The reason Congress has been dealing with the fiscal Cliff is because our nation’s $16 trillion in debt. Worse, we have $60 trillion in unfunded government pensions, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security obligations. In other words we are a $76 trillion debtor nation.
The Fiscal Cliff is Congress’ way of dealing with the increasing deficit necessary to service our debt, it does not address the debt itself. Our real issue is the debt itself. We can only solve our debt problem by increasing taxes or cutting our spending. Since Congress is obviously not inclined to do either, our government needs to find an alternative way of solving this problem. I believe they have.
The Federal Reserve, which historically has dealt with interest rate policy on a quarterly basis, announced in an unprecedented move that it intends to keep interest rates at the Fed discount window at 0% through early 2015. This has created an artificial cap on interest rates. At the same time, by virtue of the Fed’s QE3 policy, the Fed is effectively printing $85 billion a month—without end. Undoubtedly this devaluation of the currency will help us pay our debt off in cheap dollars. It should also have an upward pressure on interest rates. But, by virtue of the fact that interest rates remain artificially low, we will not feel the effects of this printing of money until the Fed removes its cap on interest rates.
And when that happens, watch out. Interest rates should increase dramatically. Rising interest rates will have a significant impact on commercial real estate. Rising interest rates will bring with inflation. They will also bring with them increasing rates. Properties, such as triple net lease single tenant assets which have very nominal rent increases, typically lower than CPI, will start to act and look like bonds, diminishing in value with rising interest and capitalization rates. By contrast, inflation-protected real estate, those assets with underlying leases that adjust for inflation, should be able to maintain or increase in value.
Adding to the opportunity, we’re approaching a time when many properties can be purchased at below replacement costs, and financed at historically low interest rates. Investors are able to acquire real estate assets at below replacement cost prices, finance them with long-term low-rate financing, and protect them with inflation-protected leases will benefit from the inflationary cycle we see coming.
While the drama on Capitol Hill is certainly causing headaches for economists around the world, those in the commercial real estate industry should see opportunity amidst the frustration.