Landmark Links November 1st – Musical Chairs

musical-chairs-fail-fall

Lead Story…. I’ve spent quite a bit of space on this blog talking about segments of the real estate market that have been struggling of late.  From high end apartments and luxury condos in NY, SF and Miami to dying shopping malls in middle America, to struggling suburban office buildings, there’s been plenty to go around.  Today, I’m going to focus on a struggling segment that we haven’t paid much attention to: super high-end retail.  It seems that landlords at the extreme high end of the retail spectrum have been pushing rents like crazy lately, and now they are paying the price as even cream-of-the-crop retail tenants can’t afford it anymore.  Bloomberg ran a story that focused primarily on NY’s iconic 5th Avenue, home of the world’s most expensive retail rents.  From Bloomberg’s Sarah Mulholland:

Landlords on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue are sitting on a record amount of open space as retailers balk at committing to expensive new leases in one of the world’s most prestigious shopping districts.

The availability rate on the famed strip, home to Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany & Co.’s flagship store, jumped to 15.9 percent in the third quarter, up from about 10 percent a year earlier, according to Cushman & Wakefield Inc. The rate has climbed steadily this year, surpassing the prior peak of 11.3 percent, set in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The rise of empty storefronts isn’t limited to Fifth Avenue. It’s part of a Manhattan-wide space glut as retailers — buffeted by e-commerce, tepid demand for luxury goods and a strong dollar that’s eroded tourist spending — push back against rents that have soared to records. Leasing costs have increased in tandem with property values in the past five years, outpacing gains in merchandise sales and making it impossible for retailers to run profitable stores at many locations, according to Richard Hodos, a vice chairman at brokerage CBRE Group Inc.

If you’ve read up to this point, the solution seems simple: lower rents and occupancy will rise again.  Only it’s not so simple in a world where properties trade hands relatively frequently and every buyer needs to assume that they can push rents further than the last owner in order to make the numbers work at an ever-higher basis.  This is not an issue that is in any way unique to 5th Avenue, or retail space for that matter.  It happens in commercial real estate transactions everywhere in an upward-trending market.  However,retail in particular, especially the shopping mall space is proving to be a very difficult business as eCommerce continues to gain share and department store anchors continue to go dark putting many landlords underwater. The aspect of this story that is incredibly staggering is the astronomical rental numbers. Again, from Bloomberg’s Sarah Mulholland (emphasis mine):

On the stretch of Fifth Avenue from 49th to 60th streets, which commands the world’s highest rents, landlords are asking an average of $3,213 a square foot, up from $2,075 a square foot in 2011, Cushman data show. In the tourist-heavy Times Square area, rents stand at $2,104 a square foot after tripling over a four-year period.
The brokerage’s retail availability rate takes into account vacancies as well as stores occupied by merchants that plan to leave when their leases expire. Retailers that signed leases at high prices in the past several years and are seeking a tenant to sublease their space are also included, according to Steve Soutendijk, an executive director at Cushman.
“Tenants that signed at the absolute top of the market are looking to mitigate their exposure,” he said.

At this point, you are probably assuming that the rents referenced above are a typo.  I can assure you that they are very real.  And just how did they rise so quickly? Also, how much are they overvalued? Mulholland continues (emphasis mine):

Property trades are being based on achieving ever-higher rents, and nobody ever really looks at what retailers can afford to pay,” Hodos said. “In some cases, rents need to come down 30 percent or more for rents to be at levels where retailers are able to make sense of them again.”

It gets even worse if the project is levered since signing a lease below a certain amount could lead to negative cash flow or put the loan in default if debt service coverage is inadequate.  This is a great illustration of one of the worst aspects of real estate investment: garbage in, garbage out underwriting.  You can make an investment model hit a targeted valuation if you put enough inflation into a model.  However, in the real world tenants actually have to be willing to pay and those assumptions don’t work nearly as well as they did in the model. The result is that you end up with vacancy when no tenants are willing to pay above-market rent.  If the assumptions in the proforma are garbage, then the proforma will be garbage as well.  It doesn’t matter how good your analysis tools are if you don’t use them correctly.

There’s an old saying about 5th Avenue being a safe haven real estate investment where you can’t lose money.  However, that simply isn’t true if you overpay by making such aggressive leasing assumptions that you can’t fill vacant spaces.  Trust me, you can lose plenty of money that way, especially when your entire business plan is predicated upon getting a tenant to pay you thousands of dollars a square foot.

Economy

Long in the Tooth? Yes, the current expansion cycle has been quite long but don’t assume that the next president will face a recession.

Shifting Playing Field: Workers with specialized skills, deep expertise or in-demand experience will be the big winners in the gig economy.  Everyone else?  Not so much.  See Also: While services sector booms, productivity gains remain elusive.

Residential

Choppy: US pending home sales rebounded in September after a disappointing August but inventory stayed tight.

Profiles

It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times: Twitter as an app is absolutely indispensable.  Twitter as a business is absolute sh&t. See Also: How Instagram and Snapchat led to Twitter killing Vine.

Bet on It: Why Microsoft and Google could become the bookmakers of the future.

Seems Reasonable: A divorcing couple went to court to argue over who gets the Cubs tickets. See Also: How a pirated television station turned the Central American nation of Belize into Cubs fans.

Chart of the Day

I live in an area with extremely high rents but this is unreal

WTF

Busted: Roses are red, someone got laid, parrot outs husband for cheating with maid.

Desperate: Lonely men are increasingly turning to digital assistants like Siri for love and ‘sexually explicit’ chat.

But First, Let Me Take a Selfie: Drunk driving Texas A&M student takes naked selfie, runs into police car.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links November 1st – Musical Chairs

Landmark Links October 18th – On Point

target

Lead Story…. A bit short on time this week so I’m going to outsource the lead story.  Joe Bosquin of Builder Magazine wrote a wonderful summary about how California priced itself out of the market for entry-level home buyers titled The Unintended Consequences of Law. Spoiler: it has everything to do with Prop 13 and CEQA.  Bosquin’s piece as good as an explanation for our absurd housing prices in the Golden State as you will find.  Yours truly gets a bit more than a quick mention and they included an article  that I had written for Builder (and Landmark Links) back in May about why our impact fees are so high compared to the rest of the country.  By the way, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office published a piece in September in which they confirmed my thesis about the relationship between Prop 13 and impact fees.

Here’s an excerpt from Builder but you should really check out the entire article.  It’s a quick and easy read even if you aren’t a housing and development nerd:

According to a widely referenced 2015 report from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal and policy analysis arm, since 1980, California has built half of the housing units it needed—about 100,000 per year—to keep up with demand. And that’s just in aggregate. In high-demand locales like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, the housing deficit is even greater. “Most of California’s coastal counties needed to build three times as much (or more) housing as they did,” the report claims.

Stated differently, during the past 36 years, California did not build the additional 3.6 million homes that it needed to keep its skyrocketing prices in check. To put that number in perspective, it would take the collective efforts of every home builder in the country, building nonstop at 2016’s projected pace of 1.26 million housing starts, three years to put a dent in the state’s problem.

The report concludes that NIMBYism, local communities’ lack of financial incentives to approve more housing, and anti-growth proponents who go to daunting lengths to block development have contributed to the problem, as well as more inveterate challenges such as a scarcity of suitable land along the coast and an ever-increasing population.

The LAO report found that the average cost of homes in California is two-and-a-half times higher than the rest of the country, and rents are 50% higher. It also points to evidence that high housing costs were making it difficult for companies to recruit employees, even in Silicon Valley, and threatened the state’s jobs base. Other reports that came out in its wake highlighted a net migration of 625,000 people out of the state from 2007 to 2014, primarily among lower income earners, attributed to housing costs.

All of which leads to the question, how did California get to a place where it tacks $75,000 onto the cost of a new home in the midst of a housing crisis that’s eroding its jobs base and pushing the country’s most populous state into an unwinnable war of the haves and have nots?

First off, major thanks to Joe Bosquin for writing this.  Also, a big shout out to Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association for calling the rest of us who cited facts in the article “morons” after he apparently couldn’t counter the points that we had made on factual grounds.  I’ll wear that one as a badge of honor.

Economy

Glass Half Empty: The downside of our technology revolution is a lack of job creation.

Warming Up: Wage growth is now at the highest level that it’s been in a year but the stock market might not be thrilled.

Visual Representation: 27 fascinating charts that will change how you think about the American economy.

Useless: The WSJ surveyed economists and found that 59% believe that there will be a recession in the next 4 years.  For those not familiar with this sort of methodology, 4 years is an incredibly long horizon in which to forecast such things.  The incredibly-accurate Bill McBride thinks that we are in the clear for 2017 and likely 2018 as well (although he cautions that even 2 years out is too far to accurately forecast).

Commercial

Bucking the Trend: While most benchmarks have remained low this year, LIBOR has climbed substantially mostly due to new money-market rules which could lead to an uptick in financing costs for commercial real estate.

Supply Exceeds Demand: Rents in Manhattan are falling as listings surge 35%.

Residential

Selection Bias: All of the Urban revival stories that you read these days are really about the amount of money flowing into urban centers than the number of people.

Viva Mexico: A condo boom in Tijuana, coupled with easier border crossing rules for regular commuters could help ease a housing shortage in San Diego….but is not without it’s risks to American buyers.

The First Step: The Federal Reserve has now acknowledged that we have a housing affordability crisis.  Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

Profiles

Prime Time: Nearly 60% of US households and 75% of those that make over $112k per year are now Amazon Prime members.  Let. That. Sink. In.

Screen Shot 2016 10 14 at 11.00.26 AM

Pay For Play: For-profit college Devry University has finally agreed to stop using the bullshit claim that 90% of it’s graduates seeking employment found jobs in their field within 6-months of graduation.  The action came as part of a settlement with the Department of Education over misleading advertising.  That claim would be impressive (and improbable) if it was made by Harvard, let alone a lowly for-profit school that may or may not be a diploma mill depending on who you ask.

Foot in the Door: How Uber plans to conquer the suburbs by partnering with cities to ease parking congestion.

But First, Let Me Take a Selfie: Companies are starting to use facial-recognition apps that utilize smartphone snapshots to verify identity.

Chart of the Day

Things that we want are getting cheaper.  Things that we need are getting more expensive.

WTF

Hero: Regular readers know that I’m a sucker for a great headline.  Man ‘High on LSD’ Saves Dog From Imaginary House Fire is among the best that I’ve seen.

The Softer Side: That Russia is a bizarre place is pretty much self evident.  This new Vladamir Putin calendar featuring the Russian leader cuddling with kittens won’t do anything the change that perception.

Parent of the Year: A Pennsylvania woman has been charged with child endangerment after refusing to feed her 11-month old son anything other than fruit and nuts.  I’ve said it before and will say it again: veganism is a mental disorder.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 18th – On Point

Landmark Links August 30th – Size Matters

Eggplant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economy

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

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

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

Commercial

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

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

Residential

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

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

Profiles

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

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

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

Chart of the Day

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

Source: Curbed

WTF

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

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

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

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

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links August 30th – Size Matters

Landmark Links July 5th – Oh Baby

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Quick Programming Note: Expect a much shorter blog this week and possibly next as well. I’m about to drive to the hospital with Mrs. Links to do our part in contributing to the economic tailwind known as positive demographics.  This will be our second little girl and since the first one I’ve become acutely aware that my ability to write a semi-coherent sentence is inversely proportionate to the number of diapers I’ve changed and hours of sleep deprivation that I’ve experienced in a 24-hour period.

Lead Story: Last week I posted a demographics post from Calculated Risk about how we are in the early innings of a very positive demographic cycle that should be great for the home building industry as well as the US economy as a whole:

Ben Carlson of A Wealth of Common Sense wrote a follow-up blog post that summarized the impact of a demographic cycle where large numbers of people are entering their 3rd decade of life perfectly:

Based on personal experience and what I’ve seen from my peers, here’s what happens when most people start hitting their 30s these days:

  • You move out of the mega-city to the suburbs or a more affordable city so you can actually afford a house and have a normal standard of living.
  • You buy a house and you end up spending a ton of money on things you never would have expected to buy just a few years earlier — more furniture, decorations, tools, lawn care, property taxes, maintenance, stainless steel appliances, remodeling, countertops, cabinets and the list could go on forever. You can basically add $20,000-$30,000 to the estimated amount you think you’ll pay for a house $5,000-$10,000 to every estimate for renovations to your house. And houses these days are bigger and nicer than ever before.
  • Then you have kids and kids are not cheap. That means spending money on diapers, car seats, strollers, clothes, toys, daycare (basically a second monthly mortgage payment), classes, sports, camps, parties, etc. The latest estimates peg the amount to raise a child to age 18 at anywhere from $176,000 to $407,000. Maybe you end up spending a little less on yourself, but you have to expect to spend more money when you have children.
  • With kids come SUVs or minivans because you’re going to need a new car or two to carry all of that stuff that you’ve been buying for your kids everywhere. Good luck taking an Uber when you have to fill your trunk with baby supplies and use car seats for every trip you make out of the house.

Growing up is expensive. It’s like a rite of passage to spend money on these things.

Not every millennial will take this traditional route, but more will do so than most people now assume. As people get older they want different things. You can’t act or live like a 20 year old forever.

Please read the whole thing here as I think it’s well worth your while.  It’s easy to be pessimistic for a host of reasons.  However, despite current economic issues there are a lot of positive developments beginning to take shape…if you’re able to look to the long term.

Economy

Going Down: Brexit concerns have driven treasury yields towards new lows.

Upward Trajectory: College-educated workers now dominate the American workforce as never before.

Commercial

Takeover: How Amazon swallowed downtown Seattle.

High Vacancy: Take a tour inside China’s largest ghost town.

Residential

Bizarro World: Only in the perverse world of California NIMBYs could a new development with 11,000sf lots be considered “high density.”

Status Update: The US housing market in 9 charts.

Big Winners? US home owners could be the big winners in the Brexit drama due to falling mortgage rates.

Profiles

Groundhog Day: It’s the first week of July which means that the NY Mets just paid Bobby Bonilla, who hasn’t played since 2001 $1.9MM just as they will continue to do until 2033 because, Bernie Madoff.

Water, Water Everywhere…. New research finds that California actually has plenty of groundwater, it’s just really, really far below the surface and extremely difficult to get to.

Chart of the Day

Ummmmmm……

WTF

Drunkorexia: College kids are eating less and working out so that they can get wasted quicker.  These are the same people demanding safe spaces on campuses where they can be free from anything that might offend them.

Well Thought Out: A man tried to rob a Kentucky Chuck E Cheese while on a job interview.  No word if he used his real name on his application.  Let me use this as an opportunity to remind you that Chuck E Cheese is a veritable cesspool of crime and deviance.

Darwin Award Nominee: A German tourist at Peru’s historic Machu Picchu died last week when he fell off a cliff while taking a selfie (h/t Winn Galloway).

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 5th – Oh Baby