Landmark Links October 14th – What’s the Solution?

ken-bone

Lead Story… A pudgy, mustachioed, red-sweater-wearing star was born during Sunday’s Presidential Debate.  Kenneth Bone was selected to ask the candidates one of the final questions of the night and, his earnest question about how to balance fears of fossil fuel job loss with environmental concerns, combined with his appearance resulted in him essentially taking over the internet…and cable news…and late night TV…and leading to a bunch of hysterical memes.  Mr. Bone was somewhat of a breath of fresh air in a night otherwise marred by childish personal attacks and enough bullshit to fill a rodeo ring. He put a serious question on the table at least for a few minutes and acted as a reprieve from all of the tiresome mudslinging.

Unfortunately, housing has played little if any role in this election cycle despite the critical role that it plays in the US economy and the supply and affordability crisis that we are now facing (to it’s credit, the current Administration has at least taken a public position advocating for more much-needed development even while the candidates rarely if ever mention it).  Among the biggest problems facing the industry today is a massive labor shortage.  That got me thinking: what if the housing industry had it’s own Ken Bone at the debate last weekend?  Rather than focusing on energy policy, his question would have gone something like this:

“What steps will your housing policy take to address the construction labor shortage, while at the same time increasing affordability for American families?”

Industry website Constructiondive.com posted a story based on the recent Construction Management Association of America’s National Conference & Trade Show in San Diego that essentially asked just that.  From Construction Dive (emphasis mine):

While the majority of the conversation around the construction labor shortage has focused on the trades, firms are struggling to snag qualified professionals and white-collar workers as well. A nationwide survey of 1,459 contractors — conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America during July and August — found that 69% are having difficulty finding workers to fill hourly craft positions, 38% are having difficulty hiring salaried field positions and 33% are having difficulty hiring salaried office positions.

“We’re already pressed in terms of the ability to service all the clients with what’s currently on the docket, let alone what’s coming,” said Allyson Gipson of Artemis Consulting, in San Diego. She noted that the recession led to a “geographical depletion of talent,” as well as a large void of industry expertise. 

The aging workforce is also a primary concern for construction professionals, as baby boomers are retiring, but a new generation isn’t filling their place.

On the construction services side, the recession brought increased competition as “everybody was scrambling for work,” Gipson said. Interest rates have remained consistently low, energy credit tax provisions have been extended and private sector spending has risen. All these factors have spurred a boom in multifamily, highway, retail and office construction, she noted.

However, with that increased construction spending comes more demand for services from an industry already struggling to keep up with current projects. Myrna Dayton, deputy director and deputy city engineer for the City of San Diego, said that despite the agency’s efforts to improve recruiting efforts, “We always seem to be short. It’s a constant struggle.” 

Construction Dive then laid out three potential tactics to help solve the labor shortage sumarized below:

Partner with schools and encourage internships to develop the next generation of industry professionals

The gap between graduation and employment can be especially daunting in the construction industry, where students must transition from a classroom environment to the field. Without classes that prepare them for real-life tasks and challenges of a day on the job site, students often struggle to succeed in the industry.

Change hiring requirements to adapt to current conditions

Experts also said standard hiring requirements are often out-of-date for the current industry environment. With owners mandating countless certifications, “those people who have the skills set are going down the road,” Gipson said. “The best construction managers running a building program aren’t all necessarily licensed architects.”

Find ways to attract millennials to the industry

The construction industry has consistently struggled to attract younger workers to fill the gap left by retiring professionals. “We have an industry that is less appealing to millennials,” Gipson said. “We’re not really a sexy industry.”

She encouraged companies to focus on cultivating interest in construction among middle school and high school students. As millennials seek to use their creativity in a work environment that offers autonomy, the industry can tout its ability to offer those kinds of roles.

While the above tactics are a good start, there is a simple reality that needs to be addressed: construction worker pay needs to increase in order to attract more workers.  In an environment where some coastal cities are moving towards a $15/hour minimum wage there is simply no way to entice someone to do manual labor if it doesn’t pay substantially more than making lattes.  However, unlike your typical fast food restaurant or coffee joint, home builders aren’t currently in much of a position to pass additional labor costs on to consumers since 1) They are constrained by mortgage qualifying criteria; and 2) Home building profit margins are already low leaving little room to raise prices and slow absorption without taking a major hit to the bottom line.  That being said, there is common sense solution that would allow builders to attract more workers while not driving prices higher or eating into thin margins: reduce the growing regulatory burden associated with new home building which has soared nearly 30% since 2011 to a whopping $85,000 per new home.  This was partially addressed in the Obama Administration’s Housing Development Toolkit that was released last month.  Reforms that reduce the regulatory burden back to even their 2011 levels at least theoretically allow for construction wages to adjust higher in order to attract workers to fill the many vacant construction positions today without driving up prices or killing builder returns.  Reducing red tape and it’s associated costs, along with the three strategies that Construction Dive outlined above would go a long way towards solving the construction labor shortage and allowing the construction industry to once again become the economic growth driver that it has historically been.

Economy 

Stable and Slow: Great post and chart from Cullen Roche of Pragmatic Capitalism about how economic expansions are getting longer despite (or perhaps because of) slower growth rates.

Golden

See Also: Millennials aren’t as big spenders or risk takers as prior generations were and that is likely to have a profound impact on the economy.

Running on Empty: Nearly 7 in 10 Americans have less than $1,000 in savings including 29% of those who make over $150k and 44% of those who make between $100k and $150k.

Right on Schedule: So far, 2016 is going pretty much exactly as Bill McBride of Calculated risk predicted it would: slow, steady growth.

Residential

Shady Subprime Redux: Why the hell is the Federal Government allowing solar panel loans with 10% interest rates to get senior priority to GSE backed mortgages in the event of a default?

Under Pressure: Deutsche Bank says that rising mortgage rates in Japan, resulting from the BOJ’s plan to push long term yields higher could cause Tokyo condo prices to fall 20%.

Profiles

Water, Water Everywhere: Israel is one of the driest places on earth.  However, their focus on advances in desalination technology has provided them with something that would be unimaginable just a decade ago: a water surplus.

Fire In the Hole!  Samsung is ending production of the Galaxy Note 7 because the damn things keep lighting on fire.  See Also: Samsung is sending fireproof boxes and gloves to Galaxy Note 7 owners for their recall in case the devices spontaneously combust in transit.

Hope for the Future: A new study finds that only one of five Millennials has actually tried a Big Mac.

Chart of the Day

A 5,000 year low.

Even the ancient Egyptians didn't enjoy the low interest rates we see today.

WTF

Bone Zone: A porn company has offered red-sweater-wearing, presidential debate star Ken Bone $100k to appear in an adult film.

Peak Florida: “A 350-pound Florida man ran from a Walmart with two stolen TVs, but his getaway was compromised when his pants–containing his ID–“fell off as he ran away,” according to cops who yesterday apprehended the suspect, who had a crack pipe stuffed with Brillo buried in his anus at the time of his 3:43 AM arrest.”

Clowning Around: A couple in Wisconsin left their 4 year old kid at home alone while they terrified a neighborhood dressed as creepy clowns.  They are now facing child neglect charges.  See Also:  A British woman was so terrified by a creepy clown that jumped out of the bushes that she went into premature labor.

That’s Loser with an “L”: Some guys are paying over $1,200 a year for a fake girlfriend to text and Snapchat with them.  You can read the article if you’d like or just take my word that it’s every bit as pathetic as you are assuming.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 14th – What’s the Solution?

Landmark Links September 13th – Falling Behind

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Lead Story…. It’s incredible how quickly things change.  Just a few short years ago, conventional wisdom was that it would take an eternity to work through all of the excess inventory created by the housing bust and foreclosure crisis.  However, in reality banks were incredibly adept at managing their REO inventory, effectively preventing the massive  glut that so many expected.  In the meantime, very little in the way of new housing was built as financing dried up and builders pulled back in fear of competing with the looming bank REO inventory liquidation that never really materialized.  Fast forward to 2016 and the stark reality of a new sort of housing crisis: there simply aren’t enough residential units being built to satisfy household creation.  The pivot has been as pronounced as it has been swift and it doesn’t look like things are about to change anytime soon.  The Federal Government’s bi-annual report on housing inventory provides a rather bleak outlook, especially for entry level buyers and renters.  From ULI (emphasis mine):

Newly released data and analysis from several sources illustrate a major obstacle to a fully healthy housing market in the United States: the nation is not building nearly enough new residential units. The serious shortage of new supply is bottling up housing demand and pushing home prices and apartment rents well beyond what a growing number of households can afford.

A biennial report from the federal government titled The Components of Inventory Change found that the nation’s housing stock increased by a net 270,000 units between 2011 and 2013—the slowest growth measured by the survey over the past decade, which included the worst years of the Great Recession. The report concluded: “Despite the gradually improving economy, there were large declines in both new construction and net additions to the housing stock during the 2011–2013 period compared to the 2007–2009 period.”

A recent Freddie Mac market commentary noted that the total number of housing starts (single family plus multifamily) in 2015 was 30 percent below the historical average between 1970 and 2007. The National Association of Realtors estimates that the country’s supply of for-sale and rental units combined is 3 million units short of current demand.

The most substantial issue here isn’t even the massive shortfall in raw numbers, it’s the distribution of where what limited construction that we do have is occurring: at the high end.  Not only are we not producing enough units across the board but nearly nothing is being produced at the entry level in either for-sale or for-rent properties where units are most in need.  Again, from ULI (emphasis mine):

Not surprisingly, millions of Americans cannot find an affordable home to buy or an apartment to rent. A survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) found that 59 percent of respondents said they could and would spend no more than $249,000 on a new home, but only 35 percent of new homes started in 2015 were at or below that limit. The online real estate service Trulia recently reported that the number of starter and trade-up homes available in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas has plunged by more than 40 percent since 2012.

Yes, apartment development has experienced a historic boom: multifamily construction volume nearly doubled in 2012 compared with that seen in 2010, and increased another one-third from 2012 to 2014, according to a new study by the Research Institute for Housing America. New multifamily completions topped 310,000 units last year, the most in at least 25 years, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. And 1 million more apartments could come on line in the United States in the next three years, according to projections by the market research firm Axiometrics.

But most new apartments and single-family homes are aimed at the top of the market. The median asking rent for a new apartment today exceeds $1,300, which is unaffordable for roughly half the renter households in the United States (based on a rent standard of affordability of 30 percent of income). The average price of new homes for sale in 2015 was $351,000—a 40 percent increase from 2009.

What is driving the trend towards builders constructing a smaller number of higher priced units versus a larger number of lower priced ones?  A few factors to consider:

  1. Post financial crisis, there wasn’t much of any mortgage financing available at the lower end of the market.  It doesn’t make sense to build homes for people who can’t obtain financing so builders focused on more expensive price points where buyers were willing and able to obtain financing or buy with cash.  Combine this with the higher margins often achieved on luxury units and you have a recipe for builders gravitating towards more expensive units.  Availability of financing is improving but it has left certain markets 100% beholden to FHA limits.
  2. Regulatory burden is soaring.  A study that the NAHB released earlier this year found that regulatory fees for new construction jumped nearly 30% (80k per home) over the past 5 years.  It’s incredibly difficult to make any profit on lower priced product in that type of environment meaning that builders need more expensive product to absorb the regulatory burden.
  3. People are staying put longer in their entry level homes since less move up houses are being constructed.  The result is less infill inventory which drives up prices.  Yesterday’s entry level home becomes too expensive to be classified as entry level if supply does not materialize to meet demand.
  4. While the development financing market has shown some marginal signs of improvement, it still pretty much sucks for all but the most credit worthy of developers in the best locations.
  5. Land owners aren’t selling, at least not when it comes to their best lots.  One would think that rising home prices would make this a great time to be a land seller.  However, that isn’t currently the case as Bloomberg detailed last week.  When asked for investment advice, Mark Twain once said: “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”  Right now, owners of well-located property are taking a similar stance in expectation (or, in some cases hope) of higher prices: don’t sell your well located land because you can’t sell it a second time and it’s likely to be more valuable in the near future.  In other words, there is substantial gap between what builders are willing to pay and what landowners are willing to sell for, particularly in the best markets.  Landowners will sell today but only if builders are willing to pay them for possible future inflation that may or may not happen.  To complicate matters further, a lot of landowners bought during a brief run-up in 2013 thinking that the market was about to take off.  It didn’t and now they are holding out in hope of larger profits down the road.

At some point, the laws of economics pretty much dictate that this has to change.  We aren’t going to stop creating households and people can’t continue to pay an ever-larger percentage of their incomes towards housing costs without the result being major adverse economic consequences.  In reality, demographics are actually improving for household creation through at least 2024, meaning that the housing shortage will get worse as the deficit continues to widen unless we ramp up production in short order.  Unfortunately, as you can see it’s not a problem that’s easily solved.

Economy

Christmas is Cancelled: The bankruptcy of South Korea’s largest shipper has a lot of cargo stranded at sea just as retailers are stocking up for the holidays. See Also: The shipping industry has a major problem – there are simply far too many ships for current demand.

Tougher Road Ahead: Economists are predicting a tougher road ahead for the labor market. But See: Short term optimism as wages expected to rise amidst the scramble for seasonal holiday workers.

Commercial

Yogi Bear, Architect: Brokers are having a difficult time selling a seven story office building in Columbus, Ohio designed to exactly resemble a picnic basket. 

Back Up the Truck: investors are bidding up REIT shares prior to real estate getting its own sector in the S&P500.

Residential

Good Riddance: Gaudy Mediterranean style McMansions that were all the rage in the 1990s have fallen out of favor and are not rising as quickly in value as other types of houses.

Sound Familiar? Norway’s economy is historically based on oil, which has had a rough go of it lately.  Norwegian interest rates have plunged along with the price of oil, leading to soaring housing prices and housing sector investment.  This sounds eerily similar to the post-tech bust era in the US to me.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: Cities in California’s Central Valley that were largely left for dead in the wake of the housing crash are making a comeback.

Profiles

Those Who Fail to Learn From the 90’s Are Doomed to Repeat Them: People are buying minivans again and trying desperately to convince themselves that the soccer mom mobiles are somehow “cool.” Newsflash: minivans will NEVER be cool

Viva Socialism: Venezuelians are turning to black magic and animal sacrifices to heal their sick due to a lack of basic medical services.

You Should Already Know This: Cheese triggers the same parts of the brain as hard drugs.

Chart of the Day

Super Size Me, urban home edition.

Us home sizes_map_final

WTF

FAIL: There are still 4 months left in 2016.  However, I think that we can safely call this year’s Darwin Award for a Florida man (of course) who found an old bulletproof vest in his garage.  He wanted to know if it still worked so he put the vest on and had his cousin shoot him.  It didn’t work and now he’s dead and the cousin is in jail.

Cultural Literacy 101: Apple’s iPhone 7 launch slogan: “This is Seven” translates to something sort of vulgar in Cantonese.

When You Gotta Go: How NFL players hide it when they have to pee during a game. Spoiler: there’s often more going on in the huddle than you think.

Sort of Impressive: A man was arrested for stealing $3,000….. in pennies.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links September 13th – Falling Behind

Landmark Links August 30th – Size Matters

Eggplant

Lead Story…  New homes have been getting larger for quite some time, since the end of the Great Recession to be exact.  Conventional wisdom had held that the size of homes would shrink after the Great Recession due to more focus on affordability and reduced financial capacity of buyers.  However, except for a brief blip in 2009 where new homes shrunk, it didn’t happen.  Instead, mortgage credit shut off for all but the most qualified buyers (read: wealthier) which pushed builders to focus on higher-end, larger homes where mortgage financing was available rather than smaller, entry level homes where mortgage financing was scarce.  This led to much hand wringing among urbanists and others that McMansions, which, in addition to being ugly are often bad investments would continue to be a dominant feature of the suburban American landscape.  The starter home market has been slow at best (McMansions make crappy starter homes for a whole bunch of reasons) and many astute housing market observers have noted that we need to see decreasing new home sizes in order for that market to emerge from it’s slump.  Fast forward to 2016 and it might finally be happening.  From CNBC:

For the first time since the recession, home size is shrinking. Median single-family square floor area fell from the first to the second quarter of this year by 73 feet, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and U.S. Census data. That may not sound like a lot, but it is a clear reversal in the trend of builders focusing on the higher-end buyer.

An increase in home size post-recession is normal, historically, as credit tightens and more wealthy buyers with more cash and better credit, rule the market. As with everything else in this unique housing cycle, however, the trend this time is more profound.

“This pattern was exacerbated during the current business cycle due to market weakness among first-time homebuyers,” wrote Robert Dietz, NAHB’s chief economist. “But the recent small declines in size indicate that this part of the cycle has ended and size should trend lower as builders add more entry-level homes into inventory.”

Sales of newly built homes jumped more than 12 percent in July compared to June, according to the Census, and the biggest increase was in homes priced in the mid to just below midrange. The median price of a new home sold in July fell 1 percent compared to July a year ago. Again, not a huge drop, but a reversal from the recent gains in new home prices.

“The majority of it is a question of affordability,” said Bob Youngentob, president of Maryland-based EYA, a builder concentrating largely in urban townhomes. “People want to stay in closer-in locations, at least from our experience, and closer-in locations tend to be more expensive from a land and development standpoint and so, the desire to be able to keep people in those locations is translating into smaller square footages and more efficient designs.”

This is undoubtedly a positive development in the market so long as the trend holds.  What makes it even more significant is that the internals or the numbers behind the size reduction are also very positive.  First off, new homes are getting smaller at a time when new home sales have risen to a level not seen since 2007, confirming that this isn’t a trend based on weak sales volume or diminished starts in select geographies that favor smaller units.  Second, home prices fell, albeit only by 1%.  Often times, falling prices are viewed as a negative.  However, in this case, they should be viewed positively since, along with shrinking new home size and increased new home sales, they imply that product mix is moving in a more affordable direction.  Size matters and the shrinkage that new homes are experiencing could be the best news for the US housing market in quite some time.

Economy

Much Ado About Nothing: This far, experts’ dire claims about economic calamity following the Brexit haven’t amounted to much at all in the real world.

Bottom Rising: Low paying industries are seeing the fastest wage growth in the US which has positive implications for everything from consumer spending to housing.  See Also: Laid off American workers are having a better go of it than they had been over the past few years.

Staying Away: The Fed’s dislike of negative interest rates is likely to make them an observer of the controversial monetary policy rather than an implementer.

Commercial

Cookie Cutter: How over regulation led to the ugliest feature of most American cities and towns – the strip mall.

LA’s New Skyline: How Chinese developers are transforming downtown LA, just as they did in cities in China.

Residential

Alternate Universe: Only in the bizarro-world of California land use politics would construction labor unions undermine a bill that would have created substantially more construction employment opportunities.

Dumbfounded: Suburban NIMBYs oppose any and all development then act puzzled about why Millennials don’t want to move to their communities.

Profiles

Consider The Source: How Jose Canseco went from baseball’s steroids king/whistle blower to Twitter’s favorite financial analyst.

There Goes the Neighborhood: There is a new startup in Silicon Valley called Legalist that relies on an algorithm to predict court cases and will fund your business-tort lawsuit in exchange for a portion of the judgement.

Worth Every Penny: In honor of National Dog Day last week, here is a breakdown of just how much we spend on our four-legged best friends.

Chart of the Day

Mom’s basement is a really popular address in New Jersey

Source: Curbed

WTF

No I Will Not Make Out With You: A Mexican teen died from a blood clot that resulted from a hickey that his girlfriend gave him.

Bad News: A new study finds that reading on the toilet is bad for you.  Just like that, my reading location for much of Landmark Links’ content became an occupational hazard.

Priorities: An 18 year old girl who escaped from an Australian correctional facility messaged police via Facebook to ask them to use a better picture of her than the mug shot that they posted.  She even provided a picture that she wanted them to use.  Of course, police were then able to track her phone and arrested her soon after.

Video of the Day: A video taped melee on a NY subway that resulted from a crazy woman getting on a packed subway with a bucket full of hundreds of crickets and worms that she was trying to sell made me laugh so hard that I cried. And yes, I’m aware that this probably makes me a terrible person.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links August 30th – Size Matters

Landmark Links July 29th – Taking Out the Trash

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Lead Story… Regulatory changes are rapidly leading to the demise of one of the seedier portions of the real estate industry: Non-Traded REITs.  I’ve written about Non-Traded REITs a couple of times before.  For those of you not familiar with the product, Investopedia defines a Non-Traded REIT as (emphasis mine):

A form of real estate investment method that is designed to reduce or eliminate tax while providing returns on real estate. A non-traded REIT does not trade on a securities exchange, and because of this it is quite illiquid for long periods of time. Front-end fees can be as much as 15%, much higher than a traded REIT due to its limited secondary market.

Basically, it’s exactly like a traded REIT, only far less liquid and with much, much, much higher fees.  This definition doesn’t even get into the other myriad of above-market management fees that the Non-Traded REIT companies charge their investors.  If you can’t already tell, I’m no fan of this “asset class”…or really any other that exists mostly to enrich sponsors and sales people at the expense of unwitting investors.  That’s why I was incredibly pleased to find an article earlier this week in Investment News entitled Nontraded REIT sales fall off a cliff as industry struggles to adapt outlining how regulator changes have crippled the third-tier brokerages that traditionally fed capital to Non-Traded REITs.  This is not a business with a bright future:

Sales of nontraded real estate investment trusts, the high-commission alternative investments sold primarily by independent broker-dealers, have fallen off a cliff.

Heading into 2016 facing a number of hurdles, namely a flurry of legal and regulatory changes that would quickly impact how brokers sell them, the nontraded REIT industry’s worst fears have come true.

Over the first five months of the year, sales of full-commission REITs, which typically carry a 7% payout to the adviser and 3% commission to the broker-dealer the adviser works for, have dropped a staggering 70.5% when compared with the same period a year earlier, according to Robert A. Stanger & Co. Inc., an investment bank that focuses on nontraded REITs.

Their recent sharp drop in sales is part of a longer cycle. The amount of equity raised, or total sales of nontraded REITs, has been sinking by about $5 billion a year since 2013, when sales hit a high watermark of nearly $20 billion.

Times have changed dramatically. Stanger estimates total nontraded REIT sales in 2016 will reach between $5 billion and $6 billion, or roughly 25% of their level in 2013. That year, former nontraded REIT czar Nicholas Schorsch and his firm, American Realty Capital, were at their zenith, and broker-dealers fattened their bottom lines from REIT commission dollars.

All that has changed as sales of nontraded REITs at independent broker-dealers have dried up. Industry bellwether LPL Financial said in its first-quarter earnings release that commission revenue from alternative investments, the lion’s share of which comes from nontraded REITs, was just $7.8 million, a staggering decline of 86.7% when compared with the first quarter of 2015.

Other broker-dealers are reporting similar results. Sales of nontraded REITs at Geneos Wealth Management are down 60% to 65% year to date, according to Dean Rager, the firm’s senior vice president.

So, what led to fundraising for an investment product like this tanking?  Two new regulations.  The first one, from FINRA introduced a new rule whereby brokers selling illiquid investments need to make pricing transparent.  Seems reasonable.  The second, which will come into effect early next year will introduce a fiduciary standard for brokers working with client retirement accounts as opposed to the lower “suitability” standard currently being used.  Also seems quite reasonable.  The result is a nearly impossible fundraising environment when:

  1. Brokers have to show clients that the fees that they would pay are exorbitant (and there is no way that a broker would sell Non-Traded REIT shares without the high fees); and
  2. There is no chance that a broker can recommend an investment where a return of over 17% must be achieved just in order to break even by offsetting the 10% broker fee and up-to 5% upfront fee to the Non-Traded REIT sponsor.

If this industry is going to survive, it will need to change substantially, meaning lower fees and far more transparency.  The thing is that, at a certain point, there is basically no reason for it to exist since investors can always buy far more liquid Traded REITs.  The good news is that would-be investors are far less likely to be taken to the cleaners.  The other good news is that there are other real estate alternatives with a far better alignment of interest between investor and sponsor that will likely to be the beneficiary of capital that would have otherwise gone into Non-Traded REITs.  Good riddance.

Economy

Yield Curve Update: The yield curve continues to contract.  However, unlike in past cycles, it may not be signalling a recession and instead a response to the international hunt for yield spurred on by negative interest rates and foreign economic chaos.  Either way, it doesn’t give the Federal Reserve much latitude.

And You Think We’re Bad: The incredible story of how Italian banks used high pressure sales to entice Italian households to load up on their risky subordinate debt during the financial crisis, imperiling their economy today.

Residential

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (or Affordable Housing): …..At least not in San Francisco.  A proposed housing development in the Mission district lost 85 percent of it’s unit count at planning commission, shrinking it from 26 new units to only 4.  The reason: Planning Commission decided that it wanted to preserve the auto body shop that currently resides on the site.  Ironically, the same people opposed to this project will continue to shed crocodile tears about how San Francisco has become un-affordable due to a complete lack of common sense or economic literacy.

Crickets: The lack of affordable housing in the US should be a major campaign issue but neither party seems to want to touch it.

Rocket Fuel: Bay Area private bank lenders are offering wealthy techies 0% down mortgages with low interest rates to buy homes up to $2mm, fueling concern about both bubbles and growing inequality.

Profiles

What’s in a Name?  Lenders are continuing their age-old practice of re-branding loans to high risk borrowers.  B&C lending became stigmatized so they re-branded it “subprime.”  After “subprime” blew up, they started calling it “near-prime.”  When near-near prime doesn’t go well, get ready for not-quite-prime.

The Tortoise and the Hare: Video games that are immediate mega-hits often flame out almost as quickly.  I’m looking at you, Pokemon Go.

The Machine that Builds The Machine: Take a tour through Tesla’s 5.8 million square foot Gifafactory Sparks, Nevada.

Follow Friday: If you’re on Twitter check out @DPRK_News  It’s a satirical North Korean news feed and one of the funniest things I’ve seen.  Here’s a couple of sample tweets:

 

Chart of the Day

This warms my cold heart.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 2.19.21 PM

WTF

Born to Ride: Watch a Walmart customer on a Rascal Scooter rob a store an then get away after ramming an employee into a dumpster with his trusty steed.  When you see what the employees and customers who tried to stop him look like, the fact that he escaped on a Rascal Scooter will make more sense.

Worse Than Tofu: Cockroach milk could be the superfood that the world has been waiting for.  No, this is not from The Onion.

Entrepreneurial Drive: Drug dealers in Rio are selling Olympics branded cocaine to take advantage of their city hosting the games.  Who says there is no economic benefit to hosting the Olympics?

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 29th – Taking Out the Trash

Landmark Links July 26th – Nip and Tuck

michael-jackson-before_and_after

Lead Story… Home renovations, which are already near record highs, are projected to accelerate over the coming year according to a new report by the Harvard Joint Center For Housing titled Above Average Gains in Home Renovation and Repair Spending Expected to Continue.  The study estimates that growth in the home improvement and repair space will reach 8.0% by the beginning of 2017, well in excess of it’s 4.9% historical average.  From the Joint Center’s press release:

“A healthier housing market, with rising house prices and increased sales activity, should translate into bigger gains for remodeling this year and next,” says Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Joint Center. “As more homeowners are enticed to list their properties, we can expect increased remodeling and repair in preparation for sales, coupled with spending by the new owners who are looking to customize their homes to fit their needs.”

“By the middle of next year, the national remodeling market should be very close to a full recovery from its worst downturn on record,” says Abbe Will, Research Analyst in the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center. “Annual spending is set to reach $321 billion by then, which after adjusting for inflation is just shy of the previous peak set in 2006 before the housing crash.”

Housing sales do indeed spur renovation activity, but there is something else at play here not referenced in the study that we seem to be witnessing a lot of lately: a market with increasing prices, little move-up inventory and low sales will lead to renovations as well.  It’s been well documented that the number of move-up homes on the market has been shrinking, meaning that those who wish to trade up out of an entry-level home have few options that are often bid up to high sale prices.  Calculated Risk’s Distressing Gap chart helps to explain this: new home sales are still extremely subdued (although recovering lately) and existing home sales are still well off their prior peak despite a growing population.

In most markets, if you are an owner of an older, entry level home and you want to upgrade, there are currently few options despite the fact that you may be sitting on a large amount of equity as prices have appreciated.  At the same time, debt yields have plummeted, sending mortgage rates plunging to record lows.  So what do you do?  Tap into some of that home equity to fix up your existing home (and, for Californians maintain a low property tax basis).  This is a potentially-self-perpetuating cycle where starter homes get upgraded and people stay put longer, meaning that new construction is being relied upon for an ever-higher percentage of entry level supply.  However, it becomes particularly daunting to build new homes at an entry level price point when approximately 24.3% of the final sale price of a new home is attributable to regulation.  “We could see percentage growth rates in the remodeling and home- improvement sector that exceed those for new home construction in the next few years,” according to Brad Hunter, chief economist with HomeAdvisor, an online home services marketplace.  Great news if you own stock in Home Depot, Lowe’s, Masco, etc or own a home in an aging neighborhood where this is going on but I’m not as convinced as the Joint Center authors are that it will necessarily lead to higher sale volume.

Economy

Still Bright: Despite all of the noise and bold print headlines, Bill McBride of Calculated Risk still doesn’t see an impending recession.

Yellow Light: JBREC sees Baby Boomer retirement keeping a lid on US economic growth through 2025.

Flattening: Renters (at least those at the high end), are starting to get some relief from ever-rising rents as inventory grows.  This could lead to lower inflation, making it more difficult for the Fed to hike rates.  See Also: Yellen still waiting for overwhelming evidence to warrant a rate hike.

Commercial

Feeding Frenzy: Restaurants, not shops, are  increasingly becoming the driving force behind retail centers in the US. See Also: As e-commerce continues to hit retailer margins, the mall of the future will offer dinner, movies….and a colonoscopy.

Crowding Out: Vancouver’s port is facing a potential crisis as the local housing boom continues to encroach onto former industrial sites leaving operators with few options for warehouse space.

Residential

Telecommuting: The boom in co-working space, combined with insane home prices and rents in the Bay Area has made telecommuting from low-priced rust belt cities a reality for some former Bay Area tech workers.

Roadblock: Construction labor unions are  throwing a hissy fit and fighting Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to make it easier to build more housing in California because he has thus far refused to make a massive union handout part of the deal.

Sale of the Century: It’s apparently a great time to buy a mansion in the Hamptons as the market has cooled with sales down around 60% from last year……if you have around $10MM or so to burn.

Profiles

Dinosaurs: Believe it or not, VCR’s are still being produced in Japan but won’t be after this month.

The Juice is Loose: David Ortiz aka Big Papi of the Red Sox who was washed up a couple of years ago, hit a home run so hard that it got stuck in Pesky’s Pole, because steroids.

Chart of the Day

High Building Costs Make it Tough to Construct Affordable Homes

WTF

Lazy Shit: For those of you who don’t like to lift a finger to do much of anything, there is now an app called Pooper that allows you to summon someone to pick your dog’s poop up off the sidewalk or your neighbor’s lawn.  Don’t laugh, it was valued at $850MM in it’s latest funding round.

That Escalated Quickly: In-store video footage captured a man attempting to build a chemical weapon in a California Walmart.  See Also: Five weird crimes that could only happen in a Walmart.

Tenement: Members of Australia’s Olympic team refused to move into Rio De Janeiro’s Athlete’s Olympic Village over safety concerns and issues with plumbing.  Rio’s mayor responded by offering to get them a kangaroo in order to help them feel more at home to which an Aussie team spokesperson replied: “we do not need kangaroos, we need plumbers to account for the many puddles found in the apartments.”  This has the potential to be a huge mess.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 26th – Nip and Tuck

Landmark Links June 28th – Tank Commander

Byron-Scott-Driving-The-Lakers-Tank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commercial

 

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

Residential

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

Profiles

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

Green Monsters: Avocado theft is on the rise.

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

Chart of the Day

The US Demographic Tailwind

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

Source: Calculated Risk

WTF

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

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

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

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 28th – Tank Commander