Commercial Real Estate
After 40 years of boozing on easy money and feasting on fantastical asset price inflations, the global monetary system is approaching catharsis, its arteries clogged and instant cardiac arrest a persistent threat. ‘Muddling through’ is the name of the game today but in the end authorities will have two choices: stop printing money and allow the market to cleanse the system of its dislocations. This would involve defaults (including those of sovereigns) and some pretty nasty asset price corrections. Or, keep printing money and risk complete currency collapse. We think they should go for option one but we fear they will go for option two. In this environment, how can people protect themselves and their property? Our three favourite assets are, in no particular order, gold, gold and gold. After that, there may be silver. We are, in our assessment, in the endgame of this, mankind’s latest and so far most ambitious, experiment with unconstrained fiat money. The present crisis is a paper money crisis. Whenever paper money dies, eternal money – gold and silver – stage a comeback. Remember, paper money is always a political tool, gold is market money and apolitical.
Foreign money is flowing heavily into US real estate markets. Now some think that foreign money is going to prop up the entire market but this is simply not the case. The money flowing in from abroad is going specifically into targeted markets. This isn’t necessarily a US trend only. Canada is experiencing a massive housing bubble from money flowing in from China in particular. Here in Southern California many cities are seeing solid money flowing in from Asian countries. You have this occurring while big fund domestic investors are buying up low priced real estate cross the country as investments. What occurs then is the crowding out of your typical home buyer. I get e-mails from local families looking to buy saying they were outbid by $50,000 or $100,000 for properties that had nothing special. Even after the crash, why does it seem hard for domestic buyers to purchase a home?
Readers of Zero Hedge know well that one of the most abhorred (by us) accounting gimmicks employed by banks each and every quarter over the past 3 years to boost their bottom line, is to engage in loan-loss reserve releases: a process which has absolutely no associated cash flow benefit, but merely boosts EPS for GAAP purposes. In some cases, like this quarter's absolutely farcical JPM earnings release, the abuse is beyond the pale, as the offending bank releases reserves even as it reports surging non-performing loans: two processes which in a normal world can not coexist. Yet quarter after quarter banks keep on doing this, and in fact a big part of Q3's to date EPS outperformance is courtesy of financial company "earnings", of which, in turn, loan losses amount to about 50% of the entire blended financials bottom line. Yet while we can rage and warn, nothing usually happens until there is a market crash due to the gross manipulation of reality that such an activity entails. Luckily, this time someone with more clout in the legacy establishment has now stood up to warn about the mounting dangers associated with the relentless abuse of loan-loss reserve releases: none other than the US Comptroller of the Currency.
Slap one out of 1000 bankers on the wrist and make millions of muppets happy???
The essence of money-laundering is that fraudulent or illegally derived assets and income are recycled into legitimate enterprises. That is the entire Federal Reserve project in a nutshell. Dodgy mortgages, phantom claims and phantom assets, are recycled via Fed purchase and "retired" to its opaque balance sheet. In exchange, the Fed gives cash to the owners of the phantom assets, cash which is fundamentally a claim on the future earnings and productivity of American citizens. Some might argue that the global drug mafia are the largest money-launderers in the world, and this might be correct. But $1.1 trillion is seriously monumental laundering, and now the Fed will be laundering another $480 billion a year in perpetuity, until it has laundered the entire portfolio of phantom mortgages and claims. The rule of law is dead in the U.S. It "cost too much" to the financial sector that rules the State, the Central Bank and thus the nation. Once the Fed has laundered all the phantom assets into cash assets and driven wages down another notch, then the process of transforming a nation of owners into a nation of serfs can be completed.
Here's the Fed's policy in plain English: Debt-serfdom is good because it enriches the banks. All hail debt-serfdom, our goal and our god!
New York's Ultraluxury Office Vacancy Rate Jumps To Two Year High As Financial Firms Brace For ImpactSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 09/29/2012 12:14 -0500
Traditionally, when it comes to reading behind the manipulated media's tea leaf rhetoric and timing major inflection points in the economy, the most accurate predictor are financial firms, whose sense of true economic upside (or downside) while never infallible, is still better than most. Yet unlike employment, which is usually a lagging, or at best concurrent indicator, one aspect that has always been a tried and true leading indicator, has been real estate demand, in this case rental contracts. Due to the long-term lock up nature of commercial real estate contracts, firms are far less eager to engage in rental transactions (and bidding wars) when they expect a worsening macroeconomic environment. Which is why news that office vacancy in Manhattan's Plaza district, the area between Sixth Avenue and the East River from 47th to 65th streets, anchored by the landmark Plaza Hotel at Fifth Avenue and Central Park South which is home to some of the nation’s most expensive and prestigious office towers, and where America's largest hedge funds and PE firms have their headquarters, has just risen to 12.3%, or a two year high, is probably the most troubling news for the economy and a real indicator of what to expect of the immediate future.
Retail has long been a source of both low-skill entry-level jobs and well-paid careers. Yes, people love to browse and stroll down the mall or shopping district, and this social/novelty function will continue. But can retailers make money off of people browsing? If retail contracts, what does this do to skyhigh commercial property valuations? The same can be asked of cubicle-farm office parks. As telecommuting and contract labor expand, the need for energy-wasting office parks and long commutes will also decline. Technology cannot be stopped, and neither can the drive to cut costs by cutting what can be cut, labor. We can legislate certain aspects of how technology is used, and fiddle with tax incentives and trade restrictions, but we cannot make people drive somewhere to go shopping or stop the 3-D printing/fabrication revolution. What all this calls into question is the entire financialization (debt-based)-consumerist model of "growth" and employment. Decades ago, young men were employed to pump gasoline at gas stations; these jobs all went away as self-service fueling became the norm. At least one state (Oregon, I believe) mandates that all gasoline is pumped by an employee of the station. This rule has created hundreds of jobs that are not necessary in terms of market-demand but that are certainly welcome.
- Deposit Flight From Europe Banks Eroding Common Currency (Bloomberg)
- BOJ eases monetary policy as global slowdown bites (Reuters)
- Stalled Rally Puts Pressure on Spain (WSJ)
- Missed Chances Stoke Skepticism Over EU’s Crisis Fight (Bloomberg)
- Germany's big worry: China, not Greece (Reuters)
- Goldman names new CFO, heralding end of an era (Reuters)
- Russia Demands U.S. Agency Halt Work (WSJ)
- Fed’s Dudley Says Easing Vital to Spur Too-Slow Growth (Bloomberg)
- Romney under fire from all sides (FT)
- Poland cuts red tape to spur growth (FT)
- IMF to Put Argentina on Path to Censure Over Inflation Data (Bloomberg)
Connecting the dots between my anecdotal observations of suburbia and a critical review of the true non-manipulated data bestows me with a not optimistic outlook for the coming decade. Is what I’m seeing just the view of a pessimist, or are you seeing the same thing? A few powerful men have hijacked our economic, financial and political structure. They aren’t socialists or capitalists. They’re criminals. They created the culture of materialism, greed and debt, sustained by prodigious levels of media propaganda. Our culture has been led to believe that debt financed consumption over morality and justice is the path to success. In reality, we’ve condemned ourselves to a slow painful death spiral of debasement and despair.
“A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, and fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.” – Chris Hedges
While Koo-nesianism is only one ideological branch removed from Keynesianism, Nomura's Richard Koo's diagnosis of the crisis the advanced economies of the world faces has been spot on. We have discussed the concept of the balance sheet recession many times and this three-and-a-half minute clip from Bloomberg TV provides the most succinct explanation of not just how we got here but why the Fed is now impotent (which may come as a surprise to those buying stocks) and why it is the fiscal cliff that everyone should be worried about. As Koo notes, the US "is beginning to look more like Japan... going through the same process that Japan went through 15 years earlier." The Japanese experience made it clear that when the private sector is minimizing debt (or deleveraging) with very low interest rates, there is little that monetary policy can do. The government cannot tell the private sector don't repay your balance sheets because private sector must repair its balance sheets. In Koo's words: "the only thing the government can do is to spend the money that the private sector has saved and put that back into the income stream" - which (rightly or wrongly) places the US economy in the hands of the US Congress (and makes the Fed irrelevant).
The tried strategy of "Baffle them with BS" continues today following the release of the June (two month delayed) Case Shiller data. Because whereas last week we showed that New Home Prices are plunging, and the average new home price just dropping to its 2012 lows, when it comes to the Case-Shiller index, things are looking up. In June, the Top 20 composite index rose by 0.94%, well above the expected increase of 0.45%. How much of this is due to the REO-to-Rental program in which we are now seeing actively securitization of rental properties, which in essence is converting more and more of the Residential market into commercial real estate, remains unclear. For now it is clear that those entities with access to cash are buying up properties in beaten down areas in hopes these will be filled by renters. On the other hand, the truth is that summer months always see the biggest pricing gains, and following the May data revision, which rose at a revised rate of 0.97%, one may observe that the pricing increase has now peaked even according to delayed CS data, and has begun its traditional rolling over pattern. And a pattern it is. As the second chart below shows very clearly, housing is now merely in the dead cat bounce phase of a broad housing quadruple dip, each one having been facilitated by either Fed or ECB intervention. We give this one a few more months before it too resumes the downward trendline so very well known to Japanese homeowners, and falls in line with the data reported by the Census department.
Real Capital Analytics (RCA) released their US commercial real estate transaction data for July last night. The only way to interpret the data is - ugly. After a dismal June (down 33% YoY), July did not see any bounce and in fact plunged 20% YoY with transactions totaling $14.6bn. As Barclays notes, the takeaway is generally negative, as the growth trend has weakened considerably since March ( which was +62% YoY). What is interesting to us is that with Treasury yields so low, the cap-rate 'spread' makes commercial real estate relatively attractive and yet no-one's buying.
Here come the facts!!! Warning, if you get your feelings hurt over hearing the truth, simply move on. You may have a couple of quarters lefft.
If you still require proof that in the short term, market action is driven by perceptions and sentiment rather than reality, here it is. It is worth quoting again what Mrs. Merkel said in Ottawa in toto:
“The European Central Bank, although it is of course independent, is completely in line with what we’ve said all along. And the results of the meeting of the central bank and their decisions, actually shows that the European Central Bank is counting on political action in the form of conditionality as the precondition for a positive development of the Euro.”
Does this sound like 'unlimited bond buying without preconditions' to anyone? No? Investors seemed to think that is what it meant. We see no painless way out for Spain, regardless of what ultimately happens. Even if the ECB were to act without conditionality or limits, it could not possibly alter the underlying solvency problems - and this isn't going to happen anyway. So what are markets currently pricing in? Everybody seems quite certain of a happy end at the moment. The bet is that massive central bank intervention is heading our way in the near future and will boost asset prices further. This is a mindset that has very likely set up the markets for disappointment.
Spain would've banned this analysis!