All of the worries in the real estate market have been focused on commercial property. While commercial real estate is supposed to be overvalued and over-supplied (a dangerous combo), US residential real estate is supposed to be healthy, with manageable price rises and tight supply. However, the residential market has just gotten some bleak news. US Housing starts plunged by over 12% in June, and new building permits dropped over 2%. The reasons cited for the drop are a lack of skilled workers to build and a higher cost for materials.
FINSUM: The question is whether this is a demand-led problem (new buyers pulling away) or a supply-led one (meaning the supply of everything is too tight). The first would indicate falling prices, the second the opposite.
Three of the foremost experts on Financial Crises—proven by their experience in 2008—have just weighed in on the threat of another Crisis. Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner, and Hank Paulson have just commented in a joint press conference that while the US financial system has better barriers in place to prevent a crisis, its tool kit should one come is considerably weaker than in 2009. The main weaknesses cited were the massive increase in debt the government has experienced since the Crisis, giving it less room to bail out the market; and secondly, the deep political divisions which could more easily block any bipartisan action that may be necessary to save the financial system. Geithner summed it up this way, saying “Better defenses, weaker arsenal”.
FINSUM: This is some very good insight from the most experienced Crisis fighters out there. All their points sound quite reasonable to us.
When big US banks are worried about lending to the commercial property market, one knows things must be getting bad. Big bank executives say they are unwilling to sign off on a number of deals in commercial real estate as the sector looks overheated. For instance, the CFO of JP Morgan Chase said spreads, a proxy for returns, were “under a lot of pressure”. Big banks like JPM and Wells Fargo have been shrinking their exposure to the sector for some time. Market participants say competition in the space is so high that deals no longer provide good risk-return metrics.
FINSUM: It sounds like commercial real estate is maybe just past its peak and headed for a downturn. All of which appears in direct contrast to the residential property market.
Many in the industry think a big bust in commercial real estate (CRE) is coming. If you think of the residential real estate market, you probably think about tight supply, rising prices, and more buyers than sellers. The commercial real estate market is currently characterized by the opposite conditions. A building boom and a glut of new CRE debt is threatening to wipe the sector out. The sector looks very vulnerable to rising rates because the massive amount of debt (which just hit a record) and the overindulgence of borrowers. So how can one play the fall? Oddly, the best strategy might be to buy homebuilders, who will be much less sensitive to rate rises, and sell REITs.
FINSUM: The paired strategy sounds like a good one, but the bigger theme here is that a bust in CRE is reportedly on the horizon.
In a cruel twist of fate, guess who the biggest losers are when a country imposes tariffs on imports? Its own exporters. The reason why seems to be two-fold. Firstly, the tariffs on imports take cash away from foreign countries to buy exports. Secondly, such tariffs often lead to retaliations, which then shrink the size of exports (e.g. what is happening to Harley Davidson right now). The link has been well understood by economists for almost a century, but new research shows it concretely in trade flows. Overall, the trade balance does tend to improve, but exporters suffer significantly.
FINSUM: The problem is that trade wars are almost a zero sum game. That said, the US has a better bargaining position than usual in this one.
It was only a matter of time until US industry started to feel the pain of the current American-led trade war. Now it is happening. US manufacturers are reporting rising costs and difficulties in sourcing ahead of the tariff deadline. These companies say that the metal tariffs, combined with the threat of falling export business, all caused by tariffs, is threatening to make them stop hiring or making new investments. “We had a good year last year, and we’re in the middle of a good year this year. But we are very concerned about the tariffs”, says an Ohio manufacturer of excavation equipment.
FINSUM:That penultimate sentence is the most scary of all—that manufacturers may stop hiring and investing. That would be a leading indicator of a coming recession, especially if it has a trickle down effect to other sectors.