Why The Return of Uncertainty Could Be Good for Commercial Real Estate
As the new administration crosses its 100-day mark, there is great uncertainty about what types of policies, ranging from health care, immigration, tax, and regulatory reform, exist. In fact, the celebrated “Trump Trade” has more or less stalled as of today, but the gains remain locked in place for the most part. The business and investment world has collectively reached a “now what” posture. Overall, recent measures of consumer and CEO confidence continue to rise as consumer confidence rose to 125.6 in March, up from the prior reading of 116.1, and CEO confidence rose from its prior reading of 65 to 68. The bulk of the country remains steady with the rise of optimism detected post November 2016, despite the uproar presented by the nightly evening news.
Unemployment Rate Near Historic Low
Recent economic data has added additional uncertainty into the discussion. The most recent monthly report shows that only 98,000 jobs were added, a decrease from the previously reported numbers which were well above 200 thousand each month. However, the headline unemployment rate also fell to a near historic low of 4.5%, indicating an overall tight labor market. Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, also had its first negative reading of -0.3% in March after many successive reports of greater than 2% annualized inflation. The net result is less certainty that the Federal Reserve will raise rates in the near term or that aggressively over the next year. With long-term bond rates already down 20 to 30 basis points from recent highs, the potential for an “overheating” economy where inflation runs wild seems less likely as of today than it did three months ago.
3 Reasons Why Uncertainty Could Be Good News for CRE
There are three main reasons why this level of political and economic uncertainty can be very good news for the commercial real estate sector.
The market believes the uncertainty has a positive tilt. It’s more likely that we will unexpectedly receive good news rather than bad news (such as a surprise passage of a tax reform package that’s good for business).
There appears to be a lower probability of rapid interest rate increases, and consequently cap rate increases. This should boost the confidence for real estate investors looking to make acquisitions today.
The underlying fundamental demand for commercial real estate space, including apartments, continue to grow. Yardi reported the first increase in five months in average national multifamily rents with a gain of $6 per month to a rate of $1,312. As always, the likelihood of having a perfect world for commercial real estate is low given that interest rates are staying steady while rents and occupancies continue to rise. Right now this appears to be the condition for at least the near term.
Even though the future can be uncertain, real estate is set to outperform stocks and bonds in 2017. In the last month, REITs provided a total return of 6.03% while the S&P 500 index only returned 0.12%. In addition, REITs set a multi-year record for amount of capital raised in the first quarter of ’17. Historically, REIT performance serves as leading indicator of future returns to private real estate.