Inflation Pumps the Case for Sale-Leasebacks

As borrowing costs rise, a sale-leaseback can be a more appealing way to raise money.

Money doesn’t have as much value anymore, but it also isn’t getting any cheaper for companies looking to expand. The Federal Reserve has increased interest rates from 25 to 50 to 75 bp in response to inflation that is at a 40-year high. For businesses short on cash, loans might no longer make sense. However, Tyler Swann, managing director at W.P. Carey, believes that if inflation persists, a sale-leaseback could become a compelling alternative.
According to Swann, “A sale-leaseback allows you to lock in your cost of capital for a very long term,If you take the view that interest rates are going to continue to rise, locking in that cost of capital today could be very valuable for you.”
A sale-leaseback occurs when a company sells its real estate for cash and then leases it back from the seller for an extended period of time. A REIT or other institutional investor that is able to get the most out of a real estate asset is frequently the buyer-landlord. The seller-lessee business gains from being able to reinvest the asset’s value into the enterprise.
Swann states the general justification for sale-leasebacks more succinctly: If you’re not in the business of real estate, why be in the business of real estate?
According to Swann, “It is almost always the case that an owner of a business can earn more on reinvesting money in their business than they can on having that money locked up in real estate, It’s more capital-efficient to have that building owned by investors who want to take that risk specifically.”
The fact that a business’ needs differ from an investor’s on this two-way street of capital efficiency in an inflationary environment.
“Because of the Fed’s aggressive stance on raising rates, short-term rates are probably going to rise pretty meaningfully in the next six to 12 months,” says Swann. “But because the investments that we’re making are such long-term investments, we’re locking in our returns and borrowing costs for a very long period of time. So we’re most focused on what long-term interest rates look like.”
Swann advises would-be seller-lessees to weigh the capitalization rate of the property against the projected lease term and timetable of rental increases, as well as against the market as a whole, while thinking about a sale-leaseback. This latter juxtaposition can be startling in an inflationary economy.
“If you look at the broader debt markets, particularly high-yield debt markets, they’re in very bad shape right now. Interest rates for high-yield debt have skyrocketed recently,” according to Swann. “And that has made sale-leaseback financing, [where cap rates have] not risen nearly as much, a much more attractive option on a relative basis.”
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