24 September 2010

Giorgio Armani's Partnership With Lady Gives Designer Creative Edge - WSJ.com

Giorgio Armani's Partnership With Lady Gives Designer Creative Edge - WSJ.com: "Armani Hitches Wagon to Gaga"

Fashion and Armani and Gaga in the Wall Street Journal! Oh my!

Diabolina has been talking about this for quite a while. It's nice to see a designer as staid (I didn't say stale) as Armani get on board.

For some more Armani--in this case my beloved Emporio--check out Gaga's Alejandro video below!  The military/bondage inspired male dancers are in Armani.  I have to say, since Emporio makes up the bulk of my wardrobe, that business and fetish wear are really not that different.  In each, personality and individuality creates tension within the context of specific rules (context is important in both business/fetish wear).  In both, customization and tailoring are key elements.  Funny how life immitates sex.

23 September 2010

Sable's new music: The Avett Brothers

Loving "Kick Drum Heart" right now, by The Avett Brothers. Hope you enjoy!

And "I and Love and You". Heartbreaking...if this old capitalist crow still had one, that is.

Disney's Halloween Treat

Sable Crow loves some nostalgia. It's fall now, so the decorations can go up. The holiday is coming.

22 September 2010

Crow's Nest: New Feature

Hello Dear Reader,

You've probably noticed that I've been posting a lot of dour news about the economy lately.  And politics.  Necessary to all of us, but boring to some of you.  And certainly no fun for me. 

But this blog isn't just Finance; it's Fashion also, which to me means aesthetics in a broader sense.  And few things in this world capture a crow's aesthetic imagination like a nest.  So today I'm introducing "Crow's Nest" where I'll talk about houses.  When the time comes for my own nest, this is where I'll squawk about it.

Now, please know that this ragged crow is obsessed with homes.  Lately, this one is my favorite.  10,000 square feet of modern lovely, it soars above West Hollywood in contemporary splendor.  It was recently featured in a design magazine, and I vowed to find it.  Lo!  It turns out it looks down on my therapist's house!  I got a good sense of its location by triangulating with my car's GPS.  Then when I saw it from another friend's pool deck recently, I realized it was calling me.  So I convinced B to take a drive with me, and we stalked it, top down in the car so we could see it better.

Told ya:  obsessed.

There was an architecture tour recently that featured it!  Alas!!!  Sable missed it.  So you and I can enjoy vicariously through the pictures.  Tell me what you think!  I miss comments.

Curbed LA : The Los Angeles Neighborhoods and Real Estate Blog:
Studio Pali Fekete's Bird Streets Oberfeld Residence

This past weekend the AIA/LA held its first fall home tour of the year (there'll be a second one in October). Join Curbed as we gawk at the pretty architecture of the Hills, from Hollywood to Coldwater. Here's SPF:a's Oberfeld Residence.

Click the link above for the whole walk-through.  It's worth it!!

16 September 2010

Style Change

Everyone needs a refresh from time to time, isn't that right, Dear Reader?

So at the request of a Reader, I changed the text color to make it show up better against the black, particularly from mobile devices.


15 September 2010

On Housing...(Once Again Dear Reader)

Dear Reader!

Sable Crow is in San Francisco, but it's not just good food (dinner last night at Foreign Cinema--OMFG I recommend that if you like food).

Yesterday I listened to PIMCO'S Vice President of Municipal Bonds, Stanford's endowment chief and Mr Charles Schwab talk about the the state of the market, where we're headed, and what we money managers should be doing to prepare.

Oh, the arcane secrets I've learned, Dear Reader. I really wish I could tell you, but the pact is that I mist remain silent.

But don't worry! Your Sable Crow squawked over lunch with my investment peers, and they peppered me with questions like I was an oracle. So stick around, 'cause I may just be on to something.

And in the meantime, an article from Bloomberg News on my favorite subject: the housing market. We are by no means done with price drops there.

Bloomberg News, sent from my iPhone.
U.S. Home Prices Face Three-Year Drop as Inventory Surge Looms

Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The slide in U.S. home prices may have another three years to go as sellers add as many as 12 million more properties to the market.

Shadow inventory -- the supply of homes in default or foreclosure that may be offered for sale -- is preventing prices from bottoming after a 28 percent plunge from 2006, according to analysts from Moody’s Analytics Inc., Fannie Mae, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Plc. Those properties are in addition to houses that are vacant or that may soon be put on the market by owners.

“Whether it’s the sidelined, shadow or current inventory, the issue is there’s more supply than demand,” said Oliver Chang, a U.S. housing strategist with Morgan Stanley in San Francisco. “Once you reach a bottom, it will take three or four years for prices to begin to rise 1 or 2 percent a year.”

Rising supply threatens to undermine government efforts to boost the housing market as homebuyers wait for better deals. Further price declines are necessary for a sustainable rebound as a stimulus-driven recovery falters, said Joshua Shapiro, chief U.S. economist of Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc., a New York economic forecasting firm.

Sales of new and existing homes fell to the lowest levels on record in July as a federal tax credit for buyers expired and U.S. unemployment remained near a 26-year high. The median price of a previously owned home in the month was $182,600, about the level it was in 2003, the National Association of Realtors said.

Record Supply

There were 4 million homes listed with brokers for sale as of July. It would take a record 12.5 months for those properties to be sold at that month’s sales pace, according to the Chicago- based Realtors group.

“The best thing that could happen is for prices to get to a level that clears the market,” said Shapiro, who predicts prices may fall another 10 percent to 15 percent. “Right now, buyers know it hasn’t hit bottom, so they’re sitting on the sidelines.”

About 2 million houses will be seized by lenders by the end of next year, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He estimates prices will drop 5 percent by 2013.

After reaching bottom, prices will gain at the historic annual pace of 3 percent, requiring more than 10 years to return to their peak, he said.

“A long if not lost decade,” Zandi said.

Variances by Market

The national declines likely will be weighed down by more troubled markets. Working through the inventory depends on variables such as local employment and the amount of homeowner debt, said Sam Khater, chief economist for CoreLogic Inc., a Santa Ana, California-based real estate and financial information company. Nevada has the highest percentage of homes with mortgages more than the properties are worth, while New York state has the lowest, according to CoreLogic.

Douglas Duncan, chief economist for Washington-based Fannie Mae, the largest U.S. mortgage finance company, said in a Bloomberg Radio interview last week that 7 million U.S. homes are vacant or in the foreclosure process. Morgan Stanley’s Chang said the number of bank-owned and foreclosure-bound homes that have yet to hit the market is closer to 8 million.

Sandipan Deb, a residential credit strategist for Barclays in New York, said prices will drop another 8 percent -- to 2002 levels -- before beginning a recovery in 2014.

“On a national level, you have never seen a decline of this sort,” Deb said in a telephone interview. “I would caveat that by saying you also have not seen an increase on a national level like we saw from 2002 or 2003 to 2006.”

Likely to Sell

In addition to the as many as 8 million properties vacant or in foreclosure, owners of another 3.8 million homes -- 5 percent of U.S. households -- said they are “very likely” to put their properties on the market within six months if there is improvement, according to a July survey by Seattle-based Zillow.

“This has the potential to create a sawtooth pattern along the bottom,” Stan Humphries, Zillow’s chief economist, said in a telephone interview. “Homes begin to sell and a few sidelined sellers rush into the marketplace and flood the marketplace.”

If the market doesn’t fall to its natural bottom, price gains in the next five to 10 years won’t keep pace with inflation as the difference is made up “on the backend,” said Barry Ritholtz, chief executive officer of FusionIQ, a New York research company. Price increases that fail to at least match inflation are the same as reductions in value, Ritholtz said.

The Obama administration’s effort to help mortgage holders, the Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, is another source of future inventory as owners with new loan terms re- default, Ritholtz said. About half of the modifications done in 2009 were behind in payments by the first quarter of 2010, according to the Treasury Department.

‘Day of Reckoning’

“The belief has been: if we stimulate sales with a tax credit and delay foreclosures with modifications, the market would stabilize,” said Ritholtz, author of “Bailout Nation.” “We’re just putting off the day of reckoning and drawing out the pain by not letting the housing market hit its bottom.”

Government policy contributed to a recent stabilization in prices that may have been an “illusion,” said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities International Inc. The S&P/Case- Shiller index of home prices in 20 U.S. cities rose 4.2 percent in June from a year earlier. The measure is a three-month moving average, which means data in the month were still influenced by transactions that may have benefited from the tax incentive.

Even if modifications fail, keeping foreclosures off the market is worth the risk of a delayed recovery, Pandl said.

“It’s too painful and too damaging to let it happen all at once,” Pandl said from New York.

Underwater Homeowners

Owners of about 11 million homes, or 23 percent of households with a mortgage, owed more than their property was worth as of June 30, according to CoreLogic. Another 2.4 million borrowers had less than 5 percent equity in their houses and probably would lose money on a sale after paying broker fees and closing costs, CoreLogic said Aug 25.

In Nevada, 68 percent of homes were underwater in July, with mortgage loans statewide totaling 120 percent of home values, according to CoreLogic. Only 7.1 percent of properties in New York state were underwater, with the total loan-to-value equivalent of 50 percent, the company said.

‘Stuck’ in Home

Brandi Miner, director of marketing for the Georgia Association of Realtors, is holding back on selling her one- bedroom condominium in Atlanta’s Buckhead district because she has an underwater mortgage. She paid $155,000 for the property in 2005.

“I’m stuck,” Miner said. “I thought it was a stepping stone to a house.”

Miner pays about $1,100 a month for her mortgage plus $225 in condo dues, a higher price than she would spend for a three-bedroom house in a good Atlanta-area neighborhood at today’s prices, she said. Selling now would cost her $10,000 to $15,000, Miner estimated.

“I’m not $200,000 in the hole, thank God,” she said. “But the quarter of the country that’s underwater -- that’s me.”

Detroit, Las Vegas and Fort Myers, Florida, will take until at least 2020 to return homeowners to positive equity, CoreLogic said in a March report that compared prices in 10 metro areas. Atlanta, Dallas and California’s Riverside and San Bernardino counties will need until 2016. The Washington, D.C., area will take the least amount of time, with negative equity disappearing around 2015, CoreLogic said.

Time to Buy?

The slide in values and record-low interest rates may offer some bargains for property hunters. Prices have returned to historically affordable levels, said Karl Case, professor emeritus of economics at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and co-creator of the S&P/Case-Shiller index. He estimates a bottom for prices in six months.

“It doesn’t take a tremendous number of people to turn the housing market, because only about 5 percent of the stock trades in a given year,” Case said in a telephone interview. “There’s still a lot of people who are employed, many of whom have been looking for the opportunity to buy.”

Case is an example of a homeowner waiting to sell because of low demand. He’s seeking to sell the A-frame on 15 acres near Cooperstown, New York, that he bought for $190,000 in 2005.

“I want to keep it if I can’t get what I want,” he said. “It’s a terrific little getaway and I’m not going to give it away.”

Pending Sales Gain

Some indicators show the real estate market has begun to turn a corner. Pending sales of existing houses increased 5.2 percent from June to July, the National Association of Realtors reported Sept. 2. Economists had estimated a 1 percent decline, according to the median of 37 forecasts in a Bloomberg survey.

“The market is starting to show some signs of stabilization,” Nicolas Retsinas, director emeritus of Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, said during an Aug. 31 interview on Bloomberg Television’s “InsideTrack.” “But a robust recovery is a long time away.”

The number of U.S. homes in default or foreclosure fell to 7.04 million as of July 31 from a high of 8.12 million in January, Lender Processing Services Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida-based mortgage servicing company, reported Sept. 2.

Defaulted mortgages as of July took an average 469 days to reach foreclosure, up from 319 days in January 2009. That’s an indication lenders -- with the help of the government loan modification programs -- are delaying resolutions and preventing the market from flooding with distressed properties, said Herb Blecher, senior vice president for analytics at LPS.

“The efforts to date have been worthwhile,” Blecher said in a telephone interview from Denver. “They both helped borrowers stay in their homes and kept that supply of distressed properties on the market somewhat limited.”

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone4, which sucks balls.

13 September 2010

Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco

So I checked into my hotel, then hopped down the block for a quick dinner at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern. Yum!
With my favorite surgeon, Bone Cruncher.

Jolene at work on our deviled eggs--we dubbed them Sympathy for the Devil

Burrata and fig, courtesy of Jolene. Bone Cruncher says: "I want to pet it and name it. And then devour its heart."

Magic kitchen

Just for the...wait for it...halibut.

Mac and Cheese for dessert.

This is topped with $600/lb pepper. Not bitter, nor harsh, just beautiful. Just...pepper. Weird and wonderful.

Such a dinner!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone4 (which sucks balls)

10 September 2010

Free Market Diplomacy? The Virtue of Heresy

Carne Ross: An independent diplomat Video on TED.com

Dear Reader!!

This is one of the best videos I've watched on TED so far. In fact, for me it connects two concepts that I've never previously connected:
1) the role of the state in negotiating international relationships, and;
2) free-market style innovation, competition, and creative destruction.

I can't recommend this video highly enough.

He even touches on the supra-national agents that are the power-holders for the 21st century--including NGOs, political groups connected by ideology instead of geography, and even multi-national corporations. In a way, it's a road map for how the world might look without nations.

Is that a funny thought? Does it make you nervous? It's both for me. And then I ask: Should it be so unthinkable or laughable?

Why are nations any more sacred than kingdoms, or ancient empires? And how are nations any different than, say, all the customers of AT&T versus all the customers of Sprint? (Except of course, that they have armies--but I'm talking just the concepts, not the expression of their power.) We're accustomed to customer populations (and, to hear these customers argue, systems of belief) overlapping, and interacting. Why not political power? In a world where we can connect technologically, why are we bound geographically instead of ideologically? How would that look when translated to a physical world? Who are the advocates under such a system, and who are the holders of power? And what does that power take?

This will certainly affect us 50 years from now, or even 10 years from now. Which means it affects the decisions we make now, for how to orient ourselves (or our investment portfolios) to be flexible and adaptable to such creative destruction.

I've been thinking lately about the concept of heresy. This came about as I began to explore the Sufi poets, particularly the 13th century poet Rumi, who's love poems extolling his male partner are the source of great controversy. In his poems, Rumi suggests that all progress comes from heretics, and--to grossly oversimply--that the "objective" of religious thought should be to become a heretic. I love this idea.

It seems no different to me than creative destruction and competition in the capitalist world. Why not apply such progress to religious thinking? Can you imagine where we'd be with religious thought if we adopted such a view? Might we have progressed much farther in the 5,000 years since the ancient Egyptians? Look how far such creative destruction, and innovation, has brought us with computers, or transportation, in the last 150. Imagine what wonders we might see, in such a spiritually rich, heretical, universe...

07 September 2010

Debt Deflation

My boss in my last job used to say, "It's the age of capital."

In fact, I think he erred a bit. It has been, for about a generation, The Age of Debt.

But now, the wheels have come off that Age, and we have a new era ahead of us. Here's the best article I've found so far on the subject...


Until we address the issue of debt, I don't think we can get past this economic malaise.  The challenge is that, much like cancer, debt is fatal if left undiagnosed and untreated, or if a well-meaning hack uses Keynesian homeopathy to treat a maglignant tumor.

01 September 2010

Today's Image

I saw this in a Christie's ad in the WSJ, and it utterly capitvated me.  Some lucky private party bought it in June for $2.8MM.  It's HUGE, measuring 7.5 feet x 5 feet.  Sigh.

By the way, not to be too weird, but...um...this Christ is pretty sexy. I'm just saying. That's gotta be deliberate, right? Those shoulders and arms? The abs? The look of...uh...religious...ecstasy.

And does anyone else find it strange that his mother is his age? That's a very confusing image. I'll hand it to Christianity--they have the sexiest prophet of the major religions.