Executives at Vornado Realty Trust, one of the country’s biggest commercial real estate owners, rarely speak publicly, much less to the press.
Vornado, which has offices in New York and Paramus, owns office buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C., as well as shopping centers around the country, including the Bergen Town Center in Paramus.
But last week , Michael Fascitelli, Vornado’s president and chief executive officer, sat down with Bruce Greenwald, a Columbia Business School professor who was once Fascitelli’s teacher at Harvard Business School.
Fascitelli and Greenwald spoke at Citigroup’s headquarters in Manhattan, at an event benefiting the De La Salle Academy, a private independent school for academically talented, economically disadvantaged students.
(Disclosure: Greenwald also taught the author at a financial journalism program at Columbia).
Here are excerpts of the exchange (questions edited for clarity, and answers for length):
Q. How do you see the economy shaping up in 2011, and how do you see that affecting real estate?
Real estate is on the mend, and everything that we see in the economy at least is signaling that we’ve bottomed and we’re coming back. We [use] in real estate a very simple measurement — rent: What are the rents doing? What are the vacancies doing? And it’s an unclear picture as you look around the country; there’s a lot of unevenness. New York had a very steep drop and a very rapid recovery. On the other hand, asset prices have been well ahead of fundamentals for quite a while. Low interest rates are one reason. Lack of opportunities — lack of other investment alternatives — is another reason. People wanted yield for real estate. All of a sudden bricks and mortar meant safety for some people. We’ve bottomed and we’re going in an upward trend. The question — what’s the slope of that line upward? The pricing is indicating a much more robust recovery for three to five years than I think we might have.