Talking Numbers

What ritzy Manhattan real estate says about stocks

What ritzy Manhattan real estate says about stocks

The alreadyscorching-hot New York City real estate market surpassed its latest milestone this week, when news emerged that an apartment in Manhattan's posh Upper East Side neighborhood would go on sale for $130 million. That makes the triplex penthouse apartment, in a building yet to be built, the most expensive New York apartment listing ever.

For some, these types of milestones reflect the stimulative policies of the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve's easing measures have decreased interest rates and increased asset prices, which provides an even bigger boon to the wealthy and make borrowing money less onerous.

"Global QE [or "quantitative easing"] and the debasement of global currencies increases the demand for hard assets, and NYC real estate is an easy way to park a lot of money in a hard asset," Peter Boockvar of The Lindsey Group wrote to CNBC.

For longtime bears like Marc Faber, Manhattan real estate prices play into a case that stocks will crash.

Faber frequently makes the point that Manhattan real estate, alongside art and collectibles, has become much more expensive recently. For Faber, this isn't a consequence of the rise in stock and bond prices--it is a parallel move, driven by the Fed's easy-money policies. Manhattan real estate prices, then, indicate that stocks haven't risen thanks to improving economic fundamentals, but rather due to the policies of the U.S. central bank. As the Fed pulls back on these measures, stock prices are likely to collapse, Faber says (a view partially shared by Boockvar, if not in such overtly frightening terms).

But for Wei Min Tan, a buyer's broker at Charles Rutenberg, the view on the ground indicates something substantially different. He says home prices, including prices for Manhattan apartments, are actually not outlandish given levels of income.

"In the U.S., the average house costs about three times annual income. And I think that's very healthy. Because I think a bubble market would be something like Hong Kong, where the property prices are about 25 times the annual income," Tan said.

Additionally, he says we aren't seeing the irresponsible lending that was rampant in the recent housing bubble.

"Banks are not lending recklessly like they used to. So right now the buyers who are actually getting loans are those who can really afford to get the loans. So that's representative of good demand."

However, when it comes to Boockvar's point, he agrees "the global buyers are seeing Manhattan as a safe haven for their assets," which is creating "very strong demand."

Interestingly, while those buying real estate as an investment (which Tan estimates makes up about 30 percent of Manhattan buyers) are clearly having an impact on New York real estate, the broader housing trade has been a tough one. The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (ticker symbol: XHB), which comprises stocks levered to homebuilding, is down some 10 percent this year.

If there is a bubble in equities, then, housing stocks certainly aren't showing it. And if multimillion-dollar apartments become a bit less expensive--well, we can take comfort in knowing that their owners can probably afford the slip in prices.

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