Fed Makes Long-Awaited Move; End of an Era, Signal of Confidence

  • The U.S. economy passed a major psychological threshold as the Federal Reserve closed the door on the extraordinary measures put in place to combat the financial crisis. With the quarter-point increase of its overnight lending rate, the Fed signaled that the economy has finally returned to normal operating levels. Though some sectors still face headwinds, broader economic measures including employment, retail sales and even home prices have largely returned to healthy performance standards. The Fed’s policy-setting committee reiterated that it will maintain a gradual pace of rate increases, aligning actions with key indicators such as labor market conditions, inflation, and international developments.
  • While short-term lending will be influenced by the Fed’s move, long-term interest rates will face little upward pressure in the immediate future. During 2016, the cost of long-term debt could see upward pressure, but this will be influenced as much by domestic and international confidence as by the central bank’s actions.
  • The move by the Federal Reserve will likely benefit commercial real estate investors, more because of the message it conveys than the influence of the rate change itself. By raising the rate for the first time since 2006, the Fed
    has finally expressed its confidence in economic growth, potentially opening the door to increased consumption and business investment. These positive trends would benefit all commercial real estate sectors as household formations escalate and increased discretionary income supports the demand for housing, retail goods, and business services.
  • The tempo and sustainability of economic growth that swayed the central bank represent a decidedly positive development for the office sector and industrial properties will also benefit from this trend. Additional hiring will generate new office space demand and put downward pressure on vacancy. Also, incremental demand may also emerge in interest-rate-sensitive financial services businesses, contributing to a projected decrease in the U.S. vacancy rate next year. In the industrial sector, a more robust pace of economic growth stemming from higher consumption will stimulate additional space demand from retailers. However, the rate increase will likely also strengthen the dollar, restraining U.S. companies with significant export business.
  • A solid pace of household creation accompanies an economic expansion and will generate new demand for apartments in the near term. U.S. apartment vacancy will fall this year to 4.2 percent and will rise nominally in 2016 as elevated completions narrowly outpace net absorption. Also, the Fed’s benchmark rate most directly affects consumer borrowing for items that include residential mortgages. Any additional tightening in monetary policy that suppresses the purchase of single-family homes and maintains a low rate of homeownership will provide a supplemental lift for the multifamily sector.


Source:  http://blog.marcusmillichap.com/2015/12/15/u-s-consumers-get-in-the-holiday-spirit-retail-sales-rise-fueled-by-gains-in-discretionary-categories/



Sam Zell was recently interviewed on Bloomberg’s “GO” TV.  The beginning of the post are some selected quotes from the interview.  I also provide a link to the full transcript.


By Mike “Mish” Shedlock

Wednesday morning, Sam Zell, billionaire chairman at Equity Group Investments, spoke with Stephanie Ruhle and David Westin on Bloomberg’s “GO” TV.

Zell discussed a wide variety of topics from the Federal Reserve rate hike, the risk of a near-term recession, real estate, energy, and various foreign investment ideas. The interview was before the Fed announcement.

I put a spotlight on some interesting Zell ideas. Everything below is a selected quote except for two comments by me in braces[].

Twenty-Two Ideas

  1. Economy: High probability that we’re looking at a recession in the next 12 months.
  2. Rate Hike: Interest rate hike is probably 6 or 8 months too late. I think that the economy is closer to falling over than it is to going up.
  3. US Dollar: Devalued currencies make it very difficult for the US to compete internationally.
  4. World Trade:  World trade is slowing. Currencies continue to be manipulated. You’re looking at the beginnings of layoffs in multinational companies. Weakness is going to be pervasive.
  5. Global Deflation: You can’t put aside China. You can’t put aside Europe. If China’s numbers turn out not to be as accurate as we think, China could go into a recession. That’s about as deflationary a scenario as you could possibly come up with. And one that would for sure impact growth and affect Janet Yellen’s decision.
  6. Fed Tools: “Uh” …  [as in the Fed has none]
  7. Asset Prices: Assets will get cheaper.
  8. Cash: With zero interest rates the penalty for holding cash is not very significant.
  9. Stock Market: Nothing cheap. A number of falling knives that have been obfuscated by Amazon and Facebook et cetera. If you take out those stocks, the stock market isn’t doing real well.
  10. Mexico:  Mexico is terrific. I think there’s extraordinary opportunity there.
  11. China: I don’t think China is growing as fast as it reports to be. And I think that the world has a significant deflationary risk coming from a slowdown in China which I think would impact the cost of goods all over the world.
  12. Brazil: Brazil is obviously suffering significantly. On the other hand, as an investor I’m always looking at where nobody else is willing to go. We’re there already and under the right set of circumstances wouldn’t have any problem investing in Brazil today. I just think you can’t lose sight of the fact that this is a country with 180 million people. It’s still growing. It’s self-sufficient in water, oil, food. It’s an extraordinarily badly managed you know entity. But the extraordinary part hasn’t changed. I’m somewhat of an optimist and I think this whole process will be a cleansing process.
  13. Oil: It’s not so much prices as it is specific opportunities. What makes the opportunity is the distress of the situation.
  14. Natural Gas: I’m probably more focused on gas than oil. And it’s, you know, it’s a little bit like real estate. I mean we made a fortune because we bought real estate at a discount to replacement cost. Well we’re buying gas in the ground, gas that’s been drilled. People have spent $10 million a well, we’re buying wells at dramatically less than that. So it’s the same kind of creating a competitive advantage by virtue of your entry price.
  15. Real Estate: It’s very hard not to be a seller. And so we’re in effect fulfilling in some respects our longer term strategy in AQR where we’re liquidating the remaining garden apartments we have.  I’m not a big fan of buying at these cap rates.
  16. Blackstone: Blackstone is just buying brick and mortar. And they’ve been able to raise staggering amounts of money. And they’ve got to put that money to work. That’s something we’ve never wanted to be in a position of having so much capital that it affects our decision-making on an ongoing basis.
  17. Currencies: I’m very concerned about what’s happening in currencies. I think that you know Bretton Woods in 1948 was the allies coming together and saying we can’t recover in the world without growing free trade. We can’t create growing free trade without stable currencies. So let’s make sure we have stable currencies. That worked for a long time. Now we have very unstable currencies. World trade is slowing.
  18. Dodd-Frank: I’ve never known of a single situation in my life where reduction in liquidity was a plus. And effectively Dodd-Frank has dramatically reduced liquidity and that’s a big negative. And that’s something we haven’t dealt with yet.
  19. Politics: The American people are extraordinarily angry. The American people are extraordinarily depressed. The last time we had anything like this in my opinion was 1979. [To a statement regarding Trump’s popularity Zell responded]:  It’s because you guys are sitting here in New York City and you’re not in Des Moines. And you’re not in Boulder and you’re not all over the country. And you’re not seeing the enormous disparity that has existed between you know the coasts and the rest of the country. We have a lot of very unhappy people and I think this election is reflecting it. And I think it will be very dangerous.
  20. Flat Tax: I think if I were given a straight choice I would be in favor of a simple flat tax.
  21. Government Bonds: I’m not a big lender of money to governments period.
  22. Climate Change: The level of certainty of exactly what is happening has a lack of humility and arrogance to it that scares me. As far as I’m concerned, conventional wisdom is my greatest enemy. And this strikes me as an awful lot of conventional wisdom.

It was a fascinating 2-hour interview. I stripped off the intro, the rest appears below. It’s well worth a read.

For the full transcript go here.




alarm-clock-public-domain-460x306By Michael Snyder

Economic activity is slowing down all over the planet, and a whole host of signs are indicating that we are essentially exactly where we were just prior to the great stock market crash of 2008.  Yesterday, I explained that the economies of Japan, Brazil, Canada and Russia are all in recession.  Today, I am mainly going to focus on the United States.  We are seeing so many things happen right now that we have not seen since 2008 and 2009.  In so many ways, it is almost as if we are watching an eerie replay of what happened the last time around, and yet most of the “experts” still appear to be oblivious to what is going on.  If you were to make up a checklist of all of the things that you would expect to see just before a major stock market crash, virtually all of them are happening right now.  The following are 11 critical indicators that are absolutely screaming that the global economic crisis is getting deeper… Continue reading “ALARM BELLS GO OFF AS 11 CRITICAL INDICATORS SCREAM THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS IS GETTING DEEPER”


A piece from Goldman Sachs economists Zach Pandl and Jan Hatzius: – Federal Reserve looks likely to begin raising short-term interest rates in December – Based on our economic forecasts, we currently expect the FOMC to raise the funds rate by 100bp next year:

  • Federal Reserve looks likely to begin raising short-term interest rates in December
  • Based on our economic forecasts, we currently expect the FOMC to raise the funds rate by 100bp next year
  • One hike per quarter
  • We see the risks to this forecasts as skewed to the downside at the moment

For economic growth in 2016:

  • US economy likely to be driven by domestic demand … in particular consumer spending
  • Forecast GDP will increase by 2.25% Q4/Q4 next year
  • Narrow and broad measures of unemployment have fallen significantly

Source: Goldman Sachs chief economist expects 100bp of Fed rate hikes in coming year

Based on this forecast by major economists, how do you see it affecting the real estate market?  Significantly?  Slightly?  Not at all?

Quiet U.S. Ports Spark Slowdown Fears – WSJ

America’s busiest ports reported a decline in imports during the key peak shipping season for the first time in at least a decade, sparking fears of a broader economic slowdown in the U.S.

The question is, what does a slowdown in economic activity mean to the economy in general, and real estate in particular?


Source: Quiet U.S. Ports Spark Slowdown Fears – WSJ

92,594,000: Americans Not in Labor Force Hits All-Time Record

By Terence P. Jeffrey

(CNSNews.com) – A record 92,594,000 Americans were not in the labor force in April as the labor force participation rate matched a 36-year low of 62.8 percent, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In March, according to BLS’s non-seasonally adjusted data, there were 91,630,000 Americans not in the labor force. In April, that increased by 964,000 people to an all-time record of 92,594,000. The previous record was 92,534,000, set in January of this year.

The BLS’s seasonally-adjusted number for people not in the labor force–which was 92,018,00 for April–was also an all-time record. This was up 988,000 from the 91,030,000 seasonally adjusted number BLS said was not in the labor force in March.  (The previous all-time seasonally-adjusted high for people not in the labor force was 91,8080,000, which occurred in December 2013.)

Labor Force Participation

“Seasonal adjustment is a statistical technique that attempts to measure and remove the influences of predictable seasonal patterns to reveal how employment and unemployment change from month to month,” says BLS. “These seasonal adjustments make it easier to observe the cyclical, underlying trend, and other nonseasonal movements in the series.”

The seasonally adjusted labor force participation rated dropped from 63.2 percent in March to 62.8 percent in April, matching a 36-year low. Prior to October 2013, the labor force participation rate had not gone as low as 62.8 percent since March 1978. In the last seven months it has matched that low in three months–October 2013, December 2013 and April 2013.

BLS employment statistics are calculated using what BLS calls the civilian noninstitutional population. This includes all persons in the United States 16 and older, who are not on active duty in the military or in an institution such as a prison, nursing home, or mental hospital. The civilian noninstitutional population is divided into two basic parts: those in the labor force and those not in the labor force. To be in the labor force a person must either have a job or have actively sought a job in the last four weeks. A person not in the labor force is a person who neither had a job nor actively sought one. The unemployment rate is the percentage of people in the labor force who actively sought a job in the past four weeks but did not get one.

Because of the way the unemployment rate is calculated, the rate can actually go down even when the number of people who are employed is also going down.

In April, the civilian noninstitutional population of people 16 and older was 247,439,000. Of these, according to BLS’s seasonally adjusted numbers, 155,421,000 participated in the labor force (down 806,000 from the 156,227,000 who participated in the labor force in March). That yielded the labor force participation rate of 62.8 percent–matching the 36-year low.

Of the 155,421,000 who participated in the labor force in April, 145,669,000 were employed (meaning they had some kind of job, including both full- and part-time jobs), and 9,753,000 were unemployed (meaning they looked for a job and did not find one).

The 9,753,000 who looked for a job and did not find one, and thus were “unemployed,” equaled 6.3 percent of the 155,421,000 still in the labor force–yielding an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent.

In March, in the then-larger civilian labor force of 156,227,000, there were 10,486,000 who actively sought a job and did not find one–yielding an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.

In March, according to BLS’s seasonally adjusted numbers, there were 145,742,00 people who were employed. In April, that dropped by 73,000 to 145,669,000.

Thus, in April, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped at the same time the number of people with jobs dropped. (In the BLS’s non-seasonally adjusted data, the number of people employed increased by 677,000 from March to April, climbing from 145,090,000 to 145,767,000.)

Full article at:  http://cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/92594000-americans-not-labor-force-hits-all-time-record-participation

Deconstructing the U.S. Economy: The Non-Recovery

By: Eric Sprott

We are now in the 5th year since the “official” end of the Great Recession (the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which officially dates U.S. recessions, said the recession ended in the second quarter of 2009), but it hardly feels like a recovery. Nonetheless, the media, sell-side economists, central bankers, the IMF, etc. all claim that the U.S. economy is now firmly out of the woods.

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech that he believes 2014 “can be a breakthrough year” for the U.S. economy and the IMF, which raised its forecast for U.S. GDP growth in a report titled “Is the Tide Rising?”, now predicts growth of 2.8% in 2014.1

However, a closer look at the data suggests that things are not improving and that the U.S. economy remains frail. Many point to the unemployment rate as a sign that things are getting better. Indeed, it has been declining steadily for many years and now stands at 6.7%. However, what many seem to forget is that the unemployment rate is declining for the wrong reasons.

Yes, the U.S. has been adding new jobs, but a large share of the decline in the unemployment rate can be explained by discouraged workers leaving the labour force.2 This effect can be seen in the falling participation rate. Many argue that this decline in the participation rate is structural and is caused by population aging. This explanation is superficial and misleading.

Figure 1, shows the contribution to the total participation rate for various age groups. As shown in Figure 1, since January 2005, the participation rate has fallen by 2.9% (from 65.8% to 62.9%). Of this decrease, 1.3% and 4.7% were driven by the 16-24 and 25-54 age groups, respectively. The rest was offset by a 3.1% increase in participation by the 55+ cohort.

Note: Sum of individual components adds up to total participation rate.
Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

This is reflective of a deep problem, as it suggests that baby boomers are failing to make ends meet and have to work for longer or even come out of retirement, and that the future workforce, those in their prime working years, are leaving the labour force.

Interestingly, without the “3% contribution” from the 55+ cohort, the labour force would have fallen below 60% for the first time since 1971, a period when the participation rate was starting to expand, driven mainly by women entering the workforce.

But that’s not all; many of those in their early 20s, seeing how hard it is to find a job, are staying in college for longer, amassing outrageous levels of student debt in the process. This is obviously not a sustainable solution. Delinquency rates on student loans (the bulk of them insured by the U.S. Government) are now at all-time highs (Figure 2). Most of these student loans have been securitized and sold to investors with the Government’s stamp (sound familiar?).

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

For all the rest (ages 25-54), the participation in the labour force has also been declining, although at a slightly slower pace. Nevertheless, the average U.S. consumer is still worse off than it was before the Great Recession. Real disposable income per capita (Figure 3) is lower than it was at the end of 2005 while, over the same period, health care costs have increased from 10.0% to 11.5% of GDP (Figure 4), thereby reducing funds available for discretionary spending.

INDEX 2005 Q4 = 100
Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations
Not surprisingly, lower disposable income and discretionary spending levels for the average American are reflected in declining retail sales growth (Figure 5 shows the year-over-year growth rate in retail and food services sales).

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

Moreover, since the summer of 2013, when the Federal Reserve lost control of the bond market (see our article “Have we lost control yet?”, June 2013)3, we have seen a clear deterioration in demand for credit dependent purchases. Since these purchases are mostly made on credit (mortgages, car loans), increases in interest rates have made them unaffordable to many customers. Thus, because of the large and sudden increase in interest rates, housing sales have slowed significantly, as can be seen in Figure 6. Similarly, car sales growth has been on a declining trend since it peaked in mid-2012 (Figure 7).

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

On the supply side, things do not look rosy either. The U.S. composite PMI has been more or less flat for the past 3 years (Figure 8) and has suffered a sharp decline since its August 2013 “peak”. Other indicators, such as the durable goods new orders have been growing at a declining pace (Figure 9).

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

Source: Bloomberg, Sprott Calculations

To conclude, numerous indicators of the state of the U.S. economy point to a non-recovery:

  • The participation rate is low and supported by baby boomers working more or coming out of retirement.
  • Students (the future labour force) are defaulting on their loans in record amounts.
  • Disposable income is still below its pre-recession level.
  • An ever increasing share of disposable income is being spent on health care, crippling discretionary spending.
  • Higher interest rates are further depressing discretionary spending (home and auto sales).
  • All of which is resulting in anemic business and economic activity.

Claims that the U.S. economy is suddenly rebounding have been made before. They are misleading at best and fallacious at worst. It would not be surprising to see further deterioration, which would force central planners to initiate additional unconventional intervention (i.e. Quantitative Easing).

Wow! In a recent Bloomberg article, Andrew Gracie, an executive director at the Bank of England (BoE), was proposing that in the event of a bank failure, regulators could suspend derivatives contracts affecting the failed bank on a global basis.4 He further argues that “The entry of a bank into resolution should not in itself be an event of default”. In other words, the solution proposed by the BoE to deal with a bank that fails and that has entered in a mountain of derivatives contracts is to suspend the market.

But this misses the point. As usual, regulators try to patch things up instead of proposing true solutions. What they are effectively proposing is to suspend reality, yet again, and pretend that there are no problems. This is even worse than suspending mark-to-market! How ironic that the same regulators who allowed this to happen are the ones who ask the market to suspend reality.

1 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2014/update/01/
2 See the January 2013 Markets at a Glance,“Ignoring the Obvious”: http://www.sprott.com/markets-at-a-glance/ignoring-the-obvious/
3 http://www.sprott.com/markets-at-a-glance/have-we-lost-control-yet/
4 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-03-04/boe-seeks-derivatives-pact-to-prevent-a-repeat-of-lehman-cascade.html