January 07 2021

Houston Office Market Report – Fourth Quarter 2020

ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

Even though many of the challenges and uncertainties that defined 2020 are still with us, we start 2021 with cautious optimism because in December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorization for two different vaccines for the prevention of COVID-19. As a greater share of the population is vaccinated, the robustness and pace of the economic recovery will follow as we return to public spaces like offices and restaurants in greater numbers.

There is also hope in broader macroeconomic trends. During the pandemic, Americans trimmed back spending on discretionary purchases with the personal savings rate peaking in April at 33.7% and now 12.9% in November, well above the rate of 7.5% in 2019. This means many households have reserves to boost their spending once they have confidence the pandemic is over. This coupled with a low interest rate environment and the recent passage of the $900 billion pandemic relief package, mean the economy is poised for a sharp and sustained rebound.

Looking at Houston in particular, we still have a long road to a full recovery. Using seasonally adjusted data, Houston is down 184.1 thousand jobs from February through November. The expectation is for job losses to continue early in 2021 but pivot in the second half to sustained growth. The net effect has the Greater Houston Partnership projecting weak job growth in the range of 35-52 thousand jobs for 2021 but stronger growth in 2022.

One thing helping bolster our recovery is that Texas is increasingly seen as an attractive destination for corporate relocations. In December, Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced it was moving its headquarters to Houston citing the business-friendly environment and deep pool of talent as borne out by Texas leading the country in population growth adding an estimated 373,965 new residents in 2020.

Finally, oil prices ended the year trading just shy of the $50 range widely considered as the breakeven price to profitably drill new wells. The Baker Hughes Rig Count is now showing signs of recovery ending the year at 351 active rigs in the US, an increase of 107 rigs from the lows seen in the middle of the third quarter.

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