Survey: Tenants upbeat about 2011

North Plainfield, N.J. -- A survey released Friday by Levin Management Corp. said that he majority of shopping center tenants are optimistic about the year ahead.

According to the real estate firm’s pre- and post-holiday survey of Northeastern retailers, 61.5% of respondents were positive about 2011, and 52.2% of respondents said holiday sales topped or equaled 2009

“The general tone during the holidays was upbeat, mirroring the results of our pre-holiday survey. However, the overall post-holiday numbers offered a somewhat mixed picture, even though most participants indicated that their sales had increased or held steady,” said Matthew K. Harding, president and COO, Levin Management Corp.

The initial survey, conducted in early November, found that retailers were generally optimistic going into the 2010 holiday shopping period: Two-thirds of retailers projected sales at or higher than the 2009 holiday season. In the post-holiday survey, conducted in January, 61.5% of respondents expressed optimism for the coming year, even as some reported disappointing results during the recent holiday period.

Both Levin surveys canvassed store managers from a roster of 1,000 tenants located at 90 open-air shopping centers within the company’s 12.5 million-sq.-ft. portfolio. Most of the centers are located in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and include properties such as Paramus Place in Paramus, N.J., Somerset Shopping Center in Bridgewater Township, N.J., and Post Road Plaza in Pelham Manor, N.Y. Therefore, the surveys reflect results at open-air centers rather than enclosed malls.

In the pre-holiday survey, 46% of respondents had projected higher sales, and 22% said sales would at least match prior year totals. In the follow-up survey, 37.5% saw the increases they had projected, and 14.7% equaled 2009 numbers. 41% of respondents experienced lower sales; almost half of this group reported a drop of 10% or less, while another third reported a drop of 11% to 20%.

Nearly one-third of respondents indicated that seasonal markdowns were as much as 20% higher in 2010 than 2009. Approximately 60% kept 2010 markdowns at the 2009 level.

When asked about full-year sales, 2010 versus 2009, 57% of respondents said their sales were equal or higher for the year, and 43% reported lower sales.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, 51% of respondents in the post-holiday survey indicated traffic that was higher or holding steady while nearly 49% reported lower traffic compared with 2009. Asked about transaction levels, 57.4% reported equal or higher dollars per sale. 42.6% indicated fewer dollars spent per transaction.

On the employment front, 60% of the retailers who responded did not add seasonal jobs. The remaining 40% announced increases in their seasonal job numbers, with three quarters of those adding between one and five positions. However, only 21.1% of those surveyed indicated that seasonal hires would be offered permanent jobs.

“It will be important to see whether the next several months and spring season demonstrate a continuation of the holiday trends,” said Harding.

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