In last October’s third quarter earnings call, Camden’s Ric Campo fielded questions about falling oil prices. Since the REIT is headquartered in Houston, and boasts a large apartment portfolio in Texas, that was no surprise.
But Campo’s answer might have surprised some observers. Instead of expressing trepidation about the effects of falling fuel prices, the longtime CEO shared conversations he had with oil executives.
“The energy executives that I talked to, and I talk to them a lot, their view is that it's actually a good thing for now, because what was happening was the industry was just white hot, and people were getting out of control, sort of a bubble," Campo said on the call, which was transcribed by SeekingAlpha.com. “What we have going on in Texas is a shortage of workers, massive traffic issues, and so that's putting pressure on all of the workforce from a construction perspective and even within our corporate ranks."
Keep in mind, this was all said in October.
Dave Bragg, a managing director with research firm Green Street Advisors, gets more specific. “The energy concerns are concentrated in Houston,” he says. “That’s a vary fascinating market right now, but it’s not a big concern for the apartment industry as a whole.”
But MPF Research vice president Greg Willett thinks others may be underselling the effect Texas has on the rest of the country.
“I struggle with the concept that economists are putting out there that lower energy costs are a strong positive for the economy because we’ll have more consumer spending,” said Greg Willet, MPF Research vice president. “That’s the conventional wisdom. At the same time, oil price volatility is a global geopolitical disruption that, so far, has impacted the stock market negatively. Does it counter your $20-a-week savings on gas prices if you’re losing wealth in the stock market? I’m not sure lower energy prices are a boost the economy to the degree anticipated.”
Willett takes the national repercussions argument further, pointing out just how much the industry has relied on Texas for new starts. For construction suppliers, a slowdown in Texas could be a big issue. For other apartment builders in other parts of the country, it could mean some easing in materials and supplies though.
“If you knock out Texas, you knock out a lot,” he says. “The four big markets in Texas, account for 10 percent of the country’s existing stock. Since 2010, they’ve accounted for 20 percent of the completions and represent 20 percent of ongoing construction. You slow Houston a lot and the other big areas in Texas moderately, you really impact those national numbers.”