RACE TO BUILD

Developers are now in a race to build the next new addition to the San Francisco skyline. Over the past two years, strong tenant demand, especially from technology firms like Salesforce, Square and Twitter, has propelled San Francisco to outperform much of the US and global market. Vacancy rates have fallen below the 10% mark, the first time the rate has dipped that low since prior to the recession; rent growth has been robust, increasing more than 45% in the past two years.  Now, for the first time since 2008, developers have broken ground on projects that will have major impacts on the San Francisco market for years to come.

Before this focus on new construction, the influx of technology firms began to impact the local market with renovations of older buildings throughout the city. In 2011, the renovation began on 680 Folsom Street, formerly occupied by Pacific Bell, into a steel and glass building, as well as the renovation of the San Francisco Furniture Mart into the Twitter Building, which has become an  anchor in the city’s booming Mid-Market technology hub. The success of these high-profile renovations, along with the strong market, encouraged other owners and developers to begin transforming even more of the city’s older buildings into modern, open, technology-friendly spaces. Today, 2.6 million square feet of office space is currently being renovated. This includes notable renovations at 140 New Montgomery and 888 Brannan Street.

Alongside this focus on renovation, tight market conditions and rents approaching replacement cost levels have also spurred interest in constructing new buildings from the ground up.  In July 2012, Tishman Speyer began construction on Foundry Square III (505 Howard Street), the last remaining open site of the four properties that comprised the four-building Foundry Square “urban campus” development.  The developer jumped to take advantage of market conditions even ahead of lining up an anchor tenant and construction is underway with completion slated for the first quarter of 2014.  The owners of 350 Mission were set to begin construction around the same time as Foundry Square III, but at the last minute called an audible and rather than begin construction on the site, they sold it to Kilroy Realty in October 2012. Two months later, Kilroy lined up Salesforce to lease the entire building before the construction even began on the project, which is expected to come online in 2015.  The third building currently under way is Boston Properties’ development of 307,000 sf at 535 Mission.  Like Foundry Square III, this building is also under construction without a signed anchor tenant.  In total, more than 1.0 million square feet is presently under construction in San Francisco.

Developers are queued up to build an additional 2.4 msf during the next three to four years, including the Transbay Tower that will add 1.4 msf to the City’s skyline in 2016.  Tishman Speyer is also ready to start construction on another building at 222 Second Street.  In total, 6.1 msf of new space is expected to come online throughout San Francisco through 2016 of which 45% will be renovated space.  So far about 35% of it has been pre-leased.  Fortunately, San Francisco is projected to have strong employment growth of 2.7% per year during the next three years, far outpacing the U.S. average of 1.9%, which bodes well for the leasing of these new buildings.  Even with the higher levels of new construction expected over the next few years, we project the vacancy rate will stay below the 10% threshold with rent growth averaging 7.5% per year through 2016.

Caroline Green

Managing Director – Capital Markets | Northern California

Research

Prices at the Pump – Do They Impact Industrial Real Estate Demand?

The short answer is yes, they impact the momentum of activity surrounding industrial property, particularly by logistics firms.   Driving the demand for warehouse/distribution space, specifically big box, 30’ and greater clear height product, is the need to accommodate movement of goods where costs associated are as reduced as possible.  For transport, this means a tighter distribution network of facilities (less distance between hubs) and storage of larger inventories to service rising ecommerce activity, shifts in population/demographics, and import/export growth.  Ecommerce is especially impacted by higher fuel costs as consumers drive less to shop and order online.  According to the US Census Bureau, this trend has been accelerating over the past decade and more so since 2010 as consumers reach for their mobile devices to place orders.  It’s predicted that online and catalog sales using mobile devices will reach 72% by 2015.  These dynamics start at the manufacturing level, and in the U.S., higher fuel prices spur greater domestic manufacturing of goods, keeping costs of goods competitive with the expenses associated with imports.  And to offset any hits to their profits, U.S. manufacturers are moving closer to their customer bases, another level of demand for industrial real estate.  Additionally, by the close of March 2013, the Purchasing Manufacturers Index for the U.S. was 51.3, lower than the previous month but still indicating expansion in this sector.

Of the top industries reported to be the most active in leasing and the absorption of warehouse/distribution space since the recession (2009 – 2012), approximately 49% were related to retail, transport/logistics, and wholesale trade firms.  Total absorption of existing supply reached 182 million square feet over the course of the past three years, rivaling pre-recessionary demand.  Companies have been seeking quality structures providing more efficient use of space through better technological features, causing a flurry of new construction activity to commence to meet the need.  In addition to speculative development on the rise, firms are also opting to build their own facilities to optimize their structural efficiencies and requirements.  By year end 2012, industrial completions jumped by 96% over the 2011 total with 58.0 million square feet completed, 58% of which were build to suit completions for tenants.  Current development levels, however, are still well below the building of the early to mid 2000’s, keeping supply levels in check.  But at the current absorption of space across U.S. markets, industrial users will continue to find limited blocks of space on the market as availabilities continue to dwindle.

All industrial RE market indicators point to continued positive momentum in 2013, with major U.S. industrial markets either at stages of equilibrium or getting close.  For logistics firms, good news remain at the pump where, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, by April prices had dipped slightly, from $3.77/gallon in March to 3.64/gallon, and are still lower then this time in 2012 by $0.32/gallon.

Cynthia Jeter
Managing Director – Central Region, Mexico, South America
Research

Rising Vacancies Can’t Stop the Rising Cranes

From Tysons Corner, to Downtown Bethesda, to the District’s Mount Vernon Square, towering cranes are dotting the landscape, signaling growth and development. Despite an unprecedented amount of available space in some parts of the Metro area, tenants are opting for new buildings with the latest green technology, open & collaborative space, the most efficient use of space, and most of all, a space which defines their brands.

Over the past 15 months, in an otherwise lackluster market, nearly 2.0 million square feet (msf) of space have been leased in properties which have been recently built, under construction, or in the planning phases. In the Core Markets of the District, law firms have been flocking to new construction.  1000 Connecticut Avenue NW, which completed in 2012, kicked off the recent wave with Arent Fox LLP anchoring the property, and Foley Hoag, LLP also opting to relocate there. The LEED-Platinum building is approximately 90% leased and includes prominent signage for Arent Fox, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and a roof-top deck with views of the Washington Monument.  

But it doesn’t stop there. Several properties are currently in various stages of construction, all of which have drawn significant tenant interest, particularly from law firms.  At Carr Properties’ 1700 New York Avenue NW, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP signed on for 57,000 sf while Akridge’s 1200 17th Street NW was able to snag a commitment from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP for nearly 106,000 sf. Anticipated to deliver by January 2015, the property will have narrow, efficient floor plates to allow for more natural light and will be aiming for a LEED-Platinum designation.

Covington & Burling LLP recently finalized plans to relocate to a property that is further east than traditional legal locales. The law firm giant leased 420,000 sf at Hines Properties’ City Center, a massive mixed-use development at the edge of the District’s East End submarket. The office space will boast efficient floor plans and column-spacing, views on all four sides and a LEED-Gold core and shell.  Arnold & Porter, LLP followed suit soon after by committing to 376,000 sf at 601 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Boston Properties’ proposed 478,000-sf building. Not surprisingly, the law firm cited space efficiency and a “vibrant and innovative” work space as reasons for its relocation.

In Northern Virginia, the charge to new construction has been led by government contractors.  In early 2012, CNA’s Center for Naval Analysis and Institute for Public Research leased 175,000 sf at 3001 Washington Boulevard in the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor. The 210,000-sf property, under development by the Penzance Companies, is already fully leased and scheduled for delivery in early 2014.  Over in Tysons Corner, LMI agreed to purchase 170,000 sf at 7940 Jones Branch Drive, delivering in 2015, while Intelsat chose Tysons Tower for its 188,000-sf headquarters, a 510,000-sf property which will be completed in 2014 and reportedly has another large tenant in the wings.  

Finally, speculative construction has arrived in Downtown Bethesda. While yet to secure a tenant, 4500 East West Highway will bring 220,000 sf of amenity-rich, efficient, and flexible space to Montgomery County next year.

Tenants’ penchant for new construction shows no signs of letting up, despite less than stellar office market conditions predicted for the balance of 2013.

Maria Sicola, Head of Research, Americas
Paula Munger, Regional Research Director, Mid-Atlantic/Southeast

US Consumers May Finally Be Ready to Spend Again

Consumer Confidence: Ignore Expectations, Focus on Current Conditions

The US consumer has been one of the surprise stories of the early months of 2013. The year started off with a tax increase for just about every household in the country as the first compromise on the “fiscal cliff” included an end to the tax reductions put in place in 2008. As a result, there was a general expectation at the beginning of the year that consumers would not boost their spending and would be a drag on the US economy. In fact, the opposite has occurred. In the first two months of 2013, consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased at an annual rate of 3.8%. If that pace was sustained in March, the first quarter would register the strongest growth in consumer spending since the end of 2010.

One reason for the increase in spending is that despite the increase in taxes, consumers are feeling much better about their current financial condition than they have in a very long time. We can see this in the consumer confidence data.

When we look at measures of consumer confidence, they are usually broken down into two categories based on the questions that are asked. There are questions about the consumer’s current situation, such as “Is your income higher, lower or the same as it was a year ago?” and then there are questions about how consumers feel about the future “Do you expect to have a higher, lower or the same income a year from now?” These questions are then grouped into two main indexes: the Current Conditions Index and the Expectations Index. The Current Conditions Index reflects what is going today and the current state of employment and finances for households. Because it focuses on how things actually are today, not feelings about the future, the Current Conditions Index tends to be a better indicator of whether consumers will spend than the Expectations Index.

The University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment for March was reported a week ago and while the overall Index was barely up from the level in February, the Index of Current Conditions rose steeply for the second consecutive month to a reading of 90.7 tying the level reached last November 2012 which was the highest level since January 2008.

This increase in the Current Conditions Index is a bit surprising given the increase in taxes. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis personal income after taxes and adjusted for inflation declined in the first two months of the year and was at its lowest level since last October. Why do consumers feel better about their current situation? Two main reasons:

  • Net worth is rising. During the 2007-2009 recession, household net worth plunged 23.6% or more than $15 trillion as a combination of declining equity markets and home values caused assets to drop while liabilities remained basically flat. That decline has been completely reversed since the first quarter of 2009. Today, household net worth is only $1.3 trillion below its pre-recession peak and rising. This improvement, caused by higher equity values, rising financial assets and declining liabilities (debt) has created a wealth effect that is boosting households’ ability to spend. Today, the average household’s debt burden (debt service as a percent of after tax income) is at the lowest level ever recorded. So households are better off financially.

  • Home prices are rising. Declining home prices reduce consumers’ ability to spend and make households feel less wealthy. Between the first quarter of 2006 and the first quarter of 2012 the Case Shiller national home price index fell 34.3% as the housing boom turned into a bust. But from Q1-2012 to Q4-2012 home prices have increased 9.0%. Although not a huge improvement, the increase is having an important impact on confidence.

Conclusion. The Current Conditions component of the Index of Consumer Sentiment is one of the better indicators of consumer spending. It is suggesting that consumers feel wealthier and better off in general today than they have in many years. This explains why spending is up in the face of rising taxes. That’s a strong positive for the US economy as consumers have been the biggest laggard in this recovery.

From a commercial real estate perspective strong growth in consumer spending has many positive implications.

  • Stronger consumer spending will boost demand for retail space. As spending increases, retailers will expand to tap into that growth.
  • The increase in demand for goods will require more warehouse space for distribution. Goods produced both in the US and abroad will have to be shipped stored and distributed no matter what the final channel.
  • Wealthier consumers will be more likely to travel so hotel occupancy will also benefit, particularly in top tourist destinations.

US consumers have been the weak link in the current economic recovery. If they begin to increase their spending more rapidly, it will boost the entire US and global economy. The world has been waiting for the US consumer for the past five years. It looks like they may finally be ready to spend again.

Where does Cyprus leave investment planning?

In a generally good first quarter for Europe, we saw better economic and financial market news and much improved confidence which started to produce a change in strategy, with parts of the investment community going “risk-on”. However, starting with Italy’s indecisive election and moving on to the Cypriot “bank sweep”, confidence has been dented in the last few weeks and attention has drifted back to the euro zone crisis, not to mention other geopolitical tensions, for example between the EU and Russia.

Some facets of the policy response in Cyprus are nonetheless likely to encourage activity in the property sector: namely the move to tax bank deposits and the imposition of exchange controls which will both lead individuals to look again at their financial planning. This could create a further flow of local and cross border investment by high net worth individuals into quality real estate.

But which locations will benefit? Safety, liquidity and diversification will be critical factors but at the same time more investors have also been asking where their risks are best rewarded and while some have questioned pricing in markets like London and Paris, recent events should remind us all why these prices are paid and in fact why pricing may improve further.

Unsurprisingly, the top cities for investment by high net worth individuals in the past 1-2 years have largely been mature markets such as London, Hong Kong, New York and Vienna, although according to RCA, Moscow was the number 2 market in 2012 (behind Hong Kong) and more emerging markets will feature in the top list over time as the number of wealthy individuals from developing markets increases. These investors will however be looking to diversify and hence the same patterns of recent demand are likely to repeat, with major established core cities remaining magnets for international capital.

Of course the choices open to investors will grow further but if we divide the factors which drive city success between those of scale and those pointing to quality and future potential, such as education and innovation, then only London and New York tend to appear on both lists (Winning in Growth Cities 2012/13) while Asian markets dominate on scale and a number of European markets emerge strongly for future potential. Indeed, looking at what city drivers may tell us about future property investment, it is perhaps that cities such as Amsterdam and Munich as well as Melbourne and Beijing should feature more highly while London and New York will remain at the head of the list for some time to come so long as they continue to develop as places to live and work.

David Hutchings, European Research Group, London

 

Housing Becomes a Contributor

One of the most important influences on the US economy’s performance in 2013 and beyond is the expected shift in the housing sector from a drag on economic activity to a source of stimulus. Over the past several months there has been a growing body of evidence that housing is reviving. The three major measures of activity in the housing sector (new home sales, existing home sales and housing starts) all showed healthy improvement in 2012 and have maintained momentum in January. New home sales in January reached the highest level since mid-2008, while sales of existing homes topped 4.9 million (annually rated) for the first time since 2009. As sales have increased it has stimulated new construction. In January 2013 single family housing starts were up 20% from a year ago and at the highest level since 2008.

Although up from the bottom, none of these indicators is particularly strong. The level of activity in the housing sector has been so low for so long that a modest increase brings sales or starts back to the levels of 2008 or so. But new home sales are still less than half what they were in early 2007 and less than one third of the levels seen in 2005.

There are, however, some important signs that the housing sector is on the mend and will become a positive contributor to the economic recovery in the coming year.

• Household formations will drive demand. Household formations are the most important driver of the housing industry. Simply put, the more households there are, the greater the demand for housing. During the recession, the rate of household formation fell to less than half what it was before the recession. This has resulted from many individuals and families moving back with parents (or not leaving) due to economic stress, among other reasons. This low pace of household formation has been sustained now for the past five years even as the population in the age groups that form households has continued to increase. Eventually they will start moving out of current arrangements and the number of households in the US will increase more rapidly. As this occurs, demand for all types of housing (single family as well as apartments) will rise.

• Affordability has rarely been greater. The combination of low mortgage rates and the home price declines of the past several years have made housing more affordable than we have seen in our lifetime. The National Association of Realtors index of housing affordability, which combines prices, interest rates and household incomes to determine whether households can afford to purchase a home rose to an all-time high in early 2012 and has remained elevated over the past year.

• Mortgage lending is increasing. As with most of the housing indicators the growth is modest, but since bottoming in late 2011, mortgage lending has increased by about 2%.

• Delinquencies are declining. Part of the reason mortgage lending is not rising faster is that banks are still coping with a large number of problem mortgages from the housing bust. In the first quarter of 2010 10.1% of all mortgage loans were past due, a record high and more than double the historical average of 4.7%. Today that number has fallen to 7.1%, still high, but declining steadily. Lower delinquency rates will enable banks to increase mortgage lending going forward.

• Prices are rising. The S&P/Case-Shiller national home price index reached a bottom only a year ago. Pricing has remained under pressure despite signs of recovery because of the large number of foreclosures, the pace of which was slowed by the robo-signing issue. Because distressed sales of foreclosed homes are generally brought to the market at low prices, high numbers of foreclosures have held down prices. Now the worst of the foreclosures are behind us. This has caused prices to bottom and begin to rise. Higher prices will increase confidence, make it easier for existing owners whose homes may be worth less than the mortgage to sell and may help trigger demand as buyers who have been waiting for prices to fall further to enter the market.
The housing sector is one of the most important in the economy. When housing activity is increasing, employment is rising in construction as new home building grows. When a household purchases a home, they usually buy many of the goods that go into that house: appliances, furniture, carpeting, etc. In addition, the tie in to utilities, use financial services, buy insurance and engage in many other purchases of goods and services.

So housing has a multiplier effect on the economy that extends far beyond the actual construction and sale of the house.

Historically, housing has been one of the leading sectors in a recovery, but in the current recovery it is a laggard. Since the recession was a result of the collapse of the housing sector that is no surprise. But the housing sector is finally ready to start contributing in a positive way to the recovery.
As with most aspects of the current economy, the full impact of housing’s revival will likely be felt later this year as the path to resolution of the US and European debt challenges becomes more clear. But by 2014 we expect housing will be a strong positive force for US economic recovery.

For the commercial real estate industry, stronger housing means more consumer spending. That will support the retail and industrial sectors. In addition, a higher level of household formations will lead to a continuation of the growth in demand for multi-family housing. Although there is a cautious note here as well. As single family homes start selling at faster rates some of the current multi-family population is likely to migrate to single family homes that is likely to offset part of the impact of the increase in household formations.

When housing is strong the US economy is strong. That will lead to stronger employment growth and greater demand for every kind of commercial space.

Sales of existing homes ahve been rising since mid-2010

European Investment Bounce: But how far?

European investment markets saw a relatively strong end to last year according to our recent research. In fact volumes rose 19% compared to the final quarter of 2011 and were at their strongest since 2007.  What’s more this was accompanied by a stabilisation in prime yields and a notable uptick in investor confidence. But is this the start of a sustained recovery or just a correction to what in hindsight was an unnecessarily weak position earlier last year? Will we see investment surge forward or slip back in a classic dead cat bounce?

Certainly a lot of investors are talking the talk about moving up the risk curve, even if a lot don’t yet know what that means for their strategy – eg riskier countries or riskier segments in safer countries. We’re also seeing more stock emerge as banks and others get serious about deleveraging. We’ve even seen a slight improvement in debt availability, although this may be tested when banks start paying back emergency loans to the ECB.

To date there are some signs that investors are spreading their interest a little further to find prime assets and growth opportunities. In the final quarter for example, the big 3 of France, the UK and Germany remained dominant but did see their market share slip to 59% from 68% in Q3 and while the ultra safe Nordics were a chief beneficiary of this, Central Europe and the peripheral indebted countries of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain also saw volumes increase – in aggregate to their highest for over a year.

However, while re-pricing is undoubtedly producing some interesting opportunities, in our opinion this is likely to be the start of a slow recovery. In fact, we’ve really only removed the fear that the world is about to end – there are still very real concerns over the economy and the outlook for income growth and sustainability over the short term. At the very least this means investors will be slow to really let go of their risk aversion and we can expect a few mood swings along the way as economics and the political picture dictate and no doubt as more “last chance” summits are held to resolve the next stage of the euro zone debt crisis.

2013 is therefore set to see a continuation of many of the trends from last year. On one hand the relativity of yields will stoke demand for secure assets and together with a steady improvement in stock availability this could push investment up by something like 5% over the year. On the other hand however, we can also expect a further splintering of the market, with some regions and business sectors performing much better than others. Hence even though some investors question the values now being attached to core property, prime yields in some markets may in fact compress this year and the gap with weaker secondary space will only increase.

David Hutchings,
European Research Group, London

European Office Markets: Better times likely in 2013?

The third quarter of 2012 was not great for the European office sector with leasing and investment activity down and rental growth reversing. However anyone expecting a smooth, demand-driven recovery was pretty much waiting to be disappointed – the road back to any sort of normality was always going to be bumpy and unpredictable.

Looking more postively at the current picture, the cooling of the market in the third quarter was of course largely a reflection of increased uncertainty surrounding the euro zone debt crisis but this reached its height in the late summer and has since stabilised and improved. Indeed, there are now signs that the road blocks put in the way of corporate decision making are being steadily lifted, particularly in more dynamic sectors such as technology and media.

As our latest report notes, (Global Office Forecast 2013-14), the office sector is likely to stabilise in 2013, with slow growth re-emerging even in Europe. The short term outlook may point to a lingering of recessionary conditions in some areas, but a steady improvement is forecast as the year goes by and any growth, however anaemic, will help to lift the corporate mood.

A key issue for occupiers to be alert to however is that the market is not really waiting for a demand led upturn – it is by and large supply led at present, with low levels of development meaning office availability is not being replenished and the choice of modern efficient buildings for occupiers to choose from is declining.

Vacancy was stable in Q3 at around 9.5% of stock across major European cities, but completion levels are running at barely 60% of their 10 year average and look set at best to move sideways in most markets in the next year.  Hence property rents are likely to grow faster than the weak level of forecast economic growth would suggest. We are currently predicting around 1% growth overall in prime rents but markets like London, Dublin, Moscow, Luxembourg and Brussels are expected to outpace this while increases matching or bettering inflation are likely in areas like Paris and major German cities.

This may mean that investors need to broaden their search parameters to access stock in growth markets and any assets with a good location and of a good or at least improvable quality in a market with some degree of liquidity should be in demand. For occupiers the same is true – a shortage of quality space, limited new development and a slow but steady increase in rents, means flexibility will be key to finding a solution to their occupational needs.  2013 could therefore be a more active year but a year of compromises for everyone in the market – and those compromises may be the first real signs that the market is getting back to normal.

David Hutchings, European Research Group, London

Election Implications

By Eric Berkman and Andrew Asbill
Capital Markets, Washington, D.C.

The champagne at election-night celebrations had barely lost its fizz when Senator-elect Tim Kaine of Virginia gave a sobering warning about the fierce financial hangover that is looming. Talking to Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show, Kaine reminded us that the fiscal cliff will still be there, waiting for a solution, when the lame-duck Congress comes back to town. Virtually everyone in town agrees that the superstorm mix of draconian spending cuts and tax increases would send the fragile economy back into a tailspin. No one wants that to happen. The question is whether Congress, still polarized after the election, can reach a compromise and keep us from going over the precipice.

Small wonder that all of this uncertainty in Washington has kept a significant amount of capital sitting on the sidelines. It’s hard to join a game, after all, when you aren’t sure what the rules are. But a clear-headed look at the situation reveals a lot of opportunity.

First, President Obama has just been reelected to office and will want to leave a positive legacy. He will never have to run for office again. That doesn’t mean he can do whatever he wants, but it does free him up a bit to take some risks, make a peace offering to the Republicans in Congress, and break the stalemate to find a solution to the fiscal problems at hand. And virtually everyone, on both sides of the aisle, seems to agree that the cost of plunging over the fiscal cliff is just too high. One way or another, Congress has to pull us back from the brink.

Likewise, Washington has a long record of being one of the most resilient commercial real estate markets in the country, especially so under a second-term president. Its historical performance tells us it will come back strong. While the short-term barriers to entry may seem daunting, even a slightly longer-range view tells us that it’s time to jump back into the Washington market, before the rest of the herd arrives. While short-term opportunities may be few and far between, money that can wait five, seven, eight, or ten years to show a good return would be hard pressed to find a better home than the nation’s Capital. And development deals in the right submarkets that will deliver three to four years out are being viewed as great investments.

Current deals being worked by Cushman & Wakefield underscore the logic to this approach: The deals are structured specifically to exploit the opportunities presented by that three- to five-year horizon. A land deal in Herndon is currently under contract that will be rezoned to residential, within walking distance of a future Metro station. A large redevelopment deal in Pentagon City has received strong interest and will be purchased without entitlements in place. Additionally, the only CBD development site in all of Washington – 2020 M Street – zoned for 183,000 square feet of office, residential, hotel or retail, is also a primary target for a number of developers.

So a lot of uncertainty is still out there. But chances are good that with the election behind us, government will work better than it has for the past four years. Washington will begin to move forward, quicker than many expect. And the smart money will stay ahead of the pack and be sitting pretty when Obama turns the White House over to his successor in 2017.

U.S. Industrial Sector Outlook

Can a silver lining be found within the sputtering U.S. economy?  After showing tepid positive momentum, growing at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second half of 2011 and 1.9% in the first quarter, the U.S. economy has waned.  Now added to the uncertainty of the European debt crisis and anemic U.S. job growth is China’s slowing economy and the looming threat of the “fiscal cliff”.  The result: cautious corporate and consumer attitudes and mounting volatility in global equity market.

In contrast, however, the U.S. industrial real estate sector is showing continued momentum, a rebound that started in 2011. As of mid-year, the industrial sector continued to post healthy demand and declining vacancies. Operating fundamentals continue to improve across the country with the most notable gains in the warehouse sector. Newer bulk distribution buildings in first tier markets are achieving single digit vacancy levels, widening the price gap between Class A and B/C space. As industrial users embrace both long-term strategic planning and favorable economics, a sustained period of rental rate appreciation looms.

Strong demand for big-box quality space has burned off Class A bulk inventory in major logistics markets and has triggered an increase in both build–to–suit and speculative development activity. In 2011, 29.6 msf of industrial space was added to the market nationally. By mid-year 2012, 17.5 msf of new supply was added to the inventory and 7.9 msf of that was built on a speculative basis.  An additional 49.2 msf is currently under construction with 17.0 msf of speculative space scheduled to be delivered by year-end.

Industrial sector sales activity has also rebounded and competition has been most aggressive for stabilized core product in the coastal markets followed by the inland logistics hubs. At the same time, prices at the lower end have noticeably stabilized or are beginning to creep up (but remain far below pre-recession peaks), triggering a wave of delayed user acquisitions. Institutional investors are also showing a willingness to stretch acquisition parameters and venture beyond a few select markets as market assumptions show significant improvement.

Although slow, the pace of economic growth is healthy enough for continued recovery in market fundamentals.  The remainder of 2012 should also see the U.S. industrial market continue to benefit from its emergence as a stable, outperforming asset class. Limited supply of quality product in major logistic markets will add to cap rate compression for well-located core assets.

Maria Sicola, Head of Research, Americas
Tina Arambulo, Industrial Research Director