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Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Authored by Mike Shedlock via,

The CRE implosion is picking…



Half Of Downtown Pittsburgh Office Space Could Be Empty In 4 Years

Authored by Mike Shedlock via,

The CRE implosion is picking up steam.

Check out the grim stats on Pittsburgh.

Unions are also a problem in Pittsburgh as they are in Illinois and California.

Downtown Pittsburgh Implosion

The Post Gazette reports nearly half of Downtown Pittsburgh office space could be empty in 4 years.

Confidential real estate information obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette estimates that 17 buildings are in “significant distress” and another nine are in “pending distress,” meaning they are either approaching foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure. Those properties represent 63% of the Downtown office stock and account for $30.5 million in real estate taxes, according to the data.

It also calculates the current office vacancy rate at 27% when subleases are factored in — one of the highest in the country.

And with an additional three million square feet of unoccupied leased space becoming available over the next five years, the vacancy rate could soar to 46% by 2028, based on the data.

Property assessments on 10 buildings, including U.S. Steel Tower, PPG Place, and the Tower at PNC Plaza, have been slashed by $364.4 million for the 2023 tax year, as high vacancies drive down their income.

Another factor has been the steep drop — to 63.5% from 87.5% — in the common level ratio, the number used to compute taxable value in county assessment appeal hearings.

The assessment cuts have the potential to cost the city, the county, and the Pittsburgh schools nearly $8.4 million in tax refunds for that year alone. Downtown represents nearly 25% of the city’s overall tax base.

In response Pittsburgh City Councilman Bobby Wilson wants to remove a $250,000 limit on the amount of tax relief available to a building owner or developer as long as a project creates at least 50 full-time equivalent jobs.

It’s unclear if the proposal will be enough. Annual interest costs to borrow $1 million have soared from $32,500 at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to $85,000 on March 1. Local construction costs have increased by about 30% since 2019.

But the city is doomed if it does nothing. Aaron Stauber, president of Rugby Realty said it will probably empty out Gulf Tower and mothball it once all existing leases expire.

“It’s cheaper to just shut the lights off,” he said. “At some point, we would move on to greener pastures.”

Where’s There’s Smoke There’s Unions

In addition to the commercial real estate woes, the city is also wrestling with union contracts.

Please consider Sounding the alarm: Pittsburgh Controller’s letter should kick off fiscal soul-searching

It’s only March, and Pittsburgh’s 2024 house-of-cards operating budget is already falling down. That’s the clear implication of a letter sent by new City Controller Rachael Heisler to Mayor Ed Gainey and members of City Council on Wednesday afternoon.

The letter is a rare and welcome expression of urgency in a city government that has fallen in complacency — and is close to falling into fiscal disaster.

The approaching crisis was thrown into sharp relief this week, when City Council approved amendments to the operating budget accounting for a pricey new contract with the firefighters union. The Post-Gazette Editorial Board had predicted that this contract — plus two others yet to be announced and approved — would demonstrate the dishonesty of Mayor Ed Gainey’s budget, and that’s exactly what’s happening: The new contract is adding $11 million to the administration’s artificially low 5-year spending projections, bringing expected 2028 reserves to just barely the legal limit.

But there’s still two big contracts to go, with the EMS union and the Pittsburgh Joint Collective Bargaining Committee, which covers Public Works workers. Worse, there are tens — possibly hundreds — of millions in unrealistic revenues still on the books. On this, Ms. Heisler’s letter only scratched the surface.

Similarly, as we have observed, the budget’s real estate tax revenue projections are radically inconsistent with reality. Due to high vacancies and a sharp reduction in the common level ratio, a significant drop in revenues was predictable — but not reflected in the budget. Ms. Heisler’s estimate of a 20% drop in revenues from Downtown property, or $5.3 million a year, may even be optimistic: Other estimates peg the loss at twice that, or more.

Left unmentioned in the letter are massive property tax refunds the city will owe, as well as fanciful projections of interest income that are inconsistent with the dwindling reserves, and drawing-down of federal COVID relief funds, predicted in the budget itself. That’s another unrealistic $80 million over five years.

Pittsburgh exited Act 47 state oversight after nearly 15 years on Feb. 12, 2018, with a clean bill of fiscal health. 

It has already ruined that bill of health.

Act 47 in Pittsburgh

Flashback February 21, 2018Act 47 in Pittsburgh: What Was Accomplished?

Pittsburgh’s tax structure was a much-complained-about topic leading up to the Act 47 declaration. The year following Pittsburgh’s designation as financially distressed under Act 47 it levied taxes on real estate, real estate transfers, parking, earned income, business gross receipts (business privilege and mercantile), occupational privilege and amusements. The General Assembly enacted tax reforms in 2004 giving the city authority to levy a payroll preparation tax in exchange for the immediate elimination of the mercantile tax and the phase out of the business privilege tax. The tax reforms increased the amount of the occupational privilege tax from $10 to $52 (this is today known as the local services tax and all municipalities outside of Philadelphia levy it and could raise it thanks to the change for Pittsburgh).

The coordinators recommended an increase in the deed transfer tax, which occurred in late 2004 (it was just increased again by City Council) and in the real estate tax, which increased in 2015.

Legacy costs, principally debt and underfunded pensions, were the primary focus of the 2009 amended recovery plan. The city’s pension funded ratio has increased significantly from where it stood a decade ago, rising from the mid-30 percent range to over 60 percent at last measurement.

The obvious question? Will the city stick to the steps taken to improve financially and avoid slipping back into distressed status? If Pittsburgh once stood “on the precipice of full-blown crisis,” as described in the first recovery plan, hopefully it won’t return to that position.

The Obvious Question

I could have answered the 2018 obvious question with the obvious answer. Hell no.

No matter how much you raise taxes, it will never be enough because public unions will suck every penny and want more.

On top of union graft, and insanely woke policies in California, we have an additional huge problem.

Hybrid Work Leaves Offices Empty and Building Owners Reeling

Hybrid work has put office building owners in a bind and could pose a risk to banks. Landlords are now confronting the fact that some of their office buildings have become obsolete, if not worthless.

Meanwhile, in Illinois …

Chicago Teachers’ Union Seeks $50 Billion Despite $700 Million City Deficit

Please note the Chicago Teachers’ Union Seeks $50 Billion Despite $700 Million City Deficit

The CTU wants to raise taxes across the board, especially targeting real estate.

My suggestion, get the hell out...

Tyler Durden Mon, 03/18/2024 - 12:10

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Manufacturing and construction vs. the still-inverted yield curve

  – by New Deal democratProf. Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser makes the point that the yield curve is still inverted, and has not yet eclipsed the longest…




 - by New Deal democrat

Prof. Menzie Chinn at Econbrowser makes the point that the yield curve is still inverted, and has not yet eclipsed the longest previous time between onset of such an inversion and a recession. So he believes the threat of recession is still on the table.

And he’s correct about the yield curve, although it is getting very long in the tooth. In the past half century, the shortest time between a 10 minus 2 year inversion (blue in the graph below) to recession has been 10 months (1980) and the longest 22 months (2007). For the 10 year minus 3 month inversion (red), the shortest time has been 8 months (1980 and 2001) and the longest has been 17 months (2007):

At present the former yield curve has been inverted for 20.5 months, and the latter for 16.5 months. So if there is no recession by May 1, we’re in uncharted territory as far as the yield curve indicator is concerned.

My view for the past half year or so has been much more cautious. While there has been nearly unprecedented Fed tightening (only the 1980-81 tightening was more severe), on the other hand there was massive pandemic stimulus, and what I described on some occasions as a “hurricane force tailwind” of supply chain unkinking. If the two positive forces have abated, does the negative force of the Fed tightening, which is still in place, now take precedence? Or because interest rates have plateaued in the past year, is it too something of a spent force? Since I confess not to know, because the situation is unprecedented in the modern era for which most data is available, I have highlighted turning to the short leading metrics. Do they remain steady or improve? Or do they deteriorate as they have before prior recessions?

First of all, let me show the NY Fed’s Global Supply Chain Index, which attempts to disaggregate supply sided information from demand side information. A positive value shows relative tightening, a negative loosening:

You can see the huge pandemic tightening in 2020 into 2022, followed by a similarly large loosening through 2023. For the past few months, the Index has been close to neutral, or shown very slight tightness.

Typically in the past Fed tightenings have operated through two main channels: housing and manufacturing, especially durable goods manufacturing.

Let’s take the two in reverse order.

Manufacturing has at very least stalled, and by some measures turned down to recessionary levels.  Last week I discussed industrial production (not shown), which peaked in late 2022 and has continued to trend sideways to slightly negative right through February.

A very good harbinger with a record going back 75 years has been the ISM manufacturing index. Here’s its historical record through about 10 years ago (when FRED discontinued publishing it):

And here is its record for the past several years:

This index was frankly recessionary for almost all of last year. It is still negative, although not so much as before.

Two other metrics with lengthy records are the average hourly workweek in manufacturing (blue, right scale), which is one of the 10 “official” leading indicators, as well as real spending on durable goods (red, measured YoY for ease of comparison, left scale):

As a general rule, if real spending on durable goods turns negative YoY for more than an isolated month, a recession has started (with the peak in absolute terms coming before). Also, since employers generally cut hours before cutting jobs, a decline of about 0.8% of an hour in the average manufacturing workweek has typically preceded a recession - with the caveat in modern times that it must fall to at least roughly 40.5 hours:

The average manufacturing workweek has met the former criteria for the last 9 months, and the latter since November. By contrast, real spending on durable goods was up 0.7% YoY as of the last report for January, and in December had made an all-time record high.

But if some of the manufacturing data has met the historical criteria for a recession warning, it is important to note that manufacturing is less of US GDP than before the year 2000, and had been down more in 2015-16 without a recession occurring.

Further, housing construction has not meaningfully constricted at all. The below graph shows the leading metric of housing permits (another “official” component of the LEI, right scale), together with housing units under construction (gold, *1.2 for scale, right scale), and also real GDP q/q (red, left scale):

Housing permits declined -30% after the Fed began tightening, which has normally been enough to trigger a recession. *BUT* the actual measure of economic activity, housing units under construction, has barely turned down at all. In comparison to past downturns, where typically it had fallen at least 10%, and more often 20%, before a recession had begun, as of last month it was only 2% off peak!

The only other two occasions where housing permits declined comparably with no recession ensuing - 1966 and 1986 - real gross domestic product increased robustly. This was similarly the case in 2023.

An important reason is the other historical reason proppin up expansions: stimulative government spending. Here’s the historical record comparing fiscal surpluses vs. deficits:

Note the abrupt end of stimulative spending in 1937, normally thought to have been the prime driver of the steep 1938 recession. Note also the big “Great Society” stimulative spending in 1966-68, when a downturn was averted (indeed, although not shown in the first graph above, there was an inverted yield curve then as well). Needless to say, there as been a great deal of stimulative fiscal spending since 2020 as well.

Fed tightening typically works by constricting demand. Both government stimulus and the unkinking of supply chains work to stimulate supply. 

All of which leads to the conclusion that, while manufacturing has reacted to the tightening, the *real* measure of construction activity has not, or not sufficiently to be recessionary.

Tomorrow housing permits, starts, and units under construction will all be updated. Unless there is a sharp decline in units under construction, there is no short term recession signal at all.

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Profits over patients: For-profit nursing home chains are draining resources from care while shifting huge sums to owners’ pockets

Owners of midsize nursing home chains harm the elderly and drain huge sums of money from facilities using opaque accounting practices while government…



The for-profit nursing home sector is growing, and it places a premium on cost cutting and big profits, which has led to low staffing and patient neglect and mistreatment. picture alliance via Getty Images

The care at Landmark of Louisville Rehabilitation and Nursing was abysmal when state inspectors filed their survey report of the Kentucky facility on July 3, 2021.

Residents wandered the halls in a facility that can house up to 250 people, yelling at each other and stealing blankets. One resident beat a roommate with a stick, causing bruising and skin tears. Another was found in bed with a broken finger and a bloody forehead gash. That person was allowed to roam and enter the beds of other residents. In another case, there was sexual touching in the dayroom between residents, according to the report.

Meals were served from filthy meal carts on plastic foam trays, and residents struggled to cut their food with dull plastic cutlery. Broken tiles lined showers, and a mysterious black gunk marred the floors. The director of housekeeping reported that the dining room was unsanitary. Overall, there was a critical lack of training, staff and supervision.

The inspectors tagged Landmark as deficient in 29 areas, including six that put residents in immediate jeopardy of serious harm and three where actual harm was found. The issues were so severe that the government slapped Landmark with a fine of over US$319,000more than 29 times the average for a nursing home in 2021 − and suspended payments to the home from federal Medicaid and Medicare funds.

But problems persisted. Five months later, inspectors levied six additional deficiencies of immediate jeopardy − the highest level.

Landmark is just one of the 58 facilities run by parent company Infinity Healthcare Management across five states. The government issued penalties to the company almost 4½ times the national average, according to bimonthly data that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services first started to make available in late 2022. All told, Infinity paid nearly $10 million in fines since 2021, the highest among nursing home chains with fewer than 100 facilities.

Infinity Healthcare Management and its executives did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Race to the bottom

Such sanctions are nothing new for Infinity or other for-profit nursing home chains that have dominated an industry long known for cutting corners in pursuit of profits for private owners. But this race to the bottom to extract profits is accelerating, despite demands by government officials, health care experts and advocacy groups to protect the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

To uncover the reasons why, The Conversation delved into the nursing home industry, where for-profit facilities make up more than 72% of the nation’s nearly 14,900 facilities. The probe, which paired an academic expert with an investigative reporter, used the most recent government data on ownership, facility information and penalties, combined with CMS data on affiliated entities for nursing homes.

The investigation revealed an industry that places a premium on cost cutting and big profits, with low staffing and poor quality, often to the detriment of patient well-being. Operating under weak and poorly enforced regulations with financially insignificant penalties, the for-profit sector fosters an environment where corners are frequently cut, compromising the quality of care and endangering patient health.

Meanwhile, owners make the facilities look less profitable by siphoning money from the homes through byzantine networks of interconnected corporations. Federal regulators have neglected the problem as each year likely billions of dollars are funneled out of nursing homes through related parties and into owners’ pockets.

More trouble at midsize

Analyzing newly released government data, our investigation found that these problems are most pronounced in nursing homes like Infinity − midsize chains that operate between 11 and 100 facilities. This subsection of the industry has higher average fines per home, lower overall quality ratings, and are more likely to be tagged with resident abuse compared with both the larger and smaller networks. Indeed, while such chains account for about 39% of all facilities, they operate 11 of the 15 most-fined facilities.

With few impediments, private investors who own the midsize chains have swooped in to purchase underperforming homes, expanding their holdings even as larger chains divest and close facilities.

“They are really bad, but the names − we don’t know these names,” said Toby Edelman, senior policy attorney with the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit law organization.

In response to The Conversation’s findings on nursing homes and request for an interview, a CMS spokesperson emailed a statement that said the CMS is “unwavering in its commitment to improve safety and quality of care for the more than 1.2 million residents receiving care in Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes.”

“We support transparency and accountability,” the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, a trade organization representing the nursing home industry, wrote in response to The Conversation‘s request for comment. “But neither ownership nor line items on a budget sheet prove whether a nursing home is committed to its residents.”

Ripe for abuse

It often takes years to improve a poor nursing home − or run one into the ground. The analysis of midsize chains shows that most owners have been associated with their current facilities for less than eight years, making it difficult to separate operators who have taken long-term investments in resident care from those who are looking to quickly extract money and resources before closing them down or moving on. These chains control roughly 41% of nursing home beds in the U.S., according to CMS’s provider data, making the lack of transparency especially ripe for abuse.

A churn of nursing home purchases even during the pandemic shows that investors view the sector as highly profitable, especially when staffing costs are kept low and fines for poor care can easily be covered by the money extracted from residents, their families and taxpayers.

A March 2024 study from Lehigh University and the University of California, Los Angeles also shows that costs were inflated when nursing home owners switched to contractors they controlled directly or indirectly. Overall, spending on real estate increased 20.4% and spending on management increased 24.6% when the businesses were affiliated, the research showed.

“This is the model of their care: They come in, they understaff and they make their money,” said Sam Brooks, director of public policy at the Consumer Voice, a national resident advocacy organization. “Then they multiply it over a series of different facilities.”

This is a condensed version of an article from The Conversation’s investigative unit. To find out more about the rise of for-profit nursing homes, financial trickery and what could make the nation’s most vulnerable citizens safer, read the complete version.

Campbell is an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University and a contributing writer at the Garrison Project, an independent news organization that focuses on mass incarceration and criminal justice.

Harrington is an advisory board member of the nonprofit Veteran's Health Policy Institute and a board member of the nonprofit Center for Health Information and Policy. Harrington served as an expert witness on nursing home litigation cases by residents against facilities owned or operated by Brius and Shlomo Rechnitz in the past and in 2022. She also served as an expert witness in a case against The Citadel Salisbury in North Carolina in 2021.

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Airline, travel companies face Chapter 11 bankruptcy, default risk

New data from Creditsafe shows that three big-name brands face significant cash issues.



It's actually fairly rare that a company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy without throwing off signs that it's in deep financial trouble. Observant customers sometimes see the signs.

You might notice lower staffing levels or poor inventory in a retail setting. Restaurants facing financial troubles might drop the quality of their ingredients, cut portion sizes, or find other ways to cut corners.

Related: Fast-food chain closes restaurants after Chapter 11 bankruptcy

It's generally impossible to cut your way to a good financial position unless you were making huge mistakes in the first place. A company might find some savings by examining its operations and focuing on waste in areas customers don't see, but giving people less almost never works.

In many businesses, especially when companies are publicly traded, signs of upcoming financial trouble are obvious. 

Public companies have to report their financial results and when there's more money going out than coming in, and cash balances get low, observant analysts can see a company likely to default on its bills that may be headed for bankruptcy well before it happens.

CreditSafe Head of Brand Ragini Bhalla recently shared her company's Financial & Bankruptcy Outlook: Transportation Report and some comments on it with TheStreet. 

The report shows that three big-name companies in the travel/transportation space are facing significant financial risk, which is reflected in their stock prices. Bhalla gave some color as to why companies in those markets are struggling.

Air travel has bounced back from the covid pandemic.

Image source: Shutterstock

The transportation industry faces a crisis  

Bhalla shared her thoughts on what Creditsafe found.

"We are reflecting on the current challenges faced by transportation companies and the total industry outlook. During the pandemic, M&A activity in the industry soared, as transportation players and investors made deals to extend capabilities and acquire high-performing assets. To that end, deal values soared from $51 billion in 2020 to more than $150 billion in 2021, before it dipped to $95 billion in 2022," she said in an email to TheStreet.

Bhalla said she sees a different pattern in 2024.

"While M&A activity in the transportation industry cooled down in 2023, industry insiders are projecting that 2024 will be the year of consolidation. If that’s the case, then it will be more important than ever for both sides (sellers and buyers) to do their due diligence," she wrote.

Not every company that would benefit from being acquired will survive the M&A scrutiny.

"This should include various elements, such as running business credit checks on potential acquisitions to make sure they would be a good investment and aren’t in dire financial straits. It should also include running comprehensive compliance checks to make sure potential acquisitions aren’t violating sanctions, haven’t been convicted of regulatory violations, and aren’t involved in unethical practices like bribery, corruption, fraud, and the use of child/forced labor," she added.

One airline, two rental cars are at risk

Spirit Airlines  (SAVE) has been on unofficial bankruptcy watch since the company's merger with JetBlue  (JBLU)  fell apart. There are real questions as to whether the super-low-cost airline model works, and Creditsafe sees a real risk of the airline ending up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"Earlier this year, Spirit Airlines said it was looking to refinance its debt and hopes to refinance $1.1 billion of debt due in 2025," according to Creditsafe. "To make matters worse, the airline doesn’t have a stable track record of paying bills on time."

Not paying bills on time is often a sign that a company is running out of cash.

"Late payments increased over several months in 2023. For example, the number of late payments (1-30 days) rose from 7.00% in September 2023 to 30.87% in October 2023. A similar pattern occurred soon after when the number of late payments (1-30 days) rose from 6.37% in November 2023 to 30.54% in December 2023 and then again to 51.08% in January 2024," Creditsafe data showed.

Investors are shying from the stock. Shares were at $4.29 down 73.8% on the year as of Friday.

Two rental car companies, Avis Budget Group  (CAR) and Hertz (HTZ) are facing similar woes.

"Avis Budget Group's long-term debt has consistently increased for the last three years, and how late the company paid its bills spiked drastically from 8 days late in March to 31 days in April and remained high until September 2023," Creditsafe shared.

Hertz has been following a similar path.

"The company’s number of delinquent payments (91+ days) increased consistently during the second half of 2023. For instance, the number of delinquent payments (91+ days) rose from 4.64% in August to 6.90% in September, then rose again to 10.73% in October 2023, indicating it is having trouble paying its bills," according to Creditsafe.

Avis Budget closed Friday at $107.70 and are down 39.2% this year. Hertz finished Friday at $7.58, down 25.7% on the year.

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