Houston Industrial Market Report | Q4 2017

by CoyDavidson on January 18, 2018

Houston’s Industrial Market Closes Out The Year With A Strong Finish

The resiliency of Houston’s industrial real estate market is truly astounding. Outsiders have always considered Houston to be an “oil town” with our economic success tied to the geopolitical intricacies of the international oil and gas markets. Three years into the oil and gas downturn, Houston has proven yet again that we have a truly diversified economic base. As a result, Houston’s industrial real estate market has enjoyed a disproportionate benefit of that concerted effort to have a truly balanced economy.

From 2009 to 2014, while the national economy sputtered along due to anti-business policies of the Obama administration, Houston enjoyed a countercyclical economic boon as all sectors of the oil and gas industry added jobs, increased investment and drove demand for oil service related real estate. Manufacturers and distributors made significant real estate commitments to manufacturing, property and equipment as they worked to meet the demand for materials and services related to the growth in domestic shale exploration and production. When the music stopped in November 2014, outsiders such as wall street analysts and CNBC pundits threw their hands in the air, called it the end of Houston’s growth story and declared that it would be the 1980’s all over again.

Houston real estate veterans, however, trusted in our diversified economy and found ways to meet the demand of other sectors as the national economic output increased. Certainly, the industrial real estate community had issues with subleases, defaults and other activity that arose due to the energy industry downturn. However, the growth of e-commerce, the region’s natural population growth, increased Port of Houston infrastructure investment and increased consumer demand all contributed to a robust industrial market that truly reflects Houston’s economic diversity and its irrepressible ability to bounce back from adversity. Houston has been a late-comer to the unprecedented growth of e-commerce logistics. Not only have we seen multi-million SF investments by Amazon, UPS, FedEx and other providers, but we are also seeing providers to these major distributors seeking to establish regional distribution and return centers related to online sales. As an example to meet this demand, Oakmont Industrial Group has a speculative 700,000 SF warehouse under construction now that is designed to meet the demands of future e-commerce growth in our region.

Closely tied to e-commerce growth is the population growth in the Houston MSA. With population growth from 2010 to 2016 that averaged over 2,600 people per week and with projections that the area population will double to almost 15 million people by 2050, Houston is a major economic force with tremendous consumer buying power. While core markets such as Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles have typically met the need for distribution related to consumer demand, Houston has emerged as a new core market as distributors seek to be closer to the end users of their products. Our proximity to San Antonio and Austin, our relatively low regulatory environment and the infrastructure assets including our rail network, interstate highway systems and the Port of Houston complex all work together to drive demand for Houston’s industrial market.

The submarkets around the Port of Houston were the weakest in the Houston area from 2005 to 2014. A number of developers built millions of square feet of buildings on the promise that Houston’s Port infrastructure development around the container handling facilities and the widening of the Panama Canal would drive demand. While some success was achieved in that area, true growth in new construction and increasing rental rates has been fairly recent. The main impetus for this growth has been the increased output of the petrochemical plants – both in chemicals and plastic resin. The abundant energy source from the domestic oil and gas shale plays around the United States led to over $50 billion in new plant investment. Now that the expanded production capability is online, logistics providers have taken down almost all new industrial space that has been built in the Port submarkets at rental rates that have provided very solid returns to developers that built speculative buildings to meet this new demand. Also tied to the Port of Houston is continued growth in container traffic, with consumer products companies such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Ikea making significant investments and also considering additional real estate commitments.

Certainly, there are many promising statistics that speak to the overall strength of the Houston industrial market. In spite of tepid economic growth over the past 3 years, industrial absorption rates has remained steady as new construction has declined across the region. Houston continues to be a market leader in high 95%+ occupancy rates and in stability of rental rates.

Even with remaining uncertainty in the oil and gas sector of the economy, Houston’s industrial market has shown a resilient ability to adapt to continually evolving economic forces. Looking into the future, we see continued disruption and growth in the e-commerce arena, increasing use of the Port of Houston infrastructure to handle inbound containerized consumer goods and outbound raw material shipments, natural population growth and in-bound migration that will drive increased consumer spending and eventual stabilization of the global oil and gas economy. Mainly, as has been proven for almost 180 years of Houston economic history, the economy will adapt to changing market forces and intelligent investors, whether industrial developers, private investors, or entrepreneurs that drive economic growth will benefit by making the right bet on Houston’s resiliency.

Vacancy & Availability

Houston’s average industrial vacancy rate increased 10 basis points from 5.3% to 5.4% over the quarter. At the end of the fourth quarter, Houston had 28.1M SF of vacant industrial space for direct lease and an additional 1.6M SF of vacant sublease space. Among the major industrial corridors, the Northeast Corridor has the lowest vacancy rate at 3.0%, followed by the South Corridor at 3.5% and the Southeast Corridor at 4.2%. The largest percentage of vacant space is located in the North Corridor which has a 7.7% vacancy rate.

Leasing Activity

Houston’s industrial leasing activity increased 11.8% over the quarter from 5.0M SF in Q3 2017 to 5.6M SF in Q4 2017. Total 2017 leasing activity which includes renewals reached 23.7M SF. Most of the transactions consisted of leases for 50,000 SF or less, but there were several larger deals that occurred.

Under Construction

Currently 6.4M SF of industrial space is under construction in Houston and 29.3% is pre-leased. Only 3.4% of the 4.6M SF of spec space under construction is pre-leased at this time. The largest project under construction is a 673,785-SF spec distribution warehouse located in the Northwest Outliers submarket.

▸ Click here to download the report as a PDF.

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