Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Storm of Flu

I had my vengeance upon the swine of the world yesterday by eating pork chops at the local IHOP in the strip center near me and going to see the new movie "Earth" which was very beautiful and impressive. I have been following News reports of the so-called Swine Flu and with all the recent talk about the flu lately I decided to research about the 1918 flu pandemic to find out why it was so bad.

Apparently in the 1918 flu, people with healthy immune systems were affected the most because of the very fact that they HAD healthy immune systems. What the flu does is trigger a "cytokine storm." I'd never heard of this, but essentially it is an overreaction of the body's immune system to "a new and highly pathogenic invader" to quote Wikipedia's entry on the subject. The immune enters a positive feedback loop, constantly manufacturing more and more immune cells and the body essentially feeds upon itself. The result is that the body drowns in its own fluids in the resultant pneumonia.

While this new H1N1 influenza A, (as now officially termed by the WHO), shares the same characteristics as the 1918 flu, it hasn't triggered such storms in many of its victims here and elsewhere since many probably don't have the more healthy immune systems which would trigger the storm that destroys the body.

So what I gather from it is this. Even if you have a healthy immune system and have fought off the flu in the past, a trip to the doc might not be inappropriate if you get this bug. Trying to fight it alone might just result in your body feeding on itself and your eventual death because of your healthy immune system.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Mall News

Well, Mark Shale will close on the 26th. They are selling the store fixtures so get there if you want a good deal on mannequins. Jimmyz will be closing soon. They are offering 40% off all the items in the store. Jimmyz was a more hip-hop version of Aeropostale and has not proven successful so Aeropostale decided to close that division down. This will be another gap on the notorious north end dead zone at the Galleria.

At another General Growth Property in Austin, Texas, Dillards has elected to sue General Growth for neglecting the mall and wants out of its lease. According to the AP,

The suit claims that the Highland Mall was allowed to "deteriorate in character and quality such that it is now approximately half vacant, has a poor tenant mix comprised of tenants that are not consistent with (a) first-class shopping center operation." The suit also says that a JC Penney anchor store has left the center.

Dillard's wants a federal judge to void the company's lease with the mall.

A Dillard's spokeswoman said the company does not comment on litigation, as did a spokesman for Simon Property Group.

I should say here that Highland Mall is a joint venture between GGP and Simon.

Apparently Highland is now on a short list probalby like Crestwood here locally that will probably be closed soon. Crestwood Plaza is a mall here that traffic patterns and demographics has left behind.

The fact that Simon is a joint venture partner in this facility and it is still deteroriating does not bode well for other mall operators in the industry. While this may be an isolated case, it does bear watching. A lot of guys at the mall are hoping that Simon is the one that buys the Galleria out, since they are the ones that won't clean house when they buy. (I believe I had said that they are the ones that like to clean house (i.e. fire everyone and start with a clean slate of staff) but I got them inverted with Westfield who does do that sort of thing). But is Simon is in similar financial straits, then any hope of salvaging the industry is in shambles. It will be up to indivdual local developers in cities to either buy indivdual properties, or let them fall.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mall Report

Since General Growth filed for bankruptsy the other day I thought I'd give my impressions on that. I posted the report without giving my take on it. I should state here that my opinions are my own and do not represent those of GGP or its subsudaries.

Lately, since the beginning of the year, new tenants have been taking to reusing the walls and not even bothering to remodel when they are moving in. Save a lot of money that way, but gives a rather jakey look.

We have lost several stores in the past couple of months. Z-Galleria pulled out of Missouri and other markets, but is still in business. This leaves a gap on the second level at the Atrium, which is our main entrance court. That kind of detracts but what can we do?

Mark Shale, the entire chain is going under, which leaves a new, significant gap on the north end of the mall. The North end has been a dead zone with the second level having two empty spaces and the former Houlihan's restaurant empty since they moved out a couple of years ago. (Not that I was unhappy to see THEM go. I hate drunks and druggies, which Houlihan's attracted. I get the feeling that the drug dealers used it as a meeting place since there were license plates from all over including a state plate from Mexico).

However, we have had a few move in's. Stacey Adams is a clothing store That moved into the old Discovery Channel Store space. They look like high end, Italian, "Mafia" clothing for men. Some of it looks tasteful, but I am not impressed.

San Francisco Music Box Company moved into the old Disney store space. I must say I am impressed. They were able to reuse the little bit of exterior lighting that Disney left which was a kind of frame around the perphery of the window which has a star effect. When its lighted the stars change as you pass by. They are only using half the space with a frame holding a curtan to the unused portion of the store to the back. Still, its a tennant and its putting money in the Mall. The Music Boxes are really pretty and I hope people buy them.

Toy Tyme is a toy store that usually comes and uses unused spaces every Christmas and is usually gone by Janruary 31. This year, they are staying. Not sure how, but I think the mall is giving them an incentive to stay. They had the Discovery Channel space, but moved into the old Club Libby Lu space when that was abandoned. They sell toys obviously, but they are kind of decoratve, high end things that look good from a decorators standpoint, but I wouldn' let a five year old touch. They sell these realistic looking stuffed animals. Sometimes at night I can walk by and look at the dog sitting and I swear I think the thing is gonna bark! Kinda unnerving.

The construction has stopped which leaves us looking like a construction zone. This huge dirt gap on the parking lot makes us look really bad, but there is nothing really we can do about it. My major concer is taht they stopped the Parking garage expanstion construction literally days before finishing it. They had some minor masionary work to do, space striping and the expantion joints. The expantion joints are my biggest concern since any water that gets into there can cause permanant damage to the structure by promoting rust of the reinforcement bars and post-tensioning cables. It has gone through a whole winter with rainwater and snow being pumped into it by nature. Its going to severely decrease the lifetime of the structure if it isn't fixed. I have to wonder about the mentality of not finishing just that. Its just so idiotic.

Right now, we have two empty spaces on the north end second level. I have already mentioned Mark Shale and the Houlahans spaces. We have the old White House - Black Market space still empty. (They moved into the Brooks Brothers Women's space when Brooks Brothers consolidated all the stores into one). The Z-Gallerie space level two I have mentioned. Then the old Road store, which went out of business before Christmas last year.

All in all, since we have about 165 stores according to the website, we are doing relatively well considering. What will tell will be the next few months assuming that GGP can get its financial act together. In this real estate climate, buyers are few and are looking for bargans. I seriously doubt they will get the $27.5 billion they need to get back to solvency. I seriously think their assets will eventually be auctioned off and there will be developers that will pick up properties for a song. GGP's investors will end up holding the bag for this unfortunately.

There is little sympathy for retail facilities in the present government attitude. GGP is very unlikely to get a bail out even though a large scale closure of its facilites would have a grave impact on retail from coast to coast. The economy would suffer a significant impact if this happened.

So where does that leave us, the workers. It leaves us apprehensive about our futures, and wondering if our paychecks will clear. What can you do?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Its finally Happened.

General Growth files for bankruptcy protection

Thu Apr 16, 2009 5:34am EDT

* Seeks to extend mortgage maturities

* Obtains $375 mln in debtor-in-possession financing

By Emily Chasan and Ilaina Jonas

NEW YORK, April 16 (Reuters) - General Growth Properties Inc GGP.N, the second largest U.S. mall owner, on Thursday filed for bankruptcy protection on Thursday, making it one of the biggest real estate bankruptcies in U.S. history.

Ending months of speculation, the Chicago-based mall owner which listed total assets of $29.557 billion and total debts of $27.294 billion, sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from creditors along with 158 of its more than 200 U.S. malls, while it seeks to restructure some of its debt.

The company said in a statement that it plans to continue exploring strategic alternatives during the bankruptcy protection and is seeking to emerge as quickly as possible through a reorganization that preserves its national business.

General Growth's filing in the U.S. bankruptcy court in Manhattan makes it one of the largest non-financial companies to succumb to the financial crisis in the U.S.

Prior to the bankruptcy protection filing, the company had defaulted on several mortgages as well as a series of bonds. It has also put several of its flagship properties up for sale.

General Growth has been generating enough cashflow for the company to pay monthly interest costs and expenses but it has been unable to refinance the principal of loans and mortgages as they come due because banks and other financing sources have been reluctant to issue large mortgages and loans.

"Our core business remains sound and is performing well with stable cash flows," said Adam Metz, General Growth's Chief Executive, in a statement.

"While we have worked tirelessly in the past several months to address our maturing debts, the collapse of the credit markets has made it impossible for us to refinance maturing debt outside of chapter 11."

General Growth has received a commitment for a debtor-in-possession financing facility of about $375 million from Pershing Square Capital Management L.P., as agent.

The hedge fund, run by William Ackman also owns about 25 percent of General Growth shares. He has been urging the company to file for bankruptcy protection and described it as "a great company" with "phenomenal assets" at a conference on April 2.

At the end of the 2008, about $15.17 billion of General Growth's debt was comprised of mortgage loans that had been securitized into commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), according to research firm Trepp.

"This underscores that real estate companies are most vulnerable to refinancing risk rather than market risk. The US insolvency process is, we think, a cure for General Growth's liquidity problems, which stem from external factors, and not a traditional bankruptcy per se," said Nomura's London-based property analyst Mike Prew.

Although shares of General Growth had traded as high as $44 over the past 12 months, the stock deteriorated as the credit crises worsened. Shares closed at $1.05 in the U.S. Wednesday.


The Chicago-based firm started when brothers Martin and Matthew Bucksbaum decided to expand the family grocery business and build a shopping center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1954.

It grew by new development as well as by acquisition, the largest being the 2004 purchase of Rouse Cos for $14.2 billion which brought the company 37 of the best quality and most valuable malls in the country including Fashion Show in Las Vegas and Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston.

General Growth's refinancing troubles in the frozen credit markets led to the firing of its former chief financial officer Bernard Freibaum in October. John Bucksbaum, who succeeded his father Matthew in 1999, stepped down as chief executive the same month, though he remained chairman.

In recent months, the new management team under Metz has been wrestling with loan after loan coming due, bargaining for extensions. As of the end of 2008, General Growth had $1.18 billion in past due debt and an additional $4.09 billion of debt that could be accelerated by its lenders.

Earlier this month, the company had been seeking to restructure $2.25 billion of Rouse bonds, offering bond holders a percentage on their bonds if they allowed the company to skip interest payments and principal until the end of the year. But the company failed to garner the necessary support it needed.

General Growth said several of its other subidiaries, in addition to the malls were also placed into bankruptcy protection, while several of its properties that are part of joint ventures were unaffected.

The company has hired law firms Weil Gotshal & Manges and Kirkland & Ellis to represent it, according to court papers.

The case is In re: South Street Seaport Limited Partnership, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-11963.

(Reporting by Ilaina Jonas, Emily Chasan; editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

� Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Keep this man's family in your prayers.

As many of you are aware, I work nights as a Security Officer here in the area. Today they had a guard shot and killed at a grocery store. Kinda gives me a pause. Then again, what happened to that guard can't happen to me. I am unarmed and what happened is that the subject this particular guard was dealing with got hold of the guards' weapon and used it against him. Still, he worked for Schnucks and I have a colleague that works for us on the weekend who also works at Schnucks. I don't think it was my colleague, but the picture was kinda fuzzy.

With the economy like it is, I think we are going to see a lot more incidents like this happening. It gives me another thing to keep me up during the day thinking about what cna happen in my job. I can't let it stress me out, but I am so glad I don't work tonight.

Monday, April 6, 2009

This make me want to join the torches and pitchforks brigade!

If your understanding of the present financial debacle is not changed by watching or reading the video on this page, you aren't thinking. I am so incensed by this I am not thinking straight. I know I will have something better to say, but just watch.

William K. Black: CSI Bailout
Watch Video
Read Transcript
April 3, 2009

William K. Black suspects that it was more than greed and incompetence that brought down the U.S. financial sector and plunged the economy in recession — it was fraud. And he would know. When it comes to financial shenanigans, William K. Black, the former senior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s, has seen pretty much everything.

Now an Associate Professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri, William K. Black tells Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL that the tool at the very center of mortgage collapse, creating triple-A rated bonds out of "liars' loans" — loans issued without verifying income, assets or employment — was a fraud, and the banks knew it.

And while there is no law against liars' loans, Black points out that there are, "many laws against fraud, and liars' loans are fraudulent. [...] They involve deceit, which is the essence of fraud."

Only the scale of the scandal is new. A single bank, IndyMac, lost more money than the entire Savings and Loan Crisis. The difference between now and then, explains Black, is a drastic reduction in regulation and oversight, "We now know what happens when you destroy regulation. You get the biggest financial calamity of anybody under the age of 80."

>>More from William K. Black about the The Prompt Corrective Action Law

>>More about the Savings and Loan Crisis

William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teached economics and law at the University of Missouri — Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement.

Black developed the concept of "control fraud" — frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a "weapon." Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae's former senior management.

Published April 3, 2009. Guest photos by Robin Holland

Another news item of note:

UBS grounds foreign desk managers

Switzerland's biggest bank, UBS, has banned company managers who deal with foreign clients from travelling abroad, as a US fraud investigation continues.

The Swiss bank is being investigated by the US authorities over alleged fraud and tax evasion involving US citizens.

UBS denied the travel ban had been put in place specifically to protect senior staff from American authorities.

US officials have accused UBS staff of helping American clients hide money in offshore accounts.

The bank earlier gave them the names of some 300 Americans it has advised, but refused to identify 52,000 others.

In February, UBS agreed to pay $780m (£525m) to the US government to settle allegations that it had defrauded US tax authorities.

It is estimated that the US government loses $100bn in revenues every year because of tax havens.


The move at UBS confirms widespread media speculation that it and other Swiss banks are imposing travel bans on their staff for fear of falling foul of an international crackdown on tax havens, the BBC's Imogen Foulkes reports.

UBS said it was in the process of reviewing its wealth management policy and that for the foreseeable future, contact with clients would be confined to e-mail and telephone.

The travel ban is yet another worrying signal from UBS, our correspondent says.

It is still reeling from enormous sub-prime losses and is at the centre of the widening US investigation into alleged tax fraud by US citizens.

Although Switzerland has now agreed to comply with international guidelines and lift banking secrecy in tax evasion cases, it has not put the new policy into practice yet.

The UBS travel ban is perhaps sensible, our correspondent adds, but it is also a major humiliation.

UBS is the world's biggest wealth manager, its slogan was "UBS You & Us", and it prided itself on its personal face-to-face approach.

Now its managers can contact foreign clients only by phone or e-mail.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/04/05 21:42:17 GMT


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I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.