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  1. Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- New York’s biggest banks and securities firms may relinquish 8 million square feet of office space this year, deepening the worst commercial property slump in more than a decade as they abandon a record amount of property. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and industry rivals have vacated 4.6 million feet, a figure that may climb by another 4 million as businesses leave or sublet space they no longer need, according CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., the largest commercial property broker. Banks, brokers and insurers have fired more than 177,000 employees in the Americas as the recession and credit crisis battered balance sheets. Financial services firms occupy about a quarter of Manhattan’s 362 million square feet of office space and account for almost 40 percent now available for sublease, CB Richard Ellis data show. “Entire segments of the industry are gone,” said Marisa Di Natale, a senior economist at Moody’s in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “We’re talking about the end of 2012 before things actually start to turn up again for the New York office market.” The amount of available space may reach 15.6 percent by the end of the year, the most since 1996, according to Los Angeles- based CB Richard Ellis. Vacancies are already the highest since 2004 and rents are down 5 percent, the biggest drop in at least two decades. In 2003, the city had 14.8 million square feet available for sublease. If financial firms give up as much as CB Richard Ellis expects, that record will be broken. ‘Wild Card’ CB Richard Ellis’s figures don’t include any space Bank of America may relinquish at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, where Merrill Lynch & Co., the securities firm it acquired last month, occupies 2.8 million square feet. Brookfield Properties Inc., the second-biggest owner of U.S. office buildings by square footage, owns the Financial Center. Merrill “is a wild card right now,” said Robert Stella, principal at Boston-based real estate brokerage CresaPartners. Manhattan’s availability rate -- vacancies plus occupied space that is on the market -- was 12.3 percent at the end of January, up more than 50 percent compared with a year earlier and almost 9 percent from December, according to CB Richard Ellis. Commercial real estate prices dropped almost 15 percent last year, more than U.S. house prices, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Feb. 19 report. The decline returned values to 2005 levels, according to the Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Indexes. SL Green The Bloomberg Office REIT Index fell 25 percent since the start of January, with SL Green Realty, the biggest owner of Manhattan skyscrapers, slumping 50 percent. Vornado Realty Trust, whose buildings include One and Two Penn Plaza in Midtown, has fallen 36 percent. SL Green of New York gets 41 percent of its revenue from financial firms, including 13 percent from Citigroup, according to its Web site. Bank of America plans to give up 530,000 square feet at 9 West 57th St. as it completes a move to 1 Bryant Park. New York- based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is leaving 1.3 million square feet of offices at 1 New York Plaza and 77 Water St. as it prepares to move to new headquarters near the World Trade Center site. JPMorgan put 320,000 square feet of Park Avenue offices on the market after scooping up rival Bear Stearns Cos. last year along with the company’s 45-story headquarters tower at 383 Madison Ave. Citigroup has put 11 floors, or 326,000 square feet, on the market at the 59-story Citigroup Center at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street, bank spokesman Jon Diat said in an e-mail. The tower is owned by Mortimer Zuckerman’s Boston Properties Inc. Moving Out “We’ve been having conversations for two and a half years with Citigroup, and it’s been very clear to us that for the right economic transaction, they would move out of virtually any space in midtown Manhattan that they have,” Boston Properties President Douglas Linde said on a conference call last month. Boston Properties is also expecting to receive about 490,000 square feet back from Lehman Brothers at 399 Park Ave. as part of the bank’s liquidation. That space “will be a monumental challenge” to fill, said Michael Knott, senior analyst at Newport Beach, California-based Green Street Advisors. “They’re going to have to really bend over backwards on rate, or make the strategic decision to sit on it for an extended period of time.” Zuckerman said in an interview he doesn’t expect the increase in sublets to be a long-term problem for landlords. “You’re not going to be able to get for the space what you were able to get a year ago,” he said. “But in a year or two, in my judgment, the space will be absorbed.” Future Forecast Landlords must be prepared for a slow recovery, said Di Natale of Moody’s Commercial vacancy rates climbed for almost a year and a half after the last recession ended in late 2001. Still, CB Richard Ellis Tri-State Chairman Robert Alexander said New York’s financial community will regenerate. “In the late ‘80s, we lost Drexel Burnham Lambert and we lost Salomon Brothers, and we lost Thomson McKinnon,” Alexander said. “New York City survived.”
  2. In past recessions, city's developers learned the effects of overbuilding the hard way. Caution is paying off this time around ELEANOR BEATON Globe and Mail Update Two years ago, Yves-André Godon was scouring Montreal for an anchor tenant for his company's proposed 400,000-square-foot downtown office tower. At the time, Montreal's office market was looking rosy. The vacancy rate was a healthy 9.3 per cent and 6 per cent of the city's available office space was being leased each quarter – a record absorption rate, Mr. Godon says. The time looked ripe for the managing director of SITQ Canada, an international real estate investment company based in Montreal, to forge ahead with the development. But Mr. Godon hesitated. Even though it had been years since the city had seen new Class A office space built, he says many large-scale tenants seemed content to stay put; SITQ was having trouble attracting an anchor tenant quickly enough. “We didn't want to do anything on a speculative basis,” he says. Given the economy's subsequent downturn, Mr. Godon's instincts appear to have been right. It's a cautionary stance that was learned the hard way. During past recessions, overbuilding caused Montreal's office market to suffer more than in other parts of the country. But today, as other major cities contend with rising vacancy rates and the simultaneous delivery of millions of square feet of new office space, the kind of discipline that Mr. Godon displayed is helping to shield Montreal from the same drastic effects of the downturn. Montreal developers “lived through a lot of pain,” says Jean Laurin, president and chief executive officer of real estate advisory Devencore Ltd. “Few developers are going ahead until they find tenants.” As a result, “we have not had any exposure to overbuilding,” adds Robert Mercier, president of real estate services firm DTZ Barnicke (Quebec). The dearth of new developments is not the only factor. Also contributing is continued strong demand from tenants who are not players in the industries hit hardest by the downturn, such as energy, experts say. The combination means that Montreal now has one of the most stable office markets in the country. Even though at 9.7 per cent, Montreal's vacancy rate is higher than Toronto's (8.4 per cent) or Vancouver's (7.8 per cent), according to second-quarter figures from real estate firm CB Richard Ellis, downtown office vacancy rates in Montreal have risen less than in other major Canadian cities. Montreal's sublet space as a percentage of overall vacancy – a leading indicator of the health of the office leasing market – is, at 11 per cent, far lower than in other major cities, a sign that most tenants are holding onto their space, rather than putting it back on the market. The city is contending with a much smaller rise in sublet space than other cities. Insiders estimate that 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of sublease space comes back on the market each week. Unlike Calgary and Toronto, what little sublet space Montreal does put back into the market isn't competing for tenants with a glut of brand-new supply. Other than a recently constructed 840,000-square-foot Bell Canada Campus, the city has seen virtually no new office construction in recent years. In contrast, Toronto's central business district is facing the delivery of up to 3.1 million square feet of new office space, according to CB Richard Ellis. With little new development in the downtown in recent years, large-scale tenants in Montreal have few rental options, and therefore tend to stay put, further stabilizing the market. “Leasing is very strong on the renewal front,” Mr. Laurin says. Montreal also benefits from a diverse user base, says Brett Miller, executive vice-president of CB Richard Ellis in Quebec. He points out that the city's major employers represent solidly performing industries from the engineering, IT and video gaming industries. While Montreal may be performing well in comparison to other major cities, industry veterans aren't forgetting the lessons learned from the past. Developers such as Mr. Godon aren't planning any new developments until the economy recovers. “We're back to Real Estate 101,” he says. “That means focusing on serving the tenants we have, rather than looking for new projects.”