Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Almost There

When the Great Recession hit, back in ’08 (read that as “aught-eight” if you want to sound like an old pioneer), I decided to begin tracking the recovery that I assumed would eventually follow. I devised an index of economic measures that I thought had an impact on commercial real estate, and began tracking them. Month in, and month out, for eight years I’ve tracked these numbers, watching the index get worse, at first, and then begin to show some upward movement. Today, I am proud to announce that the index has almost returned to where it was in January 2005, midway into the boom.

Since historical context is valuable, the Recovery Index goes back to 1996. For that year, the index averages 68.5, which can be interpreted to mean that the local economic drivers of commercial real estate were about 69 percent as strong in 1996 as they would be in 2005. In 2006, the strongest overall year for the local economy, the index averaged 106.5. The highest index measure was in September 2006, when it hit 108.8. The worst year for the local economy was 2010, when the index averaged 84.7 – still well above 1996, but well below 2005. The lowest measures of the index came in April and May of 2010, at 83.3. Essentially, the Great Recession brought the local economy back to where it had been during the early 2000’s, erasing seven years of growth.
So far in 2015, the index has averaged 96.6, roughly equal to mid-2004. The highest recent measure was in September 2015, at 98.9. We’re at about 99 percent of where we were in 2005, a decade ago.

Of course, not all measures are increasing at the same rate. At this point, five of the eight measures are back over 100 – Gaming Revenue, Visitor Volume, Employment, Taxable Sales and LA Port Traffic. These measures range from 101.5 (visitor volume) to 120.9 (taxable sales), and suggest an improved commercial economy – people are buying more, making more and shipping more. Commercial occupancy is at 97.6 – nearly back to where it was in 2005.

The current weakness in the local economy comes from a lack of population growth. The Driver’s License Count is now at 73.9, indicating that migration into Southern Nevada is now at about 70 percent of where it was during the boom. The strongest migration into the area came during the winter of 2003 (and in fact, in-migration always seems to spike during the winter). More significantly, the Driver’s License Count averaged 89 during the mid-to-late 1990’s, so we’re now getting far fewer people moving into Southern Nevada. Migration was actually even stronger a few years ago, in 2012, than it is now.

When you consider the recovery we have seen in taxable sales without the influx of new people into the Valley, you realize how much the local economy actually has recovered, and how much stronger that recovery would be with continued strong immigration into Clark County. The real loser from this lack of population growth has been New Home Sales. That number now stands at just 22.8 – we’re selling approximately 23 percent as many new homes now as we were in 2005, and about a third as many as we were in the 1990’s.

The local economy has come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession, but new home sales and migration into Southern Nevada are still mired in the Great Recession. Perhaps this is the new normal. The key point is that despite population growth and the residential construction industry, two former pillars of the old normal, being so weak, Southern Nevada’s economy is close to reaching the strength it had before the Great Recession hit. This change to the “new normal” has been accompanied by changes in the demand landscape of the commercial real estate sector. For example, warehouse/distribution in particular and industrial in general is in high demand, while office and retail users are finding new ways to maximize their use of space (i.e., they’re doing more with less). Getting to know the “new normal” and what it means for your clients and their real estate needs is key to your success as a broker.

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