Friday, March 23, 2007


Shake-up at Columbia Aircraft
Company replaces CEO, adds new managers, places 185 on furlough

Columbia Air has "furloughed" 185 more employees, after firing 59 earlier this month. The media & Columbia itself are going to do everything they can to soothe your jangled nerves with several Big Gulps of Bend Media Kool-Aid, cuz a compliant population is easier to sell unwanted homes to.

OK, first of all, virtually everything about this story smells thickly of BULLSHIT. They are saying Bing Lantis, long-time CEO & President, has "left the company" for personal reasons. OK, 100% BULLSHIT. We could ordinarily swallow this small sip of Kool-Aid if it did not coincide with a complete blowout of the top ranks (along with 185 other lower level souls). Lantis was fired, because Columbia is IN DIRE STRAIGHTS. This smells like a company THAT CAN'T MAKE PAYROLL. There is a distinct chance this place will CLOSE.

Surprisingly, there is actual acknowledgement of something I wrote a scant 2 weeks ago:

Roger Lee, executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon, says he wouldn’t be surprised if the region’s large employers announce more layoffs this year. Last month, Bright Wood Corp., of Madras, laid off 140 employees and Culver’s SeaSwirl Boats Inc. announced it was moving to Minnesota, eliminating 170 jobs.

“There is some sorting out going on in the economy,” Lee said, adding that Central Oregon created more jobs from 2000 to 2005 than the rest of the state combined and that some companies need to cut staff to increase their productivity and efficiency.

“The sky’s not falling; we’re still healthy here,” he said.

Interpretation: This guy knows full well BIG LAYOFFS are coming. OK, the SKY IS FALLING. Here's a vocabulary lesson:


Bend is a town in economic crisis. I have written about this till I'm blue in the face. Cali conveyor belt of money starts, housing gets hyper-hot and begins to feed on itself, we buy Hummers, kayaks, prime rib, Bachelor advertising and other quickly depreciating items to dissipate the wealth, instead of bringing in anchor tenant employers. We are finally going to roast in economic hell for this.

This makes me revise my own personal forecast for the implosion of Bend, and bring the Day of Reckoning closer. I used to think we'd grind lower over the course of a decade. I now think we'll implode over the next 2-3 years. This may be seen as good news: the faster we crash & burn, the quicker we can get back to "Real Life".

I saw several things on KTVZ last night that bolster this. 6 (SIX!) mortgage brokers have CLOSED in Bend in the past TWO WEEKS. That is INCREDIBLE. Bend Is "Sub-Prime Central". The entire character of this place is subprime: Subprime, to me, means that prices far outstrips buyers ability to pay. This applies to SO MANY Bend home buyers of the past 4 years. Cascade Bank will, at some point, be seen as a sub-prime lender. EVERY loan in Central Oregon (practically) is a very risky loan. This area is about to have a financial contagion on par with the S&L crisis: crap being built with easy money that cannot be sold to anyone. That describes this place perfectly.

I also saw that 30% of the people here are fed up and ready to leave! I have stated over and over that this place is being run by people who want to run with the Big Dogs and be a "mover and shaker", NOT public servants. hence we've seen just about every ill-conceived load of shit slide right by our City councilors. They are idiots, for the most part. PEOPLE ARE SICK OF IT! It's not just me and some other edge-case nuts. About 1/3rd of the population is fed-up with incompetency in how Bend is being run. Not just "a little unhappy": FED UP & READY TO LEAVE.

We're going to have to pay the piper now. We've squandered the possible spillover effects of funneling the California liquidity tsunami into anchor tenant employers, and bought Hummers and filet mignon instead. We're going to pay for that. Building permits DOWN 63%. That means MORE UNEMPLOYMENT. LOTS MORE. The BAD OLD DAYS are roaring back. Crook & Jefferson counties are almost back to DOUBLE DIGIT UNEMPLOYMENT, an evil that just 6 months ago we all believed we had banished to the historical dustbin. Bend unemployment is ROARING HIGHER.

We are in DEEP SHIT. There will be a wave of bankruptcies coming soon as the Bend liquidity contagion becomes an epidemic. Watch for jaw-dropping increases in unemployment. The crazy guy with the clapboards telling you the 4 horsemen of the apocolypse are coming is about to be proven DEAD RIGHT.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Homebuilders: The GM & Ford of the 21st Century

If you've followed the US auto industry for any time at all, you should recognize an oft repeated pattern: Horrible financial times, interspersed with brief, but very lucrative upturns. We're in the former now, Ford having lost around $12 billion last year while GM lost over $10 billion in 2005. making cars is an extremely cyclical business. To mitigate the downturns, carmakers have turned to incentive programs heavily. Who can forget 0% financing, Employee pricing, free upgrades, etc.

I was reminded of the US automakers when reading a CBN article, "Home Builders Offer Buyer Incentives", which describes the myriad number of incentives that local homebuilders are providing to move inventory. Everyone knows about Renaissance Homes free go-kart with every home. We can actually figure out that Renaissance had 4 suckers... err, tree-hugger.... err, buyers go for these go-karts, out of a total of 10 for the month of February, a figure Renaissance was 300% higher than normal (Which made me wonder "What's Normal" for these guys? Were they even here a year ago? Another thing Renaissance: Don't run condescending ads the year before you invade a town with these weird medieval castle looking houses highlighted. Dumb. Plus leave your smug bicep-flexing founder, Randy Sebastian, out. Man, what a turd. Maybe you're starting to realize this, as he was not once mentioned in the CBN article. This smug little weasel is marketing kryptonite.).

"We knew Bend was what I would call green and we were right," he said. "We sold four homes in Bend where the car was given to the buyers. We had 10 sales for the month in Bend, which is a very big month for us over there. So we know that by this program, with that being the primary focus of our advertising for the month, we had a 300 percent increase in the amount of traffic that we normally have."

Other builders are going for the esoteric: iPod docking stations from Woodhill, and even iPod's to go with it. They're also prewiring homes for solar.

Palmer is doing special financing & 3% allocated to upgrades. This is an offer that actually makes some sense. The others are presumptuous.

But this whole trend sort of "rhymes" with the profitless prosperity incentive programs that have really dogged American auto makers for decades. When times are good, automaking like homebuilding seems like a financial bonanza that makes those involved feel like geniuses. Then reality hits, and the true unattractive nature of high cyclicality sets in, and they sit around scratching their heads wondering what happened while practically giving away their product and losing everything they made on the last upturn and more.

And it is interesting that none that I've read about are simply lowering their prices, and publishing that fact. They are doing all in their power to keep "stated prices" as high as possible. Homebuilders should take a note from those that have truly prospered in the auto World over the long haul, Toyota & Honda: Simply produce high quality product and price it for nominal profits, and don't ramp up for temporary volume spikes in the good times. Will it help? Who knows, but Toyota & Honda make money year after year, while Ford & GM periodically have their asses handed to them & damn near go broke. Believe me, you are going to pay for feeding the bubble.

I think local Bend builders do not realize that the Bubble is busted, and keeping prices artificially high will simply kill sales. They are like car dealers who refuse to sell for anything less than fully-loaded pimp-mobile prices. What would you think of a dealer that refused to sell you a Hummer with anything less than iPod's, docking stations, spinning hubcaps, gold chrome inside & out, hi-def TV and freakin sweet velour seat covers? These guys shouldn't pimp these homes, they should cut price, cuz someone forcibly trying to pimp my ride just makes me say No.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Well, I guess I've seen it all. The editorial in the Cascade Business News this week, "City of Bend at a Crossroads", actually has some mild criticism for the Bend City Councilors. Now mind you, anyone who can fog a mirror knows that the City Counsilors of Bend have blown millions on idiotic escapades like paying 1,000% markup for lemon City buses, passing patently illegal laws for penalizing mobile home park owners, and The Biggie, the $12MM (or so) Mtn High water system boondoggle. I've written about this stuff ad nauseum. I have also cheered the resignation of lawyer John Hummel from his seat, as he is a lawyer, and should have known more than anyone else that what the City was doing was outrageous, in so far as the Mtn High & mobile home legislation. I don't have an axe to grind with these people (as has been stated frequently in the comments), I am just tired of having City Councilors blow taxpayer money like it grows on trees.

Getting back to CBN and Pamela Hulse Andrews (the editor & owner), anyone whose read these posts knows I think her rag is a laughing stock. It is a RE ra-ra rag, with little that could be called news. But Hulse-Andrews actually goes after Bend City Coucilors (one of whom is her husband, Andy Andrews) this week as possibly doing a bad job. As I said, even dullards like me saw this 100 years ago. But Hulse Andrews has ignored this and other blatant problems with this town, with the attitude that if we all cheerlead loudly & furiously enough, it'll all work out. But she doesn't this time, and actually has what could be construed as "unkind words" about the performance of City Councilors.

So this week, I salute you Pamela Hulse Andrews. You actually wrote a piece with some semblance of truth, that does not relentlessly cheerlead and insult our collective intelligence, and perhaps most of all, you directly quote your own husband as being part of a flawed organization:

In fact, City Manager Andy Anderson has admitted they may not have done a good job of due diligence.

Good job PHA. Now KEEP IT UP.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Coming to a town near you: UNEMPLOYMENT!

Columbia Aircraft lays off 59

Seaswirl to close Culver plant

Construction lull spurs 140 layoffs at Bright Wood

Prediction: You'll soon see an announcement about the closing & laying off of all Unicom employees in Bend.

We're starting to see a disturbing trend in Central Oregon, something that was unfathomable just 6 months ago: Unexpected Unemployment.

We're soon going to hit the sort of unemployment numbers that Central Oregon is famous (infamous?) for: usually 2-3% above the national average. Jefferson and Crook counties are well on their way to double digit unemployment. What's going on? Late last year the paper was full of articles decrying a lack of workers as being the areas biggest challenge (Worker shortage tops list for area executives). Now, in the blink of an eye, we're getting some of the areas biggest employers announcing partial layoffs, or outright shutdown.

You might think, "Hey, housing prices CAN'T have anything to do with this, do they?". And I would say, Yes, yes they do. Because in a bubble, especially one driven by leverage (borrowed money), the velocity of money speeds up. Everyone is trading the bubble good faster and faster. You need look no farther than the rapidly increasing unit volumes of home sales of the past 6 years to find proof of this. Some of the spillover effects of a large part of the population feeling wealthier, is that non-bubble companies also start to bask in the glow of Bubbletown. Everyone is doing great! In fact usually the only trouble is figuring out who will serve the Fat Cats the Dom Perignon because we're all Fat Cats!

But then a funny thing happens: One of the guys who is loaning the money, actually says "No" to someone who asks for more money to buy the ever rising bubble good. Then another. The another. Then bubble buddies look for the only source of liquidity they really have, and that's selling the bubble good itself. Which prompts another. Then another. And as rapidly as things went up, they go down.

Except a funny thing happens on the way down. A lot of money has been spent on bubble goods, money that in ordinary times would have been invested in a variety of other things, like building airplanes, boats, and things like that. Instead of giving living wage employers a tax incentive to relocate here, we bought Dom Perignon. Instead of investing in workforce training, we bought Hummers. Instead of expanding the UGB to increase buildable land for affordable housing, we bought magazine ads to get 4 people on each Bachelor Pine Marten chair, instead of 3. We bought prime rib, when we should have brought prime employers here to diversify our economy. The bubble economy has become too concentrated, and the effects of diversifying our economy is gone, because we bet it all on bubble goods. And the bet has busted.

That's what we're seeing and will continue to see for many years. We have an extremely polarized economy: we've bet it all on housing and real estate. And while the lending was free & easy, this made us feel like a million bucks! But there's no more to lend, and actually we're starting to see that "we" have less money now:

Cascade's annual report showed a 2.8 percent dip in net income in the last three months of 2006 compared with the previous quarter, and core deposits - or deposits from long-term customers - dropped by 8 percent during that same period.

So, finally as the wealth effects of the bubble years begin to unravel, the spillover effects start to dry up, liquidation of bubble assets push down everyones net worth, and we all basically start to feel poorer... and finally people start losing their jobs. Don't be fooled. The Bend real estate bubble that still has people and publications from every corner trying mightily to uphold it as long as humanly possible is collapsing, and this financial implosion will ultimately put you or someone you know, out of a job. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but we are about to see the worst rash of job loss this area has ever seen. And the SOLE CAUSE is the housing and RE bubble.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Bend Home Prices About To Go NEGATIVE

The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight report showing that Bend was the highest appreciating metro area in the country has been getting a lot of play recently. Kind of funny since it's March, but it's clear why: Every Realtor with two brain cells to rub together knows full well that Bend median and average home prices are about to go negative.

The situation today is a 180 degree opposite of last year. Inventory is up over 200% than this time last year. Unit sales are off 20%. Median prices are already 4% below last years overall average. Last year at this time we had a scant 2.5 months of inventory on the market, today it's 10.5 months. The Bend housing market isn't falling apart, it fell apart months ago. Last months sold volume is the lowest since Doug Farmers publicly available monthly figures started in November 2005. Housing may look weak, but the Realtor game has crashed and burned BIG.

Continue to look for Realtors to flog every scrap of good news out there for all it's worth. Because they know full well the news is about to get very, very bad. March, April, and May will see home prices in Bend go into the red, and they will go steeply into the red. By Summer, expect to see double digit losses over last year. And this all assumes prices stabilize here. If the oft-awaited Spring Fling inventory explosion materializes, we could see things get very ugly.

Once people begin to see the $400K homes they bought last year only worth $300K or less, and the job market further deteriorates (which it will, mark my words), things will get desperate here. We're seeing the last gasp of frantic Realtor attempts to salvage what they can from an increasingly hopeless situation.

Look for a Spring explosion in inventory... there is nary a seller who couldn't sell last Fall who isn't gussying up the homestead for a sale this Spring. Look for Realtors to finally swallow the red pill, and insist on lowering list prices. We will see what looks like a Buyers Strike. But it's not a buyers strike, it's a return to normalcy. Unfortunately "normalcy" is going to wreck the finances of thousands of people here who have come to count on their home as an ATM. The marginal loan game is over, and when mortgage bankers actually have the gall to insist on you having income to support payments on the loan you so desperately need to get another 2008 H2, a lot of people are going to have problems.

The Real Estate ATM in Central Oregon is CLOSED. Not CLOSING, CLOSED. And have no doubt, this ATM produced BILLIONS in SPENT income that will not come again. We're in for exceedingly hard times. Every time you read a mass media piece about how good is WAS, realize that's because if they talked about how it IS, it would scare the hell out of you.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


6-year Bend councilor John Hummel resigns

In what has got to be the best news for this town in awhile, John Hummel is stepping down as a Bend City counselor. From the Bulletin article:

In John Hummel's six years on the Bend City Council, he earned a reputation for supporting the disenfranchised. Now he plans to leave Bend, and the United States, to help fight Third World poverty.

On Wednesday, Hummel resigned.

Hummel, a 37-year-old defense attorney, said he decided to change careers after watching world events unfold, post-Sept. 11, 2001. He concluded that poverty and terrorism were interconnected and that he could do the most good by attacking poverty at its source. So he's going back to school to become an international development consultant.

"We can use our military might to change minds, that's a philosophy that's out there. I think it's a wrong philosophy," said Hummel, in an interview Wednesday at Bend Brewing Co.

This man is a self-aggrandizing lawyer moron who has cost this town MILLIONS. He voted FOR the pieces of crap trolling our city streets he calls BUSES. These lemons, which don't run half the time, are the fault of Hummel and all other City counselors. Some counselors, like Mark Capell, wanted to do the right thing and own up to it. Hummel, a lawyer, wanted to sue. It's BUYER BEWARE, and Hummel, instead of wanting to own up to a huge financial boner, wants to sue the other guy.

Hummel defended his vote in favor of condemning the Juniper Utility Co., even though the decision will likely cost the city more than $9 million, but admitted he made mistakes on the council.

OK, this guy has cost us MILLIONS, and he DEFENDS it.

"When everyone else in the room was saying kick out the hot dog vendor, he stood up for this one guy," Merwin Cheney said.

He stood up for a hot-dog vendor, and he's a hero?

Hummel began considering a career change six months ago and settled on international business three months later.

Let's review: He's cost us MILLIONS. His solution to EVERYTHING is litigation. He wanted to keep the booming hot-dog industry alive. He's GOING INTO INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS. God help whoever hires this lunatic.

he decided to change careers after watching world events unfold, post-Sept. 11, 2001. He concluded that poverty and terrorism were interconnected and that he could do the most good by attacking poverty at its source.

WHAT? This is the biggest self-serving load of tripe I've ever heard. "Attacking poverty at its source"? Huh? By becoming a Bend City counselor? By upholding the rights of a hot-dog vendor? How about the rights of Mountain High's developer? Yeah, that one cost the good citizens of Bend NINE MILLION DOLLARS! Attacking poverty at its source, my ASS!

Before he leaves, though, Hummel said, he plans to squeeze out every drop of Bend living he has left.

You tell me that doesn't sound JUST LIKE A LAWYER? This mans only good deed is Quitting. For that, we owe him thanks.