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The Effect of Inflation and Rising Interest Rates on CRE Transactions


To be successful in commercial real estate, understanding the interplay between inflation and interest rates and how they directly affect potential transactions is crucial. These economic factors significantly shape the market landscape, impacting everything from property values to investment strategies. Given the current economic climate marked by fluctuating inflation and interest rate trends, understanding these concepts is more important now than ever.


Unraveling Inflation: A Multi-Dimensional View


Simply put, inflation is the pace at which general prices of goods and services rise, eroding overall purchasing power. This is measured by indices like the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Producer Price Index (PPI), and it's a key economic indicator to watch. 


Primary Causes of Inflation


Demand-Pull Inflation: The Surge of Demand in a Growing Economy

  • Mechanism: Demand-pull inflation occurs when the overall demand for goods and services in an economy surpasses the available supply. This imbalance typically happens in a rapidly growing economy.
  • Triggers: Key factors triggering demand-pull inflation include increased consumer spending due to higher disposable incomes, expansive fiscal policy (like government spending), and easy monetary policy leading to lower interest rates.


Cost-Push Inflation: The Impact of Rising Production Costs

  • Mechanism: Cost-push inflation is driven by an increase in the costs of production, which producers pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices. This type of inflation can occur independently of consumer demand.
  • Triggers: Significant contributors to cost-push inflation include rising raw material costs (such as steel or timber), increased labor costs (due to wage hikes), and higher indirect costs (like taxes or compliance costs).


Built-In Inflation: The Wage-Price Spiral

  • Mechanism: Built-in inflation is linked to the expectations of workers and employers. It’s a self-sustaining cycle where workers demand higher wages to keep up with rising living costs. Employers, in turn, pass these increased labor costs onto consumers through higher prices.
  • Triggers: This type of inflation is often associated with a strong labor market where employees have the leverage to demand higher wages. It can be reinforced by labor union negotiations or minimum wage policies.


Interest Rates: More Than Just a Cost

Interest rates are often perceived merely as the cost of borrowing money, yet their influence extends far beyond this, permeating various aspects of economic policy and individual financial decisions. 


The Multidimensional Role of Interest Rates

  • Monetary Policy Instrument: Central banks utilize interest rates as a primary tool to control monetary policy. By adjusting rates, they can either stimulate economic growth by encouraging borrowing and spending or cool down an overheating economy to curb inflation.
  • Economic Equilibrium: Interest rates serve as a lever to balance economic activity. In periods of high inflation, central banks may raise rates to reduce consumer spending and investment, slowing down the economy and stabilizing prices. Conversely, lowering rates can stimulate economic activity during economic downturns by making borrowing cheaper.
  • Signal of Economic Health: The level of interest rates can also signal the state of an economy. Low rates may indicate efforts to stimulate growth in a sluggish economy, while high rates could suggest measures to cool down inflationary pressures in a booming market.


Determinants of Interest Rates

  • Central Bank Policies: The most direct influence on interest rates comes from central bank decisions. These institutions set benchmark rates, such as the Federal Funds Rate here in the United States, which serve as a baseline for the rates banks charge each other and, subsequently, consumers.
  • Economic Conditions: Broader economic indicators, including GDP growth rates, employment figures, and inflation rates, inform central bank decisions on interest rates. High inflation might prompt rate hikes, while economic recessions could lead to rate cuts.
  • Market Demand for Credit: The supply and demand dynamics in the credit market also play a critical role. High demand for borrowing can lead to higher interest rates, while an excess supply of funds might result in lower rates.
  • Global Financial Markets: International events and trends can influence domestic interest rates in an interconnected global economy. For example, rates in one country might be adjusted in response to changes in major economies or global financial crises.


Broader Impact of Interest Rates on the Economy

  • Influence on Savings and Spending: Interest rates directly affect individuals' decisions to save or spend. Higher rates encourage savings, offering better returns, while lower rates make saving less attractive and spending or borrowing more so.
  • Investment Decisions: The cost of borrowing influences corporate investment decisions. Lower interest rates reduce the cost of financing new projects, expansions, or acquisitions, potentially leading to increased business activities and economic growth.
  • Consumer Credit: Interest rates determine the cost of various forms of consumer credit, including credit cards, car loans, and personal loans. Variations in rates can affect consumer borrowing costs and spending patterns.
  • Exchange Rates: The level of interest rates relative to other countries can affect the value of a nation's currency. Higher interest rates can attract foreign capital, increasing demand for the currency and potentially leading to an appreciation in value, which impacts international trade and investment flows.


The Impact of Inflation and Interest Rates on Real Estate Transactions

Inflation isn't just a backdrop metric; it is a dynamic force that directly influences property values, alters construction cost trajectories, and reshapes rental market conditions. Concurrently, interest rates, as the lever of borrowing costs, hold sway over the feasibility of real estate investments, dictate the terms of financing, and modulate market activity. The intersection of these economic forces creates a complex interplay that savvy investors, developers, and analysts must navigate to optimize their position in the commercial real estate market.

Effect on Property Values

  • Rising Inflation: Typically, inflation is seen as beneficial for CRE values. As the cost of living and construction rises, so does the perceived value of real estate assets, making them attractive as inflation hedges. This is particularly true for properties with leases, including rent escalations tied to inflation indices or leases with shorter lease terms, which adjust more frequently.
  • Market Variability: The inflation-property value relationship can vary across property types. Retail and industrial properties might react differently to inflationary pressures due to differing consumer and business spending patterns.


Impact on Rental Incomes and Operational Costs

  • Rental Income: In many commercial leases, rent is indexed to inflation, allowing landlords to increase rental charges in line with inflation. This can protect and potentially increase rental income over time.   
  • Operational Costs: For property owners, operating expenses such as utilities, maintenance, and property management also tend to rise with inflation, which could offset some gains from higher rental incomes.


However, when rent is fixed and not indexed to inflation, landlords may face challenges in maintaining or increasing their rental income over time. In such cases, the rent amount remains constant throughout the lease term, regardless of changes in the cost of living or market conditions. This can lead to several potential impacts on landlords:

  • Erosion of Real Income: As inflation rises, the purchasing power of fixed rental income diminishes. This means that over time, the real value of the income received from tenants decreases, potentially reducing the landlord's profitability.
  • Reduced Competitiveness: If market rents in the area increase due to inflation or improvements in the local market, a landlord with fixed rents may find their property less competitive compared to others that adjust rents according to current market rates. This could lead to challenges in attracting and retaining tenants, especially if tenants perceive better value in properties with more modern amenities or competitive pricing.

To address these challenges, landlords might employ several strategies, such as incorporating periodic rent review clauses in leases, negotiating shorter lease terms to allow for more frequent rent adjustments, or including other income-generating provisions in the lease (e.g., percentage rents based on tenant sales). 


Influence on Investment Strategies

  • Risk Assessment and Strategy Adjustments: Investors need to consider inflation as a critical factor in their investment strategies. In high-inflation environments, investors might favor properties with shorter lease terms that allow for regular rent adjustments or properties in sectors less impacted by economic downturns.
  • Diversification: Diversifying investments across different property types and geographical areas can mitigate risks associated with inflation.
  • Cost of Capital: Inflation often leads to higher interest rates, increasing the cost of borrowing. This needs to be factored into the investment decision-making process, particularly in assessing the viability of leveraging for property acquisition.


Impact on Lending and Investment

  • Lending and Borrowing: Interest rates are a critical determinant of mortgage rates, which directly influence the affordability and attractiveness of real estate financing. Lower mortgage rates can stimulate property demand, while higher rates can dampen it.
  • Real Estate Investment: The attractiveness of CRE investments is closely tied to interest rates. Lower rates can enhance the appeal of real estate by offering lower financing costs and potentially higher returns compared to other investment types.
  • Financing Structure: The choice between fixed-rate and variable-rate mortgages depends on current and anticipated future interest rates. Fixed-rate loans might be more appealing to lock in lower rates in a rising rate environment.

Mastering the Market's Rhythms

For stakeholders in the commercial real estate sphere, understanding and adapting to the nuances of inflation and interest rates is critical. These economic forces shape the landscape of property values and investment returns and dictate strategic decision-making in the CRE market. Staying informed and agile in response to these economic indicators is key to successfully navigating the complex terrain of commercial real estate transactions.





As a Partner at SimonCRE, Jeff Carpenter is responsible for sourcing opportunities in both ground up development and through the acquisition of value add assets. Jeff has successfully completed projects across the country and has been an integral part of the exponential growth SimonCRE has experienced since he joined.

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