"This One Is Very Surprising" - US Luxury Rental Market Turmoiling As EQR Cuts Guidance For 3rd Time

Back on April 27, Chicago-based real estate investment trust Equity Residential (EQR) lowered its guidance during its Q1 earnings call, expecting a drop in revenue growth to 5% due to a luxury apartment slowdown in Manhattan. The Landlord said at the time that "New York City just turned very quickly and more deeply than we expected; There's some crazy stuff going on in New York" COO David Santee during the call.


Then, in early June, for the second time in less than two months, the landlord unexpectedly cut its earnings growth estimates once again, saying that the low end of the previously revised guidance of 4.5% to 5% has now become the high end of the range, as EQR forecast revenue growth of 4% to 4.5%.

"The revision is being driven by continued weakness in its New York portfolio and recent under performance in the company's San Francisco portfolio. New lease rates are not meeting original projections due to new rental apartment supply" the company said in a statement. "The revision is being driven by continued weakness in its New York portfolio and recent under performance in the company's San Francisco portfolio. New lease rates are not meeting original projections due to new rental apartment supply" the company said in a statement.

As we commented two months ago, "what's notable in the new guidance from EQR is that San Francisco has now joined the party - a development that clearly caught COO David Santee off guard."  To be sure, the "unexpected weakness in San Francisco was not a surprise to regular readers, as we have been pointing out for a long time that the second tech bubble has burst,  and had started to impact the local rental market.

Today, shares of Equity Residential tumbled the most since March after the company cut its revenue forecast for the third time this year, citing the same factors it blamed two months ago, namely greater weakness "than it anticipated in the Manhattan and San Francisco rental markets." The REIT now expects same store revenue growth to be 3.5% to 4% in 2016.

The surprising deterioration in what until recently have been the two most stable rental markets in the US shocked analysts: “This one is very surprising to us, from what we view to be a top-tier organization with the sophisticated infrastructure that usually communicates future performance within a relatively visible band,” Mizuho Securities USA Inc. analysts Haendel St. Juste and Richard Anderson wrote in a note to investors late Tuesday, after Equity Residential’s announcement. 

The implication is that the future performance is not that visible after all. The analysts cut their recommendation on Equity Residential shares to underperform from neutral. The shares were also downgraded by analysts at BMO Capital Markets Corp. who lowered their rating to market perform from outperform.

The stock price drop It was the biggest intraday decline since March 1 and the most in the 15-company Bloomberg apartment REIT index, which fell 3% in sympathy. AvalonBay Communities Inc. and UDR Inc., which both reported earnings this week, were down more than 3% . “We were already surprised by the lack of visibility into the outlook after two reductions in 2016,” St. Juste and Anderson wrote. The third is “too much for the market to handle.”

As Bloomberg adds, Equity Residential is among landlords having to work harder to lure tenants in the high-cost markets of Manhattan and San Francisco as an apartment-construction surge gives residents more bargaining power and limits how much owners can raise rates.

Quantifying how weak the rental market has suddenly become, AvalonBay gave renters lease-signing concessions worth $300,000 in the second quarter, four times more than in the same period a year earlier, Chief Operating Officer Sean Breslin said on the company’s earnings call Tuesday. The sweeteners, in the form of free months of rent, were greatest in New York, Northern California and New England.

“Markets do reset from time to time, either due to new supply or changes on the demand side of the equation,” Equity Residential Chief Executive Officer David J. Neithercut said Wednesday on a conference call to discuss earnings. “Unfortunately at the present time, we’re experiencing both factors in two of our most important markets.”

Other REITs did not fare better: AvalonBay cut the midpoint of its full-year forecast for same-store revenue growth by 0.4 percentage points. Job growth in the markets where the company owns apartments was also weaker than it expected in the second quarter, damping demand for rentals in what is usually the busiest leasing period, Breslin said. “We did not see the same seasonal lift we’ve seen in prior years,” AvalonBay Chief Executive Officer Timothy Naughton said on the company’s call.

In San Francisco, about 5,100 new units, the most in 26 years, are expected to be listed for rent in 2016, data from research firm Reis Inc. show. In Manhattan, 5,675 apartments will be added to the rental inventory, most of it high-end, according to brokerage Citi Habitats.

Making matters worse, pent up supply will only pressure prices more in the coming months. Many of this year’s new apartment buildings in New York will still be seeking tenants in 2017, and Equity Residential is concerned that competing landlords will start offering more concessions to would-be renters in the final quarter of the year, Santee said. Equity Residential is projecting that New York will get 14,000 new units in 2017, and another 14,000 the following year, Santee said on the call. About 7,000 units will be added in San Francisco next year, he said.

For those who still assume that US high-paying jobs are doing just fine, the following disclosure from EQR will be disturbing: San Francisco and New York, which account for half of Equity Residential’s projected revenue growth, are seeing a slowdown in hiring for jobs that pay enough to enable renters to afford the new luxury-apartment supply coming in those cities, Chief Operating Officer David Santee said on the call.

High-salary technology jobs in San Francisco peaked in the first quarter, while in New York, the biggest employment gains this year were in hospitality, leisure and health care, which are “mid-level compensation” industries, he said.

This means that the "minimum wage recovery" has now spread to the cities which traditionally are the highest paying ones. It also means that any hopes for substantial wage growth, aside from mandatory minimum wage increases can be thrown out of the window. That this will have a substantial impact on Fed policy goes without saying.