain in the commercial property market, which could lead to big losses for banks and investors.

    The Great Office Escape: Commercial real estate (CRE) is grappling with severe challenges despite renewed investor interest and return-to-office policies. The pandemic hit CRE hard, and recovery is so slow that CoStar predicts 2024 and 2025 as the worst years for vacancies — making financing for purchasing or development difficult. Many real estate investment trusts (REITs) and banks lack the money or risk appetite to hold unwanted properties — turning owners into sellers and worsening the crisis.

    • This year, 16 office building mortgages have been foreclosed, leading to $500M in losses, with CRE foreclosures surging 117% in Mar. 2024 compared to last year.
    • For instance, Yellowstone Real Estate Investments purchased 1740 Broadway in Manhattan for $185M, down from the $600M Blackstone paid a decade earlier.

    CRE You Later, Banks

    The Silicon Valley Bank collapse highlighted vulnerabilities within regional banks like New York Community Bancorp ($NYCB) related to CRE loans. According to Goldman Sachs, regional banks provide ~80% of all loans to CRE firms and are now under significant strain. The ongoing distress in the CRE market is leading to a high concentration of troubled loans, escalating losses, and increasing the risk of additional bank failures.

    • This crisis is reflected in the FDIC’s Problem Bank List, which now includes 63 banks burdened by $517B in unrealized losses — up from 43 during the same period last year.
    • Due to substantial exposure to CRE loans, Moody’s might downgrade the debt ratings of six US banks, including First Merchants ($FRME) and F.N.B. Corp. ($FNB).

    Don’t bank on relief: The sector might see an increased offloading of stressed loans. Banks are starting to dispose of higher-quality assets to mitigate losses. If conditions worsen, the FDIC might step in to sell these banks or oversee their dissolution, securing depositors’ insured funds. This intervention could prevent a bank’s failure from triggering a broader financial crisis.

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