Malls outperforming the shopping center industry

Robust growth for retail real estate in 2014
Robust growth for retail real estate in 2014

Forget all those images of abandoned malls filled with snow. As the shopping center industry consolidates from weaker properties shuttering their doors, rents, occupancy rates and productivity are all on the rise.

According to data released Monday by the International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry trade group, occupancy rates ended 2014 at 92.7 percent, the highest since the throes of the recession in second-quarter 2008.

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For the often-dragged-through-the-mud mall segment, occupancy rates reached a level not seen since fourth-quarter 1987, of 94.2 percent.

Base rents at shopping centers increased 6.5 percent on the year, their third-straight year of gains. Base rents at malls grew 17.2 percent, representing the strongest annual gain since ICSC and the National Council of Real Estate Investment Fiduciaries began tracking the data in 2000.

Net operating income at shopping centers and malls also saw the highest annual growth rate since the organizations began compiling data.

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"The 2014 data paints a very strong picture of the shopping center industry for the year ahead, and is especially promising in the mall segment," ICSC spokesperson Jesse Tron said in a news release.

Shoppers at Tyson's Corner Mall in Tyson Corner, Virginia
Melanie Stetson Freeman | The Christian Science Monitor | Getty Images

That's not to say that things are running smoothly throughout the entire sector. Retailers from RadioShack to Sears are either filing for bankruptcy or closing hundreds of stores to stay relevant in an era of digital price comparisons and online ordering.

Similarly, malls across the U.S. that were neglected by their owners, located in an area where there's been a large population shift or exodus, or lost shoppers to a new, better-run property have been demolished or otherwise forgotten.

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A recent study by FBIC analyst Deborah Weinswig, citing data from CoStar, found that among seven troubled retailers, including J.C. Penney and Kmart, the majority of the endangered locations are in smaller markets with less population and income density, or in an economically distressed region.

Even healthy retailers such as Macy's have begun pruning their store fleets as more shoppers make purchases online, causing a steady slide in traffic.

In an interview earlier this month, Tron downplayed the impact of the Internet on store closings.

"Stronger retailers stay, weaker retailers go, and it's been that way forever," he said.