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US commercial property sales down 70% in Oct

But report says the five-year bull run may not be over

(NEW YORK) US office building sales fell 70 per cent in October from a year earlier, yet another sign the credit crunch that began in the US housing market has spread to the commercial real estate market, Real Capital Analytics said on Tuesday.

But the five-year bull run on commercial real estate may not be over, although the participants have clearly changed, the real estate research firm said.

The credit crisis has weighed on US commercial real estate and the office market in particular, making purchases funded nearly all by debt a thing of the past. Even lower-leveraged deals are harder to come by as borrowing rates rise and risk becomes a significant factor in obtaining a loan.

‘The remarkable increase in sales activity, rise in prices and compression of cap rates (the first year’s yield on the property) since 2001 ended abruptly in August,’ the Capital Trends Monthly report said. ‘Since then, the dramatic fall in sales volume, drop in prices and rise in cap rates certainly meets the definition of an inflection point.’

But capital has continued to flow into commercial property, especially globally, and the greater cycle may not be quite over, the firm said.

Sales of significant office properties – those more than US$5 million – fell to US$4.4 billion in October. More than US$14 billion are reported in contract, but only US$4 billion of these have been announced. Sellers have pulled properties off the market when they could not get the price they wanted.

New offerings have exceeded closings 2-to-1 over the past 60 days, the report said.

The credit crisis has meant cash rules again and those loaded with it – foreign and institutional investors – make up more of the buyers. Since the onset of tighter credit, their market share has grown to 38 per cent of purchases from 26 per cent. These buyers generally favour stable, steady cash producing properties in major markets.

The large, highly leveraged buyers, such as private equity players, acquired US$78.5 billion worth of office properties from January to August. But not a single significant acquisition involving those funds have been announced since then.

Real estate investment trusts also have not been active buyers since September. But the report said that may change soon. Some larger players, such as mall owner Simon Property Group Inc and apartment owner AvalonBay Communities Inc, have raised capital by increasing their credit facilities.

Apartments sales in general also have plummeted. Excluding the US$22 billion sale of Archstone- Smith Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc and a fund run by Tishman Speyer, sales fell 50 per cent from a year ago to US$3.3 billion.

The sales of garden apartments were even worse, down 60 per cent.


Source: Reuters (Business Times 22 Nov 07)


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