Landmark Links October 25th – When Will The Empire Strike Back?

darth-vader

Retraction: Before we get to today’s post, Leonardo DiCaprio’s rep announced that he doesn’t support the anti-density initiative that I spoke about on Friday, despite his name being all over it’s literature. ¬†Maybe he is a regular Landmark Links reader and didn’t like getting called out ūüėČ

Lead Story….¬†Since I began writing this blog last year, one of my main areas of focus has been how the historical relationship between primary and secondary markets has broken down in this cycle, especially in CA. ¬†In the past, the inland production markets would heat up when prices rose¬†along the coast. ¬†This lead to a virtuous cycle where housing starts beget jobs which beget more employment, wage growth and ultimately more household creation and home buyers. ¬†This cycle has been different for several reasons:

  1. Difficulty of inland builders to develop affordable homes profitably due to low FHA caps and high impact fees
  2. Growth in preference for urban living among wealthier adults
  3. Declining home ownership percentage impacts the marginal entry level buyer more than the affluent one and historically, the marginal buyer is more likely to look inland for housing.

It’s become fairly common in our industry to look to increases in FHA limits¬†as the salvation of the secondary markets. ¬†However, for that to occur in any substantial magnitude (all indicators point to a small increase next year), ¬†Congress would have to¬†revise the statutory formulas that they set back in 2008 to govern FHA limits. ¬†As my colleague Larry Roberts wrote in OC Housing News, that is far easier said than done:

Through the lobbying efforts by the National Association of Homebuilders or the National Association of Realtors, Congress knows exactly how the conforming loan limit impacts home sales and new home development.I recently spoke with Scott Meyer and Michelle Hamecs of the NAHB. They provided me their NAHB Issues Update that detailed the FHA loan limit issue (click here for that document). It isn’t ignorance to the problems the prevents Congress from raising the limit.

The conforming loan limit demonstrates the tug-of-war between two conflicting desires of policymakers.  On one side, advocates for the housing industry and advocates for expanded housing opportunities to all Americans want to push the loan limit higher. On the other side, the more fiscally conservative lawmakers want to lower the limit to restore the prior mandate of insuring loans only for lower- and middle-income Americans. Further, they want to reduce the potential liability for the US taxpayer, who would currently cover all the losses if the market crashes again.

If the conforming loan limit were reduced, it would decrease the potential liability for taxpayers and reduce the size of the GSE operations and make it easier to someday dismantle them; however, the last time the conforming limit was dropped, Irvine, CA witnessed an 84% decline in sales volume in the price range no longer financeable with GSE loans. Ouch!

There is no doubt that increasing FHA limits would help. ¬†There is nothing particularly healthy about having a market that is 100% reliant on government-backed loans to function but unfortunately that’s the hand that we have been dealt. ¬†Raising FHA limits attacks the problem from the bottom of the prospective home owner pool by allowing buyers at lower price points to purchase homes with much lower down payments than what’s available using a conventional mortgage. ¬†Today, I want to look at a different scenario that could play out in the next few years. ¬†It’s more from the upper end of the pool¬†where coastal renters could find themselves once again looking inland if prices continue to rise. ¬†Today, I’m going to focus on Orange County and the Inland Empire but the demographic dynamics that I’m going to focus on could apply to many affluent coastal regions and their less-affluent inland neighbors.

On the surface, things look great in Orange County. ¬†Economic growth is strong as is employment¬†and home prices are now above their prior peak. ¬†Development is humming along and occupancy levels are extremely high in commercial and multi-family projects. ¬†In addition, OC has diversified it’s economy quite a bit as finance and tech have taken a large role as¬†the County has become less dependent on real estate. ¬†However, as the OC Register detailed last week, Orange County has a growing demographics problem and I think that the Inland Empire just might be the prime beneficiary. ¬†The problem isn’t that Orange County isn’t creating jobs. ¬†It is and we actually have the lowest unemployment rate in Southern California. ¬†It’s that the jobs being created often don’t come with wages that would allow someone to live here. ¬†Combine that with relatively few new housing units being built and the cost of existing units rising quicker than inflation and you have a recipe for what economists predict will be a¬†declining population of prime workforce age population (25-64 year olds) from 2010 – 2060. ¬†From the OC Register (emphasis mine):

‚ÄúThey say demographics are destiny,‚ÄĚ Wallace Walrod, the Orange County Business Council’s Chief Economist told the conference. ‚ÄúIt is imperative that everyone in this room understand the consequences of pending demographic shifts.‚ÄĚ

The national trend of aging baby boomers moving into retirement, he said, is ‚Äúmagnified and exacerbated‚ÄĚ in Orange County, where the over-65 population is on track to nearly double by 2060 to ‚Äúa staggering 26.2 percent.‚ÄĚ

Unlike California as a whole, every age cohort other than seniors is shrinking in Orange County, where the median age has risen from 33 to 38 since 2000.

Most worrying, the prime working-age population ‚Äď 25-to 64-year-olds ‚Äď is expected to dip by 1 percent by 2060, even as overall population grows by 15 percent.

By contrast, working-age groups in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are on track to grow by 61 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

‚ÄúWe are losing not only our 25 to 34 year-old workforce ‚Äď millennials ‚Äď but also losing K-12 and the college-age cohort as well,‚ÄĚ Walrod said.

The trend, he warned, ‚Äúcould devastate O.C.‚Äôs pool of workers, creating talent gaps as large swaths of the workforce retires, leaving open positions that will likely go unfilled.‚ÄĚ

The Register went of to identify the the obvious culprit: housing. ¬†I frequently¬†hear friends, neighbors and co-workers and neighbors who live in Orange County complain that the area is being over-developed. ¬†The stark reality of simple math shows¬†that view couldn’t be more wrong. ¬†Again, from The OC Register¬†(emphasis mine):

A severe housing shortage has turned Orange County into one of the most expensive markets in the nation, with median home prices exceeding $650,000 and average monthly rents at about $1,900. Higher-density developments that could alleviate the shortfall are often opposed by current homeowners.

Rising values are ‚Äúgood news for current homeowners, but bad news for those looking to afford to relocate to O.C. or to buy a house and stay here, especially millennials,‚ÄĚ Walrod said.

As a result, he added, ‚Äúdomestic outmigration has been accelerating.‚ÄĚ

The report projects that “new job creation will significantly outpace projected new housing units over the next two and half decades, resulting in a housing shortfall that will grow from a current reading of 50,000-62,000 units to a staggering 100,000 units by 2040.

‚ÄúMany workers are being forced into neighboring counties to find more affordable housing, increasing their commute and complicating their work-life balance.‚ÄĚ

……

According to the report, it takes an hourly wage of $32.15 to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Orange County, putting it out of reach for minimum-wage workers in the county’s fast-growing service sector, given the current California wage floor of $10 an hour.

The story goes into much more detail about a developing skill gap and low wage job boom. ¬†However, I want to keep the focus on housing for this post. ¬†Note the above projections about working age populations in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties (growth of 61% and 47% respectively¬†from today until 2060). ¬†Those are massive numbers that will create a strong demand for housing and not all of it will be entry level. ¬†If you take the median income required to buy and rent a median-priced home in Orange County today, it is around $100k (assuming you can put down 20%) and $70k, respectively, so there are a lot of people with well-paying jobs that fall below that amount. ¬†Given the fierce opposition to density in the OC, it is likely that those numbers will only increase. ¬†Also, keep in mind that the averages above are for the entire county. ¬†The most desirable areas with the best school districts can easily be double those amounts which is incredible when you consider that median income to afford an apartment in the neighboring IE is around $55k. ¬†At some point, something has to give. ¬†My guess is that it’s a move towards more relatively affordable¬†housing markets, in this case the Inland Empire.

I want to make an important caveat about what I wrote above: I haven’t a clue as to when this change will actually take place and more affluent workers will start to look inland to buy or rent. ¬†However, one thing that I’ve learned witnessing¬†our current market is that things¬†change incredibly quickly once they hit a critical mass. ¬†Just a few short years ago we were subject to an endless barrage of “renting is superior to buying” articles in the mainstream and business press. ¬†Just this week, Bloomberg ran a piece that argued that it’s almost always better to buy. ¬†Such an article would have never seen the light of day in 2011. ¬†Both types of articles are virtually assured to be wrong since they argue in absolutes. In reality¬†it’s sometimes better to buy and sometimes better to rent¬†but that level of nuance doesn’t¬†lead to¬†many page views.

My comment about how quickly things change goes for regional and local trends as well.  For example, 15 years ago, pretty much no one with a college education wanted to live anywhere near downtown LA.  Within the past 10 years that has changed rapidly and an area which was once in the grips of urban decay has become one of the most desirable locations for young, affluent home owners and renters in the US.  Some of the same conditions that created the LA gentrification/urban renewal boom have caused the Inland Empire to lag: delayed household formation by Millennials, preference for urbanization among high earners and a downward trend in the percentage of Americans who own a home.  However, I have serious doubts that these are permanent trends and there are other factors at play already that could begin to create more inland demand:

  1. Addition of urban elements and amenities to existing CBD and downtown regions. ¬†This is already happening in downtown Riverside as more density and foodie oriented retail are on their way. ¬†There are other urban areas out in the IE that could experience the same thing over time, downtown San Bernardino for example. ¬†It’s probably difficult to imagine right now but that’s ok. ¬†Downtown LA as it currently exists was¬†didn’t seem feasible back in 2001 either and I doubt that many of us foresaw luxury condos and apartments going up next to Skid Row.
  2. Self driving cars could help to ease commute stress in markets without mass transit infrastructure.  The technology is advancing rapidly and the Inland Empire will arguably be the region that will benefit the most in the US.
  3. Bank lenders are starting to compete with the FHA for low down-payment loans to entry level buyers. ¬†Bank of America has been so successful with their 3% down program that they are doubling it. ¬†These lending programs are still tiny by comparison but it wasn’t long ago that they didn’t exist at all.
  4. Millennials are getting older.  Many of the oldest Millennials are now entering their mid to late 30s which are the prime household creation years.  Once people start families, studies show that they are more likely to favor the stability of owning over the mobility of renting and the family-friendly single family home over an apartment.

The Inland Empire is down but I wouldn’t count it out over the long term. ¬†The current trends that have hurt the¬†housing market there aren’t likely to last forever and the region is adjacent to¬†too many incredibly expensive areas¬†to not experience some spillover as even relatively high earning families eventually get priced out of the coastal regions. Conventional wisdom is that only an increase in the FHA loan limit can revitalize the IE housing market. ¬†In the short term, that may very well be the case but a sustainable recovery just might come from higher earners moving into the region.

Economy

The Walking Dead: How bankrupt oil companies that are continuing to pump could keep a lid on oil prices.

Stay In:¬†It’s getting more expensive to eat out even as grocery prices are falling.

Commercial

The Spigot: Pension funds have been steadily increasing commercial real estate allocations¬†for the past few years and that isn’t likely to change in 2017 despite signs of a maturing market. ¬†See Also: REITS have become a¬†more attractive target for activist investors.

High Times: A San Diego based medical marijuana landlord just filed for an IPO.

Residential

Further Afield: High prices and low yields near the coast have investors looking for rental homes in cheaper locations through management and investment services like Home Union, Investability and Roofstock. ¬†However, a lack of local knowledge can lead to out of area investors paying the dumb tax by thinking that they are getting a good deal when they aren’t.

Profiles

Pull the Lever: How smart phones and app developers create digital addiction by mimicking slot machines.

Paradise: The Cubs paved the way for the Dodgers to come to LA by hosting their spring training on Catalina Island. See Also: For the Cubs oldest fans, this year could be their last chance. And: There are people trying to get 6 figure ticket prices for a single seat at World Series games at Wrigley Field.

Chart of the Day

WTF

Hard at Work: Meet the TV weatherman who got bored with his job after 23 years and decided to become a porn star.

Not a Detail Person: Russian oligarch has giant hideous boat built at a German port on the Baltic Sea. Ship draws too much to get out of the straits at the entrance to the Baltic. Epic FAIL ensues.

Lawsuit of the Year Nominee: A woman is suing KFC for $20MM because she felt that her bucket of chicken wasn’t full enough.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 25th – When Will The Empire Strike Back?

Landmark Links September 27th – Unusual Trend

manliest photos on the internet, funny manly images, leather mullet midget

Lead Story… “When Orange County catches a cold, the Inland Empire gets the flu.” ¬†If you’ve spent any time in the real estate industry in Southern California, you’ve probably heard some variation of this truism. ¬†The relationship has held¬†up¬†over the years because the two regions are closely linked in terms of geography and economy: OC has white collar jobs and executive housing, whereas the IE traditionally has more blue collar jobs and¬†more plentiful affordable housing. ¬†In a typical cycle, OC home prices rise first, followed by IE prices. ¬†When the cycle turns, the IE pricing and volume typically falls off first when entry level financing disappears and blue-collar employment falls off. ¬†The price movements in the Inland Empire are typically greater in percentage terms (although substantially¬†less in nominal dollar terms) to both the upside and the downside since values there are lower. ¬†This cycle, that historical relationship has broken down, as I¬†detailed in a blog post titled Mind the Gap¬†back in May. ¬†Last week, JBREC’s Rick Palacios JR posted a research piece about¬†the disjointed nature of the recovery across housing markets in the US, summed up neatly in the chart below:

jbrec_housingcycle-marketbymarket_q32016_black3

The first thing that I noted on the chart¬†is that, aside from Houston, every market on here is still on the positive side of the slope. ¬†Larry Roberts at OC Housing News wrote a follow-up post that helps put the above¬†chart in context about how Dodd Frank’s crackdown on so-called affordability products will dampen volatility in future housing cycles.

The second thing that I noticed is more local and that is that JBREC classifies both OC and LA as late Phase 2 to early Phase 3 while the Inland Empire has barely made it out of Phase 1 and is plagued by relatively low levels of housing construction.  Orange County prices exceed the prior cycle peak while Inland Empire prices are still 20% Р30% below.  IMO, there are several reasons for this:

  1. While development impact fees are very high in both Orange County and the Inland Empire, they are far higher as a percentage of new home price in the Inland Empire. ¬†Housing prices crashed in the late aughts but impact fees didn’t, making it very difficult to build homes profitably in further out locations that haven’t experienced the coastal recovery.
  2. The Inland Empire is a less diverse economy than Orange County and is¬†more¬†reliant on real estate development to power it’s economy, which has struggled in light of the low number of housing starts the region is experiencing from what we would typically see at this point of the cycle.
  3. There was a far higher level of distress in the Inland Empire markets during the housing crash which took longer to work off than it did in Orange County.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, the Inland Empire is an affordability-driven market. ¬†Orange County is not. ¬†Riverside and San Bernardino Counties are both highly reliant on FHA financing that allows for much lower down-payments than conventional financing options. ¬†San Bernardino and Riverside Counties¬†are constrained by the FHA limit of $356,500 which is absurd given the massive geography of these two counties – if they were their own state it would be the 11th largest in the US by land mass. ¬†At or below this loan amount a borrower can put¬†up¬†a down-payment¬†as low as 3%. That down-payment¬†goes up substantially for loan amounts above $356,500. ¬†That is a huge problem for builders in the IE since they are essentially¬†sandwiched between rising impact fees /¬†regulatory costs and an FHA price ceiling. ¬†If a builder wants to sell homes priced¬†at or below FHA, he¬†has to find cheap land and it’s still tough to make a profit. ¬†Price above it and¬†his¬†absorption dries up due to a lack of a buyer pool with substantial down payment capacity. ¬†Orange County has an FHA limit of $625,500. ¬†Even still, Orange County just isn’t that beholden to FHA limits because home prices are so high here. ¬†Perhaps the only silver lining is that it’s highly unlikely that the FHA will reduce loan limits for Riverside and San Bernardino Counties next year and increasingly likely that they will raise it¬†a bit. ¬†Still, being constrained by a¬†completely¬†arbitrary government loan cap on a huge and diverse area is hardly a healthy situation, even if you can get some relief when that cap increases.

Perhaps I’m incorrect and the historical relationship will remain in tact¬†when the market eventually turns. ¬†However, it seems unlikely given that the Inland Empire really hasn’t experienced much of a real estate recovery while¬†Orange County has. ¬†It’s a lot more painful to fall off of a ladder than off of a curb.

Economy

Happy Losers: So much of what’s wrong with the US economy is summed up in this paragraph from the Washington Post:

Most of the blame for the struggle of male workers has been attributed to lingering weakness in the economy, particularly in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing. Yet in the new research, economists from Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago say that an additional reason many young men are rejecting work is that they have a better alternative: living at home and enjoying video games. The decision may not even be completely conscious, but surveys suggest that young men are happier for it.

Quick to Jump Ship: Why decreasing employee tenure could be a positive sign for the economy.

Paycheck to Paycheck: Small businesses are now surviving but still not thriving. A new JP Morgan study found that the average small business has less than a month of cash operating reserves.

Residential

Movin’ Out:¬†KB Homes is seeing more young people entering the first time home buyer market. ¬†Apparently, there are a few more vacancies in mom’s basement now.

Slim Pickin: Home sales fell in August as inventory fell over 10% from this time last year.

Super Sized Incentives: Builders are constructing super sized homes because they are highly economically incentivized to do so.

 Profiles

Acquisition Target: Suitors are beginning to line up to acquire beleaguered Twitter. Google and Salesforce are the among the latest rumored to be interested¬†as is Disney. ¬†See Also: Why is Salesforce interested in Twitter? ¬†It’s all about the data.

Fashion Statement: Snapchat is entering the hardware business with a line of camera-equipped sunglasses.  This is great news as is it will instantly ID people who deserve to get punched in the face.

Gross: Hampton Creek is a San Francisco startup that wanted to become “the first sustainable-food unicorn” in part by selling a vegan concoction called “Just Mayo.” ¬†The problem was that it apparently tasted like crap and the company was busted buying gallons of their own disgusting concoction¬†from Whole Foods and other stores in an effort to boost it’s sales. (h/t Mike Deermount)

Chart of the Day

REITs get their own sector in major S&P 500 makeover

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WTF

No Regrets: A 27 year old man from Boston attempted to create something he called a “scuba bong” by filling a scuba tank with marijuana smoke. He failed miserably and lost both of his testicles when the tank exploded. The gene pool has been chlorinated once again.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does: As many of you probably know, Apple got rid of headphone jacks on the iPhone 7 leading to angst among many loyal Apple users. A prankster posted a video purporting to show owners of the new phone how to “add” the headphone jack by drilling a hole in the phone. The video went viral and idiots are now breaking their phones by drilling them out. Imagine a person of average intelligence. Now consider that half of the world’s population is dumber than that person.

Florida Has Jumped the Shark: A tweaker on a 5-day methamphetamine binge cut off a certain part of his anatomy and fed it to an alligator because, Florida.  A friend first sent me this story and I thought it was a fake.  It appears to be legit.  When it comes to Florida weirdos, reality is often stranger than fiction. (h/t Andrew Shugart)

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links September 27th – Unusual Trend

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‚Äôs housing stock increased by a net 270,000 units between 2011 and 2013‚ÄĒthe slowest growth measured by the survey over the past decade, which included the worst years of the Great Recession. The report concluded: ‚ÄúDespite the gradually improving economy, there were large declines in both new construction and net additions to the housing stock during the 2011‚Äď2013 period compared to the 2007‚Äď2009 period.‚ÄĚ

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‚ÄĒa 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 ‚Äď 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 19th – Ramparts!!!

Lightening_Caddyshack2

Lead Story… ¬†In the all-time classic¬†1980 comedy Caddyshack, obnoxious¬†condo developer Al Czervik, played by Rodney Dangerfield opines¬†that:

‚Äú…golf courses and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.‚ÄĚ

He was onto something. ¬†It’s been well documented in the years since the Great Recession that golf courses are, by and large a terrible investment that almost never make money –¬†often losing a lot instead. ¬†In fact over 800 courses have closed over the past decade as a result of no longer being financially viable. ¬†So, imagine my surprise when I saw a feature article in Bloomberg earlier this week about how shuttered golf course clubhouses have developed the strange behavior of spontaneously catching on fire:

The dark clouds rolled in over Phoenix’s Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Course in 2013, when its owner declared that the costs of keeping it open had outstripped what he was collecting in green fees.

Wilson Gee, a California businessman, shuttered the golf course, erected barbed-wire fences, and began looking for a buyer, telling reporters the land would never be a working golf course again. Homeowners, complaining he was turning the course into an eyesore in order to win approval to redevelop it into single-family homes, sued to reopen it. Gee shanked his first attempt to sell it in 2014, when one homebuilder walked away from a deal, but last year found a buyer in a Denver-based developer.

Then one night in February, the dark clouds turned to smoke, and a fire caved in the clubhouse roof.

It‚Äôs a local story, defined by conditions peculiar to Ahwatukee, a community of about 80,000 separated from downtown Phoenix by a collection¬†of 2,500-foot peaks known as South Mountain.¬†But the dynamics that bred¬†the deadlock between the struggling golf course’s owner and its aggrieved neighbors¬†are mirrored¬†in communities across the¬†country.

More than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide in the last decade, as operators grapple¬†with declining interest in the sport and a glut of competition. Many of¬†those shuttered courses were built on land proscribed from redevelopment by local zoning codes seeking to preserve open space‚ÄĒor, as with Ahwatukee, by deed restrictions intended to protect homeowners who had paid a premium to live near a golf course.

That leaves some golf course owners with the real estate equivalent of an unplayable lie: They can’t make money running the course, and they can’t¬†recoup their investment by selling¬†it.

“If you open a restaurant in a strip mall and you fail, you close shop and move on,‚Ä̬†said Jay Karen, chief executive officer of the National Golf Course Owners Association. But for golf course owners, it’s much harder to pull the plug¬†on a¬†failing business; as courses fall into disuse, they¬†become suburban¬†zombies‚ÄĒnot quite dead,¬†yet far from alive.

‚ÄúNobody‚Äôs tracking what‚Äôs happening to the land,‚ÄĚ Karen said.

Therein lies the problem: developers went on a golf course building spree back in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Back then, Tiger Woods was bursting onto the scene and golf was seen as a potentially lucrative investment as millions of Baby Boomers approached retirement which would undoubtedly be filled with more time spent on the links than ever.  When master planned communities were built, developers sold course-fronting homes for large premiums.  Fast forward to 2016 and the golf industry is dying a slow death.  Millennials, by and large have neither the time nor the money to play the game, causing a dramatic decline in club revenues and Nike has dropped out of the golf business as a whole as has Dicks Sporting Goods. In fact, participation is down a whopping 20% since 2003.  More from Bloomberg:

In April, fire ripped through the clubhouse at a¬†shuttered¬†western Kentucky golf course that had been the center of a lawsuit, burning through the afternoon until the roof collapsed over smoldering beams.¬†On New Year’s Day, a former volunteer firefighter lit a small fire outside¬†the vacant clubhouse of a closed 9-hole course outside Orlando, then returned three days later to spark¬†a larger blaze,¬†with the help of a¬†can of paint thinner he had found there. And in September 2015, a fire¬†reduced the¬†10,000-square-foot clubhouse at an abandoned golf course in Bakersfield, Calif., to¬†only a few charred beams.

For¬†John Rhoads, a homeowner in Sparks, Nev., a clubhouse fire at his local course, D’Andrea Golf Club, was both¬†insult and injury. In 2012, its¬†owner had¬†asked members of the local homeowner association to pay an additional $28 a month for course upkeep, Rhoads said. The homeowners demurred, the course was shuttered, and the clubhouse became a magnet for vandals, who posted graffiti on its stucco walls and eventually¬†burned it down. Now Rhoads worries¬†that the owner is making an end run around the homeowner association to convert¬†half of the course into¬†new homes and a winery.

“This used to be one of the nicest golf courses in Reno-Sparks,” he¬†said. Now?¬†‚ÄúOur property values are already down $25,000 a home.”

So what do you do with a shuttered golf course that has become blighted and attracts vandals and crime? ¬†Developers would love to buy up courses and develop housing on them while dedicating a portion of the site for community agricultural use or park space as the sites are often prime develop-able parcels. ¬†There’s just one problem: homeowners, especially those fronting the course want none of it being that¬†they¬†paid premiums for golf course frontage homes. ¬†The last thing they want is a new neighbor in place of an old fairway. ¬†This leads to an impasse between homeowners and course owners and almost no one is blinking. ¬†Again from Bloomberg (emphasis is mine):

In the face of declining interest and competition driven by oversupply,¬†course owners have gone searching for ways out. Some have donated golf course land to¬†nature trusts and local parks, taking a tax break in return for preserving the open space. Others have¬†inked deals with homebuilders‚ÄĒthough those deals are often contingent on winning approval from homeowner associations or local governments.

‚ÄúI‚Äôm hard-pressed to think of many cases where there isn‚Äôt a higher or better use than a golf course for the site,‚ÄĚ said Jeff Woolson, managing director of the golf and resort group at¬†CBRE Group. ‚ÄúThe only clear exception would be Augusta, Ga.‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒthe hallowed, Bobby Jones-designed course that hosts the Masters tournament each year.

Whatever happens to the shuttered courses, two things are for certain:

  1. We aren’t going to see many golf courses get developed any time soon
  2. The biggest winners will be lawyers who handle the inevitable litigation between desperate course owners and irate homeowners

By the way, does that last quote from Jeff Woolson from CBRE¬†sound a bit familiar? ¬†While I can’t speak to cemeteries, it turns out that Rodney/Al¬†was a visionary after all.

Economy

Rise of the Machines:¬†How China’s factories are increasingly reliant on robots as their workforce shrinks.

Bursting Bubbles: Sorry, John Oliver but subprime auto loans, while likely predatory in some cases, are not the second coming of the U.S. mortgage crisis.

Commercial

They’re Baaaack:¬†After a brief respite earlier this year, Apartment REITs are buying properties again which is a sign of health for the sector.

Residential

Blame Game: The City of Vancouver is blaming foreign buyers for the crazy run-up in it’s housing market and has even gone so far as to enact a 15% tax¬†on foreign purchases in a effort to keep foreign¬†buyers away. ¬†However, a new report by Paul Ashworth of UK based research firm Capital Economics says that foreigners aren’t the primary issue and rather blames irresponsible lending.

Imagine That: Only 13% of households in San Francisco can afford to buy a median priced home. ¬†Ironically, that’s actually substantially better than 9 years ago when only 8% could afford to purchase a house.

Profiles

People of Walmart: Walmart¬†has a major crime problem and it’s driving police crazy. ¬†This story has it all: shootings, stabbings, kidnappings and hostage situations. ¬†However, my favorite episode¬†is the one where police found a meth lab in a large drain pipe under a Walmart parking lot in upstate NY.

Hero: Meet the 102 year old woman who credits her longevity to drinking.

Pants on Fire: Ryan Lochte may be a great athlete but he is also a massive, massive douchebag.

Chart of the Day

WTF

Monkey Business: Video of the day twofer:

  1. Watch a monkey wearing a diaper get in a fight with a Walmart employee in a parking lot.
  2. Watch a¬†baboon in a zoo goes berserk when a little girl taunts it and flings it’s poop at her face.

How to Avoid the Gulag: Shockingly, North Korea is the most efficient country at winning medals at the Rio Olympics.  Let that sink in.

Must Be the Pleats: Meet the Olympic pole vaulter who missed out on a medal because of his…..um pole. ¬†He now claims it was a wardrobe malfunction. ¬†Let me just go on the record to say that I would have handled this ENTIRELY differently had I been in his position.

Ohio = Florida of the Rust Belt:¬†A man from Ohio was arrested for having sex with a red van on Tuesday on the side of a public road. ¬†Sentences like this are what make¬†The Smoking Gun the finest news site in the world: “The victim was parked at the time, cops say.”

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links August 19th – Ramparts!!!

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 ‚Äď 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