Why Property Companies Are Falling

A couple of articles in the FT today explain why commercial property company share prices have been falling of late, causing some damage to my portfolio.

First there is an article headlined “Goldman Sachs sounds alarm on UK commercial property”. They predict that with a sharp rise in borrowing costs billions of pounds will be wiped off their value. Prices could fall by 15 to 20 per cent by the end of 2024 they say. See https://www.ft.com/content/f4f96cf7-29a2-4416-a1cd-83ea362cfcaa

The article also points out that the “mini” budget which caused a disruption in the gilt market has caused pension funds to sell their property holdings. Several property funds have suspended redemptions so no doubt they are ditching holding in property investment trusts instead which I hold rather than open-ended funds. This means that a company such as Schroder REIT (SREI) has fallen to a 47% discount to NAV which seems excessive.

But gilts have rallied today which might relieve the pressure on pension funds. Another FT article said this: “Investors had previously been unnerved by confirmation from [Andrew] Bailey on Tuesday that the BoE’s bond-buying programme would not be extended beyond Friday, with the Bank warning troubled pension schemes that they had just three days left to sell whatever assets they needed to in order to restore their cash buffers. However, after the central bank purchased £4.4bn of bonds on Wednesday — easily the biggest daily volume so far in the BoE’s programme — markets were reassured by signs that pension funds were taking advantage of the facility to offload gilts and raise cash”.

Comment: I am getting really annoyed by these gyrations. When commercial property should be one of the less volatile of shares they are being driven into bouncing around by speculation on what the chancellor and governor of the Bank of England will do.

Even the negative prognostications on borrowing rates from Goldman are misconceived. Property companies rarely need to refinance their loans in the short-term and their loan to book values are generally not high (28% in the case of SREI in March this year for example). If loans need to refinanced in a few years time, what will be the loan interest rates achievable then? They are likely to be somewhat higher as the rates have been unrealistically low for many years but nobody really knows.

In summary these gyrations might soon be making property trusts more attractive but the general malaise in the stock market is not going to encourage anyone to buy unless the outlook seems brighter and the gilt market stablises.  

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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