Category Archives: Real Estate

Bank Of America Calls It: “The Peak In Home Sales Has Been Reached; Housing No Longer A Tailwind”

Bank of America is ringing the proverbial bell on the US real estate market, saying existing home sales have peaked, reflecting declining affordability, greater price reductions and deteriorating housing sentiment. In the latest weekly report from chief economist Michelle Meyer, the bank warned that “the housing market is no longer a tailwind for the economy but rather a headwind.”

“Call your realtor,” the BofA note proclaimed: “We are calling it: existing home sales have peaked.”

BofA’s economists believe the peak was seen when existing home sales hit 5.72 million, back in November 2017. From this point on, sales should trend sideways, as this moment in time is comparable to the rate the economy witnessed in the early 2000s before the bubble inflated.

And while BofA believes existing home sales have plateaued, they do not think the same for new home sales. The reason: new home sales have lagged existing in this “economic recovery” – leaving home builders some room to flood the market with new single-family units before a turning point in the entire real estate market is realized.

The deterioration in affordability can mostly explain the peak in existing home sales. This is due to the Federal Reserve reinflating real estate prices back to levels last seen since before the 2008 crash. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) affordability index prints 138.8, the lowest since August 2008.

Chart 1 (below) shows there is a leading relationship between the trend in affordability and in home sales — a simple regression suggests the lead is about three months. In major cities, affordability continues to be a significant problem for many Americans amid a rising interest rate environment and elevated home prices, existing home sales should remain under pressure for the foreseeable future.

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Chart 2 (above right) indicates that the share of properties with price discounts is on the rise, suggesting that sellers are unloading into weakening demand. The data from Zillow reveals that 15 percent of listings have price reductions, the highest since mid-2013 when home sales tumbled last.

The University of Michigan survey (Chart 3 below) reveals a worsening mood in the perception of buying conditions for homes. Respondents noted that home prices have become too high while rates have become restrictive.

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BofA said that existing home sales were quick to recover post-crisis given motivated sellers – the lenders who were sitting with millions of distressed properties.

Distressed properties made up between 30 and 40 percent of sales in the early stages of the recovery.

Home prices were discounted until they reached the market clearing price and buyers entered.

The recovery for new homes sales began one year after existing, as homebuilders stayed idol waiting for the dust to settle.

“We are now looking at a market where existing home sales have returned to a solid pace but new home sales are still below normal levels. We think that builders will continue to selectively add inventory in markets where there is demand, allowing new home sales to glide higher. Ultimately we think new home sales will peak around 1mn saar based on the historical relationship between existing and new home sales,” said BofA.

BofA asks the difficult question: If existing home sales have peaked, does it mean the rate of growth of home prices will as well?

Their answer: In the last cycle, existing home sales peaked at 6.26mn saar on September 2005, coinciding with peak home price growth of 14.4 percent the same month (Chart 5). The pre-boom historical data are generally supportive as well, as are the recent data-single family existing home sales peaked at 4.9mn saar in March this year, as did home price appreciation at 6.5 percent. The result, well, existing home sales are pressured by declining affordability, home price growth should slow from here. BofA said a contraction in home prices seems unlikely at the moment, however, if demand is not stoked soon that can all change.

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While BofA makes clear the housing market is starting to stall, the Federal Reserve is conducting quantitative tightening and rapidly increasing interest rates to get ahead of the next recession. In other words, liquidity is being removed from the system and the cost of borrowing is headed higher – an environment that is not friendly to real estate, and could be the key factor explaining the weakness in housing.

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Which brings up another important question: while financial assets continue to rise, these have largely benefited the Top 10% of the population; meanwhile the bulk of the US middle class net worth has traditionally been allocated to such fixed assets as real estate. And if that is now rolling over, what is the outlook for the US consumer, which remains the dynamo behind the US economy?

There is another, potentially more troubling observation. According to TS Lombard, the current period is now only the third time in US history – after 1968 and 1999 – in which equities have made up a larger percentage of net worth than real estate.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/net%20worth%20housing%20vs%20real%20estate.jpg?itok=3pX6uVq9

While this may be good news for holders of stocks, it may not last: as TS Lombard observes, sharp bear markets followed shortly after 1968 and even sooner after 1999. And with housing peaking – if BofA is correct – share prices remain the only driver behind continued economic growth, prompting TSL to conclude that “the US economy can not afford a bear market.”

Source: ZeroHedge

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Disaster Is Inevitable When America’s Stock Market Bubble Bursts – Smart Money Is Focused On Trade

(Forbes) Despite the volatility and brief correction earlier this year, the U.S. stock market is back to making record highs in the past couple weeks. To many observers, this market now seems downright bulletproof as it keeps going higher and higher as it has for nearly a decade in direct defiance of the naysayers’ warnings. Unfortunately, this unusual market strength is not evidence of a strong, organic economy, but of an extremely unhealthy, artificial bubble economy that will end in a crisis that will be even worse than we experienced in 2008. In this report, I will show a wide variety of charts that prove how unsustainable the current bull market is.

Since the Great Recession low in March 2009, the S&P 500 stock index has gained over 300%, taking it nearly 80% higher than its 2007 peak:

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The small cap Russell 2000 index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index are up even more than the S&P 500 since 2009 – nearly 400% and 500% respectively:

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The reason for America’s stock market and economic bubbles is quite simple: ultra-cheap credit/ultra-low interest rates. As I explained in a Forbes piece last week, ultra-low interest rates help to create bubbles in the following ways:

  • Investors can borrow cheaply to speculate in assets (ex: cheap mortgages for property speculation and low margin costs for trading stocks)
  • By making it cheaper to borrow to conduct share buybacks, dividend increases, and mergers & acquisitions
  • By discouraging the holding of cash in the bank versus speculating in riskier asset markets
  • By encouraging higher rates of inflation, which helps to support assets like stocks and real estate
  • By encouraging more borrowing by consumers, businesses, and governments

The chart below shows how U.S. interest rates (the Fed Funds Rate, 10-Year Treasury yields, and Aaa corporate bond yields) have remained at record low levels for a record period of time since the Great Recession:

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U.S. monetary policy has been incredibly loose since the Great Recession, which can be seen in the chart of real interest rates (the Fed Funds Rate minus the inflation rate). The mid-2000s housing bubble and the current “Everything Bubble” both formed during periods of negative real interest rates. (Note: “Everything Bubble” is a term that I’ve coined to describe a dangerous bubble that has been inflating in a wide variety of countries, industries, and assets – please visit my website to learn more.)

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The Taylor Rule is a model created by economist John Taylor to help estimate the best level for central bank-set interest rates such as the Fed Funds Rate. If the Fed Funds Rate is much lower than the Taylor Rule model (this signifies loose monetary conditions), there is a high risk of inflation and the formation of bubbles. If the Fed Funds Rate is much higher than the Taylor Rule model, however, there is a risk that tight monetary policy will stifle the economy.

Comparing the Fed Funds Rate to the Taylor Rule model is helpful for visually gauging how loose or tight U.S. monetary conditions are:

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Subtracting the Taylor Rule model from the Fed Funds Rate quantifies how loose (when the difference is negative), tight (when the difference is positive), or neutral U.S. monetary policy is:

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Low interest rates/low bond yields have enabled a corporate borrowing spree in which total outstanding non-financial U.S. corporate debt surged by over $2.5 trillion, or 40% from its peak in 2008. The recent borrowing boom caused total outstanding U.S. corporate debt to rise to over 45% of GDP, which is even worse than the level reached during the past several credit cycles. (Read my recent U.S. corporate debt bubble report to learn more).

U.S. corporations have been using much of their borrowed capital to buy back their own stock, increase dividends, and fund mergers and acquisitions – activities that are known for boosting stock prices and executive bonuses. Unfortunately, U.S. corporations have been focusing on these activities that reward shareholders in the short-term, while neglecting longer-term business investments – hubristic behavior that is typical during a bubble. The chart below shows how share buybacks and dividends paid increased dramatically since 2009:

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Another Federal Reserve policy (aside from the ultra-low Fed Funds Rate) has helped to inflate the U.S. stock market bubble since 2009: quantitative easing or QE. When executing QE policy, the Federal Reserve creates new money “out of thin air” (in digital form) and uses it to buy Treasury bonds or other assets, which pumps liquidity into the financial system. QE helps to push bond prices higher and bond yields/interest rates lower throughout the economy. QE has another indirect effect: it causes stock prices to surge (because low rates boost stocks), as the chart below shows:

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As touched upon earlier, low interest rates encourage stock speculators to borrow money from their brokers in the form of margin loans. These speculators then ride the bull market higher while letting the leverage from the margin loans boost their returns. This strategy can be highly profitable – until the market turns and amplifies their losses, that is.

There is a general tendency for speculators to use margin most aggressively just before the market’s peak, and the current bull market/bubble appears to be no exception. During the dot-com bubble and housing bubble stock market cycles, margin debt peaked at roughly 2.75% of GDP. In the current stock market bubble, however, margin debt is nearly at 3% of GDP, which is quite concerning. The heavy use of margin at the end of a long bull market exacerbates the eventual downturn because traders are forced to sell their shares to avoid or satisfy margin calls.

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In the latter days of a bull market or bubble, retail investors are typically the most aggressively positioned in stocks. Sadly, these small investors tend to be wrong at the most important market turning points. Retail investors currently have the highest allocation to stocks (blue line) and the lowest cash holdings (orange line) since the Dot-com bubble, which is a worrisome sign. These same investors were the most cautious in 2002/2003 and 2009, which was the start of two powerful bull markets.

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The chart below shows the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), which is considered to be a “fear gauge” of U.S. stock investors. The VIX stayed very low during the housing bubble era and it has been acting similarly for the past eight years as the “Everything Bubble” inflated. During both bubbles, the VIX stayed low because the Fed backstopped the financial markets and economy with its aggressive monetary policies (this is known as the “Fed Put“).

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The next chart shows the St. Louis Fed Financial Stress Index, which is a barometer for the level of stress in the U.S. financial system. It goes without saying that less stress is better, but only to a point – when the index remains at extremely low levels due to the backstopping of the financial markets by the Fed, it can be indicative of the formation of a dangerous bubble. Ironically, when that bubble bursts, financial stress spikes. Periods of very low financial stress foreshadow periods of very high financial stress – the calm before the financial storm, basically. The Financial Stress Index remained at extremely low levels during the housing bubble era and is following the same pattern during the “Everything Bubble.”

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High-yield (or “junk”) bond spreads are another barometer of investor fear or complacency. When high-yield bond spreads stay at very low levels in a central bank-manipulated environment like ours, it often indicates that a dangerous bubble is forming (it indicates complacency). The high-yield spread was unusually low during the dot-com bubble and housing bubble, and is following the same pattern during the current “Everything Bubble.”

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In a bubble, the stock market becomes overpriced relative to its underlying fundamentals such as earnings, revenues, assets, book value, etc. The current bubble cycle is no different: the U.S. stock market is as overvalued as it was at major generational peaks. According to the cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings ratio (a smoothed price-to-earnings ratio), the U.S. stock market is more overvalued than it was in 1929, right before the stock market crash and Great Depression:

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Tobin’s Q ratio (the total U.S. stock market value divided by the total replacement cost of assets) is another broad market valuation measure that confirms that the stock market is overvalued like it was at prior generational peaks:

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The fact that the S&P 500’s dividend yield is at such low levels is more evidence that the market is overvalued (high market valuations lead to low dividend yields and vice versa). Though dividend payout ratios have been declining over time in addition, that is certainly not the only reason why dividend yields are so low, contrary to popular belief. Extremely high market valuations are the other rarely discussed reason why yields are so low.

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The chart below shows U.S. after tax corporate profits as a percentage of the gross national product (GNP), which is a measure of how profitable American corporations are. Thanks to ultra-cheap credit, asset bubbles, and financial engineering, U.S. corporations have been much more profitable since the early-2000s than they have been for most of the 20th century (9% vs. the 6.6% average since 1947).

Unfortunately, U.S. corporate profitability is likely to revert to the mean because unusually high corporate profit margins are typically unsustainable, as economist Milton Friedman explained. The eventual mean reversion of U.S. corporate profitability will hurt the earnings of public corporations, which is very worrisome considering how overpriced stocks are relative to earnings.

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During stock market bubbles, the overall market tends to be led by a smaller group of high-performing “story stocks” that capture the investing public’s attention, make early investors rich, and light the fires of greed and envy in practically everyone else. During the late-1990s dot-com bubble, the “story stocks” were tech stocks like Amazon.com, Intel, Cisco, eBay, etc. During the housing bubble era, it was home builder stocks like Hovanian, D.R. Horton, Lennar, mortgage lenders, and alternative energy companies like First Solar, to name a few examples.

In the current stock market bubble, the market is being led by a group of stocks nicknamed FAANG, which is an acronym for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (now known as Alphabet Inc.). The chart below compares the performance of the FAANG stocks to the S&P 500 during the bull market that began in March 2009. Though the S&P 500 has risen over 300%, the FAANGs put the broad market index to shame: Apple is up over 1,000%, Amazon has surged more than 2,000%, and Netflix has rocketed over 6,000%.

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After so many years of strong and consistent performance, many investors now view the FAANGs as “can’t lose” stocks that will keep going “up, up, up!” as a function of time. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous line of thinking that has ruined countless investors in prior bubbles. Today’s FAANG phenomenon is very similar to the Nifty Fifty group of high-performing blue-chip stocks during the 1960s and early-1970s bull market. The Nifty Fifty were seen as “one decision” stocks (the only decision necessary was to buy) because investors thought they would keep rising virtually forever.

Investors tend to become most bullish and heavily invested in leading stocks such as the FAANGs or Nifty Fifty right before the market cycle turns. When the leading stocks finally fall during a bear market, they usually fall very hard, as Nifty Fifty investors experienced in the 1973-1974 bear market. The eventual unwinding of the FAANG stock boom/bubble is going to burn many investors, including institutional investors who have gorged on these stocks in recent years. 

How The Stock Market Bubble Will Pop

To keep it simple, the current U.S. stock market bubble will pop due to the ending of the conditions that created it in the first place: cheap credit/loose monetary conditions. The Federal Reserve inflated the stock market bubble via its record low Fed Funds Rate and quantitative easing programs, and the central bank is now raising interest rates and reversing its QE programs by shrinking its balance sheet. What the Fed giveth, the Fed taketh away.

The Fed claims to be able to engineer a “soft landing,” but that virtually never happens in reality. It’s even less likely to happen in this current bubble cycle because of how long it has gone on and how distorted the financial markets and economy have become due to ultra-cheap credit conditions.

I’m from the same school of thought as billionaire fund manager Jeff Gundlach, who believes that the Fed will keep hiking interest rates until “something breaks.” In the last economic cycle from roughly 2002 to 2007, it was the subprime mortgage industry that broke first, and in the current cycle, I believe that corporate bonds are likely to break first, which would then spill over into the U.S. stock market (please read my corporate debt bubble report in Forbes to learn more).

The Fed Funds Rate chart below shows how the last two recessions and bubble bursts occurred after rate hike cycles; a repeat performance is likely once rates are hiked high enough. Because of the record debt burden in the U.S., interest rates do not have to rise nearly as high as in prior cycles to cause a recession or financial crisis this time around. In addition to raising interest rates, the Fed is now conducting its quantitative tightening (QT) policy that shrinks its balance sheet by $40 billion per month, which will eventually contribute to the popping of the stock market bubble.

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The 10-Year/2-Year U.S. Treasury bond spread is a helpful tool for determining how close a recession likely is. This spread is an extremely accurate indicator, having warned about every U.S. recession in the past half-century, including the Great Recession. When the spread is between 0% and 1%, it is in the “recession warning zone” because it signifies that the economic cycle is maturing and that a recession is likely just a few years away. When the spread drops below 0% (this is known as an inverted yield curve), a recession is likely to occur within the next year or so. 

As the chart below shows, the 10-Year/2-Year U.S. Treasury bond spread is already deep into the “Warning Zone” and heading toward the “Recession Zone” at an alarming rate – not exactly a comforting thought considering how overvalued and inflated the U.S. stock market is, not to mention how indebted the U.S. economy is.

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Although I err conservative/libertarian politically, I do not believe that President Trump can prevent the ultimate popping of the U.S. stock market bubble and “Everything Bubble.” One of the reasons why is that this bubble is truly global and the U.S. President has no control over the economies of China, Australia, Canada, etc. The popping of a massive global bubble outside of the U.S. is enough to create a bear market and recession within the U.S.

Also, as the charts in this report show, our stock market bubble was inflating years before Trump became president. I believe that this bubble was slated to crash to regardless of who became president – it could have been Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Marco Rubio. Even Donald Trump called the stock market a “big, fat, ugly bubble” right before the election. Concerningly, even though the stock market bubble is approximately 30% larger than when Trump warned about it, Trump is no longer calling it a “bubble,” and is actually praising it each time it hits another record.

Many optimists expect President Trump’s tax reform plan to result in a powerful boom that creates millions of new jobs and supercharges economic growth, which would help the stock market grow into its lofty valuations. Unfortunately, this thinking is not grounded in reality or math. As my boss Lance Roberts explained, “there will be no economic boom” (Part 1Part 2) because our economy is too debt-laden to grow the way it did back in the 1980s during the Reagan Boom or at other times during the 20th century.

As shown in this report, the U.S. stock market is currently trading at extremely precarious levels and it won’t take much to topple the whole house of cards. Once again, the Federal Reserve, which was responsible for creating the disastrous Dot-com bubble and housing bubble, has inflated yet another extremely dangerous bubble in its attempt to force the economy to grow after the Great Recession. History has proven time and time again that market meddling by central banks leads to massive market distortions and eventual crises. As a society, we have not learned the lessons that we were supposed to learn from 1999 and 2008, therefore we are doomed to repeat them.

The purpose of this report is to warn society of the path that we are on and the risks that we are facing. I am not necessarily calling the market’s top right here and right now. I am fully aware that this stock market bubble can continue inflating to even more extreme heights before it pops. I warn about bubbles as an activist, but I approach tactical investing in a slightly different manner (because shorting or selling too early leads to under performance, etc.). As a professional investor, I believe in following the market’s trend instead of fighting it – even if I’m skeptical of the underlying forces that are driving it. Of course, when that trend fundamentally changes, that’s when I believe in shifting to an even more cautious and conservative stance for our clients and myself.

Source: by Jesse Colombo | Forbes

Learn about Trumps latest moves on trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico…

Commercial Real Estate Paying Lowest Return In Over A Decade

Investors taking on more risk in US commercial real estate are now receiving the lowest return since the housing crisis. The premium spread for buying BBB- tranches of commercial mortgage backed securities versus AAA is the lowest its been since May 2007, according to a new report from analytics company Trepp, the FT reports.

The euphoria associated with the US economy even as the overall global economy is rolling over means that those bearing the brunt of risk for commercial mortgage backed securities are getting paid the least. This also comes as a result of investors chasing yield, which could be another obvious canary in the coal mine that the now record bull market could be reaching an apex.

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“As you get toward the latter innings of the credit cycle, people have money they need to put to work and they take on more risk for less return,” said Alan Todd, a CMBS analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Commercial mortgage backed securities are made up of a combination of types of mortgages which are then divided up by risk. Traditionally, as with any financial instrument, the more risk that investors bear, the more they get paid. But now, investors are looking more and more like they’re “picking up pennies in front of bulldozers” as demand for AAA tranches of CMBS’ has fallen. Meanwhile BBB- slices of CMBS continue to see an influx of demand. The conclusion?

“You are probably not getting paid for the risk you are taking and that definitely concerns us,” Dushyant Mehra, co-chief investment officer at Hildene, told the Financial Times.

The Federal Reserve’s tightening could be another potential cause for the shift: higher quality fixed rate investments like AAA tranches of CMBS, have fallen in price as a result of Fed policy. This, in turn, has caused investors to seek out riskier products, like floating rate company loans, to juice returns.

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Meanwhile, the boom in commercial housing has resulted in a significant amount of CMBS supply. $49 billion in new issuance between January and July of this year eclipses the $45 billion that was sold throughout the same period of time last year.

The credit premium between AAA and BBB-, which is as low as you can go without hitting a junk rating, has fallen to 2.1% in August from 2.2% in July, according to the report. While this is below the 2014 low of 2.3%, it still is nowhere near the pre-financial crisis lows of just 0.67%, which printed in May 2007 when everyone was long, and just before RMBS and CMBS blew up, catalyzing the financial crisis.

“It is something everyone frets over,” Gunter Seeger, a portfolio manager at fund manager PineBridge, said of the evaporating premium investors are demanding. “You are always concerned that the pendulum swings too far but the reach for yield is still there.”

Everyone may be “fretting” but it has yet to stop them from buying.

As is the case during any euphoric period, few are paying attention and taking the data as a warning. Perhaps once the numbers start to move closer to May 2007 levels, it will catch people’s attention, although considering that even the Fed has repeatedly warned about “froth” in commercial real estate with no change in behavior, it is safe to say that no lessons from the financial crisis have been learned.

Source: ZeroHedge

AND There Goes Facebook Targeting… Just Like That… Thanks NAR

All it takes is one complaint to HUD? Wow! Really? 

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“HUD filed a complaint against Facebook last week. 

“HUD claimed the social network’s advertising platform allowed users to discriminate against prospective renters and buyers by being able to limit who saw their ads based on the users’ race, color, religion, sex, family status, national origin, disability, ZIP code, and other factors.” ( From REALTOR® Magazine) 

This is interesting because I don’t know even one REALTOR® who uses Facebook ads to discriminate.

Every single person I know who is a member of NAR and runs ads, runs ads to reach their niche audience, their targets- this is called advertising. This has nothing to do with discrimination. 

I doubt any of the employees of the HUD department have ever had to make a living selling  products, services, or real estate. 

My team was starting an ad campaign for an agent this week and we could not target: 

Homeowners!!! 

Homeowners have been removed. 

Tell me, HUD and NAR—- 

If you are a listing agent how in the world is it discriminating to target ONLY homeowners. After all, if we are running a home value ad, why would I want to waste our money on getting our ad in front of 20 years olds who are first time home buyers??? Or renters?  It makes no sense to offer home values on your property to those who don’t own property! 

You have to pay for impressions. This means that your ads just got a lot more expensive becuase of the ignorance of the powers that be at NAR who so quickly run to support these complaints. I highly doubt they have asked any of us what we are doing with our ads. 

Why are they jumping so fast to say they love that Facebook deleted all our targeting?? 

We are running another ad campaign for another agent — and guess what— yep! The Zipcode targeting is gone!!! 

Now, I know that some people say that zip code advertising is discriminating but then why oh why… does the U.S. own government company the United States Postal Service allow us all to target our direct mailing by zip codes?????? 

I am so tired of NAR speaking for all of us but not talking to all of us before they speak!!! 

If we have a million dollar listing we don’t want to waste money on ads going to people who only make $20,000! It is not discrimination, it is common sense marketing. We want to put our listing in front of the best possible buyers who can afford this listing. 

How did Facebook respond? 

Of course, they did not take our backs. They went back with their tail between their legs and got rid of over 5,000 targets we all use in Facebook advertising. Facebook already makes you agree that you are obeying the Fair housing laws when you run real estate ads. Why did they not just fight on this? 

I then went to the NAR website and see the title to their article about this and the title is: 

Realtors® Applaud HUD Decision to Target Online Housing Discrimination

Interesting title since there was NOTHING In the article listing ANY realtor who was applauding this decision except for the NAR President:  

‘National Association of Realtors® President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty, issued the following statement in support of HUD’s aggressive enforcement of the Fair Housing Act:

“In 2018, as America recognizes the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, the National Association of Realtors® strongly supports a housing market free from all types of discrimination. However, as various online tools and platforms continue to transform the real estate industry in the 21st Century, our understanding of how this law is enforced and applied must continue to evolve as well. Realtors® commend the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary Ben Carson for taking decisive action to defend fair housing laws, and for working to ensure its intended consumer protections extend to wherever real estate is marketed.” ‘

So where in this article are the many realtors who are so applauding wasting money on needless impressions… and making our ad cost go up way higher! 

What needs to happen in cases like this, is for NAR to do an investigation, survey, round tables, etc. with local agents around the country and find out what kinds of ads they run on Facebook, how they target, and why. Then take that data to HUD, and explain to HUD, about marketing and advertising.

Take our backs; will you!!!! 

Because in actuality how many of those NAR presidents and committees on those higher levels are running Facebook ads daily to get listings and buyers? 

And that is my rant for the day… I am livid!!!”

Source: By virtual Services Marketer, Katerina Gasset | Active Rain

China’s Building-Boom Hits A Wall As Shadow-Banking System Collapses

Beijing wants to shore up growth without inundating the economy with cheap credit.

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But, as WSJ’s Walter Russell Mead pointed out previously, it’s not easy…

Chinese leaders know that their country suffers from massive over-investment in construction and manufacturing, that its real-estate market is a bubble that makes the Dutch tulip frenzy look restrained, that both conventional debt and debt in the shadow-banking system are too large and growing too rapidly.

But even as the Communist Party centralizes power and clamps down on dissent, it dithers when it comes to the costly and difficult work of shifting China’s economic development onto a sustainable track.

Chinese authorities have tried to tackle some of these problems, but often retreat when reforms start to bite and powerful interests push back.

To see how hard that will be, The Wall Street Journal’s Nathaniel Taplin takes a look at China’s roads and railways.

China is the 800-pound gorilla of global infrastructure. Its building prowess has permeated popular culture, as in the disaster movie “2012” where China constructs giant ships to help humankind escape rising seas.

Recently, however, China’s infrastructure build has all but ground to a halt.

Here’s why…

The central government last year started to crack down on unregulated, opaque – so-called ‘shadow-bank’ borrowing – alarmed at its vast scale, and potential for corruption.

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For five straight months, the shadow banking system has contracted under this pressure, sucking the malinvestment lifeblood out of economic growth and construction booms as Chinese local governments, which account for the bulk of such investment, set up as so-called local-government financing vehicles (off balance sheet), or LGFVs, and have seen an unprecedented net $19 billion outflow in recent months.

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As WSJ’s Talpin notes, these days Beijing prefers that local governments borrow on-the-books, through the now legal municipal bond market. The problem is that lower-rated and smaller cities are mostly shut out, even though they do most actual capital spending. As a result, investment has kept slowing even though China’s net muni bond issuance in July was three times higher than it was in March. Infrastructure investment excluding power and heat was up just 5.7% in the first seven months of 2018 compared with a year earlier, down from 19% growth in 2017.

Eventually, all the cash big cities and provinces are raising through muni bonds will start filtering down. Meanwhile, the investment drought will likely worsen, raising pressure on Beijing to ease credit conditions further – making the incipient rally in the yuan hard to sustain.

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That also means China’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which fell marginally in 2017, could start rising again next year.

Simply put, as with water and wine, China’s leaders haven’t figured out how to crack down on local governments’ dubious infrastructure spending during good times without severely damaging growth – or how to loosen the reins during bad times without creating lots more bad debt.

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Unless they can square that circle, it bodes ill for the nation’s long-term prospects.

Source: ZeroHedge

Chinese Firms Become Net Sellers Of U.S. Commercial Real Estate, “First Time Since 2008”

Beijing is reportedly urging Chinese real-estate investors to divest their U.S. commercial real estate holdings, a cunning strategy reflecting China’s efforts to deleverage debt and stabilize the yuan ahead of future market shocks created by President Trump’s trade war.

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Taiwan News quoted Liberty Times, a newspaper published in Taiwan, suggested that a significant liquidation of U.S. commercial real estate by Chinese companies could be in the near term, as the catalyst for such an event would be explained by policymakers cracking down on bad debt.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Real Capital Analytics has noted that Chinese real-estate investors have already started dumping U.S. commercial real estate for the first time in a decade. Chinese companies have sold more real estate assets in a single quarter (US$1.29 billion) than they have purchased (US$126.2 million).

“This marked the first time that these investors were net sellers for a quarter since 2008. The more than $1 billion in net sales reflects how much the Chinese government’s attitude toward investing overseas has changed in recent months,” said WSJ.

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Chinese investors began acquiring US commercial real estate a few years after the 2008 financial crisis. More recently, Beijing officials loosened restrictions on foreign investment, which spurred investments in numerous US cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago with high-profile acquisitions—including the $1.95 billion acquisition of the Waldorf Astoria, the highest price ever paid for a U.S. hotel.

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The Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, which was purchased by China’s Anbang Insurance Group in 2014. (Source: Kathy Willens/AP/WSJ) 

The Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, which was purchased by China’s Anbang Insurance Group in 2014. (Source: Kathy Willens/AP/WSJ) 

Chinese companies like HNA Group and Greenland Holding Group have been offloading assets and potentially could create headwinds for real estate markets. The Wall Street Journal suggests that Beijing is currently pressuring companies to decrease their debt levels to lower the default risk ahead of the next credit crunch.

“I was shocked,” said Jim Costello, senior vice president at Real Capital Analytics. “They [Chinese real estate firms] really curtailed their buying and stepped up sales.”

Analysts told WSJ that increasing tensions over trade and national security between Washington and Beijing could have triggered the pullback.

“The China-US outbound cross-border real estate climate has been negatively impacted by the geopolitical climate,” said David Blumenfeld, a Hong Kong-based partner at Paul Hastings LLP.

WSJ notes that Anbang Insurance Group is considering shrinking its U.S. hotels book, but has yet to settle on any deals.

“The company is still in the process of reviewing overseas assets,” said Shen Gang, an Anbang spokesman. “We currently do not have specific asset optimization plan, nor a specific timetable.”

In June, the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index was unchanged. The index, which measures values across five major property sectors, has stalled over the past eighteen months and could come under pressure as Chinese investors have turned to net sellers.

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For many Chinese firms, the long-term investment plan in the US has been abandoned after Beijing has pressured companies to reduce their debt levels amid the escalating geopolitical tensions and trade war.

However, not every Chinese investor is pressured to liquidated US real estate holdings. Lawyers for these developers told WSJ that investors of smaller residential projects, including warehouses and senior living centers, are holding tight.

Chinese investors said the government has allowed firms to dispose of properties that have increased in value to avoid taking a loss.

Earlier this year, HNA group and a partner sold 1180 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan to Northwood Investors for around $305 million. The conglomerate, which is headquarters in Haikou, a city in southern China’s Hainan province, bought a 90 percent stake in the office tower for $259 million in 2011.

HNA Group also sold a stake in 245 Park Avenue to SL Green Realty Corp. HNA bought the tower for $2.2 billion last year.

“HNA Group has long said it will be disciplined and thoughtful about its asset dispositions as it realigns its strategy,” said an HNA spokesman. Late last year, HNA Group outlined a plan to sell $6 billion worth of properties, according to an insider.

Last month, Taiwan News said a document intended for financial think tanks in China was leaked to the press that said China was “very likely to see financial panic” and the government should prepare financial institutions, industries, and also be ready for possible social unrest. Critics suggest that China’s financial difficulties have been in development for some time, however, the U.S.-China trade war exacerbated the problem and had brought the coming credit crisis forward.

Could the US commercial real estate market be the next indirect victim of President Trump’s trade war?

Source: ZeroHedge

Foreclosure Starts Rise in 43% of US Markets

Counter to the national trend, several housing markets saw foreclosure starts rise year over year last month, according to a new report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a real estate data firm.

Forty-three percent of local markets saw an annual increase in May in foreclosure starts. Foreclosure starts were most on the rise in Houston, which saw a 153 percent jump from a year ago. Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston metro area in August 2017, tying with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record, and has contributed to many recent foreclosures in the area. Other areas that are seeing foreclosure starts rise: Dallas-Fort Worth (up 46% year over year); Los Angeles (up 14 percent); Atlanta (up 7 percent); and Miami (up 4 percent).

A total of 33,623 U.S. properties started the foreclosure process in May, which is down 6 percent from a year ago. But a number of states—23 states and the District of Columbia—posted a year-over-year increase in foreclosure starts in May.

Overall, the metro areas with the highest foreclosure rates in May were: Flint, Mich.; Atlantic City, N.J.; Trenton, N.J.; Philadelphia; and Columbia, S.C.

View the chart below to see foreclosure starts by metro area.

May 2018 Foreclosure Starts by Metro

Source: Realtor Magazine