News: Real Estate, Risk, Economics. Feb. 17, 2015

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Table of Contents
(Click to sections below.)

1) #ShutDownRemax In Las Vegas, Nevada! | PopularResistanceOrg

2) West Virginia Train Derailment, Massive Fireballs, Explosions in Fayette County – YouTube

3) Average Home Prices in China Continue to Fall – NYTimescom

4) Some OC communities see home prices approach bubble levels – The Orange County Register

5) Chinese companies look to invest in American real estate | Marketplaceorg

6) Dan Gilbert, Bedrock Real Estate bring new businesses into downtown Detroit offices | MLivecom

7) The Congressional Reserve Board: A Really Bad Idea — Money, Banking and Financial Markets

8) Is the oil crash over? | Gavyn Davies

9) Yanis Varoufakis: No Time for Games in Europe – NYTimescom

10) Reforming Greek Reform by Dani Rodrik – Project Syndicate

11) Coppola Comment: Reforms, bloody reforms

12) An Accidental Currency War? by Mohamed A. El-Erian – Project Syndicate

13) Fiscal Policy Coordination: A Necessary Step For The Eurozone Recovery

14) Demographic changes and structural deflation | Jérémie Cohen-Setton at Bruegelorg

15) Lender offers FHA loans with no FICO score requirement – OC Housing News

16) NICB to Boston-Area Homeowners: Beware of Insurance Scammers

17) Understanding Snow Collapse Claims

18) Mansion fires spark $20M in payouts, suicide, fraud case | KQV

19) Up to $1bn stolen from 100 banks by cyber criminals, claims Kaspersky – Computing News

20) Construction Consulting, Expert Witness & Related Services | HG Cornerstone | Alert: Warning Signs before a Snow-Load Roof Collapse Occurs

21) Central Banks: Clear Tasks Instead of Outdated Formulas – Global Trends – Credit Suisse

22) Banks May Have Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation – Bloomberg Business

  1.    #ShutDownRemax In Las Vegas, Nevada! | PopularResistance.Org

    Super controversial: Wow, we just ran into this. What do you think?

    Denver-based, RE/MAX International is directly profiting off of the selling of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank through RE/MAX Israel. While Palestinian homes and olive groves are bulldozed to make way for new settlements, RE/MAX agents are doing business in all the major West Bank settlements and Occupied East Jerusalem violating international law….

    It is true that the settlements are illegal under international law. The US government, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses, has held that they are illegal. Should RE/MAX be operating there?

    Add your comment.


  2.    West Virginia Train Derailment, Massive Fireballs, Explosions in Fayette County – YouTube

    Is this an argument for pipelines or clean alternative energy? We say the latter.

    A train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in southern West Virginia on Monday, sending at least one into the Kanawha River, igniting at least 14 tankers and sparking a house fire, officials said.

    There were no immediate reports of injuries. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as a state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene about 30 miles southeast of Charleston.

    Add your comment.


  3.    Average Home Prices in China Continue to Fall – NYTimes.com

    Average prices for new homes in China's 70 major cities fell 5.1 percent in January from the level of a year earlier, data showed on Monday, the fifth consecutive month showing an annual drop.

    China's real estate market is showing signs of recovery, as some developers raise prices in major cities. The increases follow the central bank's surprise rate cut in November and its decision this month to lower lenders' reserve requirements, as it works to revitalize an economy growing at its slowest rate in more than two decades.

    That's not recovery. That's kicking the can down the road.

    Add your comment.


  4.    Some O.C. communities see home prices approach bubble levels – The Orange County Register

    Victor Yack's waterfront condo appraised at $1.75 million when he took out a reverse mortgage in 2007, the peak of the market in his west Newport Beach ZIP code.

    Then the market crashed and the median price fell about 40 percent within two years in 92663, where he lives.

    Now Yack, 87, feels the need to move to an assisted living facility and put up for sale the two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo he's called home nearly a half century.

    He's asking $1.695 million. That's within 3 percent, or $55,000, of the appraised value back at the peak of the housing bubble.

    Add your comment.


  5.    Chinese companies look to invest in American real estate | Marketplace.org

    For years, China had strict capital controls, meaning it was difficult to get legal clearance to move money out of the country. But in 2013 and 2014, Beijing loosened those rules. Very quickly, Chinese capital has started to flood into big world cities.

    "So that means that there's this whole new group of competitors and potential purchasers for real estate around the globe," says Joel Rothstein, a partner at the international law firm Paul Hastings.

    We really didn't hear much about the loosening.

    Add your comment.


  6.    Dan Gilbert, Bedrock Real Estate bring new businesses into downtown Detroit offices | MLive.com

    DETROIT, MI – Six new businesses have officially moved into downtown Detroit offices, Bedrock Real Estate Services announced Monday.

    Add your comment.


  7.    The Congressional Reserve Board: A Really Bad Idea — Money, Banking and Financial Markets

    This article is a very long defense of the Fed against libertarian attack, as if the libertarian option is the only one.

    To make the Fed "tool independent" in practice, existing law shields current monetary policy discussions and decisions from direct congressional audit. Direct and immediate review of, say, the proceedings of FOMC meetings would turn Congress into the true backseat driver.

    Everything the Fed does, a properly designed computer program and network could do vastly better, perfectly in fact.

    Also, the biggest problem with the Fed is interest. You see, as we've said over and over and over on this blog, we don't need interest. In fact, interest is counter-productive.

    By the way, let us say it again. The Federal Reserve System is not owing ourselves the money. The Fed can't return interest payments made to other than the Fed.

    We don't need a national debt, never have, never will. It's a scam designed to keep the plutocrats where they are relative to the rest.

    Add your comment.


  8.    Is the oil crash over? | Gavyn Davies

    Gavyn Davies:

    The "peak oil" theory looks increasingly dubious, GDP growth in the major emerging economies has slowed, electric cars are coming closer, the Saudis are no longer willing to act as the swing producer, and alternative energy sources are coming on stream.

    The trough of this cycle may be close, but the golden era for oil producers is nothing more than a very distant memory.

    We shall see once the Saudis have burned through their currency reserves enough.

    We want to see the world turn clean.

    Add your comment.


  9.    Yanis Varoufakis: No Time for Games in Europe – NYTimes.com

    Yanis Varoufakis:

    The great difference between this government and previous Greek governments is twofold: We are determined to clash with mighty vested interests in order to reboot Greece and gain our partners' trust. We are also determined not to be treated as a debt colony that should suffer what it must.

    Smart move writing that article right now, even if he isn't playing games; and we don't think he is.

    Add your comment.


  10.    Reforming Greek Reform by Dani Rodrik – Project Syndicate

    Dani Rodrik:

    …there are clear examples of positive economic outcomes resulting from breaking a similar currency bond. Britain dropped out of the Gold Standard early, in 1931, so that it could ease monetary conditions and reduce interest rates, and it did better than countries that delayed the exit until later. Argentina abandoned its fixed exchange rate against the US dollar in 2001, and experienced rapid recovery after two bad quarters.

    Add your comment.


  11.    Coppola Comment: Reforms, bloody reforms

    Frances Coppola:

    The reforming countries have made deep and painful cuts to domestic consumption – hence their recessionary economies – and rebalanced towards exports. Now it is time for the non-reformers to reform. They must increase domestic investment and raise consumption. Without that, the weaker countries cannot recover. And without recovery for the weaker countries, the Eurozone is doomed.

    It is as simple as that.

    Add your comment.


  12.    An Accidental Currency War? by Mohamed A. El-Erian – Project Syndicate

    Mohamed A. El-Erian:

    …not all currencies can depreciate against one another at the same time. But the current wave of efforts, despite being far from optimal, can persist for a while, so long as at least two conditions are met.

    The first condition is America's continued willingness to tolerate a sharp appreciation of the dollar's exchange rate. Given warnings from US companies about the impact of a stronger dollar on their earnings — not to mention signs of declining inward tourism and a deteriorating trade balance — this is not guaranteed.

    Still, as long as the US maintains its pace of overall growth and job creation — a feasible outcome, given the relatively small contribution of foreign economic activity to the country's GDP — these developments are unlikely to trigger a political response for quite a while. Indeed, America's intricate trade relations with the rest of the world — which place households and companies on both sides of the production and consumption equation — make it particularly difficult to stimulate significant political support for protectionism there.

    That's exactly right; however, the lack of a sufficiently strong industrial base is a national-security issue. The Military-Industrial Complex has a voice at the table. The greater the stated military threats, the greater will be the call for exactly the protectionism to which Mohamed A. El-Erian deftly referred.

    Add your comment.


  13.    Fiscal Policy Coordination: A Necessary Step For The Eurozone Recovery

    Andrea Boitani and Roberto Tamborini :

    As argued by President Draghi at Jackson Hole, the path towards a satisfactory recovery in the EZ can only be initiated by fiscal and monetary coordination at EZ level, and this fiscal stimulus can only be coordinated across countries via Brussels. This view calls into question the design of the EZ's economic governance, of which the austerity doctrine remains one of the pillars.

    … Fully-fledged political and fiscal federalism is probably the best institutional arrangements for properly embedding a monetary union. However, under current political constraints, the United States of Europe may well be a mirage, capable of entrapping the EZ in a dangerous status quo. What is urgently needed is an effective system of protection and stabilization against large economic and financial boom-bust cycles skilfully articulated at the national and supranational levels along the following lines: …

    Add your comment.


  14.    Demographic changes and structural deflation | Jérémie Cohen-Setton at Bruegel.org

    …is there a link between demographic changes and deflation? And what are the implications for monetary policy?

    What's at stake: A view has appeared arguing that the low-inflation environment experienced by advanced economies may be structural, rather than cyclical. Although this view remains based on thin empirical evidence and still needs to be fully articulated, it is gaining support among monetary pessimists.

    "…inflation is and remains a monetary phenomenon."

    If by that, monetarism a la Milton Friedman is meant, then it is incorrect. The Fed has not increased inflation via monetarism. The transmission mechanism hasn't been there. There hasn't been sufficient demand. Monetarism here is a supply-side argument. The current economic situation is primarily a demand-side issue due to insufficient high-paying wages spread across enough earners.

    An aging demographic definitely has to do with it.

    What is needed to make up for this is balanced fiscal spending via bond-free money. The Federal Reserve System, as it is currently constituted, is a hindrance.

    Add your comment.


  15.    Lender offers FHA loans with no FICO score requirement – OC Housing News

    Larry Roberts:

    Underwriting loans to unqualified borrowers with super-low FICO scores is a recipe for another crisis of loan delinquencies and foreclosures.

    Many have quipped that FHA has become the replacement for subprime because they have very low standards for qualification, a very low down payment requirement (currently 3.5%), and as a result, they have become the loan-of-necessity for anyone who doesn't have the credit requirements or the down payment necessary to obtain other financing. In other words, they have stepped into the void left by the collapse of subprime lending.

    I recently reported that the FHA reduced it's insurance fees to spur first-time homebuying; this move came despite the fact the fund maintains reserves far below it's mandate. Many Congressional Republicans worry issuing more FHA loans to marginally qualified borrowers puts the US taxpayer at risk — which it does.

    Are the Congressional Republicans merely grandstanding for votes? Are they being alarmist when no real danger exists? Is the lowering of FHA loan fees and lowering of lending standards really a problem?

    Reducing lending standards while also reducing insurance fees is a recipe for a future bailout. Lower lending standards puts more unqualified borrowers into homes with low-down payment mortgages. When these borrowers default, the default losses will be large, and the US taxpayer will be left holding the bag.

    So are lenders really letting unqualified borrowers buy homes again?

    Yes, they are….

    Let's overlook the past behavior from more than 8 years ago. Realistically, any mistakes borrowers made during the housing bubble are long behind them, and if they learned anything from the experience and reformed their profligate ways, then over the last few years their good behavior would be reflected in a hi gher FICO score.
    Giving loans to people with FICO scores under 620 isn't about forgiving a hiccup from the past, it's giving a loan to someone who demonstrates current irresponsibility with money.

    We couldn't agree more. Given our mixed economy, there's nothing wrong with renting. All we need are more good rentals and higher wages, not lower lending standards.

    Add your comment.


  16.    NICB to Boston-Area Homeowners: Beware of Insurance Scammers

    The Des Plaines, Illinois-based NICB said that after a disaster, contractors will often go door-to-door in affected neighborhoods offering clean up, construction or other repair services. Most of these business people are reputable, but many are not. The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims, such as: …

    The NICB also offered "tips before hiring a contractor."

    What we immediately noticed missing are 1) a valid contractor's license 2) proof of any required bonding and 3) a certificate of insurance issued directly to the homeowner by the carrier and/or agent and showing that the contractor is covered with adequate limits.

    You might also check the BBB and your state's registrar of contractors concerning any complaints. Just because there have been complaints doesn't mean you should necessarily reject the contractor. See how any complaints were handled and resolved.

    Consider involving a public adjuster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_adj uster) up front.

    Read your policy to see what you are required to do in the event of a loss; and do your best to follow the requirements while documenting each step you take in that regard: Who, what, where, when, and how much, etc., including all conversations and correspondence.

    There are things you can do to protect from further damage and which you are likely required to do right away, but safety comes first. Once the immediate emergency is over and you are assessing the situation concerning further property damage and/or liability issues, don't undertake what would put life and health in needless jeopardy. Get first-responder and professional help. The best you might be able to do is attempt to warn others away from the scene.

    Unfortunately, some of these things are judgment calls. The law calls for you to do what the typical person would consider reasonable under the circumstances, that includes your age and health, etc. Anything less might put you at risk of being found to have been negligent.

    Add your comment.


  17.    Understanding Snow Collapse Claims

    This is a great article for a quick overview of the thinking that goes into determining snow load. We learned quite a bit from it.

    The location and type of roof and building impact whether a building is at risk for snow collapse. In addition, the thermal property and importance factor play a significant role…Dan Mazzei, an engineering associate with Wallace Engineering, and Melvin Jeffers, an executive general adjuster with Engle Martin & Associates.

    Add your comment.


  18.    Mansion fires spark $20M in payouts, suicide, fraud case | KQV

    We covered this "Claire Risoldi" issue before and thought it proper to post this that balances out the mainstream-media coverage.

    We won't cast aspersions on anyone but will allow the justice system to do its work.

    Add your comment.


  19.    Up to $1bn stolen from 100 banks by cyber criminals, claims Kaspersky – Computing News

    "These attacks again underline the fact that criminals will exploit any vulnerability in any system," Sanjay Virmani, director of Interpol Digital Crime Center, said in a statement prepared by Kaspersky. "It also highlights the fact that no sector can consider itself immune to attack and must constantly address their security procedures."

    Add your comment.


  20.    Construction Consulting, Expert Witness & Related Services | HG Cornerstone | Alert: Warning Signs before a Snow-Load Roof Collapse Occurs

    Thoughtful, intelligent article:

    With all of the snow we've had here in New England lately, we've already seen a number of roofs collapse from the added snow load. Already this month in Massachusetts alone we have seen roof collapses at the Piano Mill in Rockland, a commercial building in Rockland, an industrial building in Canton, a former sportsplex building in Auburn, an Abington building, and an historic building in Hingham.

    There are often, but not always, advanced warning signs that occur before a roof collapses. If you observe any of these signs, safely evacuate the building and have a structural engineer perform an inspection. Your building may be sending out warnings signs in advance.

    Add your comment.


  21.    Central Banks: Clear Tasks Instead of Outdated Formulas – Global Trends – Credit Suisse

    The "full money initiative" offers a solution that we consider misguided. Signatures for this initiative are currently being collected in Switzerland. This initiative intends to prevent commercial banks from creating money (liabilities side of the balance sheet) by expanding their lending (asset side), because under the initiative all assets would have to be financed by central bank money.

    Is "full money" the issue or the choice of monetary authority?

    A properly designed monetary authority wouldn't be subject to political whims simply because there would be "full money."

    Add your comment.


  22.    Banks May Have Overplayed Their Hand Fighting Wall Street Regulation – Bloomberg Business

    Financial companies and their employees spent $169 million on the November elections and had expectations that their bid to loosen regulations would get easier with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate. Now, there is second-guessing that banks overplayed their hand, according to lobbyists. The December win on swaps rules has become a rallying cry for Senator Elizabeth Warren, a frequent critic of Wall Street, and spurred repeated White House vows to defend Dodd-Frank.

    We strongly oppose any rollbacks. In fact, we think Dodd-Frank was way too weak to begin with.

    Add your comment.


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