Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Unconventional Wisdom

I had lunch with an investor friend of mine on May 18 and we had a very interesting discussion about the economy in general, real estate prices/values and the stock market. First let me say if a man is measured by his friends then I am the richest guy in the world. Not only are my friends smart but they are generous with their time and allow me to probe their thoughts on what is happening but also why it is happening (in their opinion).

My friend sees the general economy as sluggish and thinks it will continue to be flat for some time. He sees much trouble ahead for the commercial real estate market. It may be because there is too much space and not enough tenants or consumers may not be spending enough to keep the tenants in place. Regardless, he sees cap rates heading back to the historic mean of 10%. In english that means retail/strip centers may fall as much as 40% in value from 2006 prices. Compounding the situation is many centers are not stable as in they are not 90% full and most are losing tenants such as Circuit City, Linens & Things and other bygone companies.
On top of that, rents are still falling in centers across America to entice tenants to move from one center to another. Plain and simple, the commercial market IS ugly and will get worse. I have to say I agree with my friend. With that said, I also have friends in areas that are not overbuilt and their centers are staying full and rents are stable but these are in less populated areas.

As for the stock market, I keep reading about how much cash is sitting on the sidelines ready to invest in anything that makes sense. I was talking to my friend about a graph someone sent me that showed money market deposits as a ratio of the S&P and it showed a monster amount of available cash. My friend pointed out how the graph misrepresented the actual amount of available cash because the S&P index is down by almost 50% since a year ago. Therefore there is not twice as much cash as a year ago as the graph indicated, it is more of a reflection of how the S&P is down. My friend really likes SRS (Super Short Real Estate Index) and I will tell you I am also a fan of SRS and I own it as part of my own holdings. All of my investor friends believe the stock market is over bought and we are in a secular Bear Market that just happens to be in a rally.

Back to real estate in general. One thing my friend has been saying for some time now is do not buy (for investment purposes) anything for a year or so. He believes the prices will be the same if not lower a year from now and the chance of further decline is just not worth the risk of marginal returns (rents) and carry costs such as taxes and insurance. In general I agree with him but there are always exceptions and one should keep their eyes peeled for those exceptions (i.e. some distressed bank own property for example). It also depends on why you are buying too. If you are buying to use for your own purposes, then there is no risk of lost expected rental income and you will pay taxes and insurance wherever you live or run your business.

In closing I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend. Stay safe.

1 comment:

Steve E. said...

A very informative (solo) discussion
of the times in which we have unwittingly stumbled, regarding the commercial real estste economy, and prediction near and far term.

I'm wondering why more "Peeps" do not comment. Maybe everyone in your field already knows what you know--although I'd bet not!

A pleasure to meet Megan's husband David this Sunday morning. (Usually it's: "I'd like you to meet my wife!" instead of, like, "I'd like you to meet my husband!"

I hope summer presents some interesting opportunities for you and your business.

Steve Elsaesser
Naples FL (Alkie)

In first grade, the kids could not pronounce my name "Elsaesser" so they shortened it to "Alkie", without knowing they were predicting the first half of my life -grin!