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ARE THE CREDIT MARKETS SETTLING DOWN?

Finding liquidity in this market is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree. It’s probably not going to happen. Most of you (52%) seem to think that we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for the credit market. Some (27%) believe the worst has yet to happen, while others (18%) believe minor problems could pop up again and a slim few (3%) have faith that all the bad times are past us. Bruce Schonbraun, senior managing director and group leader for the real estate practice of the Schonbraun McCann Group, gave us his take on how he sees the market.

“The credit market remains in disarray and partial paralysis. Right now in the credit market there is no fluid market, there are fewer issuers of new debt and virtually no buyers of debt products on the other end.

“Change is going to happen over time. The non-performing debt or the debt that is undervalued is going to have to get flushed through the system and that’s going to take some time. Ultimately, the debt products that are in that state are going to be sold. You’re starting to see more and more of these buys.

“Right now in the real estate world there are very few compelled buyers and very few compelled sellers. That’s creating a paralysis of its own. That’s probably a good thing right now given the state of the credit market because there’s no liquidity. If there was more liquidity in the credit markets you certainly would see more transactions occurring. It’s very difficult to get any long-term fixed-rate quote. I mean, 10-year fixed-rate money is very difficult to find anywhere.

“Each time there’s been disruption in credit markets it’s been new and different. We only make new mistakes. We generally don’t make the same old mistakes. Over time as the credit market does start to restore itself, at the end of the day the providers of debt are in the business of originating debt.

“I don’t have a crystal ball to say whether the end of this flushing out of credit is going to be late ’08 or early ’09. One thing you can be certain of it will return, it always does, and when it returns it will be on a much more conservative basis. The underwriting will be tighter for sure. Gradually liquidity will return to the system.

“I think one of the phenomena you’re going to see is a return of the mezzanine market to where it had been seven or eight years ago. More recently, the mezzanine market has become so very competitive that the risk/reward ratio in the mezzanine marketplace has gone way down. Given that the underwriting standards are going to be much tougher and most deals are going to require more equity or preferred equity participations, I think you’re going to see mezzanine underwriting that requires greater yield. However, we’re likely to see a return to the days when part of the yield are some equity kickers in mezzanine products – which really over the last several years have gone away as the competition became so severe. I think people are going to recognize that the new mezzanine that starts to enter the market, given its higher degree of risk is likely to carry a higher yield. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see equity kicker components in the future much as they had been seven or eight years ago.

“I think in the short term, the market is just not a fluid market. There remains paralysis in the marketplace. You can get credit from banks that want to keep things on their balance sheet and insurance companies are issuing debt, but their underwriting is much stricter and tougher. Outside of those organizations if you go to the big banks that traditionally were CMBS originators there’s just very little activity.

“It is not the end of the world. The world will continue on but it’s a giant disruption in the credit markets and a giant disruption in the real estate market. Ultimately you would expect to see a re-pricing of real estate given that the spreads will have gotten wider and given that there’s a much larger amount of equity required in real estate deals, which you would think would translate to some kind of re-pricing of real estate.”

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