Are Retailers’ Earnings Reports Telling Us Something?
“After seven consecutive quarters of comparable sales growth, we experienced a deceleration in our third-quarter sales,” – Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette in a statement accompanying the retailer’s most recent earning release.
Retail has been the big story these past few weeks as many publicly traded companies reported earnings for the third quarter. The tone was … not positive.
Macy’s stock fell 11 percent during the week after reporting the first decline in sales in nearly two years. Home Depot dropped 8 percent after a sales miss. Kohl’s fell by 19 percent, missing significantly while also lowering its outlook. Urban Outfitters fell by 19 percent. Nordstrom fell 10 percent. Only the Target and the TJX Companies – owner of discounters TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods – saw their shares rise after each reported a strong quarter.
It is well established by now that the U.S. economy – along with national and Philadelphia commercial real estate markets – are heavily dependent on the consumer, so how worried should we be about the red flags waving in these retail earnings reports? Is this what a strong consumer looks like? The story feels like it is about more than just shoppers shifting to online spending.
This CoStar Realty Information Inc. report from Robert Calhoun and Matt Powers involving U.S. and Philadelphia commercial properties is being made through Philadelphia commercial real estate broker Wolf Commercial Real Estate, a Philadelphia commercial real estate brokerage firm.
Consumer spending in the U.S. commercial real estate market – including Philly office space, Philly retail space and Philly industrial space – is ultimately built on the foundation of a strong labor market. While we continue to see job growth and low unemployment nationwide, cracks could be starting to show. We have seen job openings decline in recent weeks, and now it seems employers could also be actively laying off more workers. Weekly claims for unemployment insurance rose to 226,000 last week. While still very low from a historical standpoint, claims are up 15,000 in just two weeks.
Weakness in employment appears to be regional, focused largely on the Midwest and some scattered Northeast and Western states. However, the South remains the healthiest region. Every single state in what the U.S. Census Bureau defines as the South – except Maryland and Oklahoma – continues to see jobless claims fall. The economy in Oklahoma is much more heavily dependent on oil than other states (8 percent of employment versus only about 0.5 percent nationwide), so it has seen jobless claims rise as oil prices have declined from 2018 highs. And Maryland really isn’t even in the South, right?
This regional divergence in jobless claims seems largely driven by prolonged weakness in the manufacturing sector, on which Great Lake states are reliant. Manufacturing accounts for roughly 17 percent of that region’s gross domestic product compared to 11 percent in the U.S., including U.S. and Philadelphia commercial real estate listings.
It has been noted earlier that increased uncertainty causes a decline in business activity in the U.S. commercial real estate market – including Philly office space, Philly retail space and Philly industrial space – as well as a decrease in hiring. It also typically signals a slowdown in firing, as decision-makers wait to see how events such as the trade war situation play out. Is this dynamic beginning to change in a worrisome way?
That is hard to say, but if it was, you would see it first in the areas of the country that are most at risk from the trade war, and it appears as if that could be happening.
Fortunately for the economy, the consumer isn’t the only game in town. Housing continues to buck the otherwise weakening trend in most areas of the U.S. economy, with more strong data out this past week, especially involving national and Philadelphia commercial real estate properties.
The National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index posted one of its best figures since the last recession in its November report. The portions of the survey that asks homebuilders their thoughts on current sales, sales over the coming six months, and foot traffic of prospective buyers all have substantially improved in 2019.
Housing starts and permits also reported a leap in the Census Bureau’s October report. By “back-of-the-envelope” math, the rise in homebuilder sentiment and issuance pace of new permits is roughly equivalent to nearly a 1 percent boost to real GDP growth among national and Philadelphia commercial real estate listings. With no trade deal signed yet and wavering hiring indicators, that 1 percent becomes essential.
Meaningful regional divergence also can be seen in homebuilding activity: The Midwest is seeing declines in new building permits while the South leads the way on new construction. (Robert Calhoun is a managing director and senior economist and Matt Powers is associate director of market analytics for CoStar Market Analytics in New York City.)
For more information about Philly office space, Philly retail space, and Philly industrial space or other Philadelphia commercial properties, please call 215-799-6900 to speak with Jason Wolf (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Wolf Commercial Real Estate, a Philadelphia commercial real estate broker that specializes in Philly office space, Philly retail space and Philly industrial space.
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