Landmark Links October 18th – On Point

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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 October 11th – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

USP NFL: CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BUFFALO BILLS S FBN USA NY

Lead Story… As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented action of calling on cities and counties to re-think their zoning laws.   This was a concerted effort to increase affordability and fight back against NIMBY’s who have successfully stopped development in some of America’s most productive cities.  The proposal is bold in that governors don’t often involve themselves in land use issues, let alone a sitting president.  However, the toolkit presented by the Administration is somewhat toothless because cities are ultimately still ultimately free to do as they please and they ultimately have control over local land use policy.

An additional way to achieve more density is actually quite straight forward: cash.  If the Federal Government really wants denser, more walkable mixed use development then they need to incentivize it by amending FHA rules that currently make it very difficult to build product that fits that description.  From The Washington Post (emphasis mine):

Main Street-style development — the “storefront on the first floor, apartments rented out above” style that forms the core of any older town’s historic center — is a residential building form that uses first-floor commercial space to serve community members and enliven a neighborhood. This low-rise density helps prop up the balance sheets of towns responsible for running utilities all the way out to suburban developments, as former city planner and engineer Charles Marohn has repeatedly demonstrated. It also keeps a constant set of the “eyes on the street” that Jane Jacobs identified as necessary for safe streets; renters keep an ear out for burglars after business hours and shopkeepers keep the same at bay during the day. It is, in other words, the core of any successful town-building.

Yet for 80 years, Main Street development has been effectively driven from the market by the growth of federal housing policy hostile to mixed use. Ever since Herbert Hoover’s Commerce Department helped promote the spread of model zoning codes that physically separated people and their community institutions, the federal government has poured its energy and resources into encouraging the growth of widely dispersed single-family homes and large, centralized tower blocks. To this day, FHA standards for loans, which set the market for the entire private banking sector, prohibit any but the most minimal commercial property from being included in residential development. As a groundbreaking report by New York City’s Regional Plan Association found, these standards are “effectively disallowing most buildings with six stories or less.” And depending on the program, a building could have to reach to 17 stories before it is eligible for participation in the normal housing markets. Without the FHA’s blessing, projects are granted the “nonconforming” kiss of death unless their developers can persuade a local bank to write an entirely customized loan for them, one whose risk the bank would have to keep entirely on its own books.

These caps on commercial space and income should be raised to level the playing field for housing development and let small developers invest as much in their home towns as huge corporations will in big cities. Caps currently limited to 15 and 25 percent should be raised to more than 35 percent to legalize even just three- and four-story buildings. As small towns and secondary cities across the country seek to revitalize their downtowns to become more competitive job markets, unreformed financing restrictions act as an invisible barrier, suffocating local efforts to invest in smaller communities. And while the housing affordability crisis has reached the most acute levels in a handful of coastal cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, the White House admits that “this problem is now being felt in smaller cities and non-coastal locations.”

The current financing restrictions make it so that the tail frequently wags the dog in mixed use residential construction.  Cities often want ground floor retail to be included to add to their tax base and  increase walkability but it’s incredibly difficult to finance.  Instead what happens, is the developer gets stuck trying to thread the needle between building just enough retail to appease the city but keeping it at a low enough percentage of the total project square footage to avoid the dreaded non-conforming label.  The end result is that functional retail space is sacrificed in order to comply with FHA rules.  So, rather than having a well-designed retail concept, you end up with small, non-functional retail components in all but the largest projects.  The space has little actual economic value except as a means to obtain financing.  By way of example, a project one block from our office was recently denied by Newport Beach’s city council due to a lack of ground floor retail.  No doubt that the developer was designing to the financing constraints but didn’t include enough retail to get the City on board.  The federal government took a step in the right direction earlier in the year by making it easier to finance condos.  This is the next logical step if they are serious about increasing density and making housing more affordable.  Time to put your money where your mouth is.

Economy

Meh: The September Jobs Report was sort of a dud.

Here to Stay?  I love this explanation from Bloomberg’s Noah Smith on why low interest rates don’t necessarily cause excessive risk taking:

What is it that allows rates to hover around zero indefinitely without causing investors to do bad things with cheap money? It depends on why rates are low in the first place. If money is cheap because central banks are using their powers to keep rates lower than what the market would bear on its own, it stands to reason that investors will take cheap money and invest it in riskier things than they otherwise would. But if rates are low because of natural forces in the economy, and central banks actually have little to do with it, then there’s no reason business people would be taking extra risk.

Crude Math: An agreed OPEC production cut has oil back above $50/barrel but large, recently discovered reserves are likely to create yet another glut in the not-too-distant future.

Commercial

Over the Hump?  Apartment rents fell for the first time in a very long time in the 3rd quarter.

Dumpster Fire: Bottom tier retailers Kmart and Sears are technically still in business but both stores are utter disasters.  Rating agencies just put Sears Holdings, the company that owns both on death watch and the only way that it’s keeping the lights on is by selling the best assets that it owns.  Part of the problem is that Sears Holdings still own or lease approximately 2,500 properties so this mess will be very difficult and time consuming to wind down.

Sears-map

Residential

Beneficiaries: Vancouver’s home sales are down 33% after they introduced a foreign buyer tax.  Seattle is likely to benefit.  See Also: New York is overtaking London as the #1 destination for international property investment thanks to Brexit.

White Knight?  Tech firms, often considered villains when it comes to housing issues in the Bay Area are now throwing their weight behind pro-development groups to push for more housing construction.  See Also: The housing shortage is going to start negatively impacting economic growth in California more seriously if something isn’t done.

NIMBY Awards: The Bay Area Metropolitan Observer put together a list of their top 10 Bay Area NIMBY moments of 2016.  It would be funnier if it wasn’t so sad.

Profiles

Payday: Everyone’s favorite sexting app, also known as Snapchat is working on an IPO rumored to value the tech firm at $25 billion.

GTL is Cancelled: Tougher regulations and taxes are hitting tanning salons hard and there are 30% less of them than there were in 2008.

Chart of the Day

NIMBYs gone wild: LA Edition

Greg Morrow Capacity Graph

Source: Greg Morrow of UCLA

WTF

Best Excuse Ever: A Canadian pole vaulter who tested positive for cocaine just days before the Rio Olympics and nearly didn’t get to attend claimed that it happened because he made out with a girl that he met on Craigslist.

Wings (and Heads), Beer, Sports: Green Bay Packers tight end Jared Cook ordered some food at Buffalo Wild Wings and received a deep fried chicken head on his plate.

People of Walmart: Walmart was selling a shirt on it’s website that said: “I’d Rather Be Snorting Cocaine off a Hooker’s Ass.”  Sadly, it was taken down once management realized what was going on.

Bad Idea: Entering a Florida Walmart is a bad idea in the best of times.  Doing it before a major hurricane when people are stocking up is just asking for trouble as you’ll see in the video of the day.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links October 11th – Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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 April 22nd – The Rise of BARF

barf1

Lead Story…. We’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about what’s going on in the high priced/high barrier to markets.  Of particular interest is San Francisco since it’s a market that Landmark is quite active in and it also has the most stringent land use restrictions (and the arguably worst affordability crisis) in the US.  Recently Tyler Cowan of Marginal Revolution posted a piece summarizing a new book that urbanist Joel Kotkin published and made the following head-scratching statement:

Lots of high-density, vertical building doesn’t really make cities cheaper.  In fact it sucks more talent in, and more business activity, and in the longer run makes cities more expensive.  Just look at Seoul and Singapore, which have built plenty but are nonetheless considered some of the most expensive cities to live in.  After all, isn’t that the increasing returns to scale story?

This in spite of overwhelming evidence that cities that add units are more affordable than those that don’t.  Let’s try a quick thought experiment: San Francisco currently has around 382,000 housing units.  Hypothetically, let’s assume that SF suddenly becomes Houston overnight and decide to build like crazy, sending that number up to 1.5 million units in a few years.  Raise your hand if you think this will have no impact on prices and rents.  Now take that same hand and slap yourself in the face until you realize that San Francisco is not magically immune to the laws of economics.  Kevin Erdmann penned a strong retort to this, pointing out that first off, it’s not accurate and, even if it were, building more density would still have a highly desirable outcome:

Even if it is true, it would be an even better reason to build, because it means that the value of density is practically limitless….On careful reading, I don’t think Tyler is saying this is a problem, per se.  He’s just saying building won’t lower costs.  But, even here, I think it would be quite a jump to argue that greatly expanded building in the Closed Access cities would not benefit the current residents who are being stressed by rising rents.  Even if expansion only led to more rising incomes and rising rents, the increased local market for non-tradable services would surely raise the incomes of current residents, too.  They would likely get some relief from rising incomes, even if rents didn’t relent.

We mentioned a few months ago that restrictive zoning as a driver of income inequality was an issue that would start getting more national attention once it started showing up in papers from economists employed by the Federal Government and across the political spectrum.  It is now indeed happening.  That brings us to BARF.  Last weekend the NY Times published a profile piece on a new political advocacy group called the Bay Area Renters Federation or BARF.  There are plenty of left leaning renter advocacy groups out there so what’s so special about BARF (aside from a great acronym) that garnered them a large profile in the weekend edition of the NY Times? Unlike most renters advocacy groups that focus on subsidized housing, BARF is very, very pro development.

Sonia Trauss is a self-described anarchist and the head of the SF Bay Area Renters’ Federation, an upstart political group that is pushing for more development. Its platform is simple: Members want San Francisco and its suburbs to build more of every kind of housing. More subsidized affordable housing, more market-rate rentals, more high-end condominiums.

Ms. Trauss supports all of it so long as it is built tall, and soon. “You have to support building, even when it’s a type of building you hate,” she said. “Is it ugly? Get over yourself. Is it low-income housing? Get over yourself. Is it luxury housing? Get over yourself. We really need everything right now.”

Her group consists of a 500-person mailing list and a few dozen hard-core members — most of them young professionals who work in the technology industry — who speak out at government meetings and protest against the protesters who fight new development. While only two years old, Ms. Trauss’s Renters’ Federation has blazed onto the political scene with youth and bombast and by employing guerrilla tactics that others are too polite to try. In January, for instance, she hired a lawyer to go around suing suburbs for not building enough.

As you can probably imagine the San Francisco old timers and aging hippies are not fond of BARF:

Ms. Trauss is the result: a new generation of activist whose pro-market bent is the opposite of the San Francisco stereotypes — the lefties, the aging hippies and tolerance all around.

Ms. Trauss’s cause, more or less, is to make life easier for real estate developers by rolling back zoning regulations and environmental rules. Her opponents are a generally older group of progressives who worry that an influx of corporate techies is turning a city that nurtured the Beat Generation into a gilded resort for the rich.

Those groups oppose almost every new development except those reserved for subsidized affordable housing. But for many young professionals who are too rich to qualify for affordable housing, but not rich enough to afford $5,000-a-month rents, this is the problem.

Adding to the strangeness is that the typical San Francisco progressive and the typical mid-20s-to-early-30s member of Ms. Trauss’s group are likely to have identical positions on every liberal touchstone, like same-sex marriage and climate change, and yet they have become bitter enemies on one very big issue: housing.

If the affordability/restrictive zoning issue is going to improve, there are going to need to be a grass roots movements like this to combat the entrenched NIMBYs.  IMO, we are likely to see more of these groups popping up in closed access cities as prices and rents continue to rise.  The California Legislative Analyst’s Office has taken notice and published a report in February stating that underdevelopment with the main cause of high prices in coastal cities.  However, there is only so much that state government can do (or frankly that we would want them to do).  The locals in these cities are going to have to start making as much noise supporting projects as the NIMBYs are opposing them so hats off to BARF for taking up the fight in San Francisco.

Residential

Upside Down: In Denmark and Sweden, negative interest rates have led to a real estate boom and have even resulted in negative interest rate mortgages in some instances.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: While entry level sales struggle, high end realtors are providing helicopter real estate tours for wealthy clients and luxury developers are throwing in memberships in private jet charter programs for buyers of premium condo units.

Profiles

Growing Pains:  Several years ago, online lending companies like Sofi, Lender Club and Prosper were the darlings of the banking world.  They rolled out a peer-to-peer model that was touted as faster and more reliable than heavily regulated plodding banks and sure to turn the conservative lending industry on it’s head.  Last week Fitch released a report highlighting concerns about the online lenders and their business models which was picked up by Fortune:

The problem, according to Fitch, is that online lenders are taking on riskier borrowers than they originally suggested they would. And they have perhaps been relying too much on credit scores, which the fintech lenders appear to be recognizing. “Pockets of recent credit underperformance beyond initial expectations have likely contributed to the ongoing refinement of underwriting models, including further de-emphasizing of the use of traditional FICO scores in certain instances,” Fitch said in its note. In other words, traditional banks may actually be able to assess borrowers with more accuracy, then the data-driven fintech lenders.

So they are taking on riskier borrowers than they initially said they would AND their underwriting models are proving to be weak.  They also have high loan delinquencies and, perhaps most importantly: this model hasn’t yet been tested through a full interest rate or credit cycle. Sounds great so far, huh?

Fitch made another very important point – the online lenders aren’t really lenders at all:

Online marketplace platforms aren’t actually lending, rather they typically match up potential borrowers with the source willing to fund the money—such as hedge funds, institutional investors, or even traditional banks. As a result, the “lack of alignment of interest due to separation of lenders and originators . . . present additional challenges,” according to Fitch.

This arms length relationship enables companies like Lending Club to earn oodles on fees for a while, and not actually have to be responsible if the loans go bad.

That can work for a while. The trouble is that if quality is bad, the actual lenders, that is the hedge funds and others that fund the loans are going to stop coming back for more. And that’s exactly what’s going on. “As institutional demand waned in recent months, marketplace lenders began to seek alternative funding sources to sustain loan originations,” Fitch says.

If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s pretty much exactly what happened in mortgage lending before the bust when banks got stuck with a bunch of crappy paper after investors balked.  The online lending business is minuscule compared to  the mortgage market so I don’t expect much to come from this.  However, it bears mentioning.  As Mark Twain once said “History doesn’t repeat but it rhymes.”

 

Chart of the Day

WTF

Banned: The California State Senate voted earlier this week to ban Palcohol or powdered alcohol.  If the concept of consuming alcohol in powdered form sounds at all appealing to you, please stop reading this blog immediately and check into your nearest rehab because you have a problem.

What Happens in Vegas: Las Vegas hotels are about to start offering virtual reality porn in your room for $20.  No word on how the Vegas hookers are taking this news.

Smart Move: China has made the brilliant move of banning rich kids from appearing on reality TV shows that make them look like rich douche bags.  It’s a shame that the Kardashians don’t live there.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links April 22nd – The Rise of BARF

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

Landmark Links April 8th – Hide and Seek

extremehideandseek

Lead Story… A major leak of over 11 million documents from a sketchy Panamanian law firm that specializes in helping people launder money through offshore shell corporations is casting light on one of the sources of demand for high end real estate in Miami. The list of clients included politicians, drug lords, celebrities, billionaires and some very close associates of one Vladimir Putin. NSA whistle blower Edward Snowdon called it the “biggest leak in the history of data journalism.”  We posted a piece a couple of weeks ago about how the downfall of Swiss bank secrecy (ironically pushed by the US) was turning US real estate into a haven for money laundering due to a lack of oversight when it comes to all-cash transactions.  The Mossack Fonseca law firm helped clients set up offshore shell companies in countries with lax oversight laws which then become vehicles to purchase real estate in NY or Miami where the true owner is obscured.  The US Treasury Department is getting concerned and recently started cracking down on shell companies purchasing high priced units in Manhattan and Miami.  Why is this concerning?  First off, it appears that a lot of this is dirty money: political graft, drug money, cash from arms sales, illegal business, etc. Second, it only serves to drive up costs for would-be homeowners by taking units off the market in cities where inventory is already tight.  Just in case you were wondering, this is not just a Miami issue.  It’s happening in Irvine (mostly Chinese money) and New York (Russian money) as OC Housing News astutely pointed out as well as pretty much every high priced coastal city.  Consider this yet another factor that is hurting affordability in expensive cities.

Miami

Economy

Broken Clocks: Talking heads and pundits are constantly calling for a recession for one reason or another. However, as Bloomberg’s Barry Ritholtz notes, the conditions for one to occur simply aren’t present at the current time:

We can create a basic checklist to tell when an economic expansion cycle has begun to have run its full course:

● Full employment (check)
● Wage gains (hardly present)
● Inflation (1.7 percent is far below recession levels)
● And last, an aggressive Federal Reserve tightening that takes interest rates too high. We are now at a mere 0.25 percent, perhaps going to 0.50 percent — hardly soul-crushing rates.
Thus, while we can easily imagine the necessary conditions for the beginnings of a recession, they are for the most part simply not present.

The Big Squeeze: A new type of student debt puts the onus of repayment 100% on parents rather than students.

Commercial

Conflicting Messages: REITs have become net sellers (h/t Scott Barnard) of assets while foreign investors and private equity are taking up the buying slack.  CBRE is saying that fundamentals are strong and they believe that the market is on solid footing (h/t Eric Snell).  However, there are a couple of significant developments to keep an eye on.  Historically, when private equity investors and foreign investors are buying while REITs are net sellers it is a contrary indicator that the market is near a top.  In addition, REIT yields are now below those of Baa bonds, (even when train-wreck energy and commodity company corporate debt is excluded)  which they historically trade at a premium to.  Again, this is not exactly a positive indicator historically.  A bull might point to the fact that the corporate bond market has been chaotic of late and that foreign investors are buying for different reasons this time around, primarily as a tax shelter in a stable country.  However, there is some mounting evidence that we might be in for some turbulence.

Residential

Struggling: Home builder stocks are taking it on the chin despite an economic environment that, at least on the surface should be favorable.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: Homes in the Rust Belt have largely been a dead asset in recent years as population has fallen and economic growth has been sluggish, keeping housing prices low.  However, shortages in certain key Mid-West markets could foreshadow an uptick in prices.

The Breaking Point: With venture capital investment waning and tech firms announcing layoffs, some tech workers in the Bay Area in particular and San Francisco in general are leaving town to get away from $4,500 per month rents and home prices well over $1MM. Thus far, Portland, San Francisco, Austin and even LA appear to be the beneficiaries as workers realize that there isn’t any point to paying that much if you don’t have the stock options to go along with it.

Profiles 

The Juggernaut: As we noted on Tuesday, Tesla pre-sold sold over 276,000 new Model ‘s for 2017 delivery (update: they are now over 325,000). As a point of reference for how huge this is, Audi only sells about 180k new cars a year in the US across all model lines. Despite some concern about Tesla’s capacity to manufacturer that many cars in such a tight time frame and then provide service, this is a game changer. So far, sales of electric cars have been a niche product measured in thousands of sales a year rather than hundreds of thousands. Tesla has now proven that the electric car can and will have mass appeal in the United States. In the meantime, they are using their cars as a platform to develop battery technology that will be used as a greener power plant for homes and businesses in the future. There is one other aspect to Tesla that I find fascinating: it’s an American company building a luxury car that can compete with any luxury brand in the world. When’s the last time that happened? Old school auto makers like GM, Ford, etc. have needed to appeal to a buyers patriotism to sell cars to American consumers. Why? Because the inferior products that they were building couldn’t compete against superior products from Japan and Germany on their own. Tesla not the only can compete, it is winning. On top of that, it doesn’t need a gimmicky patriotic marketing campaign to pull it off.

A Sucker Born Every Minute: Frank Bruni of the NY Times wrote a great satirical piece as an April Fools Day joke last week claiming that Stanford dropped it’s already record-low admission rate to 0% by not admitting any students to it’s class of 2020.  Right on cue, a lot of people on the internet fell for the joke because a lot of people on the internet are idiots. (h/t Tom Reimers – a Stanford alum)

Frivolous: A group of Patriots fans is suing the NFL for taking away their teams’ 2016 1st round draft pick as a penalty for Deflate Gate.  This is the end result when sports fans don’t have a life outside of their team.  I wish that they posted a picture of the fans who are suing with the article.  I’m guessing that they look like the Patriots equivalent of this.

Chart of the Day

WTF

Revenge Stinks: A Swedish man was arrested after a woman called the police on him for “revenge farting” in her apartment and leaving a disgusting smell after she declined to sleep with him.

Seems Reasonable: A Stockton, CA man is in police custody after he attacked a man with a knife on his front yard.  Why, you ask?  The man was pooping on his lawn.

Wimps: A British gym recently put up a billboard with a picture of an alien encouraging people together in shape because, aliens will go after fat people first when they land on earth. Right on cue, easily offended presumably chubby folks got offended and called for the sign to come down because it hurt their feelings. That sound that you hear is the worlds smallest violin in the world. Maybe if they spent the time wasted on complaining working out at the gym, they wouldn’t  have an issue. Just sayin’.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links April 8th – Hide and Seek