The vacancy rate for U.S. neighborhood and community centers rose 20 basis points during the fourth quarter of 2007 according to Reis Inc. — the eleventh straight quarterly increase — leaving the national rate at 7.5 percent, the highest level since 2006. Meanwhile, vacancies at regional malls jumped 30 basis points to 5.8 percent, the highest level in three years.

What to make of the move? Not much, Reis chief economist Sam Chandan says. While the vacancy rate is moving in the wrong direction, it would need to move a lot further to cause any real damage to the retail sector's fortunes. And even with softness seeping into the commercial real estate world, there are a lot of reasons to believe the sector will weather the storm.

Chandan points out that the biggest reason for vacancy rates moving up is that newer projects opening to serve new housing developments are not leasing up as fast as hoped because the housing developments themselves haven't filled up. (For more from Chandan, check the Expert Q&A on p. 56.)