Tag Archives: Real Estate

What Happens as State and Local Tax Revenues Crater? by Charles Hugh Smith

As state and local government revenues crumble, expect politicians to start reconsidering their draconian restrictions on business and economic activity. Somebody has to pay for all that government! From Charles Hugh Smith at oftwominds.com:

We can anticipate a federal bailout of pension funds and one-time aid to state and local governments, but bailouts won’t repair the eroding foundations of tax revenues.

As we all know, the federal government can “print” money but state, county and city governments cannot. The Treasury can sell bonds to fund deficit spending, and the Federal Reserve can create currency out of thin air to buy the bonds, so federal spending can increase even as tax revenues crash.

State, county and city governments do not have this printing press. Yes, states and counties can sell municipal bonds for infrastructure projects, but they can’t sell bonds to support General Fund (i.e. everyday government services) expenditures.

As a result, massive declines in State, county and local tax revenues are already baked in as sales and payroll taxes drop and capital gains taxes–an essential source of revenues for many states–are set to collapse along with the stock market.

Longer term, the other primary source of tax revenues–property taxes–will fall off a cliff as the commercial real estate bubble and Housing Bubble #2 implode later this year. Lower sales, lower employment and lower profits all undermine the fundamentals of real estate, and the institutionalization of remote work and education will gut demand for commercial space.

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How to Survive the “Deep State”, by Doug Casey

The deep state will be your enemy, not your friend, when collapse finally arrives. From Doug Casey at internationalman.com:

Almost everyone looks for a political solution to problems. However, once a Deep State situation has taken over, only a revolution or a dictatorship can turn it around, and probably only in a small country.

Maybe you’re thinking you should get behind somebody like Ron Paul (I didn’t say Rand Paul), should such a person materialize. That would be futile.

Here’s what would happen in the totally impossible scenario that this person was elected and tried to act like a Lee Kuan Yew or an Augusto Pinochet against the Deep State:

First, there would be a “sit-down” with the top dogs of the Praetorian agencies and a bunch of Pentagon officers to explain the way things work.

Then, should he survive, he would be impeached by the running dogs of Congress.

Then, should he survive, whipped dog Americans would revolt at the prospect of having their doggy dishes broken.

Remember, your fellow Americans not only elected Obama, but re-elected him. Do you expect they’ll be more rational as the Greater Depression deepens? Maybe you think the police and the military will somehow help. Forget it…they’re part of the problem. They’re here to protect and serve their colleagues first, then their employer (the State), and only then the public. But the whipped dog likes to parrot: “Thank you for your service.” Which is further proof that there’s no hope.

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The Economic Bubble Bath, by Jeff Thomas

Bubbles, bubbles everywhere. Pop one and the rest will burst, too. From Jeff Thomas at internationalman.com:

At the end of a long, tiring day, we may choose to treat ourselves to a soothing bubble bath. Surrounded by steaming water and a froth of sweet-smelling bubbles, it’s easy to forget the cares of everyday life.

This fact is equally true of economic bubbles. When the markets are up, we’re inclined to feel as though life is rosy. Unfortunately, it does seem to be the norm that investors fail to recognize when a healthy up-market transforms into a dangerous bubble. We tend to be soothed into overlooking the fact that we’re in hot water, and economically, that’s not an advantageous situation to be in.

Periodically, any economy will experience bubbles. It’s bound to happen. Human nature dictates that, if the value of an asset is on the rise, the more success it experiences, the more we want to get in on the success.

Sadly, the great majority of investors have a tendency to fail to educate themselves on how markets work. It’s easier to just trust their broker. Unfortunately, our broker doesn’t make his living through our success; he makes it through brokering transactions. The more buys he can encourage us to make, the more commissions he enjoys.

It’s been said that a broker is “someone who invests your money until it’s gone,” and there’s a great deal of truth in that assessment.

And so, we can expect to continue to witness periodic bubbles in the markets. They’ll occur roughly as often as it takes for us to forget the devastation of the last one and we once again dive in, only to be sheared once again.

But we’re presently seeing an economic anomaly – a host of bubbles, inflating dramatically at the same time.

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The “Nightmare Scenario” For Beijing: 50 Million Chinese Apartments Are Empty, by Tyler Durden

The bulk of speculation in China is in real estate, not securities. Which means 50 million empty apartments are a bit of a problem. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

Back in 2017, we explained why the “fate of the world economy is in the hands of China’s housing bubble.” The answer was simple: for the Chinese population, and growing middle class, to keep spending vibrant and borrowing elevated, it had to feel comfortable and confident that its wealth would keep rising. However, unlike the US where the stock market is the ultimate barometer of the confidence boosting “wealth effect”, in China it has always been about housing as three quarters of Chinese household assetsare parked in real estate, compared to only 28% in the US, with the remainder invested financial assets.

Beijing knows this, of course, which is why China periodically and consistently reflates its housing bubble, hoping that the popping of the bubble, which happened in late 2011 and again in 2014, will be a controlled, “smooth landing” process.  For now, Beijing has been successful in maintaining price stability at least according to official data, allowing the air out of the “Tier 1” home price bubble which peaked in early 2016, while preserving modest home price appreciation in secondary markets.

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Bubbles, Balloons, Needles and Pins, by Raúl Ilargi Meijer

Will the Chinese economy implode? From Raúl Ilargi Meijer at theautomaticearth.com:

It’s no surprise that China has its own plunge protection team -but why were they so late?-, nor that Beijing blames its problems on Trump’s tariffs. GDP growth was disappointing at 6.5%, but who’s ever believed those almost always dead on numbers? It would be way more interesting to know what part of that growth has been based on debt and leverage. But that we don’t get to see.

So we turn elsewhere. How about the Shanghai Composite Index? It may not be a perfect reflection of the Chinese economy, no more than the S&P 500 is for the US, but it does raise some valid and curious questions.

Borrowing from Wolf Richter, here are some stats and a graph::
• Lowest since November 27, 2014, nearly four years ago
• Down 30% from its recent peak on January 24, 2018, (3,559.47)
• Down 52% from its last bubble peak on June 12, 2015 (5,166)
• Down 59% from its all-time bubble peak on October 16, 2007 (6,092)
• And back where it had first been on December 27, 2006, nearly 12 years ago.

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Hard Core Doom Porn, by Robert Gore

It will be a crash like we’ve never seen before.

SLL has been accused of trafficking in “doom porn.” Guilty as charged. If you don’t like doom porn, don’t read this article, it’s hard core. If you prefer feel good and heartwarming, there are plenty of Wall Street research reports and mainstream media stories about the economy available. Enjoy!

In 1971, President Nixon closed the “gold window,” which allowed foreign governments to exchange their dollars for gold. This severed the last link between any government and central bank-created debt and the real economy. Debt could be conjured at whim, and governments and central banks have done so for the last 46 years.

Not surprisingly, credit creation without restraint has papered the globe with the greatest pile of debt mankind has ever amassed, measured in nominal terms or relative to the underlying economy. A measure of how extraordinary this situation is: most people regard it as normal, if they think of it all. Debt is a first mover, a financial constant. Any exigency small or large can be met from an unlimited credit pool that will always be with us. How to rebuild Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico? No problem, borrow.

Although fiat credit creation by governments and central banks is unconnected to the real economy, its effects are not. Their debt becomes an asset within the financial system. Through fractional reserve banking, securitization, and derivatives it become the basis for a multiplication of the original debt. That multiplication is many times the multiplier (the reciprocal of the reserve requirement) taught in introductory macroeconomics classes whereby the debt is contained within the banking system.

Nominal global debt is reckoned at between $225 and $250 trillion, or about three times global GDP. Financial, debt-supported derivatives (financial instruments whose prices are derived from the prices of other financial instruments) are estimated at anywhere from $500 trillion to $1 quadrillion notational, or six to twelve times global GDP.

Overpriced houses did not cause the last financial crisis and almost bring down the world’s financial system, securitized packages of mortgages and their associated derivatives did. The Panglossian view of derivatives is that most of them can be netted out against offsetting derivatives, thus actual exposures are far less that notational amounts. The real world view is they can only be netted out as long as all counterparties remain solvent. As we learned in 2009, that is not always a correct assumption.

Globally, unfunded old age pension and medical liabilities, not counted as debt but still promises made that often have the force of law, sum to another $400 trillion. In the US, they are about $210 trillion, or about 11 times US GDP. Demographics amplify the liability: across the developed world, declining birth rates and extensions in life expectancies mean a shrinking pool of workers supports an expanding pool of beneficiaries. In the last month, SLL has posted four excellent articles by John Mauldin for those who want all the gruesome details. (Just enter John Mauldin in SLL’s search box and they’ll pop right up.)

This doom porn, the skeptics will say, is almost as old as Deep Throat (released in 1972). Markets crash from time to time, but they always bounce back. Central banks and governments come to the rescue with fiscal stimulus (increased government debt) and unlimited fiat debt. Why should we worry now?

There are a number of reasons. When the world was less indebted, a fiat currency unit’s worth of debt produced more than a fiat currency unit’s worth of expanded output of goods and services. Sometime within the last year or two, the marginal economic effectiveness of all that government and central bank debt reached zero, and is negative after debt service.

With the world saturated in debt, another fiat currency unit of debt produces no increase in output. Kick in the costs of servicing and repaying that debt, and increasing debt is actually retarding economic growth. It accounts for the long-term slowing growth trend, flat incomes, and “secular stagnation” that puzzle so many economists.

It also accounts for the lack of inflation that puzzles so many central bankers, at least in the price indexes they look at. They are looking at the wrong indexes. The relevant indicia are stock, high-grade bond, real estate, and cryptocurrency prices, still at or close to record highs, and corporate and securitized-debt credit spreads to treasury benchmarks at record lows (indicating massive complacency about corporate credit risk). Here inflation—the speculative kind that blows bubbles—is alive and thriving.

With the Federal Reserve now taking steps to shrink its balance sheet and other central banks making noises about doing the same, global fiat debt creation may go into reverse for the first time in many years. Brandon Smith at Alt-Market.com argues that this is part of plan leading to a crash and global, centralized monetary control.

He may or may not be on to something, however, valuation extremes and sentiment indicators point to the same conclusion concerning a crash. SLL maintains financial markets are exercises in crowd psychology, impervious to government and central bank efforts to control them, designed to separate the maximum number of speculators from a maximum amount of their money.

Robert Prechter, of Elliott Wave International, has written the chapter and the verse on markets and psychology. (SLL reviewed his groundbreaking tome, The Socionomic Theory of Finance.) Consider the following from Elliot Wave International’s October “Financial Forecast.”

Every month another sentiment indicator seems to pop to a frothy new extreme. Last month it was the percentage of cash that members of the American Association of Individual Investors harbored in their investment portfolios. At 14.5%, it was the smallest allocation to this safe alternative since January 2000, the same month that the Dow Industrials began a 38% decline that lasted through October 2002. Last month, we also showed a new bullish extreme for the five-day average of Market Vane’s Bullish Consensus survey of advisors. On September 15, the average pushed to 71%, a new ten-year extreme.

The most recent Commitment of Traders Report shows that Large Speculators in futures on the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) have amassed a record net- short position of 172,395 contracts.

This record bet on subdued volatility sets the stage perfectly for the period of “high volatility” that EWFF called for in August.

…Large Speculators in the E-mini DJIA futures have pushed their net-long position to 95,976 contracts, more than four times the number of contracts they held in January 2008, shortly after the Dow started its largest percentage decline since 1929. So, investors are betting to a record degree that the stock market will continue to rise and volatility will continue to remain subdued. Paradoxically, these measures indicate that exact opposite.

Various media accounts confirm that a rare complacency now dominates the stock market.

One doesn’t have to buy in to socionomics to realize that virtually everyone is now on the same side of the boat, a condition generally followed by the boat capsizing. Using conventional valuation measures, the only time stocks have been more highly valued is just before the tech wreck in 2000.

If one does buy into socionomics, the last few upward squiggles in the stock market will put the finishing touches on intermediate, primary, cycle, supercycle, and grand supercycle Elliot Waves dating back to 2016, 2009, 1974, 1932, and the 1780s, respectively. In other words, this is going to be a crash for the ages.

Given the unprecedented level of global debt, that appears to be the most likely scenario. Every financial asset in the world is either a debt claim or an even less secure equity claim—a claim on what’s left after debt is paid. Much of the world’s real, tangible assets are mortgaged.

When the debt bubble implodes, a global margin call will prompt forced selling, driving down all asset prices precipitously. Most of what is currently regarded as wealth will vanish. Opening up the world’s fiat debt spigots full force won’t stop this one. The notions that governments and central banks have speculators’ backs, that problems caused by excessive debt can be solved with more debt, will be revealed as monumental follies. And markets will not come back, at least in our lifetimes.

Long-time readers will point out that SLL has been issuing warnings for years. Again, guilty as charged. However, we’ll join Mr. Prechter and company in their prediction that US equity markets top out before the end of this year. (They called last year’s top in the government bond market, adding to an impressive list of correct calls.) If we’re wrong, it won’t be the first or last time. If we’re right, given the magnitude of what’s coming, being a few years early won’t matter at all. Our concluding clichés: fear is stronger than greed and markets go down much quicker than they go up.

Alt-Historical Fiction!

AMAZON

KINDLE

NOOK

US Government Mucks up Money-Laundering in Real Estate, Puts Luxury Housing Bubbles at Risk, by Wolf Richter

What happens to a bubble when many of the bubble-blowers are breaking the law? From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

Manhattan and Miami already get mauled. Now expanding to San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Southern California, even Texas!

Cash sales of homes – mostly the domain of foreign and affluent buyers – fell to 32% of total home sales in April, down 2.8 percentage points from a year ago, according to a new report from CoreLogic. For the first four months, cash sales dropped to 34%, the lowest since 2008.

In Florida, the number one destination for foreign homebuyers, cash sales accounted for 46% of sales, and in New York, for 44%, both decreasing as well. The “strong dollar” and “global uncertainty” were blamed.

In Manhattan and Miami, the luxury condo markets are already getting mauled. For example, we reported that in Manhattan, condo prices plunged 14% in just three months.

We also reported that foreign investors were pulling back, particularly Chinese investors, the most prolific of all foreign buyers. The number of homes they purchased over the 12-month period had plunged 15%.

So is it just the “strong dollar” and “global uncertainty?” Or could there be more to the story?

Today, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced that it would expand a program it had kicked off in January to identify and track secret homebuyers who hide behind shell companies.

The expanded program will “temporarily require US title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay ‘all cash’ for high-end residential real estate in six major metropolitan areas,” up from the two areas designated in January, Manhattan and Miami, among the biggest destinations of global wealth:

FinCEN remains concerned that all-cash purchases (i.e., those without bank financing) may be conducted by individuals attempting to hide their assets and identity by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies or other opaque structures.

Real estate purchases in the US have been a perfectly good way to launder large amounts of money, no questions asked. Brokers and banks and other industry professionals have played along. Everyone in the world knew it. And they came to launder their cash.

These folks don’t mind paying a little extra. So as an industry-pleasing side effect of this influx of opaque money, luxury home prices soared, from where they trickled down to the rest of the market.

The New York Times, whose investigative reporting on money laundering in the real estate business, particularly in Manhattan, appears to have stirred the Treasury Department into action, explained in January:

It is the first time the federal government has required real estate companies to disclose names behind cash transactions, and it is likely to send shudders through the real estate industry, which has benefited enormously in recent years from a building boom increasingly dependent on wealthy, secretive buyers.

Apparently, this first experiment in Manhattan and Miami was successful for the government, according to the release today:

The initial GTOs [Geographic Targeting Orders] are helping law enforcement identify possible illicit activity and informing future regulatory approaches. In particular, a significant portion of covered transactions have indicated possible criminal activity associated with the individuals reported to be the beneficial owners behind shell company purchasers.

This corroborates FinCEN’s concerns that the transactions covered by the GTOs (i.e., all-cash luxury purchases of residential property by a legal entity) are highly vulnerable to abuse for money laundering.

To continue reading: US Government Mucks up Money-Laundering in Real Estate, Puts Luxury Housing Bubbles at Risk