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

chart3_census_incomepercentile

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 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