Is the retail apocalypse really upon us? If you read the business news headlines on a daily basis, chances are you've seen countless references to major brands like Walmart ($WMT), Sears ($SHLD), Toys'R'Us (RIP), and, most recently, Pier 1 Imports ($PIR) closing stores.
And, indeed, many stalwart brick-and-mortar brands are closing up shop as they look to reduce lease overhead and find a way into the future.
But let's suppose the "retail apocalypse" really is upon us. It certainly looks and sounds like that is the case. The aforementioned store-closing headlines are ubiquitous. Storefronts and stripmalls are empty.
But are they? According to vacancy data from 42 of the largest REITs (real-estate investment trusts, or the landlords of retail), the number of retail vacancies is actually down 15% from this exact point last year.
That's certainly a good sign for the long-term health of the retail industry. In many cases, as we've reported before, as one tenant moves out, newer, modern tenants that reflect the marketplace are moving in. When Toys'R'Us closed thousands of locations in the US, analysts were very concerned for both the health of the retail industry but also of the REITs. Since then, however, many of those vacated Toys'R'Us spaces have been leased.
It's not all good news, however. Since the new year, REIT vacancies are up by about 4%. Meanwhile, vacancies by square footage are concentrated in high-population areas, in a possible sign that urban dwellers continue to turn to e-commerce options for their shopping needs.