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Vacancies Continue Slow Creep Upwards

The vacancy rate at U.S. strip malls rose to the highest level since 1996 in the first quarter of 2008, while that for big malls reached levels unseen since 2002, research firm Reis said on Friday.

The amount of space occupied by retailers fell for the first time since Reis began tracking the sector in 1980.

"Retailers are grappling with the implications of the housing and job market downturns for consumer activity, with the result that retail sector fundamentals -- occupancy and rent levels -- are being strained by anemic demand for space," Reis chief economist Sam Chandan said in statement.

Strip mall vacancies rose 0.2 percentage points from the preceding quarter to 7.7 percent.

By the end of the year, the rate likely will reach or surpass 8 percent, Reis said.

The vacancy rate for big regional malls was the highest since the fourth quarter of 2002, the report said.

Asking rent ticked up 0.4 percentage points after falling 0.4 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2007.

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