Is Industrial Real Estate The Place To Be?

Economic events affect different sectors of real estate differently. While housing continues to suffer very badly, and is likely to continue to do so for several more years, other sectors will benefit from the dislocations in the economy. Hotels are on a rebound, but still have large numbers of assets which will hit the wall over the next two years as extended loans come due. Defaults and delinquency remain high. Office and retail are better and rents have generally stabilized or are rising a little. However values remain depressed in many markets. The one place where the macro economic factors is likely to have a positive impact is industrial.

The US dollar has declined 12% vs its six major trading partners over the past year. China has seen average wages rise 14%. Oil has caused transport costs to rise substantially. As a direct result of the recession, US manufacturers have done substantial restructuring of the manufacturing processes and have driven costs down materially. The result is slower rehiring to produce the same manufacturing output which is bad for the housing and retail sectors, but very good for manufacturing. Because of all the massive layoffs of factory workers over the past two years, there is a residual pool of  skilled and semi skilled workers available to hire at relatively competitive wages when compared to Europe. The Euro has risen substantially further impacting the cost differential. The decline of the dollar has the most impact on manufacturing relative to the other food groups in real estate. In fact one could argue that retail is hurt by higher oil and food prices. Technology has likely materially diminished the demand for office space vs what it might otherwise have been. The whole social networking revolution will continue to materially impact office in a negative manner as companies find there are new ways that people work and how office get configured. Hotels will continue to suffer from high oil prices and social networking and new technology in video meetings, are making travel less required than it may have been. The violence in Mexico is a huge deterrent to opening any new factories in that  country. The Yuan is sure to float higher over the next year. Chinese government interference in commerce and the obvious attempt to steal technology and compete head on is a further deterrent to having all your products produced there.

The one thing you cannot reduce through social networking and the thing that benefits from the devalued dollar is manufacturing. You cannot manufacture a virtual machine or farm equipment. You may make it much more efficiently and with less workers, but it still requires a manufacturing facility. The one big negative is the Obama administration obligation to the unions for the massive payoffs it has gotten through campaign contributions. The latest outrage and damage to US manufacturing is the NLRB attempt to stop Boeing form opening its plant in South Carolina. That kind of blatant political act will do more to harm to growth of US manufacturing and jobs than anything. Hopefully the outrage expressed by governors and affected senators will cause these actions to be halted in the future. More actions such as we saw in Wisconsin and now other states to diminish unions will be of huge help as anti union sentiment spreads and labor costs and taxes are kept in line. If there is the much ballyhooed restructuring of US corporate taxes, and if a way is found to allow US companies to repatriate substantial sums that are now held offshore without huge tax hits, then manufacturing in the US could see a new era.

Industrial has the potential to be a very attractive area of real estate if all of these things come together over the next year. While many black swans continue to circle and land, the US for many industrial companies is once again getting a new look for where to put a factory. This does not mean rush out and buy land for industrial development. These things take time. You do not throw up a factory as easily as a apartment building or a strip center. However, working with state economic development offices in right to work states, where taxes are relatively lower, and where the governors are not obligated to the unions, and where land is relatively inexpensive, is probably a good strategy (credit, j,ross, globe st)

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