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Monthly Archive for April, 2011

New York City’s Unemployment Rate Falls Below National Average

Following a dramatic standoff that brought the country to the brink of a government shutdown, Congress voted to fund the government through September after agreeing to a compromise that cut $38 billion in spending. Upcoming hurdles include proposals for the next fiscal year’s budget, deficit reduction plans, and increasing the federal debt ceiling.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book released April 13 reports that economic activity in all 12 Federal Reserve Districts has improved since the March 2 report. The New York District reported robust retail sales in February and March, especially in auto sales; a rebound in tourism in March; and stable housing markets. However, the report noted mixed comments on consumer confidence and the commercial real estate markets, and bankers reported an increase in delinquencies on commercial and industrial loans.

New York City’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell below the national average, which is 8.8 percent, to 8.7 percent in March from 8.9 percent in February, according to the State Labor Department. The unemployment rate for the city was 9.9 percent in March 2010. The data show that New York City had a net increase of nearly 50,000 private sector jobs from March 2010 to March 2011, up 1.6 percent.

Multi-family rental properties in New York City received more foreclosure notices in the last two years than in any period since the early 1990s, according to a report released by NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. The report, the State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods 2010, found that “in the past five years more than 2,100 multi-family rental properties (five or more units) received a foreclosure notice, potentially affecting more than 44,000 households.”

The New York Economic Development Corp. has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for the purchase or ground lease and redevelopment of the Corn Exchange Building, located on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and East 125th Street. The city landmark, built in 1883 to house the Mount Morris Bank, is about 4,500 square feet and zoned for residential and commercial uses. When it opened, the Romanesque Revival-style structure featured gables and rich terra-cotta details, but a fire in 1997 destroyed the building’s top floors. The deadline for proposals is April 22.

Court of Appeals Issues Ruling in Favor of Landlords

Fears of inflation prompted the European Central Bank to raise its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 percent. The Federal Reserve, which has left short-term rates near zero since December 2008, isn’t expected to raise rates until the end of the year or early next year. The central banks of Canada, Australia, and the U.K., however, are expected to raise rates this spring or summer. Although higher prices for food and oil are feeding inflation fears, the economy remains fragile and unemployment rates high.

Prudential Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Inc. reported rising residential rents and falling vacancy rates in Manhattan during the first quarter. “The rental market is more robust than it has been in the last couple of years,” said Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel Inc. “The market has tilted in favor of landlords.” In another report, Citi Habitats found the vacancy rate was 1.08 percent during the first three months of the year, down 0.37 percentage points from the same period the previous year.

The New York City Rent Guidelines Board has the power to impose extra increases on long-term, rent-stabilized tenants in apartments renting for under $1,000, which will help landlords cover operating expenses such as fuel, the New York State Court of Appeals has ruled. The ruling overturns a 2010 ruling by a justice in the State Supreme Court of Manhattan.

Plagued by delinquent real estate loans, Harlem-based Carver Federal Savings Bank has been ordered by federal regulators to raise $20 million in new capital by the end of the month. Carver, the largest bank founded and run by African-Americans in the U.S., has nine branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens that serve minorities and low-income communities and assets of $740 million.

Officials broke ground on a $100-million, five-story, 135,000-square-foot school building at St. Nicholas Houses that will house a new community center and the Harlem Children Zone’s Promise Academy I, which is currently located at the Harlem Children’s Zone’s 125th Street headquarters, and at PS 175 on West 134th Street. The state-of-the-art facility will house 1,300 students from Kindergarten through 12th Grade when it opens for the 2012-2013 school year. Funding sources include a $60 million grant from the NYC Department of Education’s Charter Facilities Matching Grant Program, a $20 million gift from Goldman Sachs Gives, and a $6 million gift from Google, Inc.

February Shows Very Low Sales Activity

February was a very quiet month for multifamily transactions in New York City. For the month, there were only 19 transactions totaling $106,054,250 in gross consideration. From both dollar volume perspective and transaction count perspectives, this figure is well less than half the amount in January 2011 and February 2010.

We believe the lack of sales can be attributed to a surge of late 4Q activity that took place as some owners forced a quick sale to avoid the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, an event which never occured.

With 7 buildings sold for an aggregate consideration of $33.195 million, Brooklyn led the way in sales activity for the month. Queens was a close second with 5 transactions totaling $31.452 million in sales. Nothern Manhattan showed 3 multifamily transactions totaling $22.55 million, most of which came from the $19.5 million sale of a 1961-67 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, a vacant fully renovated mixed use building that will eventually be sold as condominiums. Manhattan below 96th Street had a light month with only 4 buildings trading for a total of $14.203 million and the Bronx had the lightest activity with only 3 buildings selling $4.654 million in total consideration.

Tension between buyers and sellers remains on pricing but we expect greater improvement in sales volume over the rest of the year. Early March indicators show improvement in sales activity and more attractively priced product appears to be coming on the market.

In fact, we can already announce the closing of one significant portfolio in March: our team’s sale of a 5 building portfolio in Central Harlem for $7.45 million. The transaction included 55-57 West 129th Street, 144 West 144th Street, 216 &224 West 141st Street and 2570 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. Together, the contained approximately 106 units.

The Statistics

Unemployment:   New York State and New York City unemployment figures for January and February were released. The seasonally adjusted state unemployment appears steady at 8.2%, where it has been since December of 2010. The New York City unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted, shot up to 9.4% in January and dropped to 9.2% in February, but this at least partially reflects the end of temporary holiday shopping jobs. Most analysts agree that while growth is not strong by any means, the consistency of job growth vis-à-vis major worldwide turmoil is a testament to the strength of the recovery.

Rental Rates / Vacancy:   The February rental report from Citi-Habitats showed a relatively stable prices and vacancy. Vacancy for Manhattan came in at 1.18% of the rental stock, a decline of 8 basis points for the month and the second consecutive decline. February rental rates showed a slight 1-2% increase compared to February 2010. Harlem studio, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom units posted modest gains year over year.

Expenses:   A strengthening global economy and geopolitical volatility in the Middle East led to another jump in oil prices for the month of March. Data from the NYSERDA shows the March 2011 average price per gallon for No. 2 oil is 6.5% higher than February 2011 levels and is 23.2% higher than the average March 2010 price. At current levels, oil prices are the highest they have been since April 2008.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the CPI index increased 2.1% before seasonal adjustment. As one might expect, the energy index was the largest contributor to the increase. Food prices were also a major component of the increases but shelter, new vehicles, medical care and airline fare all posted increases as well.

Financial Markets:   After dropping in the middle of March to nearly 3.20%, 10-year treasury yields rose significantly in the last 2 weeks by about 21 basis points as the markets adjusted to the new realities in the Middle East and Japanese earthquake aftermath. With so many uncertainties remaining, volatility in the treasury markets can be expected.

The average rates for 30, 15 and 5 year conventional mortgages remained relatively steady in March.

Our Observations For the Week

The U.S. added 216,000 jobs in March, which brings the number of jobs added since February 2010 to 1.5 million, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. The unemployment rate was little changed at 8.8 percent. The private sector added 230,000 jobs in March, while the government sector shed 14,000 jobs. Many economists view this as a sign of continued stabilization in the economy.

The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices showed U.S. home prices in the 10-City Composite fell 2 percent and 20-City Composite fell 3.1 percent from January 2010 to January 2011. Only San Diego and Washington D.C. showed increases. The data confirm that the housing recession is not over, the chairman of the S&P Index Committee said. The report showed that year-over-year home prices in the New York metro area fell 3 percent.

Reports for Manhattan housing prices in the first quarter 2011 were mixed, however. A report by Prudential Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel Inc. showed that the median price for a Manhattan residence in the first quarter 2011 fell 9.9 percent to $782,071 compared to the first quarter 2010, while the average sales price was down 6.7 percent to $1.3 million. However, the Corcoran Group reported a year-over-year increase in average prices of 2 percent in the first quarter, and Streeteasy.com reported an increase in average prices of 3.5 percent for the same period.

President Barack Obama visited Harlem for the first time as president to attend a $30,800 per person fund raiser with 50 supporters at the Red Rooster restaurant. He later met with Democratic donors at a reception at the Studio Museum of Harlem.