Tech turmoil spills into NYC commercial real estate

That could leave Manhattan office landlords high and dry.

Tech accounts for 20% of tenants at Boston Properties and 17% at Empire State Realty Trust, SL Green Realty and Vornado Realty Trust, respectively, according to BMO. That exposure explains the tech-like losses in the landlords’ share prices.

Boston Properties’ stock, down 32% from its high heading into today, is the best-performer. SL Green, the city’s largest commercial landlord, is the worst at a 41% drop and the rest are in between. The S&P 500 was down 22% heading into today.

Boston Properties’ outperformance may reflect that just 27% of its portfolio is in New York. It’s 100% for both Empire State Realty and SL Green and 87% for Vornado, whose stock is flirting with its pandemic-era low of March 2020. The New York “fear trade” is back.

These office landlords are sophisticated long-term players who weathered the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the 2008 financial crisis, and the 2020 onslaught of Covid-19. In all those crises, Uncle Sam rode to the rescue by cutting interest rates and, in 2008 and 2020, taking emergency measures to keep the financial system afloat and tenants paying rent. But the cavalry isn’t coming this time and the cost of capital is rising quickly as the Federal Reserve boosts interest rates.

Around 20 years ago, city leaders made economic diversification a priority so New York’s fortunes would not be so vulnerable to Wall Street’s booms and busts. The tech, tourism, health care and education sectors grew. A thriving venture-capital scene took root.

The benefits of the city’s tech embrace became clear in the dark days of August 2020, when Facebook delivered a crucial vote of confidence in Manhattan’s future by pledging to lease 730,000 square feet at the Vornado-owned Farley Building in Midtown. As recently as April Facebook was still expanding its footprint, when parent Meta Platforms leased an additional 300,000 square feet at 770 Broadway, another Vornado building.

But the tech sector’s ups and down can be just as volatile as Wall Street’s. Indeed, tech and finance are closely linked. Venture-capital activity tends to track Nasdaq and in the first quarter “mega-round” funding fell 30% followed by a 16% drop in April.

And a few weeks after committing to more space at 770 Broadway, on May 4 Facebook initiated its first hiring freeze. It too might have to reassess its real estate footprint. BMO said New York tech job listings declined by 3.5% in May.

As for Compass, its office footprint includes a 100,000 square-foot headquarters at 90 Fifth Ave. The lease expires in 2025.

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