By Erika Siegert, Senior Analyst, National Research Insights | January 13, 2021

The fourth quarter of 2020 saw additional pandemic-related closures and restrictions imposed across most markets, further limiting economic recovery. According to Statistics Canada, employment dropped by 0.3% in December, the first decrease recorded since April. Still, the unemployment rate sits at 8.6%, and nearly 29% of Canadians are working from home, a slight increase from previous months. While employment has continuously dropped in the accommodation and food services sector amid ongoing closures, December is the first month to see declining employment among the services- and goods-producing sectors since April, down 3.5% and 2.5%, respectively.

Although slow going, employment in retail trade and manufacturing has improved, both inching upwards by 0.9%. All provinces experienced a slight drop in employment, but levels in Alberta and Manitoba were the furthest below pre-pandemic levels compared to other provinces. Retail sales showed signs of recovery at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and while business closures may slow down recovery, sales will also likely be impacted by activity during the holiday season. National office availability reached 13.8% in Q4 2020, up from 12.6% in the previous quarter, and 11.4% in the same quarter last year (Figure 1). National industrial availability has compressed to 4.0% this quarter, down slightly from 4.3% in Q3 2020 and up from 3.6% in the same quarter last year (Figure 4). 


(Figure 1)

Office availability in major Canadian markets Q4 2020

 

While remote work persisted for most of 2020 and will likely remain for at least the first half of 2021, many are still waiting for large companies to make more concrete decisions about their office space needs. Throughout pandemic challenges, companies have realized the importance of employee interaction and in-person collaboration, and many employees have indicated a preference for hybrid working models. With that, decision-making will continue to focus on flexibility when it comes to leasing terms and co-working space, as well as prioritizing healthwellness and safety in the workplace. Still, remote work has pushed sublease space up over the past three quarters across most major markets, on top of rising overall office availability ratesStrong industrial demand has also continued, and with heightened e-commerce activity seen this year, there is a growing need for intensified warehousing and logistics capabilities. Current industrial availability remains tight, and paired with increasing demand, is likely to drive rental rates up moving forward.  

(Figure 2)

Office completions and availability in major Canadian markets Q4 2020

Office supply in the fourth quarter saw eight completed buildings totalling 1.9 million square feet with an availability rate of 11.8% (Figure 2), down from the 2.2 million square feet completed in the previous quarter at a 15.1% availability rate. Most of the new completions were concentrated in the Toronto market, with some new volume seen in Vancouver and Montreal as well. There were no new completions in any of the other major markets this quarter.

The most notable office completion was Phase 1 of Ivanhoe Cambridge’s CIBC Square in downtown Toronto. Located at 81 Bay street just across from Union Station and Scotiabank Arenathe first phase includes 1.5 million square feet of office space across 49 storeys in the south tower, with CIBC as the anchor tenant. The south tower also includes access to the GO Union Bus Terminal at ground level. Upon full completion set for 2024, the complex will include a north tower with 50 storeys of office space, retail and restaurant offerings, a tenant-exclusive fitness facilityand an elevated outdoor park connecting the two towers. This new greenspace within the downtown core is one example of ongoing efforts to introduce wellness-focused amenities into the workplace.

The second most notable completion this quarter was the 95,706 square foot office building located in Fredericton at 140 Carleton Street. With five stories of office space that is 65% leased by financial services and legal tenants, the building adds a modern look to the downtown area, boasting state-of-the-art smart building technology including HVAC control and weather monitoring to automatically adjust mechanical systems for convenience and comfort. While the ground level space was intended to be leased by a restaurant, this has been put on pause due to the pandemic.

The first phase of The Amazing Brentwoore-development in Burnaby is another notable completion this quarter, with 78,000 square feet of new office space over three storeysLargely tenanted by WeWork, this office building adds to the 28-acre neighborhood featuring retail, residential, entertainment and other mixed-use spaces, including a SkyTrain station that connects the complex to downtown Vancouver.  


(Figure 3)

Office sublet availability in major Canadian markets Q4 2020

 

With a steady rise in availability, sublease space has also consistently increased over the past year. With 14.7 million square feet of sublet space on the market, national sublet availability reached 19.1% in the fourth quarter, up from 17.2% in the previous quarter and 14.7% at the same time last year (Figure 3)While this trend was first seen among urban areas, growing sublease space is now seen in all markets, with the exception of slight quarteroverquarter decreases seen in Calgary and Vancouver. Still, Vancouver has the highest sublet availability rate at 32.1% this quarter, with nearly 1.8 million square feet on the market, followed by Toronto at 24.3% with 5.8 million square feet. As many undergo planning for a return to offices in accordance with potential vaccine distribution in 2021, some companies may expand their spaceto accommodate for physical distancing and safety needs, but office availability rates are likely to continue rising across markets as typical work environments are transformed and hybrid work-from-home models are implemented. 


(Figure 4)

Industrial availability in major Canadian markets Q4 2020

Growing industrial demand has further tightened availability rates across most major markets this quarter. A total of 45 industrial buildings were completed nationally at an availability rate of 12% (Figure 5)on top of another 87 buildings totalling 21.2 million square feet under construction in the fourth quarterat an availability rate of 34.5%. The majority of new completions were seen in the Toronto market, with 5.9 million square feet across 23 buildings, followed by Vancouver with 1.2 million square feet across 12 buildings. Among other major markets, Edmonton saw three new completions totalling 587,821 square feet, Calgary saw two new completions totalling 35,842 square feet, and Montreal saw one new completion totalling 29,374 square feet. Ottawa did not record any new industrial completions this quarter.

The top notable completions were all located in the Greater Toronto Area, one being Canadian Tire’s newest distribution centre located at 10254 Hurontario Street in Brampton. The 1.3 million square foot facility is the first of four to be built on this site. Another notable completion is the iPort Caledon logistics campus with 890,175 square feet of industrial space located at 12000-12400 Coleraine Drive in Bolton. The site was strategically positioned between Canada’s two largest intermodal yards and is set to include nearly four million square feet of space across multiple other facilities upon completion.  


(Figure 5)

Industrial under construction and availability in major Canadian markets Q4 2020

The industrial sector has continued on an upward trend since the onset of the pandemic, resulting in tighter availability rates in the fourth quarter. Strong logistics and warehousing capabilities are still in high demand as companies work to keep up with online sales activity, as well as anticipating high return volumes following the holiday season. With lockdown measures still in place across many regions, e-commerce growth is not likely to slow down. In order to meet rising demand, many will look to increase building density with multi-story developments, as well as leverage technology such as artificial intelligence and process automation to maximize efficiencies. Overall, facility location will have a strong impact on the movement of goods, and many will focus on maintaining a profit amid the potential rise in rental rates ahead. 

With news of vaccine approval bringing some positivity to the last quarter of 2020 and the outlook for 2021, continued rising case counts and closures leave many industries struggling. Despite talks of return-to-work plans in the upcoming year, office availabilities are still rising as companies move closer to making decisions regarding space needs. The industrial sector has fared well throughout the pandemic but increasing demand will push new innovations and developments forward in order to meet rising demand for high-quality space. 

 

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