Big Tech Is Downsizing Workspace in Another Blow to Office Real Estate - Kanebridge News
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Big Tech Is Downsizing Workspace in Another Blow to Office Real Estate

Pullback marks a sharp reversal after years when companies had been bolstering their office footprints

By KONRAD PUTZIER
Wed, Apr 17, 2024 3:59pmGrey Clock 3 min

Big technology companies are cutting back on office space across major coastal cities, leaving some exposed landlords with empty buildings and steep losses.

The pullback marks a sharp reversal after years when companies such as Amazon.com , Meta Platforms ’ Facebook and Google parent Alphabet had been bolstering their office footprints by adding millions of square feet of space.

Their expansion continued even after the pandemic erupted and many employees started working remotely. Tech companies have been the dominant tenant in West Coast cities like Seattle and San Francisco, and by 2021 these companies came to rival those in the finance industry as Manhattan’s biggest user of office space .

Now, big tech companies are letting leases expire or looking to unload some offices. Amazon is ditching or not renewing some office leases and last year paused construction on its second headquarters in northern Virginia. Google has listed office space in Silicon Valley for sublease, according to data company CoStar . Meta has also dumped some office space and is leasing less than it did early on in the pandemic.

Salesforce , the cloud-based software company, said in a recent securities filing that it leased or owned about 900,000 square feet of San Francisco office space as of January. That is barely half the 1.6 million of office space it reported having in that city a year earlier.

Tech giants looking to unload part of their workplace face a lot of competition. Office space listed for sublease in 30 cities with a lot of technology tenants has risen to the highest levels in at least a decade, according to brokerage CBRE . The 168.4 million square feet of office space for sublease in the first quarter was down slightly from the fourth-quarter 2023 peak but up almost threefold from early 2019.

Even tech companies that are renewing or adding space want less than they did before. The amount of new office space tech companies leased fell by almost half in the fourth quarter of last year compared with 2019, CBRE said.

Tech’s voracious appetite for office and other commercial real estate had been an economic boon for cities. The new workspace usually brought an influx of well-paid employees, boosted cities’ property-tax revenue and translated into more business for local retailers and shop owners.

Now, the waning appetite is a blow to cities at a time when it is difficult to find other big tenants. For landlords already grappling with higher interest rates and a drop in demand from financial companies, law firms and other tenants, tech’s reversal is especially painful.

In some cases, tech’s softening demand can lead to plunging real-estate values. Take 1800 Ninth Avenue, a 15-story office building in Seattle. Amazon’s rent payments helped almost triple the building’s value in the decade after the 2008-09 financial crisis.

In 2013, Amazon moved into about two-thirds of the building. At the end of that year, the building sold for $150 million—almost double the $77 million it had sold for just two years earlier.

Its price kept climbing as strong demand from tech companies and low interest rates drew big investment firms into the Seattle commercial-real-estate market. In 2019, J.P. Morgan Asset Management bought the building for $206 million.

Amazon’s lease expires this year, and the company is moving out. The building is listed for sale. It is expected to sell for about a quarter of its 2019 price, according to estimates by real-estate people familiar with the property.

“We’re constantly evaluating our real-estate portfolio based on the dynamic and diverse needs of Amazon’s businesses by looking at trends in how employees are using our offices,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement.

When the pandemic upended the U.S. office market, large tech companies were initially a bright spot. They continued adding space, betting they would eventually need it as they hired more people and as employees gradually returned to the office.

“Big tech was pretty resilient,” said Brooks Hauf , a senior director at brokerage Avison Young.

That changed in 2022. Remote work continued to be popular, and some big tech companies laid off workers , meaning they needed less space than they had thought, said Colin Yasukochi , an executive director at CBRE’s Tech Insights Center.

Leasing by tech companies fell by about half between the third quarter of 2021 and the third quarter of 2022, according to CBRE.

Since then, companies tied to the booming artificial-intelligence business have leased more space in San Francisco and other cities. But that hasn’t been enough to meaningfully boost the office market. San Francisco’s office-vacancy rate hit a record 36.7% in the first quarter, according to CBRE, up from just 3.6% in early 2019.



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Home prices declined at a faster pace in May in major cities, while other data show a mixed picture for the world’s second-largest economy

By REBECCA FENG
Tue, Jun 18, 2024 3 min

China’s broken housing market isn’t responding to some of the country’s boldest stimulus measures to date—at least not yet.

The Chinese government has been stepping up support for housing and other industries in recent months as it tries to revitalize an economy that has  continued to disappoint  since the early days of the pandemic.

But fresh data for May showed that businesses and consumers remain cautious. Home prices continue to fall at an accelerating rate, and fixed-asset investment and industrial production, while growing, lost some momentum.

“China’s May economic data suggest that policymakers have a lot to do to sustain the fragile recovery,” Yao Wei, chief China economist at Société Générale, wrote in a client note on Monday.

The worst pain is in the property sector, which has been struggling to deal with oversupply and weak buyer sentiment since 2021, when a multiyear  housing boom ended . The market still doesn’t appear to have found a floor, even after Beijing rolled out its most aggressive stimulus measures so far  in mid-May  in hopes of restoring confidence.

In major cities, new-home prices fell 4.3% in May compared with a year earlier, worse than a   3.5% decline in April, according to data released Monday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices in China’s secondhand home market tumbled 7.5%, compared with a 6.8% drop in April.

Home sales by value tumbled 30.5% in the first five months of this year compared with the same months last year.

“This data was certainly on the disappointing side and may ring some alarm bells, as May’s policy support package has not yet translated to a slower decline of housing prices, let alone a stabilisation,” said Lynn Song, chief China economist at ING.

Economists had also been hoping to see a wider recovery this month after Beijing started  rolling out  a planned issuance of 1 trillion yuan, the equivalent of $138 billion, in ultra-long sovereign bonds in May. The funds are designed to help pay for infrastructure and property projects backed by the authorities. Investors  gobbled up  the first batch of these bonds.

Monday’s bundle of economic data, however, underlined how the country still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Retail sales, a key metric of consumer spending, rose 3.7% in May from a year earlier, compared with 2.3% in April, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. While the trend is heading in the right direction, it is still a relatively subdued level of growth, and below what most economists believe is needed to kick-start a major revival in consumer spending.

The expansion in industrial production—5.6% in May compared with a year earlier—was down from April’s 6.7% increase. Fixed-asset investment growth, of which 40% came from property and infrastructure sectors, also decelerated, to 3.5% year-over-year growth in May from 3.6% in April.

Key to the sluggish economic activity data in May—and China’s outlook going forward—is the crisis in the property market, which has proven hard for policymakers to address.

The property rescue package in May included letting local governments buy up unsold homes, removing minimum interest rates on mortgages, and reducing payments for potential home buyers. It also included as its centerpiece a $41 billion so-called re-lending program launched by the People’s Bank of China, which would provide funding to Chinese banks to support home purchases by state-owned firms.

The hope was that by stepping in as a buyer of last resort for millions of properties, the government would manage to mop up unsold housing inventory and persuade wary home buyers to re-enter the market. In turn, Chinese consumers, who have  most of their wealth  tied up in real estate, would feel more confident about spending again, thereby lifting the overall economy.

But the size of the re-lending program wasn’t big enough to convince home buyers, said Larry Hu , chief China economist at Macquarie Group. “Meanwhile, their income outlook also stays weak given the current economic condition,” he said.

For the property market to bottom out and reach a new equilibrium, mortgage rates, which stand at around 3-4% in China, need to be as low as rental yields, which are currently below 2% in major cities, said Zhaopeng Xing, a senior China strategist at ANZ. He said that a large mortgage rate cut will need to happen eventually.

The other key part of China’s push to revive growth revolves around the manufacturing sector, with leaders  funnelling more investment  into factories to boost output and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign suppliers of key technologies.

The result has been a surge in production. But with domestic consumption not strong enough to absorb all those goods, many factories have been forced to cut prices and seek out more overseas buyers.

Data released earlier this month showed that  Chinese exports rose  faster in May than the month before.

However, the export push is  butting into resistance  as governments around the world worry about the impact of cheap Chinese competition on domestic jobs and industries. The European Union last week said it would  impose new import tariffs  on Chinese electric vehicles, describing China’s auto industry as heavily subsidised by the government, to the point where other countries’ automakers can’t fairly compete.

The U.S.  has also hit  Chinese cars and some other products with hefty duties, while countries including Brazil, India and Turkey have opened antidumping investigations into Chinese steel, chemicals and other goods.

Beijing says such moves are protectionist and that its industries compete fairly with global rivals.