Economy Watch: U.S. Office Market Sees Positive Absorption

Reis Inc. reports positive office absorption for the first time since 3Q07, and New York City is packing in the tourists.

By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Reis Inc. reported on Tuesday that the U.S. office market actually saw an increase in occupied space during the fourth quarter of 2010, with tenants taking a net of 2.5 million square feet nationwide. That isn’t a vast amount of space, but it is the first time that there’s been positive office absorption since 3Q07, according to the Reis report.

Because there was a modest amount of office space added to the market, the average U.S. office vacancy rate still stood at 17.6 percent during 4Q10. “Vacancy has finally appeared to have stabilized,” Ryan Severino, an economist at Reis, notes in the report. Or maybe it’s bumping along the bottom, though Reis didn’t put it that way.

Naturally, some markets are doing better than others in terms of vacancies, a fact mainly attributable to early- to mid-2000s building sprees in some places, such as the Inland Empire in southern California, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The office vacancy rates in those places are now around 25 percent.

NYC packs in the tourists

Hoteliers, retailers, restaurants and others who sell to out-of-towners in New York City have reason to be glad in the new year: People seem to like visiting the city. Despite the Great Recession, in fact, the city attracted some 48.7 million tourists in 2010, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday, a 7 percent increase from 2009.

The mayor said that at a speech at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and while he might have been looking for something to talk about besides the sluggish pace of post-blizzard snow removal, it’s no doubt good for the city’s economy that tourists spent about $31 billion in New York last year. That’s also an increase of about 10 percent from 2009.

The weak dollar probably accounted for much of the tourist boom, though during the second half of the year euro-troubles likely cut into European enthusiasm for a hop across to New York. Still, people are coming and staying. According to Colliers PKF Consulting USA, Manhattan hotels were about 85 percent occupied on average in 2010, an increase of 5 percentage points from the previous year.

Borders staring bankruptcy in the face?

Book chain Borders Group Inc. had a tough day on Tuesday, as the retailer disclosed in SEC filings that executive vice president and general counsel Thomas Carney and CIO D. Scott Laverty have left the ailing company for unspecified reasons. Not long before that, one of the chain’s book suppliers said it wasn’t going to make deliveries if, in fact, it wasn’t going to be paid for them. Borders has lately suspended some payments to “preserve cash.”

Borders hasn’t turned in a profit in some years, its business eaten away by the likes of Amazon and e-books, but also discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Bankruptcy or some other kind of reorganization might be the next chapter for the number-two bookseller.

Wall Street turned in a mixed, lackluster day on Tuesday, possibly over fears that commodity prices (gold bubble, anyone?) are headed down too fast. The Dow Jones Industrial Average eked out a 20.43-point gain, or 0.18 percent, but the S&P 500 and Nasdaq were down 0.13 percent and 0.38 percent, respectively.

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