The Fed Holds the Line on Interest Rates Again. What’s Next?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell at Wednesday’s press conference. Screenshot by Gabriel Frank

In its final meeting of the year, the U.S. Federal Reserve Open Markets Committee elected on Wednesday to again hold interest rates at their current level, a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent. Additionally, the Fed predicted that it would cut rates three times through 2024, potentially bringing the target range down to 4.25 to 4.5 percent before the end of the year. The prediction drastically shifts policy from a year where the federal funds rate was raised four times by 75 basis points.

The announcement follows recent inflation and jobs reports that point to a stable, yet slightly weakening economy. Through November, the Consumer Price Index moderated to 3.1 percent, down 10 basis points from October, while employment rose by nearly 200,000. In a press briefing following the announcement, Fed Chair Jerome Powell cited these indicators, signaling that the fight against inflation has entered a new stage.

Powell acknowledged the indicators, saying that the Fed’s tightening may be “at or near its peak,” but stressed that the battle is far from over. “Inflation is still too high, ongoing progress in bringing it down is not assured, and the path to getting there is uncertain,” he said. Currently, the Fed anticipates reaching 2 percent inflation in 2026.

What does the CRE industry think?

Coupled with the recent economic indicators, that trend could promote the market stability that investors and lenders are seeking. Keyvan Ghaytanchi, chief investment officer at BEB Capital foresees a “significant uptick” in transaction volumes going into the new year. “This shift is expected to invigorate market activities, as investors and stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting a more predictable rate environment to engage in more robust transacting,” Ghaytanchi told Commercial Property Executive.

The Fed’s messaging further added to the optimism, particularly for investors focused on high-performing asset classes. For Harry Klaff, principal & U.S. president of Avison Young, the Fed’s signals are “encouraging news for commercial real estate investors, particularly for those carefully watching the expected activity of industrial, multifamily, and community-based retail sectors,” anticipating no further tightening through the first half of 2024. “It creates more certainty and stability to foster the belief that we may be at the peak for interest rates— encouraging investors to start buying again,” Klaff said in a statement.

READ ALSO: In a Low-Deal Year, These Transactions Stand Out

Rajeev Hota, director of commercial lending at Acuity Knowledge Partners, anticipates that rate cuts will contribute to enthusiasm among borrowers, as well as to a newfound willingness for lenders. “When interest rates are lowered, bond prices will increase, banks will provide lower interest rates on savings and cash deposits, and mortgage rates fall,” Hota told CPE. Consequently, “It allows borrowers to borrow money, which in turn paves ways for lenders to (make) more loans.”

Others expect low transaction volumes to persist into 2024, especially given the approaching wave of CMBS loan maturities. “We are predicting similar themes in 2024 for the commercial real estate industry as we are witnessing that we saw in 2023: low transaction volumes, wide bid/offer spreads, and reduced real estate property values,” noted Carey Heyman, Managing Principal of the Real Estate Industry at CliftonLarsonAllen.

When will the rate cuts begin?

Regardless of when the anticipated cuts take place, Chad Lavender, Newmark‘s president of capital markets for North America, predicts that the Fed will be “slow and deliberate in cutting rates,” especially with inflation at more than a percentage point above the Fed’s target. Still, Lavender does not believe that the caution will interfere with transaction volumes. “Stabilization is key and we believe we are there. We are already seeing an increase in transactions and expect it to continue,” he told CPE.

Others have more concrete predictions, focused mainly on the third and fourth quarters of next year. “Looking ahead to 2024, the Federal Reserve forecast suggests that interest rates will be cut sometime in the latter second half of the year, with current models suggesting the fourth quarter,” Heyman predicted. In fact, the decision to cut rates may not be entirely in the Fed’s control, given the roughly $659 billion in commercial loans that CREDiq expects to mature in 2024. “Given (that) the market is going to encounter a larger volume of CMBS loans maturing in the next 6 months, the refinance bottlenecks need to be eased out by regulators,” Hota noted.

Additionally, the Fed needs to balance its mission to reduce inflation with its strong efforts to avoid any further economic decline. “the weakening growth outlook can put pressure on the Fed to take a call on reducing interest rates to avoid further deterioration,” Hota concluded.

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