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Monday, January 07, 2013

Office Vacancy Rate and Office Investment

by Calculated Risk on 1/07/2013 10:26:00 AM

Earlier this morning I noted that Reis reported the office vacancy rate declined slightly to 17.1% in Q4 from 17.2% in Q3.

A key question is when will new office investment increase. The answer depends on how quickly the vacancy rate falls. The following graph shows the office vacancy rate and office investment as a percent of GDP. Note: Office investment also includes improvements - and as Reis Senior Economist Ryan Severino noted this morning, there is very little new construction.

Here is Reis Senior Economist Ryan Severino's office forecast for 2013:

"The outlook for 2013 is slightly better than what we experienced in 2012. Although some of the uncertainty over the potential “fiscal cliff” has been resolved, spending decisions still remain and the debt situation in Europe, which oscillates in and out of panic, is still uncertain. Moreover, higher payroll and income taxes are likely to reduce consumption and the government is expected to implement some spending cuts, if not outright sequestration. Nonetheless, job growth is expected to accelerate slightly during 2013 while the unemployment rate is expected to tick marginally lower. Reflecting this moderate improvement, we expect an acceleration in both rent growth and vacancy compression next year, but it is important to keep expectations aligned with reality. And the reality for 2013 is another year of languorous recovery."
Apartment Vacancy Rate Click on graph for larger image.

This graph shows the office vacancy rate starting in 1980 (prior to 1999 the data is annual). Back in the early '80s, there was overbuilding in the office sector even as the vacancy rate was rising. This was due to the very loose lending that led to the S&L crisis.

In the '90s, office investment picked up as the vacancy rate fell. Following the bursting of the stock bubble, the vacancy rate increased sharply and office investment declined.

During the housing bubble, office investment started to increase even before the vacancy rate had fallen below 14%. This was due to loose lending - again. Investment essentially stopped following the financial crisis.

Like Reis, I expect the office vacancy rate to slowly decline, and I don't expect a significant pickup in new investment until the vacancy rate is close to 14%.

Office vacancy data courtesy of Reis.