Commercial Real Estate

Ukraine's Richest Man Mobilizes Private 'Army' After Assets Threatened

Rinat Akhmetov - Ukraine's richest man with an estimated worth of $11.4 billion - has, as Reuters reports, acquired almost feudal status in the industrial hub of Donetsk in the past 20 years - but the separatist rebellions there have altered the dynamics of power. This is not acceptable to the billionaire and so he has demanded his miners and metalworkers join police on patrol on Mariupol. As pro-Russian rebels declaring independence seized public buildings across the steel and coal belt which is the basis of his colossal fortune, he issued repeated written statements in support of a united Ukraine... but the media-shy 47-year-old, who has a workforce of 300,000 people on his payroll in the Donbass, has to tread carefully around local sensitivities and has avoided specifically condemning the action of the separatists.

The Decline Of Small Business And The Middle Class

It is not coincidental that the middle class and small business are both in decline. Entrepreneurial enterprise and small business have long been stepping stones to middle class incomes and generational wealth, i.e. wealth that is passed down to future generations rather than consumed. As the headwinds to entrepreneurial enterprise and small business rise, the pathway to middle class prosperity narrows.

Algos Concerned By Sudden USDJPY Tumble, But Then They Remember It Is Tuesday

In this brave New Normal world, a Chinese contraction is somehow expected to be offset by a rebound in Europe's worst economies, because following China's latest PMI miss, overnight we were told of beats in the Service PMI in Spain (56.5, vs Exp. 54.0, a 7 year high sending the Spanish 10 Year to fresh sub 3% lows), Italy at 51.1, vs Exp. 50.5, also pushing Italian yields to record lows, and France 50.4 (Exp. 50.3). We would speculate that macro events such as these, as fabricated as they may be, are relevant or even market-moving, but they aren't - all that matters is what the JPY and VIX traders at the NY Fed do in a low volume tape, usually in the last 30 minutes of the trading day. And since the trading day today happens to be a Tuesday, and nothing ever goes down on a Tuesday, the outcome is pretty much clear, and not even the absolutely abysmal Barclays earnings report has any chance of denting the latest rigged and manufactured low-volume levitation.

Frontrunning: April 21

  • Putin playing the long game over Russian kin in Ukraine (Reuters)
  • U.S.-Russia Relations Come Full Circle After Ukraine (WSJ)
  • Japan PM makes offering to Yasukuni Shrine, angers China, South Korea (Reuters)
  • In Gold Miners' Talks, Scale Is Crucial: Combined Barrick-Newmont Would Be Able to Trim Costs (WSJ)
  • SEC Said to Weigh Shining Light on Brokers’ Stock Routing (BBG)... and protmply unweigh it
  • Exelon Beating Facebook in S&P 500 After Valuation Scare (BBG)
  • Court Case May Help Define 'Insider Trading' (WSJ)
  • Spanish banks face tough rivalry in small companies bet (Reuters)

HFT Trader Busted For Spoofing Nearly Cheated His Way To The Top Of CNBC's Million-Dollar Challenge

Dondero had quite a "track record" of illegal trading activity before he was finally busted for one last time engaging in HFT spoofing. However, it is not his FINRA brokercheck record that is of interest, but the fact that back in 2007, in the first ever CNBC Million-Dollar challenge, it was none other than Dondero who almost won. And yes, he nearly manipulated his way to the $1 million prize money then too. Only, the way he did fudged his winning percentage was not as most other competition participants had, by abusing the widely known system glitch that allowed contestants to see which stocks were rising in after-hours trading and then to buy those stocks at the lower, 4 p.m. EST closing price, but using a far more devious scheme. One which is reminiscent of the crime that last week just ended his trading career in the real world as well.

Frontrunning: April 3

  • Russia says expects answers on NATO troops in eastern Europe (Reuters)
  • Dealers say GM customer anxiety rising, sales may take hit (Reuters)
  • China Unveils Mini-Stimulus Measure (WSJ)
  • Londoners Priced Out of Housing Blame Foreigners (BBG)
  • New earthquake in Chile prompts tsunami alerts (Reuters)
  • Ukrainian Billionaire Charged by U.S. With Bribe Scheme (BBG)
  • Chinese Investments in U.S. Commercial Real Estate Surges (BBG)
  • Old Math Casts Doubt on Accuracy of Oil Reserve Estimates (BBG)
  • US secretly created 'Cuban Twitter' to stir unrest (AP)

The Greatest Propaganda Coup Of Our Time?

There’s good propaganda and bad propaganda. Bad propaganda is generally crude, amateurish Judy Miller “mobile weapons lab-type” nonsense that figures that people are so stupid they’ll believe anything that appears in “the paper of record.” Good propaganda, on the other hand, uses factual, sometimes documented material in a coordinated campaign with the other major media to cobble-together a narrative that is credible, but false. The so called Fed’s transcripts, which were released last week, fall into the latter category... But while the conversations between the members are accurately recorded, they don’t tell the gist of the story or provide the context that’s needed to grasp the bigger picture. Instead, they’re used to portray the members of the Fed as affable, well-meaning bunglers who did the best they could in ‘very trying circumstances’. While this is effective propaganda, it’s basically a lie, mainly because it diverts attention from the Fed’s role in crashing the financial system, preventing the remedies that were needed from being implemented (nationalizing the giant Wall Street banks), and coercing Congress into approving gigantic, economy-killing bailouts which shifted trillions of dollars to insolvent financial institutions that should have been euthanized.  What I’m saying is that the Fed’s transcripts are, perhaps, the greatest propaganda coup of our time.

What Does Bill Ackman Know About The Future Of Commercial Real Estate?

Bill Ackman helped rescue General Growth Properties (GGP) - the US 2nd largest shopping mall operator - from bankruptcy in 2009/10 as the company collapsed in the financial crisis. Ackman  "turned $60 million into $1.6 billion" in the process but, according to Bloomberg, has now exited his entire position, dumping his final 28 million share back to the company via a buyback. The spin, of course, is that it's right to take profits and that GGP is now 'a much different company than it was then." However, given Ackman's knowledge of JCP (and perhaps RSH), we can't help but wonder, given all the exuberance about Fed tapering must mean the recovery is here and sustainable - just why Ackman would unload it all at such a pivotal time in the US economy...?

An "Austrian" Bill Gross Warns: "The Days Of Getting Rich Quickly Are Over... Getting Rich Slowly May Be As Well"

If readers ignore the rest from the latest monthly insight from Bill Gross of PIMCO, they should at least read the following insight which we agree with wholeheartedly: "our PIMCO word of the month is to be “careful.” Bull markets are either caused by or accompanied by credit expansion. With credit growth slowing due in part to lower government deficits, and QE now tapering which will slow velocity, the U.S. and other similarly credit-based economies may find that future growth is not as robust as the IMF and other model-driven forecasters might assume. Perhaps the whisper word of “deflation” at Davos these past few weeks was a reflection of that.... don’t be a pig in today’s or any day’s future asset markets. The days of getting rich quickly are over, and the days of getting rich slowly may be as well. Most medieval, perhaps." Where have we read this recently? Why in An “Austrian View” Approach To Equity Prices in particular and the bulk of Austrian economics in general. Which means that following the TBAC, i.e. the committee that really runs the US, none other than the manager of the world's largest bond fund has now moved over to the Austrian side. Welcome.

The Federal Reserve's Nuclear Option: A One-Way Street to Oblivion

The point isn't that "the Fed can't do that;" the point is that the Fed cannot create a bid in bidless markets that lasts beyond its own buying. The Fed can buy half the U.S. stock market, all the student loans, all the subprime auto loans, all the defaulted CRE and residential mortgages, and every other worthless asset in America. But that won't create a real bid for any of those assets, once they are revealed as worthless. The nuclear option won't fix anything, because it is fundamentally the wrong tool for the wrong job. Holders of disintegrating assets will be delighted to sell the assets to the Fed, of course, but that won't fix what's fundamentally broken in the American and global economies; it will simply allow the transfer of impaired assets from the financial sector and speculators to the Fed.

Radioshack Celebrates One Year Anniversary Of Closing 500 Stores By Closing 500 More

If it seems like it was exactly a year ago that turmoiling retailer Radioshack shut down 500 stores due to lack of consumer interest in its wares (and or consumer disposable cash), it is because it was. So how does Radioshack demonstrate its morbid sense of humor on the one year anniversary of said announcement? Well, by closing another 500, or about 12% of the retailer's total 4500 outlets currently in existence. The WSJ reports that the company which once was the butt of all LBO-rumor jokes (and still is, only this time in the context of an M&A-rumor with JCPenney and/or the Joseph A. Wearhouse joint venture), is "planning to close around 500 stores in the coming months as the electronics retailer continues working with advisers to restructure the company."

Should The Fed Stop The Dominoes From Falling?

The forest (the economy) can only remain vibrant and healthy if the dead wood is burned off in bankruptcy and insolvency. Retail commercial real estate is over-built and over-leveraged. If it is allowed to burn off as Nature intended, we can finally move forward.

Dead Mall Syndrome: The Self-Reinforcing Death Spiral of Retail

The decay of the "build it and they will come" model of commercial real estate is gathering speed for a simple systemic reason: the decline is self-reinforcing in several critical ways. Before we start the analysis, let's ask a basic question: How much of the stuff and services purchased at retail outlets, malls, strip malls, etc. is absolutely necessary and how much is excess consumption? Conventional "Growth by any means" Cargo Cultists such as Paul Krugman never ask this basic question, because the answer (very little is essential, most is excess consumption) undermines the entire narrative that all growth is good, even the most marginal, unsustainable, wasteful and fiscally imprudent. I've captured the essence of retail in America with this photo:

China's Epic Offshore Wealth Revealed: How Chinese Oligarchs Quietly Parked Up To $4 Trillion In The Caribbean

"Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals" the ICIJ's latest offshore weawlth expose begins. In addition to the usual list of who, what, where, why and when, we learn that once again the two largest Swiss banks are about to be embroiled in yet another money laundering scandal, this time involving the parking of wealth belonging to China's aristocracy - including its princelings - in various Caribbean, mostly British Virgin Island, tax havens. What is notable, if not unexpected, is just how pervasive the parking of offshore capital has been, and confirms that it is not inflow of money that the PBOC has to be afraid of when its internationalizes the Yuan, it is the outflow that will be far more worrysome. But the biggest stunner is the sheer size of the wealth transfer: according to ICIJ estimate, up to $4 trillion in "untraced assets" may have left China since 2000. These are truly epic numbers.