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  1. Source: Bloomberg Quebec’s unemployment rate fell to the lowest on record last month while Alberta’s surged to a two-decade high, underlining the the swing in Canada’s economic momentum through the recovery from an energy crash. Joblessness in the mostly French-speaking province fell to 6.2 percent in November from 6.8 percent in October, and in Alberta it climbed to 9 percent. The national jobless rate declined to 6.8 percent from 7 percent, Statistics Canada said Friday from Ottawa. “I’m stunned -- it’s a banner year” for Quebec, said Sebastien Lavoie, assistant chief economist at Laurentian Bank Securities in Montreal. He linked good times to a construction boom in his hometown, a low dollar boosting service industries and business confidence aided by provincial government budget surpluses. The movement of jobs from the western oil patch to central Canada’s service and factory hubs meshed with Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz’s view that non-energy companies will help the world’s 10th largest economy recover over the next few years. Poloz said this week he would only cut his 0.5 percent benchmark interest rate if there was another shock like the oil crash. His next rate decision is Wednesday. “Quebec is within a whisker of posting the lowest unemployment rate in the country, something that we haven’t seen in the 40 years of available data,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. The job report “strengthens the view that the Bank of Canada will be perfectly happy staying on the sidelines.” Quebec is tied more to manufacturers like Canam Group Inc. and Montreal-based software makers, who benefit from Canada’s weaker dollar and a growing U.S. economy. South of the border, payrolls increased by 178,000 jobs, the Labor Department said, bringing the unemployment rate down to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent. The province added 8,500 jobs in November and over the past 12 months the number of unemployed people has dropped by 17 percent. It wasn’t all good news: part of the reason the jobless rate fell was 20,300 dropped out of the labor force, the most since since December 2014. Lavoie at Laurentian Bank said it would be “extremely surprising” for Quebec to make further major gains in the job market over the next year. The figures have yet to reflect some announced cutbacks at Bombardier Inc. that haven’t happened yet, and the U.S. might be about to get tough on Quebec’s large softwood lumber industry. “There are also growing uncertainties linked to trade,” he said. “There will be duties on lumber, so that’s not going to help future job creation.” The mixed pattern also showed up in the national figures. Employment climbed by 10,700 in November as 27,600 left the labor force. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected the jobless rate would be unchanged and employment would decline by 15,000.
  2. Dans le SFGate Montreal's quartet of cultures creates a colorful pattern Margo Pfeiff Updated 11:25 am, Friday, July 4, 2014 Tourists gather near the Basilique Notre-Dame in Montreal. Photo: Joanne Levesque, Getty Images The Ogilvy Piper makes his way through the jewelry section of the iconic department store at noon every day. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle A room at Old Montreal's classic 18th century Hotel Pierre du Calvet. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Old Montreal's classic 18th century Hotel Pierre du Calvet. A terrace at an Old Montreal restaurant. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Activities at the Lachine Canal National Historic Site. Photo: Margo Pfeiff, Special To The Chronicle Ninety percent of all first encounters in downtown Montreal begin with the same two words. That are the same word. "Bonjour. Hi." Respond one way and you parlez français; answer the other and you're in English territory. Despite periodic bickering - including threats of Quebec's separating from the rest of Canada - the biggest French-speaking city outside of Paris has actually become increasingly bilingual and harmonious over recent decades. But with the strong bilateral English-French vibe, what's often overshadowed is that there were four founding cultures that laid down strong roots on this island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River almost 350 years ago. I'm reminded of this as I wait at a traffic light staring at each culture's national symbols on a flapping city flag - the French fleur-de-lis, the red English rose, an Irish shamrock and Scotland's thistle. Though Montreal is wildly multicultural today, in the 19th century, 98 percent of the city's population was French, English, Irish or Scottish. Is it still possible, I wonder, to experience each of those distinct original cultures - including real, non-poutine France and genuine tally-ho England - in modern Montreal? Heart of New France Since I believe every cultural quest is improved with a signature cocktail, I start with France and I order my very first absinthe at the Sarah B Bar, named after Sarah Bernhardt, queen of French tragedy. As couples cuddle in "Green Fairy" alcoves, my bartender pours the notorious chartreuse liquor that Hemingway, Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde imbibed in their Parisian days into a specially shaped glass. He rests a flat, perforated "absinthe spoon" topped with a sugar cube across the top, then drips ice water until it is melted, turning the absinthe milky. Legend has it that absinthe has driven men to madness and drove Van Gogh to slice off his ear. Sipping the herbal, floral and slightly bitter cocktail, I look closely at the bottle's label - while the current version is a hefty 160 proof, it's missing the likely source of "la fée verte" (green fairy) hallucinations, wormwood. I teeter on uneven cobblestone streets to the heart of New France in Old Montreal amid clip-clopping horse-drawn carriages. Bells chime from Notre Dame Basilica with its Limoges stained glass windows from France, artists sell their crafts in narrow alleyways, and in the evening, gas lamps still light up rue Ste.-Helene. I check into La Maison Pierre du Calvet, a nine-room guesthouse spanning three small buildings dating back to 1725. It's a stone-walled time capsule with random staircases, crooked hallways and an antique-filled library with ancient fireplaces. Escargot and stag fillet are served in a grand old dining room, and the chateau luxury includes a grand step-up, monarchy-caliber canopied bed. The morning streets waft cafe au lait and croissant aromas as I walk to the walled city's original market square of Place Royale to Maison Christian Faure, a chic new French pastry shop. In the hands-on cooking school, I glean the secrets behind crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, iconic French macarons. It's so simple they even offer kids' classes, and it's made all the more fun by Lyon-born Faure himself, a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) - an elite group of France's best chefs - and the stories of his days as pastry chef for French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the prince of Monaco. "I moved here because the public markets are like those in Provence," he croons in a Lyon accent, "and because Montreal is so, mmmmm ... Europe." The pipes are calling While French zealots came to the New World to save the souls of "sauvages," the Scots came to make money. And you can still see plenty of it in the Golden Square Mile's historical buildings sloping up from Sherbrooke Street, downtown's main upscale shopping boulevard, to Mont Royal, the park-topped hill after which the city is named. The area was a residential tycoon alley from 1850 to 1930, occupied by rail, shipping, sugar and beer barons with names like Angus, McIntyre and Molson who owned 70 percent of the country's wealth. About 85 percent of the lavish estates were lost before heritage finally won over demolition in 1973. When I walk those hilly streets for the first time instead of whizzing by in my car, I'm surprised to see downtown with different eyes, an obviously British and Scottish quarter with an eclectic architectural mix from Neo-Gothic and Queen Anne to Art Nouveau, estates with names such as Ravenscrag and castles crafted from imported Scottish red sandstone. These days they're consulates, office headquarters and the Canadian McCord Museum; 30 of the beauties are campus outposts bought by McGill University, a legacy of Scottish merchant James McGill, who donated his 47-acre summer estate to become one of Canada's leading universities. One of my favorite buildings is the 1893 Royal "Vic" (Victoria) Hospital, where you can get your appendix yanked in a Scottish baronial castle complete with turrets. And where there are Scots, there are bagpipes. Montreal's most famous piper is at Ogilvy, a high-end department store on Ste. Catherine Street. Every day from noon to 1 p.m. since 1927, a kilt-clad piper plays marches and reels as he strolls around all five floors, down spiral staircases and beneath massive chandeliers where purchases are packed in tartan bags and boxes I also hear the whining tones of "Scotland the Brave" as I head toward my Highland cocktail at the Omni Hotel, where a kilted piper every Wednesday evening reminds folks emerging from Sherbrooke Street office towers that it's Whisky Folies night, a single-malt-scotch tasting in the Alice Bar. I choose five from the 10- to 20-year-olds served with a cuppa fish and chips. A local Scotsman drops in for a wee one, informing me that there's been a benefit St. Andrews Ball in Montreal every November for 177 years, "but come to the Highland Games, where there's dancing, throwing stuff around and looking up kilts - fun for the whole family." Montreal's bit o' Irish Snippets of the four founding cultures pop up repeatedly when you walk around town - statues of Robbie Burns and Sir John A. Macdonald, the Glasgow-born first prime minister of Canada; the green Art Nouveau ironwork of a Paris Metro at the Victoria Square subway station, given by France; British hero Adm. Horatio Nelson overlooking Old Montreal's main square (though the original likeness was blown to bits by Irish republican extremists in 1966). Ah, the Irish. They arrived in Montreal in big numbers in the early 1800s to build the Lachine Canal to bypass rapids blocking the shipping route to the Great Lakes. They settled nearby in Griffintown, currently a maze of condos and cranes. Stroll along rapidly gentrifying Notre Dame Street, still an eclectic melange of antiques-and-collectibles shops, funky cafes and local bistros. The Irish were unique among English-speaking immigrants - hatred for their English oppressors back home had them cozying up with the French, fellow Catholics. Surprisingly, the Irish legacy is dominant in Montreal; about 40 percent of the population has a wee bit of Blarney blood. Of course there are also pubs and churches, St. Pat's Basilica being the ornate religious hub, its interior adorned with intertwined fleurs-de-lis and shamrocks. Conveniently nearby, sacred brew is served over the altar of Hurley's Pub, a favorite hangout where Irish and Newfoundlanders work magic with fiddles, pipes and drums - even the Pogues have jammed here. I love Hurley's because it's a rare pub with Guinness stout on tap both icy cold and traditionally lukewarm; I prefer the latter for bigger flavor. "Watch him top that brew up three times," Frankie McKeown urges from a neighboring stool. "Even in Ireland they hardly do that now." The Irish come out of the woodwork on March 17, when Canada's oldest St. Patrick's parade turns downtown green, as it has since 1824. "It's amazing," says McKeown. "In Dublin it's all done in 45 minutes, but here we're watching floats for three hours." A grand party ensues afterward at Hurley's. "But it's just as much fun on Robbie Burns Day, when a haggis held high follows a piper through the pub." Britain in the mix Britain enters Montreal's picture after the Seven Years War in the 1760s when France dumps Quebec in exchange for the sugar colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe. By 1845, about 55,000 British top out as 57 percent of Montreal's population - and the percentage has been dwindling ever since. While there may not be much Scottish brogue or Irish lilt left these days, there's plenty of culture on the plate and in the glass, though surprisingly not so much representing British roots in Montreal. In 2012, English chef Jamie Oliver made big waves by teaming up with Montreal chef Derek Dammann to highlight creative British tavern-inspired fare at the popular Maison Publique (Public House), serving locally sourced, home-smoked/pickled and cured angles on Welsh rarebit, hogget with oats and cabbage, and the like. Otherwise, the truest of Montreal's British establishments is the Burgundy Lion in Griffintown, one of the few places to offer Sunday British "footie" on the big screens, as kippers 'n' eggs, Lancashire pot pie and cucumber sandwiches are dished out by gals in tight, mod-'70s outfits. I happen to drop in during England's National Day, St. George's, to find the place hopping with dart-throwing, papier-mache piñata-style "dragon slaying" and ballad singing. I wind up at the bar sipping my pint of Boddingtons between two fellows, both dressed in fake chain mail. The one also draped in a Union Jack British flag clicks my glass with his bottle, announcing "Here's to Blighty!" before raising the visor on his medieval knight helmet to take a royal slug. Can you still experience Montreal's four founding nations in this multicultural modern city? Oui. Yes. And aye. If You Go GETTING THERE Air Canada offers daily flights from San Francisco to Montreal year round. (888) 247-2262, www.aircanada.com. WHERE TO STAY La Maison Pierre du Calvet: 405 Bonsecours St., Old Montreal. (514) 282-1725 or (866) 544-1725. www.pierreducalvet.ca/english. Lavish French colonial inn. From $265 double with continental breakfast. (Two on-site dining rooms serve French fare.) Fairmont Queen Elizabeth: 900 Rene Levesque Blvd. West. (866) 540-4483. www.fairmont.com/queen-elizabeth-montreal. A classic fit for everyone from the Queen Mother to John and Yoko; where they recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in 1969. From $209 double. Hotel Nelligan: 106 St. Paul West, Old Montreal. (877) 788-2040. www.hotelnelligan.com. Chic boutique hotel named after a famed Irish-French poet. From $250 double. WHERE TO EAT Le Mas des Oliviers: 1216 Bishop St. (514) 861-6733. www.lemasdesoliviers.ca. Classic French cuisine at a landmark downtown restaurant, one of the city's oldest places to eat. Dinner for two from $120. Also open for lunch. Restaurant L'Express: 3927 St. Denis. (514) 845-5333, www.restaurantlexpress.ca. Popular, casual French bistro, a Montreal icon. Dinner for two from $60. Maison Publique: 4720 Rue Marquette. (514) 507-0555, www.maisonpublique.com. Jamie Oliver's hip, up-market and creative take on British tavern fare. Very popular, no reservations. Dinner for two from $60. Burgundy Lion: 2496 Notre-Dame West. (514) 934-0888, www.burgundylion.com. Only true British pub in Montreal. Large selection of local and imported brews and one of Canada's biggest single-malt whiskey collections. English gastro pub menu with lunch and dinner from $40 for two. Hurley's Irish Pub: 1225 Crescent St. (514) 861-4111, www.hurleysirishpub.com. Great selection of brews, a traditional Emerald Isle pub menu, and Irish and/or Newfoundland fiddle music nightly. Entrees from $10. WHAT TO DO Point-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History: 350 Place Royale, Old Montreal. (514) 872-7858, www.pacmusee.qc.ca/en/home. Excellent museum set atop the original city town square. Closed Mondays except in summer. Adults $18. McCord Museum: 690 Rue Sherbrooke West. (514) 398-7100, www.mccord-museum.qc.ca/en. Extensive cultural museum of all things Canadian. Frequent exhibitions of Montreal's various cultures. Closed Mondays. Adults $12. Fitz and Follwell Co: 115 Ave. du Mont-Royal West. (514) 840-0739, www.fitzandfollwell.co. Guided Montreal biking, walking and unique snow tours. Martin Robitaille: Private history-oriented city guide. [email protected] Maison Christian Faure: 355 Place Royale, Old Montreal, (514) 508-6453, www.christianfaure.ca. Hands-on French pastry and macaron-making classes. There's even a pastry-making boot camp for kids. Whisky Folies, Omni Hotel: 1050 Sherbrooke West. (514) 985-9315, http://bit.ly/1iCaJxc . Single-malt scotch and whisky tastings with fish and chips every Wednesday, 5-9 p.m.. From $16 to $40. My Bicyclette: 2985-C St. Patrick (Atwater Market). (877) 815-0150, www.mybicyclette.ca. Bike rental and tours of the Lachine Canal region. MORE INFORMATION Tourism Montréal: www.tourisme-montreal.org. Tourism Québec: www.bonjourquebec.com. Margo Pfeiff is a freelance writer living in Montreal. E-mail: [email protected]
  3. http://www.citylab.com/politics/2014/07/paris-wants-landlords-to-turn-vacant-office-space-into-apartmentsor-else/374388/ Paris Wants Landlords to Turn Vacant Office Space Into Apartments—Or Else The city has a surplus of empty commercial buildings that could better serve as residences. And it plans to fine owners who don't convert. FEARGUS O'SULLIVAN <figure class="lead-image" style="margin: 0px; max-width: 620px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Oxygen, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 17px;"><figcaption class="credit" style="color: rgb(153, 153, 153); font-size: 0.82353em; text-align: right;">Justin Black/Shutterstock.com</figcaption></figure>Leave your office space unrented and we’ll fine you. That’s the new ruledeclared by the city of Paris last week. Currently, between six and seven percent of Paris' 18 million square meters of office space is unused, and the city wants to get this vacant office space revamped and occupied by residents. The penalties for unrented space will be as follows: 20 percent of the property’s rental value in the first year of vacancy, 30 percent in the second year and 40 percent in the third year. The plan is to free up about 200,000 square meters of office space for homes, which would still leave a substantial amount of office space available should demand pick up. The city insists that, while the sums involved are potentially large, this isn’t a new tax but an incentive. And, if it has the right effect in getting property re-occupied, may end up being little-used. Landlords' groups are taking the new plan as well as can be expected. They’ve pointed out that, while the cost of the fines might be high, it could still cost them less to pay them than to convert their properties to homes. According to a property investor quoted in Le Figaro, the cost of transforming an office into apartments can actually be 20 to 25 percent more expensive than constructing an entirely new building. Many landlords might be unwilling or unable to undertake such a process and thus be forced to sell in a market where, thanks to a glut of available real estate, prices are falling. There is also the question of how easy the law will be to enforce: Landlords could rent out vacant properties at a token rent simply to avoid the vacancy fine. <aside class="pullquote instapaper_ignore" style="font-family: Bitter, Georgia, 'Times New Roman', serif; font-size: 2.11765em; line-height: 1.05556; border-top-width: 5px; border-top-style: solid; border-top-color: rgb(0, 0, 0); border-bottom-width: 1px; border-bottom-style: solid; border-bottom-color: rgb(0, 0, 0); padding: 25px 0px; margin: 30px 0px;">As Paris becomes a laboratory for new legislation to make homes more plentiful and affordable, other European cities would do well to watch it carefully. </aside>It’s too early to see if these predictions will come true, but past experience in smaller French property markets suggests it won’t. The fines have already been introduced elsewhere in France: in the country’s fourth city of Lille (governed by the Socialist party) and in the Parisian satellite town of St Quentin-en-Yvelines (governed by the right wing UMP). So far, neither has experienced a legislation-exacerbated property slump. It’s also fair to point out that Paris is asking for a round of belt tightening from pretty much every group involved in the city’s real estate. The new levy is part of a plan announced last month that will also pressure state and semi-public bodies to release Parisian land for home building. Paris has some fairly large reserves of this, including space currently owned by the state health authority, by the national railway network and by the RATP—Paris’ transit authority, on whose unused land alone 2,000 homes could be built. In the meantime, stringent planning laws are also being relaxed to cut development costs for office converters. They will no longer, for example, be obliged to provide parking spaces for new homes, as they had been until the law change. Finally, starting next year, landlords will get an incentive to rent their properties to financially riskier lower-income tenants by having their rents and deposits guaranteed by a new intermediary, a public/private agency called Multiloc. Coming on top of laws that have relaxed building-height restrictionson the Paris periphery, it’s clear that, for Paris developers and landowners, there’s a decent ratio of carrot to stick. But will it all work? At the very least, Paris deserves recognition for being proactive, especially on a continent where many cities’ grip on the property sector is floundering. Berlin has recently had major new homebuilding plansrejected by residents (for good reason—they were due to get a bad deal), while the U.K.’s number of newly built homes has actually gone down, despite property prices continuing to rise sharply. As Paris becomes a laboratory for new legislation to make homes more plentiful and affordable, other European cities would do well to watch it carefully. (Photo credit: Justin Black/Shutterstock.com)
  4. http://www.autoblog.com/2009/12/11/report-detroit-three-call-japans-cash-for-clunkers-program-unf/ http://www.autoblog.com/2010/01/07/report-obama-urged-to-push-japan-to-open-its-cash-for-clunkers/ Protectionism in full swing once again in Japan. Why should their cars be eligible for cash for clunkers in the US, if American cars are not there. That is not free trade. Hopefully President Obama puts an end to this nonsense.
  5. The New York Times June 28, 2008 By BEN SISARIO MONTREAL — On Wednesday night, in the last of his three concerts presented as preludes to the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Leonard Cohen, the 73-year-old hometown poet-hero on tour for the first time in 15 years, said that on his last time through town he was “60 years old, just a kid with a crazy dream.” Between waves of applause and hollers in French and English, he added, “I am so grateful to be here and to be from here.” Mr. Cohen’s math notwithstanding, hometown pride and musical reverence are at the center of the festival, which opened its 29th season on Thursday and runs through July 6. Billing itself as the largest jazz festival in the world, it attracts one million visitors a year to more than 500 concerts in a three-block music zone downtown and brings about $100 million in revenue to the city, according to Canadian government estimates. With CD sales in a chronic slump, the music industry has been turning increasingly to live events for income, and in recent years big smorgasbord festivals have sprouted up all over North America, aiming to present all kinds of music for all kinds of people. But with a setting ideal for tourists as well as for local residents, and a solid history of eclectic programming — among the attractions this year are Woody Allen, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Public Enemy and the local debut of Steely Dan — Montreal has held on to a rare prestige. “There is no parallel in North America and perhaps no parallel around the world,” said Scott Southard, a jazz and world-music booking agent who has 15 artists at the festival. “In Europe or Bonnaroo, for instance, they have to erect an entire village in a remote location. Here you have an urban environment without having to reconstruct the venue infrastructure every year.” Begun in 1980 by two concert promoters, Alain Simard and André Ménard, as a way to fill up what was then a dry summer concert calendar, the festival takes over four concert halls of the Place des Arts performing arts complex as well as numerous theaters and clubs around the perimeter. Several blocks of downtown streets are closed for outdoor stages, retail and food booths and children’s activities. Despite the size, Mr. Simard, the president of the festival’s parent company, L’Équipe Spectra, said that “the goal is not to be the biggest jazz festival in the world, it’s to be the best.” But as the festival approaches its 30th season, it is preparing to grow even bigger, with help from a four-year, $120 million government plan to develop the area around Place des Arts. The first phase, to be completed by next summer, includes a 75,000-square-foot park and performance ground, the Place du Quartier des Spectacles. The festival has also been given a 30-year lease and a $10 million grant from the Province of Quebec to renovate a nearby vacant building; when completed it will add one club for use year-round. As a tourist draw second only to Grand Prix du Canada, the Formula One race held in Montreal in early June, the jazz festival has become an important symbol of Montreal’s cosmopolitan lifestyle, said Charles Lapointe, the chief executive of Tourism Montreal, a nonprofit agency financed through a hotel tax. “The jazz festival exemplifies perfectly what we are presenting on the foreign market,” Mr. Lapointe said. “You can celebrate on the streets without any problems with security and express all the pleasure you want.” Civic pride and creative abundance was clear on Thursday, the official opening. (Mr. Cohen’s touring schedule prevented him from being part of the festival proper; he appears at the enormous Glastonbury pop festival in Britain on Sunday.) During the afternoon crowds gradually filled up the Place des Arts campus, slurping on ice cream cones beside the fountain and listening to the sound check for a tribute to Mr. Cohen featuring Chris Botti, Madeleine Peyroux, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others. Darting between indoor evening concerts by the veteran jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, the young British songwriter Katie Melua and the African performers Vieux Farka Touré and Salif Keita, a visitor could quickly take in half a dozen outdoor concerts, parades and magicians. Two-thirds of the concerts are free. The Cohen tribute drew an estimated audience of 100,000, filling the plaza and nearby streets. But the concerts by Mr. Cohen himself were the clear early highlight. Dressed like a spy in a crisp black suit and fedora, Mr. Cohen, who has said that after years in a Zen Buddhist retreat in California, his lifelong depression has finally begun to lift, sang a sleek and emotional set of nearly three hours. In “Bird on the Wire,” “Hallelujah” and “Tower of Song” he sang of being weighted down by cynicism and starving for affection, but between songs he doffed his hat and smiled broadly for sustained ovations. The festival, a nonprofit enterprise run by the for-profit company L’Équipe Spectra, has an operating budget of $25 million. And though about 18 percent of that comes from national, provincial and city sources, the biggest form of government support is the closing of several blocks of busy city streets. The bulk of the budget comes from corporate sponsorships (40 percent) and sales of tickets and memorabilia (39 percent). The prominence of sponsorships gives the festival a sense of hyperbranding. Looking over Place des Arts, it is almost impossible not to see a giant symbol of General Motors, the lead sponsor: besides GM logos on banners and fliers throughout the grounds, the company also has five displays of new cars for contests, and at least one of the many marching bands wended its way around, wearing black GM T-shirts. Festival organizers say that they have made efforts to ensure that the sponsorship is tasteful and not intrusive. Signs are only seen outdoors, where concerts are free, they say. There is no advertising for the paid concerts indoors, and the organizers say they will not rename the event to suit any sponsor. To create an egalitarian atmosphere, the festival also shuns velvet ropes. “You will never see a V.I.P. area on the site,” Mr. Ménard said. “There’s never a place where people walk and are told, ‘No, that’s not for you.’ The unemployed can stand next to the president of the sponsor company.” For the Cohen tribute on Thursday night, however, there was a small area of bleachers near the stage reserved for the news media and others. But a reporter who lacked the necessary badges was still able to enter with a few kind words. And unlike many large festivals, this one had a network of fenced-off pathways that made quick travel through even a crowd of 100,000 tightly packed fans on Thursday evening easy for anyone needing or wanting to get through. “The vibe is very peaceful,” Mr. Ménard said of the festival. “The fabric of this city is all about the quality of life. The fact is, we have long, deadly winters, so come summertime, everybody is in for a party — but a civilized party.”
  6. October 13, 2009, 2:53pm WASHINGTON, October 12, 2009 (AFP) - Cash-rich US researchers have again dominated this year's Nobel awards, but it seems identifying the nationality of laureates is not an exact science, and change may be on the way. On the face of things, the United States would top an Olympic-style medals table of Nobel prize wins. Eleven of this year's 13 laureates are citizens of the United States, winning five of the six Nobel awards up for grabs. Even President Barack Obama pocketed a medal. Since the end of World War II, the United States has scooped up 89 Nobel awards for medicine, 74 for physics, 58 for chemistry and dozens more for economics, peace and literature, beating its closest contenders in Britain, France and Germany. Unsurprisingly then, the rest of the world is left to ask how the United States does it. The answer may be, in part, "It doesn't." A look at the curricula vitae of this year's Nobel science winners -- which make up four of the six awards -- shows a complex patchwork of academics criss-crossing the globe to reach the top their profession. "You have to ask where they studied," said Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, an American who has written a book profiling female Nobel laureates. "Many of our scientists have done their post-docs in Europe," she said, pointing to high migration levels among top scientists. This year's crop of laureates shows just how difficult it is to determine the nationality of globe-trotting laureates, especially based on Nobel citations which use citizenship at the time of award. Charles Kao who shared the 2009 prize for physics for his work in developing fiber optics is a US citizen, but he was born in Shanghai, educated in London and now lives in Hong Kong. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who shared the prize for chemistry, was born in India, works in Britain, but has US citizenship. Australian-born Elizabeth Blackburn is also a US citizen, but studied at the universities of Melbourne and Cambridge before a post doctoral degree at Yale. Willard Boyle, who won also shared the physics prize for his work on semiconductors, is Canadian and studied at Montreal's McGill University, but now has American citizenship. Obama -- despite claims by his most vociferous critics -- is among the most unquestionably American of the laureates. According to research from Britain's University of Warwick, published last January, scientific migration is common, and vastly beneficial to the United States. "Nearly half of the world's most-cited physicists work outside their country of birth," the study said. A survey of 158 of the most highly cited physicists showed systematic migration to nations with large research and development spending, most notably the United States. "At birth, 29.7 percent of physicists are in the USA. This increases to 43.4 percent at first degree, to 55.1 percent at PhD, and to 67.1 percent presently," the report said. "In 1987-2006, for example, five out of fourteen of all UK-educated laureates had moved to the USA by the time they won the Nobel prize." Still, the United States can claim to have forged the institutes and universities that attract top-flight researchers for award-winning research. According to State Department figures, every year the United States issues over 35,000 visas for exceptional scientists and others who flock to well-funded institutes. But the real key to US Nobel dominance, according to Roger Geiger, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, is cash -- particularly the massive influx of cash to the US education system after World War II. "We were funding research when others were not, or when others could not," he said pointing to post-war Europe's economic malaise. That advantage has stuck. Today, Harvard University's endowment alone is worth around $27 billion, roughly equal to Costa Rica's gross domestic product. Still, Harvard's nest egg has shrunk by $10 billion since the start of the fiscal year thanks to a financial crisis that Geiger says will erode American universities' attraction. "The crisis has been longer and more deeply felt in the United States, that will have an impact," he said. At the same time, European and Asian universities are increasing the type of innovative research that wins awards. "Other countries have recognized the importance of this type of competition," said Geiger who sees change already taking place. "The rest of the world is competing, the law of numbers says they will catch up. If you look at publication and citation counts, Nobel prizes are a lagging indicator." In some disciplines, the playing field has already been leveled and could provide a glimpse of the competition if other regions match US funding levels. Europeans still dominate the Fields Medal for mathematics or the Pritzker Prize for architecture, both areas which can require less research funding. An American has not won the Nobel Prize for Literature since Toni Morrison's award 16 years ago. As one Nobel judge tersely put it Americans "don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature." But in the sciences at least, Americans are not only part of the dialogue, but still have the last word, even if the word is spoken with a foreign lilt. http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/224495/us-nobel-sweep-points-brain-drain
  7. It's looking like New York will follow fast on the heels of Illinois in deciding not to add a luxury tax for jewelry over $20,000. The American Watch Association sent an e-mail to members on Monday saying that while the New York State Legislature has agreed to tax increases to deal with a budget deficit, the luxury tax proposal is not part of it. The luxury tax would have also applied to aircraft costing more than $500,000, yachts over $200,000, cars that cost more than $60,000 and furs over $20,000. But don't go spending yet, high earners in New York will be feeling an increased pinch. Income taxes were raised one percentage point to 7.85 percent for couples with income over $300,000 and couples with more than $500,000 in income will pay 8.97 percent. The three-year tax increase is expected to add $4 billion to the state coffers this year.
  8. April 29, 2009 By LANDON THOMAS Jr. LONDON — Tetsuya Ishikawa reaped the fruits of London’s financial boom, structuring and selling his small share of the complex securities that fueled both his professional rise and the uninterrupted economic growth of Britain. When the boom went bust last year, he lost his job at Morgan Stanley, along with about 28,000 other Londoners working in finance. Mr. Ishikawa, who has written a fictional memoir, has no plans to return to the City, as London’s banking district is known. But Britain’s revenue-starved Labor government will find no such escape. “By 2010, the U.K. will have the largest budget deficit in the developed world,” said Richard Snook, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Business Research in London. “The problem is that the financial services industry has been a huge cash cow for the British government for the last 10 years and now it is going into reverse.” The country’s budget deficit has soared to 12 percent of gross domestic product; its public debt burden could soon reach 80 percent of annual economic output, a figure that would leave it roughly in the same position as Greece. But at a time when Britain more than ever needs a financial sector firing on all cylinders, its economic engine is conking out — for a number of reasons, including some that critics blame on the government. All told, more than 70,000 jobs in finance are expected to disappear over the next two to three years, a big chunk of the total estimated job losses of about 280,000 in London. The British government has poured hundreds of billions of pounds into preventing several of its largest banks from falling into bankruptcy as the extent of their bad bets became evident. But there is little prospect of a revival anytime soon, as the government is about to impose stiffer demands on banks to keep high capital ratios and to rely less on leverage and once-lucrative trading activities. That, combined with a more aggressive posture by the regulatory authorities to put a check on bonuses, is likely to hasten what has already been a sharp falloff in corporate and income taxes from the City. The economic contribution from the British financial sector, according to the Office for National Statistics, peaked at 10.8 percent of G.D.P. in 2007 — up from 5.5 percent in 1996, just before Labor took over. By comparison, the contribution from financial services in the United States to the American economy never exceeded 8 percent. In a bid to capture more revenue, the British government has decided to raise tax rates on the affluent, many of them working in finance. But the new top income tax rate of 50 percent for those earning at least £150,000, or $219,000, may only make things worse, said Mr. Snook, the economist. “These people are highly mobile and they will leave London,” he said. “The impact on public finances will be negative.” Britain’s top tax rate will soon rank fourth behind those of Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands — not quite the advertisement one would expect from one of the world’s leading financial centers. In many ways, Mr. Ishikawa’s career tracked the credit explosion that has now imploded. When he began work as a lowly credit analyst in 2002, banks in London issued about £20 billion in securities linked to various mortgage instruments. His career took off as that figure surged to over £180 billion by 2008, when Mr. Ishikawa secured for himself a $3 million bonus from Morgan Stanley as a reward for peddling assets that turned out to be toxic. With that line of business virtually defunct, banks in the coming years must return to lower-risk and lower-return businesses like equity and bond underwriting, foreign exchange trading and traditional deal-making — businesses that may well be profitable, but can in no way make up for the loss of such a lush specialty. The Center for Economic and Business Research estimates that corporate and income taxes from the financial industry will shrink from 12 percent of the overall tax take in 2007 to 8 percent this year and perhaps lower in the years ahead, a prospect that could force Britain to increase its already substantial borrowing requirement. The crisis has humbled all financial centers, from Wall Street to Dubai. According to an index produced in Britain that ranks financial centers around the world, the City of London still comes out on top, closely followed by New York. The gap, though, between these two and Singapore, which is now third, is narrowing. Lord Adair Turner, the chairman of the Financial Services Authority, agrees that London as a financial center will be in for an adjustment and says that a large portion of the banking industry’s profit contribution to the economy was “illusory.” But even in a more restrictive environment, he points out, London’s importance as a global financial hub and the most valuable trading center in Europe will not go away. “The City is important today for the same reason it was important in 1890,” he said. As for Mr. Ishikawa, who is 30 and grew up in Britain as the son of a successful Japanese executive, he is putting his hopes into a new career as a writer. His book, “How I Caused the Credit Crunch,” chronicles the debauched excesses of the boom — he was briefly married to a Brazilian lap dancer — by lightly fictionalizing his six-year stint in finance. “I really don’t miss it,” he said, sipping a coffee near the building where he was laid off. “There are many more kids out there more hungry than me.” Like Faruq Rana, for example. Mr. Rana, the 26-year-old son of Bangladeshi immigrants, was born and reared in Tower Hamlets, a district abutting Canary Wharf that has Britain’s highest unemployment rate. From his window, he can see the towers of Citigroup and Barclays reaching into the sky and his ambition to one day work as a trader in one of those buildings soars nearly as high. “Every day when I wake up and open up my window, I can smell my job,” said Mr. Rana, who is a student in a government-financed program at Tower Hamlets College that prepares local youths for jobs in the financial industry. Unlike Mr. Ishikawa, Mr. Rana did not go to Eton or Oxford, but he remains undeterred. “I have the motivation and the drive,” he said. “I think I can be one of them.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/business/global/29city.html?ref=global-home
  9. By Sarah Mulholland April 23 (Bloomberg) -- Loan extensions will likely be insufficient to prevent a wave of commercial real-estate defaults as borrowers struggle to refinance debt amid tighter lending standards and plummeting property values, according to Deutsche Bank AG analysts. As much as $1 trillion in commercial mortgages maturing during the next decade will be unable to secure financing without significant cash injections from property owners, according to the Deutsche analysts. At least two-thirds, or $410 billion, of commercial mortgages bundled and sold as bonds coming due between 2009 and 2018 will need additional cash infusions to refinance, the analysts led by Richard Parkus in New York said in a report yesterday. Many commercial real-estate borrowers will be unwilling or unable to put additional equity into the properties, and will have to negotiate to extend the loan or walk away from the property, the analysts said. The volume of potentially troubled loans and declining real-estate values will make loan extensions harder to obtain. “The scale of this issue is virtually unprecedented in commercial real estate, and its impact is likely to dominate the industry for the better part of a decade,” the analysts said. Many dismiss the seriousness of the problem by assuming lenders will agree to extend maturities, according to the report. That approach might work if the amount of loans that failed to refinance was relatively small, but the percentage is likely to be 60 to 70 percent, the analysts said. The overhang of distressed real estate will hinder price appreciation, making lenders less likely to extend mortgages with the expectation that the value of the property will rise enough to qualify for refinancing, the analysts said. Loans made in 2007 when prices peaked and underwriting standards bottomed will face the biggest hurdles to refinancing. Roughly 80 percent of commercial mortgages packaged into bonds in 2007 wouldn’t qualify for refinancing, according to Deutsche data.
  10. Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- New York’s biggest banks and securities firms may relinquish 8 million square feet of office space this year, deepening the worst commercial property slump in more than a decade as they abandon a record amount of property. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., bankrupt Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and industry rivals have vacated 4.6 million feet, a figure that may climb by another 4 million as businesses leave or sublet space they no longer need, according CB Richard Ellis Group Inc., the largest commercial property broker. Banks, brokers and insurers have fired more than 177,000 employees in the Americas as the recession and credit crisis battered balance sheets. Financial services firms occupy about a quarter of Manhattan’s 362 million square feet of office space and account for almost 40 percent now available for sublease, CB Richard Ellis data show. “Entire segments of the industry are gone,” said Marisa Di Natale, a senior economist at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “We’re talking about the end of 2012 before things actually start to turn up again for the New York office market.” The amount of available space may reach 15.6 percent by the end of the year, the most since 1996, according to Los Angeles- based CB Richard Ellis. Vacancies are already the highest since 2004 and rents are down 5 percent, the biggest drop in at least two decades. In 2003, the city had 14.8 million square feet available for sublease. If financial firms give up as much as CB Richard Ellis expects, that record will be broken. ‘Wild Card’ CB Richard Ellis’s figures don’t include any space Bank of America may relinquish at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan, where Merrill Lynch & Co., the securities firm it acquired last month, occupies 2.8 million square feet. Brookfield Properties Inc., the second-biggest owner of U.S. office buildings by square footage, owns the Financial Center. Merrill “is a wild card right now,” said Robert Stella, principal at Boston-based real estate brokerage CresaPartners. Manhattan’s availability rate -- vacancies plus occupied space that is on the market -- was 12.3 percent at the end of January, up more than 50 percent compared with a year earlier and almost 9 percent from December, according to CB Richard Ellis. Commercial real estate prices dropped almost 15 percent last year, more than U.S. house prices, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Feb. 19 report. The decline returned values to 2005 levels, according to the Moody’s/REAL Commercial Property Price Indexes. SL Green The Bloomberg Office REIT Index fell 25 percent since the start of January, with SL Green Realty, the biggest owner of Manhattan skyscrapers, slumping 50 percent. Vornado Realty Trust, whose buildings include One and Two Penn Plaza in Midtown, has fallen 36 percent. SL Green of New York gets 41 percent of its revenue from financial firms, including 13 percent from Citigroup, according to its Web site. Bank of America plans to give up 530,000 square feet at 9 West 57th St. as it completes a move to 1 Bryant Park. New York- based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is leaving 1.3 million square feet of offices at 1 New York Plaza and 77 Water St. as it prepares to move to new headquarters near the World Trade Center site. JPMorgan put 320,000 square feet of Park Avenue offices on the market after scooping up rival Bear Stearns Cos. last year along with the company’s 45-story headquarters tower at 383 Madison Ave. Citigroup has put 11 floors, or 326,000 square feet, on the market at the 59-story Citigroup Center at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street, bank spokesman Jon Diat said in an e-mail. The tower is owned by Mortimer Zuckerman’s Boston Properties Inc. Moving Out “We’ve been having conversations for two and a half years with Citigroup, and it’s been very clear to us that for the right economic transaction, they would move out of virtually any space in midtown Manhattan that they have,” Boston Properties President Douglas Linde said on a conference call last month. Boston Properties is also expecting to receive about 490,000 square feet back from Lehman Brothers at 399 Park Ave. as part of the bank’s liquidation. That space “will be a monumental challenge” to fill, said Michael Knott, senior analyst at Newport Beach, California-based Green Street Advisors. “They’re going to have to really bend over backwards on rate, or make the strategic decision to sit on it for an extended period of time.” Zuckerman said in an interview he doesn’t expect the increase in sublets to be a long-term problem for landlords. “You’re not going to be able to get for the space what you were able to get a year ago,” he said. “But in a year or two, in my judgment, the space will be absorbed.” Future Forecast Landlords must be prepared for a slow recovery, said Di Natale of Moody’s Economy.com. Commercial vacancy rates climbed for almost a year and a half after the last recession ended in late 2001. Still, CB Richard Ellis Tri-State Chairman Robert Alexander said New York’s financial community will regenerate. “In the late ‘80s, we lost Drexel Burnham Lambert and we lost Salomon Brothers, and we lost Thomson McKinnon,” Alexander said. “New York City survived.”
  11. Downturn Ends Building Boom in New York Charles Blaichman, at an unfinished tower at West 14th Street, is struggling to finance three proposed hotels by the High Line. NYtimes By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY Published: January 07, 2009 Nearly $5 billion in development projects in New York City have been delayed or canceled because of the economic crisis, an extraordinary body blow to an industry that last year provided 130,000 unionized jobs, according to numbers tracked by a local trade group. The setbacks for development — perhaps the single greatest economic force in the city over the last two decades — are likely to mean, in the words of one researcher, that the landscape of New York will be virtually unchanged for two years. “There’s no way to finance a project,” said the researcher, Stephen R. Blank of the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit group. Charles Blaichman is not about to argue with that assessment. Looking south from the eighth floor of a half-finished office tower on 14th Street on a recent day, Mr. Blaichman pointed to buildings he had developed in the meatpacking district. But when he turned north to the blocks along the High Line, once among the most sought-after areas for development, he surveyed a landscape of frustration: the planned sites of three luxury hotels, all stalled by recession. Several indicators show that developers nationwide have also been affected by the tighter lending markets. The growth rate for construction and land development loans shrunk drastically this year — to 0.08 percent through September, compared with 11.3 percent for all of 2007 and 25.7 percent in 2006, according to data tracked by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. And developers who have loans are missing payments. The percentage of loans in default nationwide jumped to 7.3 percent through September 2008, compared with 1 percent in 2007, according to data tracked by Reis Inc., a New York-based real estate research company. New York’s development world is rife with such stories as developers who have been busy for years are killing projects or scrambling to avoid default because of the credit crunch. Mr. Blaichman, who has built two dozen projects in the past 20 years, is struggling to borrow money: $370 million for the three hotels, which include a venture with Jay-Z, the hip-hop mogul. A year ago, it would have seemed a reasonable amount for Mr. Blaichman. Not now. “Even the banks who want to give us money can’t,” he said. The long-term impact is potentially immense, experts said. Construction generated more than $30 billion in economic activity in New York last year, said Louis J. Coletti, the chief executive of the Building Trades Employers’ Association. The $5 billion in canceled or delayed projects tracked by Mr. Coletti’s association include all types of construction: luxury high-rise buildings, office renovations for major banks and new hospital wings. Mr. Coletti’s association, which represents 27 contractor groups, is talking to the trade unions about accepting wage cuts or freezes. So far there is no deal. Not surprisingly, unemployment in the construction industry is soaring: in October, it was up by more than 50 percent from the same period last year, labor statistics show. Experience does not seem to matter. Over the past 15 years, Josh Guberman, 48, developed 28 condo buildings in Brooklyn and Manhattan, many of them purchased by well-paid bankers. He is cutting back to one project in 2009. Donald Capoccia, 53, who has built roughly 4,500 condos and moderate-income housing units in all five boroughs, took the day after Thanksgiving off, for the first time in 20 years, because business was so slow. He is shifting his attention to projects like housing for the elderly on Staten Island, which the government seems willing to finance. Some of their better known and even wealthier counterparts are facing the same problems. In August, Deutsche Bank started foreclosure proceedings against William S. Macklowe over his planned project at the former Drake Hotel on Park Avenue. Kent M. Swig, Mr. Macklowe’s brother-in-law, recently shut down the sales office for a condo tower planned for 25 Broad Street after his lender, Lehman Brothers, declared bankruptcy in September. Several commercial and residential brokers said they were spending nearly half their days advising developers who are trying to find new uses for sites they fear will not be profitable. “That rug has been pulled out from under their feet,” said David Johnson, a real estate broker with Eastern Consolidated who was involved with selling the site for the proposed hotel to Mr. Blaichman, Jay-Z and their business partners for $66 million, which included the property and adjoining air rights. Mr. Johnson said that because many banks are not lending, the only option for many developers is to take on debt from less traditional lenders like foreign investors or private equity firms that charge interest rates as high as 20 percent. That doesn’t mean that all construction in New York will grind to a halt immediately. Mr. Guberman is moving forward with one condo tower at 87th Street and Broadway that awaits approval for a loan; he expects it will attract buyers even in a slowing economy. Mr. Capoccia is trying to finish selling units at a Downtown Brooklyn condominium project, and is slowly moving ahead on applying for permits for an East Village project. Mr. Blaichman, 54, is keeping busy with four buildings financed before the slowdown. He has found fashion and advertising firms to rent space in his tower at 450 West 14th Street and buyers for two downtown condo buildings. He recently rented a Lower East Side building to the School of Visual Arts as a dorm. Mr. Blaichman had success in Greenwich Village and the meatpacking district, where he developed the private club SoHo House, the restaurant Spice Market and the Theory store. He had similar hopes for the area along the High Line, where he bought properties last year when they were fetching record prices. An art collector, he considered the area destined for growth because of its many galleries and its proximity to the park being built on elevated railroad tracks that have given the area its name. The park, which extends 1.45 miles from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street, is expected to be completed in the spring. Other developers have shown that buyers will pay high prices to be in the area. Condo projects designed by well-known architects like Jean Nouvel and Annabelle Selldorf have been eagerly anticipated. In recent months, buyers have paid $2 million for a two-bedroom unit and $3 million for a three-bedroom at Ms. Selldorf’s project, according to Streeteasy.com, a real estate Web site. “It’s one of the greatest stretches of undeveloped areas,” Mr. Blaichman said. “I still think it’s going to take off.” In August 2007, Mr. Blaichman bought the site and air rights of a former Time Warner Cable warehouse. He thought the neighborhood needed its first full-service five-star hotel, in contrast to the many boutique hotels sprouting up downtown. So with his partners, Jay-Z and Abram and Scott Shnay, he envisioned a hotel with a pool, gym, spa and multiple restaurants under a brand called J Hotels. But since his mortgage brokers started shopping in late summer for roughly $200 million in financing, they have only one serious prospect for a lender. For now, he is seeking an extension on the mortgage — monthly payments are to begin in the coming months — and trying to rent the warehouse. (He currently has no income from the property.) It is perhaps small comfort that his fellow developers are having as many problems getting loans. Shaya Boymelgreen had banks “pull back” recently on financing for a 107-unit rental tower the developer is building at 500 West 23rd Street, according to Sara Mirski, managing director of development for Boymelgreen Developers. The half-finished project looked abandoned on two recent visits, but Ms. Mirski said that construction will continue. Banks have “invited” the developer to reapply for a loan next year and have offered interim bridge loans for up to $30 million. Mr. Blaichman cuts a more mellow figure than many other developers do. He avoids the real estate social scene, tries to turn his cellphone off after 6 p.m. and plays folk guitar in his spare time. For now, Mr. Blaichman seems stoic about his plight. At a diner, he polished off a Swiss-cheese omelet and calmly noted that he had no near-term way to pay off his debts. He exercises several times a week and tells his three children to curb their shopping even as he regularly presses his mortgage bankers for answers. “I sleep pretty well,” Mr. Blaichman said. “There’s nothing you can do in the middle of the night that will help your projects.” But even when the lending market improves — in months, or years — restarting large-scale projects will not be a quick process. A freeze in development, in fact, could continue well after the recession ends. Mr. Blank of the Urban Land Institute said he has taken to giving the following advice to real estate executives: “We told them to take up golf.” Correction: An article on Saturday about the end of the building boom in New York City referred incorrectly to the family relationship between the developers William S. Macklowe, whose planned project at the former Drake Hotel is in foreclosure, and Kent M. Swig, who shut down the sales office for a condominium tower on Broad Street after his lender, Lehman Brothers, declared bankruptcy. Mr. Swig is Mr. Macklowe’s brother-in-law, not his son-in-law.
  12. US DOT Report Confirms Speed Not Major Accident Cause US Department of Transportation study finds only five percent of crashes caused by excessive speed. As lawmakers around the country continue to consider speed limit enforcement as the primary traffic safety measure, the most comprehensive examination of accident causation in thirty years suggests this focus on speed may be misplaced. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated 5,471 injury crashes that took place across the country between July 3, 2005 and December 31, 2007. Unlike previous studies automatically generated from computerized data found in police reports, researchers in this effort were dispatched to accident scenes before they were cleared. This allowed a first-hand comparison of physical evidence with direct interviews of witnesses and others involved in the incident. NHTSA evaluated the data to determine the factors most responsible for the collision. "The critical reason is determined by a thorough evaluation of all the potential problems related to errors attributable to the driver, the condition of the vehicle, failure of vehicle systems, adverse environmental conditions, and roadway design," the report explained. "The critical pre-crash event refers to the action or the event that puts a vehicle on the course that makes the collision unavoidable, given reasonable driving skills and vehicle handling of the driver." Overall, vehicles "traveling too fast for conditions" accounted for only five percent of the critical pre-crash events (page 23). More significant factors included 22 percent driving off the edge of a road, or 11 percent who drifted over the center dividing line. When driver error was the primary cause of a crash, researchers went further to identify the "critical reason" behind that error. Distraction and not paying attention to the road accounted for 41 percent of the errors. Ten percent of errors were attributed to drivers lacking proper driving skills and either freezing up or overcompensating behind the wheel. Eight percent were asleep, having a heart attack or otherwise incapacitated. A similar eight percent of errors were attributed to driving too fast for conditions and five percent driving too fast for a curve (page 25). The NHTSA findings are mirrored in accident statistics provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. The agency's most recent report lists "speed too fast" as the driver error that caused 2.9 percent of crashes in 2007 (view chart, see page 19). More accidents -- 3.8 percent -- were caused in Virginia by drivers falling asleep or becoming ill behind the wheel. Another 14.6 percent were caused by bad weather such as fog, rain and snow. "Speed too fast" was a more significant factor -- 13.7 percent -- in fatal accidents, as compared to 18 percent of fatal accidents involving alcohol and 9.6 percent caused by sleepiness and fatigue (PDF File view full Virginia report in 1.9mb PDF format). In the NHTSA and Virginia reports, "too fast for conditions" does not mean exceeding the posted speed limit. A vehicle driving 10 MPH on an iced-over road with a 45 MPH limit would be traveling too fast for the conditions if it lost control, but it would not have exceeded the speed limit. The UK Department for Transport isolated cases where only the posted limit was exceeded and found that, "Exceeding speed limit was attributed to 3 percent of cars involved in accidents" (view UK report). "Four of the six most frequently reported contributory factors involved driver or rider error or reaction," the Road Casualties Great Britain 2007 report stated. "For fatal accidents the most frequently reported contributory factor was loss of control, which was involved in 35 per cent of fatal accidents." A full copy of the NHTSA report is available in a 400k PDF file at the source link below. Source: PDF File National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (U.S. Department of Transportation, 7/15/2008) ----------------------------------------- Bon les politiciens devraient lire ça avant de proposer d'autres conneries du genre 40-50kmh en ville, et notre 100kmh national.
  13. Influx of South Americans Drives Miami’s Reinvention By LIZETTE ALVAREZ JULY 19, 2014 MIAMI — As the World Cup played out over the past month, yellow-clad Colombians packed the Kukaramakara nightclub downtown, Aguila beers in hand, shouting, “Colombia, Colombia!” Outside, Brazilians in car caravans blasted samba music. Argentines, some in blue-and-white striped jerseys, jammed into nearby steakhouses and empanada joints. Around town, children filed into Sunday Mass, their jerseys ablaze with their futbol heroes from across Latin America. It was less a commentary on soccer than a tableau vivant of the new Miami, which has gone from a place defined by Cuban-Americans to one increasingly turbocharged by a surge of well-educated, well-off South Americans in the last decade. Their growing numbers and influence, both as immigrants and as visitors, have transformed Miami’s once recession-dampened downtown, enriched its culture and magnified its allure for businesses around the world as a crossroads of the Spanish-speaking world. “It’s now the indisputable capital of Latin America,” said Marcelo Claure, a Bolivian millionaire who founded Brightstar, a global wireless distribution company based here. “The Latin economic boom in the last 10 years has led to the creation of a huge middle class in countries like Brazil, Peru and Colombia, and they look at Miami as the aspirational place to be.” The transformation, the latest chapter in the city’s decades-long evolution, is especially apparent amid the building cranes, street life and nightclubs downtown. But it is seen across Miami-Dade County, where highly educated South American immigrants and second-home owners have increasingly put down roots and played a major role in jump-starting a region that not long ago was ravaged by recession. Their relative wealth has allowed them to ramp up businesses like import-export companies and banks, and to open restaurants that dish out arepas from Venezuela, coxinhas from Brazil and alfajores from Argentina. Partly as a result of that influx, the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region eclipsed Los Angeles in 2012 as the major metropolitan area with the largest share — 45 percent — of immigrant business owners, according to a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research group. The South American presence has also reshaped politics and radio here. More moderate than traditional Cuban-Americans, South Americans have nudged local politics toward the center. Radio stations no longer cater exclusively to Cuban audiences; they feature more news about Latin America and less anti-Castro fulminating. Last week, Charlie Crist, who is running for governor as a Democrat, named a Colombian-American woman from Miami, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, as his running mate. Colombians, who first began to settle here in the 1980s, are the largest group of South Americans. They now make up nearly 5 percent of Miami-Dade’s population. They are joined by Argentines, Peruvians and a growing number of Venezuelans. Brazilians, relative newcomers to Miami’s Hispanic hodgepodge, are now a distinct presence as well. The Venezuelan population jumped 117 percent over 10 years, a number that does not capture the surge in recent arrivals. Over half of Miami’s residents are foreign born, and 63 percent speak Spanish at home. Continue reading the main story The influx is expanding the borders of immigrant neighborhoods in places like West Kendall, the Hammocks and Doral. Their numbers are growing across the county line into Broward, where one city, Weston, has gained so many Venezuelans that it is jokingly called Westonzuela. Jorge Pérez, the wealthy real estate developer for whom the the new Pérez Art Museum Miami is named, said the latest surge of South Americans was turning the city into a year-round destination and luring more entrepreneurs and international businesses. Latin American banks have proliferated as they follow their customers here. Most noticeably, they are snapping up real estate in Miami, Miami Beach and Key Biscayne, a wealthy island two bridges away from Miami. Real estate developers credit South Americans for spurring the current housing boom. “South Americans are the game changers — they are the ones that allowed the housing market to bounce back,” Mr. Pérez said. Cubans still dominate Miami, making up just over half the number of Hispanics and a third of the total population, and Central Americans have flocked here for decades. But in an area where Hispanics have gone from 23 percent of the population in 1970 to 65 percent now, what is most striking is the deepening influence of South Americans. Many came here to flee a political crisis, as the Venezuelans did after the presidential election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and then his protégé, Nicolás Maduro, or to escape turbulent economies, as the Argentines and Colombians did more than a decade ago. But the latest wave of South Americans adds a new twist. It includes many nonimmigrants — investors on the lookout for businesses and properties, including second homes in Miami and Miami Beach. For them, Miami is an increasingly alluring place to safely keep money and stay for extended periods. Spanish, which has long been the common language in much of Miami, now dominates even broader sections of the city. In stores, banks, gyms and even boardrooms in much of Miami, Spanish is the default language. “You can come here as a businessman, a professional, and make five phone calls, all in Spanish, to set up the infrastructure for your business,” said Guillermo J. Grenier, a sociology professor at Florida International University. The effect on real estate is especially visible in the Brickell area, Miami’s international banking center, and in once-bedraggled parts of downtown. The South American infatuation with urban living has led to the explosion of lavish new condominium towers, with more to come. There is even rooftop soccer, like the kind offered in South America. Last year, David Beckham and Mr. Claure announced that they would bring a Major League Soccer team to Miami, though they are still in negotiations for a suitable stadium site. Sit in a restaurant and you hear a range of accents — the lilt of Argentine patter, the clarity of Colombian Spanish, the liveliness of Venezuelans and the speedy rat-a-tat of Cubans. Brazilians have sprinkled Portuguese into the mix. The flurry of condo construction now rivals the one before the 2008 crash, raising the specter for some housing analysts of another risky housing bubble. A Miami Downtown Development Authority study found that more than 90 percent of the demand for new downtown and Brickell residential units came from foreign buyers; 65 percent were from South America. “Status is having a condo in Miami,” said Juan C. Zapata, the first Colombian to serve as a Miami-Dade County commissioner and, before then, in the State Legislature. The suburbs, too, continue to swell as more South Americans move into areas anchored by people from their countries. Doral, a middle-class city near the airport, is now a panoply of South Americans, most of them Venezuelans. Eighty percent of Doral is Hispanic, and in 2012, a Venezuelan, Luigi Boria, was elected mayor. “Every year, we get more and more Venezuelans,” said Lorenzo Di Stefano, the owner of El Arepazo 2, a Venezuelan restaurant there. This year, with the economy worsening in Venezuela, Mr. Di Stefano said he expected another large wave. But, Mr. Crist’s running mate and Mr. Boria aside, the South American influx has not translated into widespread electoral success. South Americans lag far behind Cuban-Americans in political power, in part because their citizenship rate is lower. Many do not vote or run for office, a reality that Mr. Zapata said must change. “What you see in Miami is a change economically; it’s much more diverse than it used to be,” Mr. Zapata said. “But the Cubans grew economically, and turned it into political power.” That transformation, Mr. Zapata said, will be Miami’s next chapter. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/us/20miami.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=US_IOS_20140721&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=2
  14. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-03-14/micro-apartments-in-the-big-city-a-trend-builds Always happy to see quotes from professors at my alma mater, especially when it comes to real estate issues! Micro-Apartments in the Big City: A Trend Builds By Venessa Wong March 14, 2013 6:00 PM EDT Imagine waking in a 15-by-15-foot apartment that still manages to have everything you need. The bed collapses into the wall, and a breakfast table extends down from the back of the bed once it’s tucked away. Instead of closets, look overhead to nooks suspended from the ceiling. Company coming? Get out the stools that stack like nesting dolls in an ottoman. Micro-apartments, in some cases smaller than college dorm rooms, are cropping up in North American cities as urban planners experiment with new types of housing to accommodate growing numbers of single professionals, students, and the elderly. Single-person households made up 26.7 percent of the U.S. total in 2010, vs. 17.6 percent in 1970, according to Census Bureau data. In cities, the proportion is often higher: In New York, it’s about 33 percent. And these boîtes aren’t just for singles. The idea is to be more efficient and eventually to offer cheaper rents. To foster innovation, several municipalities are waiving zoning regulations to allow construction of smaller dwellings at select sites. In November, San Francisco reduced minimum requirements for a pilot project to 220 square feet, from 290, for a two-person efficiency unit. In Boston, where most homes are at least 450 sq. ft., the city has approved 300 new units as small as 375 sq. ft. With the blessing of local authorities, a developer in Vancouver in 2011 converted a single-room occupancy hotel into 30 “micro-lofts” under 300 sq. ft. Seattle and Chicago have also green-lighted micro-apartments. “In the foreseeable future, this trend will continue,” says Avi Friedman, a professor and director of the Affordable Homes Research Group at McGill University’s School of Architecture. A growing number of people are opting to live alone or not to have children, he says. Among this group, many choose cities over suburbs to reduce reliance on cars and cut commute times. “Many people recognize that there is a great deal of value to living in the city,” he says. Friedman calls the new fashion for micro-digs the “Europeanization” of North America. In the U.K. the average home is only 915 square feet. In the U.S. the average new single-family home is 2,480 square feet. The National Association of Home Builders expects that to shrink to 2,152 square feet by 2015. Small living has deep roots in Japan, where land is scarce. “It’s just the way things have always been done,” says Azby Brown, an architect and author of The Very Small Home: Japanese Ideas for Living Well in Limited Space. Three hundred square feet may sound tight, but consider that Japanese families historically lived in row houses outfitted with 100-square-foot living quarters and large communal areas. After World War II, Japan’s homes grew, though not much by American standards. By the late 1980s the average Japanese home measured 900 square feet. Tight quarters demand ingenuity and compromise. Think of the Japanese futon or the under-the-counter refrigerator, a feature of European apartments. The Murphy bed gets a sleek makeover in a mock-up of a micro-apartment on exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. The 325-square-foot space, designed by New York architect Amie Gross, also features a table on wheels that can be tucked under a kitchen counter and a flat-screen TV that slides along a rail attached to built-in shelves. Visual tricks such as high ceilings and varied floor materials make the space feel roomier. The show, titled “Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers,” displays some of the entries from a design competition sponsored by New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The winning team, comprising Monadnock Development, Actors Fund Housing Development, and nArchitects, secured permission to erect a 10-story building in Manhattan made of prefabricated steel modules. Some of the 55 units will be as small as 250 square feet. “The hope is that with more supply, that should help with the affordability of these kinds of apartments so that the young or the elderly can afford to live closer to the center and not have to commute so far in,” says Mimi Hoang, a co-founder of nArchitects. Although tiny, these properties aren’t cheap, at least not on a per-square-foot basis. In San Francisco, where two projects are under way, rents will range from $1,200 to $1,500 per month. In New York, the 20-odd units for low- and middle-income renters will start at $939. Ted Smith, an architect in San Diego, says singles would be better served by residences that group efficiency studios into suites with communal areas for cooking, dining, and recreation. “The market does not want little motel rooms to live in,” he says. “There needs to be cool, hip buildings that everyone loves and goes, ‘Man, these little units are wonderful,’ not ‘I guess I can put up with this.’ ” BusinessWeek - Home ©2013 Bloomberg L.P. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  15. China’s Stock Market Passes US as Leading Indicator Published: Wednesday, 4 Aug 2010 | 12:43 PM ET By: John Melloy Executive Producer, Fast Money China may be the second biggest economy in the world behind the US, but it is No. 1 in terms of influence over global stock markets, analysts said. “The Chinese equity market has shown signs of ‘leading’ global equity markets at turning points over the past three years,” wrote Geoffrey Dennis, Citigroup’s emerging markets strategist. “As a result, the 13 percent rally in the Shanghai Composite since early-July has been a major support for improved overall global sentiment over the past month.” It’s only natural China’s stock market would take a leading role following structural changes such as a jump in listings and the allowance of short sales. After all, the economic influence speaks for itself. Among other things, China is the biggest consumer of energy products, accounts for 70 percent of iron ore demand, and in 2009, became the No. 1 auto market, according to analysts’ reports. The Shanghai Composite Index has led the US market back from its 2010 low. It’s no coincidence that the leading US stocks during this comeback have come from the stocks in the industrial and raw material industries such as Caterpillar [CAT 71.56 -0.40 (-0.56%) ] and Freeport-McMoRan [FCX 74.61 0.54 (+0.73%) ]. Ford [F 13.04 0.06 (+0.46%) ] shares are up 30 percent in one month. “China’s rapid growth in auto sales is merely a reflection of the rise of middle class consumption patterns,” wrote Marshall Adkins, Raymond James energy analyst. “Add in increasing Chinese trucking, petrochemical and aviation consumption, and total Chinese oil demand growth in 2011 should be well north of 500,000 barrels per day and could drive over half of the global oil demand growth next year.” It’s no coincidence then that oil topped $80 this week before retreating today. The iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index [FXI 41.95 -0.08 (-0.19%) ], an ETF traded here on the NYSE, is supposed to be a direct play on the Chinese market, but it has underperformed China’s local market over the past month. The ETF contains only the large Chinese stocks that are listed as ADRs on US exchanges. What this data shows is that you may be better off buying a US index fund, industrial stocks or a broader emerging market ETF if you believe China is going higher. Citigroup sees the Chinese stock market rising five to 15 percent higher by the end of the year as fears of an economic slowdown are priced in. "Based on a 'no double-dip' scenario, solid growth in emerging markets, low interest rates 'for longer' and attractive valuations, we remain bullish on emerging market for the long-term, including Chinese equities," wrote Citi's Dennis. The closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange used to ripple through the rest of the world, dictating trading in Australia, Asia and Europe that followed it. No longer. The US traders’ day may be decided before he or she even wakes up. http://www.cnbc.com/id/38558580
  16. Anyone who's sat at a red light for minutes on end in the middle of the night when there's no cross traffic can cheer on science for proving what we already knew: lights that adapt to the flow of traffic, instead of dictating the flow of traffic, can improve the flow of traffic. A team of researchers discovered that if you let lights locally decide how to time their signals based on how much traffic they're dealing with, and then communicate that with nearby lights, you get closer to the "green wave" of lights that keeps thing moving smoothly. The issue with the centralized, top-down system of control is that it is geared to address an average traffic situation that rarely occurs as planned. The variations in rush hour traffic mean that lights are trying to apply one solution to a vast number of situations. In their trial in Dresden, Germany the team found that traffic congestion was eased by nine percent, pedestrian congestion by 36 percent, and bus and tram traffic by 56 percent. With rush hours spreading in time and distance, the proof and implementation of this can't come soon enough. Blog: http://www.autoblog.com/2010/09/23/study-traffic-lights-should-respond-to-cars-not-other-way-arou/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+weblogsinc/autoblog+(Autoblog) To tame traffic, go with the flow Lights should respond to cars, a study concludes, not the other way around By Rachel Ehrenberg Web edition : Friday, September 17th, 2010 Traffic lights that act locally can improve traffic globally, new research suggests. By minimizing congestion, the approach could save money, reduce emissions and perhaps even quash the road rage of frustrated drivers. The new approach makes traffic lights go with the flow, rather than enslaving drivers to the tyranny of timed signals. By measuring vehicle inflow and outflow through each intersection as it occurs and coordinating lights with only their nearest neighbors, a systemwide smoothness emerges, scientists report in a September Santa Fe Institute working paper. “It’s very interesting — the approach is adaptive and the system can react,” says mechanical engineer Gábor Orosz of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “That’s how it should be — that’s how we can get the most out of our current system.” An ultimate goal in traffic regulation is “the green wave,” the bam, bam, bam of greens that allows platoons of vehicles to move smoothly through intersection after intersection. When that happens, no drivers have to wait very long and sections of road don’t become so filled with cars that there’s no room for entering vehicles when the light does go green. To achieve this rare bliss, traffic lights usually are controlled from the top down, operating on an “optimal” cycle that maximizes the flow of traffic expected for particular times of day, such as rush hour. But even for a typical time on a typical day, there’s so much variability in the number of cars at each light and the direction each car takes leaving an intersection that roads can fill up. Combine this condition with overzealous drivers, and intersections easily become gridlocked. Equally frustrating is the opposite extreme, where a driver sits at a red light for minutes even though there’s no car in sight to take advantage of the intersecting green. “It is actually not optimal control, because that average situation never occurs,” says complex-systems scientist Dirk Helbing of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, a coauthor of the new study. “Because of the large variability in the number of cars behind each red light, it means that although we have an optimal scheme, it’s optimal for a situation that does not occur.” Helbing and his colleague Stefan Lämmer from the Dresden University of Technology in Germany decided to scrap the top-down approach and start at the bottom. They noted that when crowds of people are trying to move through a narrow space, such as through a door connecting two hallways, there’s a natural oscillation: A mass of people from one side will move through the door while the other people wait, then suddenly the flow switches direction. “It looks like maybe there’s a traffic light, but there’s not. It’s actually the buildup of pressure on the side where people have to wait that eventually turns the flow direction,” says Helbing. “We thought we could maybe apply the same principle to intersections, that is, the traffic flow controls the traffic light rather than the other way around.” Their arrangement puts two sensors at each intersection: One measures incoming flow and one measures outgoing flow. Lights are coordinated with every neighboring light, such that one light alerts the next, “Hey, heavy load coming through.” That short-term anticipation gives lights at the next intersection enough time to prepare for the incoming platoon of vehicles, says Helbing. The whole point is to avoid stopping an incoming platoon. “It works surprisingly well,” he says. Gaps between platoons are opportunities to serve flows in other directions, and this local coordination naturally spreads throughout the system. “It’s a paradoxical effect that occurs in complex systems,” says Helbing. “Surprisingly, delay processes can improve the system altogether. It is a slower-is-faster effect. You can increase the throughput — speed up the whole system — if you delay single processes within the system at the right time, for the right amount of time.” The researchers ran a simulation of their approach in the city center of Dresden. The area has 13 traffic light–controlled intersections, 68 pedestrian crossings, a train station that serves more than 13,000 passengers on an average day and seven bus and tram lines that cross the network every 10 minutes in opposite directions. The flexible self-control approach reduced time stuck waiting in traffic by 56 percent for trams and buses, 9 percent for cars and trucks, and 36 percent for pedestrians crossing intersections. Dresden is now close to implementing the new system, says Helbing, and Zurich is also considering the approach. Traffic jams aren’t just infuriating, they cost time and money, says Orosz. Estimates suggest that in one year, the U.S. driving population spends a cumulative 500,000 years in traffic at a cost of about $100 billion. And the roads are just going to get more congested. The optimal way of dealing with such congestion is to take an approach like Helbing’s and combine it with technologies that deal with driver behavior, Orosz says. Car sensors that detect the distance between your bumper and the car in front of you can prevent a sweep of brake-slamming that can tie up traffic, for example. “In general these algorithms improve traffic, but maybe not as much as they do on paper because we are still human,” he says. “It is still humans driving the cars.” http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/63481/title/To_tame_traffic,_go_with_the_flow
  17. Is America's suburban dream collapsing into a nightmare? Suburban neighborhoods are becoming refuges for those outpriced in gentrifying inner-cities. By Lara Farrar For CNN (CNN) -- When Shaun Yandell proposed to his longtime girlfriend Gina Marasco on the doorstep of their new home in the sunny suburb of Elk Grove, California, four years ago, he never imagined things would get this bad. But they did, and it happened almost overnight. art.jpg "It is going to be heartbreak," Yandell told CNN. "But we are hanging on." Yandell's marriage isn't falling apart: his neighborhood is. Devastated by the subprime mortgage crisis, hundreds of homes have been foreclosed and thousands of residents have been forced to move, leaving in their wake a not-so-pleasant path of empty houses, unkempt lawns, vacant strip malls, graffiti-sprayed desolate sidewalks and even increased crime. In Elk Grove, some homeowners not only cut their own grass but also trim the yards of vacant homes on their streets, hoping to deter gangs and criminals from moving in. Other residents discovered that with some of the empty houses, it wasn't what was growing outside that was the problem. Susan McDonald, president of a local neighborhood association aimed at saving the lost suburban paradise, told CNN that around her cul-de-sac, federal agents recently busted several pot homes with vast crops of marijuana growing from floor to ceiling. And only a couple of weeks ago, Yandell said he overheard a group of teenagers gathered on the street outside his back patio, talking about a robbery they had just committed. When they lit a street sign on fire, Yandell called the cops. "This is not like a rare thing anymore," he said. "I get big congregations of people cussing -- stuff I can't even fathom doing when I was a kid." Don't Miss For Yandell, his wife and many other residents trying to stick it out, the white picket fence of an American dream has faded into a seemingly hopeless suburban nightmare. "The forecast is gloomy," he told CNN. While the foreclosure epidemic has left communities across the United States overrun with unoccupied houses and overgrown grass, underneath the chaos another trend is quietly emerging that, over the next several decades, could change the face of suburban American life as we know it. This trend, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban planning professor at the University of Michigan and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, stems not only from changing demographics but also from a major shift in the way an increasing number of Americans -- especially younger generations -- want to live and work. "The American dream is absolutely changing," he told CNN. This change can be witnessed in places like Atlanta, Georgia, Detroit, Michigan, and Dallas, Texas, said Leinberger, where once rundown downtowns are being revitalized by well-educated, young professionals who have no desire to live in a detached single family home typical of a suburbia where life is often centered around long commutes and cars. Instead, they are looking for what Leinberger calls "walkable urbanism" -- both small communities and big cities characterized by efficient mass transit systems and high density developments enabling residents to walk virtually everywhere for everything -- from home to work to restaurants to movie theaters. The so-called New Urbanism movement emerged in the mid-90s and has been steadily gaining momentum, especially with rising energy costs, environmental concerns and health problems associated with what Leinberger calls "drivable suburbanism" -- a low-density built environment plan that emerged around the end of the World War II and has been the dominant design in the U.S. ever since. Thirty-five percent of the nation's wealth, according to Leinberger, has been invested in constructing this drivable suburban landscape. But now, Leinberger told CNN, it appears the pendulum is beginning to swing back in favor of the type of walkable community that existed long before the advent of the once fashionable suburbs in the 1940s. He says it is being driven by generations molded by television shows like "Seinfeld" and "Friends," where city life is shown as being cool again -- a thing to flock to, rather than flee. "The image of the city was once something to be left behind," said Leinberger. Changing demographics are also fueling new demands as the number of households with children continues to decline. By the end of the next decade, the number of single-person households in the United States will almost equal those with kids, Leinberger said. And aging baby boomers are looking for a more urban lifestyle as they downsize from large homes in the suburbs to more compact town houses in more densely built locations. Recent market research indicates that up to 40 percent of households surveyed in selected metropolitan areas want to live in walkable urban areas, said Leinberger. The desire is also substantiated by real estate prices for urban residential space, which are 40 to 200 percent higher than in traditional suburban neighborhoods -- this price variation can be found both in cities and small communities equipped with walkable infrastructure, he said. The result is an oversupply of depreciating suburban housing and a pent-up demand for walkable urban space, which is unlikely to be met for a number of years. That's mainly, according to Leinberger, because the built environment changes very slowly; and also because governmental policies and zoning laws are largely prohibitive to the construction of complicated high-density developments. But as the market catches up to the demand for more mixed use communities, the United States could see a notable structural transformation in the way its population lives -- Arthur C. Nelson, director of Virginia Tech's Metropolitan Institute, estimates, for example, that half of the real-estate development built by 2025 will not have existed in 2000. Yet Nelson also estimates that in 2025 there will be a surplus of 22 million large-lot homes that will not be left vacant in a suburban wasteland but instead occupied by lower classes who have been driven out of their once affordable inner-city apartments and houses. The so-called McMansion, he said, will become the new multi-family home for the poor. "What is going to happen is lower and lower-middle income families squeezed out of downtown and glamorous suburban locations are going to be pushed economically into these McMansions at the suburban fringe," said Nelson. "There will probably be 10 people living in one house." In Shaun Yandell's neighborhood, this has already started to happen. Houses once filled with single families are now rented out by low-income tenants. Yandell speculates that they're coming from nearby Sacramento, where the downtown is undergoing substantial gentrification, or perhaps from some other area where prices have gotten too high. He isn't really sure. But one thing Yandell is sure about is that he isn't going to leave his sunny suburban neighborhood unless he has to, and if that happens, he says he would only want to move to another one just like it. "It's the American dream, you know," he said. "The American dream." http://www.cnn.com/2008/TECH/06/16/suburb.city/index.html
  18. Foreclosures, immigration linked in report Areas hit hardest have high percentage of foreign-born heads of household By Timothy Pratt (contact) Wed, May 13, 2009 (2 a.m.) Las vegas Sun Counties with high foreclosure rates also tend to have large immigrant populations, according to a Pew Hispanic Center report released Tuesday. The study ranked Clark County sixth nationwide in foreclosure rates last year with 8.9 percent of the valley’s houses in the courts. Nearly 1 in 4 heads of household locally were foreign-born, much higher than the national rate of 4.7 percent. Half of those immigrants were Hispanic. But the study’s main author, Rakesh Kochhar, cautioned that focusing on those factors can lead to a “chicken and egg situation.” “The two things appear together, but is there a causal relationship? Not necessarily,” he said. Kochhar noted that jobs building houses drew many immigrants to the Las Vegas Valley in the past two decades. An unknown number of those workers bought homes. The report also shows that Hispanics, blacks and minorities in general entered subprime mortgages at higher rates than the rest of the population. Nationwide, for example, 27.6 percent of home loans to Hispanics in 2007 were high-priced and a third of loans to blacks were in the same category. Only 1 in 10 loans to whites were high-priced. So areas with higher shares of minorities tend to have higher numbers of homeowners with loans at risk of entering foreclosure. Kochhar’s report, titled “Through Boom and Bust: Minorities, Immigrants and Homeownership,” shows that counties with high foreclosure rates exhibit other factors, including rising unemployment rates and sinking home values. Clark County’s unemployment rate for March was 10.4 percent, tenth-highest among major metropolitan areas nationwide. The Pew report looks at unemployment rates only for 2008 as a whole, which in Clark County was 6.5 percent. The construction sector is among the hardest-hit in terms of job loss. And home values in Las Vegas dropped 31.7 percent in 2008, second most in the nation behind Phoenix, according to a recent Standard & Poor’s report. So there are several factors related to high concentrations of immigrants, each somehow related to another. As Kochhar wrote, “the presence of immigrants in a county may simply signal the effects of a boom-and-bust cycle that has raised foreclosure rates for all residents in that county.” Ian Hirsch, who manages Fortress Credit Services and has taken on hundreds of clients seeking to adjust their mortgages to avoid or get out of foreclosure, said the report’s conclusions match his on-the-ground experience. “It doesn’t surprise me,” Hirsch said. He pointed to the dozens of minority and immigrant clients he has seen who say, “This is not what I was told I was getting into” when they come to his office for help. The adjustable rates in their mortgages and the lack of financial assets they brought to the table lead many of those clients to foreclosure, he added. Some of those clients worked in the construction industry, building the homes that came with the boom. Now, Hirsch noted, with the construction of CityCenter and other large commercial projects nearing an end, unemployment may continue to rise in the coming months. This could bring more foreclosures and failed businesses. “Unfortunately,” Hirsch said, “I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
  19. Financial crisis bringing global economy to standstill: IMF By Veronica Smith WASHINGTON (AFP) – The International Monetary Fund slashed its economic growth forecasts Wednesday, predicting the severe financial crisis would brake global growth to the slowest pace in six decades. "World growth is projected to fall to 0.5 percent in 2009, its lowest rate since World War II," the IMF said in a sharp 1.75-point downward revision of November forecasts. "The world economy is facing a deep recession" under continued financial stress, it warned. The advanced economies were expected to contract by 2.0 percent, their first annual contraction in the post-war period and far more than the negative 0.3 percent the IMF estimated less than three months ago. "Despite wide-ranging policy actions, financial strains remain acute, pulling down the real economy," the 185-nation institution said, warning its projections were made in a "highly uncertain outlook."
  20. Poll Finds Faith in Obama, Mixed With Patience Article Tools Sponsored By By ADAM NAGOURNEY and MARJORIE CONNELLY Published: January 17, 2009 President-elect Barack Obama is riding a powerful wave of optimism into the White House, with Americans confident he can turn the economy around but prepared to give him years to deal with the crush of problems he faces starting Tuesday, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll. The latest on the inauguration of Barack Obama and other news from Washington and around the nation. Join the discussion. While hopes for the new president are extraordinarily high, the poll found, expectations for what Mr. Obama will actually be able to accomplish appear to have been tempered by the scale of the nation’s problems at home and abroad. The findings suggest that Mr. Obama has achieved some success with his effort, which began with his victory speech in Chicago in November, to gird Americans for a slow economic recovery and difficult years ahead after a campaign that generated striking enthusiasm and high hopes for change. Most Americans said they did not expect real progress in improving the economy, reforming the health care system or ending the war in Iraq — three of the central promises of Mr. Obama’s campaign — for at least two years. The poll found that two-thirds of respondents think the recession will last two years or longer. As the nation prepares for a transfer of power and the inauguration of its 44th president, Mr. Obama’s stature with the American public stands in sharp contrast to that of President Bush. Mr. Bush is leaving office with just 22 percent of Americans offering a favorable view of how he handled the eight years of his presidency, a record low, and firmly identified with the economic crisis Mr. Obama is inheriting. More than 80 percent of respondents said the nation was in worse shape today than it was five years ago. By contrast, 79 percent were optimistic about the next four years under Mr. Obama, a level of good will for a new chief executive that exceeds that measured for any of the past five incoming presidents. And it cuts across party lines: 58 percent of the respondents who said they voted for Mr. Obama’s opponent in the general election, Senator John McCain of Arizona, said they were optimistic about the country in an Obama administration. “Obama is not a miracle worker, but I am very optimistic, I really am,” Phyllis Harden, 63, an independent from Easley, S.C., who voted for Mr. Obama, said in an interview after participating in the poll. “It’s going to take a couple of years at least to improve the economy,” Ms. Harden added. “I think anyone who is looking for a 90-day turnaround is delusional.” Politically, Mr. Obama enjoys a strong foundation of support as he enters what is surely to be a tough and challenging period, working with Congress to swiftly pass a huge and complicated economic package. His favorable rating, at 60 percent, is the highest it has been since the Times/CBS News poll began asking about him. Overwhelming majorities say they think that Mr. Obama will be a good president, that he will bring real change to Washington, and that he will make the right decisions on the economy, Iraq, dealing with the war in the Middle East and protecting the country from terrorist attacks. Over 70 percent said they approved of his cabinet selections. What is more, Mr. Obama’s effort to use this interregnum between Election Day and Inauguration Day to present himself as a political moderate (he might use the word “pragmatist”) appears to be working. In this latest poll, 40 percent described the president-elect’s ideology as liberal, a 17-point drop from just before the election. “I think those of us who voted for McCain are going to be a lot happier with Obama than the people who voted for him,” Valerie Schlink, 46, a Republican from Valparaiso, Ind., said in an interview after participating in the poll. “A lot of the things he said he would do, like pulling out the troops in 16 months and giving tax cuts to those who make under $200,000, I think he now sees are going to be a lot tougher than he thought and that the proper thing to do is stay more towards the middle and ease our way into whatever has to be done. “It can’t all be accomplished immediately.” While the public seems prepared to give Mr. Obama time, Americans clearly expect the country to be a different place when he finishes his term at the end of 2012. The poll found that 75 percent expected the economy to be stronger in four years than it is today, and 75 percent said Mr. Obama would succeed in creating a significant number of jobs, while 59 percent said he would cut taxes for the middle class. The survey found that 61 percent of respondents said things would be better in five years; last April, just 39 percent expressed a similar sentiment. The telephone survey of 1,112 adults was conducted Jan. 11-15. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The poll suggests some of the cross-currents Mr. Obama is navigating as he prepares to take office, and offers some evidence about why he has retooled some of his positions during this period.
  21. Job Losses Show Breadth of Recession Article Tools Sponsored By By DAVID LEONHARDT Published: March 3, 2009 It is both deep and broad. Every state in the country, with the exception of a band stretching from the Dakotas down to Texas, is now shedding jobs at a rapid pace. And even that band has recently begun to suffer, because of the sharp fall in both oil and crop prices. Unlike the last two recessions — earlier this decade and in the early 1990s — this one is causing much more job loss among the less educated than among college graduates. Those earlier recessions introduced the country to the concept of mass white-collar layoffs. The brunt of the layoffs in this recession is falling on construction workers, hotel workers, retail workers and others without a four-year degree. The Great Recession of 2008 (and beyond) is hurting men more than women. It is hurting homeowners and investors more than renters or retirees who rely on Social Security checks. It is hurting Latinos more than any other ethnic group. A year ago, a greater share of Latinos held jobs than whites. Today, the two have switched places. If the Great Recession, as some have called it, has a capital city, it is El Centro, Calif., due east of San Diego, in the desert of California’s Inland Valley. El Centro has the highest unemployment rate in the nation, a depressionlike 22.6 percent. It’s an agricultural area — because of water pumped in from the Colorado River, which allows lettuce, broccoli and the like to grow — and unemployment is in double digits even in good times. But El Centro has lately been hit by the brutal combination of a drought, a housing bust and a falling peso, which cuts into the buying power of Mexicans who cross the border to shop. Until recently, El Centro was one of those relatively cheap inland California areas where construction and home sales were booming. Today, it is pockmarked with “bank-owned” for sale signs. A wallboard factory in nearby Plaster City — its actual name — has laid off workers once kept busy by the housing boom. Even Wal-Mart has cut jobs, Sam Couchman, who runs the county’s work force development office, told me. You often hear that recessions exact the biggest price on the most vulnerable workers. And that’s true about this recession, at least for the moment. But it isn’t the whole story. Just look at Wall Street, where a generation-long bubble seems to lose a bit more air every day. In the long run, this Great Recession may end up afflicting the comfortable more than the afflicted. The main reason that recessions tend to increase inequality is that lower-income workers are concentrated in boom-and-bust industries. Agriculture is the classic example. In recent years, construction has become the most important one. By the start of this decade, the construction sector employed more men without a college education than the manufacturing sector did, Lawrence Katz, the Harvard labor economist, points out. (As recently as 1980, three times as many such men worked in manufacturing as construction.) The housing boom was like a giant jobs program for many workers who otherwise would have struggled to find decent paying work. The housing bust has forced many of them into precisely that struggle and helps explain the recession’s outsize toll on Latinos and men. In the summer of 2005, just as the real estate market was peaking, I spent a day visiting home construction sites in Frederick, Md., something of a Washington exurb, interviewing the workers. They were almost exclusively Latino. At the time, the national unemployment rate for Latino men was 3.6 percent. Today, when there aren’t many homes being built in Frederick or anywhere else, that unemployment rate is 11 percent. And this number understates the damage, since it excludes a considerable number of immigrants who have returned home. Frederick was typical of the boom in another way, too. It wasn’t nearly as affluent as some closer suburbs. Now the bust is widening that gap. If you look at the interactive map with this column, you will see the places that already had high unemployment before the recession have also had some of the largest increases. Some are victims of the housing bust, like inland California. Others are manufacturing centers, as in Michigan and North Carolina, whose long-term decline is accelerating. Rhode Island, home to both factories and Boston exurbs, has one of the highest jobless rates in the nation. All of these trends will serve to increase inequality. Yet I still think the Great Recession will eventually end up compressing the rungs on the nation’s economic ladder. Why? For the same three fundamental reasons that the Great Depression did. The first is the stock market crash. Clearly, it has hurt wealthy and upper middle-class families, who own the bulk of stock, more than others. In addition, thousands of high-paying Wall Street jobs — jobs that have helped the share of income flowing to the top 1 percent of earners soar in recent decades — will disappear. Hard as it may be to believe, the crash will also help a lot of young families. The stocks that they buy in coming years are likely to appreciate far more than they would have if the Dow were still above 14,000. The same is true of future house purchases for the one in three families still renting a home. The second reason is government policy. The Obama administration plans to raise taxes on the affluent, cut them for everyone else (so long as the government can afford it, that is) and take other steps to reduce inequality. Franklin D. Roosevelt did something similar and it had a huge effect. Of course, these two factors both boil down to redistribution. One group is benefiting at the expense of another. Yes, many of the people on the losing end of that shift have done quite well in recent years, far better than most Americans. Still, the shift isn’t making the economic pie any bigger. It is simply being divided differently. Which is why the third factor — education — is the most important of all. It can make the pie larger and divide it more evenly. That was the legacy of the great surge in school enrollment during the Great Depression. Teenagers who once would have dropped out to do factory work instead stayed in high school, notes Claudia Goldin, an economist who recently wrote a history of education with Mr. Katz. In the manufacturing-heavy mid-Atlantic states, the high school graduation rate was just above 20 percent in the late 1920s. By 1940, it was almost 60 percent. These graduates then became the skilled workers and teachers who helped build the great post-World War II American economy. Nothing would benefit tomorrow’s economy more than a similar surge. And there is some evidence that it’s starting to happen. In El Centro, enrollment at Imperial Valley Community College jumped 11 percent this semester. Ed Gould, the college president, said he expected applications to keep rising next year. Unfortunately, California — one of the states hit hardest by the Great Recession — is in the midst of a fiscal crisis. So Imperial Valley’s budget is being capped. Next year, Mr. Gould expects he will have to tell some students that they can’t take a full load of classes, just when they most need help. The Geography of a Recession http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/03/03/us/20090303_LEONHARDT.html
  22. Un article du New York Time sur un penthouse à Vendre à Montréal. à Source: New York Time Album Photo INTERNATIONAL REAL ESTATE For Sale in ... Montreal By CLAIRE McGUIRE WHAT A one-bedroom penthouse apartment with industrial details and panoramic views of Montreal HOW MUCH 1,995,000 Canadian dollars ($1,866,400) SETTING This 10-story former factory was built in 1912 in the Paper Mill District near the financial district and Old Montreal. It shares the top floor with two other apartments, and overlooks several museums, the old port and the Chinatown neighborhood. Montreal is situated on several islands at the point where the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers merge. It is about 325 miles north of New York City. Montreal is known internationally for its architecture and design, its strong arts scene and its vibrant gay community. INSIDE The apartment has an open layout; only the bedroom, bathrooms and a sitting room are enclosed. It would be easy to create an additional bedroom. The bedroom has an en suite bathroom and a walk-in closet with one wall made of opaque glass. There is a double-sided fireplace between the living room and the kitchen. The floors are of blue-stained hardwood in some places and slate tile in others. The high ceilings, painted brick walls and textured concrete pillars recall the building’s industrial history. The apartment’s seven arched windows overlook the city, three at the front of the building and four along one side. OUTSIDE A skylight in the kitchen could be enlarged to provide roof access, and the apartment’s owners have the right to create a private rooftop garden. The ground floor of the building has a restaurant, and all building entrances have electronic security doors. The apartment comes with two indoor parking spaces. Next door, the grounds of St. Patrick Church offer the nearest green space. The area has many bicycle paths, and the building is within walking distance of the city’s financial district, as well as cafes, museums and art galleries. HOW TO GET THERE The apartment is 25 minutes by car from the airport, and two blocks from Montreal’s main train station. WHO BUYS IN MONTREAL Louise Latreille, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s International Realty Quebec, said that she had seen an increase in buyers from Morocco, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, China and Japan — and that many foreigners were buying condos for their college-age children. Most of the city’s American buyers spend winters in Florida or California and summers in Montreal, she added. European buyers tend to look for homes in the mountains, not in Montreal itself. Meanwhile, many Canadian empty-nesters are moving back to the city, looking for “something chic and exclusive,” she said. MARKET OVERVIEW Sandra Girard, senior analyst of the Montreal market for the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, says the market has been less active this year than it was in 2007. According to Ms. Girard, the number of transactions in the first half of 2008 was 3 percent lower than in the same period last year. However, 2007 broke records for the number of real estate transactions, making a slight slow-down inevitable, because “the activity registered in 2007 is difficult to sustain.” Meanwhile, sales prices continue to increase at a slower rate. Ms. Girard said overall prices for residential real estate increased 4 percent in the first half of 2008, compared to 8 percent in the same period last year. Ms. Latreille says condominiums continue to be popular among buyers in Montreal. A report by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board shows that prices for single-family detached homes increased less than 2 percent in the 12-month period to June 2008, while condo prices increased more than 7 percent over the same period. BUYING BASICS Stéphane Hardouin, a notary and partner in the law firm Sylvestre Lagasse in Sherbrooke, Quebec, says legal fees in Quebec are usually 1,200 to 1,800 Canadian dollars ($1,146 to $1,719). If the property is financed, he said, buyers usually pay an additional 750 Canadian dollars ($716) to the notary, and a mortgage registration fee of 137 Canadian dollars ($131). Buyers pay for an inspection, costing 600 to 1000 Canadian dollars ($573 to $955). Mr. Hardouin says the seller pays around 1,000 Canadian dollars ($955) for a surveyor’s certificate, and also the real estate agent’s commission of 5 to 7 percent. A goods and services tax, or sales tax, is assessed on new homes and on real estate agent commissions, he said. This tax is 12.875 percent. Land transfer taxes in Canada are different for each province. In Quebec, transfer taxes are paid directly to the municipality, Mr. Hardouin said. Montreal’s transfer tax, commonly called the “welcome tax,” has a graduated structure based on the purchase price. The first 50,000 Canadian dollars ($47,800) is taxed at 0.5 percent. The next 200,000 Canadian dollars ($191,100) is taxed at 1 percent, and amounts over 250,000 Canadian dollars ($238,900) are taxed at 1.5 percent, he said. USEFUL WEB SITES Official portal of Montreal: ville.montreal.qc.ca Official tourism website of Montreal: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org Divers/Cité, Montreal’s gay and lesbian arts festival: http://www.diverscite.org Old Montreal official site: http://www.vieux.montreal.qc.ca Greater Montreal Real Estate Board: http://www.cigm.qc.ca LANGUAGES AND CURRENCY French is the official language of Quebec, while English and French are the official languages of Canada; Canadian dollar (1 Canadian dollar=$0.93) TAXES AND FEES Maintenance fees are 907 Canadian dollars ($865) a month. Municipal property taxes for this apartment are estimated at 11,800 Canadian dollars ($11,255) a year. Ms. Latreille says this figure is 25 percent lower than the normal tax rate because the building is historical. Additionally, school tax is 2,535 Canadian dollars ($2,372) per year. CONTACT Louise Latreille, Sotheby’s International Realty Quebec (514) 287-7434; http://www.sothebysrealty.ca Mon bout préféré:
  23. Wall Street, R.I.P.: The End of an Era, Even at Goldman Article Tools Sponsored By By JULIE CRESWELL and BEN WHITE Published: September 27, 2008 WALL STREET. Two simple words that — like Hollywood and Washington — conjure a world. Goldman Sachs’s headquarters in New York. The company, a golden child of the financial sector, faces a very different future and mission amid seismic changes wrought by the credit crisis. Lloyd C. Blankfein led Goldman’s securities division before becoming chief executive in 2006. A world of big egos. A world where people love to roll the dice with borrowed money. A world of tightwire trading, propelled by computers. In search of ever-higher returns — and larger yachts, faster cars and pricier art collections for their top executives — Wall Street firms bulked up their trading desks and hired pointy-headed quantum physicists to develop foolproof programs. Hedge funds placed markers on red (the Danish krone goes up) or black (the G.D.P. of Thailand falls). And private equity firms amassed giant funds and went on a shopping spree, snapping up companies as if they were second wives buying Jimmy Choo shoes on sale. That world is largely coming to an end. The huge bailout package being debated in Congress may succeed in stabilizing the financial markets. But it is too late to help firms like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which have already disappeared. Merrill Lynch, whose trademark bull symbolized Wall Street to many Americans, is being folded into Bank of America, located hundreds of miles from New York, in Charlotte, N.C. For most of the financiers who remain, with the exception of a few superstars, the days of easy money and supersized bonuses are behind them. The credit boom that drove Wall Street’s explosive growth has dried up. Regulators who sat on the sidelines for too long are now eager to rein in Wall Street’s bad boys and the practices that proliferated in recent years. “The swashbuckling days of Wall Street firms’ trading, essentially turning themselves into giant hedge funds, are over. Turns out they weren’t that good,” said Andrew Kessler, a former hedge fund manager. “You’re no longer going to see middle-level folks pulling in seven- and multiple-seven-dollar figures that no one can figure out exactly what they did for that.” The beginning of the end is felt even in the halls of the white-shoe firm Goldman Sachs, which, among its Wall Street peers, epitomized and defined a high-risk, high-return culture. Goldman is the firm that other Wall Street firms love to hate. It houses some of the world’s biggest private equity and hedge funds. Its investment bankers are the smartest. Its traders, the best. They make the most money on Wall Street, earning the firm the nickname Goldmine Sachs. (Its 30,522 employees earned an average of $600,000 last year — an average that considers secretaries as well as traders.) Although executives at other firms secretly hoped that Goldman would once — just once — make a big mistake, at the same time, they tried their darnedest to emulate it. While Goldman remains top-notch in providing merger advice and underwriting public offerings, what it does better than any other firm on Wall Street is proprietary trading. That involves using its own funds, as well as a heap of borrowed money, to make big, smart global bets. Other firms tried to follow its lead, heaping risk on top of risk, all trying to capture just a touch of Goldman’s magic dust and its stellar quarter-after-quarter returns. Not one ever came close. While the credit crisis swamped Wall Street over the last year, causing Merrill, Citigroup and Lehman Brothers to sustain heavy losses on big bets in mortgage-related securities, Goldman sailed through with relatively minor bumps. In 2007, the same year that Citigroup and Merrill cast out their chief executives, Goldman booked record revenue and earnings and paid its chief, Lloyd C. Blankfein, $68.7 million — the most ever for a Wall Street C.E.O. Even Wall Street’s golden child, Goldman, however, could not withstand the turmoil that rocked the financial system in recent weeks. After Lehman and the American International Group were upended, and Merrill jumped into its hastily arranged engagement with Bank of America two weeks ago, Goldman’s stock hit a wall. The A.I.G. debacle was particularly troubling. Goldman was A.I.G.’s largest trading partner, according to several people close to A.I.G. who requested anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. Goldman assured investors that its exposure to A.I.G. was immaterial, but jittery investors and clients pulled out of the firm, nervous that stand-alone investment banks — even one as esteemed as Goldman — might not survive. “What happened confirmed my feeling that Goldman Sachs, no matter how good it was, was not impervious to the fortunes of fate,” said John H. Gutfreund, the former chief executive of Salomon Brothers. So, last weekend, with few choices left, Goldman Sachs swallowed a bitter pill and turned itself into, of all things, something rather plain and pedestrian: a deposit-taking bank. The move doesn’t mean that Goldman is going to give away free toasters for opening a checking account at a branch in Wichita anytime soon. But the shift is an assault on Goldman’s culture and the core of its astounding returns of recent years. Not everyone thinks that the Goldman money machine is going to be entirely constrained. Last week, the Oracle of Omaha, Warren E. Buffett, made a $5 billion investment in the firm, and Goldman raised another $5 billion in a separate stock offering. Still, many people say, with such sweeping changes before it, Goldman Sachs could well be losing what made it so special. But, then again, few things on Wall Street will be the same. GOLDMAN’S latest golden era can be traced to the rise of Mr. Blankfein, the Brooklyn-born trading genius who took the helm in June 2006, when Henry M. Paulson Jr., a veteran investment banker and adviser to many of the world’s biggest companies, left the bank to become the nation’s Treasury secretary. Mr. Blankfein’s ascent was a significant changing of the guard at Goldman, with the vaunted investment banking division giving way to traders who had become increasingly responsible for driving a run of eye-popping profits. Before taking over as chief executive, Mr. Blankfein led Goldman’s securities division, pushing a strategy that increasingly put the bank’s own capital on the line to make big trading bets and investments in businesses as varied as power plants and Japanese banks. The shift in Goldman’s revenue shows the transformation of the bank. From 1996 to 1998, investment banking generated up to 40 percent of the money Goldman brought in the door. In 2007, Goldman’s best year, that figure was less than 16 percent, while revenue from trading and principal investing was 68 percent. Goldman’s ability to sidestep the worst of the credit crisis came mainly because of its roots as a private partnership in which senior executives stood to lose their shirts if the bank faltered. Founded in 1869, Goldman officially went public in 1999 but never lost the flat structure that kept lines of communication open among different divisions. In late 2006, when losses began showing in one of Goldman’s mortgage trading accounts, the bank held a top-level meeting where executives including David Viniar, the chief financial officer, concluded that the housing market was headed for a significant downturn. Hedging strategies were put in place that essentially amounted to a bet that housing prices would fall. When they did, Goldman limited its losses while rivals posted ever-bigger write-downs on mortgages and complex securities tied to them. In 2007, Goldman generated $11.6 billion in profit, the most money an investment bank has ever made in a year, and avoided most of the big mortgage-related losses that began slamming other banks late in that year. Goldman’s share price soared to a record of $247.92 on Oct. 31. Goldman continued to outpace its rivals into this year, though profits declined significantly as the credit crisis worsened and trading conditions became treacherous. Still, even as Bear Stearns collapsed in March over bad mortgage bets and Lehman was battered, few thought that the untouchable Goldman could ever falter. Mr. Blankfein, an inveterate worrier, beefed up his books in part by stashing more than $100 billion in cash and short-term, highly liquid securities in an account at the Bank of New York. The Bony Box, as Mr. Blankfein calls it, was created to make sure that Goldman could keep doing business even in the face of market eruptions. That strong balance sheet, and Goldman’s ability to avoid losses during the crisis, appeared to leave the bank in a strong position to move through the industry upheaval with its trading-heavy business model intact, if temporarily dormant. Even as some analysts suggested that Goldman should consider buying a commercial bank to diversify, executives including Mr. Blankfein remained cool to the notion. Becoming a deposit-taking bank would just invite more regulation and lessen its ability to shift capital quickly in volatile markets, the thinking went. All of that changed two weeks ago when shares of Goldman and its chief rival, Morgan Stanley, went into free fall. A national panic over the mortgage crisis deepened and investors became increasingly convinced that no stand-alone investment bank would survive, even with the government’s plan to buy up toxic assets. Nervous hedge funds, some burned by losing big money when Lehman went bust, began moving some of their balances away from Goldman to bigger banks, like JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank. By the weekend, it was clear that Goldman’s options were to either merge with another company or transform itself into a deposit-taking bank holding company. So Goldman did what it has always done in the face of rapidly changing events: it turned on a dime. “They change to fit their environment. When it was good to go public, they went public,” said Michael Mayo, banking analyst at Deutsche Bank. “When it was good to get big in fixed income, they got big in fixed income. When it was good to get into emerging markets, they got into emerging markets. Now that it’s good to be a bank, they became a bank.” The moment it changed its status, Goldman became the fourth-largest bank holding company in the United States, with $20 billion in customer deposits spread between a bank subsidiary it already owned in Utah and its European bank. Goldman said it would quickly move more assets, including its existing loan business, to give the bank $150 billion in deposits. Even as Goldman was preparing to radically alter its structure, it was also negotiating with Mr. Buffett, a longtime client, on the terms of his $5 billion cash infusion. Mr. Buffett, as he always does, drove a relentless bargain, securing a guaranteed annual dividend of $500 million and the right to buy $5 billion more in Goldman shares at a below-market price. While the price tag for his blessing was steep, the impact was priceless. “Buffett got a very good deal, which means the guy on the other side did not get as good a deal,” said Jonathan Vyorst, a portfolio manager at the Paradigm Value Fund. “But from Goldman’s perspective, it is reputational capital that is unparalleled.” EVEN if the bailout stabilizes the markets, Wall Street won’t go back to its freewheeling, profit-spinning ways of old. After years of lax regulation, Wall Street firms will face much stronger oversight by regulators who are looking to tighten the reins on many practices that allowed the Street to flourish. For Goldman and Morgan Stanley, which are converting themselves into bank holding companies, that means their primary regulators become the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversee banking institutions. Rather than periodic audits by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Goldman will have regulators on site and looking over their shoulders all the time. The banking giant JPMorgan Chase, for instance, has 70 regulators from the Federal Reserve and the comptroller’s agency in its offices every day. Those regulators have open access to its books, trading floors and back-office operations. (That’s not to say stronger regulators would prevent losses. Citigroup, which on paper is highly regulated, suffered huge write-downs on risky mortgage securities bets.) As a bank, Goldman will also face tougher requirements about the size of the financial cushion it maintains. While Goldman and Morgan Stanley both meet current guidelines, many analysts argue that regulators, as part of the fallout from the credit crisis, may increase the amount of capital banks must have on hand. More important, a stiffer regulatory regime across Wall Street is likely to reduce the use and abuse of its favorite addictive drug: leverage. The low-interest-rate environment of the last decade offered buckets of cheap credit. Just as consumers maxed out their credit cards to live beyond their means, Wall Street firms bolstered their returns by pumping that cheap credit into their own trading operations and lending money to hedge funds and private equity firms so they could do the same. By using leverage, or borrowed funds, firms like Goldman Sachs easily increased the size of the bets they were making in their own trading portfolios. If they were right — and Goldman typically was — the returns were huge. When things went wrong, however, all of that debt turned into a nightmare. When Bear Stearns was on the verge of collapse, it had borrowed $33 for every $1 of equity it held. When trading partners that had lent Bear the money began demanding it back, the firm’s coffers ran dangerously low. Earlier this year, Goldman had borrowed about $28 for every $1 in equity. In the ensuing credit crisis, Wall Street firms have reined in their borrowing significantly and have lent less money to hedge funds and private equity firms. Today, Goldman’s borrowings stand at about $20 to $1, but even that is likely to come down. Banks like JPMorgan and Citigroup typically borrow about $10 to $1, analysts say. As leverage dries up across Wall Street, so will the outsize returns at many private equity firms and hedge funds. Returns at many hedge funds are expected to be awful this year because of a combination of bad bets and an inability to borrow. One result could be a landslide of hedge funds’ closing shop. At Goldman, the reduced use of borrowed money for its own trading operations means that its earnings will also decrease, analysts warn. Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, predicts that Goldman’s return on equity, a common measure of how efficiently capital is invested, will fall to 13 percent this year, from 33 percent in 2007, and hover around 14 percent or 15 percent for the next few years. Goldman says its returns are primarily driven by economic growth, its market share and pricing power, not by leverage. It adds that it does not expect changes in its business strategies and expects a 20 percent return on equity in the future. IF Mr. Hintz is right, and Goldman’s legendary returns decline, so will its paychecks. Without those multimillion-dollar paydays, those top-notch investment bankers, elite traders and private-equity superstars may well stroll out the door and try their luck at starting small, boutique investment-banking firms or hedge funds — if they can. “Over time, the smart people will migrate out of the firm because commercial banks don’t pay out 50 percent of their revenues as compensation,” said Christopher Whalen, a managing partner at Institutional Risk Analytics. “Banks simply aren’t that profitable.” As the game of musical chairs continues on Wall Street, with banks like JPMorgan scooping up troubled competitors like Washington Mutual, some analysts are wondering what Goldman’s next move will be. Goldman is unlikely to join with a commercial bank with a broad retail network, because a plain-vanilla consumer business is costly to operate and is the polar opposite of Goldman’s rarefied culture. “If they go too far afield or get too large in terms of personnel, then they become Citigroup, with the corporate bureaucracy and slowness and the inability to make consensus-type decisions that come with that,” Mr. Hintz said. A better fit for Goldman would be a bank that caters to corporations and other institutions, like Northern Trust or State Street Bank, he said. “I don’t think they’re going to move too fast, no matter what the environment on Wall Street is,” Mr. Hintz said. “They’re going to take some time and consider what exactly the new Goldman Sachs is going to be.”
  24. (Courtesy of Huffington Post) Honestly some of the comments about the topic is beyond stupid. Some people don't want to move to Canada seeing we are seen as a "socialist" country