* US strip mall vacancy reaches 10 pct
* US regional mall vacancy hits 8.4 pct
By Ilaina Jonas
NEW YORK, July 8 (Reuters) - The vacancy rate at U.S. strip malls reached a 17-year high in the second quarter, and empty space at regional malls struck a nine-year record as more retailers downsized or went out of business altogether, according to a leading real estate research firm.
The consumer-led U.S. recession has hurt retailers hard and pummeled their landlords, forcing many store owners at neighborhood shopping centers and malls to shutter their businesses. Those still alive have reduced their space needs or negotiated for lower rental rates.
Falling incomes of landlords have made it increasingly difficult for them to meet loan payments and may fuel an already-rising rate of defaults within the retail real estate sector.
“It doesn’t take much to knock your incomes down if you’ve levered up,” said Victor Calanog, director of research for Reis Inc, which released its quarterly report on Wednesday. “There’s just no support for income-generating properties being able to meet fixed-debt obligations.”
During the second quarter, the vacancy rate at U.S. strip malls reached 10 percent, the highest level since 1992, the report said.
Meanwhile, asking rent fell 1.7 percent from a year ago to $19.28 per square foot. Asking rent fell 0.7 percent from the prior quarter. It was the largest single-quarter decline since Reis began tracking quarterly figures in 1999.
Factoring in months of free rent and other concessions, effective rent declined 3.2 percent year-over-year to $17.01 per square foot. Effective rent fell 1.1 percent from the prior quarter.
About 7.9 million square feet of space was returned to the market during the quarter. The amount was second only to the 8.1 million square feet in the first quarter.
The picture was no prettier for U.S. regional malls, whose vacancy rate rose to 8.4 percent, the highest vacancy level since Reis began tracking regional malls in 2000.
Asking rents for regional malls continued to deteriorate but at a faster rate, falling 1.4 percent in the second quarter, compared with 1.2 percent in the first. Year-over-year asking rent fell 2.9 percent to $39.42 per square foot.
Rising U.S. unemployment and soaring home foreclosures point to a longer recession and greater insecurity among consumers. With a dearth of positive indicators, it does not look like a green shoot of recovery will be able to fend off deteriorating rents and occupancies in the sector.
“Right now it looks like all signs are pointing to rents and vacancies, big components of income, getting shot down,” Calanog said. “Until we see stabilization and recovery take root in both consumer spending and business spending and hiring, we do not foresee a recovery in the retail sector until late 2012 at the earliest.”
That does not bode well for mall owner General Growth Properties Inc GGWPQ.PK, which filed for bankruptcy protection in April, after it failed to refinance maturing loans.
It also could translate into tougher business conditions for shopping center owners, such as Cedar Shopping Centers Inc (CDR.N), Equity One Inc EQY.N and Kimco Realty Corp (KIM.N). (Reporting by Ilaina Jonas, editing by Matthew Lewis)