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Private Equity Loads Up $300B, Anticipating Tide Turning Toward More Distressed Asset Sales

345 Park Ave. in Manhattan, home of Blackstone Group's corporate headquarters

As the coronavirus vaccine's rollout continues and accelerates, private equity giants are ready for distressed assets to start moving.

Led by Blackstone Group and KKR & Co., private equity firms have amassed $300B in unspent capital for global real estate investment funds, according to Preqin data reported by Bloomberg. As the economy begins to open up, such investors are betting that the indefinite periods of forbearance that commercial real estate lenders had been granting many borrowers will expire soon.

As much as $146B worth of debt in the form of commercial mortgage-backed securities fell into some form of distress as a result of the pandemic, according to data from Real Capital Analytics, but the vast majority has remained in "purgatory," a senior managing director for credit analytics firm Trepp told Bloomberg.

That "purgatory" state refers to loans that have been marked as delinquent by CMBS lenders without any more information about whether payment plans or forbearance are still in play or if default or foreclosure are imminent. More certainty appears to be on the horizon, as Blackstone's deal pipeline has grown considerably since 2021 began, Bloomberg reports.

The majority of the distress in commercial real estate remains focused in the retail and hospitality sectors, though the continued reluctance of the office-using workforce to return from remote work has led to an uptick in speculation that a distressed asset market could materialize there, too, Bloomberg reports.

While the long-term future of shopping malls may be the most in jeopardy, their values have dropped so precipitously in recent reappraisals that redevelopment is becoming a more reasonable idea seemingly by the day. Last year, malls lost an average of 60% in value after reappraisals, Bloomberg reports.