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Private equity firm buying up residential real estate

1% rebate for Give to the Max Day glitch; differing theories on Owasso fish kill; Orchestra strategy analyzed; kitchen remodeling nightmare; 3M stock drop; and more.

Stealth investing … Annie Baxter at MPR reports: “As the year went on, [real estate agent Jim] Tice saw more bids from Invitation Homes — in the Twin Cities and its and suburbs. So far, the company has amassed 700 single-family homes in the area. Across the nation, the company has spent a staggering $7.5 billion to acquire 40,000 properties in 14 housing markets, making it the largest landlord of single-family houses in several cities. For anyone wondering where the money comes from, the answer is simple: Invitation Homes is backed by the Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm. Based in New York, it has a major ownership stake in big companies like Hilton Worldwide and the Weather Channel. Its ownership of Invitation Homes makes it a mega landlord. ‘We’re spending an enormous amount of capital and hiring a large amount of people in order to get this right,’ Jonathan Gray, head of global real estate at Blackstone, said in a promotional video.” Oddly, I don’t feel reassured.

1% rarely adds up to much … But the Strib’s Jean Hopfensperger says: “Minnesota nonprofits whose online fundraisers crashed on Give to the Max Day on Nov. 14 will get a 1 percentage point rebate on their credit card transaction fees from the company responsible for the technology mess. The online giving platform Razoo and its Razoo Foundation announced the rebate last week. Nonprofits welcomed, but didn’t go wild, over the move that reduces their transaction fees from 5 to 4 percent.”

Following up on the Lake Owasso fish kill … The AP says: “There’s no evidence of a chemical spill or toxins, and tests show that oxygen levels are normal, said Harland Hiemstra, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. … Hiemstra discounted speculation by some residents that herbicides used to kill aquatic weeds are to blame. He said the DNR doesn’t treat lakes for weeds, and while it issues permits for lakeshore property owners to do so in limited circumstances, the last treatments would have been in August.”

But then Doug Smith of the Strib reports: “The suspected killer is a rare but deadly quirk of nature: Too much oxygen in the water. ‘Usually lack of oxygen in winter causes fish kills,’ said Donn Schrader, Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist. ‘In this case it looks like the supersaturation of oxygen in the fish killed them. It’s kind of a freaky thing.’ He said the incident killed an unknown number of fish, but officials believe the event is over and the fishery — minus a bunch of fish — should recover. ‘Whatever happened, happened quickly and is past,’ he said.” So in other words … “Nothing to see here, folks, keep it moving.”

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Related … I think … Jon Collins at MPR says: “State officials are asking people to be cautious while venturing onto any lakes covered in ice, especially on lakes that have aeration systems. Marilyn Danks, an aquatic biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said aeration systems can cause currents that weaken ice. ‘The aeration system creates bubbles or movement in the water, currents, that then create a hole in the ice,’ Danks said. Aeration systems have been active in some state lakes for over two decades. Danks said they are to prevent fish die-offs from lack of oxygen.”

It’s a rarefied good read by John Halle in Jacobin (“a magazine of culture and polemic”). In a semiquaver, his argument is that our culture’s lack of patience and discipline to educate and support classical music is another sign of rot. Then he rolls in the Minnesota Orchestra fight: “[W]hat is by now an unshakeable faith in the transcendent wisdom of the marketplace not only justifies the withdrawal of elite support but demands it, based on the rationale that they should not ‘pick winners’ or ‘put their thumbs on the scale’ in so doing corrupting market mechanisms taken as omniscient arbiters of value. This is at least part of the logic according to which the head of the negotiating committee of the Minnesota Orchestra US Bancorp CEO Richard K. Davis  demands sharp wage and benefit reductions from the orchestra’s musicians. His own yearly compensation of $14.4 million could easily make up for the orchestra’s budget shortfall, by itself, as could a small fraction of the tax breaks, subsidies and bailouts gifted to Davis’s fellow board members over the past two decades. A philosophical commitment to austerity, albeit likely compounded by sheer avarice, dictates that any such exercises in generosity would be dismissed as counterproductive.  For Davis, fiscal sustainability is a prima facie indication of social and artistic merit.”

The GleanWhat a nightmare … Alejandra Matos of the Strib has a story about the contractor from hell: “Laura Guthery’s experience with a kitchen remodeler last summer was so ‘nightmarish’ that she felt it went beyond a contract dispute. So she reported it to both the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry and the Bloomington Police Department. Now the botched kitchen project in Guthery’s home has turned into a criminal charge against the remodeler, Mark M. Kotek. … Guthery said she realized she had hired the wrong person when Kotek would not answer her phone calls and a subcontractor put a lien on her house. She had sold all her kitchen appliances, and did not have a sink, because she thought the process would be done quickly. For months, she bought takeout and washed dishes in her bathtub.” I’m guessing his references didn’t pan out.

City Pages’ Aaron Rupar continues the story of MCTC professor Shannon Gibney and her not exactly velvet-glove touch for rooting out white bias: “After he read our post about the official reprimand professor Shannon Gibney received for controversial comments she made about white privilege during her Intro to Mass Communication course, a former MCTC student named Ryan got in touch to tell us about a similar incident involving Gibney that happened back in January 2009. At the time, Ryan (he asked us to withhold his last name) was an editor for City College News (CCN), MCTC’s student newspaper. Gibney was invited to speak during one of the paper’s editorial meetings. According to Ryan, she brought along students from a journalism class she was teaching. Gibney used the occasion to talk about structural racism and the role the media plays in perpetuating it. According to Ryan, she at one point singled out the white members of the editorial team and criticized them for not doing more to root out the bias implicit in the paper.”

3M doesn’t have the stock stick it used to have. At Barron’s, Teresa Rivas writes: “A downgrade knocked 3% off 3M’s stock price Monday morning. However, potential investors should wait for further weakness before buying. Morgan Stanley analyst Nigel Coe downgraded 3M (ticker: MMM) from Equal Weight to Underweight, reducing his target price by just $1, to $122, although he sees additional downside potential. Coe foresees a negative risk/reward skew in the next year, ‘since we see a combination of earnings-per-share underperformance and multiple compression through 2014, assuming better macro [conditions].’ ” Someone should do a bodice-ripper romance with a stock analysis-spouting heartthrob.