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November 17, 2022 | Empty Office Space Weighs on Rents, Investors and Lenders

Danielle Park

Portfolio Manager and President of Venable Park Investment Counsel ( Ms Park is a financial analyst, attorney, finance author and regular guest on North American media. She is also the author of the best-selling myth-busting book "Juggling Dynamite: An insider's wisdom on money management, markets and wealth that lasts," and a popular daily financial blog:

Private equity firms and funds have doubled down on the realty space during the low-rate boondoggle of the last decade. As usual, this led to a massive surge in supply and leverage as most forgot (or never realized?) that real estate is a cycle. Now pounds of flesh are due.

In 2021, the tech sector accounted for 20.5% of U.S. office leasing activity, while the finance and business services sectors accounted for 16%.

In 2022, tech companies have announced some 120,000 layoffs, already more than the 100,000 people they let go during the dot-com bust and placed some 30 million square feet of office space up for sublease, more than three times the 9.5 million square feet they sublet in the last quarter of 2019 (CBRE data).

The national office vacancy rate in America at 12.5% is the highest since 2011 (CoStar Group Inc), with 212 million square feet of sublease space on the market (a record since 2005). See WSJ Tech firms dump space as they downsize:

The big technology companies that drove U.S. office demand for years as they expanded their empires are now canceling leases and flooding business districts with office space as they downsize

…Now, with the prospect of a recession looming and companies slashing payroll, tech firms find they have too many floors of office space and want to unload big chunks of it.

…The turnabout in office demand could mark the end of a long cycle where tech firms were often the biggest presence in new office towers. Even during the pandemic, when many businesses shifted to hybrid-work strategies, many tech companies kept leasing space because they were on a hiring spree.

Layoffs in the finance sector–the second-largest office leasing sector in 2021–are now following tech’s lead, as the deal flow on equity, debt and initial public offerings has plunged year to date, see: Wall Street Layoffs pick up steam as Citigroup and Barclays cut hundreds of Workers.

Meanwhile, office buildings are backed by $1.2 trillion of the $5.4 trillion in total commercial realestate debt that was outstanding at the end of the second quartermore debt than any other asset type other than apartment buildings (Trepp Inc data).

With rental income in retreat and mortgage costs soaring, defaults and distressed sales are the next part of the cycle.

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November 17th, 2022

Posted In: Juggling Dynamite

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