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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Office Vacancy Rate and Unemployment

by Calculated Risk on 10/07/2009 10:31:00 AM

Last night Reis reported that the U.S. office vacancy rate hits 16.5 percent in Q3. (See Reis: U.S. Office Vacancy Rate Hits 16.5% in Q3 for a graph).

Office Vacancy vs. Unemployment Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph shows the office vacancy rate vs. the quarterly unemployment rate and recessions.

The unemployment rate and the office vacancy rate tend to move in the same direction - and the peaks and troughs mostly line up.

As the unemployment rate continues to rise over the next year or more, the office vacancy rate will probably rise too. Reis' forecast is for the office vacancy rate to peak at 18.2 percent in 2010, and for rents to continue to decline through 2011.

One of the questions is why - with a 9.8% unemployment rate in September - the office vacancy rate isn't even higher? This is probably because of less overbuilding, as compared to the S&L related overbuilding in the '80s, and the tech bubble overbuilding a few years ago. Also a number of non-office workers (construction and retail workers) have lost their jobs in the current employment recession.

Investment in Offices The second graph shows office investment as a percent of GDP since 1959 through Q2 2009.

Office investment peaked in Q3 2008, and with the office vacancy rate rising sharply, office investment will probably decline at least through 2010.

Of course many existing office buildings were purchased in recent years at very low cap rates, with excessive leverage, and optimistic income projections. Now that prices have fallen sharply, many of these building owners are far underwater - and that will lead to more losses for lenders. See the WSJ: Fed Frets About Commercial Real Estate