While credit quality at banks remains high, it may not stay there.
At the end of the year, noncurrent and net charge-off rates at the nation’s banks had “increased modestly,” but they and other credit quality metrics remained below their pre-pandemic levels, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. However, rising interest rates have made credit more expensive for borrowers with floating rate loans or loans that have a rate reset built into the duration.
Commercial real estate, or CRE, is of particular focus for banks, given changes to some types of CRE markets since the start of the pandemic, namely office and retail real estate markets. Rising interest rates have increased the monthly debt service costs for some CRE borrowers. An estimated $270.4 billion in commercial mortgages held at banks will mature in 2023, according to a March report from Trepp, a data and analytics firm.
“If you’ve been able to increase your rents and your cash flow, then you should be able to offset the impact of higher financing costs,” says Jon Winick, CEO of Clark Street Capital, a firm that helps lenders sell loans. “But when the cash flow stays the same or gets worse and there’s a dramatically higher payment, you can run into problems.”
Some buildings are producing less income, in the form of leases or rent, and their values have declined. Office and traditional retail valuations may have fallen up to 40% from their purchase price, creating loan-to-value ratios that exceed 100%, Chris Nichols, director of capital markets for SouthState Bank, pointed out in a recent article. SouthState Bank is a unit of Winter Haven, Florida-based SouthState Corp., which has $44 billion in assets. If rates stay at their mid-April levels, some office building borrowers whose rates renew in the next two years could see interest rates grow 350 to 450 basis points from their initial level, Nichols writes, citing Morgan Stanley data.
JPMorgan & Co.’s Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon said during the bank’s first quarter 2023 earnings call that he is advising clients to fix exposure to floating rates or address refinance risk.
“People need to be prepared for the potential of higher rates for longer,” he said.
Banks are the largest category of CRE lenders and made 38.6% of all CRE loans, according to Moody’s Analytics. Within that, 9.6% of those loans are made by community banks with $1 billion to $10 billion in assets. CRE exposure is highest among banks of that size, making up over 24% of total assets at the 829 banks that have between $1 billion and $10 billion in assets. It’s high for smaller banks too, constituting about 18.3% of total assets for banks with $100 million to $1 billion in assets.
“Not surprisingly, we’re seeing delinquency rates for office loans starting to increase. … [It’s] still moderately low, but you can see the trend has been rising,” says Matthew Anderson, managing director of applied data and research at Trepp, speaking both about year-end bank data and more current info about the commercial mortgage-backed securities market. He’s also seen banks begin increasing their credit risk ratings for CRE segments, notably in the office sector.
Bank boards and management teams will want to avoid credit surprises and be prepared to act to address losses. Anderson recommends directors at banks with meaningful CRE exposure start getting a handle on the portfolio, the borrowers and the different markets where the bank has exposure. They should also make sure their risk ratings on CRE credits are up-to-date so the bank can identify potential problem credits and workout strategies ahead of borrower defaults.
They will also want to consider their institution’s capacity for working out troubled credits and explore what kind of pricing they could get for loans on the secondary market. While banks may have more capital to absorb losses, Winick says they may not have the staffing to manage a large and rapid increase in troubled credits.
Working ahead of potential increases in credit losses is especially important for banks with a concentration in the space, which the FDIC defines as CRE that makes up more than 300% of a bank’s total capital or construction loans in excess of 100% of total capital.
“If a bank has a CRE concentration, they’re definitely going to get more scrutiny from the regulators,” Anderson says. “Any regulator worth their salt is going to be asking pointed questions about office exposure, and then beyond that, interest rate exposure and refinancing risk for all forms of real estate.”
Risk issues like these will be covered during Bank Director’s Bank Audit & Risk Conference in Chicago June 12-14, 2023.