Landlords are reading the memo, but it may be too late.
Shares of Amazon multiplied by a factor of ten since 2009. Shares of Wal-Mart are flat over the past five years but are up 30% since the beginning of 2016. Since mid-2015, shares of Best Buy are up 58%, Home Depot 28%, and Costco 10%. These and other retailers like them saw their share prices rise because they managed to navigate the new retail environment.
Many online retailers and online operations of brick-and-mortar retailers are thriving. Other retailers are thriving because, like Home Depot, they’re in a segment that is booming. So not all brick-and-mortar retailers are melting down. But many are, including the samples in the list below. The percentage denotes the crash in share prices over the past two years:
- Sears Holdings -65%
- Macy’s -68%
- Target -35%
- Bed Bath & Beyond -59%
- Hudson’s Bay (owns Saks and Lord & Taylor) -61%
- Nordstrom -39%
- American Eagle Outfitters -32%
- Tailored Brands (formerly Men’s Wearhouse) -81%
- Boot Barn -80%
- Christopher & Banks -68%
- Express -64%
- Urban Outfitters -47%
- Foot Locker -32%
And they’re the lucky ones among the brick-and-mortar meltdown lot; others have already filed for bankruptcy, and their shares have become worthless. Yet some of those on the list will likely join the bankruptcy filers over the next 12 months.
These are chain retailers that are household names. Independent retailers and small chains of just a few stores fight their daily battles away from the headlines. Unless you do business with them, you might never know. They face two extraordinary problems: the shift to online sales, where Amazon, Wal-Mart, and a few other giants rule; and spiking rents thanks to the Fed-induced asset bubble for commercial real estate.
This has become particularly clear in the most expensive cities, such as San Francisco or New York, with the result that a disturbingly large number of ground-floor retail locations are vacant, desperately waiting for new tenants, as documented by these haunting photos of shuttered stores, even on Madison Avenue.
In the 16 prime retail corridors in Manhattan, ground-floor vacancies surged from a year ago to 203 vacant stores, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing Cushman and Wakefield. Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 49th streets topped the list with a vacancy rate of 33%. On Fifth Avenue between 49th and 60th streets, where asking rent is $3,116 a square foot, the vacancy rate rose to 14.5%. A smallish 1,000-square-foot shop would have to pay $3.1 million a year in rent. That’s one heck of a big nut to have to jump over, with only 1,000 square feet of space.
There’s a simple fact: retail stores cannot make it when rents are too high, as margin and volume are already squeezed by online competitors. And landlords have started to read the memo. The Journal, citing CBRE Group, reported that overall asking rents fell 8.6% from the same period last year:
Asking rents for ground-floor spaces dropped in 11 of 16 prime Manhattan shopping corridors from a year ago, with some falling as much as 22% in stretches such as Spring St. and Broadway in the Flatiron District….
In SoHo, average asking rents on Broadway plunged by 16% in Q2 year-over-year to $667 a square foot, and on Spring Street by 22% to $828 a square foot. That’s still a lot of rent to pay. But cutting rents by these huge amounts is producing some results. The Journal:
SoHo had 13 retail lease deals, for almost 80,000 square feet of space, signed in the second quarter, ranking among the busiest Manhattan neighborhoods.
“Landlords have become more realistic,” Robert K. Futterman, CEO of retail real estate services firm RKF, told The Journal. “They are willing to contribute to tenants’ construction and make shorter-term leases or take a lower based rent just to get a 10-year lease.”
And some sort of hope is cropping up that slashing rents will produce broader results and stop the downward spiral. “A bunch of new tenants are sniffing around, coming into the market, primarily driven by price,” Patrick Smith, a VP at JLL, told The Journal. They include young entrepreneurs and local or regional retailers:
How low prices can go depends on the particular retail corridor and how specific properties have been financed, brokers said.
Some landlords who’ve owned the properties for a long time have more flexibility in lowering rents than landlords that bought at the peak of the market. They’re in a tough spot.
But if these new retailers with their big hopes cannot make the locations work, given the nightmare their business models are facing beyond rent, they’d once again give up, and rents would have to fall to ludicrously low and financially impossible levels to fill up the vacancies.
Plenty of locations would remain vacant, and landlords would bleed until the spaces are repurposed. For the hyper-inflated commercial real estate market, which has already begun to deflate, it will mean additional price pressures – and not just in Manhattan.
This is another real-economy effect of the Fed’s ruthless eight-year effort to inflate asset prices. At these prices, the already troubled real economy doesn’t work anymore.
The private-equity protocol of asset stripping bears fruit. Read… Brick-and-Mortar Meltdown in June: Who Got Crushed?
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The best cure for high prices… is high prices…
A rash of store closures in my neighborhood of Rockridge in Oakland is the worst I’ve seen in 20years.
Green shoots are appearing in the form of yoga studios and artisanal ice-cream and novelties. Unclear if these gimmicks will survive.
A few business still magically draw endless crowds: Ici icecram has lines daily, Zach’s pizza is packed to gill everyone I walk by. The butcher, baker, and a few other local favorites all seem to have loyal followings. But the vast majority are destined to fail.
Delivering a good product that people want and can’t get on Amazon is the typically the clear difference maker. Things that need to be made or prepped fresh daily. Amazon can’t compete with that quite yet.
Eastbay – there may be something to ice cream. Playing my trumpet on the street in Mountain View, and finding out that playing late at night (which is later than 9 around here) doesn’t pay much but there’s a gelato place that’s got a big crowd around it even when everything else is dead.
Similarly, downtown San Jose has a place on 1st street called Cream that does ice cream, shakes, stuff like that, and I rode by at 10 tonight and yep, big-ass crowd (in danger of getting bigger asses from all that ice cream).
I remember that gelato place in Mountain View from 15 years ago, especially the pistachio flavour. :-)
I believe Nordstrom is part way to the correct formula. They’ve invested billions in their online purchasing experience and my experience with it has been very good. They’ve also invested heavily in the Rack discount stores. Now they just have too many full price/service stores in many of their markets. And Most of their clothes are priced too high considering they are manufactured in third world countries.
Target may be the only other long term survivor on your list and only if they start to figure it out soon.
Retail space probably needs to drop 60-75% from the high to really attract someone willing to experiment with “alternative” business models. At least that’s what it would take to get me interested.
Nordstrom Rack stores are awesome. Great prices on quality merchandise and plenty of selection. Buying clothes online is too hit-and-miss for me.
Nordstrom Rack used to sell real high end branded items at discount. Not so much anymore. It has shifted to lesser quality brands at discount. I see the same trend at the Tuesday Morning discount stores, lots of lesser quality brands out of India and China.
Factory outlet stores became popular, what? 10 or 15 years ago. At some point they may have been legit, but now it’s cheesy merchandise that has nothing to do with the store’s upscale brand name.
There is a small, fancy mall outside of Santa Fe comprised of nothing but “factory outlet” stores carrying brand names like Eddie Bauer and Ralph Lauren. First time I visited, awesome deals, second visit, everything looked like it originated at Old Navy. By my third visit many of the stores had closed.
I used to love a premium outlet place in NY called Woodbury Commons, very high end merchandise. People would go there in limos and fly in from around the world to shop there. I read recently they were not doing so well.
Been by those very same Santa Fe stores and noticed the same thing. You should see the collapse of Cottonwood Mall in West Albuquerque. Macy’s, Sears and lots more are out.
Close quality at many outlets has been getting cheaper. Granted it is also much cheaper like at the Banana Republic outlet near our home. But I still remember jeans I got their a non outlet 15 years ago. The cost 3 times as much and the quality was totally different. Thick heavy quality material.
You can still get quality mens’ merchandise. The women’s section is crap from top to bottom in most stores.
Years ago I needed a suit. I screwed around with thrift store finds and ultimately I chose what I feel is the cheapest, best solution: I just went to a Brooks Brothers and had ’em fix me up.
I got some shirts and stuff too, maybe spent $400. So not super expensive as suits go, but decent.
One thing people don’t mention much is that a decent suit is really comfortable.
Any recommendations for good quality men clothing?
I see little where I live save for Walmart grade and Old Navy grade clothing. The other clothes stores sell similar quality only at an excessive markup.
I heart Petunias’ opinion!
“Fed’s ruthless eight-year effort to inflate asset prices” were indeed successful in inflating commercial RE prices. And at exactly the same time that that business was undergoing fundamental, secular, and highly adverse changes.
This is certainly deflationary. Is it of a magnitude that could pose deflationary risks to the overall economy and financial instability?
The 90’s were real tough for NYC real estate too. Since that drought the market’s gone shockingly & astoundingly vertical & viral…PJS
It’s not just the Fed. The disruptive technologies that the internet has wrought now exposes the rentier class of landlords as being the dinosaur gate keepers that they are. In the same way, taxi medallion owners thought they could just sit back and extract money for nothing, forever. Well, nature abhors a vacuum and that includes people who don’t provide any value-adding to the financial equation. The mopes who bought the high street real estate for top prices blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes might just have to take their losses like any other investor does and recalculate what they can proactively contribute to earn back some of their losses.
Well, the rentier class has been around for thousands of years. Unless this time is really different, which I doubt, I think they will find a way to reclaim their status. (i.e. does Uber really pose a long term threat to medallions? I think it’s more fad than business)
Bingo! I agree with you.
The internet has changed the game. People now know or can know what the stakes really are and who’s been in charge. I owned a commercial property in a chic town and watched the property taxes double in 10 years, the sales taxes go up twice and the city’s huge number of non-profits suck the life out of downtown. Sold it.
I’m a value/content/producer business…I’ve decided to run a micro business until all this shakes out. They fooled me at 2002 and then at 2009. I’m done with investing in this fake economy.
“”The mopes who bought the high street real estate for top prices blinded by the dollar signs in their eyes might just have to take their losses like any other investor does and recalculate what they can proactively contribute to earn back some of their losses.””
Who supports the loss burden once their (the mopes) share of the property is consumed?
ASNA, with about 4500 stores, is reporting nearly half of their leases can be repriced in the next few years.
The majority of real estate is owned by entities who feed the income into pensions, trust funds and ordinary people’s savings. Sitting in steerage in the Titanic and laughing at the rich because they are going to drown is rather silly.
My landlord feeds the income into my savings? Having trouble seeing it, can you draw me a diagram?
Look at real estate investment trusts (REIT) where working Joes may invest their retirement in funds that own and rent real estate. Or even more diversified funds may invest some in real estate hoping for price inflation and returns on it.
Your landlord might be a small operator who gets profits (if any) from your rent and not investors. But a lot of real estate is owned or gives returns to investors looking to make return for their retirements and other things.
And contrary to popular belief, a lot of landlords may not be raking in dough because of their expenses such as mortgage payments, maintenance, insurance and taxes. Some who bought long ago or have low expenses make a lot. Others may even lose money off rent in the short term, though they might get equity in the property that a renter doesn’t and be ahead when they sell or after rents increase more later if they have a fixed rate/payment mortgage.
Spoken like a non-renter. These REIT’s and other investments aren’t hoping for price inflation to get their returns, they are jacking up rents 10-30% per year to guarantee them. I know because it’s happened to me 2x. Plus, it’s even worse than just regular rent-seeking behavior which adds zero value, these trusts actually slash services like pest control, amenities, etc to the absolute bone. So ultimately you get less value for much higher cost. How am I supposed to save up for a house when nearly every single apartment in my medium sized Florida city is owned by one of these REIT’s?
I left Florida pushed out by too high rents. You need to organize and start pushing for rent control. Go to the county meetings, write to every politician, email, show up and push for rent control and renter’s protection from abuses. If you don’t they will take every last cent you have and leave you on the street. Tell the politicians if they don’t control the rent increases, you will not vote for them, then follow through.
Excellent analysis as per usual Wolf. Thank you.
Off topic, I love visiting your site as for my 55 yr old eyes, your type size and style is always easy on the eyes and simple to read.
Compared to 98% of your competition, your far ahead of the pack, no pun intended.
Thank you for your blog and as always keep up the great work. I am sure it is sincerely appreciated by all of your followers.
Stores can not make it without customers with money to spend.
That, that is the main issue. When money pours in the door, the location counts and rents are not the main issue. So it is about spending.
Those who do have money to spend, aren’t. They have what they need or are waiting for the situation to get worst, yes bargain hunters for luxury, and some are so good at it they are called corporate raiders.
Those who don’t have money to spend have so many reasons why they can’t, the page is not long enough to list them all.
The idea that “on line” sellers are immune is wishful thinking. On line sellers are holding on to portfolio investments to make ends meet. That to is wishful thinking even for Amazon.
Many years ago, folks turned on their AM radios to an off channel to listen for far off storms, including tornadoes and hurricanes. That intermittent cracking, as it got louder and more frequent, was a real life warning of danger approaching. Every hour that the warnings are ignored is an hour closer to possible peril. Wolf, you are like that AM radio, but there are still those who can not hear.
When the SHTF the talking heads and MSM will be unanimous in proclaiming that “no one could’ve seen this coming.”
This seems to be a global issue. The coin operated washing machine operators, the countless coffee shops, the struggling small restaurants. Most keep packing it in within months or years (greater Bangkok).
In small German towns, lots of small shops keep hanging on for dear life, probably owning the real estate free and clear. Lovely shops, nice towns with flower pots on window sills. But they all seem to be doomed.
BIBERACH, Swabia – a small town which wasn’t bombed at all tax was based on a building’s footprint. Hence the houses getting wider higher up. (In Vietnam, one sees many narrow but tall buildings for the same reason)
My guess is it is too little and too late.
I purchase from Home Depot at least 3 times a week. I also buy from their online store for items they don’t stock in their brick and mortar stores. They’re learning to be pretty good at hitting delivery times and notifying me when the items arrive at their store for pick up. They got the memo.
In the UK, 100 tenants a day are being forced out of their apartments due to rising rents.
Heckova job, central bankers.
As I keep saying, something like “Enclosure” (where peasants were forced off of their hereditary land, rendered homeless then flooding into the cities, starving, to become the first proletariat) is going on now.
There used to be a sort of a social contract where if you worked, you slept under a roof. I lived under that social contract in the 80s. I worked, lousy shit jobs of the sort that white people do in Hawaii, and lived in a rooming house. There were strict rules and looking back it was almost more like a “halfway house” than a congenial residence, but it was shelter, a shower/bathroom, a clean and safe place to sleep and to study.
Once I was up to $5 an hour, I could even save money.
Of course I was an idiot, and fell for the college scam. I’ll never get that time, or money, back. In fact college set me back for life. I’m still poor now, because of the college scam then.
But there was a basic understanding that if you worked, you were housed.
Now we have “the working homeless”. We have homeless people with military pensions who can’t afford a place to live. (One guy who essentially lived on the bench by the trolley station across from Johnny Rockets downtown was in this situation, ex-Navy. Once I learned this, I told him where the local “Vet Center” was, as it was in an unusual location, and I didn’t see him any more. There’s a big push to get vets housed these days, because lots of homeless vets makes it harder to sign up more soldiers for the Empire.)
Collectively, we seem to have decided that if we can kick the bottom 10% out into the streets where the life expectancy is 50 or so, the rest of us can be richer.
American Eagle Outfitters didn’t get the memo, they debuted a denim hijab as their new hot item. It’s the next bankruptcy for sure.
I’ve seen a couple of interesting “consolidations” in retail in the past year, one was a children’s clothing and adult sunglasses store, another was a car dealership with a bagel shop.
I would love for someone to dig out some info on privately owned retailers like Brooks Brothers. I worked there until a month ago, and it was an open secret that the company was hemorrhaging money. Upper management was in a panic desperately trying to find some magic product to shore up collapsing sales and traffic. The company is majority owned by one person, Claudio Del Vecchio, and if his patience runs out the company is history. But it publishes no reports, so who really knows how bad things are.
So if things are going badly at Brooks Brothers, Claudio Del Vecchio should sell it asap to the public via an IPO…
“So if things are going badly at Brooks Brothers, Claudio Del Vecchio should sell it asap to the public via an IPO…”
No, no, NO! That’s NOT how it goes.
When on the ropes, sell to a hedge fund and let them strip out any tangible assets, talk up the remaining garbage left, and THEN sit back and loose off another grand IPO.
Or, maybe they can open a “storefront” on Amazon.com and rake in the cash while using someone else at a fulfillment center to do the grunt work.
It would be fitting that Brooks Brothers, which has existed since colonial days, would end at the hands of a hedge fund. Just like the rest of the country.
How could I forget that basic rule?
But NOT before he sells a bunch of bonds that will never pay a dime or get redeemed….!
Isn’t that the way of the Street of Walls??
That would certainly be a good and common option.
“Plenty of locations would remain vacant, and landlords would bleed until the spaces are repurposed.”
Repurposed for what? So much commerce is going online that it’s questionable whether much this real estate can ever be economically competitive again.
This looks to be the demise of financialization. Market forces have finally come home to roost and the value of the real estate plus taxes plus profits for the owners have exceeded the ability of any retailer to pay such exorbitant overhead costs. People blame online but it appears to me it is more an unintended consequence of the rich getting richer and owning more and more of the real estate bidding each other up until no one is making any money..
It was hard enough for Brick and Mortar retail but with the rents being that high, no wonder they are dying.
If my assessment is even partially correct, this house of cards is starting to topple. Re purpose ha! This is going to be the opposite of the great melt up. What entrepreneur with their own money would even attempt to become involved with these kinds of numbers?
I agree. I see devastating deflation coming.
This is all part of the money junkie bottom…..it’ll be a good thing for those with any emotional and financial balance. Things can’t change until this junkie cycle ends.
Bring it on.
Good article abut NY restaurants closing due to the huge increases in rent. Predict Fine Dining Food Deserts.
Thanks for the article, that’s my old neighborhood. I remember when Danny Meyer first opened his restaurant on the west side of the square, considered the bad side. Most of us wouldn’t walk around the park to go there even though it had a great reputation right from the beginning.
My most memorable moment on the square was seeing the punk rocker Sid Vicious, before he was a star, going into Max’s Kansas City, on the good side of the square. He was a show stopper even then.
Its a simple war of attrition. The survivors will get a bigger slice of an ever decreasing sized pie. Bottom line: Even people who think they’re o.k. are broke
The Today show in Rockefeller center will never turn their cameras on a
row of empty retail stores across the street, on 48th street between
5th & 6th.
When a whole block of empty retail stores, with their street level shuddered storefront windows, the block will not recover for decades.
It’s the best area in NYC, but it’s gone.
For the owners of those destroyed stores, life on 48th street, became like living in Homs (Syria).
Do I understand these lease numbers? The low end of $667 if I understand this as a yearly fee… comes to about $55,500 per month for only 1000 sf?
If that is true? How in the world can anyone actually sell enough merchandise to pay employees and everything else and still make enough extra to actually live there? That seems to me to be totally insane. Why would anyone even attempt that?
Yes.And at the high end of over $3,100/square foot, over 3.1 M /year.
Requires high markup merchandise combined with significant traffic.
4. these are high-priced specialty stores with huge gross margins, not your average bodega.
In one of the prior articles on this topic, an owner of a high-priced chain said that you have to be there (this was on Madison Ave) for the prestige – that this store will always lose money but help your other stores in more mundane locations make money. Not sure if this logic makes sense though.
Just as a minor point, a shop paying $60-80-100,000 per month rent/lease must sell at least three hundred thousand a month in merchandise or more to make something like that work.. and that is with only a 100% mark up… take a lower mark up and it takes even more to make it work.. These aren’t Lamborgini stores or even Tiffany’s.. Nuts!
I sure live in a different world. No wonder the elite need to rip us off.. They can’t even buy a hamburger for under $50 at those rents. If they can even get a hamburger..
Is that even a lifestyle that has any one enjoying their pursuit of happiness? What kind of quality of life is that? I’m now feeling sorry for them.
A good buddy of mine who together with his mom ru a womans clothing store in the Hamptons and due to the high rent he is shutting her down and getting his real estate liceanse Another casualty and no he’s not gay Not that there’s anything wrong with that
“Not sure if this logic makes sense though.”
It makes sense if you recall it’s all play money for them. It’s not about making cents. It’s just about shuffling and kicking the can down the road. Just like that movie where they drive around with a corpse.
We should remind ourselves daily that money is loaned into existence.
The old “loss leader” strategy, Wolf – Just spread over a network of stores, rather than the usual single store.
“”Not sure if this logic makes sense though.””
The “wanna be” and impressionable folks in the world will buy it because it came from “(your company name here)” in New York city.
Wall street types making 10K+ a day from trading bitcoin, etc. can be pretty price insensitive. My friend ran into one a few weeks ago, couldnt believe they shared the same planet – he has to bust his hump to make a few hundred a day.
As the Fed’s debasement of the currency erodes the purchasing power of the 99%, “shrinkflation” by food companies is imposing stealth inflation on consumers.
30 ounce quarts. 1 and 3/4 qt “half gallon” ice cream (now 1 1/2 quarts by many.) Prepped frozen meals with 14 ounce pounds. Cookies and cupcakes with 9 count “dozens”. 10 ounce chips instead of 12..
When will we get 3 1/2 quart gallons of milk????
You forgot the 59oz 1/2 gallon orange juice at Safeway.
Why would anyone who isn’t a tourist or who doesn’t work in San Francisco shop there?
I stayed on Mission Street for five days in April 2017. My woman was shocked by:
– the homeless sitting in their excrement during the day,
– big rats running around at night,
– CVS security following her around as if the best-dressed person within a block of the store was going to shoplift before the 6:00 pm closing time,
– A morning killing outside a famous breakfast place.
I was shocked that every third storefront on Market Street was closed.
Part of Market Street is really rough. Same for Mission. Getting better, but still very rough. Part of Mission is one of the four homicide pockets in SF (small areas where most of the homicides in SF happen).
Yes, it was rough. She grew up in Shanghai, and hadn’t seen people and things like that. She was surprised when I did things like:
– carry money in my socks,
– put my first wallet in a money belt,
– carry a second wallet in case we were robbed,
– often walk in the street or cross it rather than encounter an oncoming sidewalk situation.
Sounds lovely (sarcasm off)
Just a little history on retailing in New York City. Some of the biggest names in retailing started out in the low rent districts of NY. I remember when Barnes & Noble had only one store and it was on the west side in the uncoolest part of town. Right across the street was Barney’s, the now iconic, men’s single store. Danny Meyer also opened, his now famous restaurant, in that area because it was cheap. These business survived because they were able to give good value and still make a profit.
Businesses need to stay mobile as well. It’s not just the internet that’s killing brick and mortar, it’s business owners. If you can’t afford the rent, move, your customers will follow you to the uncoolest part of town if you give them good value.
“”If you can’t afford the rent, move, your customers will follow you to the uncoolest part of town if you give them good value.””
Amen to that. I care little about where a vendor is located – IF the service and/or is something I appreciate.
My wife and I would drive 20 or 25 miles to visit 2 restruants that we loved. We were NOT the only ones that did that. Pity that they (the owners) retired..
It costs a lot to move… I mean a lot.. especially for a restaurant. So most people will try and tough it out and when they finally decided it won’t work., the cost of moving is to much.. so they just close down.
rent’s too damn high, yep.
landlords think everybody has volume and margin, or vanity and money.
slowdeflation. pronounced sloedeeflayshun.
Hmm…I can never decide if I like the articles on Wolf Street more or the commentators…maybe both equally.
If currency is printed out of thin air and requires no real “work” then what is it really worth? I have found I enjoy the aspect of working, there is a meditation to it and to feeling tired after working hard. I have other things I could do that bring in way more money but I don’t gain the same satisfaction.
This might make me a strange, odd duck but there it is. I recently got to travel for work. The city I went to had a bunch of really great thrift stores. They had one in particular with a “last chance” bargain rack. I was able to buy nine long sleeved dress shirts for .25 cents each. I figured at that price I would take a chance on them.
For me the money is not as big of a deal it is more about enjoying life. I decided to move away from the grind in California and go where the poor live. My quality of life is much better and I can enjoy working v.s. being compelled to do so.
My 2 centavos.