Search This Blog

Friday, 25 March 2011

Getting rich with Commercial Real Estate (CRE) Pt III? No, we can’t!!

After ING Bank and SNS Bank, the ABN AMRO is the third large Dutch bank to ring the alarm bell concerning their CRE portfolio. As I explained on March 24, there are some people that still make huge amounts of money with CRE. For them the party is not over yet. But the large banks in The Netherlands are not among them anymore.

The ABN AMRO executed an investigation and the results were - mildly speaking -  ‘disturbing’. Here is a large summary of the article in  Financieel Dagblad (Dutch financial newspaper – link in Dutch), extended with a radio comment.
The number of vacant commercial and  office buildings in The Netherlands will only increase the coming years. Influenced by the “new working” trend, the need for office space will drop by 10%. 
[New working is working at home instead of at the office, using modern communication tools, like computers, smartphones and mobile internet. The countrywide coverage of broadband (mobile) internet enables people to stay at home and do their normal day job – EL] 
At this moment already 14% of the office buildings in The Netherlands is abandoned. This is stated by a report of ABN AMRO. The bank fears that in 2015 this number will be about 25%. 
Also a diminishing civil service is one of the causes. “These factors have a sturdy negative impact on the appraisal of Commercial Real Estate (CRE). Especially in the eyes of the large banks”, according to Erik Steinmaier, manager of Research at the CRE branch of ABN AMRO. 
The increasingly serious vacancy of CRE is a millstone for financial companies and pension funds. Steinmaier estimates that banks financed in average 60% of the office buildings. This would mean that banks have for about €30 bln in CRE loans on their balance sheet. A lot of these office building are currently appraised at a too high value. 
It is unclear how much has to be written off in the bleak scenario of ABN AMRO. Since 2007 the value of investments of institutional investors in CRE has diminished by 15%. And according to Steinmaier the financial crisis in CRE hits silently like an assassin. “The worst has yet to come”.  
Consultancy firm Twynstra Gudde that assisted in writing the ABN AMRO report states that one third of the large users of office space is planning to fit up flexible working spaces. Working at home should eventually lead to a decrease in demand for office space of 3 mln sqr meter (32.2 mln sqr feet), according to ABN AMRO. 
The government, using about 21% of total office space in The Netherlands, will have cutbacks up to 2.75% of the civil service labor force. Civil service currently uses 6 mln sqr meter (64.4 mln sqr feet) of office space. Especially The Hague, The Netherland’s own Washington, is hit disproportionately by these cutbacks. Vacancy of CRE in The Hague could hit the 30% mark.[…]

BNR Radio in The Netherlands broadcasted an interview with Maarten van Poelgeest, alderman of the city of Amsterdam, who states (summarized):

In some areas of Amsterdam the vacancy of CRE hits the 40% mark.Of this about 60% is structural vacancy. These office buildings need a different purpose of usage, as they will probably never be rented anymore. The local government needs to change the zoning schemes for these office buildings and should turn them into homes for students or tennants that have no access to public housing, as their income is too high. A lot depends on the owner of the building, i.e. the large banks, big realtors and pension funds. They should take their losses on CRE.

Maarten van Poelgeest, alderman of Amsterdam has a very sharp view on this matter: These buildings will probably never be rented anymore, so the owners should take their losses. Unfortunately, there lies exactly the problem. One quote from the article: “Steinmaier estimates that banks financed in average 60% of the office buildings. This would mean that banks have for about €30 bln in CRE loans on their balance sheet. A lot of these office building are currently appraised at a too high value”.

There you have it: 60% of these buildings are owned by the banks. Probably 80% of this 60% is owned by the usual suspects: ABN AMRO, ING Bank, Rabobank and SNS Bank. This means that these banks are on the hook for at least €24 bln in Dutch CRE. If they need to write-off about 33% of the current value, this will cause substantial changes on their balance sheets. And €8 bln is a rather optimistic guess, as the banks would have to do large investments into their vacant CRE to change its purpose from business to housing.

And this is exactly the reason that probably nothing is going to happen: the banks don’t want to do the necessary write-offs and investments in their CRE. They don’t want to put their balance sheets in jeopardy. With the increased capital demands of Basel III dangling above their heads, the banks don’t want to take losses on their equity. Write-offs on assets are therefore ‘not done’. The tactics concerning their CRE will be:
-         Extend and pretend
-         Delay and pray.

I hope you remember this when you see the ‘shiny’ annual results of f.i. ING bank and hear of their €3 bln profit. There is more to their balance than meets the eye.

And the future for CRE itself? Even as we speak, building companies are busy surrendering new real estate on top of the heap. Ordered in an overly optimistic time and probably built for future vacancy. Just like in a bubble.…

From my home town Almere, I show you some pictures of new CRE that will be surrendered very shortly by the building companies.
World Trade Center Almere. Picture courtesy of

The Landdrost Building. Picture courtesy of

Carlton Building. Picture courtesy of

And Almere is only a relatively small city of about 190,000 inhabitants, compared to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. This is to show you that the madness in CRE is still not over yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment