Fed Beige Book: Commercial Construction Up In Most Districts




What’s in the July Beige Book?  The usual compilation of anecdotal economic reportage from the districts of the Federal Reserve system, of course. The specifics this time around include positive news for commercial construction activity across the US, with mixed-positive news on commercial real estate lending and other factors.  Here are commercial real estate-related excerpts from each district:


Commercial construction activity strengthened across most Districts. Cleveland and Atlanta reported increased commercial construction activity compared to a year ago, and Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco noted gains since the previous survey period. Boston and Richmond saw mixed commercial construction activity across their Districts since the previous report. Dallas indicated strong overall commercial real estate construction activity, and commercial real estate construction increased in the Minneapolis District compared with the previous report. Boston, New York, Richmond, Chicago, Kansas City, and Dallas reported tight commercial vacancy rates. Industrial real estate construction and leasing activity was strong in the Philadelphia and Chicago Districts.






Reports from commercial real estate contacts across the First District are mixed. Leasing activity is down in Hartford in recent weeks, a fact attributed in part to usual seasonal patterns and in part to weak fundamentals. Office leasing activity is also down in Providence, while at the same time Rhode Island’s industrial leasing market is tightening amid strong demand and limited inventory. According to a Portland contact, the city’s tourism industry is booming, and three recently-opened hotels enjoy high occupancy rates. Also in Portland, strong office leasing is driven by growth of existing firms rather than by new firms, and investment demand is strong across industrial, multifamily, and medical properties. In Boston, office rents continue to display a modest upward trend, thanks to a lack of new inventory coming to market. A limited amount of speculative office construction is underway in Boston’s Seaport District, but contacts foresee constraints on similar construction in the form of high costs and limited financing. A regional lender to commercial real estate saw a surge in loan volume in recent weeks, a fact the contact attributes to changes in business strategy. According to contacts, hiring in both Portland and Hartford–and hence added office demand–is held back by a scarcity of young, educated workers in these cities. Contacts expect that Boston will continue to see at least modest improvement in commercial real estate fundamentals moving forward, while contacts in Providence and Hartford point to uncertainty surrounding the outcomes of upcoming elections in their respective states as a factor that could restrain economic growth in the near-term. A Portland contact’s outlook remains bullish.




Commercial real estate markets were mixed but, on balance, somewhat stronger in the second quarter. Office availability rates fell to multi-year lows in New York City and Long Island, but rose to multi-year highs in the Rochester and Buffalo areas; rates were little changed at high levels (near 20 percent) in northern New Jersey and Westchester & Fairfield counties. Asking rents for office space were flat across most of the District, except in Manhattan, where they continued to trend up and have risen nearly 10 percent over the past year. Office construction activity has been brisk in Manhattan but remains subdued across most of the District. Industrial availability rates were mostly steady to down slightly, with asking rents on industrial space rising on Long Island but mostly flat across the rest of the District. Finally, retail vacancy rates in Manhattan continued to trend up at mid-year; still asking rents continue to rise and are up roughly 8 percent from comparable 2013 levels.




 The market for commercial real estate and home mortgages, especially refinancing, remains much softer than other lines. Most banking contacts continued to report steady improvement in credit quality and loan portfolios. However, heated competition among banks to secure new loans has led to increased warnings of “too-risky” loan terms. Overall, bankers expressed greater optimism for general economic growth–tending to report a growing confidence among businesses and consumers alike. 




Nonresidential builders reported little change in their pipelines during the past six weeks, while most said that activity is above year-ago levels. In general, our contacts are seeing an improvement in the number of inquiries and growing backlogs. Demand was strongest from the energy, housing (public and private), retail, and healthcare markets. Most builders are fairly optimistic in their outlook, but they remain concerned about labor issues and tight margins. One builder mentioned that rising margins contributed to a decline in his contract win rate.




Realtors in Richmond, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Columbia, and Charleston, South Carolina reported an uptick in commercial construction, while contacts in West Virginia and Washington, D.C. saw little change. A broker in Maryland said that medical construction had stopped. Grocery-anchored retail construction remained strong across the District. Commercial retail contacts reported solid leasing in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Columbia, and Charleston, South Carolina. Demand for retail space in Washington D.C. was flat. Industrial leasing demand weakened in West Virginia and Raleigh, but strengthened in Charleston, South Carolina. Office leasing was robust in Charlotte and Charleston, South Carolina. Most Realtors reported no change in vacancy rates, except in the Carolinas, where contacts in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Charleston noted a slight decrease across sub-markets. Reports on rents varied. Contacts said that commercial sales edged up in Raleigh, northern Virginia, Richmond, and Columbia. Commercial sale prices increased in Charleston, South Carolina and Virginia Beach.




Demand for commercial real estate continued to improve across most of the region. Absorption rates remained positive. Construction continued to increase at a modest pace from last year and most contractors noted that their current backlog was ahead of year earlier levels. Contacts indicated that apartment construction remained fairly strong and reported that the level of construction activity across other property types remained steady. The outlook among District commercial real estate contacts remained positive with most expecting activity to grow at a steady pace through the summer months.




 Commercial real estate activity continued to expand, as vacancies ticked down and rents rose. Leasing of industrial buildings, office space, and retail space all increased.




Commercial and industrial real estate market conditions have improved, on balance, since the previous report. A contact reported weak demand for office space in the Louisville downtown area, but expected an increase in office space leasing activity because of recent employment gains. Contacts in Memphis noted strong retail leasing activity. A contact in Little Rock reported a stable and healthy industrial market. A contact in St. Louis reported tight market conditions in the industrial market and an increasing demand for new warehouse distribution centers with high ceilings and good multi-modal access. Commercial and industrial construction activity improved throughout most of the District. A contact in Memphis reported a commercial expansion in Shelby Farms Park. A contact in Louisville reported a new commercial development project in northern Kentucky. A contact in Little Rock reported a new office building under construction in Pinnacle Hills Promenade in Rogers, Arkansas. A contact in St. Louis reported an increase in commercial construction projects in north St. Louis County.




Activity in commercial real estate markets increased since the last report. Several commercial real estate sales and leasing transactions were announced since mid-May. An office building in Minneapolis will be sold for a city record of $365 per square foot. Residential real estate market activity was mixed. In the Sioux Falls area, May home sales were down 7 percent, inventory increased 7 percent and the median sales price increased 4 percent relative to a year earlier. May home sales were down 10 percent from the same period a year ago in Minnesota; the inventory of homes for sale increased 3 percent and the median sales price rose 7 percent. However, in Eau Claire, Wis., May home sales were up 9 percent from the same period a year ago and the median sales price dropped 3 percent. May home sales increased relative to a year ago in the Bismarck area.




Commercial real estate activity strengthened further, with lower vacancy rates and increased sales, construction and absorption. The commercial real estate market was expected to expand moderately over the next few months.




Robust apartment demand pushed up occupancy rates, and increases in rents were strong in several major metros. Construction activity remained brisk, and contacts are optimistic in their outlooks through year-end.  Office leasing activity remained solid and occupancy high during the reporting period. Rents continued to trend upwards, especially for Class A office space, and were above their pre-recession peaks in some markets. Office investment activity picked up in Dallas but slowed in Houston. Demand for industrial space was strong, with vacancy rates in Dallas and Houston near historic lows. Outlooks remained generally positive.




Vacancy rates for commercial space were mixed. Some contacts reported low vacancy rates overall, while others pointed to high vacancy rates–particularly for retail space–in part due to transitions to online distribution. Private-sector commercial construction activity increased modestly in most areas but more robustly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. Contacts from Southern California and Hawaii also reported vigorous public-sector construction activity.



One Comments

  • Drew Reed

    January 22, 2016

    I like how you said construction remained brisk in Dallas and other places. It’s so good that the job outlook for commercial properties is so positive now. A friend of mine is looking to lease some office space while his business expands. I’ll have to show these numbers to him. Thanks!


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