Commercial property values post big quarterly decline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. commercial property prices by institutional investors posted their greatest quarterly fall in 22 years, according to an index developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Real Estate.

The transaction-based index, which MIT developed in 1984, fell 10.6 percent in the fourth quarter, surpassing the record fall of 9 percent seen in the fourth quarter 1987.

The index tracks the prices that institutions such as pension funds pay or receive when buying or selling commercial properties like shopping malls, apartment complexes and office towers.

“It now seems likely that this down market will be at least as severe as that of the early 1990s for commercial property,” Professor David Geltner, director of research at the Center for Real Estate, said in a statement.

The index fell a record 15 percent in 2008, and easily surpassed the 9 percent decline seen in 1991 and the 10 percent drop in 1992.

That period marked one of the most severe recessions in commercial real estate recession and was the result of the savings and loan debacle and U.S. tax code changes in 1986.

The current downturn in commercial property is the result of the credit crisis, which has cut off debt financing for sales. The U.S. recession has also dealt a blow to commercial real estate returns, as business tenants cut staff and office needs, cut hotel demand, or close stores.

The index declined a total of 27 percent from 1987 through 1992, with most of the decline occurring in 1991 and 1992.

The index’s performance means that prices in institutional commercial property deals that closed during the fourth quarter for properties such as office buildings, warehouses and apartment complexes are now 22 percent below their peak values attained in the second quarter of 2007. The index has fallen in five of the past six quarters, but the recent drop is by far the steepest.

The MIT Center for Real Estate also compiles indexes that gauge movements on the demand side and the supply side of the market that it tracks.

The demand-side index, which tracks prices potential buyers are willing to pay, has fallen for the past six quarters, and is down 23 percent for the year and 31 percent since its mid-2007 peak.