Q4 2016 San Antonio Industrial Market Report

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Executive Summary   


  • The 115th Congress is expected to see new policies and possible 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 likely 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.

Industrial Market 

  • Net absorption of 427,142 sq. ft. occurred in Q4 2016, for a total of 2.4 million sq. ft. in 2016, the second highest year for demand since the Great Recession.
  • Leasing activity of 524,431 sq. ft. was below historic Q4 performance, though annual leasing activity of 4.3 million sq. ft. was on par with activity of recent years.
  • Availability in Q4 2016 was 9.3%, representing small decreases of -1.1% QoQ and -5.1% YoY.
  • Vacancy for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space were 8.0%, 8.2%, and 5.3%, respectively.
  • Deliveries at 422,675 sq. ft. were up 19.4% YoY, while construction of 843,128 sq. ft. is down -61.4% YoY.


Figure 1

Table 1

Economic Overview

National Economy

    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%). 

San Antonio and Texas Economy

    While the economy of San Antonio continues to strengthen, the economy of Texas appears 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 the state level, we are likely to see some continued turbulence as we bounce back from the oil downturn. Oil prices and rig counts are moving in the right direction as the outlook for Texas 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. San Antonio jobs grew 2.9% annualized from August to November, with strengths in most sectors other than construction, including leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, local government, health care, and trade. Unemployment in San Antonio decreased from 3.7% to 3.5%, lower than state and national levels.

    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 San Antonio Business-Cycle Index rose an annualized rate of 3.4% in November, moving above its long-term average of 3% for the first time since April.

Market Overview

Net Absorption

    Net absorption, a key metric for demand of industrial space, measures the change in occupied inventory, including direct and sublet space. Total net absorption for all products combined in Q4 2016 was over 427,142 sq. ft., yielding decreases of 57% QoQ and YoY (Table 1, Fig 2A). The historic Q4 average (± 95% confidence interval) for net absorption is 697,710 sq. ft. (± 503,389). We are 95% certain that Q4 net absorption typically falls between 194,322 sq. ft. and 1,201,099 sq. ft. Net absorption in Q4 2016 was within its expected range of Q4 performance. Figure 2B breaks total net absorption down since 2005 by year and quarter for three product types: flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space. Flex saw modest decreases in net absorption in Q4 2016, warehouse/distribution saw substantial decreases, and manufacturing saw a key increase in net absorption (Figure 2B). With Q4 net absorption, total annual net absorption for 2016 was 2.4 million sq. ft., making 2016 the second-highest year for demand since the Great Recession.

Figure 2

Leasing Activity

    A 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. Figure 3A reports all leasing activity since 2006; Figure 3B breaks down leasing activity by year and quarter for each of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution products. Leasing activity of 524,431 sq. ft. occurred in Q4 2016, representing decreases of -35.9% QoQ and -56.0% YoY (Table 1). The historic Q4 average (± 95% confidence interval) for leasing activity is 945,676 sq. ft. (± 246,385). We are 95% certain that Q4 leasing activity typically falls between 699,290 and 1,192,061 sq. ft., indicating that leasing activity in Q4 was significantly below its historic range of Q4 performance since 2006. While manufacturing leasing activity picked up a bit, flex and warehouse/distribution activity dropped. Total leasing activity for 2016 was 4.3 million sq. ft., on par with activity of recent years.

Figure 3

Availability and Vacancy

    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 remain low, but with some key increases in recent quarters (Tables 1 and 2, Figure 4). For all industrial buildings combined, availability in Q4 2016 was 9.3%, representing small decreases of -1.1% QoQ and -5.1% YoY (Table 1). Vacancy for all industrial space combined was 5.9%, a decrease of -1.7% QoQ but an increase of 1.7% YoY (Table 1).

    Figure 4 shows percent availability and vacancy for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution buildings since 2006. Table 2 summarizes availability and vacancy of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution buildings for Q4 2016. Note, in particular, that while there were upticks in vacancy and availability of flex and warehouse/distribution buildings, manufacturing actually saw modest decreases signaling a strengthening market. Overall, vacancy and availability of each of the three products remain below or within historic levels of performance.

Figure 4

Asking Rent

   Figure 5 plots asking rent prices since 2006 for flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space. In Q4 2016, flex space maintained similar asking rents, while and warehouse/distribution saw a modest decrease, and importantly, manufacturing saw an increase in asking rents.

Figure 5

Table 2


   Construction of new buildings is an important variable determining the 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 422,675 sq. ft., an increase of 19.4% YoY (Table 1). However, RBA under construction is down to -61.4% YoY to just under 850,000 sq. ft. (Table 1).

Figure 6


   Figure 7 shows changes in inventory of flex, manufacturing, and warehouse/distribution space since 2006, both for RBA and number of buildings. RBA inventory for all industrial space increased to 123.2 million sq. ft. for 4,649 buildings (Table 1).

Figure 7


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.

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