Landmark Links November 22nd – GOAT

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First off, I’d like to wish each and every one of you a very happy Thanksgiving.  I’ve really enjoyed writing this blog over the past year and a half or so and am very thankful to all of you for visiting it.  This is going to be my only blog post this week as I’m certain that you have better things to do on a long holiday weekend than surf the web as do I.  Enjoy the time with your loved ones and we’ll be back full time next week!

Lead Story… Every once in a while, I come across a profile that is so fascinating that it makes sense to feature it here even if it’s not real estate related.  Today’s lead story feature is a long-form Bloomberg profile of Renaissance Technologies (and the employees-only Medallion Fund  in particular), the world’s most successful and possibly most secretive hedge fund.  I found this particular story so intriguing because it gives the reader a great glimpse of what it takes to be the best in a deeply cutthroat industry and how adaptation is key, even if you are on top.  It’s a fairly long read so it’s perfect for the upcoming long weekend.

Anyone who follows financial media has heard that hedge funds have had a rough go of it lately.  The strategies that they employ are getting crowded with competitors making it hard to find an edge, leading to benchmark under-performance and pressure to cut fees or face redemptions.  However, there is at least one fund, run by a highly secretive team of PHD’s, mathematicians and scientists that hasn’t just beaten the market. It’s torched the market, it’s competitors and pretty much any asset class that you can imagine since the late 1980s…and that’s AFTER you account for it’s astronomical fee structure. That fund is Renaissance Technologies Medallion Fund (whose only investors are Renaissance employees) which was founded by Jim Simmons.  BTW, this is not a Madoffesque scheme just waiting to blow sky high once the market turns.  It’s very real.  From Bloomberg’s Katherine Burton (emphasis mine):

The fabled fund, known for its intense secrecy, has produced about $55 billion in profit over the last 28 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, making it about $10 billion more profitable than funds run by billionaires Ray Dalio and George Soros. What’s more, it did so in a shorter time and with fewer assets under management. The fund almost never loses money. Its biggest drawdown in one five-year period was half a percent.

“Renaissance is the commercial version of the Manhattan Project,” says Andrew Lo, a finance professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and chairman of AlphaSimplex, a quant research firm. Lo credits Jim Simons, the 78-year-old mathematician who founded Renaissance in 1982, for bringing so many scientists together. “They are the pinnacle of quant investing. No one else is even close.”

Few firms are the subject of so much fascination, rumor, or speculation. Everyone has heard of Renaissance; almost no one knows what goes on inside. (The company also operates three hedge funds, open to outside investors, that together oversee about $26 billion, although their performance is less spectacular than Medallion’s.) Apart from Simons, who retired in 2009 to focus on philanthropic causes, relatively little has been known about this small group of scientists—whose vast wealth is greater than the gross domestic product of many countries and increasingly influences U.S. politics—until now. Renaissance’s owners and executives declined to comment for this story through the company’s spokesman, Jonathan Gasthalter. What follows is the product of extensive research and more than two dozen interviews with people who know them, have worked with them, or have competed against them.

Renaissance is unique, even among hedge funds, for the genius—and eccentricities—of its people. Peter Brown, who co-heads the firm, usually sleeps on a Murphy bed in his office. His counterpart, Robert Mercer, rarely speaks; you’re more likely to catch him whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy in meetings than to hear his voice. Screaming battles seem to help a pair of identical twins, both of them Ph.D. string theorists, produce some of their best work. Employees aren’t above turf wars, either: A power grab may have once lifted a Russian scientist into a larger role within the highly profitable equity business in a new guard vs. old guard struggle.

For outsiders, the mystery of mysteries is how Medallion has managed to pump out annualized returns of almost 80 percent a year, before fees.

Fees, by the way are 5% on the AUM and 44% of the profits.  So, yeah it’s expensive but the after-fee returns are nothing short of spectacular.  By the way, this is an employees only fund so they are investing their own cash.  No outsiders allowed.

There are a couple of points in the article that describe what makes Renaissance different different from most funds.  The first was that they are looking to hire mathematicians, coders and PHD’s, not your typical Wall Street folks:

Encouraged by Medallion’s success, Simons by the mid-’90s was looking for more researchers. A résumé with Wall Street experience or even a finance background was a firm pass. “We hire people who have done good science,” Simons once said. The next surge of talent—much of which remains the core of the company today—came from a team of mathematicians at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., who were wrestling with speech recognition and machine translation.

If you want to outperform, you have to be different from everyone else.  In a highly competitive field, there isn’t much of an edge to be had by doing the same thing as your competitors and trying to be better at the margins.  To truly bring performance to the next level, it’s sometimes imperative to go about doing things in a completely different way.  The second thing that caught my eye was the focus on data.  Not just gathering data but rather compiling it in such a way that it’s usable in testing an investment thesis:

Renaissance also spent heavily collecting, sorting, and cleaning data, as well as making it accessible to its researchers. “If you have an idea, you want to test it quickly. And if you have to get the data in shape, it slows down the process tremendously,” says Patterson.

The business that Renaissance is in is possibly the most data intensive of any field and they have mastered gathering and use of that data in a way that few have.  The third, and perhaps most critical success factor highlighted in the article was the willingness to constantly adapt, despite perpetually outperforming their peers:

In the early days, anomalies were easy to spot and exploit. A Renaissance scientist noted that Standard & Poor’s options and futures closing times were 15 minutes apart, a detail he turned into a profit engine for a time, one former investor says. The system was full of such aberrations, he says, and the scientists researched each of them to death. Adding them all up produced serious money—millions at first, and before long, billions.

But as financial sophistication grew and more quants plied their craft at decoding markets, the inefficiencies began disappearing. When Mercer and Brown joined they were assigned to different research areas, but it soon became apparent they were better together than apart. They fed off each other: Brown was the optimist, and Mercer the skeptic. “Peter is very creative with a lot of ideas, and Bob says, ‘I think we need to think hard about that,’ ” says Patterson. They took charge of the equities group, which people say was losing money. “It took them four years to get the system working,” says Patterson. “Jim was very patient.” The investment paid off. Today the equities group accounts for the majority of Medallion’s profits, primarily using derivatives and leverage of four to five times its capital, according to documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

If you’re on top, it’s fairly easy for stagnation to take hold.  After all, why change things if you’re outperforming all of the time?  The ability and willingness to constantly evolve without allowing performance to slip is easier said than done.  If you have time this weekend, you won’t regret reading the entire piece.

Economy

It’s a Long Way Down: A protracted bond bear market is not a sure thing.  That being said, a lot investors searching for yield in long duration instruments are doing the equivalent of picking up nickels in front of an oncoming bulldozer.

Of Broken Clocks: The perennial cycle of “experts” predicting recessions is a complete joke.

The Void: Vocational training was once the norm in high schools.  In the era of hyper-competitive college prep it’s fallen by the wayside.  Here is why we desperately need it to return.

Commercial

Cookie Cutter: You can thank banks and their insistence on credit retail tenants in order to get project financing for the chain stores that are taking over much of America.

Residential

Please Make it Stop: A 157 unit condo project in San Francisco’s Mission District proposed by Lennar got shot down in a massive way last week.  That, in and of itself isn’t news.  What I do find incredible is these two quotes from an excellent synopsis of the NIMBY shit show (it was extreme even by SF’s incredibly low standards) from CurbedSF:

Many of reasons were given, but the one that stands out most is the frequent references to President-elect Donald Trump, who may well have clinched the decision against developer Lennar.

Some called the development racist, and the sitting supervisors racists too. One referred to rich homeowners as an “invasive species.” Another delivered his argument with a Bernie Sanders puppet.

I haven’t a clue how a building could possibly be racist nor what Donald Trump has to do with a proposed development in a city where probably a dozen-or-so people actually voted for him.  Combine that with the absurdity of a sock puppet speaking at a public hearing and that, kids, is why we can’t have nice things at least when it comes to housing in California.

A Step in the Right Direction: Housing starts surged in October but still have a long, long way to go.

Assembly Line: A shortage of construction workers in many US markets has builders turning to a potential solution that they have traditionally derided: prefab production.

Profiles

Best Shot: Why this is probably our last best chance to fix our infrastructure and refinance America’s debt into longer maturities at low rates.

Just in Time for Black Friday: I have a much better idea for you than standing in line at your local mall or Walmart waiting to do battle with fellow shoppers over a toaster oven.  Instead, check out Honey, the browser add-on that automatically applies coupon codes to your online order and finds the lowest price on Amazon.  Whoever invented this deserves a Nobel Prize if only for doing something to reduce some of the chaos early this Friday morning.  You’re welcome.

Beyond Just Texting: Cars are safer than ever but we just experienced the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years.  The likely reason?  Apps that encourage driver interaction and serve as a distraction to drivers.  See Also: Tech-distracted drivers are turning parking lots deadly.  And: Rain triggers 570% increase in LA freeway crashes because LA drivers suck.

Chart of the Day

Source: CNBC.com

WTF

Just When You Thought The Election Was Over: A mall Santa Claus in Florida (of course) was recently relieved from his duties for telling kids that Hillary Clinton was on the naughty list.

Extra Sausage:naked man was caught breaking into a pizza parlor in Maryland on a surveillance camera.  He caused several thousand dollars in damage but only got away with some change and is still at large.

Pole Position: Someone apparently thought that it was a good idea to have a pole dancing float in a North Carolina holiday parade.  The entire state of Florida is pissed that they didn’t think of it first.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links November 22nd – GOAT

Landmark Links October 18th – On Point

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Lead Story…. A bit short on time this week so I’m going to outsource the lead story.  Joe Bosquin of Builder Magazine wrote a wonderful summary about how California priced itself out of the market for entry-level home buyers titled The Unintended Consequences of Law. Spoiler: it has everything to do with Prop 13 and CEQA.  Bosquin’s piece as good as an explanation for our absurd housing prices in the Golden State as you will find.  Yours truly gets a bit more than a quick mention and they included an article  that I had written for Builder (and Landmark Links) back in May about why our impact fees are so high compared to the rest of the country.  By the way, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office published a piece in September in which they confirmed my thesis about the relationship between Prop 13 and impact fees.

Here’s an excerpt from Builder but you should really check out the entire article.  It’s a quick and easy read even if you aren’t a housing and development nerd:

According to a widely referenced 2015 report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysis arm, since 1980, California has built half of the housing units it needed—about 100,000 per year—to keep up with demand. And that’s just in aggregate. In high-demand locales like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, the housing deficit is even greater. “Most of California’s coastal counties needed to build three times as much (or more) housing as they did,” the report claims.

Stated differently, during the past 36 years, California did not build the additional 3.6 million homes that it needed to keep its skyrocketing prices in check. To put that number in perspective, it would take the collective efforts of every home builder in the country, building nonstop at 2016’s projected pace of 1.26 million housing starts, three years to put a dent in the state’s problem.

The report concludes that NIMBYism, local communities’ lack of financial incentives to approve more housing, and anti-growth proponents who go to daunting lengths to block development have contributed to the problem, as well as more inveterate challenges such as a scarcity of suitable land along the coast and an ever-increasing population.

The LAO report found that the average cost of homes in California is two-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the country, and rents are 50% higher. It also points to evidence that high housing costs were making it difficult for companies to recruit employees, even in Silicon Valley, and threatened the state’s jobs base. Other reports that came out in its wake highlighted a net migration of 625,000 people out of the state from 2007 to 2014, primarily among lower income earners, attributed to housing costs.

All of which leads to the question, how did California get to a place where it tacks $75,000 onto the cost of a new home in the midst of a housing crisis that’s eroding its jobs base and pushing the country’s most populous state into an unwinnable war of the haves and have nots?

First off, major thanks to Joe Bosquin for writing this.  Also, a big shout out to Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for calling the rest of us who cited facts in the article “morons” after he apparently couldn’t counter the points that we had made on factual grounds.  I’ll wear that one as a badge of honor.

Economy

Glass Half Empty: The downside of our technology revolution is a lack of job creation.

Warming Up: Wage growth is now at the highest level that it’s been in a year but the stock market might not be thrilled.

Visual Representation: 27 fascinating charts that will change how you think about the American economy.

Useless: The WSJ surveyed economists and found that 59% believe that there will be a recession in the next 4 years.  For those not familiar with this sort of methodology, 4 years is an incredibly long horizon in which to forecast such things.  The incredibly-accurate Bill McBride thinks that we are in the clear for 2017 and likely 2018 as well (although he cautions that even 2 years out is too far to accurately forecast).

Commercial

Bucking the Trend: While most benchmarks have remained low this year, LIBOR has climbed substantially mostly due to new money-market rules which could lead to an uptick in financing costs for commercial real estate.

Supply Exceeds Demand: Rents in Manhattan are falling as listings surge 35%.

Residential

Selection Bias: All of the Urban revival stories that you read these days are really about the amount of money flowing into urban centers than the number of people.

Viva Mexico: A condo boom in Tijuana, coupled with easier border crossing rules for regular commuters could help ease a housing shortage in San Diego….but is not without it’s risks to American buyers.

The First Step: The Federal Reserve has now acknowledged that we have a housing affordability crisis.  Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Profiles

Prime Time: Nearly 60% of US households and 75% of those that make over $112k per year are now Amazon Prime members.  Let. That. Sink. In.

Screen Shot 2016 10 14 at 11.00.26 AM

Pay For Play: For-profit college Devry University has finally agreed to stop using the bullshit claim that 90% of it’s graduates seeking employment found jobs in their field within 6-months of graduation.  The action came as part of a settlement with the Department of Education over misleading advertising.  That claim would be impressive (and improbable) if it was made by Harvard, let alone a lowly for-profit school that may or may not be a diploma mill depending on who you ask.

Foot in the Door: How Uber plans to conquer the suburbs by partnering with cities to ease parking congestion.

But First, Let Me Take a Selfie: Companies are starting to use facial-recognition apps that utilize smartphone snapshots to verify identity.

Chart of the Day

Things that we want are getting cheaper.  Things that we need are getting more expensive.

WTF

Hero: Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a great headline.  Man ‘High on LSD’ Saves Dog From Imaginary House Fire is among the best that I’ve seen.

The Softer Side: That Russia is a bizarre place is pretty much self evident.  This new Vladamir Putin calendar featuring the Russian leader cuddling with kittens won’t do anything the change that perception.

Parent of the Year: A Pennsylvania woman has been charged with child endangerment after refusing to feed her 11-month old son anything other than fruit and nuts.  I’ve said it before and will say it again: veganism is a mental disorder.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 18th – On Point

Landmark Links October 11th – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

USP NFL: CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BUFFALO BILLS S FBN USA NY

Lead Story… As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented action of calling on cities and counties to re-think their zoning laws.   This was a concerted effort to increase affordability and fight back against NIMBY’s who have successfully stopped development in some of America’s most productive cities.  The proposal is bold in that governors don’t often involve themselves in land use issues, let alone a sitting president.  However, the toolkit presented by the Administration is somewhat toothless because cities are ultimately still ultimately free to do as they please and they ultimately have control over local land use policy.

An additional way to achieve more density is actually quite straight forward: cash.  If the Federal Government really wants denser, more walkable mixed use development then they need to incentivize it by amending FHA rules that currently make it very difficult to build product that fits that description.  From The Washington Post (emphasis mine):

Main Street-style development — the “storefront on the first floor, apartments rented out above” style that forms the core of any older town’s historic center — is a residential building form that uses first-floor commercial space to serve community members and enliven a neighborhood. This low-rise density helps prop up the balance sheets of towns responsible for running utilities all the way out to suburban developments, as former city planner and engineer Charles Marohn has repeatedly demonstrated. It also keeps a constant set of the “eyes on the street” that Jane Jacobs identified as necessary for safe streets; renters keep an ear out for burglars after business hours and shopkeepers keep the same at bay during the day. It is, in other words, the core of any successful town-building.

Yet for 80 years, Main Street development has been effectively driven from the market by the growth of federal housing policy hostile to mixed use. Ever since Herbert Hoover’s Commerce Department helped promote the spread of model zoning codes that physically separated people and their community institutions, the federal government has poured its energy and resources into encouraging the growth of widely dispersed single-family homes and large, centralized tower blocks. To this day, FHA standards for loans, which set the market for the entire private banking sector, prohibit any but the most minimal commercial property from being included in residential development. As a groundbreaking report by New York City’s Regional Plan Association found, these standards are “effectively disallowing most buildings with six stories or less.” And depending on the program, a building could have to reach to 17 stories before it is eligible for participation in the normal housing markets. Without the FHA’s blessing, projects are granted the “nonconforming” kiss of death unless their developers can persuade a local bank to write an entirely customized loan for them, one whose risk the bank would have to keep entirely on its own books.

These caps on commercial space and income should be raised to level the playing field for housing development and let small developers invest as much in their home towns as huge corporations will in big cities. Caps currently limited to 15 and 25 percent should be raised to more than 35 percent to legalize even just three- and four-story buildings. As small towns and secondary cities across the country seek to revitalize their downtowns to become more competitive job markets, unreformed financing restrictions act as an invisible barrier, suffocating local efforts to invest in smaller communities. And while the housing affordability crisis has reached the most acute levels in a handful of coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, the White House admits that “this problem is now being felt in smaller cities and non-coastal locations.”

The current financing restrictions make it so that the tail frequently wags the dog in mixed use residential construction.  Cities often want ground floor retail to be included to add to their tax base and  increase walkability but it’s incredibly difficult to finance.  Instead what happens, is the developer gets stuck trying to thread the needle between building just enough retail to appease the city but keeping it at a low enough percentage of the total project square footage to avoid the dreaded non-conforming label.  The end result is that functional retail space is sacrificed in order to comply with FHA rules.  So, rather than having a well-designed retail concept, you end up with small, non-functional retail components in all but the largest projects.  The space has little actual economic value except as a means to obtain financing.  By way of example, a project one block from our office was recently denied by Newport Beach’s city council due to a lack of ground floor retail.  No doubt that the developer was designing to the financing constraints but didn’t include enough retail to get the City on board.  The federal government took a step in the right direction earlier in the year by making it easier to finance condos.  This is the next logical step if they are serious about increasing density and making housing more affordable.  Time to put your money where your mouth is.

Economy

Meh: The September Jobs Report was sort of a dud.

Here to Stay?  I love this explanation from Bloomberg’s Noah Smith on why low interest rates don’t necessarily cause excessive risk taking:

What is it that allows rates to hover around zero indefinitely without causing investors to do bad things with cheap money? It depends on why rates are low in the first place. If money is cheap because central banks are using their powers to keep rates lower than what the market would bear on its own, it stands to reason that investors will take cheap money and invest it in riskier things than they otherwise would. But if rates are low because of natural forces in the economy, and central banks actually have little to do with it, then there’s no reason business people would be taking extra risk.

Crude Math: An agreed OPEC production cut has oil back above $50/barrel but large, recently discovered reserves are likely to create yet another glut in the not-too-distant future.

Commercial

Over the Hump?  Apartment rents fell for the first time in a very long time in the 3rd quarter.

Dumpster Fire: Bottom tier retailers Kmart and Sears are technically still in business but both stores are utter disasters.  Rating agencies just put Sears Holdings, the company that owns both on death watch and the only way that it’s keeping the lights on is by selling the best assets that it owns.  Part of the problem is that Sears Holdings still own or lease approximately 2,500 properties so this mess will be very difficult and time consuming to wind down.

Sears-map

Residential

Beneficiaries: Vancouver’s home sales are down 33% after they introduced a foreign buyer tax.  Seattle is likely to benefit.  See Also: New York is overtaking London as the #1 destination for international property investment thanks to Brexit.

White Knight?  Tech firms, often considered villains when it comes to housing issues in the Bay Area are now throwing their weight behind pro-development groups to push for more housing construction.  See Also: The housing shortage is going to start negatively impacting economic growth in California more seriously if something isn’t done.

NIMBY Awards: The Bay Area Metropolitan Observer put together a list of their top 10 Bay Area NIMBY moments of 2016.  It would be funnier if it wasn’t so sad.

Profiles

Payday: Everyone’s favorite sexting app, also known as Snapchat is working on an IPO rumored to value the tech firm at $25 billion.

GTL is Cancelled: Tougher regulations and taxes are hitting tanning salons hard and there are 30% less of them than there were in 2008.

Chart of the Day

NIMBYs gone wild: LA Edition

Greg Morrow Capacity Graph

Source: Greg Morrow of UCLA

WTF

Best Excuse Ever: A Canadian pole vaulter who tested positive for cocaine just days before the Rio Olympics and nearly didn’t get to attend claimed that it happened because he made out with a girl that he met on Craigslist.

Wings (and Heads), Beer, Sports: Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook ordered some food at Buffalo Wild Wings and received a deep fried chicken head on his plate.

People of Walmart: Walmart was selling a shirt on it’s website that said: “I’d Rather Be Snorting Cocaine off a Hooker’s Ass.”  Sadly, it was taken down once management realized what was going on.

Bad Idea: Entering a Florida Walmart is a bad idea in the best of times.  Doing it before a major hurricane when people are stocking up is just asking for trouble as you’ll see in the video of the day.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 11th – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Landmark Links June 28th – Tank Commander

Byron-Scott-Driving-The-Lakers-Tank

Lead Story…  We spend a lot of time talking about the San Francisco housing markets and rightfully so: it’s a microcosm of all that is wrong with restrictive zoning in closed access US cities and the poster child for NIMBY obstructionism.  As such, San Francisco has managed to overshadow another North American market that is incredibly expensive and getting worse: Vancouver, BC  Year-over year, Vancouver’s benchmark housing index is up 30% to just under $900k while single family detached house prices increased a whopping 40% to $1.374MM (in US dollars) in a city where median household income is around $67k in US dollars – San Francisco is in the $82k range.  So how does an MSA with such a low median household income (one of the lowest of major Canadian cities) end up with a median home price that is among the highest? 1) Massive levels of housing demand from wealthy foreign investors, especially from China; and 2) Highly restrictive zoning that makes it difficult to add enough housing units to satisfy  that demand.  One critical distinction between SF and Vancouver is that much of Vancouver’s foreign purchases appear to be for investment purposes only while SF real estate has clearly benefited from the tech boom and it’s highly compensated workforce.  This, combined with the inability to build enough new units for residents, is leaving Vancouver with empty units that transact for nosebleed prices.  The increase in value was so extreme last year that at least one mathematician estimated that the rising land value of single family homes accounted for more than the entire employment income in the City of Vancouver and now over 90% of detached houses there are worth over $1MM.

Foreign buyers have come under increasing scrutiny of late for the impact that they are having on the worlds most expensive real estate markets.  Some of it is justified.  For example, the US Treasury department now requires that title insurance companies report the people behind shell companies on all-cash purchases over a certain level in NY and Miami in order to curtail money laundering.  Others like Great Britain, which increased the stamp duty on second home purchases by 3% and raised taxes on more expensive homes in an effort to drive down demand.  Few places though, have considered responding as harshly as Vancouver, which is considering a tax on vacant homes.    From the South China Morning Post:

Vancouver’s mayor Gregor Robertson says he is considering the introduction of a tax on empty homes, amid a roiling debate in the city about the role of Chinese money and offshore investors in North America’s most unaffordable real estate market.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday, Robertson said he was “looking at new regulation and a carrot-and-stick approach to making sure that houses aren’t empty in Vancouver,” including a tax on vacant homes. “If you’re not using your property – either living in it or renting it out – then you have to pay more tax. Because effectively it’s a business holding, and should be taxed accordingly.”

There is a very substantial difference between adding to transaction costs or requiring ownership disclosures, as the US and Britain are doing and what Vancouver’s mayor proposed here.  The steps taken by the US and Britain either increase transaction costs or regulatory paperwork in an effort to slow demand from a certain buying segment.  The Vancouver proposal takes a very different approach: it would actually increase the holding cost of foreign-owned (but unoccupied) real estate by imposing a different tax structure.  This isn’t limited to the purchase transaction, instead its a recurring annual cost.  More from the South China Morning Post:

A tax targeting vacant properties was proposed by dozens of economists in January.The BC Housing Affordability Fund, which has been pitched to both the City and British Columbia provincial government, would impose a 1.5 per cent annual tax (based on home price) on owners who either left homes vacant or had “limited economic or social ties to Canada”.

BCHAF proponent Tom Davidoff, an economist at the University of British Columbia, said it was unclear if Robertson’s remarks on Tuesday referred to his group’s proposal. “We talked to the city and they gave us a good listen,” he said.

“I would hope that any vacancy tax would cover the bigger issue here which is not paying taxes here and not being a landlord [either],” said Davidoff, whose group’s proposal would also tax people who under-utilised properties as a “pied-a-terre”, and those whose primary breadwinner paid little or no income tax in Canada – so-called “astronaut families”.

This strikes me as the quickest way to cause an exodus of foreign capital from a given real estate market because, unlike the US and British solutions, it would not just apply to new purchases.  It is also rife with the potential for unintended consequences.  For example, who is to say if a property is under-utilized?  Who actually gets to make that distinction and is there a hard and fast rule that could be applied.  If you were a foreign (or domestic for that matter) investor or homeowner who had a house there and you knew that costs were about to go up a proposed 1.5% a year based on home price (not unsubstantial on a million dollar home) would you hang around to see how it was implemented?  This type of tax could send foreign investors rushing towards the exit before a glut of supply hits the market as investors seek friendlier locales in which to invest.  At least it appears as if cooler heads are prevailing at the provincial and national level.  Again from the South China Morning Post:

Both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier Christy Clark have said they worry that taking steps to curtail foreign ownership in Vancouver could imperil the equity of existing owners.

I hope that Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Clark’s logic prevails as this would be an incredibly dumb way to tank a real estate market and the collateral economic damage done to existing homeowners would be all too real.  In all of the talk about how to bring Vancover’s prices under control, it seems as if no one (or at least very few people) are proposing a real solution: relaxing restrictive zoning codes so that more units could be built to meet demand.  Ultimately, that’s the only way to avoid what some are now calling a bubble.  Rather, we get more of the same convoluted restrictions, subsidies and taxes that don’t solve the actual problem and often do more harm than good.  The Vancouver mayor’s proposal is a tanking strategy that would make even the shittiest NBA team blush. Let’s that American cities with a large number of foreign investors don’t follow the example.

Economy

Tailwind: Per Calculated Risk, the largest population cohorts in the US are now 20-24 and 25-29 which is positive for the economy in general and housing in particular as young people begin to form households.

Brexit Breakdown: By now you probably know that UK residents voted to leave the EU, sending stock prices down the toilet around the globe and spurring demand for safe haven assets like treasuries and gold.  The betting markets got this one dead wrong as did pollsters and most government officials.  Despite the crazy market response, nothing will really change from a trade standpoint in the near-term and there is already a movement underway to try to reverse the referendum.  Either way, nothing is going to happen until this fall when British PM David Cameron resigns.  Here’s a quick roundup of what people far more knowledgeable than I are saying:

Tyler Cowen on why the Brexit happened and what it means.

George Soros on the future of Europe and why it might have more issues than Britain.

Gabriel Roth on why the actual Brexit might not ever actually happen

The BBC on the high likelihood of another Scottish independence vote as a result of the Brexit outcome.

See Also: S&P and Fitch downgrade UK credit rating.

Best House on a Bad Block: The US economy looks likely to weather the Brexit storm even if it puts the Fed on hold for a while longer.

Commercial

 

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner: How US REITs could benefit from the Brexit.

Residential

Scraping the Bottom: Brexit panic has pushed interest rates to record lows and mortgage rates are following and they could be headed even lower.

Profiles

Trade of the Century: The story of how George Soros’ Quantum Fund made trade of the century by breaking the British pound is especially fascinating today in light of recent world events.

Green Monsters: Avocado theft is on the rise.

Please Make it Stop: Enough with the stupid Millennial surveys already.

Chart of the Day

The US Demographic Tailwind

Population: Largest 5-Year Cohorts by Year
Largest
Cohorts
2010 2015 2020 2030
1 45 to 49 years 20 to 24 years 25 to 29 years 35 to 39 years
2 50 to 54 years 25 to 29 years 30 to 34 years 40 to 44 years
3 15 to 19 years 50 to 54 years 35 to 39 years 30 to 34 years
4 20 to 24 years 55 to 59 years Under 5 years 25 to 29 years
5 25 to 29 years 30 to 34 years 55 to 59 years 5 to 9 years
6 40 to 44 years 15 to 19 years 20 to 24 years 10 to 14 years
7 10 to 14 years 45 to 49 years 5 to 9 years Under 5 years
8 5 to 9 years 10 to 14 years 60 to 64 years 15 to 19 years
9 Under 5 years 5 to 9 years 15 to 19 years 20 to 24 years
10 35 to 39 years 35 to 39 years 10 to 14 years 45 to 49 years
11 30 to 34 years 40 to 44 years 50 to 54 years 50 to 54 years

Source: Calculated Risk

WTF

Video of the Day / Attempted Darwin Award:  It’s exceedingly rare that an attempted Darwin Award gets caught on video.  This past weekend, two morons attempted to surf a 20 + foot swell at The Wedge in Newport Beach on a rental jet ski despite being warned repeatedly by lifeguards to stay away.  It went horribly wrong with the jet ski ending up on top of the Newport Jetty before nearly sinking while getting swept out to sea as Newport’s lifeguards and local Wedge veterans saved the riders from their own epic stupidity.  No word on whether or not they got their deposit back.  Looks like it’s time to add some more chlorine to the gene pool.

Can You Spot the Irony? A man named Ronald McDonald was shot outside a Sonic in New York.

I’d Rather Eat My Shoe: Burger King recently introduced something called Mac N’ Cheetos.  The race to the bottom for the American fast food industry continues with no end in sight.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 28th – Tank Commander

Landmark Links June 14th – Underexposed

underexposed

Lead Story…. REITs are the best performing asset class in the market over the past 15 years, yet, according a Goldman Sachs, 40% of large-cap core mutual funds still don’t own any and the ones that do often have a very small percentage of their funds allocated to real estate.  I don’t think its a stretch to say that this goes a long way towards explaining why most fund managers under-perform the market.  Not only have REITs outperformed the rest of the market, it actually hasn’t even been that close.  From the WSJ:

Since 2000, REITs have returned an average of 12% a year, according to J.P. Morgan Asset Management. That crushed the No. 2 finisher, high-yield bonds, which returned 7.9%. Large-cap U.S. stocks returned 4.1%.
Despite the performance, nearly 40% of large-cap core mutual funds, which largely invest in S&P 500 stocks, don’t own any REITs, according to Goldman Sachs. Overall, funds with no REIT exposure have a total of $528 billion in assets, Goldman says.

Funds that do own REITs hold about 2% of their assets in the stocks, less than two-thirds of the sector’s weight in the market, Goldman says. Turning REITs into its own sector will make it clear which managers are avoiding real estate. Of course index funds have always had a full weighting in REITs.

This is going to become increasingly important because, as we mentioned earlier this month, real estate is about to get it’s own sector in the S&P 500 which will make it even more obvious who is underexposed.  If tech, finance, manufacturing, emerging market, utility or natural resource stocks were hot you can bet that fund managers would be piling in as quick as possible.  So why are REITs the proverbial red-headed stepchild despite outperforming?  According to the WSJ:

REITs aren’t like other stocks because they are essentially conduits to take rent and pass it on to investors. Analyzing a REIT is different than trying to figure out a company that produces products or delivers services.

For stock pickers, REITs are frustrating because they tend to rise and fall based on what’s happening in the economy, making it hard for a fund to stand out. The stocks perform well when the economy is humming along at a modest pace, just like now when rents are rising and occupancy is high. But when the economy tanks, they can get hit hard. In 2007 and 2008, REITs lost 15.7% and 37.7%, respectively.

And when the economy runs too fast and interest rates rise, they lag. Many managers see REITs as bonds masquerading as stocks. There is truth to that. REITs tend to lag behind the market when interest rates are rising, just like bonds. REITs also are compared with stodgy utilities, which also throw off lots of dividends but do little else.

Ultimately, many fund managers didn’t buy REITs because they didn’t have the time or staff to figure out the industry.

Shorter version of that: REITs are boring and hard to understand so fund managers don’t bother spending the time to figure them out.  Also, I don’t by the “not good when the economy tanks” rationalization because the ’07-’08 train-wreck is included the 15-year period of out performance.  Also, you could say the same thing about tech stocks after 2001 or emerging markets over several time periods but clearly the funds have not stayed away from those sectors.  As an aside, the performance data for listed REITs should be enough to kill off the seedy and perpetually under-performing non-traded REIT industry.  However, one should never underestimate the determination of a broker stands to earn a commission exceeding 10% by selling to a less-than-sophisticated mark.  Ironically, the sector split happening this summer is going to force fund many managers to allocate more to REITs at a time when out-performance is unlikely to continue.  Again, from the WSJ:

Sadly for investors who now have to take the sector more seriously, the big gains recorded by REITs over the past 15 years aren’t likely to continue. REITs have been the best-performing asset class in five of the last six years, a record that’s unlikely to repeat itself even though valuations are in line with history.

Trees don’t grow to the sky, after all.  Either way, I’d expect that it’s going to be a busy few months for Green Street Advisors.

Economy

Loud and Clear: The still-flattening yield curve is telling the Fed everything it needs to know about the economy.  Whether or not the Fed listens is another matter.  See Also: Economists surveyed by the WSJ have sharply lowered their growth estimates for next year.

In the Rear View Mirror: Remember the US manufacturing renaissance after the Great Recession ended?  Recent jobs data suggest that it could be coming to an end.

Ticking Time Bomb: Bill Gross likens negative interest rates to a “supernova that will exlpode.”  But See: Denmark has had negative interest rates longer than any other country and hasn’t exploded yet.

Commercial

Extended Stay: Despite concern about new supply in the capital markets, hotels are still on pace for another great year.

Residential

Party Like it’s 2005: Some prospective buyers in Seattle are camping out overnight to put a deposit on a downtown condo.

Head Above Water: According to CoreLogic, 268,000 US homeowners regained equity in their homes in the 1st quarter of 2016.

Lonely at the Top: Calculated Risk on Merrill Lynch’s report showing some signs of slowing at the high end of the market.  See Also: Rent hikes are slowing but mostly at the high end where almost all of the new construction has been happening.

Profiles

Taking Stock – Silicon Valley is sick of dealing with Wall Street and looking to create it’s own stock exchange.

Hipster Darwinism: Fertility experts are telling men to ditch the skinny jeans if they want to have kids.  Also because they look ridiculous.

Stacked: As if online lenders didn’t have enough problems….new reports show that their quick underwriting often doesn’t pick up loan stacking – the act of multiple lenders making loans to the same borrowers, often within a short period of time, meaning that borrowers are far riskier than advertised.  This is not going to help win back investor confidence

Chart of the Day

WTF

Leave the Driving to Us: An allegedly possessed woman went apeshit on a bus in Argentina and fortunately someone video taped it.

Pet of the Week: Can someone out there please help find Pinky the cat a new home?  He’d make a great pet.  He’s also a Warriors fan and Draymond Green is his favorite player

Frivolous: A woman is suing a spin instructor in LA for bullying because she hurt herself in class.  When the world ends, there will be nothing left to inhabit the earth but insects and lawyers.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 14th – Underexposed

Landmark Links May 6th -Exodus?

Rush to the Exit

Lead Story… We’ve been talking a lot about the Bay Area market over the past few weeks and there are a few signs that some of the most egregiously expensive ones like San Francisco are nearing a breaking point where even well-paid employees can’t afford to live there anymore and may begin to leave.  A survey by the Bay Area Council published earlier this week found that 34% of Bay Area residents are considering leaving due to high housing costs and traffic.  I know that I’m starting to sound a bit like a broken record but….

“We can whine about this, or we can win by solving our traffic and housing problems,” Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told The Mercury News. “The last time the Bay Area had seemingly solved its traffic problems was the worldwide recession of 2008. A recession is not how we want to solve our traffic and housing problems.”

I think it goes without saying that relying on massive global recessions to correct your cost of living and traffic issues is far from a viable long term solution.  For years now, service workers, educators, policemen, firemen, etc have been priced out of these and similar markets.  It should not come as a surprise that Bay Area school districts are facing a teacher retention crisis along with their housing crisis.  Teachers haven’t been able to purchase homes in the area for years.  Now they can’t afford to rent either.  Their salaries aren’t adequate to justify a long commute.  Cities have been aggressively increasing teacher pay but they can’t keep up with cost of living increases:

For a teacher earning $73,000 — the average teacher salary in the nine-county Bay Area — a rent payment of $1,800 would eat up 30 percent of monthly income. And just finding a rental at that price would be very difficult in this economy. The average monthly price for studio apartments in the Bay Area is $2,137, according to RealFacts, and two-bedroom, two-bath apartments are going for $2,850 — and for much more in hot markets.

“Every year we have a problem. It’s always a challenge to make sure that the schools are staffed,” said Jody London, an Oakland Unified school board trustee. “But with the rapidly rising housing market, the fact is it’s crazy right now. And it’s getting harder for teachers to stay in Oakland.”

And that’s in Oakland, which, while expensive isn’t close to Silicon Valley or San Francisco.  So how do you fix things?  Beyond building more housing  (which many younger residents are now in favor of much to the dismay of aging hippy NIMBYs), one idea is dramatically build out infrastructure to the outlying suburbs in order to fix the commuting issue and add more units where it is more affordable.    The BART is already being extended but this would require something far larger (and more efficient for that matter) in order to work.  From the Bay Area Council survey mentioned above:

Rather than building more housing in the Bay Area, 60 percent of residents say it should be built outside the region, with 84 percent saying they support stronger transportation networks between the Bay Area, Sacramento and other areas in the Central Valley to take pressure off regional housing supply.

“This is an understandable reaction to decades of failing to keep pace even minimally with the Bay Area’s housing needs and the transportation to support it,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “There’s now an entrenched misperception that our region doesn’t have the capacity to add the housing we need. What’s unfortunate is that pushing housing outside the region still doesn’t solve the problem of supply and affordability in the Bay Area. It simply means that fewer working families and workers in lower-income jobs can afford to live here. It hurts the diversity of our region and our economy. It also means workers are commuting longer and longer distances in their cars, which pushes up damaging carbon emissions.”

The issue is that it would cost a fortune, take forever to build and would likely lead to environmentalist/NIMBY lawsuits.  Think of this as a Marshall Plan to fix area housing…assuming that it can actually get done which is, IMHO a stretch.  What I can assure you won’t work is what the City of San Jose is currently doing.  Silicon Valley’s largest city (and the nations 10th largest) has a goal of building 35,000 new units between 2014 and 2023 with 60% of that total being affordable.  Sounds like a great objective until you get into the details.  Rather than incentivizing developers to build more units,  the city is charging them an increased impact fee of $17/sf on all housing built by those evil “for-profit” developers which will then go into subsidized housing, which is apparently what San Jose means when they say “affordable” since it gets incredibly difficult to build market rate housing that’s anything close to affordable when you start layering on fees. Naturally, developers are mostly staying away and the city built only 426 units of affordable housing last year, around 20% of it’s lofty goal of 2,100/year.

Back to my broken record: the only way to fix the affordability crisis is to build more units to satisfy the demand in the region.  That won’t happen so long as cities continue to hike fees to the moon and make the entitlement process increasingly difficult.

Economy

Leading Indicator: The Wall Street Journal has seemingly cracked the code to the health the tech sector: sales of ping pong tables from a store in San Jose.  Lets just say that the tables have turned.  I bet you can find a great ping pong table on Craigslist though.

How Low Can You Go: Earlier this year, the dollar was on a tear as the Federal Reserve indicated that they would raise rates at least 4 times in 2016.  That likely isn’t happening as a sluggish economy plus mounting financial disasters abroad have made the Fed increasingly dovish, sending the greenback into a tailspin and leaving it at a 15-month low.  Interest rates and mortgage rates have both stayed low now that sluggish growth appears here to stay for the foreseeable future.  If dollar depreciation continues, one must wonder if a resurgence by foreign investors is in the cards.

Commercial

Market Update: Our friends at JCR Capital see market fundamentals disconnecting from tepid investor appetite, creating opportunity.  As always, their quarterly market commentary is a must read.  It goes hand in hand with our comments about the land market versus the home sale market that we made previously.  In a related story, fundraising for private equity real estate funds is slowing.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: After starting the year off extremely poorly, CMBS loans for multi-family assets are making a comeback, albeit with tougher underwriting standards.

The Commercial Real Estate Market in Once Sentence: FOOP (Fear of over paying) is the new FOMO (fear of missing out).

Residential

Shots Fired: Bill Pulte, the founder and largest shareholder of Pulte Homes had some very pointed criticism of his hand-picked CEO Richard Dugas before the company’s annual shareholder meeting this week. Basically, Pulte accused Dugas, a former protege of being incompetent when it came to monetizing existing land positions, leading to poor company performance and demanded his resignation.  Analysts don’t anticipate Dugas leaving anytime soon.  In recent years, the company has focused on profitability over growth and was mostly sidelined from buying land positions in 2012-2013 when others were active.  Much of this stems from the Centex merger in 2009 according to the Wall Street Journal.  That transaction saddled the new company with a ton of land inventory that they had to write down effectively sidelining them from buying lots at a better basis when the market bottomed out.  They are still sitting on some of those lots today even while out buying more.

Sluggish: The previously-hot million-million-dollar-plus home sale market is slumping. See Also: Some of America’s fastest moving housing markets are slowing down.

Profiles

Hero: The next time that someone asks me why I like dogs more than people, I’m going to send them this:

A four-year-old white Labrador called Dayko has been hailed as a hero after rescuing seven people from the aftermath of the Ecuador earthquake – before dying from exhaustion.

RIP Dayko….and now I need a Kleenex.

Chart of the Day

I’m finding myself wishing that I was seeing more of this….

WTF

Finger Lickin’ Good: A woman in Florida (naturally) reported to local police that a chicken sandwich that she ordered “contained semen.”  Consider this a friendly reminder that fast food is disgusting.  Also, if you absolutely must eat at a KFC, don’t ask for extra mayonnaise.

Mistaken Identity: Villagers in Indonesia were disappointed to learn that an “angel” that fell from the skies is actually a sex toy.  The quote from this article is to good not to post:

The tale begins in Bangaii, days after an auspicious solar eclipse appeared over the region. A 21-year-old fisherman was walking the beach when he spotted a beautiful, lonely angel on the sand. Naturally, he took her appearance as a sign from heaven and he gently bundled her up and took her home.

There, he attired her in a blouse and skirt, which his parents changed daily as a sign of respect. Intrigued by reports (or maybe just really bored), local police visited the house to see the angel for themselves.

There, they made the less-than-holy discovery.

“It was a sex toy,” police chief Heru Pramukarno told a local newspaper.

What was unclear was whether that ruined or made the fisherman’s day.

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links May 6th -Exodus?

Landmark Links April 15th – Looming

Golden Gate

Lead Story…  Another day, another story about one of America’s astronomically expensive and typically chronically under-supplied markets getting hit with a massive wave of high end condos (and high end apartments).  Over the past few weeks, we focused on New York, Miami and even Hong Kong.  Today it’s the patron saint of expensive US housing markets, San Francisco.  Even casual follower of the residential real estate market are well aware of the lack of supply and nose-bleed prices that people pay to live in SF for a whole bunch of reasons.  However, as Wolf Richter notes in Business Insider this week, things appear to be changing.  According the the SF Planning department, there are 44,700 units in the pipeline from “building permit filed” to “under construction.”  That doesn’t include the 17,900 units approved but not yet permitted.  Nor does it include the 23,980 units that are approved in the Park Merced, Candlestick and Treasure projects that are approved but could take well over 10 years to build out.  That’s a ton of inventory coming online in a city with only 382,000 units in it’s existing housing stock.  The impact is already being felt in the condo market:

In the first quarter of 2016, various market segments in the city began to trend in significantly different directions. Houses, especially those below $2 million, are still often selling in a frenzy of bidding: Recent reports of houses selling with 5, 10 or more competing offers are not uncommon, especially in neighborhoods considered more affordable (by San Francisco standards). Demand remains very high, supply remains extremely low, and new house construction is virtually nil.

As of early April, the number of condo listings actively for sale in MLS is up over 40% year over year, and that does not include most of the new-construction condo units hitting the market (not listed in MLS).

These condos often go into contract during the construction phase, long before sales actually close, and access to information during that period is very limited. There can be no doubt that they comprise serious competition to resale condos in the areas they’re being built.

– Patrick Carlisle, Chief Market Analyst at Paragon

According to Richter “It’s chilling: for condos under $1.5 million, the number of withdrawn or expired listings soared 94%, and for condos above $1.5 million 128%.”

First off, this had to happen at some point but it should have been more incremental and should have happened earlier.  San Francisco’s market has been notoriously tight for years and the entitlement process there is reminiscent of running the gauntlet.  If entitlements weren’t so difficult to come by, many of these units could have been delivered years earlier when demand began to ramp up but construction didn’t.  Instead, many developers started at roughly the same while prices of SF condos ran up 70% in the interim, meaning that we now have a tidal wave of units starting to get delivered just as the VC market is slowing and tech firms are beginning to lay people off.  Reality is that the local market desperately needed more units but that doesn’t make it any less painful for the developers holding the bag or the home owners who bought in the late stages of the run-up.  Either way, we are certainly going to test the true depth of demand for high priced housing in the next few years.

Second, this is what happens when everyone builds the same thing.  The only thing getting approved in SF are high density, high end condos and apartments.  That’s where all of the units are so that is where the glut is going to occur.  Want to know why the single family home market is holding up much better?  Simple.  Almost no SFD’s are getting built so supply hasn’t increased.

Third, several fund investors the we respect a lot are telling us that they are taking a wait and see approach on current investment opportunities in anticipation that there will be large distressed opportunities in the NY and Miami high rise condo markets in the coming quarters that will result in a buying opportunity.  Their investment thesis is that many of these high end condos will end up going back to the lenders since foreign investors have begun to retrench from the market and there isn’t enough domestic demand to buy up the units at their high pro-forma prices.  I guess we can now add San Francisco to that list.

San Francisco housing

Economy

Black Gold?  According to the talking heads, it was bad for the economy when oil prices were plunging so is it now good that they have rebounded to $40/barrel?  See Also: Why wasn’t there any economic boost from low oil prices?

It’s All Relative: Top Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel says that pretty much everything is overvalued but some things are more overvalued than others.

Get Real: Real (inflation adjusted) 10-year treasury yields have gone negative for the first time since 2012.

Commercial

Just Speculating: Growth in the San Francisco office market has been a safe bet for several years as VC money poured into new investments and tech companies gobbled up any available space in order to account for aggressive growth projections in a supply constrained market.  Times are changing though and the assumption that the good times would continue has put some speculative office investments at risk now that the VC spigot is slowing while several landlords are trying to unload buildings for over $1,000/sf.  At the same time, available sublease space from downsizing tech companies, an indicator of a slowdown, is creeping up.  From the Wall Street Journal earlier this week:

“We’ve started seeing the cautionary winds start blowing,” said Steve Barker, executive vice president at Savills Studley, which advises companies on their real estate. “In the last two to four months, you’ve really seen the impact of the strained capital environment hitting the real-estate market.”

A cautionary tale exists with online game maker Zynga. In 2012, the then-rapidly growing company bought its 680,000-square-foot building at 650 Townsend St. It saw plenty of space to grow, and at one point occupied 480,000 square feet.

Soon after, its growth stalled, and stock price plunged, layoffs followed, and now the company is trying to sell the building.

Subleasing, though, carries its own risks.

Health-care startup Practice Fusion, which leased former Zynga space in the same building, underwent layoffs in February. Now Practice Fusion, too, has put its 60,000-square-foot space up for sublease.

From what we’ve been hearing from local market sources, this is much more of an issue in downtown San Francisco which is heavily dominated by startups that aren’t profitable and are reliant on VC money fund operations.  It isn’t as much of an issue in Silicon Valley where huge and incredibly profitable mature companies like Apple and Google and the myriad of companies in their ecosystem have come to dominant the local commercial real estate markets.  Why? Because these companies don’t rely on VC money and aren’t impacted by it’s availability.  Still, it bears watching to see if the issues starting to appear in SF spread to other Bay Area markets.

Residential

Stay in School: New research suggests that student debt is a substantial impediment to college dropouts buying a home a home but only has a marginal impact on those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  Moral of the story: if you borrow money to go to college, you had better graduate.

Signs of Strength: Mortgage rates have dropped to an annual low and apps for mortgage refinances have been surging  for several weeks.  However, purchase money mortgage applications had not moved much recently.  That all changed last week when purchase apps increased to the second highest level since May 2010.

Graphic of the Day: I found this 3-D image from The Visual Capitalist fascinating:

The Salary Needed to Buy a Home in 27 Different U.S. Cities

Profiles

Long Shot: Leicester City entered the English Premier League season as a 5,000 – 1 underdog to win the league championship.  To put some context to that, you can place a bet with the same odds that Elvis is still alive.  Furthermore, the Cleveland Browns are only 200-1 to win next years Super Bowl.  You read that correctly, they were 25x LESS likely to win a championship than the Cleveland Browns. The key word there is “were.”  With 4 games left in the season, the perennial doormat which was nearly relegated last season is in 1st place, 7 points ahead of the second place Tottenham.  Hang in there Cleveland fans.  There is hope.

The New Buggy Whips? The i-Phone is doing to cameras what the automobile did to horse carriagesBut See: The Apple Watch has not been the FitBit killer that may thought it would be.

Really Bad Idea:  Stalkers rejoiced when new app allows anyone to spy on Tinder users and track them to their last location, an invasion of privacy that would make Zuckerberg blush. See Also: Body parts from a missing woman were found in a dumpster outside the home of a man she went on an online date with.

Chart of the Day

LOL

crude

Source: The Reformed Broker

WTF

The Saddest Record: A Brooklyn man set a record by watching TV for 94 hours straight. That’s just under 4 days for those of you who don’t like math. This is one of those situations where there are no winners, only losers.

They Flying Farm – It’s gotten ridiculously easy (and cheap) to bring a comfort animal on a flight.  All you need is a doctors note and a $65 certificate for your pet. This started in 2012 when the US Department of Transportation amended a statute that was originally intended to cover guide dogs.  Since then, service animal registrations have risen from 2,400 to over 24,000.  It’s not just dogs and cats either. People are bringing all sorts of barnyard and exotic animals aboard especially in LA and NY, leading some to wonder how much is too much:

The zaniest anecdotes (like the “support pig” ejected from a D.C.-bound plane after it relieved itself in the aisle or the “therapy turkey” whisked via wheelchair onto a recent Delta flight) tend to go viral. But the habit has become particularly commonplace on the LAX-JFK route favored by fussy celebrities and industry execs.

Having to call home to say “honey, my flight is going to be late because a pig crapped in the aisle” was something that was only previously an issue in 3rd world outposts with names like The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of __.  Now we have barnyard animals on planes in the US ostensibly to keep someone from getting nervous on a plane. I think it’s safe to say that this has gone a bit too far.

In Soviet Russia: Saying that Russia is a bit of a freak show is a bit like saying that water is wet.  It’s a factually accurate but unnecessary statement given that anyone over the age of four already knows it to be true.  Example A: a Russian entrepreneur recently opened a cafe in East Siberia that’s a tribute to Vladimir Putin.  It’s complete with Putin shrines and the toilet paper in the restrooms has pictures of Barack Obama and other western leaders on it. (h/t Steve Sims)

Landmark Links – A candid look at the economy, real estate, and other things sometimes related.

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links April 15th – Looming