Schwanke: Projections are good but
not as good as they were in the spring.

WASHINGTON, DC-The Urban Land Institute’s second semi-annual survey of real estate economists for 2012 was less optimistic about the industry’s prospects than the previous study. That said, many of the metrics examined in a wider context (read–compared to 2009) show that the industry is relatively on solid ground.

All in all, the report projected a continued improvement for the US economy and housing market, Dean Schwanke executive director of ULI Center for Capital Markets, told listeners in a webinar today during which ULI unveiled the results. “However, predictions diverged from the previous survey in that people are less optimistic regarding the economy and more optimistic regarding single-family homes.”

Perhaps the most startling sign of decreased confidence was the projection that commercial property transaction volume is expected to increase by 21%—the projection in the spring, by contrast, was for a 50% increase. For 2013, the consensus forecast is that commercial real estate transaction volume will reach $250 billion.

That said, a deeper dive into how the capital markets are trending offers more than the proverbial ray of hope for the industry. CMBS is on the upswing, in short, and cap rates, while rising, are still expected to remain low. The latter in particular bodes well for CRE, Schwanke said. “As long as they stay low, values will stay solid.” Cap rates for 2012, on average, hover around 5.9%. For 2013 they are expected to rise to 6.2% and for 2014, to 6.3%.

Not that all economists participating in the report, and even on the call, were in complete accordance on their views. For example, one economist noted that the spread between cap rates and the Treasury rate is a record right now at 4.1%. So while an increase is never an event to look forward to, cap rates “are still very attractive to Treasuries.” Another economist, however, noted that the lower Treasuries are creating a floor for cap rates “and even small increases in the consensus forecast will feel significant” to borrowers. “The absence of a decline alone will mark a shift for borrowers even if cap rates are not increasing dramatically.”

There was the same push-pull over the projections for CMBS, which is on track to increase steadily for the next few years with 2014 expected to post $60 billion in such transactions, “almost double from this year,” one economist noted. “Then again, $60 billion was a fair to good number for a quarter in 2006. So it’s doubling but doubling from a very low number.”