What Brexit means to U.S. seniors housing

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Beth Mace
Beth Mace

The direct effects of the June 23 decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union should be minimal on seniors housing in the United States, according to Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist and director of capital markets research for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. Broad macro factors stemming from the referendum outcome, however, may come into play in this country, she said.

In some ways, Mace told McKnight's Senior Living, it's too soon to be able to predict what the full effects might be. “The impacts of Brexit are going to be unfolding for not just this year but also for 2017 and 2018 and 2019,” she said. “It's going to be a long time before we figure out the near-term and the long-term impacts of it.”

For now anyway, it does not appear that the so-called Brexit is a shock to the economy of the magnitude of the great recession triggered in the United States in 2008, Mace said. “The markets have responded fairly tamely,” she said. “We've seen a correction in the markets, but there hasn't been a rout.”

Discussing the issue with McKnight's Senior Living earlier this week, however, Mace laid out the potential broad effects of the decision and how they relate to seniors housing.

• Retirement savings and consumers' ability to make a move

The stock market and interest rate environment could affect consumers' confidence as well as their ability or willingness to save or spend, Mace said.

“The consumer right now is in a pretty good place related to job market and income growth and general positive perceptions about the economy,” she said. Those invested in the stock market, however, could worry about their financial wellbeing and the state of the economy.

Low interest rates, on the other hand, are welcome news for those who wish to finance a large purchase. Many individual seniors, however, have their investments in certificates of deposit or savings accounts in a lower-interest-rate environment, Mace said.

• Federal Reserve policy

The benchmark interest rate increase expected from the Federal Reserve later this summer likely is on hold now until the post-vote financial markets are assessed, Mace said. “The whole story about interest rates since January, because of the Brexit vote, probably has changed in terms of Fed policy and the long-term rate adjustments and the 10-year,” she added. The Fed announced a decision last December to increase its benchmark interest rate for the first time since 2008 and until recently had been expected to announce another increase.

“They have to be sensitive to what's going on in the world markets right now,” Mace said of the Fed. “It's a pretty seismic shift in the global economy, because the United Kingdom was a pretty important part of the broad economy, and still will be, but there's just risk and uncertainly now. And markets don't like uncertainty.”

• Transactions

“A low Treasury rate would have an impact on the cost of capital and the cost of debt, and that could have an impact on the overall transaction markets for seniors housing,” Mace said. Earlier this week, the yield on 10-year Treasuries was at 1.47, near an all-time low, she added.

On the other hand, the overall drop in the stock market also affected public companies that trade for seniors housing, because their stock moved with the overall market.

• Overseas investing

Although it's too soon to say how seniors housing companies that invest in the United Kingdom will be affected, Mace said, “the U.K. economy itself is likely to slow, potentially going into a recession in the second half of 2016” and making such investments less appealing.

• U.S. economy

The U.S. economy probably will be affected fairly minimally in terms of gross domestic product growth. “Analyst reports that I've seen suggest that it might shave off 20 to 30 basis points off of U.S. GDP growth,” Mace said. “So that's not that significant.”

• Inflation

As the British pound depreciates and the U.S. dollar grows in value, goods coming into the United States from Europe would act as a deflationary pressure because they'd be less expensive, Mace said. “Import prices are less, and that puts downward pressure on inflation,” she added.

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