Houston's office vacancy increased again over the quarter, reaching its highest rate since 1994, according to Colliers International Q2 Market Report. The city's office market continues to struggle as global oil futures trade below $50 a barrel. With no indication that prices will rise in the immediate future, it will take a while to absorb the large volume of space the energy industry has placed on the market over the last few years.
A Florida Senate committee has unanimously approved Senate Bill 90, which would implement Amendment 4 and eliminate property taxes on solar and other renewable energy devices installed at commercial and industrial facilities for 20 years. The same tax break already exists for residential property owners. Florida voters passed the Amendment 4 ballot initiative last summer with almost 75% of the vote. The legislation would go into effect in 2018, and would also exempt renewable energy devices from Florida’s tangible personal property tax, including storage tanks, rock beds, thermostats and control devices, and heat exchangers.
The oil and gas industry is projected to make a significant increase in property taxes payments to eastern Ohio counties over the next decade, according to two industry groups who are estimating an increase from $43 million to $250 million. The Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the industry-funded group Energy In Depth collected data on property tax revenue for the six counties home to the most drilling in the Utica shale play since 2011, when hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling brought a bevy of drilling and related activity to Appalachian Ohio.
Ohio’s oil and gas industry may get a retroactive windfall tax break estimated at $264 million under a bill passed by the legislature during the lame-duck session The heavily amended Senate Bill 235 would expand the sales-tax exemption for tangible personal property for the oil and gas industry. And in an unusual move, the General Assembly made the tax breaks retroactive to June 30, 2010, requiring refunds from the state totaling $215 million and local governments totaling $49 million.
The prolonged slump in oil prices has taken a serious toll on Houston’s office market, as the energy industry hub now has 10.2 million square feet of space available to sublease and vacancy rates are at their highest in 20 years, real estate firm CBRE reported. That was roughly 19.8 percent of total available office space in Houston, CBRE found, a level not touched since low oil prices during the mid-1990s. Thousands of energy industry employees have lost jobs and companies have slashed their capital budgets during the steep slide in crude prices, causing companies to shrink their footprint and get others to cover the terms of their leases.
ConocoPhillips is the latest energy company to add a huge chunk of office space to Houston’s growing sublease market. The Houston-based company announced June 1 it will put the entire Energy Center 4, a 596,000-square-foot, 22-story tower located in the Energy Corridor, up for sublease. The building was never occupied. "The decision to market the building for sublease aligns with the company’s focus on sustaining structural cost reductions and continued efforts to capture efficiencies," ConocoPhillips said in a statement. "We constantly review our entire portfolio and make adjustments where appropriate; office space being no exception.”
After more than a year of weak oil prices, the fallout of roomnight demand in oil-producing areas has waned as supply growth continues its strong upward momentum, which means more trouble ahead for hoteliers. According to Hotel News Now, the decline in demand can easily be traced back to the price of oil. As oil prices hovered around $100 per barrel, new oil and gas wells needed additional workers and offered employment for many. But the lack of accommodations in the rather undeveloped areas of the U.S. forced workers to, in the beginning, sleep in their cars and then in “man camps” until finally hotel development caught up with the rapid demand. But as much as room demand increased when oil prices were high, it waned quickly when oil prices, and thus production and employment, decreased rapidly in 2015. Room demand changes in the submarkets* that are primarily driven by the oil and gas industry have been negative since March 2015 and decreased more than 10% successively in the last three months ending January 2016. The negative impact of the last few years is only the latest roller coaster change in revenue per available room as the oil prices and supply additions caused hoteliers euphoria in the mid-2000s and heartburn in the more recent past.
The interest rates that banks borrow money from the Federal Reserve have been near zero for over 6 years now, and commercial real estate investors have greatly benefited from the low interest rate environment. However, when the Federal Reserve recently raised the rate by 25 basis points at the same time that oil prices reached record lows, it caused the global economy to start rapidly crashing. There was nearly a 6% decline in January 2016 and over one trillion dollars of value lost within the Stock Market – the worst economic performance in a single month since 2009.
A recent ruling by the Utah State Tax Commission concerning the assessment of pipelines could have major implications for pipeline companies statewide. In the case of Summit Water Distribution Company vs. the Summit County Board of Equalization, the Tax Commission ruled that pipelines are not personal property, and the company’s water pipeline should be assessed as real property. For property tax purposes, Utah pipelines have historically been assessed as personal property, which are depreciated over time. The ruling’s sweeping changes to the assessment of pipelines could open the door for Summit County, and other jurisdictions with pipelines, to recoup millions of dollars in uncollected property taxes due to personal property values being depreciated over the years.
Some analysts are concerned that the future is looking even worse for Houston’s multifamily and commercial real estate markets due to the oil price slump. John Moran and David Chen at Macquarie say there has been much "handwringing" over the banking sectors' loan exposure to oil and gas companies but there could be a more serious ripple effect. "We have cautioned that second-order fallout, particularly around MF/CRE in 'oily' MSAs [metropolitan statistical areas], is potentially more troubling than energy credit per se," they said in a recent note.