Is Fed Abandoning Bailout Of Commercial Real Estate

In what could have been the biggest piece of news today, yet making little headway into the media, the Fed announced that it is adopting a policy statement supporting "prudent commercial real estate loan workouts." And even though in traditional Fed fashion, the statement says a lot but is even more vague, some of the implications from a more nuanced read have very serious adverse implications for commercial real estate. The section:

Financial institutions that implement prudent loan workout arrangements after performing comprehensive reviews of borrowers' financial conditions will not be subject to criticism for engaging in these efforts, even if the restructured loans have weaknesses that result in adverse credit classifications. In addition, performing loans, including those renewed or restructured on reasonable modified terms, made to creditworthy borrowers, will not be subject to adverse classification solely because the value of the underlying collateral declined.

seems to imply that the Fed is now encouraging active loan workouts as a matter of policy. The other implication is that firms with CRE exposure can no longer rely on the Fed as a perpetual guarantor of risky exposure. Not only that, but in adopting a new policy strategy, the Fed is acknowledging the major problem that CRE writedowns will represent for banks, yet is telling banks to resolve problems on their own, while subsequently they will "not be subject to criticism for engaging in these efforts."

The implications of this Fed action for the economy could be staggering as the $3.5 b,quadr,trillion CRE market will likely not receive the same largesse that residential real estate has been the recipient of ever since the conservatorship of the GSEs. And the biggest loser in all of this will be banks that still have not used the massive risk rally to offload whole loan and CMBS CRE holdings, and moreover, still have these marked at par or close thereby.

As Wilbur Ross and George Soros pointed out earlier, the trouble for CRE is just starting. If the Fed is unwilling to recreate QE for CRE, in the same way that it continues to bail out residential exposure, then look for a major double dip in the economy. The only wild card is why the Fed is letting this happen, although if the political backlash against just QE 1 is any indication, then it likely would not have been able to pass additional liquidity measures regardless.

Full Fed policy statement can be found here.

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