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NEW YORK CITY—The economic downturn has finally made its presence felt along the likes of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Grafton Street in Dublin and Colaba Causeway in Mumbai. Fifty-four percent of the 274 top-tier shopping streets worldwide and 70% of the 60 countries monitored by Cushman & Wakefield experienced a year-over-year decline in retail rents compared to June 2008, according to a report released Tuesday. That tally is the largest in the 24 years that C&W has issued its annual “Main Streets Across the World” report.

Within those high-end shopping districts, the rate of decline varies widely. The 8.1% year-over-year decline in asking rents along Fifth Avenue–still the world’s most expensive at $1,700 per square foot–looks pretty modest compared to the steep drops experienced by Bucharest’s Calea Victoriei with a 48.1% drop, Rio de Janeiro’s Sao Conrado Fashion Mall at negative 53.4% and Mumbai’s Colaba Causeway, which fell 63.5%.

“Fifth Avenue continues to provide global retail brands with the premier opportunity to communicate their message to the broadest possible international audience,” says Gene Spiegelman, New York-based EVP at C&W. “Limited supply of prime positions combined with continued demand has minimized the downward pressure on Fifth Avenue rental values.”

Spiegelman adds that Fifth Avenue’s resiliency “also rests in its unique appeal to both luxury and specialty retail brands and their ability to successfully co-exist on the world’s most expressive retail corridor. Notwithstanding the significant impact the downturn in the global economy has had upon the retail sector, the Manhattan marketplace and specifically Fifth Avenue have faired well as compared to the overall retail marketplace.”

Globally, Fifth Avenue is followed in the top 10 by Causeway Bay in Hong Kong at $1,525 per square foot, off 15.1% since June 2008; Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris, where the $1,009 average per square foot is unchanged; Via Montenapoleone in Milan, up 1.5% to $887 per square foot; the Ginza in Tokyo, which saw flat rent growth at $776 per square foot; London’s New Bond Street, up 6.9% to $768; Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse, flat at $685 per square foot; Grafton Street in Dublin, off 22.5% and three rankings to $568 per square foot; the Kaufingerstrasse in Munich, which rose from 12th place last year with a 7.1% increase to $470 per square foot; and Pitt Street Mall, which slipped 3.2% to $448 per square foot.

Brazil, where one of the steepest declines in rents occurred, is also home to the city with the biggest increases among the 274 streets monitored by C&W. That would be Sao Paulo, where the Alameda Lorena and Iguatemi shopping districts rose 111% and 79.3%, respectively, according to C&W.

Latin America, with a 10.3% rent growth, and the Middle East and Africa with a more sluggish 0.8% increase, were the only global regions that saw positive numbers in a 12-month period. Rents were off year-over-year by 1.5% in Eurozone nations, 2.4% in Western Europe, 5.8% in Europe overall, 12% in Canada and the US, 14.7% in Central and Eastern Europe and 17.3% in Asia Pacific.

Looking toward the future and eventual recovery, the report cites “a greater degree of optimism surrounding the global economy.” Indices of business activity and household confidence are on the rise in many countries, and some economies have climbed out of recession, at least technically.

However, the report states, although “some sort of economic bounce” is expected later this year and early next year, “any recovery is likely to be slow, fragile and uneven.” In a release, John Strachan, C&W’s global head of retail, puts a more positive face on it, saying, “There will undoubtedly be some markets which will continue to be affected over the next year. But we expect to see a greater number move back into positive territory.”

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