Landmark Links July 1st – East Coast Edition

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Happy 4th of July!  First off, Jason Pierre-Paul of my beloved Giants and his disturbingly-mangled hand has a public service announcement for you: don’t light fireworks off in your hands as doing so can leave you disfigured and also cost you tens of millions of dollars in the NFL free agent market.  To paraphrase Apu from the Simpsons: “Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it….just make sure that it doesn’t include your hand.”

Lead Story… The Panama Canal will be opening up a new lane for larger ships in the coming weeks.  One of the economic winners will be owners of industrial buildings in a quaint area of South Carolina 200 miles from the sea where a construction boom is underway to accommodate goods coming into the Port of Charleston, which is currently undergoing dredging that will make it the deepest harbor on the east coast.  Consider it the new Inland Empire of the South.  From the Wall Street Journal:

In the past few years, the rolling hills and farmland surrounding Greenville and Spartanburg have given way to massive warehouses and industrial parks. Restaurants in Greenville, S.C.’s formerly neglected downtown cater to corporate managers and engineers from Germany and Japan. Trucks clog the two main interstates, carrying engine parts and finished goods to and from the region’s growing number of manufacturing plants.

More development is on the way: over six million square feet of warehouse space is under construction in the Greenville-Spartanburg region, a scale typically seen in major cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis, according to CBRE Inc., a real-estate brokerage.

The construction frenzy is being fueled by developments at the Panama Canal, nearly 2,000 miles away. The new, wider ship channel will allow bigger ships to pass through, lowering the cost of bringing Asian-made goods directly to the East Coast.

Industrial boom

Sound familiar?  It should if you’eve ever spent time in the former cow pastures west of I-15 in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties that now have millions of square feet of class-A warehouses that serve as a massive distribution hub for the ports of LA and Long Beach.  Some are arguing that the canal widening will allow Asian exporters to hedge against the labor issues that have boiled over in LA and Long Beach in recent years, grinding commerce to a halt even at the expense of a few extra shipping days to get to market.  The counter argument is that days to market will still rule and there isn’t likely to be much of any drop off in LA and Long Beach.  Either way, the net volume of traffic going to east coast ports is likely going up to some extent and that is what industrial developers are anticipating.  This could potentially be a massive economic stimulus for an area that was formerly a textile hub and lately had best been know for automotive manufacturing. More from the Journal:

The expanded Panama Canal “is going to drive industry and create even more businesses there,” said Joel Sutherland, director of the Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of San Diego. “Having a regular flow of containers…will attract major manufacturing, then their suppliers, then their suppliers’ suppliers, and ultimately more people.”

From the Port of Charleston—which is dredging its harbor to be the deepest on the East Coast—container cargo makes the quick trip by rail to a freight hub in Greer, S.C., known as the Upstate’s “inland port.”

Trucks pick up those containers of component parts and retail goods bound for nearby factories and distribution centers. And from there, truckers can reach Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., in two or three hours, and most of the rest of the Eastern U.S. within a day’s drive.

“The Panama Canal is not even completed, the port dredging has not been completed, but we’re already attracting major distribution and manufacturing companies,” said Trey Pennington, an industrial real-estate broker with CBRE in Greenville. “The Panama Canal will fundamentally change the market dynamics of South Carolina in the coming years.”

It’s also a given that more economic growth and well-paying jobs will lead to more residential and retail development which leads to…..you guessed it – NIMBYs who, as always are coming out of the woodwork to protest anything new being built:

In downtown Greenville, higher-end residential and retail development—a Brooks Brothers clothing shop opened on Main Street in 2013—is forcing out some longtime residents. Across Greenville and Spartanburg counties, residents say traffic congestion has never been worse.

The Upstate’s main roads are lined with razed fields where warehouse structures rise in various states of construction. Conservationists say the region’s natural landscape in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains—which draws outdoor enthusiasts and an especially large number of professional and amateur cyclists—is under threat as housing and industrial construction push further out from the cities and transportation corridors.

“The Upstate needs to balance this development with protecting valuable green spaces and water quality,” said Andrea Cooper, director of Upstate Forever, an environmental advocacy group.

In a strange way, I’m relieved to see that the “If You Build It They Will Whine (and most likely sue you)” crowd doesn’t confine itself to coastal California.  If the Panama Canal expansion ends up resulting in a 10% – 20% increase in goods going through Charleston as some predict, the Upstate could be in for a prolonged economic boom that will likely keep the anti-growth NIMBY crowd busy for the foreseeable future.  If that scenario does play out, look for the region to become a prime growth corridor with all of the positives (and yes, some negatives) that go with economic expansion.  South Carolina may be getting it’s own version of the 909 so be on the lookout for the flat brimmed hats, barbed wire tattoos and lifted pickup trucks.

Economy

Stick a Fork in It: The futures markets are now saying that the Fed won’t raise interest rates until 2018 post-Brexit.  See Also: Government bonds from developed economies have been this year’s jackpot investment.

News Flash: It’s really, really expensive to raise a child in the US.  Per the US department of agriculture, the average cost to raise a child born in 2013 from birth to 18-years old is $245,340, ranging from $176,550 for low-income families to $407,820 for high-income families.   This only covers a kid to age 18 so it DOESN’T include college.  It’s truly a wonder that young people are delaying household formation coming out of the Great Recession…..

Commercial

Scarcity: 1031 exchange buyers are having a difficult time finding enough deals to trade into, leading them into unfamiliar markets and product types and helping to bid up already-high commercial real estate prices.

Residential

Unintended Consequences: There has been no group of people more wrong over the past 7 years than the “interest rates have nowhere to go but up” crowd.  The Brexit is just the latest example of why this line of thinking has been incorrect. There is also a credible argument that Brexit could set off a chain of events that would result in mortgage rates in the 2s.  I’m not saying that it will happen or even that it’s likely but the possibility shouldn’t be ignored based on the deflationary forces that we are seeing in the world economy.

Not in the Ballpark: US housing supply continues to lag far behind demand just as it has been doing since 2009.

Unsustainable: Inflation-adjusted rents rose 64% from 1960-2014 while real household incomes increased only 18%, resulting in the share of cost-burdened renters nationwide exploding from 24% in 1960 to 49% in 2014.  If you want to know why so many people struggle to save for a down payment, this is a good place to start:

Profiles

Hero: Meet the world’s first robot lawyer, a free online chatbot who has managed to overturn 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, saving users nearly $3.9MM in fines since it was launched 21 months ago.  The 19 year old British coder who invented this should win a Nobel Prize.

Predictable: There is one industry that is about to make a fortune on the Brexit regardless of what happens with regards to markets and the economy: lawyers.

Stressed: The Federal Reserve’s annual bank stress tests have spawned a multibillion-dollar industry where banks hire consultants to manage other consultants  in order to help them pass, fueling a never-ending feedback loop of red tape and bureaucracy.

Chart of the Day.

Supply and Demand for Housing

Supply = Blue, Demand = Gold

Difference Between Housing Supply and Demand

WTF

Breast in the World: Just in time for July 4th, the Journal of Female Health Sciences recently released a new study that found the US rules the world in a very important category: American women have the world’s largest boobs.  The study excluded surgical enhancements, which of course naturally meant that only two women in Orange County – which qualifies as a very different type of Silicon Valley – were eligible to participate.  Yes, this is blatant click-bait but I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth as I feel it’s my duty to augment your base of knowledge by keeping you abreast of important news.

Video of the Day: In a development that will likely alter the path of human history, some genius figured out that beer pong is more fun and challenging if the cups are placed on top of a Roomba vacuum cleaner which is then placed on top of the beer pong table.  Bring a Roomba to your 4th of July BBQ and you will be the most popular person there.  Guaranteed.

Vegan News Roundup: Vegans are now forcing their bat-shit-crazy religion on their dogs (which, by the way are carnivores) because vegans are mostly insane.  Side note: this definitely qualifies as animal abuse.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 1st – East Coast Edition

Landmark Links June 24th – Follow the Money

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Lead Story…. Urban Dictionary (my go to source for all things slang) defines a tiger mom as:

“A mother who is overly strict with her child in order to foster an academically competitive spirit.  This form of upbringing is intended to direct a child towards financially successful careers at the potential risk of feeling emotionally unfulfilled and/or socially inept.”

Just my opinion, but it sounds like a rather terrible way to grow up.  I’ve always assumed that children who were raised in such an environment would be the ones most likely to end up driving the porcelain bus in a dorm bathroom once they go to college and finally obtained their first taste of freedom from overbearing parents.  However, there is a relatively new trend where tiger moms, typically from China are following their children to college to ensure that their offspring’s hard work doesn’t get flushed down the drain in a torrent of booze and late night parties. From The Economist (h/t Jeff Condon):

EVERYONE knows that Chinese students are flooding American campuses. Less widely known is that their mothers are coming, too. Last year 394,669 pupils from China were studying at American universities, secondary and primary schools, the largest contingent of all international students. Increasingly their parents are moving in with them, buying local properties or investing at least $500,000 in businesses to try to qualify for a green card.

The tiger mums usually come to America alone, leaving their husbands behind. “When I wasn’t here, my son would survive on instant noodles and energy drinks for several days without eating fruit or vegetables,” says Wenxue Hu, mother of a masters student studying applied mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania. She gave up her job as a corporate finance director in Shenzhen to cook for him in Philadelphia. Through a local church she met other Chinese tiger mums, most of whom entered with a tourist visa that allows them to stay up to six months each time. New Haven, Connecticut now boasts a “Yale Chinese grandparents’ village”, with 15 residents. The old folk live under the same roof as their children, mostly PhD and post-doctoral students at Yale who are too busy to take care of their own offspring.

On one hand, I suppose this keeps kids more focused on school helps to make good on the massive investment the college represents.  On the other, college is supposed to be the time when young people strike out on their own, make mistakes and learn from them – rather than continuing to live under the thumb of their mothers.  As you can probably imagine, this is having a massive impact on housing markets in markets around top universities.  Again, from The Economist (highlights mine):

Last year China became the largest source of foreign property investment in America, pouring in $28.6 billion. Roughly 70% of inquiries from the Chinese indicated that education was the chief motive, says Matthew Moore, president of the American division of http://www.juwai.com, a Chinese international-property website. In Chicago estate agents anticipate more Chinese parents buying expensive condominiums. In Irvine, California, about 70-80% of buyers of new-builds are Chinese parents whose children attend, or plan to attend, nearby colleges, says Peggy Fong Chen, the CEO of ReMax Omega Irvine. Other college towns such as Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Dallas, see a similar trend.

The Irvine statistic surprised me a bit.  Irvine has long been a hot spot for Chinese buyers and much of that demand has been driven by it’s phenomenal schools.  However, I’d always assumed that the demand was driven more by it’s public schools than surrounding colleges such as UC Irvine.  Then again, UCI’s student body is 46.2% Asian and 11.7% international with a student body of around 24,500 undergrads and 5,500 graduates so it’s not hard to see how this could drive demand for housing if there are 3,500 foreign students at UCI and even a small percentage have parents who move with them and buy a home. According to The Economist, buying a house can make good financial sense, as well as  cultural sense for a Chinese investor/parent:

For the rising middle class in China, parking their wealth overseas also makes good business sense. The near-bubble in housing prices at home and the depreciation of the yuan have made them nervous, so diversification becomes pressing. As property prices shoot up in some college towns, more Chinese buyers are drawn in, says Susan Wachter, a real-estate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Ownership, rather than renting, becomes more attractive, because their children can rent extra bedrooms to classmates to cover utility and tax bills, while also being able to benefit from future price rises.  Some tiger mums also try to help their children get married by making the down-payment or even meeting the full cost. In Chinese culture, owning a property gives a sense of security and helps to attract a spouse.

Coming out of the Great Recession, there has been no better housing bet than going where the Chinese investors want to be.  If their buying demand is really being dictated by higher education, I would imagine that this is a trend that could continue for quite a while, especially given the ever-rising cost of college at top schools and the growing number of newly-wealthy people in China that can afford it.

Economy

Say What? Every now and then, Jose Canseco emerges from his steroid-induced coma, pulls a needle out of his butt and goes on Twitter to impart his wisdom of all things finance – which I try to cover here whenever possible.  This week our roid-addled friend opined on the Brexit vote and the it was everything that you would expect financial advice from Jose Canseco to be. Update: UK citizens declined Jose’s advice and voted to leave the EU.  Market chaos this morning and Jose declined offers to go on air with both Bloomberg and Yahoo finance because they wouldn’t pay him (I’m not making this up. You NEED to follow him on Twitter). 

The Whole Story: We often hear about how the top 1% of Americans is doing dramatically better than everyone else.  While that is true it misses a larger point: the upper middle class (defined as any household earning $100,000 to $350,000 for a family of three) is growing rapidly as well.  According to a new study from the Urban Institute:

“The size of the upper middle class grew from 12.9 percent of the population in 1979 to 29.4 percent in 2014. In terms of shares of total income, the middle class controlled a bit more than 46 percent of all incomes in 1979, while the upper middle class and rich controlled 30 percent. By 2014, the rich and upper middle class controlled 63 percent of all incomes, while the middle class share had shrunk to 26 percent.”

This goes a long way towards explaining why the luxury segment of the housing market has done so much better than lower segments in recent years.  If you don’t have time to read the full report, the Wall Street Journal put together an excellent summary.

70 is the New 65: According to PIMCO, demographics support rates staying lower for longer.  See Also: The yield curve is nearing its cycle low.

Commercial

Sea Change: Someday we are going to talk about department stores the way that our parents talk about switch board operators.  They are being eaten alive by internet retailers.  Great news for class-A distribution warehouse space.  Not so great news for retail.  I could go on but this chart from Bloomberg tells the story better than I can:

Residential

Non-Starter: When is a starter home not a starter home?  When no one can afford it.  Yes, inventory is extremely low nationwide but in some markets buyers are dropping at a quicker pace than inventory is, leading to softening prices.  From Trulia:

One might think that falling starter home inventory over the past year would cause starter home prices to rise, and for the most part, that’s what has happened in most markets. In places like Portland, Dallas, and Colorado Springs, Colo., large decreases in starter home inventory has led to double-digit increases in starter home prices. However, price movements aren’t just determined by changes in supply (inventory) – they’re also affected by the number of home buyers actively bidding on homes. In fact, in 20 of the 74 markets where starter inventory has dropped, demand has fallen at faster pace and so prices have fallen.

For example, starter home inventory has fallen by about 20% of the past year in both Columbia, S.C., and Charleston, S.C., but starter home prices have actually fallen in these markets by 0.8% and 5%, respectively. And these two cities aren’t outliers – 18 others large metros that have experienced a drop in inventory have also seen price drops, including New York, Kansas City, and Montgomery County-Bucks County-Chester County, Pa.

Don’t get too excited though if you’re a prospective homebuyer.  Trulia found that affordability is still getting worse in many of the hottest markets:

Starter homes continue to experience the largest drops in inventory over the past year, followed closely by trade-up homes. While starter home buyers in California have seen some of the largest decreases in affordability, those in central Florida are non-California metros in the West are starting to feel their pain. But a fall in inventory for trade-up and premium homes is occurring at a time when demand for those homes is rising, so those buyers are feeling a tighter pinch than starter home buyers in markets where demand has fallen enough to keep prices from rising.

 

Profiles

Unintended Consequences: Rule 34 states that: “If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions.”  As skeevy and disturbing as that sounds, it’s been scientifically proven to be pretty much true.  There is a corollary to Rule 34 that if you provide free wifi, it will be used to watch porn.  This should be obvious by 2016 unless you are incredibly naive, which the City of NY apparently is.  The city announced an initiative earlier this year to convert former payphones in Times Square to wifi-enabled screens to provide free internet to citizens.  But well-meaning project went horribly wrong when homeless men figured out that they could use the ill-conceived devices to stream porn in public.  For those of you unaware of the history of Times Square, it used to be a haven for peep shows and seedy adult video stores until it was cleaned up back in the 90s, thanks mainly to then-mayor Rudy Giuliani.  From the NY Post (for whom this story was tailor-made):

“I used to come here in the ’70s, and I remember thinking Times Square was as skeezy as you could get, but I was wrong,” said former New Yorker Richard Herzberg, 61, who now lives in Dallas, Texas.

“This is as skeezy as Times Square could get. I mean, in the old days there was plenty of porn, but you could only see it behind closed doors. So at least there was that level of modesty.”

To their credit the city responded by installing filters (which will likely be compromised any day now).  As you can imagine the homeless guys weren’t too happy about losing access to their free porn:

“I was watching porn on one of them things on, like, Saturday,” said a homeless man who identified himself as Hakeem, 44.

“Then on, like, Monday or Tuesday, all of a sudden I couldn’t,” he added.

“Once word got around, it stopped. It sucks, man. It was great.”

Looks like the NYC homeless population will have to find their porn elsewhere for the time being.

Mad Money, Questionable Ethics: Multiple studies have shown that Jim Cramer’s stock picks basically suck and don’t come close to beating the S&P – while taking substantially more risk, yet he continues to use his CNBC show as an infomercial to promote his $59.95/month stock picking service.

Of Buggy Whips and Floppy Disks: Apple is indicating that headphone jacks are on the way out.

Chart of the Day

Growth of Upper Middle Class

 

WTF

I Wonder What He Had For Lunch: A Swedish soccer player was ejected from a game recently for ripping a fart.  I know that soccer players are notorious for being drama queens but this feud between the ref and player over whether it was intentional or not is next level (h/t Tom Farrell):

The referee explained himself. “I perceived it as deliberate provocation,” Kako said, adding that he’d once given a player a yellow for peeing by the field as well. “He did it on purpose and it was inappropriate. Therefore, he received a yellow card.”

Ljungkvist then re-litigated the matter to Aftonbladet, which definitely is a newspaper. “To provoke anyone with a fart is not particularly smart or normal,” he said. “It’s nonsense – I just broke wind and got a red card. I spoke to the referee afterwards, I was annoyed, but there were no bad words. I just said he was a buffoon.”

Follow Friday: Every now and then I stumble across a must-follow Instagram or Twitter account.  City Subway Creatures (@subwaycreatures), an account that posts pictures of the odd folks who ride the NYC subway system is one such account.  Follow them today.  You won’t regret it unless you don’t have a sense of humor or are easily offended – then don’t both.

Indecent Exposure: Meet the inmate who stripped naked and ran into a court room in the middle of a trial to yell: “Court is back in session“!  He is now facing additional charges.

Special Delivery: Meet the Wyoming man who was arrested for going door-to-door selling cocaine and meth. When asked for comment, he replied “it wasn’t going to sell itself.”

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 24th – Follow the Money

Landmark Links June 21st – Worth the Investment?

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Welcome to summer!  Fortunately, we avoided the apocalypse that a crackpot astrologer (redundant) predicted last night when the full moon coincided with the summer solstice.  I know you’re all as relieved as I am.  Now, on to the news:

Lead Story… I recently read two studies that came out in the last week or so that appear contradictory, at least on the surface.  First off, the National Association of Realtors and SALT published a survey that strongly suggests that student debt is holding back the housing market:

Seventy-one percent of non-homeowners with debts from student loans said the burden of those monthly payments was keeping them from buying a home. More than half said it would likely continue do so for more than five years, according to a new study by the National Association of Realtors and SALT, a consumer literacy program provided by nonprofit American Student Assistance.

Second, John Burns Real Estate Consulting posted a story on their blog about rising college graduation rates are contributing to income inequality:

Rising college graduation rates, particularly for women, have significantly contributed to a greater share of high-income households. Among married couples, 23% now both graduated from college—a percentage that has steadily risen for decades. When both spouses went to college and work, household incomes at the top rise!

Consumer spending data provides strong support to the JBREC hypothesis of college education contributing to income inequality:

So which one is it?  Is college debt holding graduates back and not allowing them to take place in the “American Dream” of owning their own home or is the rising percentage of couples where both have a college education (and probably a bunch of student debt) leading to out-sized earnings for a percentage of the population?  I would contend that it’s both.  First off, we need to distinguish between cost and return.  Yes, college is expensive – arguably too expensive seeing as it’s cost has far outrun inflation for a long period of time.  However, if we are making the case, as the Realtor study is that college debt is holding back the housing market then we have to ask a simple question: what, is the alternative?  That’s where the problem lies.  Sure there are tech founders that didn’t graduate college only to become billionaires but they are extreme outliers, pure originals that can’t be replicated.  If they weren’t outliers, by definition they would never be able to earn that type of out-sized return.  Unfortunately, not everyone is able to change the world, even if they all got a trophy in youth soccer.  If a student isn’t independently wealthy enough to not take on debt (a proposition similar to winning the lottery – pure luck), the alternative is not to go to college.  Statistically speaking, that is a horrible bet.  This piece of Study.com sums it up perfectly:

Considering the high cost of a college education, potential students may question whether the expected earnings after graduation outweigh the possible debt incurred from student loans. In 2002, the Census Bureau looked at lifetime earnings of employees with bachelor’s degrees and those without for 1999: non-degree holders could expect to earn 75% less than bachelor’s degree holders, who could expect to earn $2.7 million over their lifetimes. However, since 1999, bachelor’s degree holders can now expect to make 84% more than high school graduates.

As the above numbers, and the JBREC study show, college is becoming more and more of a necessity to get ahead in the modern world.  If you want to join the middle or especially upper-middle class, a high school degree is not going to get you there (unless of course you happen to be the aforementioned tech genius/ future billionaire).  Yes, the debt is a necessary evil with an important caveat: not all colleges or all majors within a college are created equally and that’s where I believe that studies like the NAR one are in error: they overly generalize a very complex issue.

The seventy one percent referenced in the NAR study is an eye-popping number but there are a few issues with the way that the study was conducted: 1) There is a no segmentation (at least none was provided in what they published).  For example, the results aren’t sorted based on whether the respondent attended a 4-year college, a 2-year junior college or a for-profit college let alone what their course of study was.  2) There is no differentiation made between those that received a college degree and those that took out loans but did not complete a degree.  It’s easy to see where this is problematic.  I highly doubt that student debt is as large of an issue for an engineering grad from a top school as it is for a someone who dropped out of a for-profit college before receiving a degree.  Alas, we don’t know from this study since the data wasn’t provided.

Yes, the rate of increase in the cost of a college degree in recent decades has been massive.  However, if looked at strictly from an economic standpoint, the yield on investment is still quite good, IF you graduate AND and chose a major that will get you somewhere other than flipping burgers or spending your time at political rallies asking for debt forgiveness (yes, I know that was a cheap shot).  The primary reason is that the baseline for comparison: a high school degree provides little if any earning power even when debt is taken into account.  Like it or not, many jobs that previously required only a high school degree now require college.  So when will college cost begin to moderate?  IMO, it’s when the return on investment no longer justifies the outlay.  You can already see this happening in for-profit schools which have proven over time to be a poor investment for students which is why their stock performance has been utter crap.  As a further illustration, here are the 25 colleges with the best Return on Investment and the 25 colleges with the worst ROI.

The NAR study is factually correct: every dollar of additional debt that you take on be it student or otherwise will indeed make it more difficult to qualify for a mortgage. However, if one graduates with a worthwhile degree, that debt should still be a good investment over time and make the borrower more likely to be able to purchase a house than the alternative of not taking 0n debt by not attending college at all.  It’s a shame that the NAR data didn’t include a further breakdown because it would have made for a far more interesting story than the shocking 71% number.  It’s almost as if they had an agenda here….

Economy

What Gives?  Gregory Mankiw of New York Times on five possible reasons for our sluggish economy.

Cream of the Crap: The US economy is doing great….compared with pretty much everywhere else.  See Also: Swiss government debt now has a negative yield all the way out to 33 years, which makes even Japan look good in comparison.

The Fed Who Cried Wolf: The Federal Reserve has spent the last few months saber-rattling about imminent interest rate hikes only to backtrack at their monthly meetings.  The act is getting old and they are now at risk of losing investor faith in their policy rate path.

Demographics Are Destiny: This animated demographics chart from Calculated Risk is almost mesmerizing to look at.

Commercial

Refi Madness: America’s malls have been on the ropes for quite some time and would have plenty of issues even if they were not leveraged at all.  Unfortunately for their owners, they have billions in debt coming due.

Storm Clouds: PIMCO sees a potential downturn in the next 12-months for U.S. commercial real estate as tightened regulations, a wall of debt maturities and property sales by publicly traded landlords take their toll.

Residential

It’s Complicated : Morgan Housel of the Motley Fool is one of the best financial writers in the world.  He has also long been a critic of the concept of a home as an investment.  Recently he and his wife bought their first home after they started having kids.  I think this assessment of the complicated nature of the home buying process and it’s impact on transaction fees is spot on:

I consider myself reasonably astute in personal finance, because it’s so much of what I write about for a living. But I can’t count how many times I had to stop, realize something confused me, and spend an hour of research to understand what I was about to sign. After going through our loan documents I sent at lest 10 emails to the bank with various forms of, “What’s this?” What is this?” “WHAT IS THIS?”

Even with a realtor, home buyers need to be amateur lawyers to fully understand what they’re doing. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people for whom finance is already a daunting topic. And that’s most people.

This probably explains why transaction fees are still high. When you combine emotion with legalese, the path of least resistance is to just sign your name without considering what you’re doing. I had a few moments of, “They wouldn’t be offering me this if it wasn’t in my best interest” only to stop, want to slap myself, and keep researching.

For a Price: Multi-family landlord’s are offering free rent as a concession in San Francisco as a flood of units finally hit the market but you can’t get it unless you can afford a luxury apartment (h/t Jeff Condon).  See Also: San Francisco’s housing mania may finally have reached it’s limit.  And: Luxury housing demand appears to be on the wane.

Profiles

Hero: Meet the hacker who is fighting ISIS by spamming their Twitter accounts with porn.

Worker’s Paradise: Venezuela’s descent into failed state status where citizens fight in the streets for food is even worse when you consider that, based on it’s vast natural resources it should be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Bird Hunting: After Microsoft purchased Linkedin, the next question in Silicon Valley is who will buy perpetually-struggling Twitter.

Chart of the Day

A couple of fascinating graphics from JBREC.  It amazes me that still only 23% of the married population consists of couples who both have degrees.

share of married couples with college degree

percent of adults with bachelor's degree

WTF

What a Gas: Activists are planning a “Fart-In” at Hillary Clinton’s DNC acceptance speech this summer in Philadelphia (h/t Steve Sims).

All the Rage: England’s newest fitness craze known as Tantrum Club involves screaming obscenities and popping balloons with bad words written on them while stomping on bubble wrap.  This is right up there with the Shake Weight when it comes to dumb workout fads.

Keeping up with the Floridians: An obese naked man was videotaped relieving himself outside of a Georgia Waffle House in broad daylight.  When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Florida replied “see, it’s not only us.”

Boom: A group of arsonists set off fireworks in a Walmart in Phoenix leading to the building needing to be evacuated.  Fortunately, someone had the good sense to videotape it.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 21st – Worth the Investment?

Landmark Links April 26th – Disconnect

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Lead Story… Goldman Sachs published a research note last week that CNBC posted some excerpts of, making the case that the construction labor shortage isn’t to blame for the sluggish home builder performance:

“Our analysis of payroll growth and wage inflation data suggests that labor shortages may not be to blame for the mediocre level of housing activity,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a report this week. “We find that, on the one hand, the construction sector has experienced the largest job growth over the past year.”

Construction growth has led all other sectors at 5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but average hourly earnings in construction gained only 2.2 percent over the past year, which is about the national average.

“Economics 101 would suggest that, if labor shortages did in fact exist, upward pressure on wages would be more pronounced and payroll growth would be anemic,” the report said. “Therefore, the evidence from the industry-level employment and wage data does not support the existence of labor shortages in the construction sector.”

Goldman instead pointed to permitting delays and land scarcity as the culprits, citing a report from JBREC’s Jody Kahn that we posted earlier this month:

A survey of 100 builders nationwide by John Burns Real Estate Consulting backs that thesis. They asked about costs that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and found high levels of builder frustration, not just from labor, but from cost overruns stemming from new regulations for house erosion control, energy codes and fire sprinklers. They also cited understaffed planning and permit offices as well as utility company delays.

“New regulations to protect the environment and to shore up local city finances have made it extremely difficult for home builders to build affordable homes,” the Burns analysts wrote. “Now, more than ever, the demand for affordable entry-level housing will need to be met by the resale market, since new homes have become permanently more expensive to build. We were overwhelmed by the reply as well as the builders’ level of frustration.”

I agree with what they are saying to an extent as the construction labor shortage Isnt the sole culprit, but first we have to put things in context.  Yes, we are rebounding but it’s from a very low level when it comes to construction employment:

The CNBC story made two important clarifications: 1) The labor shortage is a much bigger deal on the west coast (most of our clients would agree); and 2) The construction industry has failed miserably when it comes to to attracting younger workers and is stuck with an aging workforce (again, our clients have verified this):

There is a labor crunch, though, in some parts of the country, more so in the West, as a considerable number of the construction workers who left during the recession still have yet to return.

The average age of a construction worker today is far higher than it was during the housing boom, Michelle Meyer, deputy head of U.S. economics at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Research, said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” Builders need to attract younger workers, but they seem, so far at least, unwilling or unable to pay them more.

IMHO, there are a number of issues conspiring to make this a very difficult environment for builders and developers.  Permitting delays, a lack of developable lots, low affordability, more stringent mortgage underwriting, people forming households later in life, labor shortages, high costs, lack of development financing, almost no new entry level product, etc.  Builders could probably overcome a couple of these but add them up together and you have the perfect storm for a relatively moribund home building recovery.  This sluggishness is leading to capital market pessimism.  Meyers Research noted last week that their investor round table is expecting a downturn in land in the not-too-distant future which is causing them to proceed cautiously:

  • The train may arrive early: While a national economic recession is still on the horizon, the recession is now expected within the next two years, which makes investing in a residential land opportunity more interesting.

  • Possible repricing ahead: In fact, some groups are suggesting that land will be “on sale” within the next 6-18 months. Widespread distress is not expected, but neither are decreasing home prices. It’s simply an expectation that some return-based land owners may be experiencing deal fatigue and be willing to accept a modest return rather than endure another cycle.

  • “Multiple” Opportunities: Some of the larger, more patient capital sources are expecting this to be an attractive buy opportunity where they can “play for the multiple”. The challenge is that few of these investors are looking to develop land. The heavy capital requirements of land development are not justifiable today and banks remain tepid toward land development. It is not a stretch to expect the for-sale market to remain under-supplied, or at least not oversupplied, for a protracted period. This condition surely will reduce the risk of capital loss for patient investors but make things challenging for home builders who need land as their most basic raw material.

At some point this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where lots fall in value due to a dearth of capital availability where investors pull back to wait for a better entry point.  This couldn’t be more different than the 2007-2008 scenario where there was plenty of lot and home supply that weighed on the market heavily once subprime lending (and demand from marginal buyers) vaporized.  No, in this case homes could actually keep going up in value, getting less affordable while new construction continues to slow and land development grinds to a halt.  Why?  Because people are still forming households and there is still demand that will likely continue to outstrip supply of development slows further.

Private equity investors made large investments in land coming out of the downturn, banking on a strong rebound when home values began to rise.  Many of them have been disappointed with the results and many portfolios haven’t hit expected returns despite home prices and lot prices generally rising.  This has mainly been due to the various headwinds facing development and home building that I mentioned above.  The prevailing view on Wall Street appears to be that land is overvalued but home prices may not be which is why Meyers sees the potential for land to go on sale while low supply keeps home prices elevated. Ironically, developers and their capital partners could have been spot on underwriting finished lot values and still under-performed due to permitting delays and cost inflation.  Developers and their equity partners are also struggling since home builders are now demanding finished lots whereas they were previously buying unimproved but mapped land and did their own improvements.  Improving lots is very capital intensive as mentioned in the Meyers report above and your average developer has a substantially higher cost of capital than a public home builder does.

I’m of the opinion that the correction has been underway since 2014 when builders essentially stopped buying paper lots in all but the most infill locations since underwritten returns on land improvement and horizontal construction are now higher (ask a west coast based land broker and they will likely confirm this). All told, we could be setting up for a somewhat bizarre scenario where land prices languish as development risk gets repriced while home prices stay firm or go higher.

Economy

Look at the Bright Side: As lucrative oil jobs dry up,  some workers are jumping ship to the growing solar energy sector.

Commercial

Just Speculating: Spec construction is on the rise as tenant demand continues to fuel the industrial sector.

Residential

There’s a Freeway Running Through the Yard: Buyers in high priced markets like Los Angeles will put up with a lot, including a home adjacent to the freeway to find something even moderately affordable. See Also: Home price surge stymies first time buyers.

Profiles

Keeping Up With the Googles: Traditional businesses are making their offices look like startups in a bid to appear “cool” to millennials.  However, what many of these traditional businesses run by 50 year old execs don’t grasp is that the appeal of the startup lies in the excitement of the concept, the culture and the idea that you are getting in on the ground floor….oh yeah, I almost forgot about the ability to participate in the upside if the company makes it big.  These are things that your typical advertising agency will never offer and nap pods, ping pong tables and hip office design in an old-school business are superficial and come off as pandering.

Better Off Just Dripping: The Dyson Airblade jet dryer is really bad for hygene. A new study shows that using one is akin to setting off a viral bomb in an already-disgusting public restroom.

Chart of the Day

The latest update of Bill McBride’s “Distressing Gap” doesn’t look to be closing anytime soon.

WTF

Makes Sense to Me: A woman in South Carolina crashed a car into a Walmart.  She claims that God told her to do it.

Video of the Day Twofer: Watching disgruntled construction workers battle it out on the street with heavy machinery is my new favorite pastime. (h/t Ian Sinderhoff)

The Law of Unintended Consequences: An animal rights activist group “freed” an ostrich from the circus.  It was promptly hit by a car and killed.  Turns out that ostriches aren’t well equipped to handle an urban environment in Germany.  Who would have though?

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links April 26th – Disconnect