Lowest Vacancy in Six Years Despite
Cloudier OutlookAs the fourth quarter of 2015 (Q4 2015) came to a close, U.S. shopping center vacancy was 8.0%, unchanged from the third quarter of the year and marking the 15th consecutive quarter of steady or declining vacancy in the marketplace. Cushman & Wakefield is currently tracking over 314 million square feet (MSF) of available space in the over 3.9 billion square feet of shopping center space (including community/neighborhood, power/regional strip and lifestyle centers) across more than 65 major U.S. markets. During Q4 2015, availability declined slightly—by roughly 2.3 MSF—but the decline was not enough to push the overall vacancy rate upward. Indeed, since peaking at 10.3% in Q1 2010, shopping center vacancy has fallen in 20 of the last 23 quarters. The shopping center market recorded nearly 9.8 MSF of occupancy growth in Q4 2015, bringing annual net absorption for 2015 to just under 39 MSF. This is 17.5% below the 47 MSF of occupancy growth posted in 2014 but well above the 33 MSF of positive annual net absorption that the market has averaged since the current expansion phase began in 2010.
Over 25.9 MSF of new shopping center space was added to inventory in 2015 and new product continued to be a major driver of occupancy growth. The vacancy rate in new projects delivered in 2015 was roughly 7.5% at year end. In general, developers are not building new projects without significant pre-leasing commitments from both anchor and inline tenants, even though the amount of speculative inline shop space in new developments is increasing slightly. In addition, user demand remains white-hot for new, Class A or premium space with most tenants willing to pay a premium for quality product even where affordable Class B or secondary locations may be available at considerably lower rents. Over half of the new development that we tracked in 2015 was in the form of expansions of existing shopping centers, typically in dominant Class A projects.
We are currently tracking 20.8 MSF of new shopping center space under construction and anticipate that final delivery total for 2016 will approach the level in 2015. A slight uptick in new, single-family home construction in 2016 may lead to a modest increase in new, ground-up development in suburban markets; however, most planned projects that we are tracking remain within the urban core or mature outlying communities.