The luxury real estate story starts at 20:58 into the broadcast:
The luxury real estate story starts at 20:58 into the broadcast:
Michelle Conlin of Reuters gives a nice overview of the state of the US housing on PBS, talking through the national reports that hit us recently. Check it out. This month’s weak NAR Existing Home Sales report has unleashed a surge of housing self-loathing (although today’s PHSI seems to take some of the drama/edge off).
If you missed this show on TV, it is now available in its entirety online. It’s an excellent collaboration between WNET/THIRTEEN and The Real Deal on the noted architect. I loved the way the assemblage of development air rights – basically a high stakes secret chess match – was presented.
Note to self: ask Amir Korangy, TRD’s publisher to do a doc on me someday – it would be brief, boring and attract little interest, but hey, who wouldn’t want their own doc?
This weekend I ripped through a terrific book The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson written back in 2004. Even if you’re not a lobster fan, I marveled at how he could take a mundane subject and weave an interesting (true) story on how the lobstermen of Maine have kept the production elevated for the past several decades, despite consistent claims of overfishing. (Incidentally my lobster pots were stolen this weekend, lines probably cut by commercial fisherman, plus we had 30 family members over to our house for the 4th for a lobster/clam bake.)
No one really knew whether cyclical declines in the number of pounds caught were natural or induced by man.
In other words, this is all about subprime lending.
While trying to find my interview on NPR about last week’s market reports (I was unsuccessful) I stumbled upon a WNYC interview with the Trevor Corson last week (the day our report was released) without using keywords such as “lobster,” “fishing” or “Maine”.
He correlated the sharp drop in Lobster prices this year with the collapse of the Iceland banking system via subprime lending. It’s worth a listen.
And here’s his related piece in The Atlantic magazine. Fascinating.
Basically, lobster prices have maintained a high price level for the past decade. A large portion of the catch was diverted to processing plants in Canada keeping supply of fresh lobsters restrained in the U.S. The Canadian plants shipped lobster products all over the world and were mainly financed by Icelandic banks who provided them revolving lines of credit. When the subprime crisis hit, these banks collapsed because of their heavy investment in financially engineered subprime mortgage products. As the lines of credit dried up, so did the processing plants and the excess harvests were stuck in the U.S. driving down wholesale lobster prices.
Oversupply of housing driving down prices correlates to the “V-notch” technique to increase the lobster population. I won’t even bring up the V-shaped recovery“, since I’m still full from our lobster bake.
Somehow it all comes back to lobsters.
UPDATE On a side note, the wholesale cost to restaurants has fallen sharply but the consumer is largely unaware of the drop, so restaurants have enjoyed a larger spread between what they charge you and what it costs them. Have you ever noticed how many lobster related items appear on a typical mid to upscale restaurant menu? It seems to be 4-5 items now have lobster in them. Menus used to contain one lobster item, a whole steamed version. Now lobster mac & cheese is a popular favorite. Thank synthetic CDOs for that.
About this time last year (and the year before that) I was interviewed by Suzanne Pratt of the Nightly Business Report, a news mainstay for 30 years, on the state of the New York City housing market. The situation has deteriorated quite a bit since last year. This segment “Reviving The Economy: Real Estate“
Listen to the segment – starts at the 15 minute mark.
Also sorry about crowding Matrix with a bunch of media stuff this week. Apparently people seem to want to talk and hear about the housing market these days, front and center.
Given the uptick in the financial markets this week, the positive sign that many seem to be taking from it, and the fact that it involves endless digits of circular numeric calculations, yesterday was Friday the 13th (there are 4 in 2009), so we should:
Do The Math After all, its 3.14…
National Pi Day: Congress took time from it’s busy bailout schedule designating today as National Pi Day.
Here is, quite appropriately, an attempt at a monetized version. Some even argue that Pi is better than sex, but I suspect that is difficult to calculate. Wikipedia has an amazing presentation on Pi for those who are curious. Here’s the million digit version.
Ï€ is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter
Ï€ can be also defined as the ratio of a circle’s area to the area of a square whose side is equal to the radius
In real estate economics (Matrix-wise), a Pi-type formula might be expressed as:
property value = ((consumer confidence + (1-their employment outlook/their employment outlook)) + (personal drive for home ownership x irrational behavior) + ((total distance from schools+ total distance from employment)/(White Castle projected visits/Whole Foods projected visits))/(mortgage rates x cash on hand x affordability ratios x size of down payment)/(mood of bank underwriter – name on stadium factor + amount borrowed from US Treasury))
In other words, its complicated.
Ok, back to reality.
Yesterday I experienced six degrees of Yoram Bauman. More on that later.
Ok, so I drove into the city instead of taking the train and got to listen to N. Gregory Mankiw on NPR talking about his New York Times editorial piece on government spending.
He’s one of the big economists of the day who was the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under president Bush, a professor of economics at Harvard University and most importantly, he wrote my son’s college textbook on macroeconomics. But he reminded me of Yoram Bauman.
But I digress.
Mankiw seemed to be saying that large government can’t management the spending that will be required for these stimulus plans and will result in a lot of waste, basically because we are rushing to do this without really analyzing it. Of course, we don’t have the luxury of time to do the due diligence either. So I really didn’t get much out of his interview or the NYT opinion piece.
You must watch the clip: Ten Principles Of Economics: Translated if you haven’t already. Please. I’m begging you.
When surfing later in the day, I ran across Yoram today on PBS Newshour blog. Its a brief interview but I would love to see him live if he comes back to New York.
Words of wisdom
Micro economists are wrong about specific things and macro economists are wrong about things in general.
I was interviewed by Suzanne Pratt of the long running PBS Nightly Business Report that was broadcast last night. She was covering the New York part of a five city series called A Tale of 5 Cities that covers Washington, DC, New York, Detroit, Silicon Valley and South Florida.
My immediate thought after watching the first segment (on tuesday) concerned a comment someone made that went something like:
…when the housing market stabilizes….
I am trying to figure out what that phrase really means. In other words, does that mean the rate of sales will level off, the pace of sales decline will ease, sales prices will flatten, the pace of sales decline will level off, permits will rise, inventory will level off, etc.
And what is going to get better in the short term to make the market reach a bottom, however it is defined? For the life of me, I don’t know right now. Affordability would be the obvious choice but tighter credit has made it necessary for housing prices to fall further before affordability is on par with a year or two ago. More time needs to pass and more things need to shake out.
UPDATE: View the transcript
Well, I stumbled across what looks to be a neat media blog at PBS called [MediaShift](http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/11/top_5_week_fortyfive.html) written by Mark Glaser.
[Its got a pretty good overview of the whole real estate obsession](http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2006/11/digging_deepernewspaper_bubble.html): bubble, bust, boom, expansion, crash with a heavy dose of vitreol, vengeance, blamethemedia and spin phenomenon and links to the leading blog resources. (ok, ok, Matrix is one of them…I was going to get to that).
I found his slant interesting (hey, its PBS), and perhaps ironic, that the leading bubble bloggers are supposedly making a lot of money (or so they say, yet haven’t quit their day jobs (I thought [Ben Jones](http://thehousingbubbleblog.com/) did?)).
However, I got the impression after reading this PBS piece, that these bubble bloggers were therefore incentivized to fuel the flames to get more readers, namely renters and burned investors (aka more advertising) but still venting their pure emotional frustration with the situation. Try to find one positive aspect of the current real estate market on any bubble blogs. It doesn’t exist because its contrary to the purpose of those blogs to begin with. I guess their counter point would be that there are no positive elements in the current market.
I suppose its a little of both. Bubble blogging was born out of a serious concern over the housing market and the spin from the real estate industry and now it seems to have matured and evolved into a mainstream phenonemon, which seems contrary to why it evolved to begin with. I guess cycles apply to everything. There is some great stuff out there written by people who care about the topic at a pretty deep level, but it doesn’t always mean its accurate or doesn’t have an agenda or spin behind it. They also seem to be free from lawsuits unlike Big Media (since they don’t have deep pockets).
Its a continuing battle to remain pure.
But I guess thats the same with all topics. Think about conversations around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. I am sure the topics for many included politics, religion and of course, real estate.
Mainstream media has tried to figure out blogging with some failures, but increasingly, more success. Included in my list of favorite real estate blogs (and columns) are many from “big media”, several were referenced in his column.
Real estate blogging is going to evolve and change. Technology and consumer acceptance all play a role. I can’t even imagine what the genre is going to look like when the real estate market has another up cycle.
Lord help us.
I always admired Milton Friedman because he spoke with such clarity over complex economic issues and because he was so refreshing and full of new ideas. The first economics book I actually enjoyed was [Capitalism and Freedom](http://www.amazon.com/Capitalism-Freedom-Anniversary-Milton-Friedman/dp/0226264211/sr=8-1/qid=1163762974/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/102-3436246-0198557?ie=UTF8&s=books). [When I learned of his death [Ch. Trib.]](http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/la-111606friedman,1,5214109.story?coll=chi-news-hed), I decided to re-read it.
He believed in less government control and the power of free markets. For example, housing was something government should have a limited roll in. [Here’s a transcript](http://www.hoover.org/publications/uk/3411401.html) and video excerpt from the show [Uncommon Knowledge](http://vodwins.stanford.edu/hoover/Libert200.asx).
Here’s an excerpt:
FRIEDMAN Housing and Urban Development has done a enormous amount of harm. My god, if you think of the way in which they’ve destroyed parts of cities under the rubric of eliminating slums. You remember Martin Anderson wrote a book on the federal bulldozer describing the effect of the urban development. There’ve been many more dwelling units torn down in the name of public housing than have been built.
ROBINSON Jack Kemp has proposed selling to the current inhabitants of public housing their unit- their townhouse, their apartment for a dollar apiece and just shifting the ownership to the people who live..
FRIEDMAN If you got rid of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it would be worth doing that.
[From the Chicago Tribune:](http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/la-111606friedman,1,5214109.story?coll=chi-news-hed)
Friedman was considered a leading economic thinker of the 20th century. His many prescriptions for policy, notably on managing the nation’s money supply and curbing the welfare state, influenced presidents and presidential candidates dating back to the 1960s. His sweeping, pro-capitalist ideas earned him legions of followers domestically and overseas, while also sparking dissent and controversy.
Friedman was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 1976 for a body of “original and weighty work,” including his money supply research, which jurors said had influenced fellow scholars as well as the U.S. Federal Reserve and the central banks of other nations.
Friedman’s influence extended far beyond the ivory tower. He became an economist-celebrity, promoting his passionate beliefs in books, magazines and television appearances. With confidence and a professor’s logic, he sought to demolish the conventional wisdom after World War II that government must play a sweeping role in people’s lives.
[From the AP:](http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/292696_obitfriedman17.html)
Friedman favored a policy of steady, moderate growth in the money supply, opposed wage and price controls and criticized the Federal Reserve when it tried to fine-tune the economy.
A believer in the principles of 18th century economist Adam Smith, he consistently argued that individual freedom should rule economic policy. Friedman saw his theories attacked by many traditional economists such as Harvard’s John Kenneth Galbraith.
More than anyone else, Milton Friedman was responsible for challenging the worldview of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who believed in the power of government to guide and stimulate economic growth. As an alternative to Keynesianism, he put forth a more laissez-faire philosophy known as monetarism—the doctrine that the best thing the government can do is supply the economy with the money it needs and stand aside.
[Here’s a great collection of brief clips [SA]](http://usmarket.seekingalpha.com/article/20800) from a PBS special he did in 1980. I inserted one of them below on the problem with the gold standard.
Getting Graphic is a semi-sort-of-irregular collection of our favorite BIG real estate-related chart(s).
[Click here to expand](http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2006/08/19/business/20060819_CHARTS_GRAPHIC.html)
With all the buzz about the consumer’s 2/3 share of the economy and housing as the biggest purchase in many of our lives, [we have tended to be housing-centric [pbs]](http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/business/july-dec06/housing_08-23.html) in the search through the tea leaves.
Sometimes I think that we can be better informed by looking at other industries for the health of the economy as it relates to the housing market rather than the other way around.
And since I was just in Detroit to visit family, what better way to look at the housing market, than to look at the impact of the auto industry on the economy? Afterall, 1 in 6 jobs is linked to this sector.
Floyd Norris does that for us in his [A Car-Sales Indicator Suggests a Recession Is Near or Already Here [NYT]](http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/19/business/19charts.html) using census data.
The accompanying chart shows the rate of change in sales by new-car dealers, comparing the most recent 12 months with the 12 months before that; it is adjusted for inflation. The rule — unveiled here for the first time — is that if the figure is down 2 percent or more, a recession is either under way or set to begin within a few months. The figure fell to a negative 2.4 percent when June sales figures were released last week by the Census Bureau.
There is, of course, no mystery now as to what the problems are for car dealers. They are pinched by the slumping real estate market because people can take less money out of home equity to buy cars. And soaring gasoline prices have made driving much more expensive and new-car payments more burdensome. In July, sales at gasoline stations accounted for 10 percent of all retail sales, the highest figure in decades.
We are starting to see warnings from large car dealerships. [This one is from AutoNation [OCR]](http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister/money/economy/article_1251196.php).
The result? Its a double edged sword. An offset, or perhaps not enough of one. Recession means a weaker economy and falling borrowing costs, but it also means layoffs, lack of job growth and more consumer pessimism, which brings more complacency about housing.