Daily Archives: December 26, 2008

Life in the slow lane

When Monica Noel sat in for her now infamous interview with the New York Post she insisted that the Noels were just an ordinary family whose children grew up in a normal cottage. Rich? Not the Noels.

So what does a “not rich, normal Greenwich family” wedding look like? 

The Times tells us:

On June 25, they were married in the early evening before 400 guests at Christ Episcopal Church in Greenwich in a wedding that was European in spirit. The dark, gothic-style church was filled with piano music, big hats, bright colors and flowers that were inspired by everything from Impressionist paintings to Christian Lacroix gowns.

The bride wore a long ponytail and a sleeveless dress with a scooped back that was made by Lorenzo Riva, a Milan designer.

The 10 bridesmaids wore short dresses in different summer colors like watermelon-pink, lime green and the bright yellow of new tennis balls. They carried bouquets of hot pink, coral and saffron roses.

All around them, like shooting stars, ran five flower girls in white Monica Noel dresses and white fabric flower headbands.

For the reception at the nearby Round Hill Country Club, Dorothy Wako, a New York floral designer, planted a traditional English garden with the feel of a country cottage.

The garden was filled with rambling pink roses, wild sweet peas, lavender Canterbury bells and white peonies that were as soft looking as powder puffs and as big as melons.

“Ariane wanted to please all the senses with this wedding,” said Tierney Gifford Horne, a friend of the bride who is the fashion director at Mademoiselle magazine.

During dinner, guests sat at tables named after the couple’s favorite places — Geneva, Aspen, Klosters, Anguilla, Firenze, San Michele. At 1:30 A.M., after a night that included a song- and-dance toast by the bride’s four sisters, who called themselves the “Noel Supremes,” the couple drove off in an old classic yellow Buick convertible from the 1950’s.

“They went off for a three-week honeymoon,” said Alix Noel, a sister of the bride. “The first week is in the great barrier reef in Australia; the second week is a week of heli-skiing in New Zealand, and the third week they’ll spend in a remote bungalow on an island in Fiji. They’ll go scuba diving in Australia and skiing in New Zealand. They love the sporting life.”

My kids love the sporting life too and they grew up in a normal Greenwich household. Does this mean that I must spring for a few weeks of heli-skiing in New Zealand for each of them? Must I pay for ten bridesmaids, or would it be considered abnormal if I just paid the kids to elope?

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Well, at least they didn’t buy Fairfield Sentry funds

The New York Times is attempting to sell its 17.5% share in the Boston Red Sox. Times ownership of my favorite team never felt comfortable but they did make out on their investment. Not so with their ownership of the Boston Globe.

The Times, which has a $400 million credit line coming due next May, could raise $200 million to $225 million if it sells the stake, the FT reported. Analysts and bankers previously told Reuters that the stake could be worth about $200 million.

The publisher, which is controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family, needs to raise money as it faces a debilitating drop in advertising revenue, something that is affecting nearly all U.S. newspaper publishers.

Connors, a former Boston advertising executive, was part of a group two years ago that was interested in buying the Globe. The group included former General Electric Co Chief Executive Jack Welch. The Times rejected that offer.

At the Time, the New York Times Co according to the FT and other news outlets, could have sold the Globe for $550 million to $600 million. But a recent report from Barclays estimated that the Globe could be worth about $20 million.

Next year they’ll pay you to take it off their hands.

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Here’s a dome that apparently doesn’t leak

Passive homes in Germany with no furnaces but still warm. They seem to have solved the stale air problem, too. This is one of the brighter ideas out there in a sea of propeller beanie proposals. There’s hope yet, maybe.

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But the guy just wouldn’t shut up!

Man shot by fellow patron for talking during showing of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. I’d been waiting for my son John to get back to me with a review of this film -it’s showing tonight in Greenwich – but this story is good enough for me. Obviously, it’ got dialogue to die for. Or kill.

Update: Everything has a Bernie Madoff angle these days. The screenwriter for “Benjamin Button”, who also wrote “Forest Gump”, is suing his money manager for investing every penny with Bernie. “I’m the biggest chump on the face of the earth,” he now says. Walter Noel, reached by telephone, disputed that claim:” I’m the biggest chump, not this fellow Roth! I am! I am!”

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On second thought…

The Daily Beast reports that Walter Noel has fired the PR team he hired at the onset of the Madoff explosion and opted instead for a legal defense team. Does this mean that he’s feeling a cold breeze all the way down in Mustique or just rethinking his options, you should pardon the term?

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2 X 0 = 0

Kennedy: “If picked for Senator, I’ll have to work twice as hard”.

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Had I known, I’d have gone without my oatmeal

Study shows that teens who skip breakfast have sex two years earlier.

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“Tiny bubbles”

According to this Dutch economist, real estate goes up, goes down, and eventually ends back where it started.

The house sugar merchant Cornelis Sasbout built in 1617 at number 150 on Amsterdam’s Herengracht canal tells a cautionary tale about investing in property – prices fluctuate wildly, but are ultimately flat.

From boom to bust, the plot Sasbout bought for 4,600 guilders (2,100 euros) and which today might sell for several million euros on the prestigious canal, will in the long run always revert to some kind of price equilibrium.

This can be seen in a unique index dating back 350 years, drawn up by Piet Eichholtz, a real estate professor at Maastricht University using records of house prices on the canal.

Even for people with no intention of buying property, it has been cited by Yale economist Robert Shiller for its reflection of the inexorable logic that bubbles always burst.

Hat tip: Seeking Alpha.com Check it out for its own interesting take on commercial real estate mavens sticking their snouts in the trough of federal bailouts. His conclusion: neither the economy nor society has any interest in who ends up with the equity in a building deal, developer or lender. The developers would disagree, obviously.

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Bill Watterson: prophet, genius

From 15 years ago – Calvin figures out capitalism, American style

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What did you expect?

Last week we reported on the ebbing of Kwanzaa, the made-up nonsense holiday cobbled together by a black Marxist radical from bits of Zulu heritage and a large helping of Hollywood’s King Kong. I won’t be sorry to see it go but today’s New York Times insists that it’s flourishing. I’ll maintain my cheerful holiday mood and hope that the Times is dreaming, rather than reporting things accurately. It’s happened before.

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Pssst! Wanna buy a suit? Cheap!

Will work for plastic surgery

Will work for plastic surgery

Bernie Madoff’s Palm Beach henchman Bob Jaffe is pawning his clothes.  “We’re selling Mr. Jaffe’s things right now,” says the store manager. “We’ve got some nice Kiton jackets and sportcoats that belong to him. New, they’re about $5,000. I’ve got one on sale for $895.”

We called over to the Greenwich Hospital Thift Store to see if any of the Noel’s designer wear had shown up and spoke with store manager Bittsy von Stuben.

“Well they used to donate everything here,” von Stuben said, “but you know, all we give are ‘write-your-own deduction’ receipts. Monica was just here reclaiming everything she’d dropped off earlier, and told me she’d be needing the cash.

“It’s too bad, ” Ms. van Steuben sighed, ” Walt bought all his clothes at Richards and we had just a beautiful collection of Monica’s Lily Pulitzers. Now all we have left are some Brazilian gardening outfits left over from when they could maintain the cottage.”

Hat tip: Caroline Waxler. Business Sheet

UPDATE: Unemployed Madoff employees are hawking “Madoff Investment” coffee cups, fleece jackets and backpacks on EBay. Will Monica join them there? We’ll keep an eye out.

UPDATE II: A “Monica Noel” child’s party dress is now on EBay.

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Did Walt Noel actually lose any money with Madoff?

Possibly not. According to this story, Fairfield Greenwich Group only lost $60 million when Bernie hiccuped, which may have been merely 1/2 the accrued fees it had “earned” during this year, based on the cooked numbers. If so, Walter and kin must have been pulling their own money out over the years, so where’d they put it?

I understand that the Cayman Islands aren’t that far from Mustique. If you’re flying your private jet down to your villa, how hard could it be to divert the flight long enough to drop off a couple of suitcases? Stew Leonard may regret not coming to Walter for cash management advice in the past but then again, if he had, he’d have had nothing to be caught with at customs. It’s all so confusing.

UPDATE: Rene-Thierry Magnon de la Villiechuchet, the French banker whose fund lost $1.5 billion with Madoff, also lost his family’s entire fortune of “tens of million of dollars”, as well as the money of friends and relatives.  The poor bastard slit his wrists from the shame of it all; Walt and Monica, lighter by only some missed fees, headed across the street for the Christmas party at the Round Hill Club. Shows the importance of never getting emotionally attached to your investors, eh?

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What will the new year bring?

Price reductions, I hope. I was reviewing MLS listings today for some clients and I can’t say I saw anything resembling a bargain or even a decently- priced house for today’s market conditions. There’s an older house at 28 Nearwater Lane, for instance, that’s been for sale since last January. It started at $1.550 million and it’s only dropped to $1.399. I don’t think a 3-bedroom house on that street with waterviews but no water frontage will command $1.4 today. And, although I like Nearwater and especially the little community beach on the Mianus, I’m not convinced that the new construction at 30 Nearwater will get anything close to the $3.0 million it’s asking. Maybe it will; I’m certainly not infallible, but I don’t see it.

33 Pleasant, 2005 construction and still being finished, is also asking $3.0 million. Nice house, loud highway. Hmmm.

31 Druid sold new for $2.4 million in September 2003 and was returned to the market May, 2007 for $3.625. I didn’t think that inflation had increased its value $1.225 in less than four years and I may have been right because it’s still for sale, now at $3.295. I admire the listing broker’s honesty in saying, ” MBR closet could serve as addt’l bedrm. Lower-level playrm has low ceiling” but the house across the street, brand new construction without those attributes, just sold for $500,000 less than this one is asking.  I see a 2003-era price in its future.

I don’t want to just pick on Riverside. For another client, I pulled the Greenwich listings for everything between $4.350 and $11.0 million. There are 135 houses available within those perameters and I wouldn’t recommend a single one at its current asking price. One house that started at $5.875 a long time ago has been marked down to $4.375 million and is still so far over market that it (almost) makes me cringe. I don’t know what some sellers are thinking, smoking or reading, but they are either going to have to adjust to reality or sit in their houses, for a long time.

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Hedge funds in Greenwich

We reported last week that at least one Antares tenant at 200 West Putnam Avenue was trying to sublease its 15,000 of new office space before it even moved in. Apparently that fund, Duff Capital Advisors, is not alone – it’s happening all over town. AQR Capital Management, is trying to dump 65,000 square feet right next door, at the old Chesebrough Ponds building on Benedict Place, also unfinished. A commercial broker quoted in Greenwich Time estimates that at least half of all Greenwich hedge funds will be trying to get out of their leases within the next six months.Trouble is, as I see it, if 70 -80% of our commercial office space is occupied by financial services firms that no longer can afford, don’t need or don’t want offices here, who will take their place? Maybe GM would like to leave Detroit and spread some of that stimulus money around here.

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Will the last capitalist please turn off the lights?

Retailers want a piece of the “stimulus” plan.

So do Realtors.

High speed trains

Home builders

And our financial industry, the car business, and everyone else who can think of some way to rip off other taxpayers. There’s talk that the stock market will come back this year and I hope it does, but nothing being proposed in Washington leads me to believe that will happen.

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“Domes Leak”

So summarized Stuart Brand in the last “Whole Earth Catalogue” published a decade after the hippies moved into the woods to build Bucky Domes and live with nature. His point: things aren’t as simple as they first appear. This sad discovery is being repeated today, with the acknowledgement that the sun doesn’t shine so brightly in winter, ice forms on wind turbines and snow falls on solar panels.

This time of year, wind turbine blades ice up, biodiesel congeals in tanks and solar panels produce less power because there is not as much sun. And perhaps most irritating to the people who own them, the panels become covered with snow, rendering them useless even in bright winter sunshine.

The beanie propeller crowd hasn’t caught on to this this yet, but they will – I hope.

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