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

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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

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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 August 19th – Ramparts!!!

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

“…golf courses and cemeteries are the biggest wastes of prime real estate.”

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’s 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—or, 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,” 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—not quite dead, yet far from alive.

“Nobody’s tracking what’s happening to the land,” 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? “Our 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—though those deals are often contingent on winning approval from homeowner associations or local governments.

“I’m hard-pressed to think of many cases where there isn’t a higher or better use than a golf course for the site,” said Jeff Woolson, managing director of the golf and resort group at CBRE Group. “The only clear exception would be Augusta, Ga.”—the 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 – 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.

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WTF

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

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

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

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links July 29th – Taking Out the Trash