Required reading for this article: The very first paragraph of the very first post I made on this blog and "the Great Global Macro Experiment".
Of course commercial real estate is going to fall. Why? For the exact same reason residential real estate is falling. But, there hasn't been an oversupply of commercial real estate, you say. Well, the oversupply is not the core reason why residential is falling right now. Residential RE's problem is that easy, cheap money brought upon wreckless, imprudent speculation from players who were not well versed in the real estate game - and even those who should have known better. The current oversupply is a byproduct of that liquidity induced speculation. Why split hairs? Because the devil is in the details. The downfall of CRE is the rampant speculation that caused many to significantly overpay for assets that are quite illiquid and take significant expertise and time to improve (or even sell), even incrementally. Not only did they overpay, but they applied significant leverage as well, much more than the industry norm.
A Quick Commercial Real Estate Primer: Pricing Commercial Real Estate
There are several ways to price and value CRE, but the simplest and most straight forward is the capitalization rate (cap rate).
The cap rate is simply net operating income/price. The result is a yield that you can use to compare to other investments in order gauge relative price/return - such as the 10 yr. note yielding 4.114%. For instance, I buy a building for $100,000 and it throws off $10,000 after all operating expenses. $10,000/$100,000 = .10 or 10% = the cap rate. Thus this building is priced at a 10% cap rate, or priced by the seller to give the buyer a 10% return, unleveraged. This 10% return priced into the building allows a 589 basis point risk premia over the 10 yr treasury. Why, you ask? Because the office building is much riskier, being very illiquid, taking many months or years to close on and sell. The office building inherently has risk of litigation, operational risk, and market risk. It also requires a modicum of operational expertise, and in addition there is credit risk (through your lessees(?) So, as you can see, the risk premia is well deserved.
Now, many (in order to juice the return a bit) apply leverage through mortgages, bank loans, etc. to spice up the return, albeit at the risk of higher volatility of cash flows and the possibility of running negative cash flow in tight years. Assume, I used 30% of my own monies ($30,000) to buy this building and borrowed $70,000 for the rest. I now get that same $10,000 net operating income off of a $30,000 cash outlay, vs a $10,000 cash outlay. So now I yield 33% return instead of a 10% return due to leverage. Of course my astute readers realize that the cost of this leverage was not factored in. Let's assume the debt service for this loan is $4,900 per year. I must deduct that interest and principal repayment from my operating profit. This is reality. Thus, my leveraged yield is really something akin to 17%. Still not bad, and still better than 10%.