Industrial Real Estate Strong in Q1

A first-quarter report from CBRE outlines a largely reassuring picture of the U.S. logistics sector.
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All the coronavirus-related lockdowns and other disruption notwithstanding, the U.S. industrial sector was still solid as of the first quarter, with the average vacancy nearing a record low, while demand for cold storage spiked, according to a new report from CBRE.

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Though the retail, food and beverage, and transportation sectors in particular are shedding thousands of jobs, industrial/logistics real estate appears to be holding its own. One sign of that, according to CBRE, is that in 16 of the current top 20 markets for industrial space construction (totaling about 70 percent of such space under way), workers are actively building, despite shelter-in-place orders, showing that most of these projects are considered essential.

The first quarter was the 40th straight quarter of positive net absorption. In some markets, limited space availability is making absorption gains difficult. The top three markets for first-quarter absorption as a percentage of current inventory were all southern ports: Savannah, Ga., Greenville, Miss., and Charleston, S.C., in that order.

Though uncertainties in the debt markets have put many proposed speculative projects on hold, the slowing of new spec development might help cut vacancy levels in late 2021. With 34 million square feet of positive net absorption nationwide in the first quarter and average vacancy at 4.5 percent—nearly a record low—it’s no surprise that net asking rents rose by 4.8 percent year-over-year.

Changing buying habits  

Citing the Cass Freight Index, CBRE notes that “Grocery, home improvement and e-commerce all had increased shipment volumes in March, while restaurant, auto and retail (mall) shipments essentially stopped.”

As mass changes in Americans’ food-buying habits cause substantial food industry disruption, demand for cold-storage space is expected to increase. Serendipitously, cold-storage REIT Americold has been very active recently. Last November, the company agreed to both buy Canadian cold-storage provider Nova Cold Logistics and acquire two cold-storage facilities from MHW Group. The deals were valued at around $308 million in total. In February, Americold went south instead of north, buying a significant stake in Brazilian cold-storage company SuperFrio Armazéns Gerais SA for about $28 million. And just last month, the REIT nailed down a $1.2 billion refi of its unsecured credit facility.