How to Play the Property Meltdown in Five Charts
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How to Play the Property Meltdown in Five Charts

Savvy buyers made a fortune after the 2008 crash, picking up real estate at distressed prices. Investors hoping to spot bargains in the latest slump can watch these trends.

By CAROL RYAN
Thu, Aug 31, 2023 8:26amGrey Clock 4 min

Is the pain over yet for U.S. commercial real estate? The answer might be yes for stocks but no for the assets they own.

A record $205.5 billion of cash is earmarked for investment in U.S. commercial real estate, according to dry-powder data from Preqin. But good deals may not be available for another six to 12 months. Here are some trends investors can watch for signs of when it is the right time to buy.

How Much Are Values Down Already?

U.S. commercial property prices have fallen 16% on average since their peaks in March 2022, according to real-estate research firm Green Street. Unlike the 2008 crisis, when a lack of credit hurt the value of all real estate, today’s downturn has hit some types of properties much harder than others.

Unsurprisingly given remote working, offices are the worst performers, having lost 31% of their value since the Fed first began raising interest rates. The discount isn’t as enticing as it sounds, as troubled buildings need heavy investment to bring them up to a standard that will attract tenants, or to be redeveloped for new uses.

Meanwhile, prospects for snapping up America’s e-commerce warehouses at knockdown prices look slim. Warehouse values are down just 8% from peaks to reflect higher financing costs, and top industrial stocks like Prologis don’t look cheap either, trading close to net asset value.

Apartments might be a better bet for those hunting for distressed assets. Prices for multifamily apartment buildings have fallen by a fifth since March 2022. Some owners who paid top dollar for properties during the pandemic using short-term, floating-rate debt may be forced to sell if mortgage repayments become unmanageable when their interest rate hedges expire.

Property Sellers Are Still Demanding Yesterday’s Prices

Sellers are holding out for prices that are no longer realistic. MSCI’s bid-ask spread reflects the difference between what U.S. property owners are asking for and what buyers are willing to pay.

As of July, the gap for multifamily apartments was 11%, the widest it has been since early 2012, when the property market was still recovering from the 2008 crash. The gap for office and retail is a bit narrower at around 8%. Price expectations are closest for industrial warehouses, where sellers want just 2% more than buyers are willing to pay.

The market will be sluggish until one side caves. In the second quarter of 2023, investment in U.S. commercial real estate was down 64% compared with a year earlier, according to data from CBRE.

As the bid-ask gap narrows, it will signal that valuations are approaching more sustainable levels. But this will take some time. It was five years after the 2008 crash before buyers and sellers saw eye to eye on prices on the hardest-hit assets like apartments—although the adjustment should be much faster this time.

What Could Force Sellers to Slash Prices?

The number of properties that slip into distress will be key for bargain-hunters.

So far, there haven’t been many forced sales. Only 2.8% of all office deals in the U.S. in the second quarter were distressed, according to MSCI.

This may be because loans haven’t matured yet. “Owners don’t want to take a loss but once there are refinancing issues, they will have that come-to-Jesus moment with lenders,” says Jim Costello, chief economist at MSCI Real Assets.

Even if forced sales are still rare, the value of U.S. property in distress—in default or special servicing—is rising. In the second quarter, an additional $8 billion of assets got into distress, bringing the total to $71.8 billion, according to MSCI. Including properties that look at risk, the pool of potentially troubled assets is more than double this amount.

Investment-grade corporate bond yields suggest that property prices have further to fall

Owning commercial property is a bit like owning a corporate bond, only slightly riskier: You bet on the solvency of a tenant, with more uncertainty about the value of the capital you’ll get back. For at least the past 20 years, investors in U.S. real estate have required a return premium of 1.9 percentage points over the yield on investment-grade corporate debt, according to Green Street’s director of research, Cedrik Lachance.

Right now, real estate only offers a 1.3 percentage point premium. For the relationship to return to normal and make property attractive again, U.S. real-estate prices need to fall a further 10% to 15%.

The share prices of listed property companies also point to further falls

Publicly traded real-estate stocks provide a live read of sentiment toward property markets. In the U.S., listed property companies currently trade at a 10% discount to gross asset values, based on Green Street data. This is a good proxy for the size of the price falls that investors still expect in private real-estate values.

Investors can also keep an eye on property stocks for signs of improvement. “Listed real estate is a leading indicator for private in downturns and also recoveries,” says Rich Hill, head of real estate strategy and research at Cohen & Steers, who points out that there are already green shoots. At the end of June, REITs had risen in value for three consecutive quarters and were 13% above their lowest point in the third quarter of last year. Based on how long it usually takes for a recovery to feed through to the private market, property values could hit the bottom within six to 12 months.

All this suggests the best strategy is to buy property stocks but to wait to purchase physical real estate. “If you want to bottom fish in real estate now, do it in the public markets,” says Green Street’s Lachance.



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

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