The BCREA Commercial Leading Indicator (CLI) has seen a decline in the first quarter of 2020 from 134.2 to 123.2, which can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the same time last year, the index was down by 4.8%.

The pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy in the last two weeks of the first quarter of 2020 had a notable impact on the CLI, turning all components negative. On the economic activity component, manufacturing sales led the decline. On the employment component, a fall in key commercial real estate sector jobs was the primary driver. Meanwhile, the financial component had the largest negative impact on the CLI, as REIT prices tumbled and risk spreads widened in March. The underlying trend in the CLI was relatively flat in the previous six quarters, but has taken a sudden downward turn due to the pandemic. This suggests that going forward, the environment for commercial real estate activity in the province will be weak as the economy gradually re-opens, and temporarily unemployed individuals slowly return to work.

BC's economy was beginning to slow in the last quarter of 2019, but the rate of slowing was exacerbated by the pandemic in the first quarter of 2020. A fall in manufacturing sales of both durable and nondurable goods were the main drag on economic activity. Also contributing to the drag, but to a lesser extent, were lower wholesale trade sales in motor vehicles, and building material and supplies. Meanwhile, although growth in retail sales was positive in the first two months of 2020, it was not enough to offset the 10% monthly decline in March, as retail stores across the province were shut down halfway through the month due to the pandemic.

Employment growth in key commercial real estate sectors such as finance, insurance, real estate and leasing was negative for the first time since the summer of 2018, down by about 13,500 jobs in the first quarter. Additionally, manufacturing employment fell by about 1,830 jobs from the previous quarter.

The CLI's financial component was negative in the first quarter of 2020 as growing fears of the potential impact of the pandemic resulted in a full market meltdown in late February, sending equity markets into free fall and government bond yields plummeting. However, private borrowing costs rose sharply due to elevated risk premiums, causing a tightening of credit conditions.

Source: British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA)

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The Commercial Leading Index (CLI) provides insight on early signals of turning points between expansions and slowdowns in commercial real estate. The BCREA CLI "forecasts changes in broad commercial real estate activity. [Their] research shows that the variables that compose the CLI reliably forecast BC commercial real estate activity at a lag of two to four quarters. The index is revised each quarter, due to revisions in the underlying data". 

For the fifth consecutive quarter, the CLI has seen another rise in index points of 0.5 from the 2016 Q4 to 2017 Q1. The index is now 128.0 which is a 4% increase from a year ago and a 0.4% increase on a quarterly basis. The economic activity and employment components of the CLI have been contributing factors to the economic and employment growth in the province and BC has been continually leading all provinces in this type of growth. There are indications of further growth in investment, leasing and other commercial real estate over the next two to four quarters as signaled by the CLI trend.

The increase in the CLI is reflective of the economic growth in BC with its real GDP growth exceeding 3%, which is the second time this has occurred in the past 37 years. This can be attributable to key commercial sectors such as retail and wholesale trade along with the increase in manufacturing sales. As for employment, 2016 ended on a high note with an increase of over 3% in employment which has trickled into 2017.

For all your commercial and residential real estate needs, contact Amalia Liapis at 604-618-7000 or alternatively at amalia@wesellvancouver.ca

Source: British Columbia Real Estate Association

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