Economy


ULI’s Nashville District Council held it’s annual Real Estate Trends Conference this morning in conjunction with the good folks at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.  Dean Schwanke, the Senior VP at the ULI Center for Capital Markets & Real Estate was the presenter this year.  The “Emerging Trends” study is a compilation of close to 900 interviews conducted with real estate “experts” around the country – somehow I slipped onto the list for the last couple of years, so you know it’s good (tongue planted firmly in cheek.) If last year’s overall menu presentation was cold and rancid meat loaf, this year’s menu looked like the three week old ham sandwich you found in the leftover drawer of the refrigerator – it might be edible, but I wouldn’t risk it.  The full report is available through the ULI website by clicking here.  From my scribbled notes, the following bullet points to consider:

  • Expect another 30-50% decline in asset values for most commercial real estate.
  • Good news – investor expectations for returns are being re-calibrated.
  • New term – “financial engineering,”  as in “we are going back to basics, no more financial engineering.”
  • More than 50% of the respondents felt that equity was over-supplied.
  • BUT, 78% felt that debt is undersupplied although the life companies are stepping up.
  • It is anticipated that in 2011 the public equity REITs will be the most active buyers – they are generally flush.
  • If you want to know what the new normal looks like, set your sites on the 2003-2004 numbers.

The general tenor of the discussion was that while we have not been knocked out in this fight, we are definitely taking the standing eight count.  On a national (and I think local level too) the best asset classes to be looking at in the coming year are moderate and high income apartments.

The most worrisome slide was towards the very end of Schwanke’s presentation…well, the one showing the gentlemen wearing sombreros and taking a siesta as this year’s advice to developers was worrisome for me…but, the slide I am talking about concerned the governmental picture.  Unsustainable levels of debt at the municipal, state and federal level, anticipated spikes in interest rates, gnawing continued high unemployment.  Here in Nashville, we should fare better than most – our city and state have been well run, overall, and in general, we behave like adults towards business.  But, I suspect this is the same set of facts that most Americans know in their guts and that’s what is keeping the fear quotient up and preventing businesses from cranking up employment.

After a short break, a panel discussion was held with Larry Kloess of HCA, Bill Nigh with Bank of Nashville, Randy Rayburn of Sunset Grill and other delectable restaurants fame, and Laquita Stribling with Randstad, a local employment agency.  This was a well rounded and intriguing presentation.  A few highlights again from my legal pad:

  • In banking, it’s back to the basics.  Do you have a net worth? Do you have bankable cash flow?  The regulatory environment is driving the uncertainty that keeps banks from lending.
  • From Randy, we learned what an important part of the local economy the hospitality industry is – it’s big.
  • In discussing challenges, Laquita pointed out that 15% of Nashville’s employment base is within 10 years of retirement – there is a significant gap between retirements and new graduations, making it critical that we keep our graduates from all of our fine schools in town.
  • Larry mused about the effects of the healthcare reform bill essentially telling us that it is so complicated and convoluted and it is being layered onto an industry that is so complicated and convoluted that….well no one knows.  He did tell us that there is a rapidly growing problem in the shortage of primary care providers and to expect future visits to the doctor to be more like trips to the dentist: the hygienist works on you for 45 minutes then the dentist comes in and asks about your handicap.

The good news is that we are in a city that is considered highly creative with a great brand.  We are also blessed with pretty good governance and a business and real estate community that is truly gifted in what they do.  As I am scribing this, over the wire comes news that there’s a good chance that Community Health is making a run at Tenet and that combined they would become the second largest hospital management company.  With HCA first and the aforementioned merger second, the Nashville area would truly become ground zero for healthcare.

We still have a few years of rough sledding, but there are few other places I would rather be than right here in Middle Tennessee…hmmm, with that rhyme maybe I’ll try my hand at songwriting!

 

 

If the following image doesn’t scare the living daylights out of you, hold a mirror under your nose and see if it fogs:

That “hockey stick” is not an Al Gore fantasy, it is our (the U.S. of A) money supply.  What does it mean?

1. You can now understand why Ben Bernanke and company are keeping interest rates down.

2. You can now see why gold continues to appreciate.

3. You can realize that the Feds are out of ammo.  Another trillion dollar run at the printing presses will put the dollar on par with the now failed cruzeiro.

There is only one path, and that is to get the free market moving again.  The way we do that (we’ve done this before) is by returning some semblance of a rule of law.  What we have had out of Washington has been nothing less than rule by fiat.  Businesses cannot anticipate what to do.  Banks cannot lend with any kind of economic sense.  Our tax policy is the laughing stock of the developed world.

Let’s cut the chains that are holding the free-enterprise system in check!  And don’t give me that meme about “that’s what got us into the trouble we are in…”  No, we got into this mess because we could afford to…now we can’t afford it anymore.  We got here with do-gooder policies that expressed more about how we “felt,” than economic reality.  Fact: you can’t give a loan to someone that cannot afford to pay it back and not face consequences when it comes due.

OK, I’m done ranting for now, but if that chart doesn’t steam you…well, maybe you have no “feelings.”

An excellent article over at Mises.org on the implications of continued high unemployment among the youth.  Spain, which is far further along the socialist utopian scale than we are, has an emerging social class they call “jovenes,” or “youngsters.”  To belong, you have to be between 25 and 35 and a) be living at home because you can’t earn enough bouncing around jobs and b) receive unemployment benefits from the state and c) use your savings for a good time.  They have also earned another nickname, the “Atlas Generation,” because they are carrying the weight of the world and will be in charge of paying for the “economic sins of their parents.”

Why is it so difficult for these folks to settle down into a steady job, raise a family and get on with life?  Well, you have to look at the laws.  The Spanish government wants to protect workers from those evil corporations so they decree some things:

1. Four weeks vacation a year minimum.

2. A very high minimum wage.

3. A “Finiquito” or final pay amount if the worker doesn’t “work out”  of 45 days of salary.

4. A minimum of a 50% employment tax on hirers.

Get the picture?

Now, consider this:

(Hat tip Carpe Diem Blog)

Can we see just a wee-teensy-little-mincy-kinda-sorta correlation?  We had better get some common sense back into our law crafting…after all, those kids in that chart above – they are the ones that will be paying for our Social Security!

I know we are not supposed to talk about this stuff, seeing as how it is the “Summer of Recovery” and all that, but we have had 83 bank failures YTD and there is no sign of that pace slowing.  According to the Treasury Department, at this point last year we had 40 failures on the books.

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m not sure how much more of this “recovery” I can take!

I tell you, it has almost been too hot to grill…we are experiencing a warmer than normal June in Nashville, but if the thunderstorms will cut me some slack over the weekend, I intend to add some delicious wood char to a fine selection of sleeved-up protein!

Perhaps one of the reasons I got into the real estate business lo some 20 plus years ago, was that while I was getting my graduate degree, one of my professors was an international expert in agribusiness.  One of the things he said has always stuck with me: “our greatness as a country depends on six inches of topsoil.”  He was referring, of course, to the world’s breadbasket, our Great Plains and farming regions throughout this rich land.  Protection of that resource is something we need to be keenly aware of and so I thought I would share some resources and thought leaders on this topic with you this week.

1. Wes Jackson – founder of the Land Institute, Wes has been a champion of more holistic ways of farming.  He is a brilliant thinker and proponent of local agriculture.  Click on his name above to read an interview with him.  He saw over thirty years ago how soil, water and agriculture are carefully intertwined and that we had better preserve the first two to maintain the third.

2. Michael Pollan – author of  Food Rules and The Omnivore’s Dilemna among other books, Pollan is a tremendous advocate for locally grown food.  He has studied the links between transit costs, food quality and health.  He can be provocative, but his books and articles are well worth the time!

3. Wendell Berry – where to begin?  Poet, novelist, essayist and farmer, Wendell Berry is the nearest thing to an American  conscience alive today.  One of the central themes of his work is the need to preserve the small scale farm.  He acknowledges the efficiency of corporate farming, but worries about the loss of diversity, culture and taste .  I’ve read a ton of his work, but would recommend “Bringing it to the Table,On Farming and Food,” and “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.”   You can get the flavor of his work from this interview: “Toward a Healthy Community.”

4. EcoTrust – we had our annual Partner/Spouse Meeting in Portland, Oregon a few years ago.  One of the things that really impressed me was the city’s restaurants use of local produce – and advertising of it!  Apparently EcoTrust is the outfit behind that movement.  Go to their website an poke around…they even offer advice on how to form local food networks.

5. LocalHarvest – not long ago, a close friend of mine told me his wife was getting involved in a “CSA.”  Always the history buff, I thought that perhaps she was joining the Daughters of the Confederacy, but learned quickly that the new CSA means “community supported agriculture.”  I really believe that the future challenge for cities will be how they integrate their surrounding rural towns and environs.  The CSA model is a great way to start.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Joel Kotkin has a sobering story about what has happened to the working class in Great Britain and poses the question as to whether it is a portent of what is to come on this side of the pond.  Kotkin, finds that in the former industrial center of Europe, where the industry left some time ago, there is a very high rate of perpetual unemployment, alcoholism and lack of mobility.  Disturbing too, is that the emphasis on job creation in Tony Blair’s “cool Britannia” resulted in job creation at the very top – hedge fund managers and the like, and at the very bottom – the latter of which are being filled by immigrants (primarily Islamists from Pakistan).

This has brought back a consistent nagging thought I have had about the direction of our country.  As we have de-industrialized, there are swaths of urban landscape (see my write-up on “Feral Houses” ) left desolate with a population of union dependent blue-collar workers that have nowhere to go.  My father, a retired diplomat and economist, has said for years that we cannot have an economy based solely on fast food workers and computer programmers.  Being the typical prodigal son, I pooh-poohed that notion, but I am coming around to believing that he is absolutely right.

The current administration’s idea of creating legions of “green jobs,” isn’t working out so well either.  Obama’s Spanish model has turned out to be a complete bust and when you stack the facts against the myths for our country, it’s not too good a picture.  In the words of Tolstoy, “what then must we do?”

In the “if I were King for a day” department, I believe this is the direction we need to head:

1. Direct Federal spending to the creation of real jobs.  We have aching needs in infrastructure repair, replacement and expansion.  For every $1 Billion spent in infrastructure construction, it is estimated by the Urban Land Institute, that 25-28,000 jobs are created.

2. Direct Federal and State policy towards the retention of strategic manufacturing capacity on our shores.  We should protect the ability to make the planes, rockets, tanks, ships and other hardware necessary to protect ourselves and the sane world.

3. Re-assess our trading relationships.  I am a HUGE advocate of free trade in theory, but we have drifted far from that in our relationship with countries like China that manipulate currency exchange and restrict imports.  We are in a symbiotic relationship with them, so even though they own huge amounts of our debt, they need us as badly as we need them.

4. Re-evaluate our educational priorities.  Since World War II, we have stressed, encouraged and facilitated a massive effort to get everyone a college degree.  Did it ever occur to us that perhaps what is needed is a broad range of educations including a robust trade school program?

5. Stimulate, educate and encourage entrepreneurship!  American ingenuity has been our hallmark since our founding.  Let’s get the engine of small business cranked up again – note to Msrs. Obama et al: that “boot on the neck of BP” you spoke about, is actually on OUR necks, please be so kind as to remove it.

The goal of these measures is to create a wider bandwidth of job creation and avoid the very real threat of perpetual unemployment.  We can’t all work for Google and no one wants to work for Goldman Sachs anymore, but it’s time to tend to the needs of the great middle, the true engine of our economic republic, lest we end up like “fail Britannia.”

Realpoint’s data is out and it’s not pretty:

(Hat tip Casey Report)

That tick up in March of another 6.8% means there is over $51 Billion in unpaid balances for commercial mortgage backed securities (CMBS).

If a chart like this were presented by some of the global warming crowd, they would say it’s a “crisis.”  Especially if you backed the time scale back a couple of years, it would really look like a hockey stick.  We need to get the economy going so that jobs can be created so that office space can be rented so that stores can keep the lights on so that the CMBS can be repaid.  What we don’t need is more “reform” coming out of Washington!

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