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LAS VEGAS-”1990-91 rocked my world. We’re going through a cycle that feels similar,” said Bernard Haddigan, managing director of Marcus & Millichap’s national retail group, moderating the firm’s retail forecast event here yesterday. It was perhaps the most negative statement made by a panel of industry experts at the event. Their mood was slightly bearish for the short term, but generally optimistic going long, as were the more than 1,000 attendees, who were polled electronically during the presentation.

Haddigan called this past year “transitional,” regarding the general economy, but admitted, “it was still a record year for Marcus & Millichap. It’s been a very active year.”

“It’s an interesting time,” agreed Hessam Nadji, the firm’s managing director of research. Still, “there is no desperation in the marketplace. That is based on positive, fact-based information.”

For the troubled housing business, “the bottom hasn’t been reached yet. There is more correction yet to come,” Nadji said. And even after that correction does occur, “there will still be a net gain in housing prices,” he predicted.

He also predicted that the next 6-12 months will be “touch-and-go” for the general economy. And while the past four to five years have seen capital flowing into real estate in record amounts, “there is no question capital is now constrained. But capital in still available,” he said. “It’s back to basics.”

Asked for a brief overview, Sandeep Mathrani, EVP of Vornado Realty Trust, Paramus, NJ, described himself as “somewhat bearish.” James A. Stolpestad, managing director at GE Real Estate, New York, described the current climate as, “not as bad as the early ’90s.” And while Randy Kelley, SVP of real estate at The Fresh Market grocery chain, based in Greensboro, NC, said he was “somewhat bearish,” he told attendees that his company is “growing rapidly, targeting low-growth markets.”

Mathrani noted that, “this is a good market for growing tenants” because of the good rental deals that can be had. Kelley added, “retail constantly re-invents itself. This is a time to build good relationships with landlords. There are lots of value-add opportunities, second-generation opportunities. We’re picking up some 20,000-sf boxes that weren’t available to us a couple of years ago.”

On the investment side of the retail sector, “trouble is opportunity,” Mathrani said. “Landlords with strong balance sheets can withstand this.” And according to Stolpestad, “this is a great time to be a lender. There is clear opportunity when others are having problems with their lenders. We are solution providers.”

And in terms of property values, “good, well-maintained properties in good markets will hold their values,” Stolpestad said. As far as how all of that translates in dealmaking, “the under $10-million [property sale] market is holding up,” Haddigan said. “Over $10 million is off by upwards of 60% in transaction velocity.”

Finally, Kelley urged developer/owners to “focus on markets with strong employment and strong fundamentals.” And that includes secondary, even tertiary markets.

How did the 1,000+ attendees feel, as recorded by the electronic polling conducted through a series of questions sprinkling throughout the presentation? With electronic clickers firmly in hand, the cross-section demographic in attendance responded thusly:

How Do You Feel About the Economy in General?-I’m a Bull 3%-Somewhat Bullish24%-Somewhat Bearish55%-I’m a Bear17%-Good Night Gracie! 1%

Retail Tenant Demand?-Bull 3%-Somewhat Bullish25%-Somewhat Bearish40%-Bear30%-We’re Not in Kansas Anymore! 2%

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