Landmark Links September 9th – Misunderstood

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Lead Story… I doubt that any generation has ever been hyper-analyzed the way that Millennials have.  You can’t turn on the TV, read a news website site or open a newspaper (yes, some people still read them) without coming across an opinion piece purporting to know everything about Millennials: how to make them happy at work, where they want to live, how they want to shop, etc.  Much of it reads as if the people born between 1980 and 2000 are some type of exotic beings that are to be observed in their natural setting to understand how their species live.  Spare me.  I’ve long suspected that most of this is BS and that Millennials aren’t really that different from previous generations.  Most of the actual survey data that I’ve seen confirms this to a large extent.  This past weekend a collegue sent me the link to a study done by CBRE appropriately titled: Millennial Myth Buster: Young Americans Do Like the Suburbs (h/t Tom Reimers)  In this report, CBRE’s research group dug into actual migration and census data to show where Millennials are actually moving as opposed to where conventional wisdom says that they are moving (emphasis mine):

The most recent available annual data (2014) show that 2.8 million people moved from the suburbs to cities that year; however, 4.6 million did the opposite.1 Since this runs contrary to the prevailing narrative about urbanization, it’s worth digging into the data to see what’s behind these numbers.

There are many ways to look at domestic migration——age, education and profession are all useful in breaking it down. In recent years, media stories have frequently focused on the role of millennials——those born between 1980 and 1995, roughly——in driving the resurgence of downtown areas. The focus on this generation was not unwarranted; millennials are now the largest age group in the country and make up the largest segment of the U.S. workforce. It is fair to say, however, that census data disagree with the media on where millennials actually live and where they have been moving to.

Approximately 30% of millennials live within urban areas. The other 70% do not appear to be rushing to move downtown: In 2014, 529,000 people between the ages of 25 and 29 moved from cities to the suburbs, while only 426,000 moved in the opposite direction. For younger millennials aged between 20 and 24, the flow’s direction was even more pronounced, with 721,000 moving out of cities for the suburbs and 554,000 leaving the suburbs to pursue life in the city. It’s true that some of those moving to the suburbs were returning to childhood rooms or basements in their parents’ homes, but the migration trend still holds: not every millennial can or wants to live downtown.

Ok, so that’s just one year but the data has actually been remarkably consistent over time. This is one case where the facts are 180 degrees away from the narrative.  The US is getting more suburban, not more urban.  CBRE’s conclusion was particularly interesting as it pointed out that younger people often want urban amenities but still a suburban setting (emphasis mine):

The remarkable discrepancy between population data and the prevailing narrative raises questions about the preferences of young people in the U.S. What do they want? Simply put: space and an urban feel. One recent survey showed that 81% of young people (defined as millennials and those born in the late 70s) want three bedrooms or more in their residence. Their responses regarding geography reflected this preference: two-thirds of respondents stated a desire to live in the suburbs, while only one in ten wanted to live in a city center. Such findings are corroborated by the results of another survey, in which nearly two-thirds of millennial-aged respondents self-identified as suburbanites or rural people.

Still, millennials have a reputation for appreciating the perks of urban life, such as easy access to public transportation, shops, restaurants and offices. This does not necessarily translate into demand for downtown real estate, however. Suburbs too, can develop in ways that appeal to younger demographics, by incorporating elements of urban life in suburban areas. This is occurring in metros across the country. New terms have even been coined to describe quasi-urban areas in the suburbs——among them, ‘‘hipsturbia’’ and ‘‘urban burbs.’’

I highly suggest reading the entire piece.  IMO, the reason that the media gets this wrong is that urbanization is primarily happening in the areas where they tend to be based: NY, LA, SF, DC, etc.  Influencers live in these places, witness urbanization occurring and assume that it’s happening everywhere else as well.  These large, wealthy, mostly coastal cities do not look like the rest of the US from a demographic standpoint and their demographic trends shouldn’t be extrapolated to everyone else.  I hate to break it to many of you but the average Millennial isn’t a mustachioed hipster wearing skinny jeans and drinking organic kombucha in a Brooklyn organic juice co-op.  He or she actually looks a whole lot more like you and I than we’ve all been led to believe.

Economy

Changing Tune: Barry Ritholtz of Ritholtz Wealth Management, The Big Picture Blog and Bloomberg View was a critic of banks as a risk to the US economy long before the crash in 2008.  Now that the crisis has been over for several years, he’s finally giving the all-clear as banks have finally deleveraged a bit and refilled the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund.  See Also: A longtime proponent of financial industry regulation thinks that regulators may have taken things too far in the wake of the Great Recession, leading to mountains of red tape and rising compliance costs.

Full Turn: Inequality in the US used to be most evident in the South.  Today, it’s most pronounced along the coasts.

Eating Well: How foodie culture defied expectations and not only survived but thrived post-recession.

Commercial

Slip Sliding Away: Walmart killed off rural downtowns when they started offering goods for cheaper prices.  Walmart’s position has been steadily eroded in recent years by big box stores like Costco and e-commerce, primarily Amazon.  Two interesting related stories this week:

  1. Costco is struggling as online bulk shopping provides strong competition. (h/t Mike Nash)
  2. Amazon, which is a primary culprit in the decline of Walmart, big box stores and malls is now starting it’s own delivery fleet, which could pose an existential threat to UPS and FedEx.

Residential

If Headlines Were Honest: Alternative headline from Bloomberg early this week: Housing Boom to Keep Going Even if Rates Rise Says CEO of Highly Levered Public Home Building Company.

Staying Away: Beazer made a tender offer to buy back $300MM in debt due in 2018 in yet another example of public builders spending money on pretty much anything except for land.

Profiles

Explains a Lot: Florida resident Dave Barry recently wrote a book about his freak-show of a state, a portion of which was excerpted by the Wall Street Journal last week in a well-titled article called – Florida: The Punchline State.  I recommend that you read the whole thing if you consider yourself a connoisseur of weird Florida news.  My favorite excerpt (emphasis mine):

The point is that, yes, Florida, because of its unique shape and warm climate, does have an unusually high percentage of low-IQ people doing stupid things, frequently naked. But most of these people came here from other states, the very same states that are laughing at Florida. Those of us who live here have to contend with not just our native-born stupid, but your stupid, too. We are like Ellis Island, except instead of taking the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we take people who yearn to pleasure themselves into a stuffed animal at Wal-Mart.

House of Cards: Some Great investigative reporting from Nick Bilton of Vanity Fair on the downfall of Theranos and founder Elizabeth Holmes.

Can You Hear Me Now: New study finds that your dog knows exactly what the hell you are talking about.

Chart of the Day

Myth Busters – Urban Migration Edition

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WTF

Swedish Meatballs: A guy got his testicle stuck in an ill-designed Ikea chair and took to Facebook to complain about it (h/t Mandy McDonnell)

Inside Joke: North Korea just banned sarcasm. Seriously.

Bad Selfie: A battery suspect was apprehended after he used the police department’s “wanted” poster as his new Facebook profile picture, because Florida.

Misdirected Anger: A woman who was angry with her ex set the wrong car on fire,  because, once again, Florida.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links September 9th – Misunderstood

Landmark Links June 17th – WTF

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Lead Story….  Generally, I try to keep this blog focused on national and regional real estate and economic issues (and strange news out of the swamps of Florida).  Ever so often though, a local story comes up that illustrates the bat-shit-crazy nature of entitlement and real estate development in coastal California and the discretionary gauntlet that developers must run in order to get a project approved.  Today is one of those days.

There is a property in Costa Mesa near our office called the Autoplex Strip Mall.  It’s an older project that was built back in the 1950s or 1960s (I’m guessing) that has several automotive repair shops, small restaurants and gyms as tenants.  It’s a bit of a hodgepodge to say the least.  It’s also at the foot of the John Wayne Airport runway. Seriously, planes are taking off over your head and the runway ends right across the road.  I want to be upfront about three things here: 1) I know one of the owners well but have actually never discussed this project with him (I first became aware of it about a week ago when a tenant was handing out flyers – we’ll get to that later); 2) One of the sandwich shops in the center is a Landmark favorite and we go there at least twice a week – we do not want to see it go; and 3) Landmark is not involved in current or future financing of the property at this time.

Now that we have that out of the way, the center has become financially unsustainable due to the decline of the auto tenants that dominate it, due in part to dealerships incentivising repair services and parts in house.  As such, the owner made the strategic decision around a year ago to process a zoning change and redevelop the property as self storage along with a food hall concept that I believe is modeled after 4th Street Market in Santa Ana.  The owner proposed a sustainable structure that would reduce traffic, improve curb appeal and make the property economically viable in the future.  They also gave the tenants advance notice last August rather than evicting them before the process as many landlords do when they are re-developing.  Groundbreaking wouldn’t happen until at least October, 2017.

On the surface, it looks like the owner did everything right:  he left the tenants in place to give them plenty of time to find a new locations, designed a sustainable, aesthetically pleasing building that provides amenities that the area needs, reduces traffic impact and is economically viable.  But doing things right doesn’t count for much when it comes to the bizarre and often borderline-capricious world of land entitlements in California.  As the Daily Pilot reported, the project lost a 4-1 vote at planning commission:

The Costa Mesa Planning Commission recommended Monday that the City Council deny a proposed 744-unit self-storage project, saying the developers should do more to soften the blow for business owners who would be displaced by the project.

Commissioners voted 4-1, with Chairman Robert Dickson dissenting, to advise the council to reject plans to demolish the 37,883-square-foot Autoplex strip mall at 375 Bristol St. and replace it with a two-story facility with about 98,800 square feet of storage space, plus a freestanding 5,000-square-foot food hall and a 1,200-square-foot management office.

A project getting shot down at the Planning Commission level is not newsworthy in and of itself.  It happens all the time.  In fact, Planning Commission merely makes a recommendation to the City Council and Council then gets the final vote on whether or not the project gets approved.  What is unusual here is why this proposal got shot down.  Again, from the Daily Pilot (highlights mine):

Commissioners repeatedly praised the project’s design but were concerned by the strident opposition of Autoplex tenants whose shops would face the wrecking ball if the proposal moves forward.

“I have a lot of trouble approving this project, not because there are deviations with it or because I think it generates traffic or that it’s too tall, but because I don’t think we’ve done enough good-faith efforts to deal with the ramifications of the project,” Commissioner Colin McCarthy said.

So the Planning Commission denied a project, not because it was poorly designed or didn’t fit the surrounding area but because they had concerns about the existing commercial tenants in a complex that isn’t economically viable.  Apparently the Costa Mesa Planning Commission missed the 8th grade civics class where property rights was discussed.  How did the tenants manage to put so much pressure on Planning Commission?  They put together an organized campaign and were handing out fliers to their customers asking them to write emails to the Commission in order to oppose the project.  I know this because I received one.  But it gets even worse.  Planning Commission actually asked project spokesman Paul Freeman whether relocation assistance had been considered for displaced businesses.  Mind you, this isn’t a situation where a developer is tearing down affordable apartments to build a new tower, displacing long-time residents who can’t afford new housing in the area.  These are commercial tenants operating for-profit businesses in a center that someone else owns that is becoming economically obsolete.  When asked for comment about relocation assistance, Mr. Freeman sounded understandably frustrated:

“We haven’t discussed that and I don’t know what precedent there is for that.  At the end of the day, what do we have? We have a property owner making a decision that the current business model is not sustainable. And what have we brought in? We’ve brought in a project that has less traffic, no variances. It increases the most popular uses, the food, and is a really beautiful building.”

In an added bit of absurdity, commissioners acknowledged that the property owners have a right to redevelop the property (at least they got that part right) but still held on to the notion that the tenants somehow come before that right.  In an email to the Daily Pilot, Mr Freeman wrote that it seemed that the property owners were being

“Effectively punished for doing the right thing. Rather than kick out the tenants immediately and go to the city with a plan to redevelop empty buildings, they chose to give years of notice and promise to pay in the event of early terminations.   The commissioners said they loved the project except they couldn’t support it owing to the tenants’ opposition, which commissioners took as a measure of the owners’ failure to do what they should have done to ‘work things out,’ I’ve rarely seen anything like it.”

 The moral of this story is that no good deed goes unpunished in the wacky world of California entitlements.  Ironically, the landlord would have been better off servicing the tenants with termination notices rather than letting them stay in place while entitlements were being processed, leaving them to effectively organize their opposition.  The leases between the Landlord and Tenant should govern the rights of each party, not Planning Commission which should stick to reviewing projects relative to zoning and design conformance with surrounding neighbors rather than sticking it’s nose where it clearly doesn’t belong.  Hopefully Costa Mesa City Council overturns this nonsense in short order.

Economy

Stuck in the Mud: As expected the Fed didn’t raise rates at their June meeting.  In addition, Janet Yellen acknowledged that the forces holding rates down may be around for a long time, causing the Fed to rethink the anticipated pace of future increases. The 10-Year US Treasury Bond is now at it’s lowest yield since 2012.  See Also: The German 10-Year bond yield dipped into negative territory for the first time on record this week which begs the question: is German government debt riding a bubble?

Wage Rage? Despite the latest blah jobs report, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s wage growth tracker is indicating that the labor market is tightening which should lead to higher wages.

Black Box: China’s 134 city commercial banks which hold 15% of the nation’s commercial banking assets are piling into opaque investment products as bad loans are increasing. This financial engineering could lead to catastrophe if credit quality continues to decline.

Residential

End Around: The California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA has long been utilized as a weapon against new development by NIMBY’s, environmentalists and extortionist attorneys.   But developers are fighting back.  Their newest weapon?  The ballot box.

Nowhere Near the Top: Real estate licensees boomed back in the bubble days.  As Calculated Risk shows, despite increasing prices, they are still way down (31.9% for agents and 11.8% for brokers) from the highs.

On the Ledge?  Luxury urban housing is one segment of the market that has performed quite well in this cycle.  According to Chapman University Economist Joel Kotkin, it was largely built on a myth: that wealthy retired Baby Boomers were going to move to urban markets in droves.  In reality, there has been more migration by Boomers to the suburbs than there has to the city even as the luxury urban pipeline continues to expand.  The buyers (and renters) of the luxury urban units are often wealthy foreign nationals, a source of demand that can change based on several factors including capital controls and currency fluctuation versus the dollar.  Foreign demand is waning and Kotkin believes that the luxury urban market will soon be on the ropes. Contra: How an influx of younger, wealthier residents has transformed US cities.

Profiles

Linked Up: Microsoft bought Linkedin for over $26 billion this week in a transaction that may have been more driven by Linkedin’s reliance on stock-based compensation of the than many realizee.  See Also: Why is Microsoft borrowing money to purchase Linkedin when it has $100 billion of cash on it’s balance sheet?  Taxes.

Shake Down Street Vendors: Street vending in NY was once a path to a better life for many immigrant entrepreneurs.  However, the black market for cart permits, spurred on by city over-regulation and limits to the number of permits issued can cost a vendor tens of thousands of dollars a year often traps would be entrepreneurs in a spiral of low wages that’s virtually impossible to escape.

Chart of the Day

WTF

He Who Smelt it Dealt It: A smelly fart in a Key West bar led to a brawl, because Florida. See Also: A Florida man’s flatulence in bed resulted in a can of pepper spray being discharged and the arrest of his wife.

Fairy Tale Romance: Meet the pig and kangaroo who have been carrying on an illicit affair on an Australian farm for more than a year.  I honestly can’t do this justice with words so I’m going to post a couple of pictures.

A Sydney student photographed a kangaroo and a pig getting intimate while on a research trip to the Northern Territory Mr Frazer said when the kangaroo was 'finished' the pig tried to jump on his back to 'reciprocate'

FAIL: A few years ago, villagers in Xianfeng, China brought in 73 of macaque monkeys to live there in order to increase tourism.  It didn’t work but the monkeys don’t seem to care.  Their numbers have multiplied to 600 and they have now overwhelmed the village, damaging crops and biting tourists.

That’s One Way to Deal with It: A New Mexico man set fire to his apartment to avoid escape his neighbors’ loud sex.

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

Visit us at Landmarkcapitaladvisors.com

Landmark Links June 17th – WTF