Oaktree Capital calls commercial real estate ‘most acute area of risk’ right now

Distressed-debt giant Oaktree Capital sees big opportunities in credit unfolding over the next few years as a wall of debt comes due.

Oaktree’s incoming co-chief executives Armen Panossian, head of performing credit, and Bob O’Leary, portfolio manager for global opportunities, see a roughly $13 trillion market that will be ripe for the picking.

Within that realm is high-yield bonds, BBB-rated bonds, leveraged loans and private credit — four areas of the market that have only mushroomed from their nearly $3 trillion size right before the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.

“Clearly, the most acute area of risk right now is commercial real estate,” the co-CEOs said in a Wednesday client note. “That’s because the maturity wall is already upon us and it’s not going to abate for several years.”

More than $1 trillion of commercial real-estate loans are set to come due in 2024 and 2025, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

A retreat in the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield
BX:TMUBMUSD10Y,
to about 4.1% on Wednesday from a 5% peak in October, has provided some relief even though many borrowers likely will still struggle to refinance.

Related: Commercial real estate a top threat to financial system in 2024, U.S. regulators say

“There’s a need for capital, especially for office properties where there are vacancies, rental growth hasn’t materialized, or the rate of borrowing has gone up materially over the last three years. This capital may or may not be readily available, and for certain types of office properties, it absolutely isn’t available,” the Oaktree team said.

With that backdrop, the firm expects to dust off its playbook from the financial crisis and acquire portfolios of commercial real-estate loans from banks, but also plans to participate in “credit-risk transfer” deals that help lenders reduce exposure.

Oaktree also sees opportunities brewing in private credit, as well as in high-yield and leveraged loans, where “several hundred” of the estimated 1,500 companies that have issued such debt are likely “to be just fine” even if defaults rise, they said.

Another area to watch will be the roughly $26 trillion Treasury market, where Oaktree has some concerns “about where the 10-year Treasury yield goes from here” — given not only the U.S. budget deficit and the deluge of supply that investors face, but also how foreign buyers, once the “largest owners in prior years, may be tapped out.”

Related: Here are two reasons why the 10-year Treasury yield is back above 4%

U.S. stocks
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fell Wednesday after strong retail-sales data for December pointed to a resilient U.S. economy, despite the Federal Reserve having kept its policy rate at a 22-year high since July.

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