B.C. commercial real estate index plunges

Leading indicator of commercial real estate fell for the fourth quarter in a row for the second-worst performance in more than two decades

Index is seen as a harbinger for commercial real estate in the province | Chung Chow

The commercial leading indicator (CLI) from the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA) plunged in the second quarter of 2020 to the second-lowest level since the financial crisis of 2009.

The CLI fell to 121.9 from 127.6 in the first quarter, representing the fourth consecutive quarterly decline for an index that is designed to forecast changes in the commercial real estate market.

Compared to the same time last year, the index was down 9.8%. The second quarter of 2020 saw the complete shutdown of key economic industries in B.C., while employment continued to decline in manufacturing and in key real estate sectors. 

In contrast, the financial component had the largest positive impact on the CLI on record, as real estate investment trust prices rose and risk spreads narrowed from the previous quarter, according to a BCREA release.

“The underlying trend in the CLI continued its downward trend into the second quarter of 2020. This suggests that going forward, the environment for commercial real estate activity in B.C. will continue to be weak,” the release stated. “Manufacturing sales of both durable and nondurable goods fell by magnitudes not seen since the great financial crisis in 2009.”

April saw the largest monthly drop in retail sales on record, as brick-and-mortar stores were shut down for most of the second quarter. Although online sales reached new highs during this period, they were not enough to offset the decline. Employment growth in key commercial real estate sectors such as finance, insurance, real estate and leasing was negative for the second consecutive quarter, down by about 1,700 jobs, which is notably fewer than the 13,500 jobs lost in the previous quarter. Manufacturing employment fell for the fourth consecutive quarter by about 5,170 jobs, almost three times the number of jobs lost in the previous quarter. 

Highlights of the CLI Q2 report:

  • Economic activity felt the full force of the pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy, as significant declines were reported in wholesale trade (down 11% , manufacturing sales (down 9.6%), and retail sales (down 8.9%); 
  • Employment fell by 1,700 jobs in key commercial real estate sectors, but paled when compared to the 13,500 jobs lost in the previous quarter. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs fell, for the fourth consecutive quarter, by 5,170 jobs; and
  • Financial markets bounced back from the full meltdown in late February that sent equity markets into free fall and government bond yields plummeting.