News

Landmark Links July 17th – Virtue Signaling

 

Lead Story…  If you were following the news last week, you may have noticed that WeWork, co-working’s $20 Billion behemoth, made an announcement that it will no longer let employees expense meals that include meat.  Via Time Magazine (emphasis mine):

The startup has told its 6,000 global staff that they will no longer be able to expense meals including meat, and that it won’t pay for any red meat, poultry or pork at WeWork events. In an email to employees this week outlining the new policy, co-founder Miguel McKelvey said the firm’s upcoming internal “Summer Camp” retreat would offer no meat options for attendees.

“New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact,” said McKelvey in the memo, “even more than switching to a hybrid car.”

Regular readers of Landmark Links know that I have a saying when it comes to vegans: a vegetarian is someone who eats a plant-based diet; a vegan is someone who tells you that you need to eat a plant based diet.  You will probably never find a better example of that truism than WeWork’s new policy.  My first response after reading this announcement was to chuckle that a company with such a massive valuation that is losing money hand over fist in one of the best office leasing markets in history was spending time on something this trivial.  After all, WeWork had to invent a Frankenstein accounting standard that they called “community adjusted Ebitda” which eliminated marketing and G&A costs in order to come up with a scenario under which it could turn a profit when it did a bond offering earlier this year.  If you think that a company that relies on short term leases to generate revenue will be able to substantially reduce it’s marketing budget as it grows, then I have some oceanfront land in Vegas to sell you.  Indeed, WeWork does face much larger issues than some of it’s 6,000 or so employees chowing down on a burger, steak or chicken thigh at a work-related event.  However, the more that I thought about this policy, the more that I came to the conclusion that the move probably won’t hurt WeWork and could even help them.

The first thing that you have to realize about WeWork is that it doesn’t see itself as a traditional real estate company.  In fact, one of the co-founders went so far as to describe the company as a “state of consciousness.”  I have no idea what the hell that actually means but judging from the valuation,it has to be worth at least a few billion dollars.  In justifying this allegedly higher plane of existence that exists beyond the normal real estate universe, the company has to take positions that appeal to it’s base of users: mainly tech startups and young, affluent millennials who are more prone to attach their work to some sort of assumed greater cause.  Ignore for a moment how hard this policy will be to actually enforce: for example: for example, how hard is it to find vegetarian cuisine in Shenzhen or Warsawm, both of which have WeWork locations?  Also, what happens if someone orders vegetables that happen to be cooked in bacon fat?  Does that count or not?  And I’d hate to be the poor sap in HR who has to review all of the the receipts to ensure that no one snuck a burger in there.  The reality is that this is much more about virtue signaling than actually taking environmental action and it will likely sell well with the intended audience.

If WeWork really intended to do something good for the environment they could limit themselves to leasing space in LEED certified buildings.  In turn, this would put put pressure on landlords to make energy efficient and environmentally friendly upgrades so as not to get blacklisted by one of largest tenants in the market.  However, that approach wouldn’t result in anywhere near the amount of free publicity that this does because the vast majority of the general public doesn’t even know what LEED is but pretty much everyone out there has an opinion on veganism in general and the act of billionaire founders forcing it on their employees in particular.  You can’t buy publicity like that if you’re trying to appeal to the “woke” millennial crowd – nor should you since your finance department has already said that the company will never turn a profit unless the marketing budget is eliminated altogether.  So yes, it’s a publicity stunt but it’s also one that is already having the desired impact of inserting the company into the national news cycle.  I may not be a fan of the business model in the long run but people who created a $20 billion business out of getting VC’s to subsidize beer for hipsters are far from dumb.

Economy

Offset: Despite some positive movement, wage gains are still largely being offset but price increases.

Muted: Inflation is still tame despite all of the rhetoric to the contrary.

Forever Behind: Part of the reason that the oil market is cyclical is that extraction tends to lag behind price substantially.

Commercial

Vanishing: The great New York City department store apocalypse is for real.

Hanging In There: Despite plans to replace it, LIBOR is still hanging around in a lot of newly-issued loan docs.

Residential

Held Back: Student loans, high rent and location preferences are among the largest impediments to Millennial home ownership.

Offset: The fact that housing has trailed the economic expansion could provide a tailwind as the market plays catch up to the broader economy.

Profiles

Late Entrant: Why Uber will eventually prevail in the scooter wars despite currently not having a market position.

Hold Out: The Blockbuster video in Bend, Oregon is the last one left in the US and the owner has no plans to close anytime soon.

Don’t Call it a Comeback: How Microsoft and CEO Staya Nadella won back Wall Street after years of stagnation.

Chart of the Day

Real Wages Have Stalled Out:

WTF

Panic Attack: A burglar in Vancouver got stuck in an escape room when he tried to rob a local business and had to call 911 in order to get out.

Round Trip: A man was sent back to jail after refusing to pay for his cab ride home after his release from said jail because Florida.

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