Posting positive demand for the 23rd consecutive quarter in the fourth quarter of 2015, absorption in the national industrial market totaled nearly 220 million square feet during the year, with the pace of absorption increasing across most major markets. Several trends and factors are supporting strong demand in the industrial sector.
Most notably, e-commerce sale activity continues to increase at an impressive rate and companies are responding to consumer preferences by shortening the supply chain to deliver goods more quickly. Additionally, a number of coastal markets are also benefitting from the anticipated opening of the Panama Canal expansion. Given the changing landscape, demand in the industrial sector is projected to be healthy through at least the near and into the long term, and to a significant degree, a sizeable amount of absorption in the industrial sector will come at the expense of the retail sector.
Absorption in the industrial sector during the year was led by the logistics segments, though positive demand was also noted in the light industrial segments. Demand remains robust throughout all regions. The strongest absorption figures continue to be noted for logistics space in primary industrial markets, including the Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Inland Empire markets. Absorption in the Midwest region is led by the Chicago market, followed by the Indianapolis, Detroit, and Twin Cities markets.
Led by demand for warehouse and distribution space, absorption in the Twin Cities industrial market totaled approximately 3.55 million square feet in 2015. The light industrial segment in the local market also was consistently healthy during the year.
Led by growth in the logistics segment, new construction activity in the industrial sector increased at a rapid pace in 2015, with the amount of new distribution space added during the year particularly impressive. New construction deliveries involving logistics space, including both distribution and warehouse properties, increased by 2.5% over the year ended December 2015, while new construction in the light industrial segment increased by 0.2% during this period. Accounting for a significant portion of the sectors pipeline, speculative construction activity in the industrial sector has surpassed pre-recession levels, with sources indicating as much as 40.0% to 60.0% of new logistics properties under construction are being built as speculative projects.
Among regions, new construction activity is strongest in the West and South regions, but construction levels were also strong in the Midwest and Northeast regions. Over 20 million square feet of new inventory was delivered in the Inland Empire market during the year, while new construction added over 15 million square feet of space in both the and Chicago and Dallas-Ft. Worth markets. Despite widespread industrial construction activity in the Inland Empire market, the market’s vacancy rate decreased into the low-3.0% range at the close of 2015, down 80 basis points compared to the fourth quarter of 2014. In the Northeast region, developers continue to remain active in the Lehigh Valley market, with Liberty Property Trust construction a 1.7 million-square-foot distribution building for Uline and Duke Realty scheduled to deliver a 1.1 million-square-foot speculative building in 2016.
Development activity in the Midwest region was led by the Chicago market, but supported by widespread new construction in the Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Twin Cities markets. Although the pace of new construction activity in the Indianapolis market appears to be slowing, developers added nearly 6.5 million square feet of speculative space to the market over the last 18 months, adversely affecting occupancy levels in the face of healthy absorption figures. Developers added roughly 1.77 million square feet to the existing Twin Cities inventory in 2015. Development activity in the Twin Cities was strongest in the Southwest submarket, but developers are active throughout much of the area.
In the face of robust new construction activity, vacancies in the national industrial sector decreased by 40 basis points in 2015, declining into the mid-7.0% range at the close of the year. Vacancy rates in over 20 major markets have fallen below 6.0%, and on the national level, vacancy rates have declined by approximately 3.5% in the last five years. Occupancy levels in the light industrial segment noted the most significant improvement in 2015, but vacancy rates continue to remain tighter in the logistics segment, in spite of new development activity.
Occupancy levels further increased within most major markets. Vacancy rates remain tightest in the West region, but softer occupancy levels were noted within some markets in the region compared to the year prior. Occupancy levels in industrial markets throughout the Midwest largely remain strong, but a surge in speculative development is testing demand in several Midwestern markets. Vacancy rates in the Twin Cities market declined by a sizeable amount in 2015, and though excess capacity exists, noticeable improvements in occupancy levels were recorded in the Southwest submarket.
Over 50.0% of major markets recorded year-over-year asking rent growth of greater than 3.0% in 2015, as rents increased at a robust pace in both the logistics and light industrial segments. Strong rent growth was noted across several Midwestern markets, and asking rents advanced across all submarkets in the Twin Cities industrial market, but the strongest growth was observed in the Southwest submarket.
The industrial sector has emerged as a preferred asset type for institutional and foreign investors. Favorable investment returns and minimal capital expenditures compared to other asset types as well as the emergence of e-commerce have attracted investors to enter and expand their reach into the industrial market. Sales activity in the national industrial market increased by 44.0% year-over-year in 2015, with sales volume totaling nearly $72 billion for the year. Sales activity in the industrial market began the year at a robust pace, before reaching a lull in the second and third quarters of 2015, and then finished strong in the final three months of the year. Sales volume in the light industrial segment increased by approximately 30.0% year-over-year in 2015, but activity in the light industrial segment remains overshadowed by investment in logistics space.
Industrial assets have become a favored property type among foreign and institutional buyers, resulting in stronger pricing and capitalization rate compression. The average sale price on a per square foot basis in the national industrial market increased by 9.5% year-over-year in 2015, while average capitalization rates in the sector decreased by 40 basis points during the year. Prices increased in both segments of the industrial market, with the average price per square foot in logistics approaching $70 per square foot and surpassing the $80 per square foot in the light industrial segment. Capitalization rates in both the logistics and light industrial segments compressed at a similar rate during the year, and private investors in the industrial sector remain aggressive in underwriting rents and vacancy.
Some concern in the national industrial market, and in the broader commercial real estate market, is the greater amount of portfolio and entity-level transactions. Three massive sales accounted for over 20.0% of all industrial sales volume in 2015. Exeter Property Group sold a 57.9 million-square-foot industrial portfolio for $3.15 billion in December of 2015. Earlier in the year, Global Logistic Properties and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund completed an $8.1 billion purchase of IndCor Properties industrial assets and operating company from Blackstone, while Prologis and Norges Bank Investment Management purchased a portfolio from KTR for $5.9 billion. The KTR portfolio contained 60 million square feet of operating space, 3.6 million square feet of space under construction, and a land bank with a build-out potential of 6.7 million square feet.
A number of large single-property sales also occurred during the year, with a significant amount of activity noted in the Midwest region. Two of the largest single-property transactions at the national level in 2015 involved Duke Realty selling a mission-critical building leased by Amazon in Delaware for $91 million, equating to approximately $89.50 per square foot, and the sale of a newly-built Home Depot Fulfillment Center in Ohio for $97 million or $59.20 per square foot.
Mirroring trends at the national and regional levels, industrial investment activity in the Twin Cities was strong in 2015. Several large portfolios in the Twin Cities market were sold during the year, but sales velocity drove sales volume in the local market and investment activity in the local market was consistent throughout the year, with healthy activity noted across all segments and submarkets. One of the largest transactions in the Twin Cities market during the year included the sale of the BAE building for $46.8 million to Gramercy Property Trust in July.