Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Economy: A View from the FED

The FED Governor, Elizabeth Duke, spoke yesterday regrading the status of the economy. It is worth the read. I will try to summarize and comment on a few point of her presentation.

Commercial Real Estate, CRE, is, as we have been saying for over a year now, the overhang on any development. She states:

"A number of factors are at work in explaining the reduction in bank loans. For instance, for most commercial banks, the quality of existing loan portfolios continues to deteriorate as levels of delinquent and nonperforming loans are still rising.

In response, banks have reduced existing lines of credit sharply and tightened their standards and terms for new credit. In addition, banks with capital positions that have been eroded by losses or those with limited access to capital markets may be reducing risky assets to improve their capital positions, especially amid continued uncertainty about the economic outlook and possible future loan losses.

During this financial crisis, a number of lending relationships have been severed as individual banks sought to reduce loan portfolios or concentrations within those portfolios or as banks failed or merged. Established banking relationships are particularly important to small businesses, who generally do not have access to broader capital markets and for whom credit extension is often based on private information acquired through repeated interactions over time. When existing lending relationships are broken, time may be required for other banks to establish and build such relationships, allowing lending to resume."

Banks have reduced lending dramatically and this means a great deal for the downside of Commercial Real Estate.

She continues:

"Unfortunately, the outlook for commercial real estate is much less favorable.

Hit hard by the loss of businesses and employment, a good deal of retail, office, and industrial space is standing vacant. In addition, many businesses have cut expenses by renegotiating existing leases.

The combination of reduced cash flows and higher rates of return required by investors leads to lower valuations, and many existing buildings are selling at a loss. As a result, credit conditions in this market are particularly strained. Commercial mortgage delinquency rates have soared.

According to our October survey of senior loan officers, banks continued to tighten standards on CRE loans and, presumably in light of the poor economic outlook for the sector, appear to have been reluctant to refinance maturing construction and land development loans. In addition, the CMBS market has only just recently seen its first activity in a year and a half.

In this environment, a turnaround in CRE is likely to lag the improvement in overall economic activity. However, compared with the situation in the early 1990s, the problems in this sector now appear to be due largely to poor business fundamentals rather than widespread overbuilding, suggesting that the performance of the CRE sector will gradually begin to improve as the economy continues to strengthen."

Since many of the banks hold substantial CRE loans, the uncertainty in this sector will continue to pressure a retention of cash by the banks and a dramatic reduction of loans. This in turn will slow if not halt a 201 recovery in the non-Government sectors.