Apr 16, 2021

Axios Closer


🔔 The dashboard: The S&P 500 closed up 0.4%.

  • Biggest gainer? Paint and coatings maker PPG Industries (+9%), after a strong earnings report. All those home renovations and DIY projects helped.
  • Biggest decliner? State Street (-7%), which did not get the same enthusiasm after its earnings report.

Today's newsletter is 743 words, or a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Dead malls get new life

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Malls are becoming ghosts of retail past. But the left-behind real estate is being reimagined for a post-pandemic world.

Why it matters: As many as 17% of malls in the U.S. "may no longer be viable as shopping centers and need to be redeveloped into other uses," per Barclays.

What's going on...

  • Amazon — a major contributor to the mall demise — is using old mall space for fulfillment centers, NBC News reported last week.
  • Part of a downtown shopping mall in Vermont is now home to a high school, the AP reported.
  • Fortnite creator Epic Games' global headquarters will be a North Carolina mall that was "close to total death," a local mayor told WRAL.

By the numbers: Regional mall vacancy rates hit a record 11.4% last quarter, per a Moody's report last week.

  • Vacancies have been rising for years. But that was the biggest-ever jump from a prior quarter (90 basis points).

Driving the news: Mall owner Simon Property Group releases earnings later this month after a hell year grappling with store closures and unpaid rent. All eyes are on now on occupancy.

  • Things are looking up as vaccinated and flush consumers return to stores, a fact that led an analyst to upgrade the stock today. But the long-term trend of more online shopping isn't working in their favor.

Where it stands: To survive, malls are bringing in tenants that aren’t traditional clothing stores, like gyms, bowling alleys or grocery stores.

  • The sprawling American Dream mall — complete with a water park and indoor skiing — is an extreme example. (Even there, things aren’t going so well.)

The bottom line: "There's tremendous turnover in mall real estate right now. We've known for years we just have too much out there," says Michael Brown, a partner at consultant firm Kearney.

2. Charted: America is building homes again
Data: Census Bureau via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Felix Salmon writes: America is finally starting to make a dent in its housing shortage, according to new figures released by the Census Bureau today.

Why it matters: When fewer than 1.5 million new homes are built in any given year, the national housing shortage only gets worse. In March, new houses started being built at an annualized rate of 1.74 million homes.

  • That's the highest number in 15 years.

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3. What’s moving

😱 Morgan Stanley says it logged almost $1 billion in losses thanks to a single client: Bill Hwang, whose family office imploded last month. (CNBC)

  • Yes, but: The bank still had a record-breaking quarter on the back of hot trading and dealmaking activity. The stock closed down 3%.

China's economy grew 18.3% from the prior year — a number that's really big because last year was so dismal. (CNN)

  • Compared to Q4, the economy grew 0.6% — the slowest since the recovery started.

👀 Charlotte officials considered financial incentives for Robinhood to expand to the city, Axios Charlotte scoops. ... PwC says it will spend $125 million on training and mentorship at HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions and community colleges. ... NASA picked Elon Musk's SpaceX to build spacecraft that would land astronauts on the moon.

4. New data on the Fed's diversity problem

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Federal Reserve's "overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male" problem goes beyond its top ranks to the boards that run its 12 regional banks, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

Why it matters: There's long been a lack of diversity among those that pick the policymakers that make crucial decisions about economic policy — and it's only recently started to improve.

By the numbers:

  • Women didn't make up 10% of Fed regional bank directors until the 1990s, the report finds. It hit 37% as of 2019.
  • As late as the end of the last decade, nonwhites represented less than 10% of total directors. It's hovered around 30% in 2019, per the report.
5. Why a hoagie shop has a hedge fund's attention

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Axios' Hope King writes: The value of a company that owns a single asset — a deli in New Jersey — is catching the eye of famed hedge fund manager (and Jersey-born) David Einhorn.

Details: Hometown's market cap topped $100 million, even though the deli rang up sales of less than $14,000 last year and less than $22,000 in 2019.

  • The largest shareholder is the CEO, CFO, treasurer and a director — and the wrestling coach of the high school half a mile away from the deli.

The bottom line: “The pastrami must be amazing,” Einhorn wrote. 

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6. What they’re saying
“Billy [McFarland] went to jail, ticket holders can get some money back, and some very entertaining documentaries were made. ... Now that’s justice.”
Ben Meiselas, a lawyer representing the Fyre Festival ticket holders that will get $7,220 each (pending approval) roughly four years after the uh ... disastrous event.

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