Author Archives: Bone Fish

Why Manhattan’s Skyscrapers Are Empty

Approximately half of the luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years remain unsold.

In Manhattan, the homeless shelters are full, and the luxury skyscrapers are vacant.

Such is the tale of two cities within America’s largest metro. Even as 80,000 people sleep in New York City’s shelters or on its streets, Manhattan residents have watched skinny condominium skyscrapers rise across the island. These colossal stalagmites initially transformed not only the city’s skyline but also the real-estate market for new homes. From 2011 to 2019, the average price of a newly listed condo in New York soared from $1.15 million to $3.77 million.

But the bust is upon us. Today, nearly half of the Manhattan luxury-condo units that have come onto the market in the past five years are still unsold, according to The New York Times.

What happened? While real estate might seem like the world’s most local industry, these luxury condos weren’t exclusively built for locals. They were also made for foreigners with tens of millions of dollars to spare. Developers bet huge on foreign plutocrats—Russian oligarchs, Chinese moguls, Saudi royalty—looking to buy second (or seventh) homes.

But the Chinese economy slowed, while declining oil prices dampened the demand for pieds-à-terre among Russian and Middle Eastern zillionaires. It didn’t help that the Treasury Department cracked down on attempts to launder money through fancy real estate. Despite pressure from nervous lenders, developers have been reluctant to slash prices too suddenly or dramatically, lest the market suddenly clear and they leave millions on the table.

The confluence of cosmopolitan capital and terrible timing has done the impossible: It’s created a vacancy problem in a city where thousands of people are desperate to find places to live.

From any rational perspective, what New York needs isn’t glistening three-bedroom units, but more simple one- and two-bedroom apartments for New York’s many singlesroommates, and small families. Mayor Bill De Blasio made affordable housing a centerpiece of his administration. But progress here has been stalled by onerous zoning regulations, limited federal subsidies, construction delays, and blocked pro-tenant bills.

In the past decade, New York City real-estate prices have gone from merely obscene to downright macabre. From 2010 to 2019, the average sale price of homes doubled in many Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Prospect Heights and Williamsburg, according to the Times. Buyers there could consider themselves lucky: In Cobble Hill, the typical sales price tripled to $2.5 million in nine years.

This is not normal. And for middle-class families, particularly for the immigrants who give New York City so much of its dynamism, it has made living in Manhattan or gentrified Brooklyn practically impossible. No wonder, then, that the New York City area is losing about 300 residents every day. It adds up to what Michael Greenberg, writing for The New York Review of Books, called a new shameful form of housing discrimination—“bluelining.”

We speak nowadays with contrition of redlining, the mid-twentieth-century practice by banks of starving black neighborhoods of mortgages, home improvement loans, and investment of almost any sort. We may soon look with equal shame on what might come to be known as bluelining: the transfiguration of those same neighborhoods with a deluge of investment aimed at a wealthier class.

New York’s example is extreme—the squeezed middle class, shrink-wrapped into tiny bedrooms, beneath a canopy of empty sky palaces. But Manhattan reflects America’s national housing market, in at least three ways.

First, the typical new American single-family home has become surprisingly luxurious, if not quite so swank as Manhattan’s glassy spires. Newly built houses in the U.S. are among the largest in the world, and their size-per-resident has nearly doubled in the past 50 years. And the bathrooms have multiplied. In the early ’70s, 40 percent of new single-family houses had 1.5 bathrooms or fewer; today, just 4 percent do. The mansions of the ’70s would be the typical new homes of the 2020s.

Second, as the new houses have become more luxurious, homeownership itself has become a luxury. Young adults today are one-third less likely to own a home at this point in their lives than previous generations. Among young black Americans, homeownership has fallen to its lowest rate in more than 60 years.

Third, and most important, the most expensive housing markets, such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, haven’t built nearly enough homes for the middle class. As urban living has become too expensive for workers, many of them have either stayed away from the richest, densest cities or moved to the south and west, where land is cheaper. This is a huge loss, not only for individual workers, but also for these metros, because denser cities offer better matches between companies and workers, and thus are richer and more productive overall. Instead of growing as they grow richer, New York City, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area are all shrinking.

Across the country, the supply of housing hasn’t kept up with population growth. Single-family-home sales are stuck at 1996 levels, even though the United States has added 60 million people—or two Texases—since the mid-’90s. The undersupply of housing has become one of the most important stories in economics in the past decade. It explains why Americans are less likely to movewhy social mobility has declinedwhy regional inequality has increasedwhy entrepreneurship continues to fallwhy wealth inequality has skyrocketed, and why certain neighborhoods have higher poverty and worse health.

In 2010, one might have thought that the defining housing story of the century would be the real-estate bubble that plunged the U.S. economy into a recession. But the past decade has been defined by the juxtaposition of rampant luxury-home building with the cratering of middle-class-home construction. The future might restore a measure of sanity, both to New York’s housing crisis and America’s. But for now, the nation is bluelining itself to death.

Source: by Derek Thompson | The Atlantic

Megxit Over: Harry, Meghan Reach Deal To Quit Royal Life

One family’s crusade to break from the unbearable bondage of royalty is finally over, or in other words, Megxit is a done deal.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, also known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, will no longer use the titles His and Her Royal Highness “as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family” Buckingham Palace announced Saturday, as part of an agreement that lets them build a life away from intense media scrutiny as members of the royal family.

“Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family,” Queen Elizabeth II said in a statement.

“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family,” she said. ” I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.”

As disclosed in the agreement, Harry and Meghan “understand that they are required to step back from Royal duties, including official military appointments. They will no longer receive public funds for Royal duties.”

They also shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home.

Frogmore House, a modest wedding gift from the Queen to Harry and Meghan

With Brexit no longer dominating the British press, the announcement that the couple wished to step back from the royal family had thrown Britain’s monarchy into turmoil and dominated the headlines. Even though Harry has only a remote prospect of becoming king – he’s sixth in line, behind his father, brother, nephews and niece – there was outrage that, with his wife, he wanted to become financially independent and “carve out” a “progressive new role.”

Still, as the following chart summarizing the net worth of UK’s royalty shows the former “Duke and Duchess” should be just fine.

According to Statista, Prince William and Prince Harry have similar incomes and net worth, and reportedly earn $6.6 million annually from the Sovereign Grant, which they split, and each have an estimated net worth that ranges around $40 million. Prince Harry’s income could fluctuate once his title is renounced. Rumors claimed Markle, who had a net worth of about $5 million before marrying Harry thanks to her acting career, was already inking up a deal with Disney to do voiceovers for future projects, though the money will reportedly go to charity.

In a separate statement, earlier this week the queen discussed the wishes of Harry and Meghan, a former actress, with her immediate family. The queen at the time described the talks as “very constructive.”

The Queen said the recent discussions led to a “supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.” She said she was “particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.”

It now appears that it took Meghan even less time to leave the family.

Source: ZeroHedge

WeWork Lease Activity Crashed 93% In 4Q After Failed IPO

Several months after WeWork’s failed IPO — resulting in a bailout from SoftBank, the international money-losing office-sharing company leased just four new sites for a combined 184,00 sq. Ft. of space in 4Q19, marking a 93% plunge from its quarterly average rate of 2.54 million sq. Ft. over the last four quarters, according to data from real estate firm CBRE shared with CNBC.

The abrupt slowdown in leasing activity comes as the WeWork’s valuation imploded last August after it shelved its IPO and ran out of cash a month later, forcing its largest investor, SoftBank, to conduct an emergency bailout to rescue the company. 

With a questionable business model and no plans on turning a profit, WeWork’s valuation plunged from $47 billion in late 2018 to $8 to $10 billion by 4Q19.

In 4Q19, WeWork had to cut costs, lay off workers, and scale back operations across the world to avoid going bankrupt. In return, the company lost the top spot in the flexible office leasing space to Regus, which in 4Q19, increased lease footprint by 11% to 284,916 sq. Ft.

CBRE showed that industrywide, there was a significant pullback in office space leasing, mainly due to WeWork’s implosion.

Data shows office sharing operators declined to 1 million sq. Ft. in 4Q19 from 4 million sq. ft. in 3Q19.

Manhattan was the top city for office sharing space, even though new space leased dropped 82% to 187,078 sq. Ft., on average, the prior four quarters. Activity in Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles also saw notable declines over the period.

“We had seen this coming right after the IPO news,” said Julie Whelan, senior director of research at CBRE, who warned it could be a bumpy ride for WeWork and other office space sharing companies in 2020. 

Source: ZeroHedge

Sonoma County California Plans To Evict Renters To Buy Million Dollar Housing For Hobos

SANTA ROSA (KPIX) — A controversial plan to solve the homeless crisis has people fired up in Sonoma County where officials plan to spend millions of dollars to buy three properties that would be used to house the homeless.

All three properties have one thing in common. They’re big and have multiple units, but many of those units are currently occupied by tenants.

“I’m sure the tenants have been asked to leave,” said Allen Thomas.  He lives near one of the three properties, 811 Davis Street in Santa Rosa.

Neighbors said it’s counterproductive to evict renters to house the homeless.

“It’s just insanity,” said Karen Sanders, who also lives in Santa Rosa.

Sonoma County leaders plan to buy two properties in Santa Rosa and one in Cotati. They’ll spend roughly one million dollars for each property. One county worker said they’re already in contract to buy the property on Davis Street.

“Million dollar homes; million dollar homes for these transients living on the trail,” said Sanders.

The county wants to get the homeless out of an encampment on the Joe Rodota Trail. Many neighbors of those three properties worry the new neighbors will bring along crime and other quality of life issues.

“I’m not NIMBY, but we’ve done enough,” said Sher Ennis, a neighbor who lives near the Davis street property.

She said she was attacked in her home by a man from a re-entry housing program years ago.  She worries about her safety.

“We don’t know. Are we getting dangerous criminals? Are we getting felons? Or are we getting people who are simply down on their luck,” said Ennis.

Another neighbor supports the county’s plan.

“I don’t think that it makes [the neighborhood] any less safe, no,” said Andrew Atkinson.

He said the county has to act now.

“It’s going to take more than this, I think, to solve the problem. But I’m glad to see they’re trying,” said Atkinson.

Many upset neighbors voiced their concerns at a community meeting Friday night in Santa Rosa. County leaders will talk about the plan to buy the houses and other solutions to house the homeless.

Source: by Da Lin | KPIX CBS SF Bay Area

The Zombification Of America – Over 40% Of Listed Companies Don’t Make Money

It’s absolutely stunning how the Fed/ECB/BoJ injected upwards of $1.1 trillion into global markets in the last quarter and cut rates 80 times in the past 12 months, which allowed money-losing companies to survive another day. 

The leader of all this insanity is Telsa, the biggest money-losing company on Wall Street, has soared 120% since the Fed launched ‘Not QE.’

Tesla investors are convinced that fundamentals are driving the stock higher, but that might not be the case, as central bank liquidity has been pouring into anything with a CUSIP

The company has lost money over the last 12 months, and to be fair, Elon Musk reported one quarter that turned a profit, but overall – Tesla is a black hole. Its market capitalization is larger than Ford and General Motors put together. When you listen to Tesla investors, near-term profitability isn’t important because if it were, the stock would be much lower. 

The Wall Street Journal notes that in the past 12 months, 40% of all US-listed companies were losing money, the highest level since the late 1990s – or a period also referred to as the Dot Com bubble.

Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida, provided The Journal with a chart that shows the percentage of money-losing IPOs hit 81% in 2018, the same level that was also seen in 2000. 

The Journal notes that 42% of health-care companies lost money, mostly because of speculative biotech. About 17% of technology companies also fail to turn a profit. 

A more traditional company that has been losing money is GE. Its shares have plunged 60% in the last 42 months as a slowing economy, and insurmountable debts have forced a balance sheet recession that has doomed the company. 

Data from S&P Global Market Intelligence shows for small companies, losing money is part of the job. About 33% of the 100 biggest companies reported losses over the last 12 months. 

Among the smallest 80% of companies, there has been a notable rise in money-losing operations in the last three years.

“The proportion of these loss-making companies rose after each of the last two recessions and didn’t come down again afterward. The story should be familiar by now: Many small companies are being dominated by the biggest corporates, squeezing them out of markets and crushing their ability to invest for growth,” The Journal noted.

And while central bank liquidity has zombified companies, investors are already starting to make a mad dash out of trash into companies that turn a profit ahead of the next recession.

Source: ZeroHedge

The Top 1% Are Much Happier & Content With Their Lives, Study Finds

Well, what do you know: It looks like money really can buy happiness. 

For years, the conventional wisdom in American culture has been that the rich have their own set of issues that are under appreciated by the rest of the population. This was perhaps best summed up by rapper Biggie Smalls in his hit song “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” 

But despite cultural taboos about high-paying, high-pressure jobs leading to substance abuse, divorce and familial ruin, one recent study found that the highest-earning Americans actually reported feeling both happier and more fulfilled on a day-to-day basis.

Here’s more on the study from The Washington Post: Adults in the top 1% of U.S. household income (i.e. those who earn at least $500,000 a year) have “dramatically different life experiences” than everyone else, according to a survey sponsored by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

A full 90% of the 1% say they are “completely” or “very” satisfied with their lives in general. That compares with two-thirds of middle-income households – those earning $35,000 to $99,000 a year – and 44% of low-income households – ie those in the $35,000 a year or less bracket. 

Even more impressive: The share of 1%-ers expressing “dissatisfaction” with their lives is statistically zero. 

As WaPo explains, because the top 1% of US earners represents such a small subset of people, it’s typically difficult to gain insight into their thoughts and feelings via polling. 

Previous studies showed that money makes a big difference in an individual’s level of happiness, but that the effect starts to weaken once an individual starts earning a little bit more than $75,000. 

But apparently, as this latest study shows, although the rich might not be much happier on a day-to-day basis, individuals earning more than $500,000 a year are typically much more content with their lives.

Inside the top 1%, for example, some 97% say that they’ve already obtained the “American Dream”, as the respondent defines it, or are actively working toward it. Among low-income adults, by comparison, some 4 in 10 believe the American Dream is completely out of their reach.

Source: ZeroHedge

IRS Audits Plummet To Lowest Level In Four Decades

Individual US taxpayers are half as likely to get audited than they were in 2010, according to the Wall Street Journal, which notes that IRS tax enforcement has fallen to the lowest level in at least four decades.

In FY 2019, the agency audited just 0.45% of all personal income-tax returns, down from 0.59% in 2018 – marking eight straight years of declining reviews. In a Monday report, the IRS said that in 2010, 1.1% of tax returns were audited. The report did not provide details on audits by income category, or how much revenue has been recovered from the enforcement (or lack thereof).

According to the Journal, years of budget cuts and a heavier workload are to blame for the steady erosion of audit – which, experts say, is depriving the Treasury of billions of dollars while budget deficits rise.

The IRS budget is about 20% below the 2010 peak in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office. During that time, Congress has given the agency more responsibility, including the implementation of the 2010 health care law and the 2017 tax law.

In Monday’s report, the IRS said the agency had lost almost 30,000 full-time positions since fiscal 2010, in areas including enforcement and criminal investigation. It now has about 78,000 workers and has been hiring over the past year. But the agency also projects that up to 31% of remaining workers will retire within the next five years. –Wall Street Journal

“The audit rate reported for 2019 was less than half of what it was in 2010, underscoring the depleted state of the IRS enforcement function, which urgently needs to be rebuilt,” said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive group in Washington.

Investing in enforcement and tightening rules could generate about $1 trillion over a decade, according to Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers, who served as Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, and University of Pennsylvania professor Natasha Sarin. The government estimates that each additional dollar spent on tax enforcement could yield more than $4 in revenue, and Democratic presidential candidates have made increasing IRS funding part of their agenda. –Wall Street Journal

Cuts to the IRS budget began after Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010, and was further reduced after the Obama administration’s IRS targeting scandal in which the agency admitted in 2013 that it had given improper scrutiny to conservative nonprofit groups.

According to Trump-appointed IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, the administration has been trying to find new ways of remaining aggressive for tax-dodgers by using data analytics.

“Our compliance employees have a commitment to fraud awareness as we continue our enforcement efforts in the offshore and other more traditional compliance-challenged arenas,” writes Rettig in Monday’s report. “We want to maintain a visible, robust enforcement presence as we continue to explore innovative strategies and techniques in support of our mission.”

Source: ZeroHedge