Continuation of Pessimism Not Warranted

By Natalie Dolce

LOS ANGELES—With the amount of money the government was putting into the economy, it was inevitable that things would recover. We have regained 8 million jobs added since the bottom of the recession and the continuation of the pessimism and uncertainty isn’t really grounded. That is according to Hessam Nadji, SVP and chief strategy officer of Marcus & Millichap.

Nadji joined moderator Michael Desiato, moderator and VP and group publisher of ALM’s Real Estate Media Group, and other industry leaders at the recent RealShare Los Angeles event here on Tuesday. According to Nadji, “the notion that the US economy was out of the game is always wrong. We do find a way to come back.”

Having said that, Nadji says the growth rate isn’t anything to write home about. “But this moderate level of growth is here to stay.”


Panelists on the industry leaders panel say the moderate level of growth in the economy is here to stay.


Panelist Marc Jacobs, managing director of Oaktree Capital Management, agreed, noting that the real estate market is on solid footing, at least in the near term. But there are early signs of caution out there, he warned. “It may not be real estate in general, but it might be corporate America that is loading up on cheap debt and will struggle to pay that debt back,” he said. “What will happen once the Fed starts pulling back?”

According to Eric Paulsen, CEO at, property values are still below their peaks, so there are still opportunities there. “An improving transactional market is always a better market. We willcontinue to see more and more sales with moderate improvement in the coming year.”

On the apartment side, according to Nadji, if you look at the recovery, “you are on the money about the apartment recovery being the only one for a long time.” But what’s interesting, he said, are to look at the fundamentals. “We should be seeing a slow down, but we aren’t really seeing that. The math still works for the most part but the big question mark is exit cap rates.”


We have regained 8 million jobs added since the bottom of the recession and the continuation of the pessimism and uncertainty isn’t really grounded, said Nadji (right) with Xceligent’s Doug Curry (left) and Oaktree’s Mark Jacobs.


There are some overbuilding on the high-end apartment side, warned panelist Mark Jacobs, managing director of Oaktree Capital Management.

“You will still see rent growth on the apartment side,” added Paulsen, but you are seeing more on the retail and office side, he said. Investors are chasing yields, with a lot of money chasing fewer assets. So what do they do? They go to a different market, he said. “One of the reasons you are seeing a bigger movement in secondary is the availability of information out there among other things.”

One of the companies with that information is Xceligent. Panelist Doug Curry, CEO of the company, said that his company is trying to bring a different level of transparency to the market with data collection.

The biggest laggard in this recovery has been office, according to Nadji, because of the excess space that was never put back on the market, and companies are now growing into that space. But that is the place to now invest, he said. “The demographics in job creation look strong… It is the year of the office market. The turning point is there. You will see the office market come back fast from this point forward.”    [emphasis added]   

Paulsen agreed that office is the place to go right now, but what’s important to consider, he said, is what the product will look like. “You are going to have to cater to a different demographic.”

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.

2 See the January 2013 Markets at a Glance,“Ignoring the Obvious”: