Shopping Mall Vacancies Hit Two-Decade High

Shopping malls across the country are under severe financial distress, with vacancy rates hitting two-decade highs in 2019, reported the Financial Times, citing a new report from Reis Moody's Analytics. 

US retailers announced 9,300 store closings in 2019, according to Coresight, indicating that the retail apocalypse and a massacre of malls are far from over. 

Mall operators saw a surge of store closures in 2H19 and ahead of Christmas despite a relatively stable consumer that has been leveraging up via the use of credit cards

Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Reis, said one notable trend during the 2019 holiday season was the shift in spending habits from brick and mortar stores to online. 

Denham said recent vacancy statistics paint a disastrous picture for shopping malls as vacancy rates have surged to a record high of 9.7%.

The latest trend of record-high mall vacancies could be a warning to investors who own retail REITs that are exposed to regional malls and outlet centers

Mastercard data for the 2019 holiday season confirmed Denham's view that consumer shifts are underway from brick and mortar to online. Retail sales growth at physical stores between Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve was about 1.2% Y/Y. Overall retail sales, including online sales, for the same period was a modest 3.4%. 

Roxanne Meyer, an analyst at MKM Partners, said sales promotions at brick and mortar stores were "shocking" in late 2019. Many of these stores heavily discounted items to attract consumers but even that wasn’t enough to draw in crowds.

Mall landlords have sought to find alternatives for ailing properties; one option has been designating 50% of the mall to retail space and the other 50% to entertainment, such as sports fields to amusement parks. Another option has been the construction of multifamily complexes on the property to keep consumers close to stores.

The death of American malls is real, and it's not being overstated, the worse has yet to come as more stores are expected to close in 2020.