Commercial real estate markets have been generally growing in terms of pricing, rental rates, and occupancies since approximately 2011 and many market participants are beginning to openly wonder where the market is in the “cycle”.
Since the topic of market cycles can be somewhat misunderstood, we want to offer some clarification before presenting our assessment. Some investors believe that markets experience cycles based on some uniform period of time; such as every “X” years. In reality, markets, such as those for commercial real estate, move from peaks to valleys based on changes in supply and demand and any observation of timing is purely coincidental. An asset will see a “peak” and then decline when supply exceeds demand and this is when investors should look at changes in fundamentals to determine the relative risks and rewards of their investment due to cyclical forces.
CRE Markets Remain Healthy in Early 2017
With data available through the end of 2016, it is easy to see that most commercial real estate asset types are in the middle of the expansion phase of the real estate cycle. These are periods of long term growth in rents and declines in vacancy. According to REIS, all four major real estate classes experienced rent growth in 2016; 3.6% for apartment, 2.0% for retail, 2.4% for office and 2.2% for industrial. Office and industrial markets are experiencing the most absorption and improvements in occupancies and thus appear “earliest” in the expansion phase with year-end vacancy rates of 15.8% and 10% respectively. Retail vacancy rates remained flat at 9.9%, which given the number of “big box” closures, is actually impressive and masks the reality that many retail properties are actually experiencing rental rate growth and near full occupancies. The apartment sector, which began 2016 as the most watched sector given its 1.8% increase in supply, ended at 4.2% vacancy which is unchanged from 2015. Early 2017 data from Yardi Matrix shows modest rent growth has resumed which when considered with the rate of job creation, actually suggests that the apartment sector is not anywhere near as oversupplied as some have feared. However, relatively speaking, it is certainly the “latest” in the expansion phase. Overall, in early 2017 the fundamentals of commercial real estate markets still appear to be relatively healthy. In addition, given the current growth and optimism in the economy, they have room left to run in most situations.
2016 Transaction Volume is 3rd for Highest Recorded CRE Sales Activity
Prices of commercial real estate are a result of interactions between space markets (supply and demand) and the capital markets (competition for investment dollars). According to Moody’s and Real Capital Analytics, commercial real estate prices grew 9% in 2016 for another record breaking year. However, transaction volume was down 11% in 2016, but the year still ranks third after 2015 and 2007 for highest recorded commercial real estate sales activity. Overall, increases in interest rates and the 2016 decline in sales volume suggest the capital markets may put less pressure on price growth in 2017 than in recent years. The question of what cap rates will do given recent rate rises remains open but early evidence suggests that spreads are compressing and cap rates have shown minimal increases, however, this is still “too early” to call.
As of mid-February 2017, the commercial real estate markets appear to remain in expansion mode and 2016 was by all measures, a great year. If growth sustains, as the stock market is suggesting with its setting of new record highs every so often, fundamentals of commercial real estate should keep on moving upward as well. Census Bureau data showed that 2016 was a year for growth in construction spending; up 7.8% for nonresidential (commercial) and up 4.5% for residential (includes apartments). Therefore, there is more new supply coming but all the data suggests there is more than sufficient demand to keep the market in balance and growing.