Past, Present and Future

Alec J. Pacella

We have experienced, either directly or indirectly, all sorts of changes over the last few years. We are paying more at the pump each time we fill up, we are waiting longer for certain products that may or may not show up and we probably know companies that are desperate to hire workers that simply cannot turn up.

As we continue through a summer of uncertainty, the questions are not just increasing but also getting tougher. Everyone wants answers but few know where to look. This month, I’m going to review some of the most common economic indicators. When viewed collectively, these can provide significant insight.

Gross domestic product (GDP)

This is a basic measure of overall production for the U.S. economy, including the value of all finished goods and services that were produced in a given time period. During times of expansion,
the GDP will increase. Real GDP will include the impact of inflation while nominal GDP considers the current market prices. This measure is produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which is a division of the Department of Commerce. It is reported each quarter, generally released within four weeks of
the end of the quarter. Most will use the associated change, on a percentage basis, from one quarter to the next. For the most recent quarter as of press time, first quarter 2022, GDP decreased 1.6%.

Consumer price index (CPI)

This tracks the changes in prices for what is considered a market basket of
consumer goods and services. These include items such as energy, food, apparel, education, new vehicles and medical services, among others. As such, it is also the most common measure of inflation. CPI is tracked and produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and can be sorted by various base indexes and geography, but the most common is the All Urban Consumers (CPI-U). This index increased 1.0% in May 2022 and 8.6% over the trailing 12 months. The report is produced monthly and is generally available within two weeks after the end of the month.

U.S. unemployment rate This measures the total number of workers currently unemployed as a percentage of the total workforce. It is also tracked and produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and, similar to CPI, it can be broken down by job sector, such as Transportation & Warehouse, Construction and Manufacturing, as well as by geography. The unemployment rate for May 2022 was 3.6%. This index is produced monthly and generally available the Friday following the last day of the month.

Consumer spending
This tracks consumer spending on goods and services by U.S. residences. It is similar to GDP in a few ways. First, it will increase during times of expansion. Second, it illustrates the change, on a percentage basis, from a previous time period. And finally, it is produced by the Bureau of Economic
Analysis, who also produce GDP. This index was up 0.9% in April and 6.3% over the trailing 12 months. It is produced monthly, generally released by the end of the last weekday of the following month.

As we head into a summer of uncertainty, the questions are not just increasing but also getting
tougher. Everyone wants answers but few know where to look.

Home sales
This measures sales volume and prices of existing single-family homes in the U.S., including condos. It also breaks down the country by geographic regions. As with many of the indicators, a common metric is the percentage change from the prior period. This measure is tracked and produced by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), who publish it monthly. It is typically released on or about the 20th of the following month. For April 2022, home sales decreased 3.4% but the median sale price exceeded $400,000 for the first time ever, coming in at $407,600.

Housing starts
This report tracks housing starts, as well as building permits and housing completions, associated with privately owned, single-family homes. Like many of these indexes, the information can be separated on a regional basis and is produced each month. It is produced on a joint basis by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing. For May 2022, there were 1,549,000 housing starts, which was a 14.4% decrease over the starts in April. It is typically released on or about the 15th of the following month.
Federal Reserve beige book
If anyone has their finger on the pulse of the U.S. economy, it’s the Federal Reserve – or, as discussed next, perhaps they are the pulse. Eight times a year, they publish a compilation of reports
collected from each of the 12 regional banks that make up the system. The result is a sampling of information; some is anecdotal, and some is statistical but all of it is insightful. The most recent
edition came out June 1, with future editions scheduled for July 13, September 7, October 19 and November 30.
Federal Reserve meeting
Few events have more impact on the U.S. economy than the regularly scheduled meeting of the Federal
Reserve Board. At these meetings, all sorts of decisions are made directly related to monetary policy, including the (in)famous discount or federal funds rate. The most recent meeting in June 2022 sent shockwaves worldwide when the Fed raised interest rates by 0.75%. This is the largest increase
since 1994. The Fed meets a total of eight times a year, with the remaining meetings scheduled for July 26 & 27, September 20 & 21, November 1 & 2 and December 13 & 14. The list above is by no means all inclusive, as there are all sorts of other meaningful and insightful indexes, reports and surveys available. The key is to focus in on a group and consistently track it every month. As the old saying goes – the past is history, and the future is a mystery. But indexes and reports can definitely help to make today a present.

Few events have more impact on the U.S. economy than the regularly scheduled meeting of the Federal
Reserve Board. At these meetings, all sorts of decisions are made directly related to monetary
policy, including the (in)famous discount or federal funds rate.

July 2022 Properties Magazine



What’s happening in… Hamilton, NZ?

New Zealand’s city of Hamilton – or Kirikiriroa in Maori – sits on the banks of the famous Waikato River which features heavily in its sights and site. In this city known for its beautiful greenery and walks, the most popular tourist attraction is the 54-hectare Hamilton Gardens.

With a population of just under 200,000 people, Hamilton is the fourth most populous city in the country. In 2020, it was named ‘most beautiful large city in New Zealand’. The wider Hamilton Urban Area includes Ngāruawāhia, Te Awamutu, and Cambridge, which collectively cover some 110 square kilometers of land. It is also the third fastest-growing urban area.

Leading industries and outputs

Hamilton’s economic heritage is as an agricultural services hub, particularly dairy cattle, and vegetable farming, but it also has thriving business services, construction, and health and community services. Additionally, R&D is an emerging sphere, given the city’s high tertiary educated population.

Residential market factors

New Zealand has typically seen high demand and low supply for residential housing in recent years which has kept prices elevated. There are, however, some movements in the markets, and new regulations around lending coming into play that could mean fewer residential buyers would qualify and those that do could be in for “bargains” in 2022 – according to a January 2022 report from Stuff.co.nz citing Mortgage Lab chief executive Rupert Gough.

Additionally, Realestate.co.nz recently reported new house listings in November 2021 were hitting their highest level in seven years, and Stuff.co.nz added that data from Infometric showing consent and permissions for new build projects were also much increased, compared year on year.

The latest CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI) report shows that property values have declined in Hamilton, where housing values were down 0.9% in March.

Commercial property outlook

New property rating valuations from Hamilton City Council – released in April 2022 – put the city’s worth at NZ$ 71.4 billion.

Our Hamilton reports that the city’s “total property Capital Value (the total value of the land and any buildings on it) increased 53%, and Land Value 67% since 2018”. “On average,” the article continues, ‘Capital Values for commercial and industrial property have increased by 40% across the city”.

Insight from NAI Harcourts in the country suggests that industrial will remain “the darling of the three commercial property sectors”, but also that there is momentum in the Hamilton office market, which they characterized as coming from a “flight to quality” that was pushing local business in the central business districts to up their game.For more regional insight, contact NAI Global’s partners in Hamilton and surrounds.

Report says CRE leaders expect post covid resurgence

In May, law firm DLA Piper released the 2022 edition of their Annual State of the Market Survey report, highlighting that “optimism about the future of commercial real estate (CRE)” remains strong despite the headwinds the industry faces.

The survey on which the report is built was conducted in February and March of 2022, by collating and analyzing input from CRE leaders and professionals in the US – specifically their take on matters including “pandemic recovery, economic outlook, attractiveness of investment markets and overall expectations over the next 12 months”. This input is further contextualized with additional research, presented the report.

Highlights

Overall, the report [PDF] shows “increased bullishness”, with “more respondents in 2022 [having] a higher level of confidence for the real estate industry’s next 12 months”.

Findings from the report also include that 73 percent of respondents are “expecting a bullish market”. This is consistent with 2021 expectations. “However,” they added, “this year, respondents reported feeling a higher level of confidence in a bull market over the next 12 months; 33 percent described their bullishness as an 8 or higher in 2022, compared to just 16 percent in 2021.”

Top contributing reasons include the apparent availability of capital in the market, with over half of the respondents citing this as the main source of their confidence.

Viewed per sector, Commercial Property Executive says in their analysis of the report, “Industrial (66 percent) and multifamily (57 percent) remain the property types that investors believe offer the best risk-adjusted returns over the next 12 months.”

Shaping CRE

Inflation and interest rate changes were ranked most likely to have an impact specifically in the CRE market in the coming year, but ecommerce, migration of workers out of city centers, and the “redesign/reimagining use of office and other commercial spaces” were also common responses.

Concerns remain

Top concerns included interest rate increases (cited by 26 percent of respondents), inflation (18 percent), as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

US gains and advice

Finally, respondents to the survey said they felt the US would be seen as a safe and stable option, attracting non-US investment. “During times of uncertainty – like the pandemic or the conflict in Ukraine — investors often flock to safe havens,” the report reads, adding “a well-defined legal system, transparency and proven economic resiliency” are among the US’s assets.  

In the face of global uncertainty though, the report authors caution that CRE professionals and firms must “remain agile and prioritize adaption, with an eye towards staying ahead of the curve”.

SOCIAL: Do you see the US CRE market as a safe haven in times of global uncertainty? How do you expect inflation to make itself known in your CRE specialty?

US foreclosures: records and rebalancing

Foreclosures in the US were up in the first quarter of 2022 – setting what the data provider calls a “post pandemic high”. The data provider in this case is Attom, who specialize in real estate and property data – including tax, mortgage, deed, risk and other information for “over 155 million properties” country-wide.

It must be noted however that this level of foreclosure activity is still considerably better than the highs seen in 2020, before government intervention (more below).

A tale of two months

Attom’s Q1 2022 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report – released in April 2022 – shows a total of 78 271 properties filed for foreclosure in the first quarter of 2022. This is, they write, “up 39% from the previous quarter and up 132% from a year ago”.

Additionally, in March 2022 alone, the data indicates over 33 000 US property foreclosure filings – an increase of 29% from the prior month, and 181% compared to March 2021.

A mere month later, however, in the month-to-month reporting from the same provider (April 2022, released in mid-May), showed “a total of 30,674 properties with foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions or bank repossessions”. This was down 8% from March, but up 160% from April 2021.

Questioning the headline

As covered before on this blog, it is important to assess data and market reports like this one as pieces of a larger picture – viewed in context of time and other indexes. It is also worth noting that there is typically a delay between economic “crunch”, consumers feeling the pressure, and market movements showing the effects of said pressure.

The above caveats notwithstanding, the trend line this report highlights is concerning for investors who watch the residential market, and commercial brokers whose specialty/sectors are affected by residential, such as multi-family.

Specifically, the data point that March 2022 was “the 11th consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in U.S. foreclosure activity”, is not a positive direction for this metric.

Post-moratorium balancingWriting about the Q1 2022 “record”, a spokesperson for Attom explained that this foreclosure activity is “gradually return[ing] to normal levels since the expiration of the government’s moratorium” and the CFPB’s enhanced mortgage servicing guidelines”.

What economic and commercial property data do you keep a close eye on? 

Can a mortgage be issued for virtual land? Apparently, it can in the metaverse

In a recent NAI article, we looked at the advent of the metaverse[SR1]  and what this new tech might mean for commercial real estate (CRE). Though we concluded that the answer to how the metaverse might impact the real world remains uncertain, since then, there have been some interesting virtual developments.

In particular, tech company TerraZero has started issuing “mortgages” for virtual real estate, and there’s very real money changing hands for entirely virtual properties.

A slice of (online) paradise?

To be clear, the “mortgages” in this case are funded entirely by TerraZero itself, rather than an external financial institution, but employ a system of down payment and instalments, much like the real thing. The first one was issued for a piece of land on a platform called Decentraland, where users can own, and sell, virtual assets. And as strange as this all sounds from a real estate perspective, there have recently been several big players setting up shop in the virtual world.

Perhaps the biggest, from a credibility point of view, is global financial leaders JPMorgan who recently launched a “virtual bank”, though at the moment it’s only being used for marketing purposes. In tandem with the purchase, JPMorgan issued a report, where they discuss their expectations for the metaverse’s development, saying:

“The success of building and scaling in the metaverse is dependent on having a robust and flexible financial ecosystem that will allow users to seamlessly connect between the physical and virtual worlds.”

They added that, in just the last six months of 2021, the average price for a virtual plot of land jumped from $6,000 to $12,000.

Hedging bets

Despite this apparent endorsement from one of the world’s leading financiers, there are still plenty of metaverse critics urging caution. One of the main points raised is that, unlike physical real estate, metaverse purchases can’t satisfy both property value fundamentals: namely scarcity and location.

Or as Louis Rosenberg, CEO of Unanimous AI and a veteran Augmented Reality (AR) developer, puts it:

“We don’t even know which platforms are [going to] be popular, let alone which locations… so it’s like somebody buying a piece of land anywhere in America and hoping that it becomes San Francisco or New York.”

For many companies though, hedging bets is taking the form of securing their own piece of the virtual pie. The Wall Street Journal reports that accounting firms PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prager Metis have also recently snapped up virtual sites, with the latter spending $35,000 on its purchase of a virtual HQ.

Is the metaverse here to stay?

Though it’s still early days, and impossible to say how the virtual property trend might play out, the recent developments in the space suggest it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on. At the very least, the metaverse poses an interesting proposition, and one a lot of people seem to be willing to speculate on.

SOCIAL: Do you think there’s a future for metaverse property? And if so, how do you see it unfolding?