Prologis sees ‘accelerated’ demand for logistics real estate

Leading global logistics real estate provider Prologis Inc. (NYSE: PLD) believes the pandemic has “accelerated the retail evolution” and is “pulling forward several years of adoption.”

The comments referred to the growing trend of retailers seeking to bolster their online presence and commitment to ecommerce fulfillment. These were some of the highlights from the real estate investment trust’s (REIT) sixth installment of a special reporting series on the impacts COVID-19 is having on demand for logistics space.

Ecommerce requires more space

Findings from the report showed ecommerce penetration in the U.S. has spiked during the pandemic, reaching a level of more than 25% in April compared to just 15% at the end of 2019. The company is forecasting this metric to equal approximately 20% for the entirety of 2020 compared to the 16.9% forecast issued prior to the pandemic.

Prologis estimates ecommerce fulfillment requires more than three times the logistics space than traditional brick-and-mortar retail sales. The primary difference in ecommerce is that all of the inventory sits in a warehouse rather than on retail store shelves until it is pulled for delivery. Additionally, many ecommerce supply chains retain larger inventories with more product variety and their fulfillment facilities require dedicated space for parcel packaging and shipping and processing returns. 

The report called out the 3x “intensity-of-use” ratio as a primary driver for the need of incremental logistics real estate. “The persistently high ratio supports the need for additional e-fulfillment space should ecommerce penetration keep gains made during the Stay-at-Home Economy phase.” This ratio has remained in the 3x to 3.5x range for the last five years, bucking the original expectation that the ratio would decline as e-fulfillment supply chains became more efficient.

As both brick-and-mortar and ecommerce fulfillment supply chains seek improved resiliency and attempt to minimize the potential for future shocks to supply like those seen in March, the intensity-of-use ratio will likely move higher in both types of supply chains.

In Prologis’ prior installment in the reporting series, the company noted inventories were likely to increase by 5% to 10% to protect supply chains against future supply shock. This level of inventory growth produces an incremental need for 285 million to 570 million square feet. That report also indicated that re-tooling current supply chains to accommodate more e-fulfillment solutions would create net demand for an additional 140 million to 185 million square feet.

Retail bankruptcies not likely to impact demand

The recent report showed the potential offset to new logistics warehouse demand from retailer insolvencies may be minimal. Of the retailers that have filed for bankruptcy in 2020, their logistics real estate footprint represents less than 20 basis points of total U.S. logistics real estate occupancy.

Prologis said its portfolio of properties capture roughly twice the household income within 10 miles of the facility location compared to facilities operated by retailers that have recently filed for bankruptcy. Many of those companies operate large facilities in less populated areas, bucking the trend of turning products faster in smaller facilities located in consumption centers.

Industrial activity rebounds in May

Prologis’ activity index, the Industrial Business Indicator, bounced off of historic April lows to a reading of 45.1 in May, a level the report referred to as “consistent with a shallow recession.” A reading under 50 implies contraction in warehouse activity.

Prologis views the sharp bounce in the index as indicative that a demand slowdown for logistics space will be “short-lived.” The company said that its lease proposals increased 5.4% year-over-year in April and May.

Chart: Prologis Research

Logistics space utilization increased 90 basis points sequentially in May, but still remains approximately 150 basis points below pre-COVID-19 levels. Higher activity from some customers and swollen inventories for retailers with closed stores was credited with driving this metric higher.

San Francisco-based Prologis owns nearly one billion square feet in industrial real estate across 19 countries, serving 5,500 customers in B2B and retail anTd online fulfillment. Many of its warehouses in the U.S. service ports on both coasts, regional distribution hubs and rail and intermodal facilities.

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