Why would Best Buy repurchase shares? Best Buy is exploring whether to repurchase its shares which I’m sure is an attempt to boost the price of its shares to appeal to the mom and pop investor. Best Buy has to project an image to reassure investors that it is a going concern, and although its stock price could be a representation of management decisions there may be another reason for the repurchase. Best Buy has experienced declining sales per square foot due to an increasing number of its products becoming digitized. Best Buy has more space in its stores than it necessarily needs because it no longer needs to stock cds, dvds, and software which is a result of the distribution moving to the internet. Best Buy has to adapt its stores to the changing retail environment and it will succeed by revamping its retail model to occupy smaller sites. The big box store will be phased out, and a reflection of this change will be realized in the company’s stock price. In order for Best Buy to make the sweeping revitalization of its brick and mortar stores it will require management to make difficult decisions which may be easier to make if they control a greater number of the outstanding shares.
On Wednesday the Wall Street Journal had an article (http://on.wsj.com/ksOW3K) about the impact defunct malls and shopping centers have had on their local communities and how communities have tried to remedy the situation. During the economic expansion in the earlier part of the century many retailers expanded vastly as Americans spent heavily on consumer goods. The results of economic expansion and growth of consumerism were malls, shopping centers and an over abundance of places for Americans to spend their dollars. Apparently the growth was unsustainable; however many communities relied heavily on the tax revenues from the retail. Many retailers have closed down due to declining sales during the Great Recession, and their closure has left dark many storefronts across America. Many communities are trying to cope with the shuttered retail by attracting new retail tenants with tax incentives in hopes generating future revenue and to remain vibrant and attractive. Although the reduction in retail may have visibly been attributed to the economic crisis, there are also other forces which have led to its downfall which has primarily been the growth of the internet. Shopping centers do have the advantage of providing tax revenue without burdening school systems and community resources from population growth, but communities have to find alternative avenues for growth and cannot rely on shopping centers for tax revenue.
How long until we have a redux of suburban sprawl? The Wall Street Journal had an article today discussing a trend in Germany of migration to cities (http://on.wsj.com/ksOW3K). Migration to cities has been a common trend and will continue for some time as the living standards have improved and additionally it provides an opportunity to decouple reliance on automobiles. Although these may seem like the primary factors for the global trend; however each market has to be analyzed separately to determine the attraction of a city. I try to analyze a situation by examining historical precedents while considering modern externalities. At the turn of the 20th century there was a desire for populations to migrate to cities due to the abundance of factories which provided jobs; however suburbs evolved as factories moved out of the city core and automobiles provided commuting opportunities. Factories first found success in cities due to concentration of human capital and an ability to connect and network to innovate, but cities became unattractive due to the pollution factories generated. Once factories left the city they become attractive to inhabit and as witnessed through history, cities provided jobs and a higher standard of living due to the division of labor. We are seeing history repeat itself as populations migrate back towards cities which provide social benefits and jobs. Migration towards cities will drain the suburbs of a tax base and population to support infrastructure and the standard we created. Will there be redux of the flight from the city core? I believe as a larger part of our population moves into cities they will be chased by corporations and commercialize the city and the corporatized cities will be equivalent of the factory pollution which will cause a flight from cities and back towards the suburbs to escape pollution.
The real reason manufacturing jobs are disappearing. The chart above by Richard Florida depicts the change in growth and decline of different sectors of the job market. Clearly we see the decline of farming and manufacturing jobs, we also see the increase in creative work and low wage service sector jobs. The media consistently voices concern over the decline of manufacturing jobs which is perceived to be hindering job growth and stiffing the middle class. Additionally China is blamed for the reduction in manufacturing jobs as production is shipped overseas. The media typically doesn’t provide alternative reasons for the decrease in manufacturing jobs, but I believe there is a correlation between the decrease in manufacturing and increase in creative jobs. Perhaps the increasing number of creative workers are designing ways to improve the efficiency of manufacturing which has reduced the number of jobs required. Ford has developed robots which can provide a majority of development of car on an assembly line which was probably developed by the creative workers of Ford.
Are office buildings the 21st century equivalent of industrial revolution age mills? What will be the future of office buildings? Office buildings are an innovation of the past hundred years and emerged largely in the aftermath of the industrial revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then office buildings have grown in size and have adopted a unique style to accommodate the clerical work required for many organizations; however emerging digital technologies and mobile devices have allowed for the reorganization of the workplace and will further influence the demand for physical space as work environments transform. New lifestyle patterns are affecting demand for physical space and more importantly the location of the space. It is much easier for workers to connect virtually to their place of work and not rely on a physical desk at a specific locations. Obviously many organizations will need to retain an address as a depository for information and as a central meeting location, but space demand will be significantly less. Mill factories were an incarnation of the industrial age, and ran their course of operational utility as they were no longer suitable for the new economy which developed. Many mills stood dormant for a long period of time until as of recently it was in became an attractive to re-purpose into residential units. The structures proved to be solid since they at one point housed machinery requiring substantial support, and the interiors are fairly spacious, but many of the buildings were empty and the previous owner was willing to sell at low rates. Economically the conversion from mill to housing has been beneficial as many are desired because they are located in urban areas. This leads me to predict the future of office buildings, and because there will be a decrease in space demand there seems to be an opportunity to capture the value of converting office buildings into residential space. An attractive feature of buildings built primarily for offices are the large floor plates allowing for larger than average residential units. Zoning requirements would have to be evaluated before converting a buildings. Larger units will attract larger families and may trigger a community to require the integration of school into the buildings to accommodate the influx of children. Additional functions could be in a building that serves both residential and office space and maybe even synergies of circulation space by including cafes and gyms. The workforce of the future will value proximity and livability of their community which can be enhanced by mixed-use buildings. We believe the notion that offices are a distinct building , but the evolution of office space will change our perceptions and possibly redefine work. Real Estate developers value an office building by the cash flow and the security of leases, and the current model for valuation will need to be adapted to conform to the changing landscape. Perhaps office space aligns to become similar to the apartment market and and landlords provide space which is already fit-out, but a revolving door tenants will require more work to attract and be retained. Will we allow office buildings to become dormant as vacancies increase, or will we re-purpose the space to generate housing in urban centers and potentially create a more vibrant attractive community.
Are internet companies doomed for another bubble burst? Everyday techcrunch.com lists another startup funded by venture capitalists in an effort to be the next Facebook, and after witnessing the over zealous investors pick up shares of LinkedIn there seems to be investment in just about every new idea, Law of Averages?. Theres a race to get into the venture capital game to fund these companies in hopes that they will succeed. Are the values that investors place on these service sector companies realistic? I don’t think they will be wildly successful. Could the pursuit of service sector technologies be the result of our education system, which has not encouraged students to study the sciences? There are too many startups whose cash flow models rely on a critical mass of society adopting the service. The baby boomers will probably not adopt the new innovations en masse; however new generations will adopt and embrace the change. Unfortunately the younger generations do not yet have disposable income or purchasing power to support many of the new companies. The bubble will burst, but the benefits will be a new breed of tools that will improve the efficiency of our society, and by improving the efficiency we will be able to pursue greater technological and self-fulfilling goals. The burst will leave in its wake a new form of the internet which will be dynamic and stream data. Pop!
How can condo associations reduce the effect of non-payment by unit owners? The housing crisis has created a problem for many condo associations in the country because of owners who are delinquent on condo fee payments. An owner who faces foreclosure and is in default of their mortgage is not inclined to pay their HOA fees which places a burden on other owners in a condo association. Is there a way to generate additional revenue for condo associations in financial trouble? Yes, typically they attach liens to the property and or raise fees for everyone else which just exacerbates issues and reduces property value. Perhaps the HOA could borrow from a bank, but this would still result in an increase in owner fees. Perhaps the condo association could lease frontage to a developer to build-out retail space. An existing building or development would be converted to mixed-use, and unit owners could specify the type of retail they want which creates a customer base for future tenants. This model would not work for all condo associations; however our society has increased a desire for urban walkable communities, and this concept has the potential to create a walkable neighborhood. Additionally condo associations do not have to be in financial trouble to utilize the service, but it could be a way to reduce HOA fees or fund capital expenditures and common area improvements.
See link for Wall Street Journal article discussing condo association hardships.