Office vacancies and debt defaults are two signs of the current difficult times for the world’s largest real estate companies.
roubles are afoot in the world of commercial real estate. With fewer people going to the office in large American cities, a record 20% of U.S. office space was vacant as of the first quarter of 2023, according to brokerage JLL. That’s led to falling shares across the sector, reflected in the 27% decline in the Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate index in 2022, compared with the S&P 500’s 20% drop. China’s real estate sector has also faced severe headwinds amid a liquidity crisis, with companies defaulting on debt payments or delaying payments. The MSCI China Real Estate Index fell 28% in 2022.
The Forbes Global 2000 list assigns equal weight to 12-month sales, assets, profit and market value of publicly traded companies, using the most recent financial data available as of May 5, 2023. A total of 71 real estate developers, construction firms, asset managers and REITs made the list of the world’s 2000 largest public companies, down from 87 last year. Just over 40% of the real estate firms on this year’s list, or 29, are based in China or Hong Kong–eight fewer than a year ago. Twenty six of the companies are U.S.-based, one less than last year.
The top-ranked property company this year is, at No. 220, China Resources Land Limited, the construction and property management arm of a Chinese state-owned conglomerate. It’s known for owning the MixC brand of shopping and leisure complexes in southern China.
The highest ranked U.S. company in this category, at No. 447, is American Tower Corporation, a REIT that owns and operates 226,000 cell tower sites in 26 countries and has a market capitalization north of $85 billion. Revenues for 2022 expanded by 14.5% to $10.7 billion, while the company’s net income contracted by one-third from the prior year to $1.7 billion. It’s a highly indebted operation, with $36.6 billion in debt at the end of December 2022–an amount that’s 5.4 times its fourth quarter 2022 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA). Shares fell by 25% in the past year.
Some in the real estate industry have acknowledged the difficult environment. Owen Thomas, the CEO of office REIT Boston Properties, said in an earnings call back in February that “commercial real estate markets are currently in a recession.” Boston Properties has been hit by tenants including WeWork reducing their footprints in its buildings. Shares of the company have fallen by nearly 50% in the past year.
Not all property companies are struggling. Firms in certain sectors, such as gaming and industrial real estate, are seeing greater success. At No. 461 Prologis, one of the world’s largest warehouse investment trusts, has about 1.2 billion square feet of space as of March 31, up from about 1 billion square feet a year earlier. Analysts view logistics real estate as a safer bet in the current environment than its office and retail counterparts. Shares of Prologis, which fell 3% in 2022, rose 13% from the start of this year through May 5. And casino REIT VICI Properties (which was formed in 2017 from the assets of bankrupt Caesars Entertainment) climbed the list this year to No. 758 from last year’s No. 1221 after a rebound in casino tourism helped it achieve $2.6 billion in revenue in 2022, up 72% from the prior year.
Here are the 10 largest real estate companies on this year’s Global 2000.