Tag Archives: ghost mall

“Things Are Getting Worse”: Mall Owners Hand Over The Keys To Lenders Before They Even Default

For years, traditional malls around the United States have been in a state of partial or full collapse thanks to “the Amazon effect”: deteriorating conditions, bankrupt or cash-bleeding tenants, with some even transforming into homeless shelters as the retail industry “evolves”. 

In other words, as Bloomberg writes, “things are getting worse for malls across America.” So much worse, in fact, that their owners are simply walking away early from struggling properties, a trend that has sparked fears of material losses among mortgage bond investors.

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Investors in and lenders to malls across America are bracing for the fallout from the disappearance of the brick and mortar sub-sector of the industry. With the recent bankruptcy of retail giant Sears, mall operators are continuing to see accelerating defaults in the wake of numerous other retail bankruptcies from stores like Bon-Ton, Wet Seal and RadioShack, and many others, resulting in abrupt declines in rental and lease payments.

And amid the ongoing collapse in what was once a staple source of shopping and entertainment for “middle America”, many mall owners are simply turning over the keys to lenders even before their lease is over, according to Bloomberg. That puts the loan servicing companies in a position to either try to run the properties themselves or turn around and sell them. If they can’t make the debt payments, the new owners of the commercial mortgage backed securities in turn end up facing the consequences themselves.

While much of the noise surrounding the “big mall short” which dominated the 2017 airwaves has faded, the number of mall loans issued since the financial crisis that identified as “highest risk” has almost tripled to 29 this year. And the consequences are becoming painfully visible. The Washington Prime Group REIT last month simply gave up on two malls in Kansas where the loans had either defaulted or were close to default. This month, Pennsylvania REIT announced that it left a mall in Wilkes-Barre that also had a loan ready for default. The PA REIT is considering abandoning another mall in Wisconsin for the same reason.

Ben Easterlin, head of commercial lending at Atlanta-based Angel Oak Companies, told Bloomberg that many small town malls are no longer being included in CMBS packages. “It’s easier to value a mall in L.A. than it is in Sheboygan,” he said. “We talk about these malls all day long. We have not seen any of these malls in a CMBS lately and don’t expect to, frankly.

Meanwhile, even though the delinquency rate right in the commercial mortgage backed securities market is at post-crisis lows now, the pain will likely take a couple of years to show up due to maturities that won’t occur for several years.

Adding to the pain, stores leaving these malls often cause a waterfall effect because of co-tenancy clauses that are included in many small mall leases. These clauses mean that if there aren’t enough tenants in a mall at a given time, other tenants have the option to leave. So when a “major” anchor-store company – like Sears – closes a bunch of stores, it can triggers clauses releasing other stores from their contractual leases, further hitting the mall and its creditors.

Still, not all investors see this as Armageddon.

The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills was seen as an investment opportunity by New York-based Namdar Realty Group and Mason Asset Management, who bought the property for $11.35 million earlier this year after it was once valued at $190 million in 2006, before it was packaged into a commercial mortgage backed securities pool.

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Steve Plenge, managing principal of Pacific Retail, is another optimist who sees today’s climate as opportunistic. His firm has taken over at least two malls that have been returned to lenders after defaults. He told Bloomberg: “we think this sector, the servicing business, will get bigger for us. There will be more defaults, more foreclosures.”

We agree. In fact, at the beginning of October we noted that mall vacancies had hit 7 year highs. And, according to a WSJ report, the average rent for malls in the third-quarter fell 0.3% to $43.25 a square foot. This is down from $43.36 in the second quarter and is the first time this number has fallen sequentially since 2011, according to research firm Reis, Inc.

At the same time, vacancy rates are on the ascent, rising to 9.1% in the third quarter from 8.6% in the second quarter, and the highest they’ve been since the third quarter of 2011, when these rates hit 9.4%. 

Barbara Denham, senior economist with Reis, told the Journal: “The retail sector is still correcting”. And, as long as ever more people continue to migrate to online retailers (or buying less stuff in general), it will be for years.

Source: ZeroHedge

Mall Tenants Are Seeking Shorter Leases

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As if things weren’t bad enough for America’s mall owners, what with the having to filling their retail space with high schools, grocers and churches, it seems that retailers have grown so uncertain about the future of these 1980s relics that they’re only willing to sign 1-2 year leases these days.

As Bloomberg points out this morning, leases renewals used to be 5-10 years in length but are increasingly only being signed with 1-2 year terms.  Meanwhile, thousands of stores are closing each year and it’s only expected to get worse over time.

After more than a dozen bankruptcies this year contributed to thousands of store closures, visibility for the industry is so poor that retailers are pushing for lease renewals as short as a year or two — down from five to 10 years.

“You’re certainly seeing the renewals geared toward the shorter term, rather than the five-year renewal,” said Andrew Graiser, head of A&G Realty Partners. Retailers are now struggling to figure out how many stores they actually need, he added, and landlords are looking at them “with a much closer eye than they did before.”

Somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year, said Garrick Brown, vice president of Americas retail research for commercial broker Cushman & Wakefield — more than twice as many as the 4,000 last year. He sees this figure rising to about 13,000 next year.

“Everyone’s trying to figure out where the bottom of the market’s going to be,” Brown said. He estimates it could occur in 2018 or early 2019.

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Not surprisingly, retailers are finding it difficult to sign long-term leases in an environment where 26% of malls around the country are expected to close their doors over the next five years.

Further complicating the lease-length dilemma is the question of which shopping centers will still be around in a decade. Cushman & Wakefield’s Brown sees about 300 of 1,150 U.S. malls shutting down in the next five years.

Perry Mandarino, senior managing director and head of corporate finance at B. Riley & Co., predicts that retail bankruptcies and restructurings will further accelerate in 2018. Some of this will be the result of a long-overdue shakeout of the surfeit of U.S. store space, but the downturn is also compounded by shifts to online shopping and consumers spending on experiences rather than physical stuff, he said.

Meanwhile, landlords are trying to fight back, though it’s a fairly difficult task both arms tied behind their backs.

Landlords “have their backs against the wall, so they’ve been fighting back, hard,” he said. “What you have is a game of chicken up to the end.”

“With all this excess inventory, landlords are trying to do whatever they can to keep malls occupied,” Agran said. “The more empty spaces, the more difficult it is to attract new tenants.”

Frankly, it’s shocking that Abercrombie wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to scoop up some prime square footage in this mall…it already has the Chili’s awning and everything.

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Source: ZeroHedge