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Glass Half Full: Real Estate Investors Unshaken By Storm And Rate Surge

Hurricane Rita could take any number of dire trajectories over the next few days. Commercial real estate investors, for their part, are doing some forecasting of their own.

One might assume that storm-driven oil shocks and rising interest rates (the Fed raised the key Fed Funds rate to 3.75% yesterday) would drive some bearish outlooks on the market. Yet a sampling of real estate investors suggests that few are downright alarmed that ripple effects from these events will capsize the market.

“There is definitely a confluence of several different events occurring at the same time,” says Mitchell Hersh, president and CEO of Mack-Cali Realty Corp. The New Jersey-based REIT owns more than 30 million sq. ft. of Class A office space in the northeast.

“We can’t really predict how it all converges on the real estate market, but I’m not that worried,” he says.

Hersh doubts that storm-driven oil shocks can single-handedly derail the commercial real estate market. Two factors--a modestly improving economy and strong global demand for U.S. real estate—should offset an energy spike. What’s more, Hersh predicts that 2006 will be another strong year for commercial real estate.

“We’re hoping that the era of rent roll-downs will finally end next year,” he says, indicating that in some of the weakest northeastern office markets tenant concessions are still a lingering problem.

Other commercial real estate executives are equally as sanguine. Earlier this month, for example, law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary polled 2,500 senior level real estate executives on their 2006 market outlook. Based on the findings, which were released Monday, few are calling for a major downturn in the real estate market over the next 12 months.

Indeed, less than one quarter (or 22%) actually believe the market will soften over that period. Another 27%, meanwhile, predict that the market boom will continue through the end of next year.

Not all property classes will throw off the same returns, however: 36% of respondents believe that the multifamily market will offer the best returns over the next 12 months.

Retail placed second with 15% followed by hotel with 14% of the respondents’ vote. The least attractive investment over the next year turns out to be the most expensive these days—downtown office. Only 9% of respondents believe that downtown office buildings will be a good buy over that period.

The survey did include some cautionary notes that somewhat balanced this optimism. One respondent, for example, warned that investment capital can just as easily flow out of real estate. “And when capital rotates out of real estate and cap rates move up, there is going to be a lot of stress in the market. I would guess that we are 2 to 3 years [away] from that happening,” wrote the unnamed respondent.

Perhaps Susan Hudson-Wilson, founder and CEO of Boston-based Property & Portfolio Research, summed it up best last Thursday during an Urban Land Institute conference in Manhattan. With real estate returns hovering well above the S & P for several years running, relative returns are still driving capital into real estate assets, particularly the REIT sector.

“Face it, real estate is the tallest midget in the circus,” said Hudson-Wilson, who is retiring from her post at the end of this year. “But you just cannot look at real estate as an isolated asset class.”

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