Awash With Cash, Real Estate Trusts Afford Buying Strategy

A report today from Fitch Ratings points to the ample liquidity coverage currently enjoyed by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), with break-even ratios through to 2014 in many cases. Indeed, data supplied to HousingWire from the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts (NAREIT) shows that in 2009, REITs and Real Estate Operating Companies (REOCs) raised nearly $38bn via initial public offerings (IPOs) and secondary equity offerings. Fitch notes that the REIT liquidity coverage ratios improved to a median of 1.6 times as of Dec. 31, 2009, up from 1.3 times at Sept. 30 and 1.1 times at June 30. Meanwhile REIT indexes continue to outperform the S&P 500 by 4% or more, according to Indie Research. “As they reposition for the future, certain REITs may choose to increase credit risk through offensive measures,”  said Fitch managing  director Steven Marks. “Measures may include development expansion or higher risk acquisitions.” The only problem, sources say, is there’s not as much to buy as initially expected. “It appears that REITs are the early winners in commercial real estate, in terms of recapitalizing themselves and taking advantage of strategic acquisition opportunities,” said NAREIT spokesman Ron Kuykendall. “However, as banks continue the extend and pretend strategy, private players won’t be forced to the market, so a flood of properties coming on the market at distressed prices hasn’t really happened.” In commercial real estate, bank lending remains tight, the debt markets are restricted and the commercial-mortgage backed securities market is distressed, so money management is a continued problem. Further, trillions of dollars in debt will be rolling over in the next few years. However, the ability to raise money remains a strong point in the REIT universe. Just today, Boston Properties REIT (BXP) priced $700m in 5.625% senior unsecured notes, which were rated triple-B by Fitch Ratings. Boston properties said it intends to use the net proceeds from the sale of the notes for general business purposes, which may include investment opportunities and debt reduction. Banc of America (BAC), JP Morgan Securities (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), Citigroup (C) and Deutsche Bank (DB) served as underwriters and joint book runners. The deal matures in 2020. Additionally, a joint venture in which Boston Properties maintains a 60% interest is today being refinanced expected to complete the refinancing of Two Grand Central Tower located in New York City. The current 5.1% fixed-rate mortgage loan totals $190m fixed rate of 5.1% and is scheduled to mature in 2010. The new 6% fixed is $180.0m and will mature in 2015. The firm also bought a 30% interest, at $1.9m, in a joint venture for the 5,906-unit building at 500 North Capitol Street, NW in Washington, DC. One capital investor said in confidence that huge amounts of foreign investments are waiting to jump on the opportunities in commercial real estate, so REITs will likely have stiff competition going forward. However, REITs can afford to play the waiting game by-and-large, as these assets are expected to keep declining in value. Kuykendall adds that REITs are fine with doing things strategically on a deal-by-deal basis. “As banks become stronger over the coming years, we expect they will become more willing to deal with foreclosures, and more assets will come to the market,” he said. Write to Jacob Gaffney. Disclosure: the author holds no relevant investment positions.

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