'Tis the Season: Year's End Drives Hot Retail Pricing

The weather's getting colder, but purses and wallets are getting warmer -- and, in the retail space, retailers, landlords and investors are eager to capitalize on pent-up consumer demand.

The weather’s getting colder, but purses and wallets are getting warmer – according to the National Retail Federation, the number of Black Friday and post-Thankgiving-weekend shoppers this year topped 226 million, up from 212 million over the same period last year. ShopperTrak reported that Black Friday sales increased 6.6 percent over 2010’s totals, and the firm’s founder, Bill Martin, noted that 2011 was “the largest year-over-year gain for Black Friday since the 8.3 percent increase we saw between 2007 and 2006.”

Clearly – at the end of 2011 – retail is the place to be.

According to a report by services firm Jones Lang LaSalle released earlier this week, retailers, landlords and investors are eager to capitalize on pent-up consumer demand – and shopping centers will remain a top investment category. But there are a few bumps in the road that first need to be overcome.

“Everyone, including consumers, is in a continued wait-and-see mode, delaying major buying and investment decisions until they see how several dynamics play out, including the elections next year,” Greg Maloney, CEO & President of Jones Lang LaSalle’s retail group, said. “Until we have some market certainty in the U.S. and overseas plus sustained high levels of consumer confidence driven by higher pay checks, a stronger stock market and an improved housing market, a robust recovery will elude the retail sector.”

But the indicators, from strong retail sales to strong employment figures, indicate positive momentum. Monthly employment numbers remain positive while initial jobless claims for the first week of November continued to drift down to the lowest level since April of this year. Together, those two factors have led retail-property operations to make strides in the third quarter. According to Marcus & Millichap, net absorption in the third quarter of 2011 for the retail sector was 17.6 million square feet.

The report went on to show that while positive moves are happening, numbers are still above their historical averages. “Store closings in general merchandise, apparel, furniture and other categories continue to slow, with many retailers opening more stores than they close,” the report noted. “Asking and effective rents reflect a slowing pace of decline for the fourth consecutive quarter, indicative of a gradual bottoming of retail rents.”

According to JLL, the flight to quality continues as the gap between the average yield and top quartile products has widened, as core properties in primary markets continue to draw a premium. Per-square-foot prices rose dramatically from $146 to $199 quarter over quarter, due to select high-priced trades in Manhattan. Cap rates continue to remain relatively unchanged and at their lowest levels since 1980, ending the third quarter at 7.6 percent.

“As investors continue to seek out reliable investments, cap rates will continue to fall only for core properties, particularly urban retail, fortress malls and top-ranked grocery-anchored strip centers, while middle-of-the-road retail products will have valuation issues well into 2012,” Margaret Caldwell, managing director of JLL’s retail group, said. “Average cap rates for strip centers have hovered around 8 percent this year, while strips with grocery stores have been much lower, dropping 50 basis points over the last nine months or so.”