Daily Archives: February 26, 2009

Good bye, RBS

Royal Bank of Scotland reports largest corporate loss in British history, plans to give British taxpayers parting gift of $466 billion of now-worthless assets. What’s going to happen to their unfinished headquarters in Stamford, eh?

The bank, which is already 70 percent owned by the government, said it would dump £325 billion ($466 billion) of mainly toxic assets into the program, a step that could raise the state’s stake to 95 percent.

RBS posted a net loss of £24.1 billion for the year, attributable mainly to its purchase of the Dutch bank ABN Amro. The bank had a profit of £7.3 billion a year earlier. The loss was smaller than analysts had expected, but it stunned many Britons as a record-setting benchmark of corporate disaster.

But the increased stake and the guarantee of billions in assets at RBS prompted renewed calls from some investors to fully nationalize the bank.

“The current model is pointless,” said Neil Dwane, chief investment officer for Europe at RCM. “Semi-nationalization continues to run the risks that moral hazard, political interference and incorrect incentives will all prolong the establishment of a satisfactory solution.”

Under the agreement, which is similar to plans that create so-called bad banks, RBS said it would move the illiquid assets, mainly from its global markets division, into a separate unit backed by taxpayers. It will also commit to increase lending and plans to sell or dispose of the assets in the next three to five years.

But many Britons, shocked at the size of the losses, also registered bewilderment that Mr. Hester’s predecessor, Fred Goodwin, was drawing a pension of £650,000 a year. The government hinted Thursday that Mr. Goodwin should forgo part of it. Philip Hampton, the chairman of RBS, said he asked Mr. Goodwin a few weeks ago to voluntarily reduce his pension payments but received no answer.

There’s probably  no telephone service on Mustique.


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They’ve banned light bulbs and coal – now they want us to wipe our asses with pine cones

The holy roller church of global warming and human starvation has a new target: toilet paper. Unlike our Arab neighbors, Americans use paper instead of their left hand to clean their bottoms and the eco-freaks have just discovered that paper comes from trees! That’s right, those warm, fuzzy tall things that provide shelter to spotted owls and nesting protestors are being cut down for human comfort. Can’t have that, so let’s just stop it, right now!

A few things that the eco-freaks don’t know, or ignore: paper is made from cultivated trees. “Virgin timber”, which they claim is being chopped up into little rolls of tp is far too valuable to waste on such a low-cost product; trees are harvested by human beings, who live on what they earn and support families and small rural towns with those earnings. When you shut down logging, you shut down rural America. The eco-freaks have mostly accomplished this in northern California and would have succeeded completely if the nearly-depopulated Humbolt County hadn’t become the largest pot growing area in America. The eco-freaks see nothing wrong with that transformation, others might.

But the eco-freaks hate humans and civilization so these arguments won’t sway them, any more than the idea of using sand, sticks and dirt to clean up with will dissuade them. We’re supposed to die off and bring Eden back with our demise; if we’re uncomfortable while waiting for that terminal flush, so much the better.

This is all getting more interesting by the day.


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Nifty story – warning – nothing to do with (modern) real estate

13,000 year-old-stone tool cache found in Boulder, Colorado.

Stone tools found in Boulder, Colorado were used to butcher camels and horses 13,000 years ago, before the beasts became extinct in the region.

The Clovis culture is believed by many archaeologists to coincide with the time the first Americans arrived on the continent from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge, about 13,000 to 13,500 years ago, Bamforth said.

Big American beasts 

Dozens of species of North American mammals went extinct by the end of the Pleistocene, including American camels, American horses, woolly mammoth, saber-toothed cats, woolly rhinos and giant ground sloths. While some scientists speculate ice-age mammals disappeared as a result of overhunting, climate change or even catastrophic comet impact, the reasons are still unresolved, in Bamforth view.

 The Mahaffy Cache, named for the owner of the property on which it was found, consists of 83 stone implements ranging from salad plate-sized, elegantly crafted bifacial knives and a unique tool resembling a double-bitted axe to small blades and flint scraps. Discovered in May 2008 by Brant Turney – head of a landscaping crew working on the Mahaffy property – the cache was unearthed with a shovel under about 18 inches of soil and was packed tightly into a hole about the size of a large shoebox. It appeared to have been untouched for thousands of years, Bamforth said.

 The site appears to be on the edge of an ancient drainage that ran northeast from Boulder’s foothills, said Bamforth. Climatic evidence indicates the Boulder area was cooler and wetter in the late Pleistocene and receding glaciers would have been prominent along the Front Range of Colorado, he said.

 “The idea that these Clovis-age tools essentially fell out of someone’s yard in Boulder is astonishing,” he said. “But the evidence I’ve seen gives me no reason to believe the cache has been disturbed since the items were placed there for storage about 13,000 years ago.”

 All 83 artifacts were shipped to the anthropology Professor Robert Yohe of the Laboratory of Archaeological Science at California State, Bakersfield for protein residue tests that were funded by Mahaffy. The protein residue on the artifacts was tested against various animal anti-sera, a procedure similar to standard allergy tests and which can narrow positive reactions down to specific mammalian families, but not to genera or species.

 “I was somewhat surprised to find mammal protein residues on these tools, in part because we initially suspected that the Mahaffy Cache might be ritualistic rather than a utilitarian,” said anthropology Yohe said. “There are so few Clovis-age tool caches that have been discovered that we really don’t know very much about them.”

 About the people

 The artifacts were buried in a coarse, sandy sediment overlain by dark, clay-like soil and appear to have been cached on the edge of an ancient stream.

 “It looks like someone gathered together some of their most spectacular tools and other ordinary scraps of potentially useful material and stuck them all into a small hole in the ground, fully expecting to come back at a later date and retrieve them,” Bamforth said.

One of the tools, a stunning, oval-shaped bifacial knife that had been sharpened all the way around, is almost exactly the same shape, size and width of an obsidian knife found in a Clovis cache known as the Fenn Cache from south of Yellowstone National Park, said Bamforth. “Except for the raw material, they are almost identical,” he said. “I wouldn’t stake my reputation on it, but I could almost imagine the same person making both tools.”

 “There is a magic to these artifacts,” said Mahaffy, the landowner. “One of the things you don’t get from just looking at them is how incredible they feel in your hand –they are almost ergonomically perfect and you can feel how they were used. It is a wonderful connection to the people who shared this same land a long, long time ago.”

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A contract, in just 120 days

6 Wyngate Rd

6 Wyngate Rd

Nice house, under contract as of today. Sellers paid $2.3 million for it in March 2004 and listed it for $2.595 when placing it back for sale last year. I hope they made money on their deal but I’m just delighted to see any sign of life in this market.


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Alright you financial wizards

This chart shows long term Treasury bonds outperforming the S&P by a huge margin for decades. Given the inflation headed our way, do long terms make sense or will stocks do better? Inquiring idiots want to know.


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NYC bloggers ruin real estate market

Stung by news that real estate prices are dropping, NYC buyers are walking away from six-figure deposits. “It’s not true,” New York realtor Mortimer Duke wailed, “it’s just not true. Turn those machines back on! Turn them on!”

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So this is what my fellow realtors have been eating

I thought I’d check up on the current rental situation. We have 441 rentals (condos, co-ops, single family) on the market, ranging from $950 to $55,000 a month for a beautiful house at 414 Round Hill Road. In the past 90 days 152 have rented, with a price range of $1,200 (acc. apt. on Huckleberry Road, off of Cherry Valley) to $20,000 (601 Lake, that brick Gorgian spec house). Considering that many more units must go via Craig’s list, this activity is much more robust than our sales. Lots of price reductions, though.

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It’s come to this

Susie Costaregni’s gossip column is returning to Greenwich Time, beginning on Sunday (or maybe a future Sunday – I don’t recall). My life was not diminished when she left the Post and I no longer knew where Regis was dining (okay, it was always at that place on the Old Greenwich/Riverside line with the murderous Albanian chef, but suppose he changed his mind one night and went to, say, That Little Thai Kitchen?) but I’m delighted to see a writer find work at a newspaper these days. It’s been quite the other way around for too long. So congratulations, Susie, and keep an eye out for Frank and that convertible.

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Reader Poll


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Greenwich sales inventory

We currently have 603 single family homes for sale, (compared to 505 this time last year). With 31 sales/contracts in the past 90 days, that’s a 58 month inventory.

We have 100 homes for sale that were built in 2007 or later – three went to contract in the past 90 days. I’ll let readers do the math on this one (hint, that would be one per month).


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Obama pushes middle class to the right

He’s not going to be able to achieve what he wants without savaging the middle class – sorry, pal, but the rich aren’t rich enough to fund your dreams.


President Obama has laid out the most ambitious and expensive domestic agenda since LBJ, and now all he has to do is figure out how to pay for it. On Tuesday, he left the impression that we need merely end “tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans,” and he promised that households earning less than $250,000 won’t see their taxes increased by “one single dime.”

This is going to be some trick. Even the most basic inspection of the IRS income tax statistics shows that raising taxes on the salaries, dividends and capital gains of those making more than $250,000 can’t possibly raise enough revenue to fund Mr. Obama’s new spending ambitions.


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Bloggers unite!

Bloggers and unions combine forces to push Demmerkrats (further) left. Let’s push back, eh?

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The debate is over!

In Japan, at least – their scientists comparing global warming “science” to astrology.  For the 70% of Americans who read their horoscope, that’s not particularly damning but among scientists, it’s a harsh bud, dude.

To summarize the discussion so far, compared to accurately predicting solar eclipses by celestial mechanics theoretical models, climate models are still in the phase of reliance on trial and error experiential models. There are still no successful precedents. The significance of this is that climate change theory is still dominated by anthropogenic greenhouse gas causation; the IPCC 4th Evaluation Report’s conclusion that from now on atmospheric temperatures are likely to continuously, monotonously increase, should be perceived as an unprovable hypothesis; it will be necessary investigate further and to evaluate future predictions as subject to natural variability. ®

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More on Manhattan Real Estate and the coming implosion

And all with n’ary a mention in this blog! 

The commentators seem to share the sentiments of many of this blog’s readers, though.

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25% off – “Looking better, Billy Ray”

6 Loading Rock

6 Loading Rock

I liked this house, but not its price, when it came on a year ago at $3.695 million. It’s down now to $2.795 and is looking better. Nice neighborhood beach on the Mianus right across the street, good details inside. Amazing what a $900,000 shaving job will do to one’s appearance.


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No wonder papers are getting thinner

From Greenwich-Post’s “Off the Market” section:

Feb. 10 to Feb. 19
Thursday, February 26, 2009
There were no property transfers recorded in the office of the Assessor between Feb. 10 and Feb. 19.

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Stay where you are and sell your house?

That’s what elderly Italians are doing. Strangers buy the house and let the oldster stay in it until she dies. Ages are disclosed so I suppose it must be a rather ghoulish buying decision: “Let’s see, an 89- year old widow – how long can she last? But here’s a 74 year old guy with colorectal cancer – what stage is it, do you suppose?”

Before you investors get too excited about this, remember the example from Paris, where this practice has been going on for decades. A woman sold her apartment to some guy just after WWII and proceeded to become the longest-living woman in France. I believe the long-deceased buyer’s grandchildren finally got possession around 2001.

Update: here’s the actual story – my memory was more or less accurate.

France’s Jeanne Calment, world’s oldest woman, dead at 121

ARLES, France (AP) – She took up fencing at 85, and still rode a bicycle at 100. She liked her port wine, her olive oil, her chocolate and her cigarettes, and she released a rap CD at 121.

No wonder Jeanne Calment, at 122 the world’s oldest person until her death Monday, said she was ”never bored.”

She lived through France’s Third and Fourth Republics, and into its Fifth. She was 14 when the Eiffel Tower was completed in 1889.

Born Feb. 21, 1875, Mrs. Calment eventually became the greatest attraction in the southern city of Arles since Vincent Van Gogh, who spent a year there in 1888. She met him that year when he came to her uncle’s shop to buy paints, and later remembered him as ”dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable.”

For Mrs. Calment, the keys to long life were olive oil and port wine. She gave up cigarettes in 1995, and her doctor said her abstinence was due to pride rather than health – she was too blind to light up herself, and hated asking others to do it for her.

Mrs. Calment had no direct descendants, having survived her husband, her daughter and grandson.

In her later years, she lived mostly off the income from her apartment, which she sold cheaply more than 30 years ago to a lawyer, Andre-Francois Raffray.

He had agreed to make monthly payments on the apartment in exchange for taking possession when she died, but never got to do so. He died more than a year ago at 77; his family was required to keep making the payments.

Just the same, his widow, Huguette, said Monday she was saddened by Mrs. Calment’s death.

”She was a personality,” she told France Info radio. ”My husband had very good relations with Mrs. Calment.”

The Guinness Book of World Records had listed Mrs. Calment as the oldest living person whose birth date could be authenticated by reliable records.

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the Noel family and its connection to the Douglass family?

A magazine writer has written requesting any information I have on this – I have nothing – as I recall, someone posted about the connection so I put it up on the board. If you have details, and care to email them to me (christopher.fountain@gmail.com) I’ll pass them on. The writer requested anonymity.



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Banks lied, markets died

Or something. It’s that time of year again where banks have to come clean, a little, about what’s on their books. It’s not pretty. If I understand it, and I don’t, banks are allowed to keep bad loans on their books at an inflated value so long as they don’t actively try to sell them. Hence, zombie banks. So that mortgage on a spec house can still be carried at $6 million, unless the bank offers to unload it at present value – say, $2.5 million. What happens when this gauze is ripped off and the true value of the putrid, rotting mess is revealed? Nothing good, that’s for sure.


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Here’s something to take your mind off Greenwich real estate prices

The world’s running out of water. Or water where it’s wanted, anyway. This is, of course, old news. Folks have been warning about the draining of the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies a huge area of our western states with water, for decades, and California’s been in trouble since forever.

I suppose that global warming may save us, by drowning California’s coastal cities and forcing the few residents remaining after the legislature finishes bankrupting the state to new, wetter areas of the country. Or those ice floes Al Gore’s so worried about may drift down to Wisconsin, melt and recreate the old inland sea.

But still, stocking up on bottled water will take your mind off the $700,000 decline in your home’s value, so why not head over to Food Mart now? Jerry Poricelli will be glad you did.


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