(Bloomberg)—A wave of store closings and retailer bankruptcies is coming in early 2018, as the industry deteriorates faster than analysts had expected a year ago, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.
The retail business’s “large and undeniable transformation” will crimp rents and vacancy rates this year, strategists Roger Lehman and Benjamin Rozyn wrote in a note Thursday. Bonds backed by these loans will likely weaken, they added.
Even if the just-ended Christmas shopping season was the best for retailers in a decade, according to early estimates, mall staples like Macy’s Inc., No. 5 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, and J.C. Penney Co. (No. 33) haven’t wowed investors with their results. Although those companies are far from bankruptcy, Macy’s said on Thursday it was closing 11 stores in early 2018.
Meanwhile, a few major retailers, including Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1), Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 3) and Home Depot Inc. (No. 8), are expected to reap an oversized share of the industry’s gains.
Portions of CMBX 6 and CMBX 7, two commercial mortgage bond indexes that investors often use to bet against retailers, may fall further this year, the analysts wrote. The junk-rated portion of CMBX 6 dropped about 12% in 2017. January is usually the peak month for retailers’ bankruptcy filing, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence going back to 1981.
While most commercial mortgages for retail space will continue to perform in the coming years, the reduction in financing options available to mall and store owners “could spell trouble” when the loans mature, the analysts wrote. As fewer commercial mortgages to retailers get bundled into securities, pricing has become more opaque for mid- and low-tier malls. That’s a risk to CMBS investors because servicers will have to figure out what to do with assets that have “little to no comparable valuations.”
CMBS investors should also watch non-mall retail loans, even though they tend to be smaller, the analysts wrote. Tenants are becoming “property-type agnostic” as the retail world evolves, leaving traditional malls, outdoor shopping complexes and retail strips to compete for the same sets of store owners. Shopping centers anchored by grocery stores look like a healthier portion of retail because shoppers have been slow to embrace buying food online and chains like Aldi and Lidl are planning expansions.
“In the end this will be a story of the ‘haves and have nots’ and a detailed understanding of the seismic shifts that are taking place across the industry and what is causing them is mandatory for CMBS market participants,” the analysts wrote.