Real estate firms in Japan are once again "entering dangerous territory," according to Bloomberg. S&P Global Ratings said on Friday that the sector's debt levels are now higher than the nation's bubble era.
It is bringing back memories of the 1980s, when the grounds of the Tokyo Imperial Palace were being proclaimed as more valuable than all of the real estate in California. This proclamation was then famously followed by a quarter of a century of stagnation in the country's real estate sector.
“Japan’s real estate market is peaking out and ready to head down. Although the conditions in the office leasing market are solid, there are signs of a slowdown in corporate earnings, particularly among manufacturers. In addition, we expect major upticks in central Tokyo office building supply in 2020 and 2023.”
Low interest rates in Japan haven’t prevented domestic lenders from seeing their profitability weaken, mostly due to lower net interest margins. These lenders have increased loans to developers because demand from other corporate customers is relatively weak.
This, in turn, has prompted developers to take on large redevelopment projects and acquisitions. S&P thinks that financial leverage in the sector is only going to increase as firms use more debt to finance its growth.
“If banks reduce their loans to real-estate companies as financial conditions deteriorate, they could pull down property prices and push up debt financing costs. This, in turn, could worsen the financial standing of real estate majors.”