- The 115th Congress is expected to see new policies and changes in the repeal/replace of Affordable Care Act, corporate and individual tax cuts and reforms, increased infrastructure spending, and trade policy and regulations.
- With increases in oil prices and rig counts, the energy sector has passed its bottom, and national, regional and local signs indicate a positive but bumpy improvement ahead.
- Gross domestic product (GDP) is anticipated to be 1.6% for 2016 and 2.1% for 2017, both slower than the 2.6% measure seen in 2015.
- U.S. employment remains steady in posting 156,000 new jobs in December, for a total of 2.2 million new jobs in 2016 (an average of 180,000 new jobs per month); though still strong, 2017 is anticipated to see a slightly lower 160,000 new jobs per month.
- Houston’s economic outlook is expected to shift from negative to a positive outlook in 2017.
- Q4 2016 posted 1.8 million sq. ft. of net absorption, representing a large -72.4% QoQ decrease due to the 4.0 million Daikin delivery in Q3.
- Total annual net absorption was 8.5 million sq. ft.; absent of Daikin, it would have been 4.5 million sq. ft., more in line with the pullback in the oil industry and Houston’s economy.
- 3.29 million sq. ft. of leasing activity was recorded for Q4 2016, which is significantly below its historic Q4 average of 5,168,529 sq. ft.
- 9.5% availability was a 15.9% increase YoY; 5.7% vacancy was a 14.0% increase YoY.
- Vacancies for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space were 7.1%, 4.0%, and 6.0%, respectively.
- Availability of manufacturing, in particular crane-served buildings, remains the soft spot in Houston’s industrial market, at 9.5% significantly greater than the historic Q4 average of 4.9%.
As 2016 wraps up and we move into 2017, the same questions remain for Houston’s industrial real estate market: are we over the worst of the downturn? Has the price of oil stabilized? At this point, most economists agree that the worst of the economic downturn is over. Yet, there are certainly a few naysayers calling the current stabilization in pricing a dead cat bounce, indicating another drop may be looming. The market responds to sentiment as well as supply/demand economics (and geopolitical flashpoints, natural disasters, etc.), and it seems the overall sentiment in Houston is positive. Employees feel a little more secure in their jobs, rig count is up, the Houston Purchasing Manager Index (measuring industrial manufacturing activity) is up, and we’ve got what seems to be a very pro-U.S. business administration going into the White House.
How is all of this affecting Houston’s industrial real estate market? Most new construction and leasing activity continues to be in the southeast, bolstered by the same forces that made this submarket the star of 2016, namely continued infrastructure investment and terminal expansion at the Port of Houston, completion of widening the Panama Canal, lifting the ban on U.S. crude exports, and importantly, growth in the plastic resin industry. The 3PLs and plastics packagers in the area (and their associated service companies) are maintaining their already large footprints and have either leased additional space or are looking for more. Rail-served distribution space is in very high demand and short supply. Large national developers are looking for land sites in the southeast. The attractive, easily developable land sites with good access have been picked over and the ones with a little more “hair” on them are still priced too high to justify based on market rental rates. We’ll have to see how the market adjusts, as land prices in the southeast are not likely to come down any time soon. The limited supply of good sites will prevent the submarket from experiencing the construction boom we saw in the north Houston submarket in 2013-2015.
The north Houston submarket will continue to have the highest industrial vacancy rate in the city (for distribution buildings) for the foreseeable future, as demand for space still lags well behind supply. Deals are getting done, but they are few and far between, and at very favorable rates for tenants. Some tenants are even considering relocating from other submarkets in the city due to the aggressive terms they are getting from landlords who have been sitting on large, vacant space in north Houston. This space will get leased, but it will take some time. Houston gained 132,000 new residents in 2016, and we’re expecting more than that in 2017. These new Houstonians need consumer goods and those items need to be stored somewhere.
Activity in the southwest submarkets since the typical slowdown that happens around the holidays. There are some large holes to fill in distribution buildings in the Southwest after the recent flood of new construction deliveries in 2016, but there is no reason to believe that these spaces won’t get leased up on a reasonable timeline. A series of several sizeable deals in northwest Houston have helped to keep submarket vacancy rates down. If history is any indication, the remaining spaces won’t stay vacant very long.
Overall, Houston’s industrial real estate market is in pretty good shape going into 2017. Oil service manufacturing companies that weathered the storm have consolidated or are sitting on capital ready to be deployed, which is driving an increase in sales of crane-served buildings. The Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hike with more on the horizon suggests it is best to lock in a good rate now. Speculative new construction is reigned in as developers and investors are waiting to see if the recent increase in activity is real or just “tire-kickers” looking to see what’s out there. Either way, companies are feeling positive enough to consider expansions, and Houston is back on the radar of institutional investors. Considering what Houston has been through over the past couple of years, reasonably healthy market statistics and positive market sentiment point toward a promising 2017.
As the 115th Congress began alongside a new president-elect, some new policies and policy changes that may unfold include repealing/replacing the Affordable Care Act, corporate/individual tax cuts and reforms, increased infrastructure spending, and among others trade policy and regulations. Despite a very vibrant political cycle with some clear consequences, Trump’s election is not anticipated to influence gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, which is expected to be about 2.1%. GDP may roll in for 2016 around 1.6%, lagging behind 2.6% in 2015. Proposed tax cuts tend to mostly lead consumers to reduce their debt, rather than increase consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of GDP. Consumer spending did grow by 2.8% in the third quarter of 2016.
Job growth continues to be a strength of the U.S. economy. Employment in December increased by 156,000 new jobs, with particular strengths in health care, hospitality, government and manufacturing. In 2016, there was an average of about 180,000 new jobs added per month, for a total of 2.2 million new jobs and an unemployment rate of 4.7%. Job growth in 2017 is anticipated to slow but remain strong at around 160,000 new jobs per month. Increases in job openings and turnover further suggest a tightening labor market. Nevertheless, with more people entering the labor force, unemployment is expected to drop to 4.5% in 2017. Strong employment and job growth are big contributors to the likely two-to-three interest rate hikes anticipated to occur by the Federal Reserve in 2017. Personal income also rose in every state in Q3 2016.
Core inflation, excluding food and energy, is projected to be about 2.3% in 2017, a modest increase from 2.2% in 2016. However, energy prices are likely to increase modestly in 2017, for an overall 2.5% inflation in 2017, up from 2% in 2016. The question remains as to whether OPEC’s cuts will really manifest and if so, how much they will lead to the stabilization and increase in oil prices and the energy sector. Either way the oversupply of production and stored oil still persists and needs to be burnt off for WTI prices to see substantial shifts upward. The oil markets are likely to remain volatile in 2017, possibly stabilizing some during the latter half of the year.
Business spending was largely flat in 2016, but a modest increase of 3-4% may occur in 2017. Demand for factory-produced goods continues to strengthen after a lengthy lull. The Small Business Optimism Index of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) increased substantially by 7.9 points in December and 10.9 points in November, following decreases over the past 12-18 months. Such positive swings indicate an expected stronger economy associated with possible easing of regulations. The ISM manufacturing index rose to 54.7, a two-year high on the heels of increases in production and new orders in December. In December, the ISM non-manufacturing index was unchanged at 57.2.
Indicators such as residential construction suggest that the housing market will strengthen in 2017, despite substantial drops in housing starts in November 2016. Inventory remains low, with more people looking to buy homes than are readily available. With political headwinds in 2016 in both the U.S. and U.K. leading to uncertainty, growth in private nonresidential construction spending is anticipated to be about 7.5% in 2016. The Dodge Momentum Index of non-residential construction increased 2.9% in December after downward revisions for November.
Export prices are expected to increase with the strong value of the dollar, which in turn will produce an anticipated increase in U.S. trade deficit by 4% in 2017. Meanwhile, import prices rose 1.8% in 2016. Though all data are not yet in, it appears that international trade in 2016 will fare better than initially anticipated with the shortfall on par with that of 2015. Retail sales were weaker overall than hoped for in December, marking an increase of 0.6% in December following 0.2% in November (compared to expectations of 0.5%).
The economies of Texas and Houston appear to be poised to begin to see some positive changes in 2017, following the bottoming of the oil industry and its economic impacts. However, at both the state and local levels, we are likely to see some continued turbulence as we bounce back from the downturn. Oil prices and rig counts are moving in the right direction as the outlook begins to brighten. The Dallas Fed Energy Survey increased to 40.1 in the fourth quarter from 26.7 in the prior quarter, based on its responses of executives in the industry. Signs of recovery manifested in both employment and production.
Employment in Texas grew 2.1% in the second half of the year, compared to just 0.8% in the first half of the year. Overall, Texas employment will be about 1.5% for 2016, with a forecast of growth near 2.1% for 2017. From December 2014 through November 2016 Houston lost about 70,000 jobs in sectors associated with oil rigs. Of these jobs, 25,000 were from mining and 25,000 were from manufacturing. The outlook is getting better. Houston jobs grew 1.5% from August to November. Job growth remains weak in the oil and oil service fields, but is positive in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and trade, transportation, and utilities. Houston’s unemployment was 4.6%. Service sector employment in Houston grew at 2.3%, above its average of 2.0% since 2000.
The revenue index of the Texas Service Sector Outlook survey increased from 13.7 in November to 20.6 in December. Retail sales in Texas also increased according to the Texas Retail Outlook Survey, which rose from 6.0 to 19.2. Factory activity in Texas has increased consistently over the past six months, according to the Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey. The index which measures manufacturing conditions increased to 13.8. The Houston Business Cycle Index contracted from December 2014 to November 2016 an annualized 0.4%, but has grown 1.8% over the past five months.
The Houston Business Cycle Index grew 2.6% in August, following 2.0% and 2.6% in July and June, respectively. Annually, however, the index is down 2.2% YoY. Texas exports declined 7% in July, the largest drop seen since 2009.
As a key metric for demand of industrial space, net absorption measures the change in occupied inventory, including direct and sublease space. Total net absorption of all products combined in Q4 2016 was 1,848,815 sq. ft., yielding a decrease of -72.4% QoQ but an actual increase of 3.4% YoY (Table 1, Fig 2A). The historic Q4 average (± 95% confidence interval) for net absorption is 1,215,416 sq. ft. (± 709,279). We are 95% certain that Q4 absorption typically falls between 506,137 to 1,924,696 sq. ft. Despite the pullback in oil and associated impacts on the industrial market, net absorption in Q4 2016 did not deviate significantly from historic Q4 performance since 2000. Figure 2B breaks total net absorption down since 2005 by year and quarter for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space. All three product types show declines in Q4 2016, consistent with overall net absorption for all industrial products combined (Figure 2A). Nevertheless, Q4 net absorption of 1.8 million sq. ft. brings total annual net absorption for 2016 to 8.6 million sq. ft. This makes 2016 the eighth highest year for demand since 2000. It is important to note that 4.0 million sq. ft. of absorption in Q3 came from the Daikin delivery.
Another measure of demand that is more forward-looking than net absorption is leasing activity, the total amount of space represented by direct leases, subleases, renewals, and pre-leasing of rentable building area. Figure 3A reports all leasing activity since 2000, while Figure 3B breaks down leasing activity by year and quarter for each of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space. Leasing activity of 3,288,168 sq. ft. occurred in Q4 2016, yielding decreases of -47.8% QoQ and -64.8% YoY (Table 1). The historic Q4 average (± 95% confidence interval) for leasing activity is 5,168,529 sq. ft. (± 969,647). We are 95% certain that Q4 leasing activity typically falls between 4,198,881 sq. ft. and 6,138,176 sq. ft., indicating that leasing activity in Q4 was below its historic Q4 performance. Leasing activity of 3,288,168 sq. ft. in Q4 brings total leasing activity for 2016 to 21.5 million sq. ft., a drop from 2015 but well within typical annual activity. With net absorption lagging behind leasing activity, lower leasing activity in 2016 suggests lower absorption in quarters to come.
Vacancy and availability measure the supply of industrial space. Availability estimates total supply because it includes vacant, occupied, and sublease space. Vacancy estimates empty space on the market, whether or not that space is leased or for rent. Supply continues to increase, particularly for manufacturing products (Tables 1 and 2, Figure 4). For the industrial market as a whole, availability in Q4 2016 was 9.5%, an increase of 1.1% QoQ and 15.9% YoY (Table 1). Vacancy for all industrial space combined was 5.7%, an increase of 3.6% QoQ and 14.0% YoY (Table 1).
Figure 4 shows percent availability and vacancy for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution buildings since 2000. Table 2 summarizes availability and vacancy of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution buildings for Q4 2016. Vacancy and availability of flex space remain below historic levels. However, with the surge of sublease space, availability of manufacturing space at 9.5% is significantly greater than its historic average of 4.9%. Nonetheless, the vacancy measure for manufacturing has yet to see the increase exhibited by the availability measure, and remains within its historic 95% interval of performance at 4.0%. As for warehouse/distribution space, both vacancy and availability are increasing, but still within their historic ranges of performance.
Figure 5 plots asking rent prices since 2000 for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space. In Q4 2016, asking rents for flex space nudged upwards a touch, while manufacturing also inched up, and warehouse/distribution space held steady.
Construction of new buildings shapes new supply of industrial space. “RBA Delivered” refers to completed construction, while “RBA Construction” refers to space under construction that has not yet been completed. As detailed in Table 1 and Figure 6, deliveries in Q4 2016 were 2.9 million sq. ft., a decrease of -54.2% QoQ and -12.9% YoY (Table 1). About 4.0 million sq. ft. of manufacturing construction is accounted for by Daikin Industries’ new campus in Waller, Texas. RBA under construction was 5.2 million sq. ft. in Q4 2016, decreases of -34.2% QoQ and -59.8% YoY (Table 1).
Figure 7 depicts changes in the inventory of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space since 2000, both for RBA and number of buildings. RBA inventory for all industrial space increased to 578 million sq. ft. for 18,806 buildings, which is an increase of 0.2% QoQ and 0.8% YoY (Table 1).
Information and data within this report were obtained from sources deemed to be reliable. No warranty or representation is made to guarantee its accuracy. Sources include: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, CoStar, Council on Foreign Relations, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Greater Houston Partnership, FiveThirtyEight.com, Houston Association of Realtors, Moody Analytics, NAI Global, National Association Realtors, Texas A&M Real Estate Center, Well’s Fargo, University of Houston’s Institute of Regional Forecasting, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.