Market Recovers Despite Foreclosure Outlook

Wall Street was gloomy in the morning Thursday, but by the final bell investors were feeling better, perhaps pumped up a little by the news that the federal government won’t let Bank of America fail, despite shooting itself in the foot with the purchase of Merrill Lynch. The Dow Jones ended up a slight 12.35 points, or 0.15 percent. The S&P rose 0.13 percent, and the Nasdaq did best of all, rising 1.49 percent, unfazed by the uncertain state of Steve Jobs’ health (Apple was off slightly for the day, however).The housing bubble has popped, but the pain lingers. Even though it’s no surprise, the skyrocketing rate of housing foreclosures in the United States still has the power to shock. Foreclosure activity was up 81 percent in 2008 compared with 2007, and fully 225 percent when compared with 2006, according to a new report by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac.Some 3.2 million foreclosure filings were made on 2.3 million properties in 2008, including notices of default, auction sales or bank repossessions. Such filings slowed down a bit in 4Q08, down 4 percent from 3Q08, perhaps as a result of state and private efforts to stem the foreclosure tide–but such efforts seem only to be a delaying tactic, not any kind of solution to the problem. “Clearly the foreclosure prevention programs implemented to date have not had any real success in slowing down this foreclosure tsunami,” RealtyTrac CEO James J. Saccacio posited in the report. According to President-elect Obama, one of the main goals in distributing the remaining $350 billion in TARP funds–which Congress narrowly approved on Thursday–will be foreclosure prevention, but it isn’t at all clear that merely spending money, short of the impossible task of paying off everyone’s mortgage, will be enough the halt or even slow down the tsunami.The ripple effect of the economy on industrial real estate may be getting less attention than what’s happening in the residential, retail or even office markets, but the doldrums are beginning to affect the industrial sector as well. On Thursday, MeadWestvaco Corp., a major maker of glossy cardboard, cut 10 percent of its workforce, or about 2,000 jobs. The company is also shutting or restructuring more than a dozen facilities, significantly reducing the amount of space it uses.In making these moves, MeadWestvaco cites lower demand for its product, which is largely used for packing consumer products, fewer of which are flying off the shelves these days. Besides reducing manufacturing space, the company will also be using less distribution space. If they haven’t already, many other companies will also be cutting back on distribution space, and the impact on industrial real estate is now kicking in.”Early indications are of moderate weakness in demand, but when combined with a hefty amount of new supply, the fourth quarter vacancy rate will move up sharply nationwide,” Ross Moore, executive vice president of market and economic research for Colliers International, told CPN.Though new construction starts in industrial real estate have virtually ground to a halt, Moore said that projects working their way through the development pipeline are still coming on line in quantity. As an example, he cites the metro Chicago industrial market. During the fourth quarter, some 1.3 million square feet of industrial space was vacated in there, but about 6.4 million square feet came on line, totaling 7.7 million in negative absorption for the market.