Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Internet-based Planroom products (Update #2)

On January 26th, 2011, we posted an article highlighting various Internet-based planrooms. And, on January 28th, 2011, we posted “update #1” to add one planroom that we missed on January 26th.

Today, we came across “smartbid.net” and smartbid.net offers a planroom service as a part of its overall service for construction project bidding, so we are adding smartbid.net in this update, update #2.


SPS' stock price looks to be near its all time low, but ARC's stock price is holding fairly steady

While ARC’s stock price and market cap have remained relatively stable the past year and are both well above the lows hit back in March 2009, Service Point Solutions’ stock price and market cap appear to be at all time lows. SPS’ closing price on May 31, 2011 was right around .39 Euro.

This, in spite of the fact that ARC suffered a loss for Q1 2011 and SPS announced that, for Q1 2011, it was “back in the black” (i.e., profitable.)

You can access SPS’ stock chart at this link:


Click on the tab “Todos” at the top right of the chart. (“todos” means “all”) Doing so will show you SPS’ stock price history since May 2005.

On May 24, 2011, ARC stock closed at $8.48.

Today, May 31, ARC stock is trading at right around $9.13.

That’s an impressive 7.7% gain in just the past week …. on “no news.”

Web-2-Print …….. What? This is something new?

This morning, I noticed that Andy Tribute, one of the Printing Industry analysts who frequently writes articles and creates video presentations that are published on WhatTheyThink.com, has a new presentation titled……

Web to Print – It is the Future for Print

By Andrew Tribute

“I recently attended and spoke at the Xerox Forum, an event run in Berlin by Xerox Europe. I was speaking on a panel and was asked what I would recommend for printers to invest in within the next year. My answer was that I would recommend developing their Internet expertise in the area of web to print to make it easier for customers to work with them.”

Unfortunately, Andy’s presentation is “premium content”, meaning that, if you want to watch it, you have to “pay to play.” This is one presentation that I have no interest in paying to see. I certainly appreciate that some people want to make money for the research they undertake in order to position themselves to put forth expert opinions about opportunities and what not, but, come on, any printer or reprographer who is not already aware that “web-2-print” services are nowadays absolutely necessary if you want to maintain your customer relationships and add new ones, should have his/her head examined …. and will probably not be in business five years from now. Come on, folks, reprographers and printers have been talking about “web-2-print” for at least ten years, if not longer!

The main principle involved in “web-2-print” is that, if you make it easy for customers to order services – and, I mean, make it very easy - they will like doing business that way, for it will save them time. Contrary to what some might say, it’s not always “cheapest price” that gets the business. Sometimes, it simply comes down to “who offers the easiest way to get something done.”

When I think of companies who offer web-2-print services, three company names come immediately to mind:

* Mimeo.com

* Uprinting.comt

* 48HourPrint.com

This is not to say that there are not hundreds of printing companies (and reprographers) who don’t offer web-2-print ordering, for that is the case, there are, for sure, hundreds that do. But, I’ve been following Mimeo.com since it was founded, and they offer one of the slickest ordering interfaces I’ve ever come across. And, last year, I needed to get a set of business cards printed for a convention I was going to be attending, and I used Uprinting.com for my cards. They made it so simple, so easy, fantastic service! When I visited 48hourprint.com’s web-site, I read some of their customer testimonials; this was one:

"I have used several other online printing services, and 48HourPrint.com has definitely become my favorite. The ordering process is smooth and hassle free. As a small business owner, I have to wear a lot of hats and get easily annoyed when ordering a product takes up too much of my time. Your service couldn't have been any easier, and the product looks perfect."

Gareth Conner

Creative Conners, Inc.

Many reprographers, for years, have been offering “on-line ordering” for plans and specs. ARC calls their on-line ordering “EWO” (electronic work order). At NGI, we referred to ours as “EWOF” (electronic work order form.) Virtually every reprographer who offers an e-planroom service offers some sort of electronic order form for placing orders. The question is, how many reprographers have extended their EWO’s and EWOF’s into the non-A/E/C printing services end of their businesses. And, for those that have, have they made it “oh-so-easy” (some call it “idiot-proof”) to use? The harder it is for customers to use a web-2-print interface to place orders, the less successful your web-2-print initiative will be. And, the opposite is equally the case.

Frequent visitors to this blog have read articles I’ve posted about Service Point Solutions, and more than one of those articles has mentioned Service Point Solutions’ web-2-print initiatives. SPS is expecting web-2-print to contribute handsomely to its recovery …. and to its growth.

Anyway, we should all thank Andy Tribute for sharing his expert opinions, even when those opinions are offered as “premium content”, but the thought of me paying even $1 for advice that web-2-print is an opportunity, well, thank you, I’ll pass on that one.

3D Laser Scanning Services – is this really an “opportunity” for reprographers?

This morning, while I was walking to my “office” (which, this summer, will be the Boston Public Library), I noticed a white panel truck, owned by “Survey Engineering Group”, parked on the side of Clarendon Street, and a list of “survey services”, offered by that firm, was displayed on the side of their truck.

Survey Engineering Group offers a number of different traditional “surveying” services, but one service, listed at the bottom, was “3D Laser Scanning.”

When I did a “wrap-up” post about the recent IRgA Convention in Las Vegas, I wrote about the panel presentation that kicked things off – the presentation I’m speaking of was the one where there were three different speakers, each speaker presented his thoughts about the future of reprographics and the future for reprographers. Two of those speakers indicated that reprographers might consider offering 3D scanning services; that offering that service might be a good opportunity for reprographers.

On the Internet, on the web-site of a “professional engineering surveying services company”, I found what I think is a fairly good definition of what a 3D Laser Scanning service is:

3D Laser Scanning
Laser scanning is a relatively new technology, having been used as a precise survey instrument only since 1998. Now, it is quickly becoming the new industry standard as a way to make very accurate measurements in complicated environments. This is precisely why using this technology is the best solution for measuring as-built conditions inside buildings. This instrument collects survey data points at a rate of 50,000 points per second. It has an effective range of 400’ to 500’. With several “scan” setups inside a room or of a building, a complete 3D model can be made of the existing conditions. These models are then used to create 2D civil or architectural drawings, 3D computer models, and final survey documents.

I haven’t polled reprographers to find out if they are planning to offer 3D Laser Scanning Services, but given the fact that 3D Laser Scanning Services are already offered by professional engineering firms and by survey engineering firms, and considering the fact that those firms have long made a living from providing information about “existing conditions” (of a plat of ground, the size of a structure, etc, etc.), I personally don’t see how reprographers are going to have much success, if any, if they choose to enter the 3D Laser Scanning Services business, unless, of course, they are going to purchase a survey engineering company and morph into a business that is completely outside of the traditional “reprographics services” domain.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Introducing the blog-site of Paul Dougherty, CTO of Gresham, Smith & Partners

Reprographers, I’d like to bring to your attention a blog-site I “discovered” this morning, as a result of a new “follower” who signed up to follow Reprographics 101.

It is important to learn from “our customers”; what they are saying, what they are doing, what they are suggesting ….. and the person – Paul Dougherty - who authors the blog was formerly the CTO of Gresham, Smith and Partners, one of the largest and most well-respected A/E firms in the U.S. For a couple of years, about 10 years ago, I worked for both NGI and Lellyett & Rogers – NGI was based in Tampa, L&R was (and still is) based in Nashville, and, during my time at L&R, L&R’s then owners, Bryan Dyer and Pat Brumfield, mentioned Paul’s name many, many times. Bryan and Pat said that Paul is one of the brightest, smartest guys they ever had the pleasure of serving, and if you know (or knew) Bryan or Pat, that kind of statement speaks miles.

Here’s his “brief” profile:


As (former) CTO of Gresham, Smith and Partners for 12 years, I have worked to meet the demands of business and the technology needs of broad architectural/engineering practices.

According to LinkedIn, Paul is no longer with GS&P and is now the CTO of Lellyett & Rogers Services.

And, here’s the Internet address of his blog-site:


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Our Nation’s RESIDENTIAL housing industry – new homes and existing homes – is totally out of whack

Our Nation’s RESIDENTIAL housing industry – new homes and existing homes – is totally out of whack and something needs to be done to fix this problem in order to bring the nation into a full recovery mode. Millions of jobs are at stake.

I’d like to respectfully ask that you read this entire long-winded post. How about coming up with prospective solutions and offering them up to your Senators and Representatives … and to President Obama. Do your part, get off your ass, speak your voice.

Yesterday and the day before, three different authors wrote articles about the U.S. Housing market. Two of the articles – the first two in today’s post – were written specifically about the current situation in the “existing-homes” market. (In other words, those article are not about “new” homes but about “used” homes.) After that, I’ve placed a copy of an article that was authored by one of Morningstar Research’s analysts. Apparently, his article is the first in a series of articles he intends to write. His article, the one in this post, is titled, “How Can We Live With These Housing Blues?”

As to the third article (the one I mentioned in the last sentence of the previous paragraph), a number of different people posted “responses/ comments” to that author’s article. One of people (Rocky2) who posted a comment (actually, he posted 2 comments) is the Vice President of a Residential Home Builder. In my opinion, his comments are “right on.” If you are too lazy to read today’s entire post, then, at the very least, read both of the comments he posted. His comments are posted in this color ink.

If Mortgage Rates Keep Falling, Why Are Home Sales So Bad?

Published: Friday, 27 May 2011, By: Diana Olick, CNBC Real Estate Reporter

As mortgage rates continue to fall, so too are home sales. That wouldn't make sense in a normal

housing market, but these are very unique times. Credit, or lack thereof, coupled with extremely weak

consumer confidence is keeping potential buyers on the fence.

Contracts to purchase existing homes plunged a far weaker-than-expected 11.6 percent in April, the heart of the spring housing season.

The National Association of Realtors' Pending Home Sales Index is now 26 percent below its cyclical high in April of 2010, which was the deadline for the now-expired home buyer tax credit.

"The pullback in contract signings is disappointing and implies a slower than expected market recovery in upcoming months," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

The drop in new contracts comes as mortgage rates continue to fall, just last week to the lowest level of the year so far. Freddie Mac reported 4.60 percent on the 30-year fixed, but analysts say even that's not enough to move this tough housing market.

"Because mortgage rates have been so historically low for so long, the law of diminishing of returns has set in with respect to the low rates being the main influence and catalyst in purchasing a home," says Peter Boockvar of Miller Tabak.

"Pricing, job outlook and access to credit will remain the key factors influencing the decision to buy a home, and I don’t think those reasons will superseded by another move down in mortgage rates in getting a buyer off the fence," Tabak went on to say.

Only the Northeast saw a slight bump up in new sales contracts, barely 2 percent. The South led the drop, down 17 percent, but that was largely du to extremely bad weather. Still the Midwest and West posted drops of 10 and 9 percent respectively.

The Realtors also blame tight mortgage underwriting for the drop in sales and today called on the banks to start moving more money.

"A robust economic and housing market recovery cannot occur as long as banks continue to hold onto huge cash reserves,” writes Yun in the report.

“We simply have to get back to sound, common-sense lending standards to provide mortgages to creditworthy borrowers who are buying homes well within their means. Bank balance sheets show rising cash reserves and declining loan balances – it’s time to loosen the purse strings,” Yun added.

Pending Home Sales Plummet in April


As the U.S. economy softens, real estate's struggle worsens

The housing market just can't seem to find its footing. After a rising for two months straight, pending home sales fell off a cliff in April. The National Association of Realtor's Pending Home Sale Index fell by 11.6% during the month. That's the biggest decline since the home buyer credit expired about a year ago. The index is now the lowest since September. What's weakening Americans' home buying demand?

At 81.9, the index is in pretty ugly territory. You can see that it was rarely lower than this -- even between the time when the housing bubble had popped and the home buyer credit took effect. The already anemic demand for home buying appears to have weakened even further.

This might seem somewhat surprising. Since home prices have begun declining again, the deals out there are getting better. Of course, this same trend could be driving potential buyers to the sidelines for the time being: no one wants to buy a home only to have its value decline in the next year.

The National Association of Realtors has a different explanation. Its chief economist Lawrence Yun says: The economy hit a soft patch in April from sharply rising oil prices, widespread severe weather with the heaviest precipitation in 20 years, and a sudden rise in unemployment claims.”

In fact, higher inflation in general is likely squeezing many Americans' budgets, which makes grim the prospect of buying a new home. Although unemployment hasn't risen much, since it also hasn't declined much, there aren't hordes of newly employed Americans with fresh salaries to put towards a mortgage payment. Putting all these factors together means that the relatively weak pace of sales is slowing.

It will be interesting to keep an eye on home sales over the next couple of months. The summer is traditionally busy season for realtors. At this point, it looks like they'll have farther to climb to reach even a relatively brisk pace of home sales during the warm months.

But if gas prices begin to soften, the weather improves, hiring picks up a bit, and consumers seek deals due to falling prices, then stronger sales could follow. Of course, that's quite a few conditions that need to be satisfied. It's pretty likely that a few will be met and a few won't, which probably translates into somewhat higher, but still relatively few, home sales.

How Can We Live With These Housing Blues?

The persistent weakness of the housing sector continues to weigh down the recovery.

By Bearemy Glaser | 05-26-11 (from Morningstar Research)

Worrying about the housing market is nothing new. From anxious homeowners wondering about the value of their property to institutional investors holding on to securitized mortgages, the direction of housing prices has been top of mind for some time now.

And rightfully so. Housing is a crucial component of our economy, and the recovery in the sector so far has not been earth-shattering. We will need to see housing truly be nursed back to health before we can finally put the Great Recession behind us, so keeping track of the industry is important to anyone trying to track our broader economic progress.

During the next two weeks, we'll look at how we got into this mess, where we are now, and why I'm not optimistic things are going to improve in the near term.

How We Got Here

There is no one, or right, answer to the question of how this mess got started. The truth is that it was a confluence of factors that led to the huge asset bubble and its subsequent decline. And the fact that many of these root causes have now reversed themselves, it is easier to see why the housing recovery has been slow, and why it might not speed up anytime soon.

One of the more obvious places to look at what caused the bubble is monetary policy. After the tech bubble burst, the Federal Reserve aggressively loosened the supply of money to soften the blow of a faltering stock market. This led to a scenario where we had inexpensive mortgages, lots of people with money still afraid to invest in stocks after the tech bubble, and a sense that housing prices would never go down. It isn't that shocking then that Americans starting putting more money into houses.

This was all assisted of course by an easing of lending standards by banks. Exotic new mortgages entered the scene, and the requirements for documentation and down payments plummeted. And since banks could quickly move the loans off their books and into mortgage securities, they weren't all that concerned with the credit quality of the borrowers. This made it all that much easier for the marginal homebuyer to jump into the market.

It also is impossible to discount the psychology of Americans who were caught up in the irrational exuberance. Watching your friends and family see huge paper gains in their homes had to be a huge inducement for getting into the market. And you had realtors out there encouraging people to reach for the biggest house they could find, even if it was more house than they needed. There really was also a palpable sense that not buying a house or not upgrading your home meant you were really missing out.

These factors helped push home prices to nose-bleed levels, but as we all know, it didn't last for long. Home prices began their decline even before the weakness of the entire economy was evident. The huge supply glut took its toll as developers started cutting deals to fill empty units. And as the economy began to shake, things only got worse. Subprime borrowers showed signs of having trouble keeping up with their huge new mortgage payments, and even higher-credit-quality borrowers found themselves in trouble.

It turns out that housing was the canary in the coal mine for the broader economy. Almost every other sector began to shake, and soon the entire financial system was in a full-blown credit crisis. As the recession took hold and deepened, the outlook for housing only got worse. Prices kept falling year-over-year, and like much of the economy, no one quite knew when they would bottom.

Where We Are Now

But things did eventually stabilize; by 2010 housing prices had mostly settled at 2003 levels, according to the S&P Case-Shiller Housing Index which tracks housing prices across 20 major metropolitan areas. However, prices haven't moved much since then.

Stabilization was caused by a few factors. First was the initial wave of homebuyer credit from the federal government that created a new financial incentive to get buyers into homes. These programs turned out to be very popular and got people thinking about real estate again. Support from the Federal Housing Administration and other agencies likely also played a role in stopping the free-fall and providing financing when the mortgage market was in disarray.

The Federal Reserve pitched in too by keeping rates low and allowing mortgage rates to fall even below where they were during the bubble. These cheap rates allowed adjustable-rate mortgages to reset to lower levels making homes more affordable for some and staving off more forced sales.

New supply also plummeted, helping the market reclaim the supply-and-demand balance. Housing starts are up slightly from the bottom, but they are still well below historical levels and could stay at this depressed level for some time. Demand has also come back as lower prices make buying look more attractive versus renting. In many areas, it is now cheaper to own a home versus renting which is something that was manifestly not true during the bubble.

But even though the market has stabilized, there haven't been many signs that things are truly on the upswing. Although the foreclosure crisis has crested from its peak, there are still huge numbers of people losing their homes. Not to mention the nearly one fourth of mortgage holders who are underwater right now. The continued forced bank sales and huge inventory of unsold homes continue to weigh on prices.

This give and take in the housing market is holding back the rest of the recovery. Many construction workers remain unemployed, and banks continue to be saddled with bad real estate loans. Furthermore, consumers aren't spending as much because they feel less wealthy with their biggest asset often worth less than what they paid for it. I'm not hopeful that this situation will turn around soon.

What do you think? What caused the housing bubble? Has housing really stabilized? What are the biggest headwinds facing the sector?

Next week, I'll look at some reasons that the housing market could be in for an extended rough patch.

There were quite a number of comments posted in response to the article Mr. Glaser authored. Here are those comments, one by one. Please take the time to read both posts by Rocky2.


Worry? Why? Worrying won't help.

Policy-makers made a conscious decision to keep GDP roaring along by encouraging a housing bubble to offset income lost during the 00-02 recession, and while millions of good jobs were offshored to ChIndia (which helped corporate profit margins, at the expense of the working class).

Many millionaires were made at AIG, Countrywide, Goldman etc., by the mass securitization of un-economic mortgages. Those millionaires (and billionaires) are keeping THEIR ill-gotten gains & their houses. Angelo Mozillo will not be renting any time soon.

No point in worrying, but remember this national fiasco, and trust no one. No one! Expect future policy makers to blow asset bubbles (which is what is happening now, in stocks and bonds). Save til it hurts. Stay "liquid". Don't trust Wall Street. Don't stick around waiting for someone to tell you the bubble is about to burst. -- the little guy is always the last to know.


Housing will not stabilize until credit opens - especially jumbo borrowers. Perfect credits can borrow but after the great recession, not many exist. Lenders won't get more liberal on underwriting until they perceive a price bottom. Most lenders and borrowers perceive another 10-15% percent decline in values. Until a price bottom concensus emerges, lenders won't lend and buyers won't buy.

Rocky2 (first of 2 posts by this person; see his second post at end)

Housing is no doubt at the core of this financial and economic crisis. Housing is also at the core of the solution. Unfortunately, Congress, the Fed, the President and the policy advisors have and continue to misread the significance of housing as a solution which explains the abysmal picture of this so called recovery.

The housing problem started as a simple problem of supply exceeding demand. When Wall Street began to securitize sub prime residential mortgage paper and splatter it all over the banking system, they effectively allowed the demand curve for housing to shift to the right. When sub prime ended (for good reason), the demand curve shifted back to the left leaving an excess supply of Wall Street induced housing sloshing around the economy. With supply exceeding demand, it was only a matter of time before home prices would fall leading to a severe write down of mortgage paper on the balance sheets of banks. Once the balance sheets of banks were impacted, it was only a matter of time before credit conditions would tighten crippling an economy dependent on credit.

The government was accurate in recognizing that a modern western economy needed credit to function. However, rather than deal with the problem of the excess supply of housing, they thought they could skip housing and fix the banking system directly. First the Fed responded by bringing down interest rates hoping other parts of the economy would respond and the housing problem would self-correct. The Fed also endeavored to save the banks at the expense of Main Street with a zero interest rate policy for depositors that would help banks recapitalize themselves. Then "bazooka" Paulson responded by begging Congress for TARP money that would fix Goldman Sachs and the banking system. Paulson and Bernanke never understood the significance of housing and in fact described the housing problem back in 2007 as "contained". The housing problem was not contained and their solutions were ill-conceived.

Congress, too, misread the housing problem and enacted a series of ill-conceived policies. First, they passed a $160 billion fiscal expenditure program that had nothing to do with housing. They then began to focus on housing with a Housing Rescue Bill that provided an insufficient $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of a home. This was not a true tax credit because it had to be repaid in three years. They then converted the $7,500 credit to a true $8,000 tax credit. While their focus on housing was commendable, the credit was too little, too late, and made ineffective, as it was limited to first time homebuyers. They then saw something was working because they extended the insufficient $8,000 credit, …. but for an insufficient period of time.

The problem in housing was one of excess supply. What was needed was a substantial tax credit at the time of not less than $20,000 available to any and all homebuyers. A substantial tax credit would shift the demand curve back to the right and clear out the excess supply of homes sloshing around the economy and battering home prices. A tax credit limited to first time buyers was like a shoe store trying to clear excess inventory with a shoe sale limited to red heads that are left handed. What about the blonds and brunettes? Don't they buy shoes too? The tax credit was too limited and did not work!

Unlike any other asset on the books of financials, we have over $12 trillion of residential mortgage debt in this country. The next largest category of debt is commercial debt at approximately $3.5 trillion. Nothing compares with the size and magnitude of residential mortgage debt. You cannot allow home prices to fall significantly and think the banking system would not be affected. Moreover, once you cripple equity in the banking system, it was only a matter of time before credit conditions would contract and the economy would deteriorate. This in turn creates a negative feedback loop whereby a deteriorating economy leads to additional foreclosures and a further fall in home prices.

Once again, we have over $12 trillion of residential mortgage debt on the books of financial institutions in this country (Fannie and Freddie hold half the debt which has created the obvious problem in those institutions). Banks are thinly capitalized on a good day with less than $1 trillion of equity capital in the entire North America banking system. Housing is simply something you cannot walk away from thinking the problem will self-correct with low interest rates and falling home prices. Our financial system cannot digest the extreme fall in home prices.

Obviously the Fed and our policy makers didn't understand this. I don't know what they were thinking but they clearly did not understand the significance of housing. Obama and Congress at the time had a socialist agenda that had nothing to do with housing. They passed an $800 billion stimulus program that extended unemployment benefits but never focused on housing. They developed programs for mortgage modifications, programs which were a complete failure; more than half of the modified mortgages went back into foreclosure. The Fed missed the boat completely and looked at the problem as a liquidity crisis rather than an insolvency crisis due to falling home prices.

Today, a substantial tax credit for the purchase of a home (not less than $25,000) would clear out the excess inventory of homes within six months. Many potential homebuyers have the income to make a mortgage payment but they do not have the down payment. A substantial tax credit, one that can be monetized at the time of purchase, provides the INCENTIVE AND THE DOWN PAYMENT MONEY that homebuyers today do not have. This is not the same as sub-prime lending which provided financing to anyone and everyone without effective underwriting. Today, even with a substantial tax credit, you still need to credit score and qualify for the mortgage under proper underwriting guidelines. Only then can you use the tax credit to purchase the home.

Like with any commodity, when excess inventories clear and supply and demand conditions are rebalanced, prices will firm and even begin to rise. As home prices rise, banks will no longer have to write down the value of residential debt on their balance sheets but may begin to write it back up. As home prices firm, consumers (two-thirds of the economy) may begin to feel better as the value of real equity in their homes begins to rise. Finally, as home prices on existing homes firm to the point where builders of new homes can compete, new construction will take place, which is the jobs bill everyone is looking for!

You may ask how can we afford a substantial tax credit today in the face of rising deficits and a major debt problem in this country. My answer is simply - - - how can we not afford it?

If we were starting a country today, we may not allow for a residential mortgage deduction and we may not create institutions like Fannie and Freddie to support housing. We may follow the Canadian system or the Australian’s, where the homeowners must guarantee their mortgage debt and where the 30-year mortgage is non-existent. In this country, we are too late for that. We have $12 trillion of residential mortgage debt in the system and homeowners in this country (over 100 million) have more than seventy percent of their net worth on average in their homes. We cannot today abandon the mortgage deduction or the institutions on which housing values depend. Fannie Mae was created in the 1930's to help us climb out from the Great Depression. Now in a recession that is the second worst economic downturn since the Depression, we are talking about eliminating Fannie Mae. This is dangerously absurd. We need to restore housing values in this country and prevent Wall Street from crippling the system in the future. We restore values with a substantial tax credit that brings supply and demand conditions back into balance. Once you fix housing, the banking system and credit conditions in this country will fix themselves and with new residential construction soon taking place, the unemployment everyone is worried about will in fact begin to abate!

Roger Sherr, rsherr@sherrdev.com


Many people relate the 1929 Great Depression to the stock market crash. What is rarely mentioned is the fact that the real estate market decline was the major factor in that depression too. Because of the market interventions that have artificially propped up the housing prices and continuing govt interference... we are in for many years of hard times. To compound the difficulties that remain, the Fed is devaluing our currency and intentionally trying to create inflation... This will not end well.


A substantial tax credit will not solve the housing problem as long as there is so much unemployment. People cannot afford to take on long term debt like this if their job situation is unstable. Creating this excess housing supply is what was keeping the economy afloat when other jobs were being outsourced to China. Besides the country is in a big debt hole and not collecting enough taxes as it is.

BuyerBeWare is correct that this is not the first time that houses all over the country went down in value. It happens locally also like in Detroit or Pittsburgh when the bottom falls out of the local economy and there is a big job loss.

The price of housing in the 2000s went up way faster than people's incomes. right now that amount is at historically high levels as a percent of what people earn. Prices have to return to historical percentages. And yes as the previous poster noted this is going to be a wall of hurt and will not end well. Could take a decade to work off until all the underwater mortgages come out from underwater, or there are foreclosures, and short sales.

Feeling richer because of the equity in your house is an illusion. You have to live somewhere. You sell your overpriced house in order to buy another over-priced one somewhere else. Until you die it's a zero sum game, unless you have to sell your house to finance moving into a a nursing home and in that case it's a negative one.


Buy Low, Sell High.

I am 23, so due to my age and college I missed the housing bubble by 3 years. I have bought 2 foreclosures for under $50k total over the past 6 months. These deals won't be around forever. Just make sure that when you buy something you keep travel distances and mobility in mind. The homes that lost value and will never come back are those built up in the exurbs and other areas that are completely dependent on the automobile for all mobility. These areas are not sustainable and known by many real estate experts as the ring of death because they show up on foreclosure maps as a huge ring that surrounds the farthest out suburbs. Buy in attractive or transitioning inner-city neighborhoods and you will hold value.


Bearemy, concerning the cause of the housing market bubble & subsequent collapse, I believe your basic premise is incorrect. Your introductory statement reads "There is no one, or right, answer to the question of how this mess got started. The truth is that it was a confluence of factors that led to the huge asset bubble and its subsequent decline." Actually, the entire residential mortgage market is controlled and backed by the US congress. This disaster was 100% the fault of our elected representatives in the house & senate. Yes, a lot of crooks in the mortgage business, realty business, Wall Street, etc., got rich. And, yes, a lot of them were greedy, unethical, broke laws, etc. Maybe there were some people caught up in irrational exuberance. (Most average people hurt, and some even devastated, by this were just average people buying a house to live in ... not speculating). And yes, low interest rates cause house & stock prices to go up. But this bubble & crash goes way beyond any of those factors. It was caused by ever increasing foolishness & recklessness in the US congress over a period of about 12 years. Many of the representatives were involved in obviously unethical behavior (such as getting special loan rates from mortgage companies). But the point is, congress has complete control over this market, runs the two GSEs that handle all the money, and back all the risk with US taxpayer dollars. And, congress not only allowed, but mandated ever more foolish lending standards. This is actually one of those rare disasters that is not caused by a confluence of uncontrollable factors. There is a very clear cause & a very clear group of people responsible.


Roger, why in the world would / should we increase subsidies to home-ownership. There was a significant increase in supply as you point out. The demand for this will be met over the next 2-3 years as new households form, population increases, new immigrants come to the States and start to build homes. The market will find its equilibrium. Introducing yet another distortion, i.e. your $25,000 new home credit continues to warp the market. Furthermore, as someone who pays significant taxes, has never missed a mortgage payment and is steadily buying my house the old-fashioned way, I have zero interest in subsidizing the home construction industry. They had their fat years over-building, and now they're having their lean years as the supply slowly gets digested. Continuing to distort the market for investments by raising the incentives to over-invest in housing is yet another example of short-sightedness. Let's be adults and take our medicine and work through our prior mistakes.


So long as we fail to clearly assign blame and rectify the causation of the housing market collapse, we are doomed to repeat the error and probably continue along this path of interminable fiscal malaise. We must recognize that the sole proximate cause of the housing meltdown was the federal government when it mandated credit easing for home ownership in the mid-late 90s. The rest was mere add-on from creation of sub-prime, adjustable rate, liar loans and what have you. Wall Street jumped in with loan securitization which was under rated by the government sponsored rating agencies. The flags were being thrown down on the field for years, but government did nothing.

The solution to the problem is to eliminate career politicians primarily interested in providing feel good rules and legislation to guarantee re-election. Pandering to the poor and bad credit risks by allowing them to buy property they could not afford merely hurt us all. Government inflating a housing bubble to cure the ills of a prior stock market bubble and job losses due to strangle hold unions and regulations obviously was not the answer. We need elected leaders unafraid to speak truth to the parasite class and lose re-election. Otherwise, the US is on a long, slow downward slide.


Good one, Polkster-zero. That's hilarious.

Housing will continue to be a disaster for years and years.

What's the big deal? Houses will only go down maybe another 10-15% nominal terms, and probably another 20-30% in real terms, as inflation picks up.

What if rates rise? I mean, we haven't even had the English and Australian housing busts yet, because all of them are on adjustable loans and rates have been ultra-low (J. Grantham cited a conversation with a friend in England who was paying 0.75%!), but that also means it will be a really nice disaster when rates go up.

Think that means nothing to the U.S.? Right, like the PIIGS mean nothing to the U.S., too? Ever heard of CDSs? If British, Greek, and Irish and many other banks start seeing the pain from this, so will our TBTF banks.


Maybe, Polkster0 and pquilici, the U.S. Congress started the housing bubbles in Spain, Ireland, Australia, England, China, etc. etc. etc. also?! LOL. You guys are funny.

See how quickly an argument that you have obviously never thought through, and which has no basis in fact, falls apart?


Nomadb, you make good points but you are missing the big picture and you do not provide a solution. First, regarding the idea that housing will correct itself over time, all problems in economics are self-correcting if you wait long enough. The problem with falling housing prices is that the financial system cannot digest the fall in home prices to the extent we are experiencing. Again, we have over $12 trillion of residential mortgage debt sitting on the books of financial institutions including Fannie and Freddie (which hold over $5 trillion of this debt). Banks in general are thinly capitalized and cannot absorb the write-downs in residential mortgage paper that falling home prices are necessitating. As banks write down their capital, they are forced to contract their lending which is crippling the economy in general and circling back to hit home prices again and again. To not effectively stimulate housing demand and restore equilibrium immediately is to accept the more costly misguided monetary and fiscal policies that are truly bankrupting the nation and killing the dollar. You may wish to wait for a self-correcting solution, but with unemployment sticking at unprecedented levels, a falling dollar with huge inflationary implications, homeowners (including yourself) who have seen the equity in their homes severely decline or wiped out (if they have not lost their home altogether), and a government continuing to search for solutions with no idea of what they are even spending money on -- how much longer do you want to wait???

Regarding your second point of not benefiting the builders with a tax credit policy, you need to understand that the tax credit is not about benefiting builders and stimulating new construction. Builders of new homes cannot compete today with the reduced prices on existing homes and foreclosed homes. Given the price discrepancy, any home buying incentive in the form of a tax credit will go largely toward existing housing and not new construction. A tax credit is not about stimulating new construction. New construction would add to the supply problem the country is trying to escape from. Given the significantly more attractive pricing on existing housing, a substantial tax credit will largely go toward clearing the inventory of existing homes on the market. Moreover, unlike with sub prime lending, since underwriting of mortgages today is more restrictive and responsible these sales of existing homes will not likely come back on the market in the form of foreclosure and default. Finally, to the extent some of the credit spills into new construction, jobs will be created so let it happen!

A substantial tax credit will in fact clear inventories and fix our problem. The only negative is that it should have been done earlier before we piled on all this debt and brought the dollar to its knees. On a global basis, the problem with United States recession today is made even more threatening given that Europe is facing its own sovereign debt troubles and Asia is slowing as it fights inflation. We cannot worry about the world all the time but we can fix our economy at home. Given the costs of all other government policies and crippling impact of this economy on its citizens, I suggest we not wait for the housing problem to self-correct.


Friday, May 27, 2011

RICOH to become more “muscular”

Well, that’s an abbreviation of the statement attributable to Ricoh’s President & CEO.

I think he meant to say that “we’ve gotten fat, and we’re going to trim some of our fat.” Ricoh has announced intentions to slash 10,000 jobs! I wonder how many of those jobs will be cut from Ricoh’s U.S. workforce.

Here’s the story I found on Reuters.com about this…..


(Reuters.com / May 26, 2011) - Copier and printer maker Ricoh Co will cut nearly 10 percent of its workforce to try to boost sagging profits, a move that could signal another wave of cost-cutting by underperforming Japanese companies.

Ricoh said on Thursday the restructuring included slashing 10,000 jobs from its global workforce of 109,000, cutting unprofitable products and consolidating factories.

The restructuring could help Ricoh, which has long promised but failed to deliver cost cuts, fend off competition from firms such as Xerox and Canon Inc.

Analysts said Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, which tipped the country into recession, could speed up efforts by Japanese firms to stay competitive.

"The earthquake has ended any lingering complacency at Japanese companies that have been behind the curve in restructuring and in M&A," said Macquarie strategist Peter Eadon-Clarke.

"It has reminded people of the limited opportunities at home and of the need to build successful global operations."

Last month, Panasonic Corp said it would cut 17,000 jobs and close up to 70 factories globally. Camera and medical equipment producer Olympus has also said it would shed jobs.

Ricoh's shares closed up 4.1 percent after surging as much as 7.4 percent on the news. Analysts said the job cuts marked a welcome change in direction for a company that has until now refrained from major restructuring, despite lagging rivals in terms of profitability.

"Ricoh has been dragging its feet on restructuring and has finally started moving. The market has been worried how it would deal with its bloated cost structure after acquisitions," said Kazuyuki Terao, chief investment officer at RCM Japan.

"There are more companies out there that need to carry out restructuring. Some successfully engineered a recovery by restructuring after the Lehman shock. I expect those that did not restructure then will do so this time around."

Ricoh said in a statement the job cuts were expected to boost operating profit by 140 billion yen ($1.7 billion) in the year ending March 2014.

"We have become a big company and need to re-engineer our corporate structure throughout to become more muscular," Ricoh President and CEO Shiro Kondo told a news conference.

"We have done very little pruning of unprofitable businesses, and we need to pull out of some."

The firm is targeting operating profit of 210 billion yen in the financial year to March 2014, more than triple the 60 billion yen it posted in the past year, ending in March, when sales fell 4 percent to 1.94 trillion yen.

Ricoh bought U.S. office equipment distributor Ikon Office Solutions for $1.6 billion in 2008 in a bid to grab market share from rival Canon, but has yet to clear its network of overlapping operations, Kondo said.

While Ricoh's staff grew by 43 percent over five years, its operations stayed in the red in key areas such as fast-growing China, while margins in office copiers slumped amid fierce competition and a dearth of new hit products.

With an operating profit margin of 3 percent in the past business year, Ricoh is less efficient than its Japanese rivals. Konica Minolta had a margin of 5 percent while Canon managed a profit margin of 10 percent. It now targets a profit margin of 8.8 percent in the year to March 2014.

Ricoh said last month it expects its operating profit to rise 16 percent to 70 billion yen in the business year that started in April on sales of 2.09 trillion yen, up 7.6 percent.

(Additional reporting by James Topham and Taiga Uranaka in TOKYO and Maneesha Tiwari in BANGALORE; Editing by Nathan Layne and Anshuman Daga)