Retail Industry Braces for Hundreds of Millions of Vacant Square Feet

Retail Industry Braces for Hundreds of Millions of Vacant Square Feet while Retail Rents Are Expected to Tumble in Post-Pandemic World

Courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau.

Last Friday’s job report for April revealed that over 20 million have lost their jobs in a single month.

Job losses continue into May with over 3.2 million applying for benefits that week, which brings jobless claims to over 33 million since the pandemic began.

Unemployment measures 15%, 3 times the rate of a month ago.

The retail fallout in a post-pandemic world is sweeping across every U.S. market and is expected to leave hundreds of millions of square feet vacant while driving rents and valuations lower.

Her findings: J. Crew, Neiman Marcus and Pier 1 Imports, which have all filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, were in the at-risk category, as were At Home, J.C. Penney and Sears. At-risk tenants also include many restaurant groups, such as Cracker Barrel, Denny’s, Landry’s, Wendy’s and Yum! Brands, according to Corbett.

Those at-risk retailers encompass a footprint of more than 700 million square feet, equal to some 4.5% of total retail inventory across the nation.

Courtesy of CoStar.

“Of course, thousands of smaller independent retailers also face grave risks,” said Corbett, “but these large institutional occupiers anchor thousands of malls and shopping centers across the country.” What’s more, their presence, or lack thereof, “could prove very difficult to replace,” she said.

“Our base-case forecast calls for as much as a 100 million square feet to go dark over the next year,” she said. Given the new imbalance of supply and demand, Corbett sees rents falling.

“The double-edge sword of declining occupancy and rents will take a bite out of net operating income and translate to widespread valuation declines,” she added.

How pervasive might that be? Hard to say, because there is “virtually no trading activity,” leading to very little pricing information. Stay tuned as those numbers surface in coming weeks.

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