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Posts Tagged ‘US Treasury’

“Kleptocracy Initiative” to Stop Money Laundering in Real Estate up for Renewal

January 23, 2017 | 9:03 am | Infographics |

Almost two years ago the real estate new development world was rocked by the New York Times epic page one story by Louise Story and Stephanie Saul about foreign investment in U.S. real estate. The vehicle for “Towers of Secrecy” purchases was the ubiquitous LLC shell corporation. While I’m no advocate of illegal activity for the sake of preserving the health of a real estate market, I was very skeptical and outspoken about the challenge of measuring the impact of this new rule. Especially since the new development market had already started to show signs of over supply by mid 2014 in both Manhattan above $3M and Miami above $1M. It also seemed to single out wealthy buyers who did not want to get a mortgage. How could the effectiveness of this six month rule be measured reliably enough to be extended or made permanent when the market was already falling?

Since these series of articles came out, I have learned a lot more about the scale of kleptocracy around the world and more appreciative of what the rule attempted to accomplish.

MHjmkleptocracycallout

Fast forward to 2017 and the super lux (≥$5M) new development condo market cooled sharply. The rule has been extended but is now up for renewal in a month. It is not clear whether the new administration will renew it. Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald penned are great recap of the rule status. To make it even better, he included a YouTube video of bulldozers playing chicken in the piece.

I have to say I admire the messaging that came out of Homeland Security to justify the rule’s impact. Whether or not the following is an exageration, the mere existance of the rule is probably an effective deterent.

“We don’t come across [money laundering in real estate] once every 10 or 12 cases,” said John Tobon, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations Deputy Special Agent in Charge for South Florida. “We come across real estate being purchased with illicit funds once every other case.”

Here are the areas current covered by the Treasury rule.

MHfingencoverage

Using the parameters of the rule, the Miami Herald asked that I analyze sales in the five boroughs of NYC since enactment.  I stuck with condos and 1-3 families since co-ops tend not be a preferred property type of foreign buyers. I found that sales dropped 6% year over year for the aggregate of Manhattan sales over $3M and the outer borough sales of $1.5M. This included legacy contracts that closed during the rule enactment period but went to contract before it started. Those sales likely softened the actual decline in sales.

MHsalessinceFinGen

While it appears reasonable that the rule had some drag on demand, a possible repeal in February won’t likely have much of an impact on the oversupply that currently exists.

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[Vox Video] Housing Crash Fix Explained From Geithner’s Perspective

May 13, 2014 | 11:03 am | |

Former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is promoting his book chronicling the financial crisis Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. Great book name, btw.

He sits down with Vox Media’s Ezra Klein to talk about what happened. I highly recommend watching this entire interview. Once you get past Ezra Klein’s sock selection, he touches on all the key points that would help us better understand what went wrong. It reconfirms why I enjoy reading anything Ezra writes.

I also have to say that Geithner has a great engaging conversational style that I enjoyed and helped me gain additional insights. However the problem with the Geithner’s responses – that I can’t seem to get past – is that Geithner was head of the New York Fed, surrounded by Wall Street, during the housing bubble run up. You walk away from this conversation feeling like his actions were the only appropriate responses to the crisis – ie focus only on the banks (and grow moral hazard significantly). Of course it has to be a nightmare to get anything done in Washington. However, I also got that same feeling when I read Andrew Ross Sorkin’s well written “access journalism” book, “Too Big To Fail” – that saving the banks was all that mattered to him.

It doesn’t help that I read previously Neil Barofsky’s terrific book “Bailout” which provides a lot of insights into how the sausage was made – identifying the US Treasury’s exclusive focus on the banking system when there were opportunities to help main street at the same time. Apparently Geithner takes Barofsky to task in the book, probably because Barofsky did the same.

I’m not sure if I’m going to pick up a copy.

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