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What Does S&P Downgrade Mean for Real Estate? Economists’ Opinions Vary

Economists are divided over the commercial real estate implications of Friday’s historic downgrade of U.S. debt. Standard & Poor’s decision to lower its rating on long-term U.S. Treasury bonds from AAA to AA+ is, by itself, unlikely to affect commercial real estate investors directly, say experts.

Even so, the stock market plunged on Monday, the first day of trading since the downgrade. The Dow fell 4.8% from Friday’s close to 10,897, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq each declined 6.1% to close at 1,127 and 2,378, respectively.

Should Monday’s investor panic mushroom into a wide-scale pullback by businesses and consumers, property fundamentals and investors will inevitably suffer.

“With fears mounting across the world about unsustainable debt levels and slowing economic growth, individuals and businesses may curtail spending and hiring,” says Victor Calanog, chief economist at New York-based Reis. “The specter of high inflation with slow growth — or even a double-dip recession — can no longer be easily ignored.”

The rating change will have little effect on investors, however, and is simply a confirmation of various negative factors that have eroded market confidence in the last two weeks, says Calanog, referring to the fierce political battle in Washington to either slash spending or raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Looking beyond Monday’s reactionary sell-off in the stock markets, Calanog points to long-term trends that suggest the economy is making progress toward recovery.

Nearly lost amid news reports about the credit downgrade and stock market reaction was last Friday’s nonfarm payroll report, which showed that the economy added 117,000 jobs in July and the unemployment rate held nearly steady at 9.1%.

Job growth is occurring, albeit at a disappointing pace, says Calanog. The economy added 930,000 jobs in the first seven months of 2011, nearly equal to the 940,000 jobs created in all of 2010.

“We are at a critical point in the economic cycle, with mixed signals implying neither uniformly bad nor uniformly good results,” emphasizes Calanog.

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