Landmark Links November 4th – Who’s On First?

funny-baseball-player-falling-picture

Lead Story…. It seems like nearly everyone in the real estate industry likes to use the baseball analogy to describe the real estate cycle.  There’s a little known rule that every home builder/developer conference has to have a panel where participants are asked what inning the current cycle is in by a moderator.  I suppose that this was considered either novel or informative at some point but today it’s neither.  The problem is that it’s difficult to classify real estate, especially real estate development in such broad and generalized terms.   Whenever I’m asked such a question, I answer the same way: what asset class and what market?  Another important clarification is the time frame of the recovery that began the cycle in question.  Most people consider our current cycle to have begun in June of 2009 which was when the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) marked the end of the last recession.  However, when it comes to home building and by extension the economy as a whole, it’s not that simple as Bloomberg’s Conor Sen wrote this week (emphasis mine):

The National Bureau of Economic Research marked the end of the last recession at June 2009. Similarly, the stock market hit bottom in the first half of 2009. The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims peaked in April that year. And the unemployment rate peaked in October. All of these suggest a broad-based trough at some point during 2009, making the economic expansion at least seven years old by now.

But given the severity of the financial crisis and the shock to the economy, the beginning of the recovery was not like moving from recession to expansion. It was more like moving from depression to recession. Rather than a normal business cycle in which four steps forward are followed by two steps back, the Great Recession was more like five steps back. Should the ensuing first two or three steps count as part of the next expansion, or something else?

The growth in the early part of this recovery was abnormal. Part of it was caused by government fiscal stimulus, which proved to be inadequate and was then followed by federal, state and local austerity. Part of it was caused by a “dead cat bounce,” as output fell so hard, below consumption in industries like the auto sector, that a certain amount of recovery was inevitable as producers had to increase output merely to match consumption. And then some part of the recovery was caused by the energy sector and the boom in fracking, a localized boom that eventually went bust.

So what went missing in those first few years of “recovery”?  The answer is home building which is the reason that I think much of the current cycle’s math is a bit off.  More from Sen (emphasis mine):

The missing piece was housing, the bread and butter of the American economy. The Housing Market Index from the National Association of Home Builders didn’t begin to increase from depressed levels until October 2011. Similarly, single-family-building permits didn’t begin to increase from depressed levels until 2011. It’s here, in late 2011, that I would claim the current expansion began, making it barely five years old, quite young in the context of a downturn that lasted four or five years rather than just two.

Ultimately, housing is the driver of the U.S. economy, which is why any understanding of the recovery of the economy must factor in the recovery of housing. Single-family-building permits peaked in the second half of 2005. Subprime mortgage originators started going bankrupt in 2007, the same time that housing prices started falling significantly. Outside of globally attractive real estate markets like San Francisco, New York and Miami, housing prices and activity continued to fall well into 2011.

The early years of the housing recovery, from 2010 to 2012, were more driven by investors and institutions buying foreclosures and investment properties with cash than by owner-occupiers coming back to the market. In the past few years, housing demand has been soaking up inventory created during the bubble years and pushing home prices back toward their mid-2000s levels. First-time home-buying remains below normal.

Only now are we seeing tertiary markets like exurban areas start to expand again, and construction remains below the level of household formation. One of the metro areas that was a poster child of the housing bubble, the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area in Southern California, is still building 80 percent fewer single family homes than it was at the peak of the last cycle.

That last highlighted section is something that I’ve written about frequently.  Although LA, Orange County and San Diego get a lot of attention for their great weather, beautiful beaches and affluent communities, it’s actually the Inland Empire that is the engine of growth in Southern California.  Especially when it comes to creating new housing for first time buyers and blue-collar workers that can’t afford to live closer to the coast.  That this region is still building 80% fewer units than it was at the peak of the last cycle is nothing short of shocking.  IMHO, it can’t be classified as much of a recovery at all.  As Sen points out in his article, every economic sector doesn’t necessarily recover in unison.  Just because tech has boomed or energy has boomed then busted doesn’t mean that other sectors are doing the same.  When it comes to a traditional growth sector like housing, this can have a massive impact on a regional (or even national) economy.  For some traditional growth markets like the Inland Empire, perhaps the appropriate question isn’t what inning of the cycle we are in but rather when the recovery will actually begin in the first place.

Economy

Even Keeled: Calculated Risk’s Bill McBride is still not on recession watch.

Setting the Stage: The Fed didn’t raise rates at their November meeting but certainly indicated that they are open to doing so in December.  See Also: The Fed’s latest statement indicates that they are not going to target inflation rates above 2%.

Commercial

Going Strong: Chinese investment in US commercial real estate is still on the rise.

Residential

Put a Lid on It: Low FHA limits are killing home building in California’s secondary markets.

Imagine That: San Francisco home sales surged in September thanks to a large supply of newly-completed condos.

The Oracle of Home Building? Berkshire Hathaway just purchased the largest home builder in Kansas City.  It’s the just the latest purchase for Warren Buffett who has been buying up builders in the south and Midwest.

Profiles

Ain’t No Free Lunch (Or Shipping): Why the free shipping that you love so much from online retailers is mostly a lie.

Shocker: This years Black Friday deals will probably be exactly the same as last year’s Black Friday deals.

Subprime Redux: Rising automobile repossessions show the dark side of the car buying boom.

SMH: The University of California at Irvine, which is in Landmark’s back yard wants to be the Duke basketball of online gaming (aka video games).  Ok, fine but can they please stop calling it a “sport”?

Chart of the Day

ie-permits

WTF

Hero: A woman sustained burns after causing a fire by farting during a surgery, igniting a laser.  Pain is temporary but glory lasts forever.  See Also: Ten people who were arrested for farting.

Guaranteed Contract: Former NBA star and certified crazy person Gilbert Arenas just received the final check from the $111MM contract that he signed in 2008. If you’re not familiar with Arenas, he once got into a locker room altercation with a teammate that involved a firearm and hadn’t played in the NBA in nearly 5 years. Great investment. (h/t Tom Farrell)

That’s Going to Leave a Mark: A drunk 28-year old Florida man fell out of his pickup truck on the way home from a strip club and immediately ran his leg over before it crashed into a house.  He’s apparently still at large.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links November 4th – Who’s On First?

Landmark Links May 6th -Exodus?

Rush to the Exit

Lead Story… We’ve been talking a lot about the Bay Area market over the past few weeks and there are a few signs that some of the most egregiously expensive ones like San Francisco are nearing a breaking point where even well-paid employees can’t afford to live there anymore and may begin to leave.  A survey by the Bay Area Council published earlier this week found that 34% of Bay Area residents are considering leaving due to high housing costs and traffic.  I know that I’m starting to sound a bit like a broken record but….

“We can whine about this, or we can win by solving our traffic and housing problems,” Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, told The Mercury News. “The last time the Bay Area had seemingly solved its traffic problems was the worldwide recession of 2008. A recession is not how we want to solve our traffic and housing problems.”

I think it goes without saying that relying on massive global recessions to correct your cost of living and traffic issues is far from a viable long term solution.  For years now, service workers, educators, policemen, firemen, etc have been priced out of these and similar markets.  It should not come as a surprise that Bay Area school districts are facing a teacher retention crisis along with their housing crisis.  Teachers haven’t been able to purchase homes in the area for years.  Now they can’t afford to rent either.  Their salaries aren’t adequate to justify a long commute.  Cities have been aggressively increasing teacher pay but they can’t keep up with cost of living increases:

For a teacher earning $73,000 — the average teacher salary in the nine-county Bay Area — a rent payment of $1,800 would eat up 30 percent of monthly income. And just finding a rental at that price would be very difficult in this economy. The average monthly price for studio apartments in the Bay Area is $2,137, according to RealFacts, and two-bedroom, two-bath apartments are going for $2,850 — and for much more in hot markets.

“Every year we have a problem. It’s always a challenge to make sure that the schools are staffed,” said Jody London, an Oakland Unified school board trustee. “But with the rapidly rising housing market, the fact is it’s crazy right now. And it’s getting harder for teachers to stay in Oakland.”

And that’s in Oakland, which, while expensive isn’t close to Silicon Valley or San Francisco.  So how do you fix things?  Beyond building more housing  (which many younger residents are now in favor of much to the dismay of aging hippy NIMBYs), one idea is dramatically build out infrastructure to the outlying suburbs in order to fix the commuting issue and add more units where it is more affordable.    The BART is already being extended but this would require something far larger (and more efficient for that matter) in order to work.  From the Bay Area Council survey mentioned above:

Rather than building more housing in the Bay Area, 60 percent of residents say it should be built outside the region, with 84 percent saying they support stronger transportation networks between the Bay Area, Sacramento and other areas in the Central Valley to take pressure off regional housing supply.

“This is an understandable reaction to decades of failing to keep pace even minimally with the Bay Area’s housing needs and the transportation to support it,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. “There’s now an entrenched misperception that our region doesn’t have the capacity to add the housing we need. What’s unfortunate is that pushing housing outside the region still doesn’t solve the problem of supply and affordability in the Bay Area. It simply means that fewer working families and workers in lower-income jobs can afford to live here. It hurts the diversity of our region and our economy. It also means workers are commuting longer and longer distances in their cars, which pushes up damaging carbon emissions.”

The issue is that it would cost a fortune, take forever to build and would likely lead to environmentalist/NIMBY lawsuits.  Think of this as a Marshall Plan to fix area housing…assuming that it can actually get done which is, IMHO a stretch.  What I can assure you won’t work is what the City of San Jose is currently doing.  Silicon Valley’s largest city (and the nations 10th largest) has a goal of building 35,000 new units between 2014 and 2023 with 60% of that total being affordable.  Sounds like a great objective until you get into the details.  Rather than incentivizing developers to build more units,  the city is charging them an increased impact fee of $17/sf on all housing built by those evil “for-profit” developers which will then go into subsidized housing, which is apparently what San Jose means when they say “affordable” since it gets incredibly difficult to build market rate housing that’s anything close to affordable when you start layering on fees. Naturally, developers are mostly staying away and the city built only 426 units of affordable housing last year, around 20% of it’s lofty goal of 2,100/year.

Back to my broken record: the only way to fix the affordability crisis is to build more units to satisfy the demand in the region.  That won’t happen so long as cities continue to hike fees to the moon and make the entitlement process increasingly difficult.

Economy

Leading Indicator: The Wall Street Journal has seemingly cracked the code to the health the tech sector: sales of ping pong tables from a store in San Jose.  Lets just say that the tables have turned.  I bet you can find a great ping pong table on Craigslist though.

How Low Can You Go: Earlier this year, the dollar was on a tear as the Federal Reserve indicated that they would raise rates at least 4 times in 2016.  That likely isn’t happening as a sluggish economy plus mounting financial disasters abroad have made the Fed increasingly dovish, sending the greenback into a tailspin and leaving it at a 15-month low.  Interest rates and mortgage rates have both stayed low now that sluggish growth appears here to stay for the foreseeable future.  If dollar depreciation continues, one must wonder if a resurgence by foreign investors is in the cards.

Commercial

Market Update: Our friends at JCR Capital see market fundamentals disconnecting from tepid investor appetite, creating opportunity.  As always, their quarterly market commentary is a must read.  It goes hand in hand with our comments about the land market versus the home sale market that we made previously.  In a related story, fundraising for private equity real estate funds is slowing.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: After starting the year off extremely poorly, CMBS loans for multi-family assets are making a comeback, albeit with tougher underwriting standards.

The Commercial Real Estate Market in Once Sentence: FOOP (Fear of over paying) is the new FOMO (fear of missing out).

Residential

Shots Fired: Bill Pulte, the founder and largest shareholder of Pulte Homes had some very pointed criticism of his hand-picked CEO Richard Dugas before the company’s annual shareholder meeting this week. Basically, Pulte accused Dugas, a former protege of being incompetent when it came to monetizing existing land positions, leading to poor company performance and demanded his resignation.  Analysts don’t anticipate Dugas leaving anytime soon.  In recent years, the company has focused on profitability over growth and was mostly sidelined from buying land positions in 2012-2013 when others were active.  Much of this stems from the Centex merger in 2009 according to the Wall Street Journal.  That transaction saddled the new company with a ton of land inventory that they had to write down effectively sidelining them from buying lots at a better basis when the market bottomed out.  They are still sitting on some of those lots today even while out buying more.

Sluggish: The previously-hot million-million-dollar-plus home sale market is slumping. See Also: Some of America’s fastest moving housing markets are slowing down.

Profiles

Hero: The next time that someone asks me why I like dogs more than people, I’m going to send them this:

A four-year-old white Labrador called Dayko has been hailed as a hero after rescuing seven people from the aftermath of the Ecuador earthquake – before dying from exhaustion.

RIP Dayko….and now I need a Kleenex.

Chart of the Day

I’m finding myself wishing that I was seeing more of this….

WTF

Finger Lickin’ Good: A woman in Florida (naturally) reported to local police that a chicken sandwich that she ordered “contained semen.”  Consider this a friendly reminder that fast food is disgusting.  Also, if you absolutely must eat at a KFC, don’t ask for extra mayonnaise.

Mistaken Identity: Villagers in Indonesia were disappointed to learn that an “angel” that fell from the skies is actually a sex toy.  The quote from this article is to good not to post:

The tale begins in Bangaii, days after an auspicious solar eclipse appeared over the region. A 21-year-old fisherman was walking the beach when he spotted a beautiful, lonely angel on the sand. Naturally, he took her appearance as a sign from heaven and he gently bundled her up and took her home.

There, he attired her in a blouse and skirt, which his parents changed daily as a sign of respect. Intrigued by reports (or maybe just really bored), local police visited the house to see the angel for themselves.

There, they made the less-than-holy discovery.

“It was a sex toy,” police chief Heru Pramukarno told a local newspaper.

What was unclear was whether that ruined or made the fisherman’s day.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links May 6th -Exodus?

Landmark Links May 3rd – Mind the Gap

strahan (1)

Lead Story… The Washington Post posted a fascinating series this weekend with interactive maps last week about the tremendously uneven recovery in the US housing market.  The first story focused on the nation as a whole and the others drilled down on the Bay Area and Atlanta.  They are posting similar articles on DC and Charlotte later this week.  The underlying theme of these stories is that more affluent sub-markets have experienced a strong recovery from the housing bust while less-affluent secondary markets that often saw the most new home construction activity in prior cycles are still languishing.  Many primary markets have blasted past their prior peak in terms of pricing while secondary (and tertiary markets) are still well below, contributing greatly to a widening wealth divide:

The findings of The Post’s analysis underscore another way in which the economy, despite its improvements over the past several years, continues to deliver better returns for some Americans than others.

In good times, housing converts income into wealth. It turns a paycheck into the next generation’s inheritance. But in neighborhoods that haven’t weathered the past decade as well, homes have become a source of debt, a physical trap and an obstacle to life’s other goals.

The Bay Area story focused on the divergent fortunes of San Francisco which has boomed like no other market in the US post housing bust and Stockton which was ground zero for the housing crash and foreclosure crisis in the Central Valley and has failed to recover. The difference between the two markets which are separated by only 80 miles of freeway could hardly be more striking:

You get there (Stockton) on Interstate 580, through 80 miles of suburbs and farmland, up into the bald hills of the Diablo Range that are suitable for neither. The highway, eight lanes wide, cuts through at the Altamont Pass, 1,009 feet above sea level. And then the hills part and California’s Central Valley comes into view: an unexpectedly flat landscape that feels very far from San Francisco, and where Stockton and its neighbors are still suffering the lingering effects of the worst housing bust in the nation.

The low ridge line is a physical barrier between unequal fortunes, between record housing riches in the Bay Area and an epidemic of lost wealth in the Central Valley. Home values have doubled in some San Francisco and Silicon Valley Zip codes in little more than a decade. But in the hardest-hit Stockton Zip codes, homes over this same time have lost 20 percent of their value.

Believe it or not, it hasn’t always been this way.  Decades ago, average incomes in Stockton and SF were somewhat comparable and the gap between housing cost was far smaller. Beginning in the 1990s, incomes and population grew and the Bay Area’s housing supply simply didn’t keep pace, resulting in very expensive housing prices and pushing people who wanted to own a home out to the Central Valley and leading to the phrase: “drive until you qualify.”

During the boom years, the moving trucks brought over the Altamont Pass families that were priced out of increasingly expensive communities around the Bay. Hardly anyone moved in the other direction.

Those households helped bring the housing fever with them: a $400,000 enthusiasm for $200,000 homes, a faith that $400,000 homes should become $500,000 jackpots.

They brought demand for entire new subdivisions and communities built on former asparagus farms and almond orchards. And entranced by all the money the government reaped in development fees when those subdivisions were built, Stockton built a beautiful new arena downtown, next to a new minor-league ballpark, right by the site of a planned new marina on the inland channel that leads back out to the coast.

At the time, the rapidly rising home values seemed to say something about Stockton itself — that this was a place that was coming up, that was finally poised to share in the Bay Area’s prosperity.

However, all was not well behind the scenes and incomes were mostly stagnant in the Central Valley during the housing bubble, all of which led to serious dislocations that the area was ill-equipped to deal with once the speculative value of it’s housing stock collapsed:

In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, incomes were rising during the bubble years. And the growing demand to live in the Bay Area was outstripping the supply of homes, pushing up prices. But the longtime agricultural economy in the Central Valley wasn’t taking off. Incomes weren’t rising as home prices were. And there wasn’t a shortage of housing.

In the run-up to the bust, though, very different communities started behaving similarly — not just out here, but across the country, says Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller, who is credited with having predicted the housing crash when few others believed a bubble existed.

“I think that the people in the Central Valley view themselves as a different kind of Californian,” he says. These are practical agricultural people, not tech entrepreneurs; they live in spread-out ranch homes, not ornate Victorians. But in the housing frenzy, the idea of that difference broke down. Whatever was happening in the market on the coast seemed relevant to what should happen here in the great big Northern California economy.

We know that this ended extremely badly as the Central Valley got overbuilt and oversupplied, cities took on too much debt and Stockton became the poster child for the foreclosure crisis in the US once home prices collapsed under their own weight when the mortgage market imploded.  The Bay Area’s housing market, on the other had held up relatively well through the bust years and then rebounded strongly on an epic run fueled by a resurgent tech industry fueled by a tidal wave of venture capital investment and lack of new housing supply due to restrictive zoning and politically powerful NIMBYs.  Only this time around the recovery failed to move inland as prices increased in the Bay Area.

This phenomenon is not limited to the Bay Area and the Central Valley.  We’ve seen it up and down the state of California over the past several years where coastal markets have boomed and inland markets have stagnated.

I decided to look at things from a bit different angle and take a look at relative pricing between markets. With help from our friends at Market Insite Real Estate Advisors as well as Steve Reilly who covers the Bay Area for Land Advisors Organization, we put together an analysis of home prices in coastal production housing markets vs. inland production markets to show how previously strong pricing relationships have broken down badly during the bust and subsequent (coastal) recovery.

For the Bay Area vs. Central Valley chart, we used Dublin as the primary East Bay production market and Tracy as the secondary Central Valley production market.

IMG_1874

Source: Steve Reilly

Click Here for Enlarged Image

For the Southern California chart, we used Irvine as the primary coastal production market and Chino as the secondary Inland Empire production market.

FullSizeRender

Click Here for Enlarged Image

Source: Market Insite Real Estate Advisors

As you’ll notice above, we used resale data rather than new home.  We did this because it’s a much more robust data set (there are a lot more resales than new home sales) and also because the product mix changes more gradually over time whereas the new home product mix can vary greatly as new neighborhoods come online and more mature ones sell out.  It also allows us to look at price independently from other local issues like rising impact fees which could cause changes in the type of product that a builder needs to construct in order to turn a profit.  However, this data is mostly applicable to the new home market as well, only the prices tend to be higher for new units.  Unfortunately, our data only goes back 15 years.

What’s striking about both of the above charts is just how much prices in the primary markets has moved away from the secondary markets in the wake of the housing bust. Before 2008, Dublin achieved a fairly consistent premium of between 50% – 75% over Tracy.  Once we hit 2008 and the foreclosure crisis mounted, that premium rose to 175% and has since settled in the high-130%s to mid-140%s over the past few years.  Dublin is now nearly $100k above it’s prior peak pricing while Tracy is over $142k below it’s peak.  Almost the same thing happened in the Irvine vs. Corona chart where Irvine was historically 60% – 90% more expensive than Corona before 2008.  At that point, the pricing relationship broke down, widening out to 186% in 2012 before tightening back to 136% today.  Irvine has exceeded it’s prior peak by $90k while Corona is $131k below it’s peak.

In the past, prices this high near the coast would lead to a building boom in the secondary markets as workers look for more affordable options, leading to housing starts, new jobs and rising wages in those markets.  In other words a virtuous economic cycle.  That hasn’t happened this time around though as the primary markets have continued to outperform. While primary markets often get a lot of attention, the real increase in housing starts usually comes from the secondary or production markets.  Why?  Because land costs are far lower allowing builders to construct housing that a larger subset of the population can afford.  In other words, if the secondary markets remain weak, it’s very difficult for home builders to achieve substantial volume when it comes to starts and sales.

The issues that led us to this point are both numerous and complicated: a bias against starter homes by young households who saw their parents or friends get stuck underwater in secondary markets during the bust, Millennials starting families later mixed with a demographic boom in the 20-25 year old age range, a lack of job growth in secondary markets, a lack of move-up home inventory, tepid job growth, a growing preference for the mobility of renting over the stability of owning, workers seeking to avoid commutes, etc.  However, there are essentially four possible outcomes when it comes to the primary vs. secondary gap:

  1. The new pricing relationship holds or widens further as households permanently shun the secondary markets in favor of primary ones
  2. Primary market prices fall
  3. Secondary market prices rise
  4. A combination of 2 and 3

We are well aware of the anecdote that “when Orange County catches a cold, the Inland Empire gets the flu.”  I’m sure there is a similar saying up north.  Several investors have voiced this concern recently citing seemingly overheated primary markets as a reason to avoid investing in the secondary markets.  IMHO, the flaw in that logic is that the secondary markets never actually recovered from “the flu” this time around.  They didn’t follow the primary markets up and they could represent a good relative value play if primary market prices and rents stay elevated.  The coming demographic expansion in the 30-39 age group that will last until roughly 2030 could provide a tailwind in secondary markets as well.

demographics

Economy

Bargain Basement: Energy expenditures as a percentage of personal consumption expenditures have literally never been lower.

Tilted Playing Field: Geography is an indicator of income (and housing costs) as never before and it doesn’t appear to be getting better anytime soon.

Commercial

Re-purposed: The continued demise of malls has nimble landlords re-positioning long-vacant space as medical and dental offices or movie theaters.

Inflection or Pause? Multi-family has been the best performing real estate class for several years.  However, a large wave of new supply and slowing rent appreciation have some asking if the market is overheated.  It bears asking, what would the apartment look like if new loan initiatives cause Millennials to reverse trend and favor buying over renting at traditional levels.

Profiles

The Biggest Underdog: We have written about this before but if you weren’t following Leicester City clinch the English Premier League title you just missed the biggest upset in sports history.  That’s not hyperbole.  The Cleveland Browns have 200-1 odds to win the Super Bowl.  If you think that’s a long shot, consider that Leicester City was a 5000-1 shot to win the league title…which they did by uncovering undervalued players in a soccer version of Money Ball.  The US Olympic Hockey team was a 1000-1 underdog to win Olympic gold in 1980.  You can get odds of 5000-1 that Bono will be named the next pope. This is a far cry from the Philadelphia 76ers winning the NBA Championship next year.  It’s more like your local high school basketball team winning it.  If you’re aren’t following this, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Extra Cheese Please: The US is experiencing a cheese glut thanks to a weak euro.  I’d like to personally volunteer my services to help solve this existential crisis.  Next time you’re chowing down on some cheese, don’t think about ruining your diet.  You are doing your duty as a loyal citizen.

WTF

Well, what Did You Expect? A satellite that hunts for black holes in space is lost (h/t Katie Spitznagel)

Money Well Spent: Crowd funding has both helped to democratize the investment process and bring capital to some good ideas that otherwise wouldn’t get noticed.  It has also directed donations to worthy charitable causes. However, it’s also been a vehicle for loons to pitch some truly stupid and bizarre ideas.  Check out the ten dumbest Kickstarter campaigns ever to receive money.

How Do You Say Hero in Italian? Homeless people in Bologna Italy threatened to “return to the streets” after a local soup kitchen brought in a vegan chef to help make the menu more healthy.  I’ve never been more proud to be half Italian.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

 

Landmark Links May 3rd – Mind the Gap

Landmark Links April 15th – Looming

Golden Gate

Lead Story…  Another day, another story about one of America’s astronomically expensive and typically chronically under-supplied markets getting hit with a massive wave of high end condos (and high end apartments).  Over the past few weeks, we focused on New York, Miami and even Hong Kong.  Today it’s the patron saint of expensive US housing markets, San Francisco.  Even casual follower of the residential real estate market are well aware of the lack of supply and nose-bleed prices that people pay to live in SF for a whole bunch of reasons.  However, as Wolf Richter notes in Business Insider this week, things appear to be changing.  According the the SF Planning department, there are 44,700 units in the pipeline from “building permit filed” to “under construction.”  That doesn’t include the 17,900 units approved but not yet permitted.  Nor does it include the 23,980 units that are approved in the Park Merced, Candlestick and Treasure projects that are approved but could take well over 10 years to build out.  That’s a ton of inventory coming online in a city with only 382,000 units in it’s existing housing stock.  The impact is already being felt in the condo market:

In the first quarter of 2016, various market segments in the city began to trend in significantly different directions. Houses, especially those below $2 million, are still often selling in a frenzy of bidding: Recent reports of houses selling with 5, 10 or more competing offers are not uncommon, especially in neighborhoods considered more affordable (by San Francisco standards). Demand remains very high, supply remains extremely low, and new house construction is virtually nil.

As of early April, the number of condo listings actively for sale in MLS is up over 40% year over year, and that does not include most of the new-construction condo units hitting the market (not listed in MLS).

These condos often go into contract during the construction phase, long before sales actually close, and access to information during that period is very limited. There can be no doubt that they comprise serious competition to resale condos in the areas they’re being built.

– Patrick Carlisle, Chief Market Analyst at Paragon

According to Richter “It’s chilling: for condos under $1.5 million, the number of withdrawn or expired listings soared 94%, and for condos above $1.5 million 128%.”

First off, this had to happen at some point but it should have been more incremental and should have happened earlier.  San Francisco’s market has been notoriously tight for years and the entitlement process there is reminiscent of running the gauntlet.  If entitlements weren’t so difficult to come by, many of these units could have been delivered years earlier when demand began to ramp up but construction didn’t.  Instead, many developers started at roughly the same while prices of SF condos ran up 70% in the interim, meaning that we now have a tidal wave of units starting to get delivered just as the VC market is slowing and tech firms are beginning to lay people off.  Reality is that the local market desperately needed more units but that doesn’t make it any less painful for the developers holding the bag or the home owners who bought in the late stages of the run-up.  Either way, we are certainly going to test the true depth of demand for high priced housing in the next few years.

Second, this is what happens when everyone builds the same thing.  The only thing getting approved in SF are high density, high end condos and apartments.  That’s where all of the units are so that is where the glut is going to occur.  Want to know why the single family home market is holding up much better?  Simple.  Almost no SFD’s are getting built so supply hasn’t increased.

Third, several fund investors the we respect a lot are telling us that they are taking a wait and see approach on current investment opportunities in anticipation that there will be large distressed opportunities in the NY and Miami high rise condo markets in the coming quarters that will result in a buying opportunity.  Their investment thesis is that many of these high end condos will end up going back to the lenders since foreign investors have begun to retrench from the market and there isn’t enough domestic demand to buy up the units at their high pro-forma prices.  I guess we can now add San Francisco to that list.

San Francisco housing

Economy

Black Gold?  According to the talking heads, it was bad for the economy when oil prices were plunging so is it now good that they have rebounded to $40/barrel?  See Also: Why wasn’t there any economic boost from low oil prices?

It’s All Relative: Top Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel says that pretty much everything is overvalued but some things are more overvalued than others.

Get Real: Real (inflation adjusted) 10-year treasury yields have gone negative for the first time since 2012.

Commercial

Just Speculating: Growth in the San Francisco office market has been a safe bet for several years as VC money poured into new investments and tech companies gobbled up any available space in order to account for aggressive growth projections in a supply constrained market.  Times are changing though and the assumption that the good times would continue has put some speculative office investments at risk now that the VC spigot is slowing while several landlords are trying to unload buildings for over $1,000/sf.  At the same time, available sublease space from downsizing tech companies, an indicator of a slowdown, is creeping up.  From the Wall Street Journal earlier this week:

“We’ve started seeing the cautionary winds start blowing,” said Steve Barker, executive vice president at Savills Studley, which advises companies on their real estate. “In the last two to four months, you’ve really seen the impact of the strained capital environment hitting the real-estate market.”

A cautionary tale exists with online game maker Zynga. In 2012, the then-rapidly growing company bought its 680,000-square-foot building at 650 Townsend St. It saw plenty of space to grow, and at one point occupied 480,000 square feet.

Soon after, its growth stalled, and stock price plunged, layoffs followed, and now the company is trying to sell the building.

Subleasing, though, carries its own risks.

Health-care startup Practice Fusion, which leased former Zynga space in the same building, underwent layoffs in February. Now Practice Fusion, too, has put its 60,000-square-foot space up for sublease.

From what we’ve been hearing from local market sources, this is much more of an issue in downtown San Francisco which is heavily dominated by startups that aren’t profitable and are reliant on VC money fund operations.  It isn’t as much of an issue in Silicon Valley where huge and incredibly profitable mature companies like Apple and Google and the myriad of companies in their ecosystem have come to dominant the local commercial real estate markets.  Why? Because these companies don’t rely on VC money and aren’t impacted by it’s availability.  Still, it bears watching to see if the issues starting to appear in SF spread to other Bay Area markets.

Residential

Stay in School: New research suggests that student debt is a substantial impediment to college dropouts buying a home a home but only has a marginal impact on those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  Moral of the story: if you borrow money to go to college, you had better graduate.

Signs of Strength: Mortgage rates have dropped to an annual low and apps for mortgage refinances have been surging  for several weeks.  However, purchase money mortgage applications had not moved much recently.  That all changed last week when purchase apps increased to the second highest level since May 2010.

Graphic of the Day: I found this 3-D image from The Visual Capitalist fascinating:

The Salary Needed to Buy a Home in 27 Different U.S. Cities

Profiles

Long Shot: Leicester City entered the English Premier League season as a 5,000 – 1 underdog to win the league championship.  To put some context to that, you can place a bet with the same odds that Elvis is still alive.  Furthermore, the Cleveland Browns are only 200-1 to win next years Super Bowl.  You read that correctly, they were 25x LESS likely to win a championship than the Cleveland Browns. The key word there is “were.”  With 4 games left in the season, the perennial doormat which was nearly relegated last season is in 1st place, 7 points ahead of the second place Tottenham.  Hang in there Cleveland fans.  There is hope.

The New Buggy Whips? The i-Phone is doing to cameras what the automobile did to horse carriagesBut See: The Apple Watch has not been the FitBit killer that may thought it would be.

Really Bad Idea:  Stalkers rejoiced when new app allows anyone to spy on Tinder users and track them to their last location, an invasion of privacy that would make Zuckerberg blush. See Also: Body parts from a missing woman were found in a dumpster outside the home of a man she went on an online date with.

Chart of the Day

LOL

crude

Source: The Reformed Broker

WTF

The Saddest Record: A Brooklyn man set a record by watching TV for 94 hours straight. That’s just under 4 days for those of you who don’t like math. This is one of those situations where there are no winners, only losers.

They Flying Farm – It’s gotten ridiculously easy (and cheap) to bring a comfort animal on a flight.  All you need is a doctors note and a $65 certificate for your pet. This started in 2012 when the US Department of Transportation amended a statute that was originally intended to cover guide dogs.  Since then, service animal registrations have risen from 2,400 to over 24,000.  It’s not just dogs and cats either. People are bringing all sorts of barnyard and exotic animals aboard especially in LA and NY, leading some to wonder how much is too much:

The zaniest anecdotes (like the “support pig” ejected from a D.C.-bound plane after it relieved itself in the aisle or the “therapy turkey” whisked via wheelchair onto a recent Delta flight) tend to go viral. But the habit has become particularly commonplace on the LAX-JFK route favored by fussy celebrities and industry execs.

Having to call home to say “honey, my flight is going to be late because a pig crapped in the aisle” was something that was only previously an issue in 3rd world outposts with names like The People’s Democratic Socialist Republic of __.  Now we have barnyard animals on planes in the US ostensibly to keep someone from getting nervous on a plane. I think it’s safe to say that this has gone a bit too far.

In Soviet Russia: Saying that Russia is a bit of a freak show is a bit like saying that water is wet.  It’s a factually accurate but unnecessary statement given that anyone over the age of four already knows it to be true.  Example A: a Russian entrepreneur recently opened a cafe in East Siberia that’s a tribute to Vladimir Putin.  It’s complete with Putin shrines and the toilet paper in the restrooms has pictures of Barack Obama and other western leaders on it. (h/t Steve Sims)

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links April 15th – Looming