Thursday, June 16, 2011

Real Estate forecast - I told you so edition

Back in the middle of 2007 it was clear that property markets across the world are overheating. However, ground realities, in terms of property off-take were yet to show visible signs of a slowdown. During a presentation to top management of an Indian public-sector bank, I advocated enhancing the credit standards for lending to real estate developers. I had mentioned that a slowdown in Indian real estate markets is imminent and while timing cannot be correctly ascertained, we (me and my employer) believed that it could be sooner rather than later. My presentation was met with intense skepticism and hostility. The real estate loan portfolio, the bank recently declared, has lost all its capital and not much hope exists of any recovery. In the details I find that almost all the loans since 2007 have gone bad.

Now, apart from a little trumpeting "I told you so", there are important lessons. First, from a credit side, an early warning is a boon. It presents an opportunity for actionable strategy. The bank in question could have easily adjusted its loan portfolio by tightening the credit norms and intensively screening the borrowers. For short term equity investments, the early warning is nearly meaningless.

In the later part of the 2007, I made another forecast about Chinese real estate developers, this time for equity investment. The firms, some mentioned in the Bloomberg report above, were showing robust growth and off-take. Yet, by all measures, a slowdown in Chinese residential market was imminent. The question was of timing. The early warning is difficult to interpret in case of equities. It was generally agreed to reduce exposure to these companies. Yet, the timing of it all remained an issue.

The idea in ST equities is to forecast the trigger. Clearly, for property developers, the trigger is capital availability. For real estate developers, the first step of a slowdown shows constraints in long term capital availability. In the later stages, short term funding becomes difficult to tie-up. Leading to panic selling of sale-able units leading to softening of prices.

The 2007-call turned out ok because of global slowdown of 2008 pulling out capital thus leading to correction in real estate developer stocks. However, recently, S&P Cut China Property Developers to ‘Negative’ - Bloomberg. It means developers may suffer even more in coming months.