Landmark Links November 8th – Size Matters

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Lead Story…. CIO Magazine posted a thought provoking piece last week about how first time private equity investment managers consistently outperformed established managers from 2000-2012.  Many of our investor clients are private equity funds and I worked for a commercial real estate pension fund advisor in a prior life.  Needless to say, this is a topic that fascinates me.  From CIO on how newer has been better when it comes to performance:

First-time private capital funds have consistently outperformed more experienced managers in recent vintage years, according to Preqin.

Newly launched private equity, private debt, real estate, infrastructure, and natural resources funds achieved a higher median net internal rate of return than established counterparts in every vintage year but one between 2000 and 2012, the report stated.

Private markets investors who took a chance on a brand new fund were rewarded with “strong (and in some cases, exceptional) fund performance, increased portfolio diversification, and experience with niche strategies,” said Leopold Peavy, Preqin’s head of investor products.

Overall, investors have grown more likely to invest with first-time managers, with more than half of surveyed investors saying they would at least consider committing to a brand new private capital fund, compared to 39% in 2013.

CIO didn’t give a reason for this outperformance but I have a theory as to why this happens, at least in the real estate world: Size matters.  A lot.  Most first-time funds are substantially smaller than established funds as they tend to attract less capital due mostly to a lack of investment track record.  Most managers aspire to grow their AUM because it means that they make more money.  Larger asset base = larger fees in dollar (if not percenage) terms.  However, while this growth in AUM might be a great deal for the manager, it isn’t such a great deal for their investors.  To illustrate why, lets look at the typcial life cycle of a fund:

  1. Fast Out of the Gate: In the early years, a typical real estate fund starts with a relatively small amount of capital.  Let’s say $200MM.  The young fund is running lean and can be extremely picky in choosing the deals that they enter into.  Why?  Because they don’t have a large amount of capital to place so they can do it on a highly selective basis.  This typically means off market deals and value-add opportunities that the big boys might consider too be a waste of time and difficult to scale.
  2. Asset Aggregation: By the time that our fund goes out to raise another investment vehicle they have done well.  Really well.  Their ability to be nimble and pick up smaller deals has led to outperformance of market benchmarks.  Large institutional investors take note and jump in, throwing money at the growing manager and allowing them to increase their AUM substantially.  The problem is that this comes at a price: once you take on the capital you have to place it.  This means no more small deals and less off market opportunities.  They just aren’t efficient enough to place a large amount of capital.  Our once-nimble manager now needs to target more capital intensive but often underperformign segments like class A office and large portfolios in order to get money out.  Their performance suffers accordingly and falls back to the pack.
  3. Maturity: The fund is now a steady market performer – maybe beating benchmarks by a little bit.  However, in a market where AUM begets more AUM, they are a focused fundraising machine and able to raise capital well into the billions.  Their old 2,000sf class B office space is now a full floor headquarters in a class A building and they are staffed up accordingly, running a high G&A budget.  The only way to pay for all of the extra expense is to keep the fundraising gravy train going.  However, the returns aren’t what they used to be and top performers from within begin to go out on their own, only to re-start the cycle again.

The irony here is that the very thing that a manager wants – a lot of AUM is often responsible for suppressing returns as they grow.  It’s nearly impossible to have it both ways.  You can either beat the market by being relatively small and nimble or you can become a huge AUM machine.  It’s rare to have both.  Size matters a lot when it comes to real estate investment funds and it often correlates closely with how long they’ve been in existence.  It’s a lot harder to steer the Titanic than a Boston Whaler.

Economy

All About the Benjamins: Friday’s jobs report was pretty good despite the headline number coming in a little below consensus.  The big story: wages are rising.  See Also: What we know about the 92 million Americans who aren’t in the labor force.

Counter Intuitive: Will the rising number of retirees cause more inflation rather than less?  It’s not as far-fetched an idea as you may think.  See Also: Rising bond yields are telling us that inflation is returning.

Reading the Tea Leaves: How big data mining operations are combing social media and review sites to create a more detailed picture of US earnings.

Commercial

A Different Type of Farm: How vertical farming technology could lead to higher demand for warehouse space and more efficient food production.

Residential

Easier Said Than Done: The McKinsey Global Institute thinks that they can “fix” housing in CA by targeting vacant land tracts in urban infill areas for high density development. Conor Dougherty and Karl Russell of the NY Times lay out why this is largely doomed to fail (and in some cases already has).

Rise of the Machines: This homebuilding robot being developed in Australia could lower construction costs substantially….but could eliminate some construction jobs.

Off the Grid: Tesla’s new solar roof tiles and battery packs could completely alter the way that America generates and uses home electricity.

Getting Out of Dodge: Tech workers and startups are getting out of Silicon Valley and moving to new markets with a much lower cost of living.  This isn’t going to have any impact on the Apples and Googles of the world but the next generation of small startups could come from much more diverse locations.

Profiles

Tear Jerker: Meet the Cubs fan who drove 600 miles to sit in a cemetery and listen to the Cubs win the World Series with his father at his grave, keeping a promise he made decades ago.

Skimmed: Great profile from Bloomberg on how The Skimm (the first thing that I read most mornings) became a must-read for Millennials.

Nip and Tuck: More Americans 65 and older are getting plastic surgery than ever before….and not only in Newport Beach.

Charts of the Day

WTF

Innuendo: I found something that both Hillary and Trump voters can agree on – Anti-Prop 60 (for those not from CA, that’s the one where they are trying to make condoms mandatory in pornos) ads are the best political ads ever.

Squirrels Gone Wild: A squirrel went on a rampage in a retirement community resulting in a resident calling 911. Once again, because Florida.

Seems Reasonable: A drunk Russian man murdered and dismembered a friend for insulting his accordian skills because, Russia.

A Little Wired: A man was caught driving through a family neighborhood with wires attached to his genitals because, Florida.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links November 8th – Size Matters

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.

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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 September 16th – The Carrot and The Stick

Lead Story… Investopedia defines Behavioral Economics as the study of psychology as it relates to the economic decision making processes of individuals and institutions.  IMO, one of the more fascinating applications of behavioral economics deals with the largest investment that most people make in their lifetimes: buying a home.  It’s all a matter of motivation.  What motivates a person to buy a home versus renting?  Much of the preference is based on mobility (renting) vs stability (buying) depending on where a potential buyer or renter sees their life going in the foreseeable future.  However, there is also a very substantial financial motivation that manifests itself in the form of one of the two primary economic forces: fear and greed.

During the housing bubble of the mid aughts, greed was a primary motivating factor in converting renters to owners.  There was a (foolishly) widely adopted mantra back then that housing never fell in value and that acquiring property was a road to riches even if it meant leveraging up to your teeth.  People were buying homes up and calling them “investments” when they were really just speculating on potential future appreciation.  This type of behavior is also driven by a variation of fear: Fear of Missing Out or FOMO for short which was the chosen mantra of the “buy now or be priced out forever” crowd.  Greed in expectation of asset appreciation and FOMO are classic bubble fuel because they tend to make the current price of an asset irrelevant to a prospective buyer.  Once these forces take over the mind of a buyer, the only thing that matters to is the future projected value appreciation.  In the end, trees don’t grow to the sky and we all know how that turned out.

Today, prices are rising again but buyer motivation is quite different than it was a decade ago.  Online real estate website Redfin recently posted the results of a survey of 1,800 home buyers  taken in August that contained this fascinating statistic:

High Rent Driving Tenants to Become Owners

Nearly half of all first-time homebuyers, 45.4 percent, said they were most influenced to get into the housing market because of high rent. In comparison, a year ago 24.7 percent of first-time buyers said they were house hunting because of high rent.

Most-influenced

Among all buyers surveyed, 22 percent said the cost of rent motivated them to get into the market, up substantially from last year’s 12.8 percent but down from 24.4 percent in May.

Overall, 26.3 percent of all buyers said they were most influenced to purchase because of a recent life event, like the birth of a child or a marriage, an identical number to last August.

A whopping 45.4% of first time home buyers said that they decided to purchase a home because rent was too high.  What’s particularly notable is that number is up over 20 percentage points from a year ago.  The second most common answer was a life event.  These are hardly indicative of a bubble or market peak.  Note that those two factors add up to 48.3% for all buyers and 68.8% for first time buyers.  Unfortunately they didn’t publish the whole data set so we can’t see where “Expected Appreciation” or “Investment Return” was on the list.  However it couldn’t have been more than 31.2% for first time buyers based on the numbers provided.  This is a substantial behavioral shift from the bubble era.  I’ve never bought into the “a house is always a great investment” narrative but I don’t buy the “a house is a terrible investment” one either.  The real “investment” value of a house is the hedge that it provides against the rising cost of shelter, primarily rents.  If a buyer purchases a home in a market where future rents are expected to rise substantially (like coastal California) then he or she would typically be willing to pay more because the ownership hedge is more valuable in a market where rents are largely stable because supply can be easily added as needed (Houston, TX for example).  The Redfin findings are encouraging because they indicate that buyers are behaving rationally.  Despite rising prices, buyers today aren’t primarily motivated by FOMO or projected appreciation but rather by an analysis of whether they will be better off financially renting or owning.

Economy

A House Divided: A lack of consensus on inflation at the Federal Reserve means that the central bank is more likely to stand pat than do anything with rates.

All About the Benjamins: A new study confirms that money can’t buy happiness….but confirms that cash often does.

Finally on the Rise: After years of stagnation, median incomes are improving again, and the biggest gains are coming where they are needed most: among the poorest deciles.

Residential

On Point?  Leading VC fund Andreesen Horowitz announced this week that it’s getting into the housing business. To be more precise, the tech investor is backing a new venture called Point which is set up to purchase portion of a homeowner’s equity in a preferred position and participate in the upside at sale.  I want to take some time to digest this one a bit deeper before writing more but I can see several potential fatal issues at first read.

Great Migration: Seattle’s already-hot housing market could see a large influx of Chinese capital now that Vancouver, Canada has told foreign buyers to get lost by imposing a 15% foreign transaction tax, sending sales tumbling.

That Sinking Feeling: San Francisco’s city Building Department is getting hauled in front of the Board of Supervisors to explain how/why they approved Millennium Tower, SF’s incredible sinking luxury condo building.

Profiles

Tough Grader: Want your product to be labeled “Bear Proof”?  It’s going to have to withstand 60 minutes in an enclosure with some of the most difficult reviewers in the world: grizzly bears.

There’s No Place Like Home: The story of how Amazon out-executed both Apple and Google and positioned itself to dominate the technological infrastructure of your home.

Surf’s Up: Surf parks, or giant pools nowhere near the ocean with perfectly formed man-made waves are about to go mainstream.

Chart of the Day

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WTF

Where’s the Beef?  A restaurant patron in Florida was arrested for trashing a Wendy’s after being dissatisfied with her food.  If she expected decent quality food, I don’t know why she was in a Wendy’s in the first place.  In More Fast Food News: Burger King is about to start offering something called Cheetos Chicken Fries.  The race to the bottom for fast food continues unabated.

Apocalypse Now: What happens when millions of people in a city with poor infrastructure ceremonially sacrifice animals before a torrential monsoon downpour?  You get rivers of blood running through the city, which is exactly what is currently happening in Bangladesh.

Frivolous: An Austrian teen is suing her parents over their posting embarrassing childhood photos of her on Facebook, including potty training pictures.  If I couldn’t post embarrassing pictures of my family on social media, I’d quickly lose my will to live.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links September 16th – The Carrot and The Stick

Landmark Links August 23rd – Blind Sided

pool push

Animated photo in wordpress.com link (trust me, it’s worth it)

Lead Story… A massive number of Home Equity Lines of Credit (also known as HELOCs) were originated from 2005-2007, many of which have not been refinanced due to a combination of increased underwriting scrutiny and falling values (depending, of course on where the home is located).  Nearly all of these loans were revolving lines with adjustable rates that are interest only for the first 10 years.  Now those loans are beginning to convert to amortizing which is leading to an increase in missed payments and a whole bunch of headachese.  From the WSJ:

The bill is coming due for many homeowners on a type of loan that was widely popular in the run-up to the housing bust, causing a rise in delinquencies at banks.

More homeowners are missing payments on their home-equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, a type of loan that allows borrowers to withdraw cash from their house to pay for renovations, college tuition or almost any other expense. These loans typically require interest-only payments for the first 10 years, but then principal payments kick in for the next 15 or 20 years.

The increased cost of the loan can become a strain for some borrowers. This is becoming an issue now because many borrowers signed up for Helocs in the run-up to the housing bust as home values kept rising. Roughly 840,000 Helocs taken out in 2006 are resetting this year, with principal payments on an additional nearly one million loans expected to hit in 2017.

Borrowers who signed up for Helocs in early 2006 were at least 30 days late on $2.8 billion of balances four months after principal payments kicked in this year, according to Equifax. That represents 4.4% of the balances on outstanding 2006 Helocs. Delinquencies were at 2.9% before the reset.

Resets can lead to payments jumping by hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of dollars a month. Consider a Heloc with a $100,000 balance and a 4.5% interest rate. It would have a $375 interest-only monthly payment, which would then rise to about $633 when principal payments kick in, assuming a 20-year repayment period, according to mortgage-data firm HSH.com.

Consider this part of the lasting hangover from the Great Housing Crisis.  Banks, the government and borrowers spent a lot of effort in working through issues arising in the massive primary mortgage market both during and after the Great Recession but spent almost no time on HELOC’s.  This made sense as the primary market is far larger than the HELOC market and represented a much larger systemic risk.  Also, as stated earlier, almost all HELOC’s are adjustable meaning that borrowers generally benefited from falling interest rates over the past 10 years or so even if the loans couldn’t refinance.  Many borrowers who thought that they were mostly out of the woods are now getting blindsided by letters from their HELOC lender informing them that the payment is about to increase because it’s about to start amortizing.  Those with significant equity (mostly in the expensive coastal markets that have recovered the most) will probably refinance.  Those who don’t have significant equity are either going to have to absorb the higher payment, sell or try to work out a deal with their lender (who probably doesn’t want to foreclose and assume responsibility for the 1st DOT being that there is little to no equity and the HELOC itself might be underwater).  This is probably not a catastrophe in the making since it’s nowhere near the size of the primary mortgage market and inventory is generally tight to begin with.  However, it is another headwind in a housing market (and an economy for that matter) that is finally showing tepid signs of a real recovery.

Economy

New Normal: Federal Reserve officials are begrudgingly coming to the conclusion that they have long feared – the unconventional tools that they have had to use during and after the Great Recession are likely to be needed for a long time.

About Time: Middle-income jobs are finally showing signs of a rebound.

Resilient: A handfull of shale drillers are ramping up drilling in the oil patch again as prices close in on $50/barrel.

Commercial

The Beneficiaries of Hoarding: Self storage has been white hot and could be for some time, benefiting from declining home ownership, new management systems and better technology. (h/t Scott Ramser)

Residential

On the Move: The non-NIMBY argument for restrictive zoning in big coastal cities.  Not sure how this plays out in the real world but it’s sort of fascinating.  See Also: Bay Area startups find low cost outposts in Arizona.

Expensive Affordability: For the first time ever, Seattle is mandating that apartment and condo developers include affordable units in their projects or pay an in-lieu fee to develop affordable units elsewhere after a unanamous City Council vote. (h/t Scott Cameron)

Profiles

Dual Threat: Say what you will about Kobe Bryant’s final few crappy seasons with the Lakers but the guy seems to have an eye for good VC investments.

Swipe Right: Single people are starting to use Linked as a dating site.

Maverick: The story of how Mark Cuban went from a broke 20-something nicknamed “Slobbins” who knew nothing about computers and lived in a 2 bedroom apartment with 5 other guys to a billionaire is inspiring.

Chart of the Day

Things you need are getting more expensive while things that you want are getting cheaper.

prices2-1

WTF

Striptease: Two Mongolian wrestling coaches protested the outcome of an Olympic bronze medal match by stripping down to their underwear in a packed arena.

Hell NO: KFC is now selling a sunblock that makes you smell like a basket of fried chicken. They sold out right away because no one ever went broke betting against the taste of the American public.

Side Effects: You can’t overdose on marijuana but it might make you call your cat a bitch (and land you in the paper if your wife calls 911 and it’s a particularly slow news day).  (h/t Trevor Albrecht)

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links August 23rd – Blind Sided

Landmark Links August 16th – Out of Balance

Usain Bolt

Lead Story… They say that demographics are destiny and by 2030, 56 countries will have more people aged 65 and above than children under 15.  By 2075, there will be more people 65 and older than children under 15 worldwide.  This is the result of two developments that have been taking place in developed countries for decades: 1) People are waiting longer to have kids and then having fewer of them; and 2) People are living longer.

The implications of this demographic imbalance in a world with an ever-growing pension bill are huge.  From Bloomberg:

While the prospect of longer lives is a good thing, problems arise when a shrinking work force cannot foot the pension bill. Several decades ago, you could have had about 10 workers per retiree, but that could shrink to the point where in Italy,  for example, you had three workers per retiree. While the political choices are unsavory — increase taxes or cut benefits — governments are running out of time to act.

As partially outlined above, the potential solutions are relatively straightforward, if difficult:

  1. People in developed countries need to start having more kids.
  2. Retirement ages need to increase substantially since people are living much longer.
  3. Benefits need to get slashed or begin at a substantially older age since pension plans were not designed to support people who live as long as they do today while retirement ages stay the same as they were decades ago.

Option one is a trend that likely won’t reverse for a whole bunch financial and cultural reasons so I’m guessing that the solution will have to come from two or three or some combination thereof, both of which are politically toxic in today’s global political climate.  Or we could just bury our heads in the sand, pretend that the problem doesn’t exist and continue to borrow money to bridge the gap.  On the plus side, at least interest rates are really low……

Economy

Confidence Inspiring: Federal Reserve officials are beginning to question accepted wisdom about what actually causes inflation.

Vultures Circling: PE funds have now raised over $100 billion to buy oil assets that no one else wants.

Pay the Toll: German Banks are now charging depositors to hold deposits as negative rates take a toll.  I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat now: there is no way that this isn’t deflationary.

Commercial

Let’s Make a Deal: Lease incentives are becoming a major feature of the San Francisco apartment market for the first time since 2009.  See Also: as rental supply grows, landlords negotiate.

Residential

Confidence Game: Home builders are becoming more optimistic about the market for single family homes as the supply of existing homes continues to tighten which they believe will lead to more starts.  One word of caution here: in this cycle, with it’s emphasis on proximity to cities, existing homes typically have a large advantage over new homes in that they are both less expensive and have location advantages.  See Also: Calculated Risk says that the slow, sluggish housing recovery is still on track.

Profiles

Plenty of Blame to Go Around: California’s gas prices are sky high compared to the rest of the US.  Stringent environmental regulation is partly to blame but that’s only part of the story.

Life Lessons: An old friend of mine, Charlie Buckingham recently competed in sailing at the Rio Olympics in the Laser Class.  Charlie finished 11th out of 46, missing out the the medal race on a tiebreaker.  It was a strong finish against the best sailors in the world in arguably the toughest Olympic sailing class, although I know that he had been aiming higher.  He penned an excellent short piece about what he learned on his Olympic journey for Sailing World Magazine.  The article is ostensibly about sailing but extremely applicable to life in general.  Here’s a quick excerpt but I’d highly recommend reading the whole thing:

Plan to be flexible
Sailboat ­races are in a constant state of flux. The fleet changes positions around you, the wind shifts and changes velocity, and you need to keep your own boat moving as fast as possible at all times. All of this makes it hard to plan the perfect approach in ­advance. Detailed plans can even give a false sense of security, causing one to ignore the present. Have the outcome in mind, but be open and ready to adapt to what is thrown at you during the race.

Tinfoil Hats: Believe it or not, there are still people who believe that the earth is flat and think that there is a massive conspiracy to cover it up.  Mic.com published a feature article last week that took a deep look at this and other kooky conspiracy theories.  It’s as entertaining as it is bizarre.

Chart of the Day

WTF

Hell NO: Burger King is coming out with a hamburger-burrito hybrid called a Whopperito featuring the same disgusting, artificially smoke-flavored beef found in a Whopper.  The race to the bottom by fast food restaurants continues unabated.

A Sucker Born Every Minute: Sketchy bootleg LA celebrity tour buses are lying about where stars live and causing serious and frightening issues for homeowners when stalkers show up at their homes.

Video of the Day: I could watch this video of a Pittsburgh Pirates fan going for a foul ball and ending up with a plate full on nachos on his face all day.

Brilliant Disguise: A man in China tried to smuggle his pet turtle through airline security by disguising it as a hamburger.  He was busted when security agents noticed “odd protrusions” sticking out of a hamburger in his bag.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links August 16th – Out of Balance

Landmark Links -July 22nd – On the Sidelines

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Lead Story… CNBC posted a Bankrate.com study this week which found that more Americans prefer cash to stocks or real estate as a means of investment for money they don’t need for 10 years or more.  In other words, a somewhat shocking 54 million American’s are embracing a zero-risk, zero return mentality.  The most troubling finding was this (highlights are mine):

Younger millennials, or those at ages 18 to 25, overwhelmingly chose cash as their preferred investment for they money they would not need for at least 10 years. That was by more than a 2-to-1 margin over the next highest category, real estate. (Millennials are also less likely to own a home because they simply can’t afford one, according to a separate report from the U.K.’s office of National Statistics.)

Older generations were more likely to cite real estate as their top choice for a long-term investment.

What I find so disturbing is that the typical investment paradigm has been turned on it’s head – normally, young people in an asset growth stage should be investing long term assets more aggressively and becoming less aggressive as they age into a wealth preservation stage of life.  When people, young or old start holding long term investable assets in cash, it’s deflationary. This level of risk aversion is also frequently a characteristic of those who have experienced a dramatic financial crisis like the Great Recession or Great Depression.  I wrote about this back in April as it pertained to Millennials not buying homes due to experiences during the housing crash.  However, the bank rate study shows that the risk averse, deflationary mentality extends far beyond the housing sector when it comes to young people and investing.  This brings us to an article by Conor Sen, one of Bloomber View’s excellent new columnists that makes an interesting argument about Millennials and housing.  Sen makes a case that Millennials almost need a housing bubble to come off the sidelines and create demand for new housing, using oil production as an analogy:

To understand the slow-motion trends in single-family housing, start by looking at the oil market: It took years of oil priced around $100 a barrel to spur the investments that drove higher production, leading to the current supply-driven glut and prices closer to $50 a barrel. The levers of supply and demand worked, but they worked slowly — as is happening in the housing market.

Every year since 2009 we’ve been running a housing deficit: More housing for sale has been absorbed than built. With a glut of housing left over from the housing bubble and the great recession, it’s logical that construction of new supply was subdued for a few years. But vacant inventory for sale normalized in 2012, and currently stands at a 12-year low. So why aren’t builders building more? The pace of construction remains far below the rate of household creation.

IMO, it’s an imperfect analogy as it’s likely a bit easier to drill for oil in barren portions of  North Dakota or West Texas than it would be to build a large development with reasonably priced homes (the reasonably priced part is key) in places that they are needed like San Francisco or Los Angeles where discretionary entitlements, environmental regulations and NIMBY activists could tie approvals up for a decade or more.  That being said, a lot of Sen’s thesis is based around economic stagnation due to the lack of wage growth in the construction industry despite a near-record-low unemployment rate  coupled with incredibly low housing inventory:

In response to a nearly generational low in housing inventory and construction worker shortage, one might expect that there would be booming wage growth for construction workers, drawing labor away from other industries. Yet we don’t have conclusive signs of that. Year-over-year wage growth for construction workers is currently 2.7 percent, nearly a full point lower than it was at the same time in the year 2000.

The lack of growth in new construction jobs is sobering. Despite a need for more housing, and despite the labor shortage and the wage growth, construction industry employment fell 6,000 in April and 16,000 in May and showed no growth in June. This is the first time in more than five years that construction employment has shown no growth for three months.

This is all the more perplexing because the cyclical conditions for real estate have rarely been better. In addition to the low level of inventory and rising secular demand as millennials are ready to buy homes, the economy has rising wage growth and historically low levels of interest rates, as I wrote about last week.

Sen concludes that it might take substantial increase in both housing prices and construction wage growth in order to push housing starts to a level where construction adds substantially to GDP and adds enough supply to eventually meet the marketplace demand.  It’s an interesting thought but I doubt that it’s possible (or even desirable) under in our current situation for a few reasons:

  1. The construction needs to take place where it is actually needed and that is more restricted by zoning and local opposition than it is by a labor shortage.  In the oil market, it matters little where the oil comes from so long as there is a way to get it to a refinery and then the end user.  In housing, location is everything.  Unless real demand shifts into outlying suburbs, this will continue to be a problem.
  2. In order to work, substantial credit expansion both to develop/build units and also for purchase mortgages would be needed.  This seems unlikely given current economic conditions, political climate (anti-GSE sentiment) and diminishing affordability.
  3. As seen in the oil industry, there is a fine line between adding enough supply and creating a glut.  When oil prices go down, oil companies, employees, owner of land with reserves and providers of services lose money.  If the housing market were to become too oversupplied and tank again, millions of home owners lose a tremendous amount of equity.  In one case, the loss is felt by a (relative) few.  In the other  it’s impact adversely affects many.
  4. Any significant decrease in prices brought on by a large surge in housing production would typically hurt the people who Sen is saying need help the most: young people and first time buyers since housing credit availability typically contracts when prices fall and lender assets become impaired.  This means that those with stronger credit and more cash (often not entry level buyers) fare better in times when credit becomes restricted.

Again, the concept that housing and the construction industry can respond to surging prices in a similar manner to the oil industry is desirable from an economic perspective. However, I’m not sure how well it plays out in the real world when the regions where housing is needed most are those where it is least likely to be built.  I sincerely hope to be proven wrong in the next few years.

Economy

Interest Rate Roulette: Now that the Brexit vote happened we can revert to normal economic journalism where writers try to predict when/if the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.  This week, there is disagreement between two of the most astute Fed watchers out there.  John Hilsenrath of the WSJ says that the Fed could raise rates as early as September.  Tim Duy says “no chance” so long as the yield curve continues to compress.

Commercial

Game Changer: Pokemon Go has accomplished something that brick and mortar retailers have dreamed about for years: turning location-aware smart phones into drivers of foot traffic.  The implications for commercial real estate and retail in particular are yuge as Nintendo plans to allow companies to pay up in order to be featured prominently on the game’s virtual map. (h/t Tad Springer)

Residential

Crystal Ball: The Terner Center for Innovative Housing at UC Berkley has come up with an app that allows a developer to input variables for sites and give an indication of whether or not a project will be approved and built. It’s still in beta but the concept is fascinating. (h/t Ingrid Vallon)

Profiles

QOTD: “‘I was collecting Pokémon’ is not a legal defense against a charge of trespass, so be sure that you have permission to enter an area or building.”   – Wyoming, MN police department Twitter account warning Pokémon Go players not to trespass onto others’ property.

Worker’s Paradise: Venezuela has become the poster child for “it can always get worse.” Hugo Chavez’s worker’s paradise has inflation set to top 1,600% next year as well as an epic food shortage crisis.

Success From Scratch: Dollar Shave Club, which just sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash is the ultimate modern American success story.

Chart of the Day

WTF

A Monkey Walks Into a Bar: A new study found that monkeys are basically furry little drunks. First off I hope this wasn’t funded by tax dollars. Second, if someone wants to buy drinks for me, I can prove that I like to get drunk as well.

Money Well Spent: A woman got stuck in a tree in a NJ cemetery while trying to capture a Pokemon and had to call 911 to have the fire department get her out.  Your tax dollars at work. (h/t Ryland Weber)

Citizen of the Year: A woman in Tennessee witnessed a car crash outside her (likely trailer park) home where the 67-year old driver died on impact.  Rather than calling 911, the woman stole the man’s wallet and used his credit card to buy beer and cigarettes.  People are wonderful.

Video of the Week: Some hipster figured out a backpack that you can carry a cat around in complete with a round submarine window.  Then we wonder why studies say that cats hate their owners.

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

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Landmark Links -July 22nd – On the Sidelines