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How Issuers can Increase Investor Interest in CMBS2 Mezz
Monday, January 09 2012 | 07:34 AM
|Why New Issue CMBS deals see little interest in Mezz classes and what Issuers can do about it.
A year ago around this time, the mood amongst CMBS market participants was quiet optimistic. Estimates of new issuance for 2011 from market participants generally ranged from $35 Bn to $70 Bn or more, on the way to $100 Bn in a few years. However, over the course of the year, the optimism has faded. New issuance totaled just $30 Bn in 2011, and forecasts are not much higher for 2012.
With more conservative underwriting, higher subordination levels from rating agencies, and wider spreads, new issue CMBS was expected to be attractive to investors. Yet, investors seem to have pulled back, and spreads have widened for both legacy and new issue deals. Macro level issues, especially uncertainty about Europe, are part of the reason. However, CMBS spreads have been far more volatile than other sectors including corporate and other ABS. As the table below shows, even new issue AAA CMBS spreads widened a lot more than other sectors. This spread volatility not only deters investors, but also loan originators from making new loans as they do not have a good hedge to protect them while aggregating loans for securitization. It also requires wider spreads for CMBS loans which makes them less attractive to borrowers.
One of the main reasons CMSB spreads widen quickly is that the sector has far fewer investors than other ABS sectors and corporate bonds. The reason there are fewer investors is that, with fewer loans, CMBS deals are lumpy and investors need the expertise to analyze collateral at the loan level. Not every investor has that expertise. So, they can feel comfortable analyzing RMBS, Credit card, Auto, Equipment, and Student Loan etc deals, but not CMBS. The creation of a super-senior AAA tranche helped bring more investors to AAAs by making the tranche safer needing less analysis. That is part of the reason AAA spreads have tightened.
Spreads for classes below AAA, however, continue to be very wide, as the mezz tranches have even fewer investors. Unfortunately, Insurance companies, which are perhaps the most knowledgeable commercial real estate investors and ones with resources to analyze the CMBS deals at loan level, tend to buy mostly senior tranches. Mezz tranches are left to a very small set of buyers. That means lower liquidity for these tranches, and less certainty about receiving a decent bid if needed. An additional issue is lack of transparency on pricing, as these are small tranches that do not trade frequently and each one is different depending on deal collateral. These factors make these classes even less attractive to buyers.
The table below shows the structure of a recently priced CMBS deal. The $674 mm deal has $118 mm of senior AAA, $55 mm of junior AAA, $104 mm of mezz tranches and $44 mm of B-Piece.
What makes Mezz tranches more difficult for investors is that they have lower credit enhancement than AAAs and they are generally very thin tranches representing about 3% to 4% of the deal. In other words, a 3% higher collateral loss could result in 100% loss on the tranche. That means investors require even more conviction and expertise to invest in these classes. The thin tranches are also more susceptible to rating downgrades if any collateral in the deal faces problems. This fear of ratings volatility is another big concern for investors.
One idea, that addresses both the spread volatility and the potential ratings volatility, is to do the opposite of what we did for the AAA – combine all the Mezz tranches into one single class. In this deal, instead of creating classes B, C, D, and E, there could be just one Mezz class. It will be a $104 mm class with average rating of around A-. At a thickness of 15% of the deal, this class will not be at risk of 100% loss if collateral loss increased by mere 3%, and so will be much less susceptible to spread and rating volatility. Also, with just one larger class, there will be more owners of that class and there is likely to be more trading and visibility on spreads, enhancing transparency and liquidity. If the combined Mezz tranche is priced around 640 over swaps or tighter, the issuer will have the same or better economics as with the tranched mezz structure. This will still be a significant pickup in spread for the same rating compared to other sectors and will probably bring in some new investors who were considering CMBS but were hesitant. At about 15%, the Mezz tranche is thicker, but still a small part of the deal. So, even a small number of new investors will make a difference.
And the issuers can try this structure without taking any risk at all. That is possible by using a structural feature that has been used in residential deals (which are also REMICs): Exchangeable Classes. The deal can be setup so that some investors can buy the tranched classes while others buy a single Mezz class. The structure allows owners of one form to exchange for the other form at any point in future using the proportions defined in the documents. This has been used for a long time. I used exchangeable classes extensively in $52 Bn of new CMOs when I was trading and structuring CMOs. Freddie, Fannie, and Ginnie deals regularly have them under the names MACR, RCR, and MX respectively.
There is no single magic bullet, but small changes can sometimes make a big difference. Some, like this one, are easy to try with a little extra work, no downside, and possibility of enlarging the pool of CMBS investors with all the benefits that come from it for investors, issuers, and people employed in the sector.
Note: A version of this article was published in Thoughts on Markets & Economy
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Understanding Markit’s TRX.II Index for Hedging CMBS Loans
Friday, October 07 2011 | 08:19 AM
|Newly launched TRX.II may seem complicated, but is not difficult to understand.
Markit launched TRX.II or TRX 2 indices this week. Details and various documents can be found on their website, but for those not familiar with the working of the index, or if the details on upfront payment and dynamic nature of the index are not clear, this article might help understand the mechanics and the underlying logic.
The Basic Concept
The concept is simple. Going long or buying the TRX.II (or TRX) index is similar to buying a bond. If you buy a bond, you get the coupon. Also, if the spread goes lower or tightens, resulting in lower yield, the bond price increases. Same is true with going long the TRX index. If you go long the index, you get a coupon, and if spread tightens, the value of your position goes up. And just like a cash bond, if spreads widen, the value of the position goes down.
The concept is similar, but there are some differences in implementation as the TRX is a contract (Total Return Swap contract) rather than a physical bond. For one party to go long, there has to be another party to take the short side. All that is needed for a TRX trade are the two parties wanting to take the opposite positions, and neither has to actually own or find the underlying bonds to initiate or close a position. TRX contracts will trade with quarterly expirations with a maximum length of one year. Since the contracts will be standardized, the trade may be initiated with one party taking the other side, and may be closed before expiry, if desired by either party, by doing an opposite trade with a third party. This ability to short easily is what makes it possible for loan originators to hedge their loans being aggregated for securitization.
Once they enter into a contract, at the end of every month, the short party pays the coupon equivalent to the long party. Also, if the spread is tighter at the end of month than at the beginning, then the short side pays the price appreciation calculated based on average duration and spread change to the long side, and vice versa. These payments take place at the end of every month, or till the end of contract. Each month, the spread at the beginning of the month becomes the new starting point for spread change for that month. Also this spread is the coupon that the long party gets for that month. It is paid by the short party and represents the cost of hedging.
The main purpose of the upfront payment in TRX is to handle trades initiated in the middle of the month.
For example, if someone goes long on 11th day of month, they should get the coupon only for the remaining 20 days in the month, even though the short will pay full 30 days interest or coupon at the end of the month. So, just like in cash bond, the buyer pays an accrued interest for 10 days to the short. Net result will be the short will pay and the long will get net 20 days of the coupon for that month.
Similarly, upfront payment adjusts for spread movement and traded spread. An example may help. Let’s assume the spread at the beginning of the month was 200, at the time of the trade was 230, and at the end of month was 220. In this case, spread tightened from 230 at the trade date to 220 at the end of month. So, the long party should get payment for the value of 10 basis points tightening at the end of the month. However, the standard payment mechanics will see widening from 200 at the beginning of the month to 220 at the end of the month, and will require the long party to pay the value of 20 bps. The upfront payment provides the adjustment that enables the normal end of month payments to take place in the usual manner. In this case, the upfront payment will be the value of 30 basis points (30 bps widening from 200 at the beginning of the month to 230 trade spread) paid by the short to the long. The net effect will be the long getting the value of 10 bps tightening, as he should.
Revolving Nature of TRX.II
One big difference between TRX and TRX.II is that TRX.II is a dynamic index and has a revolving underlying portfolio whereas the original TRX or TRX.I was a static index. The TRX.II will be rebalanced every quarter to include recent deals meeting the inclusion criteria. The initial TRX.II index has 18 bonds. The index rules specify a maximum of 25 bonds. Once the index reaches 25 bonds, the older bonds will be removed as new bonds are added.
The dynamic nature introduces some complexity, but key points to keep in mind are that all TRX.II trades for a specific maturity are fungible with one another and each payment calculation references spreads and average duration for the same set of index constituents. What that means is that when the index changes, the end of month spread for payment at the end of that month is based on the old index, and the starting index for next month is based on the new version of index with new bonds. To enable this, Markit provides numbers for both the old and new version of the index. Rest of the mechanism stays the same.
The spreads used for monthly settlements are calculated and provided by Markit based on spreads provided by the ten participating dealers for the underlying cash bonds. The fact that the TRX.II will settle every month to actual cash bond spreads means that it will be expected not to stray too far from cash bond spreads. The resulting high correlation with spreads on recently issued cash bonds makes the TRX.II a good hedge for loan originators.
The dealers provide spreads on the individual constituent bonds, not the spread for overall indices, which are computed by Markit. This ensures consistency between spreads for the old and new versions of the index, when the index is adjusted to include new deals.
For the more technically oriented, Markit’s calculation methodology involves using individual bond cashflows to calculate prices from the average bond spreads for each bond and then using aggregated index cashflows and average price to generate index spread, weighted average life, and duration. The end of month calculation of price change from spread change uses the averages of beginning and ending durations and index prices, which captures the majority of the convexity effect.
Outlook for TRX.II
I have asked for creation of a new TRX index for a long time (Restarting CMBS Lending, Feb 9, 2010). So I am happy to see it getting launched. I also like that Markit created a dynamic index which will always reflect spreads on new issue bonds, though that makes it more attractive to hedgers than to investors who may prefer to go long a known set of bonds.
TRX.II is a much better hedge than CMBX as it settles every month based on cash spreads and so is correlated with cash bond spreads, unlike CMBX which pays only when there are actual defaults (far into the future) and can trade purely based on technical factors with no correlation to new issue cash bond spreads. TRX.II is also a better hedge than TRX.I which references the old legacy CMBS deals and does not correlate well with new issue CMBS spreads.
One question on the minds of many people is if the index will gain traction. The general view is that the demand from originators will be there to short to hedge loans being aggregated for sale via securitization, but there may not be enough demand from the long side. It may turn out to be the other way. With spreads wide at present and few deals in the pipeline, the index may see more demand from long side than short side. Hedging of loans for spread movement today is not an almost mechanical process it used to be (CMBS Hedging Requires a New approach, July 5, 2011) and different originators favor different strategies. However, no matter what method is used, hedging has a cost. When spreads are wide and expected to tighten, many originators prefer to hedge just the interest rates and not the loan spreads. Barclays created a CMBS 2.0 index earlier in the year, but it has not been used much, partly for that reason. The TRX.II may benefit from the fact that some originators are now being pushed by their risk management groups to be fully hedged, and TRX.II will have higher correlation with actual cash bond spreads than any alternative. Also, TRX.II has ten licensed dealers. So, there may be more liquidity and more openness by their internal origination groups to use it for their hedging.
Note: A version of this article was published in Thoughts on Markets & Economy (http://marketsandeconomy.wordpress.com/ )
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Three Misconceptions about Issuer-Paid Ratings
Friday, May 27 2011 | 09:34 AM
|By Malay Bansal & John Joshi
The issuer-paid model for ratings is widely seen as one of the most significant aspects of the process that needs to be reformed. Yet, no good solution to reform this process has emerged. Part of the reason for that are three widely held misconceptions.
Issuers select which NRSROs will rate their deal, and they pay the rating agencies rating their deals. Many blame this dynamic for causing a conflict for the agencies, and enabling ratings-shopping by issuers. This is perhaps seen as the biggest problem in the current ratings system. Dodd-Frank and other rules in the US and Europe are trying to reform the process. Some proposals suggest removing references to rating agencies from rules, while others suggest regulating them more heavily. The former leaves a hole; the latter increases the perception that the ratings have official approval. No good solutions have emerged.
A previous article in this blog and in Structured Credit Investor (The Unrecognised and Unaddressed Ratings Issue, Malay Bansal, 7 July 2010) made the point that the ratings reform is proving to be intractable because the real issue is not being recognized or addressed in any of the reform proposals. The real problem is that the rating agencies are combining two roles into one. The first role is to provide a rating based on statistical analysis of historical performance of the assets (remember that the ‘SR’ in NRSROs stands for Statistical Ratings). The second role is that of a research analyst to provide an opinion on what might happen in the future. Currently, rating agencies combine the two. The ratings are a mix of statistical analysis and somewhat subjective opinion on the future. This allows rating agencies to downgrade companies or countries even while they are in the process of attempting to improve their financial condition. The official NRSRO status gives their subjective opinions extraordinary power and can actually have an impact on the outcome, making the ratings more pro-cyclical.
The logical solution is to separate the two roles. NRSROs should be doing Statistical Ratings – based on past performance of assets, known facts, events that have already taken place, and statistical models and methods that are well disclosed. They can put bonds on watch for upgrade or downgrade if a financial event is in progress or expected, but cannot downgrade or upgrade till the event actually happens. So they will not be precipitating events.
The second role of providing credit ratings in the form of opinion on future performance should be separated from the NRSRO role, and should be open to any research provider, including NRSROs. These credit ratings could be designated as ‘Informational Ratings’, without any legal or official role impacting investor charters, debt covenants, and so on, which will only use the ratings designated as NRSRO Ratings. This will take the non-NRSRO rating agencies back to sort of where rating agencies started – as market researchers, selling assessments of corporate debt to people considering whether to buy that debt.
The conflict of issuer-paid ratings could be avoided if issuers paid the fee for NRSRO ratings, which will be freely available to everyone, but investors paid the fee for research and informational rating available to subscribers only. Availability of the second will serve as the important function of checks and balances on the NRSRO ratings paid for by the issuers. However, neither issuers, nor the rating agencies seem to find that suggestion appealing. This is partly because of three widely held misconceptions about issuer-paid ratings.
Misconception 1: Issuers Pay for Ratings
Investors, naturally, don’t like the idea of having to pay for ratings, especially since they get it for free in the current system. However, the reality is that they are really the ones paying for it even now. The bankers for the issuer select, engage, and pay the rating agencies, but the payment comes from the money paid by investors for purchasing the bonds. By letting the bankers pick the agencies, investors tilt the balance of power to the issuer. Since they are paying for it anyway, investors should be open to paying for ratings more directly. This will reduce their concerns about the conflict of interest.
Some have criticized the high fees charged by the raters. However, there is another factor investors need to consider in this regard. If they want good quality output from the agencies, they need to be paid sufficiently to be able to attract and retain talented people. Lowering the fee is not the solution. Any scheme which involves investors selecting and paying for research from the agencies that provide better information and analysis will increase competition and provide the right incentives.
Another point in this regard is that only investors who purchase the bonds at initial issuance pay for ratings at present. Cost for investors will be lower if it was spread over all the investors. Subscription fees could be partly based on AUM, making it easier for smaller investors to subscribe.
Misconception 2: Investor-Paid Rating System will be Bad for Rating Agencies
Many, though not all, on the rating agency side, do not like the idea of having to rely on investors for their earnings. It is much better to get all the fees upfront, which sometimes includes the fee for surveillance of the deal throughout its life. However, the preference for upfront payment misses some important considerations.
First, there are a lot more investors than issuers. Even smaller payments from investors could provide the same or more revenue. Also, a smaller charge will cause more investors to sign on for the service.
Second, if the revenue is coming from investors, it is not dependent on the volume of deals, and will not fluctuate dramatically based on volume of issuance. This will provide more stability to those organizations, and allow them to focus on the quality of their work.
Third, more stable revenue would mean a higher multiple for the valuation of their businesses, which will be a positive for their owners and investors.
Fourth, if payment for rating is at the time of issuance, the agencies have to be picked to rate it. This does not align the interests of rating agencies with those of investors, creates a credibility problem, and leaves them open to criticism. By reducing the incentive to be picked to rate the deals at issuance, agencies will be better off, as will be the overall financial system, including the issuers.
Misconception 3: Ratings have to be either Issuer-Paid or Investor-Paid
Almost everyone seems to think that ratings have to be either paid by issuers or investors. However, it does not have to be one or the other. Just a sufficient portion of fee has to come from investors to provide the right incentives. Especially in structured finance transactions, where it is expensive to perform the right amount of due diligence to rate the deal, some amount of upfront payment may be necessary. However, if payment from investors is a significant portion of total revenue of rating agencies, investors and the financial system will benefit from the proper alignment of incentives that would create.
Clearly, splitting the rating agency role into two is a significant change. However, if done thoughtfully, it can be a significant improvement to the current system, and work for the benefit of everyone.
Notes: Views expressed are personal views only, and not of any affiliated organization or group. This article was originally published in Structured Credit Investor.
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What's Ahead for CMBS Spreads?
Monday, April 11 2011 | 07:23 AM
|A revived CMBS market, with new deals getting done, is helpful to REITs and other commercial real estate owners as it has started making financing available again. Spreads had generally been narrowing which helped loan originators by reducing the hedging cost and has been good for owners of CMBS bonds. However, recent spread volatility has left some people concerned, and wondering about the future direction of spreads and how to look at spreads on the new CMBS 2.0 deals in the context of 2006-7 legacy deals.
I always find it useful to start with views of market participants, and historical data for some perspective. Also, for legacy deals, estimates of losses are an important element. Below are forecasts for spreads for 2007 vintage CMBS for June 2011 published by industry’s weekly newsletter, Commercial Mortgage Alert at the beginning of the year, along with some other data. Comments and thoughts follow.
Recent Spread Widening
To focus first on what had people worried most recently – widening of GG10 A4 bonds by 50 basis points from mid Feb to mid March, it is important to step back and look at the bigger picture. GG10 spreads are more visible because it is a benchmark deal and trades more frequently. As the table “Recent Spread History” shows, (i) spreads did widen out, but are generally back to where they were before widening, and (ii) even when they widened out, they were inside where they were at the beginning of the year.
Another factor to look at is where spreads are compared to market’s expectations. The table above shows average prediction for 2007 vintage A4 bonds to be 184 over swaps. Mid March wide was swaps + 190 and the current spreads are swaps plus 165. Again, not as alarming when looked at in that context.
CMBS 2.0 Spreads
Spreads for new CMBS 2.0 deals widened out too, but not by as much. They went from 110 over swaps at the tight to 120 and are back to 110, compared to swaps plus 130 at the beginning of the year. Spreads did not widen much, but where could they go now? One perspective is looking at the history. The underwriting, leverage, and subordination in the new deals are comparable to what they generally used to be in 2003 to 2005 period. However, looking at spreads over swaps at that time will not be as helpful because of the impact of recent events in swap markets. A better approach will be to look at spreads over the risk-free rate, or the spread over treasury notes. In the 2003 to 2005 period, CMBS AAA bonds averaged around T+75, whereas generic single-A industrial corporates averaged T+77. Currently, new CMBS spreads are swap plus 110 or T+117 and single-A industrials are T+97. This back of the envelope analysis would suggest that new CMBS AAA spreads could tighten by 20 basis points from the current levels. The demand for bonds is there and there is not a big supply in the pipeline. So the technicals favor continued tightening.
CMBS 2.0 Vs Legacy CMBS
Legacy CMBS deals are a bit more complicated given the losses expected by market participants (see table above). In general, expectations of losses seem to average around 11.5% for 2006-8 deals. One simple way of looking at the deals would be to assume subordination remaining after expected losses. On that basis adjusted subordination for legacy A4 bonds goes from 30 to 18.5, which is similar to the subordination for AAA bonds in new deals. Subordination for legacy AM bonds with loss taken out goes from 20 to 9.5. That is roughly between single-A and BBB bonds in new deals.
This simplistic approach ignores several other factors that also come into play, but does the market see these as comparable? Market spreads for legacy AM bonds at swap plus 280 seem wider than 190 and 270 for new deal single-A and BBB bonds. Similarly, legacy A4 spreads at S+170 are much wider than S+105 for new issue AAA bonds. However, if you look at yields, legacy A4 is around 4.65, close to the 4.60 on new issue AAA. Similarly 5.80 yield on legacy AM bonds is between 5.42 and 6.22 on new issue single-A and BBB bonds.
Logical inference from above is that, in this yield-hungry world, the legacy bonds are generally in line with the new issue bonds in terms of yield, and legacy bonds should tighten along with new issue. The choice between them comes down to investors preference for stability, hedging, leverage, duration, etc.
The above would suggest that a general widening in legacy but not in new issue bond spreads, unaccompanied by any deal specific news, as happened recently, may be an opportunity to pick up some cheap bonds if you can do detailed deal analysis and are confident in ability to pick better deals.
Note: This article was originally published in Markets & Economy (http://marketsandeconomy.wordpress.com).
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Restarting CMBS Lending
Wednesday, March 30 2011 | 08:53 AM
|The DDR deal, the first CMBS deal after nearly eighteen months, was ten times oversubscribed. The following two deals also saw good demand even though they did not allow for TALF financing. So, clearly, there is good demand for CMBS bonds backed by well underwritten loans. Also, borrowers clearly want loans if they can get a reasonable cost of financing. DDR loan, with about 4.25% all-in cost of financing for the borrower, showed that a low cost of financing is possible even in the current market. Yet, prospects of a conduit style multi-borrower deal seem bleak at the moment. Any CMBS deals that come to market are expected to be single-borrower deals, as in those deals the borrower takes the market risk and not the underwriter doing the deal. Securitization shops do not want to take the spread risk while aggregating the pool because there is no way to hedge that risk, and so are unable to originate loans even though many are eager to restart their lending operation. If they do originate loans without ability to hedge, they would require much wider spread resulting in higher cost of financing than borrowers would find attractive.
Inability to hedge loans while aggregating a pool for securitization is one of the biggest obstacles preventing restarting of conduit lending for commercial real estate properties.
In the past, the conduit originators were able to hedge loans while they were aggregating a pool big enough to securitize. So, they were not exposed to risk from changes in interest rates and bond spreads between loan origination and securitization. The hedging generally involved hedging the interest rate risk by selling interest rate swaps, and hedging the bond spread risk by using Total Return Swaps on Lehman or Bank Of America CMBS indices. These indices allowed loan originators to effectively sell their risk to investors who wanted to gain exposure to CMBS in their investment portfolio. They sold the risk when they originated the loan, and bought it back when they securitized the loans. The hedge worked because spreads on new CMBS deals moved in parallel with the spreads on existing deals.
The problem now is that those indices are no longer appropriate for hedging, especially for new origination loans, because of two problems. One, ratings downgrades have impacted the composition of the indices. Second, and more important, the spreads on new bonds with newly underwritten loans cannot be expected to move in tandem with spreads on old bonds with the old underwriting. This lack of correlation between the two spreads makes the old bonds or indices unusable as a hedge for newly originated better quality loans.
What this means is that to hedge new loans with better underwriting, originators need bonds with better underwritten new loans. In other words, to originate loans, you need bonds with new underwriting, and to create bonds with better underwritten loans, you need the better underwritten loans. That’s the chicken-and-egg type problem of loan aggregation. This is what has prevented loan origination from restarting once the spreads on old bonds widened out.
To solve this chicken-and-egg problem, back in February 2008, I made a suggestion to Markit, which administers the CMBX indices. My suggestion was to create a new CMBX type of index based on future deals that met minimum credit quality. Only deals which met pre-set criteria based on LTV, DSCR, and other credit parameters would be eligible to be included in the new index. Trading of the index would have allowed the market to determine spreads on bonds backed by good newly originated loans, and provided a hedging mechanism for loan originators, solving the chicken-and-egg problem.
Markit discussed the idea in a conference call with the trading desks, but it was thought to require too much work to create, when dealers were busy with the market volatility. Also, the idea was complicated, since it was based on future deals. Additionally, the CMBX is based on CDS (Credit Default Swap), and cash and CDS markets do not always move together, and so the hedge would not have been as good as Total Return Swaps on cash bonds.
Luckily, things have changed since then.
One, Markit has created new indices called TRX, which are based on Total Return Swaps on cash CMBS spreads, which will be a much better hedge for loans than a CMBX or CDS type of hedge. Total Return Swaps are what many originators used in the past to hedge the credit spreads.
Second, new deals with newly underwritten loans have been done and exist now. So, it is not necessary to base the index on future deals, avoiding a lot of complexity. That simplifies things considerably.
One solution to the hedging problem for newly originated loans is to create a new TRX index based on the new deals. It will allow the originators to sell risk, and will allow all the investors (many who did not get any allocations in the over-subscribed deals that have been done recently) to get exposure to new CMBS bonds.
Some may argue that three deals is not enough diversity to create an index. Admittedly, it would be better to have a more diverse pool of deals for the index. However, even with just three deals, the index will allow many originators considering starting origination to solve the chicken-and-egg problem. Also, this by itself will not solve all the problems the CMBS industry is facing. Yet, it will be better to have something, even if it is not perfect, than to have nothing at all.
I urge Markit and the dealers to make available a new index that will be attractive to both loan originators and investors, and just might help solve one of the major roadblocks preventing restarting of CMBS lending.
Note: This article was published on Seeking Alpha.
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What Do CMBS Spread Forecasts Say About Commercial Real Estate?
Friday, March 04 2011 | 12:15 PM
|Predictions about future bond spreads by market participants provide a window on their thinking about their expectations regarding the performance of the underlying asset class. CMBS industry’s weekly newsletter, Commercial Mortgage Alert published its semi-annual polling of predictions on CMBS spreads six months later last month. One interesting fact in the data was that not a single person asked for their prediction thought that the spreads will be wider six months later! Does this unanimity reflect wisdom of crowds and indicates a steadily improving commercial real estate market, or is this a contrarian signal with respect to where commercial real estate and CMBS spreads are headed? And how does that reconcile with forecasts of the real estate market conditions?
For the commercial real estate property market conditions, The Real Estate Roundtable has just published its 3rd Quarter 2010 Sentiment Index survey of more than 110 senior real estate executives. While the survey found significant concerns and uncertainty about economic & job recovery outlook, government policy, and capital markets, the overall sentiment is that the industry is in for a long slow recovery. The survey reports a Current Conditions Index (reflecting how markets are today vs 12 months ago), a Futures Conditions Index (expectations on how markets will be 12 months from now), and an Overall Sentiment Index, which is the average of the two. For the first time, the survey’s current and future conditions indices merged, scoring an Overall Sentiment Index of 74 (down from 76 in the previous quarter). This score suggests a relatively positive trend and a flat trajectory.
The actual data on commercial real estate is sending conflicting signals and is being read by different people in different ways. Cushman & Wakefield report last month showing US CBD office vacancy dropping to 14.8 % in Q2 from 15% at end of Q1 -first drop since 2007, CMBS statistics showing declining pace of deterioration in delinquencies, etc are seen by many as signs that the CRE market is stabilizing. Others point to declining rents and high unemployment as factors that point to further declines ahead. Both the viewpoints have some validity, which probably implies that the CRE sector might move sideways in near term with some volatility caused by which of the two views is stronger at any given point, till additional market data clarifies the picture more.
Going back to CMBS spreads, the tightening probably just reflects the sentiment expressed in other surveys of an expectation of slowly stabilizing CRE market. For CMBS, as opposed to properties, a consensus that the property price decline has stopped will be enough for bond spreads to tighten. Real estate prices do not necessarily need to go up for CMBS spreads to tighten. What happens if the sentiment on the economy sours impacting the view on the commercial real estate too? Even in that scenario, more and more people are coming to the view that the senior most CMBS bonds will likely not suffer a principal loss, which makes them attractive given the additional yield they provide compared to other similar investments. So, worsening economic conditions may actually cause people to move up in capital stack, creating demand for senior most bonds, and providing support for spreads. No one knows what future will bring, but logically, odds look in favor of the spreads moving in the direction suggested by the unanimous view.
All of the above is fine for trying to understand these markets, but one practical conclusion, and the real point of this article is this: if senior CMBS securities can go up in value even when property markets go sideways, and will have some support if the property markets decline, then logically, senior CMBS bonds have to be better investments at present than commercial real estate properties or loans for those who can invest in any of those.
Note: A version of this article was originally published 8/10/2010 on Seeking Alpha.The views in this article and my spread predictions in the Commercial Mortgage Alert article referenced are solely my own.
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