The difference between bad retail mortgage loans and bad commercial loans is about 25 years. Commercial real estate loans usually have five to seven year maturities. This meant that an avalanche of loans began maturing in 2010 and will not peak until 2013. With $1.2 trillion of loans coming due between 2010 and 2013, disaster for the Wall Street Too Big To Fail banks awaited if the properties were valued honestly. A perfect storm of declining property values and plunging cash flows for developers should have resulted in enormous losses for Wall Street banks and their shareholders, resulting in executives losing not only their obscene bonuses but even their jobs. Imagine the horror for the .01%.
The fact is that commercial property prices are currently 42% below the 2007 – 2008 peak. The slight increase in the national index is solely due to strong demand for apartments, as millions of Americans have been kicked out of their homes by Wall Street bankers using fraudulent loan documentation to foreclose on them. The national index has recently resumed its fall. Industrial and retail properties are leading the descent in prices according to Moodys. The master plan of extend and pretend was implemented in 2009 and three years later commercial real estate prices are 10% lower, after the official end of the recession.
Part one of the “extend and pretend” plan has failed. Part two anticipated escalating developer cash flows as the economy recuperated, Americans resumed spending like drunken sailors and retailers began to rake in profits at record levels again. Reality has interfered with their desperate last ditch gamble. Office vacancies remain at 17.3%, close to 20 year highs, as 12.3 million square feet of new space came to market in 2011. Vacancies are higher today than they were at the end of the recession in December 2009. The recovery in cash flow has failed to materialize for commercial developers. Strip mall vacancies at 11% remain stuck at 20 year highs. Regional mall vacancies at 9.2% linger near all-time highs. Vacancies remain elevated, with no sign of decreasing. Despite these figures, an additional 4.9 million square feet of new retail space was opened in 2011. The folly of this continued expansion will be revealed as bricks and mortar retailers are forced to close thousands of stores in the next five years.
It is clear the plan put into place three years ago has failed. Extending and pretending doesn’t service the debt. Only cash flow can service debt.