Retail in a Nutshell

The past few quarters have been marked by blockbuster deals, large-scale rollouts and store closings, plus contradictory data. Executive editor Paul Rosta reflects on what it all means in his monthly column.
Executive Editor Paul Rosta
Executive Editor Paul Rosta

If you haven’t been keeping track of the retail sector for the past six months, you haven’t missed much. Just another ho-hum stretch. Probably won’t be anything to discuss a few months from now, either …

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I’m having some fun here, of course. The past few quarters have been marked by blockbuster deals, large-scale rollouts and store closings, plus contradictory data. In an effort to write all this on the head of a pin, I’ve come up with a cherry-picked batch of numbers that, I would argue, say a lot about what’s happening out there.

■ 6 percent: Estimated 2017 growth in core retail spending, while online shopping accounted for 14 percent of retail sales last year. (U.S. Commerce Department)

■ 8.4 percent: First-quarter vacancy at the nation’s regional malls, up from 8.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017 and the highest since 2012. (Reis)

■ 1,645: Estimated number of new dollar stores expected to open in 2018, along with 1,328 restaurants and 548 apparel stores. (PNC, Coresight, JLL)

■ 8.3 million square feet: The amount by which mall absorption has exceeded vacancy since the second quarter of 2017. (CoStar, JLL)

■ $325 million: Investment by a joint venture of PREIT and Macerich to reinvent the Gallery in downtown Philadelphia as Fashion District Philadelphia.

■ $9.25 billion: Price of Brookfield Property Partners’ acquisition of GGP.

OK, time for a quick back-of-the-envelope analysis: Retail spending is on the rise, suggesting continued consumer optimism. Occupancy in regional malls shows room for improvement, yet some, at least, are successfully backfilling vacant space. Restaurants, dollar stores and, surprisingly, apparel stores are in expansion mode and helping retail centers hold their own. Owners are investing big dollars so they can reinvent obsolete properties for the 21st century. Corporate consolidation is in the air, so stay tuned for more.

Six months from now, will there be another wave of bold moves, new trends and surprises to report? As bets go, that looks like a safe one.

You’ll find more on this topic in the May 2018 issue of CPE.