Tag Archives: Shopping Malls

Mall Vacancies Hit 7 Year High As Rents Plunge

(ZeroHedge) The epidemic of falling rents at shopping malls across the United States has been well duly documented here over the past year. In June, we wrote about an abandoned Macy’s that had been turned into a homeless shelter. Just days ago we followed up on the trend of malls falling victim to the “Amazon effect” in areas like Detroit. Today, we note the latest confirmation that the trend of dying malls across the entire U.S. isn’t stopping anytime soon. 

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. This is 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”. It sure is, Barb.

For instance, here are some photos we included in a recent article about one of the hardest hit areas, Detroit: 


The depleted food court at Laurel Park Place on Sept. 25, 2018 (Source/ Detroit Free Press)


There are numerous vacant storefronts inside Eastland Center mall in Harper Woods on Sept. 21, 2018 (Source/ Detroit Free Press)


A vacant storefront in Lakeside Mall in Sterling Heights on Sept. 23, 2018 (Source/ Detroit Free Press)

Shopping mall data stands in stark contrast to the rest of the US economy which, as one look at Trump’s twitter account, is widely heralded as “outperforming” (amazing what $1.5 trillion in fiscal stimulus 9 years into an expansion will do). Solid job growth numbers and a good economic outlook have ensured that the Fed’s ultimate goal of people spending money that they don’t have continues; the only difference is that that fascinating creature known as the US consumer simply isn’t racking up this debt at shopping malls anymore, and is opting for online spending like Amazon instead.

At the same time, consumer confidence was at an 18 year high last month and the stock market is also at all-time highs.


Many retail brands are also benefiting from the booming economy and continue to buy back their own stock using debt post “strong” earnings numbers.

The rise in vacancy rates was attributed mostly to closings by Bon-Ton Stores – which filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year – and zombie retailer Sears, which somehow has continued to dodge bankruptcy but is closing stores at an accelerated rate. To make matters worse, Reis told the Journal that a “number of owner-occupied Sears stores were excluded from the numbers, since they don’t have leases.”

That means the real numbers are even worse.

And as the exodus from malls accelerates, many stores are reevaluating their brick and mortar strategy and instead investing in their online businesses. In Q2, e-commerce sales accounted for 9.6% of total retail sales after adjusting for seasonal variations, from 9.5%, in Q1. 

Back in January, we wrote an article why people should anticipate a “death spiral” for shopping malls. We noted then that shopping malls have faced a tidal wave of store closures and have been forced to back fill empty square footage with everything from libraries to doctors offices (see: America’s Desperate Mall Owners Turn To Grocers, Doctors & High Schools To Fill Empty Space).

Alexander Goldfarb, a senior analyst at Sandler O’Neill + Partners LP, told the Journal: “Any mall that is worried about a Sears or Macy’s closing has bigger issues.” Goldfarb, defending malls, noted that not all shopping malls are under pressure and that malls in more affluent areas still draw higher end shoppers and continue to attract tenants. “New uses like restaurants and theaters” can still bring in customers.

Homeless shelters are also an option.

Source: ZeroHedge

“It’s Surreal. We’re In The Matrix” – Calgary’s Newest Mall Is A Ghost Town

Yet another shopping mall project looks to have fallen victim to “the Amazon effect”, serving as evidence that brick and mortar retail, in the conventional sense, is doomed.

The latest victim is the New Horizon Mall in Calgary. The construction of the “multicultural mega-mall” is nearly complete, but tepid interest forced its developer to push back its planned grand opening to next year. The mall was initially set to open in October of this year.  Only 9 of the 517 spaces in the mall have opened for business since May, when owners were first allowed to take possession according to a new report by Global News.

“It’s surreal. It’s not normal – we’re in the Matrix,” one shopper told Global News. 


The developer, Eli Swirsky, president of The Torgan Group of Toronto, told Global News:

“I love the mall. I think the mall will be fine,” he said in an interview. “I wish it was faster, of course, but every time I go there I’m awed by its size and potential and I think we’ll get there.

Swirsky told Global News that he expects 20 stores will be open by the end of September, but he still wouldn’t commit to a final grand opening date. Instead, he said that it will likely happen when 80 to 100 stores have opened. That is seen to push back the grand opening well into spring of next year.

The optimistic outlook stands in the face of eerie reality of the project, which shows “For Lease” signs and empty glass spaces traditionally reserves for stores.


Those who have already taken up shop in the mall, including Rami Tawil of Silk Road Importers, think that pushing the grand opening off until there are more tenants is a good idea: “I think now it’s better if we push it a couple of months because we need more stores here to open. We need the people coming to see more stores.”

The mall style is based on a similar mall that the developer opened in the Toronto area – about 20 years ago. The mall is different from traditional malls in the sense that it doesn’t exclusively lease to tenants. Rather, investors can purchase retail space and then have the option of leasing it to others or operating it themselves. The developer also holds large chunks of space in hopes of enticing anchor tenants. None of these have been announced yet.


The few tenants of the mall are at varying stages of readiness. Some are still trying to figure out what type of product or service may be best to offer at the location. Others are trying to re-sell or lease their spaces, according to the mall’s general manager, Jason Babiuk.

The mall was a $200 million project that broke ground in June 2016. Some believe that the difficulty in filling the mall has to do with its condominium-like ownership model, which could attract the wrong type of investors to such a project.

Retail analyst Maureen Atkinson, a senior partner at J.C. Williams Group stated: “The challenge with the condo model is that the people who run the stores are typically not the people who own them. So they would have sold these to investors … who see it as an investment and they may have trouble finding somebody who wants to run a business.”

Earlier this week we learned that mall rents in the United States were plunging as vacancies were shooting toward record highs.  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.

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. 

Our take? Instead of trying to re-invent an industry that is already on its deathbed by opening a “multi-cultural” mall, maybe Canada should have, at very least, taken a page out of the United States’ once successful mall playbook: bankrupt retail brands and greasy Asian food court samples. 

Source: ZeroHedge

Dead Mall Stalking: One Hedge Fund Manager’s Tour Across Middle-America


For the past few years, most retailers have struggled. Of course, it’s easy to blame Amazon.com, but it is only one of many causes. At the same time, for us hedgies living in major cities with luxury malls, there is confusion about the problem itself – my mall is crowded and people are shopping. After having debated with friends endlessly on what the real root of the problem is, I decided it was time to actually go investigate. Every city has its own story and the local mall is the nexus of that story.

In my mind, the only way to get real answers was a 4-day, 1,500 mile meandering road-trip through the lower mid-west, where we planned to hit as many malls and take as many meetings with facility managers and brokers as we could organize along the way. Besides, when an asset class like mall real estate is down 90% in a few years’ time, a different viewpoint can create huge upside.

The overriding question was: is retail suffering because of Amazon.com cannibalizing store-fronts or are rising health care costs, with stagnant wage growth, what’s really cannibalizing disposable spending power in middle-America? Is shopping still America’s pastime or do we prefer food and “experiences” instead? Every industry evolves. Why hasn’t the mall changed in the past three decades – it’s still the same cinema, crappy food court and undifferentiated retailers that I knew when I was a teen—where’s the fun in that? Other countries are perfecting “shoppertainment,” why hasn’t America? In summary, what is the real issue with retail?


When you scroll through http://deadmalls.com there is a certain eeriness about a million square feet of empty space.

However, the images don’t, in any way, prepare you for an almost-dead mall on its last gasps. As we wandered one facility with the head of leasing, we could look straight ahead at a thousand feet of almost vacant space, dimly lit from sky-lights as none of the lighting fixtures still worked—the air conditioner had long ago failed and it was 95 degrees inside this mall. However, there was one light that drew us forward. As we approached, we heard music and sure enough, it was the Victoria’s Secret that time forgot (corporate probably forgot it too). In a mall with only 7 tenants and even fewer shoppers, Victoria’s Secret was still jamming out. No customers, but 2 girls tending shop, blasting music and throwing light into a dark hallway.

As we rounded another corner, we heard the unmistakable sound of a Zumba Class at 100 decibels. As we drew nearer, we saw the first mall visitors in almost an hour – what looked like an instructor with a half dozen middle-aged women trying to do exercises that they were hopelessly unfit to accomplish.

I turned to the leasing agent;

Me: Any idea how much they pay in rent?

Him: Actually, I think they’re squatting in here. I don’t show any record of them being a tenant.

Me: Is anyone going to make them pay rent?

Him: Why bother, at least it brings people to the mall…


With no security or cleaning staff, who’s watering the plants?

All of this segwayed into the meeting with the leasing agent afterwards.

Me: Can I meet the facility manager when we’re done chatting?

Him: Funny story; actually, she quit a few months back. Unfortunately, the owner only told me last week that I am now in charge of managing this mall. I’m doing my best, but I live an hour away, so I can only come here a few times a week.

Me: So who’s been locking up at the end of the day lately?

Him: Hmmm…. Honestly, I’m not sure. That’s a pretty good question.

Me: Would anyone notice if they never locked the doors?

Him: Probably not…

Of course, you cannot quite put this into context until you realize that I was sitting there in a nearly pitch black food court, in 95 degree heat, with only a beam of light from the sky-light above to guide the conversation – yet despite the odds, one vendor still remained at the food court – ironically it was the sushi place.


I wonder what decade these gumballs are from?? I didn’t know they could turn brown.

While the tour was entertaining, what I really wanted to know was; why did this place, surrounded by a thriving community somehow fail? This is where the story actually deviates from the usual narrative.

This mall was in a community of about 100,000 people. A decade ago, this had been a thriving mall. Then, a new major highway was placed about 5 miles west of the mall, which diverted regional traffic away from the mall. Even worse, a massive open air retailing complex was built alongside the new highway, siphoning shoppers from the mall. In a town that was big enough to support one large shopping complex, the newer one with better access from the highway had ultimately won out. However, this mall was still muddling forward with a handful of national tenants who hadn’t quite thrown in the towel, despite no lighting, air conditioning or adult supervision at the mall. It lead to a real epiphany; malls die a slow strange death—not the cataclysmic collapse depicted by most analysts.


We saw a similar situation on the following day at another mall about 100 miles away. In this situation, a new retailing facility had been built closer to the local university to compete with the mall. This facility had stolen a number of the key tenants from the mall. At the time, it looked like this mall would also surrender to the newer facility in the better location. Instead, the mall was sold to new owners who; injected substantial capital to remodel the mall, offered discounted rent to retain existing tenants and had put up a fight to the death with the newer facility. Now, nearly a decade later, neither facility was full and both were desperately fighting it out for the minds of tenants and shoppers in a winner-take-all battle, a veritable retailing Battle of Verdun in the north of Texas—where even the winner will be a loser for having spent so much capital to win the booby prize of top retail destination in a town of about 125,000 people. Even worse, with no clear winner, new retailing concepts were hesitant to guess wrong in their expansion plans and simply chose to pass this town by when expanding—further sapping the strength of both facilities.

In fact, we continued to see similar stories as we ventured north. Retail may not be dead; instead there may simply be too much retail (both property and competing concepts) fighting it out for too few customers. This is further compounded by too much cheap capital developing more retail as a result of ultra-low interest rates. Naturally, there will be losers in this process – in fact; the losses have only just begun. There will also be huge winners.

Malls are bearing the brunt of changes in retail, but they’re only the canary in the coal mine.

Let’s start with a simple premise; commercial real estate (CRE) will change more in the next decade than it has in the past hundred years. Anyone who thinks they can fully foresee how it will evolve is lying to you. The only certainty is that highly leveraged real estate investors and lenders will be obliterated as current models evolve faster than anticipated.

In the past, retail was retail, warehouse was warehouse and office was office—the same for all other CRE classes. There was some cross-over, but the main commercial real estate components stayed segmented for the most part. Now, with big box stores, the lowest hanging fruit for online shopping to knock off, going to dodo-land, there will be hundreds of millions of feet of well-located space suddenly becoming available. People act as if there are enough Ulta Beauty and Dick’s Sporting Goods to go around. However, you cannot fill all of this space with the few big box retail concepts still expanding—especially as many stalwarts are themselves shrinking.


As a result, a huge game of musical chairs is about to take place. Why pay $20/ft for mid-rise office space, if you can now move into an abandoned Sports Authority for $5/ft. Sure, it doesn’t come with windows, but employees like open plan space and there’s plenty of parking. Besides, with the rental savings, you can offer your staff an in-house fitness facility and cafeteria for free. Does your mega-church need a larger space? There’s probably a former Sears or Kmart that perfectly accommodates you at $3/ft. Have an assisted living facility with an expiring lease? Why not move it to an abandoned JC Penney—the geriatrics will feel right at home, as they’re the only ones still shopping there.  

Go onto any real estate website and you will find out that huge plan space is nearly free. No one knows what the hell to do with it and the waves of bankruptcy in big box are just starting. As online evolves, these waves will engulf other segments of retail as well.

Type Macy’s into Loopnet.com and look at how many millions of feet of old Macy’s are available for under $10/ft to purchase. Retail’s problems are about to become everyone’s problems in CRE. When the old Macy’s rents for $2/ft, what happens to everyone else’s rents? EXACTLY!!! What happens if a CRE owner is leveraged at 60% (currently considered conservative) and leasing at $15/ft when the old HHGregg across the street is offered for rent at $3/ft? An office owner can lower his rents a few dollars, but at the new price deck, he cannot cover his interest cost, much less his other operating expenses. What happens to a suddenly emptying mid-rise office building? It has higher operating expenses than the box store due to full-time security and cleaning—maybe it’s a zero—in that future market rents no longer cover the operating expenses of the asset, much less offer a return on investment. I know, crazy—that’s how musical chairs works when demand contracts and the supply stays the same.

What happens to the guys who lent against these assets? Kaplooey!!!


America currently has more feet of retail space per capita than any other country. For that matter, America has more feet of office and other CRE types per capita as well. A decade of low interest rates has made this problem substantially worse. Think of the two malls that I spoke about in the last piece — they weren’t done in by the internet, they were done in by a tripling of retail space in a cities that are barely growing. These cities simply ran out of shoppers for all of this space. Now the mall is empty—heck the strip retail is only partly filled in. The next step is that rents will drop—dramatically. The owners of each asset, the mall and the strip center will go bust. Neither has a cap structure that is designed for dramatically lower rents. Neither has an org structure designed for carving up this space for the sorts of eclectic tenants that will eventually absorb it over the next few decades.

CRE has had it so good for the past 35 years, that most owners have never seen a down cycle. Sure, Dallas had too much supply in the early ‘90’s. Silicon Valley over-expanded in the early ‘00’s. It took a few years for it to be absorbed. Anyone who had capital during the bust made a fortune. This time may really be different. There’s too much supply. Short of blowing it up, it will be with us for years into the future. Without dramatic economic or population growth, some of it may NEVER be absorbed.

As an investor, this is all interesting to understand, but you don’t fully comprehend it until you have visited a few dozen of these facilities and seen how owners are trying to cope with the problem. In Miami, space is constricted. In Texas, there’s more CRE than I’ve ever seen. They keep putting it up—even if there isn’t demand currently. For three decades, they’ve always been able to fill it over time. For the first time ever, they can’t seem to fill it—in fact, demand is now declining. It is now obvious; there will be a whole lot of pain for CRE owners and lenders. Of course, someone’s pain can be someone’s gain.

Source: ZeroHedge

Mall Tenants Are Seeking Shorter Leases


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.


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.


Source: ZeroHedge

Half Of US 1,100 Regional Malls Projected To Shut Down Within Ten Years

Mall Investors Are Set to Lose Billions as America’s Retail Gloom Deepens


The blame lies with online shopping and widespread discounting.

The dramatic shift to online shopping that has crushed U.S. department stores in recent years now threatens the investors who a decade ago funded the vast expanse of brick and mortar emporiums that many Americans no longer visit.

Weak September core retail sales, which strip out auto and gasoline sales, provide a window into the pain the holders of mall debt face in coming months as retailers with a physical presence keep discounting to stave off lagging sales.

Some $128 billion of commercial real estate loans—more than one-quarter of which went to finance malls a decade ago—are due to refinance between now and the end of 2017, according to Morningstar Credit Ratings.


Wells Fargo estimates that about $38 billion of these loans were taken out by retailers, bundled into commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) and sold to institutional investors.

Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, and other underwriters now reckon about half of all CMBS maturing in 2017 could struggle to get financing on current terms. Commercial mortgage debt often only pays off the interest and the principal must be refinanced.

The blame lies with online shopping and widespread discounting, which have shrunk profit margins and increased store closures, such as Aeropostale’s bankruptcy filing in May, making it harder for mall operators to meet their debt obligations.


Between the end of 2009 and this July e-commerce doubled its share of the retail pie and while overall sales have risen a cumulative 31 percent, department store sales have plunged 17 percent, according to Commerce Department data.

According to Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, which has provided consulting and investment banking services for the retail industry since 1981, half the 1,100 U.S. regional malls will close over the next decade.



A surplus of stores are fighting for survival as the ubiquitous discount signs attest, he said.

“When there is too much, and we have too much, then the only differentiator is price. That’s why they’re all going into bankruptcy and closing all these stores,” Davidowitz said.

The crunch in the CMBS market means holders of non-performing debt, such as pensions or hedge funds, stand to lose money.

The mall owners, mostly real estate investment trusts (REITs), have avoided major losses because they can often shed their debt through an easy foreclosure process.

“You have a lot of volume that won’t be able to refi,” said Ann Hambly founder and chief executive of 1st Service Solutions, which works with borrowers when CMBS loans need to be restructured.

Cumulative losses from mostly 10-year CMBS loans issued in 2005 through 2007 already reach $32.6 billion, a big jump from the average $1.23 billion incurred annually in the prior decade, according to Wells Fargo.

The CMBS industry is bracing for losses to spike as loan servicers struggle to extract any value from problematic malls, particularly those based in less affluent areas.

In January, for example, investors recouped just 4 percent of a $136 million CMBS loan from 2006 on the Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Investor worries about exposure to struggling malls and retailers intensified in August when Macy’s said it would close 100 stores, prompting increased hedging and widening spreads on the junk-rated bonds made up of riskier commercial mortgages.

Adding to the stress, new rules, set to be introduced on Dec. 24, will make it constlier for banks to sell CMBS debt. The rules require banks to hold at least 5 percent of each new deal they create, or find a qualified investor to assume the risk.

This has already roughly halved new CMBS issuance in 2016 and loan brokers say the packaged debt financing is now only available to the nation’s best malls. Investors too are demanding greater prudence in CMBS underwriting.

Mall owners who failed to meet debt payments in the past would just hand over the keys because the borrowers contributed little, if any, of their own money. The terms often shielded other assets from being seized as collateral to repay the debt.

Dodging the overall trend, retail rents for premier shopping centers located in affluent areas continue to rise. Vacant retail space at malls is at its lowest rate since 2010, according to research by Cushman & Wakefield.

The low vacancy rate reflects the ability of some malls to fill the void left by store closings by offering space to dollar stores and discounters.

That is, however, little consolation for investors.

“With the retail consolidation that we have ahead of us, malls have a fair amount of pain left to come,” Edward Dittmer, a CMBS analyst at Morningstar, said.

By Reuters in Fortune

Struggling Shopping Malls Pose Outsized Risk to CMBS

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.nationalmortgagenews.com/media/newspics/sears365.jpgLike used cars and retired pro football players, regional shopping malls do not age well.

In a span of no more than a decade, a popular mall with high-end anchor stores and boutique retail tenants can fall into substandard Class B or C property condition, left behind by shifting customer demographics or newer amenities at rival shopping centers. More so today, they also face the reality of more consumers choosing to stay home to shop online.

When these malls become passé, that’s when trouble starts for commercial mortgage bond investors, who can sustain outsized losses on their exposure to these properties, compared with other kinds of collateral such as office buildings, hotels and industrial property.

In a report published Thursday, Moody’s Investors Service warned that loans backed by shopping centers are an increasing cause of concern for mortgage bond investors and provided some criteria for evaluating the long-term viability of regional malls.

“The ability of a mall to adapt to this changing environment and find new ways to attract shoppers is key to its ongoing success,” the report states. “Very few of the top tenants in malls 20 years ago are still strong performers — or even in still in business — today.”

Moody’s looked at the loss severity on loans backed by 30 regional malls that have liquidated since 2008: each averaged 75%, almost twice as severe as the 45% average for all other CMBS loan liquidations in that time period. In the case of 10 of the failed malls, the loss severity was over 100%.

Loans backed by shopping malls are typically structured no differently than other kinds of commercial mortgages: they have 10-year tenors with large balloon payments due at maturity, meaning they amortize very little during their terms. The issue is that malls can have relatively short lives as premier properties, and so may need new capital investments — and thus new financing — within a decade to expand their shelf life.

Individual malls have been under pressure to maintain their appeal and customer interest since the 1980s, but these challenges are now exacerbated by competition from online retailers, which is hitting traditional mall anchor stores like Macy’s and Sears particularly hard. With a business model dependent on traffic driven by magnet department stores, malls could be in significant trouble, and as a result, perform poorly as CMBS collateral.

For example, Macy’s plans to shutter 100 stores this year, a move that Morningstar Credit Ratings estimates could impact $3.64 billion in outstanding securitized commercial mortgages backed by malls with Macy’s as a prime tenant.

So how can CMBS investors assess their risk?

To find out, Moody’s mapped out the capabilities of local and national mall owners to keep their properties viable and profitable during long-term 10- to 20-year leases. Demographics, location and property age were not the only, or the most important, factors. Some properties like The Florida Mall in Orlando having weathered the replacement of four anchor stores over 30 years to remain a competitive shopping mecca in central Florida.

Malls that maintain upscale amenities and ties to national ownership attract high-end, non-anchor stores (or “inline” tenants, with stores under 10,000 square feet), the report noted. The healthiest malls average more than $400 in per-square-feet sales for their non-anchor stores, and have occupancy cost ratios (tenant real estate costs divided by gross sales) above 13% for its inline tenants.

Those gross sales figures for the strongest malls, as measured by Moody’s, exclude the transactions from high-demand boutique retail outlets that skew sales figures, such as Apple Stores. An Apple retail store by itself can boost a mall’s sales per square foot by $100, Moody’s stated.

Weaker malls will usually average inline store sales of no more than $275 per square foot and have locations with limited demographics and fewer national chain tenants. If they do have chain tenants, those stores will likely have lower-than-average sales figures for than sister stores across the country.

Low traffic volume, whether due to mundane store options or too few neighboring entertainment and dining establishments, often gives malls less negotiating power with tenants over rent terms. These property owners might have to accept “gross” leases where the tenant pays a percentage of sales versus a base rent for occupancy.

Net income operating margins could fall below 65%, sometimes 50% for struggling substandard malls, compared to 70%-80% for the stronger malls that can demand excess percentages above base rents. Strong performers can also draw up “triple net” leases that foist some of the real estate expenses onto some tenants.

National sponsorship is considered a key indicator for a strong mall’s performance, with ability to provide more incentives for key anchor tenants to maintain or expand their presence. A sell-off by a national ownership group to a local owner can often trigger a mall’s weakening performance — tenants may ask for rent relief or may exit the mall in the absence of a national ownership backer.

Even if weaker-performing malls demonstrate stability, investors must weigh the cost-effectiveness of when the inevitable, and capital-intensive, rehab of a mall must be undertaken. For “highly productive” malls, Moody’s stated, the high cost of market repositioning or a refresh of the tenant lineup can be justified. For less-productive malls, they are often forced to sell well below par to give new owners the capital space to invest in a revitalization project.

“Depreciation for malls is not just an accounting concept; malls need to stay current and vibrant or risk a reduction in their earnings power,” the report states.

By Glen Fest | National Mortgage News