Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Get It Together, Vegas

Have you ever known somebody who just couldn’t get it together, at least not permanently? They would get their stuff together for a few months, and then slide right back into their old back habits. If you work in Las Vegas commercial real estate, the answer is yes, and the friend is the real estate market.

2012 was a pretty good year for our CRE Recovery Index. There were a couple small dips in the index, but overall, things were looking up. The market did pretty well, as the index is supposed to predict, with office and retail putting up good, though not great, numbers, and industrial lagging behind until the first quarter of 2013, when it showed some surprising life. 2011 was a year of peaks and troughs, with things better at the end than the beginning, but 2012 was a pretty smooth ride in the right direction. And then 2013 showed up.

Just as the market posted its first all-around positive quarter in 5 years, with the industrial, office and retail markets all showing positive net absorption, the index was heading down. December 2012 saw the index fall from 91 to 88, inspired by lower visitor volume and gaming revenue and a less traffic through the port of Los Angeles. This wasn’t too worrisome, though, since tourism numbers can fluctuate and port traffic is, at best, a minor piece of the puzzle for Southern Nevada. January remained at 88; port traffic dropped again, but so did the number of new residents moving into the Valley, new home sales and, once again, visitor volume. These were balanced, though, by higher gaming revenue and taxable sales. February saw another dip in the index, down to 86, where the index stood in January 2012. New home sales were down again, as was gaming revenue, visitor volume, new residents and taxable sales. Is it time to worry?

If the index is accurate, it predicts a slow second quarter for commercial real estate, and perhaps a slow third quarter as well. That doesn’t necessarily means negative net absorption, but just less positive net absorption than we would like. While the office market has had three quarters of positive net absorption, the numbers have been on the decline. Retail has also been positive but weak. Industrial has the benefit of strong build-to-suit activity now, and will probably do well through mid-year. But, in general, the way ahead for commercial real estate could be a little rocky for the next few months.

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