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Vacancies Rise Again

Vacancies at U.S. malls and shopping centers approached 10-year highs in the fourth quarter, and are set to rise further as declining retail sales put more stores out of business, research firm Reis Inc. said.

Regional mall vacancies rose to 7.1 percent last quarter from 6.6 percent in the third quarter. It was the highest vacancy rate since Reis began tracking regional malls in 2000, as well as the largest quarter-to-quarter jump in vacancies, according to New York-based Reis.

More than a dozen retailers, including Circuit City Stores Inc., Linens ‘n Things Inc. and Sharper Image Corp., filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008 as the credit squeeze and recession drained sales. Vacancies will rise further until the job market recovers, housing prices stabilize and lending resumes, restoring consumer confidence, said Reis.

“So much of consumer spending depends on the wealth effect,” said Victor Calanog, director of research at Reis. “Unfortunately, all three conditions are still in flux. Even when they stabilize we often observe anywhere from a 12- to 24- month lag until commercial retail properties begin benefiting.”

At neighborhood and community shopping centers, the vacancy rate rose to 8.9 percent from 8.4 percent in the third quarter, the highest since Reis began publishing quarterly data in 1999.

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