Market Extra: Why the Fed’s next decisions on rates could lead to a wave of commercial-debt defaults

by | Sep 18, 2023 | Stock Market

Getting staff back to the office is only part of the battle. Regional banks that went big lending on office properties also face a ticking time bomb of maturing debt that they helped create, particularly if the Federal Reserve holds its policy rate near the current 22-year high well into next year.

“The area of greatest concerns for banks is office space,” says Tom Collins, senior partner focused on regional banks and credit unions at consulting firm firm West Monroe. Should rates stay high, “borrowers are going to face a tough decision of whether they refinance or default,” he said. The fight to bring more staff back to half-empty office buildings comes as an estimated $1 trillion wall of commercial real-estate loans is set to mature through 2024. While tenants haven’t shied away from signing up to pay top rents at trophy buildings, the same can’t be said for the rows of lower-rung properties lining financial districts in big cities. See: Labor Day is just a ‘milestone’ in the marathon to get workers back to the office The Fed embarks on a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday, with expectations running high for rates to stay steady, giving more time to study the impact of earlier rate increases. The central bank’s rate hikes have further complicated matters for landlords, and fresh debt for office buildings no longer looks cheap nor abundant. Regional banks also have been piling back on lending after Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank collapsed in March and as deposits fled for yield elsewhere. Related: FDIC kicks off $33 billion sale of seized assets from Signature Bank Loan volumes from Wall Street similarly have been anemic. This year it has produced slightly more than $10 billion in “conduit,” or multi-borrower, commercial mortgage-backed securit …

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