LOS ANGELES-If the nation’s shopping center investors were hosting a once-popular TV game show, they might ask one simple question: Will the real retail property market please stand up?

Many commercial real estate brokers and analysts here and across the nation tell GlobeSt.com that they’ve never before been so deluged with reports that suggest that the value of big shopping malls and other retail properties are poised for a solid increase — or that prices have already peaked and will continue to tumble over obstacles that include a faltering economy and growing jobless rate.

In the past, the holiday sales reports by the nation’s big retailers were a fairly good indicator of the retail property market’s overall health. Solid levels of consumer spending not only point to underlying economic strength, but also tend to fatten the profits of property owners because many landlords base their rent on a percentage of their retail tenants’ sales.

This year, however, major retailers are reporting mixed sales results. While retail giant Wal-Mart says its domestic sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving — the unofficial kick-off of the all-important holiday sales season — set a single-day record of nearly $1.3 billion, other retailers have recently reported sales declines of 5% to 10% from a year ago. Some have already started slashing prices further in order to lure more shoppers through their doors.

So far this year, most big-box stores and discount retailers are reporting modest sales gains that are in-line with Wall Street’s expectations. But lines are much shorter at many traditional department stores, especially those that aren’t taking part in the price-cutting frenzy.

“Consumers are hunting for bargains and finding them,” Kurt Barnard, president of the national Barnard’s Retail Trend Report newsletter, recently told GlobeSt.com. But stores that aren’t offering deep discounts have found that customers “passed right by,” he adds.

In another break from tradition, some experts say that the outlook for retail sales — and hence an area’s market for retail properties — is being increasingly influenced by local factors that can include a single community’s willingness to approve new projects or the hiring (or layoff) plans of one or two big employers.

“Before you could say something like, ‘California looks good,’ or ‘the Midwest looks bad,’ ” says one Southern California retail broker. But such regional classifications are now gone, he explains: “ Now it’s like, ‘This particular submarket of West LA is looking good, but things are bad in the submarket next door because such-and-such retailer just filed for bankruptcy, nobody wants its space, and people in the neighborhood are circulating a petition to have the store turned into a park — or a parking lot.”

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