'2020 has been the most challenging year' for commercial real estate since the financial crisis: RioCan REIT CEO
The head of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust sympathizes with investors who have stood by as value in the company’s units has “gone poof”, but noted some "green shoots" are emerging that should stoke optimism.
Ed Sonshine, chief executive officer of RioCan, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview Monday that rent collection rates among the company's tenants are expected to be around 90 per cent for July and August -- a sign that the country's retail sector may be faring better than feared thanks to emergency relief programs offered by the federal government as well as a decline in COVID-19 cases across Canada.
That rent-payment figure is slightly above the 86.8 per cent collection rate that RioCan reported in the second quarter.
"All in all, I think the Canadian retail sector has come through this pretty dramatic change much better than one would have expected, much better than what the market reflects," Sonshine said.
He added that RioCan submitted almost 1,800 applications for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program on behalf of the company’s tenants.
"The money started flowing pretty quickly a week or two after we submitted those applications," Sonshine said.
Sonshine noted that while the bulk of RioCan’s large tenants can withstand store closures - and may be better off shuttering some underperforming stores - he doesn't know how smaller operators will fare in September after the federal government's rent subsidy program ends. He added that he doesn't expect the program to be extended given that government officials "would have said something by now."
Sonshine pointed to some retailers that are beginning to re-open their doors after filing for creditor protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act as a sign that the retail market is proving to be more resilient than what some industry observers may have forecast.
"I think you'll find that Canada has come through pretty well," Sonshine said. "I'm relatively optimistic about what the next few months will bring. We're seeing actually lots of … green shoots where tenants are looking for expansion sites again and we're doing a fair amount of leasing."
While Sonshine is relatively sanguine about RioCan's prospects amid the ongoing pandemic, he knows the company's stock performance has caused pain for investors.
"We're down like 40 per cent from the beginning of March," he said, referring to RioCan’s TSX-listed units. "I know how difficult it is for unitholders and everyone involved with RioCan. It's extremely difficult. Value has just gone poof."