News Trend: Slow Growth for Retail in 2012?

While multi-family looks to be the darling asset class going into the new year, investors are not forgetting about the retail sector. By Nicholas Ziegler, News Editor.

By Nicholas Ziegler, News Editor

Colonial Properties Trust’s $132 million joint venture purchase of Pinnacle at Turkey Creek in Nashville fi gured among the spate of $100 million retail sales that took place in December.

While multi-family looks to be the darling asset class going into the new year, investors are not forgetting about the retail sector. On the consumer side, things seem to be going extremely well: The shopping days surrounding Black Friday hit a new record in 2011, according to the National Retail Federation, with 226 million consumers visiting either stores or Web sites over the Thanksgiving weekend, edging out the 212 million who shopped on the same days in 2010. Total spending reached an estimated $52.4 billion.

And with some jobs numbers starting to pick up—however little—more money should be available for spending. November saw a net increase of 120,000 jobs to the American economy, which is certainly better than the losses suffered earlier in the year.

On the real estate side, the sector’s fundamentals are improving: In the 12 months ended Dec. 1, 2011, national retail vacancies dropped by 0.1 percent, and net absorption has been positive for the past 36 months, according to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. With the pace of new development remaining low—just 38.5 million square feet have come online in the past 12 months—some investors are flocking to existing quality spaces.

Indeed, the sale of individual assets drove a third-quarter sales volume that hit $7 billion, exceeding 2010’s third quarter by 75 percent. The average price, according to Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services, rose 8.4 percent on a year-over-year basis to $141 per square foot.

And that activity continued in the fourth quarter, with a $100 million trades during the first few weeks of December that included Inland Western Real Estate Trust Inc. partnering with RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust Inc. on a $92 million buy in San Antonio, Colonial Properties Trust and a joint-venture associate selling a Nashville asset for $132 million, and Equity One purchasing California’s Culver Center for $115 million.
While the trends point to a recovery in the retail sector, all is not certain, according to services firm Jones Lang LaSalle. “Everyone is in a wait-and-see mode,” said Greg Maloney, president & CEO of the firm’s retail group.

But Marcus & Millichap predicts a continued strong volume of small to midsize deals dominating the retail market in the year to come.
And certain subsectors are doing exceptionally well. Cap rates for strip centers have averaged around 8 percent this year, while those with grocery stores have been much lower and have dropped 50 basis points in the past nine months, according to Margaret Caldwell, managing director of Jones Lang LaSalle’s retail group.