The Inventory Story

Following a lengthy 13-month liquidation cycle, business inventories grew by 0.4 percent in both October and November. Higher inventory levels among manufacturers and wholesalers in November more than made up for a slight dip in retail inventories. The inventory/sales ratio fell to 1.28, its lowest level since July 2008. With this ratio back to pre-crisis levels, businesses are poised to increase inventories this year, which will translate into higher levels of factory production. This is one reason why the industrial market is likely to be one of the first commercial real estate sectors to begin a recovery.

Another type of inventory – the inventory of office space available for sublease – fell in the fourth quarter, closing out 2009 at just under 120 million square feet. This was the first decline following nine consecutive quarterly increases. Some of this inventory reverted back to the landlord as the leases expired and will show up as direct lease space, but much of the decline came as tenants subleased space at market-clearing prices. Falling sublease inventories typically precede the beginning of a broader market recovery.