Audit Notes: Economic Headwinds, Refinancing, Google’s Dominance

Crain’s New York Business’s Aaron Elstein takes a good look anecdotes at the headwinds New York’s economy is facing from the growing financial crisis in Europe, the depressed U.S. economy. Businesses are becoming more risk-averse:

“In my 30 years of business, this is the second-worst business environment I’ve ever seen, after the fall of 2008 and early 2009,” said Allan Tepper, co-founder of CFO Consulting Partners, which advises manufacturers and distributors. “Frozen is the word that best describes things”…

It’s all been enough to spook recession-battered businesses and investors alike. In the past few weeks, Zynga, Groupon and Facebook have been forced to postpone their initial public offerings. Corporate merger activity declined by 18% last month, and more buyers are getting cold feet at the altar. Last week, Avis Budget abandoned its yearlong pursuit of Dollar Thrifty, citing market conditions, and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger called off his $170 million acquisition of the Clock Tower, the landmarked office building overlooking Madison Square Park that he had intended to convert into a luxury hotel and condominium.

There’s one bright spot, though:

High-end restaurants appear to be thriving still. Drew Nieporent, founder of Myriad Restaurant Group, which owns the Tribeca Grill, Nobu and others, insisted it’s “business as usual.”

— Steven Pearlstein flags an interesting stat to make an argument for why the government should make refinancing mortgages much easier:

Back in the recession that began in 2001, roughly 85 percent of households that were eligible to refinance their mortgages did so, with an average decline in interest rates of about 1.3 percentage points. That freed up about $67 billion each year in bond payments that could be spent on other things.

This time, only about 25 to 30 percent of mortgages has been refinanced, despite the lowest interest rates since the Great Depression. The average decline in rates on those refinanced loans has been less than half a percentage point, resulting in $45 billion in overall savings to borrowers.

The biggest reason for this refinancing gap was a decision by Fannie Mae in 2008 to increase the fees it charges to guarantee all new loans, including refinancings. The fee varies by borrower, but is particularly steep for those with low or middling credit scores, those with loans that are 90 to 125 percent of the current market value of the house and those living in areas where home prices declined the most.

Pearlstein says homeowners paying more than 5 percent interest right now would on average save $2,500 a month year by refinancing, injecting some $70 billion a year into the economy.

— Here’s another stat to note, this one from The New York Times’s curtain-raiser on upcoming antitrust hearings into Google’s dominance:

Its share of total online ad revenue in America, including spending on larger graphic and video ads, is 41 percent, followed by Yahoo with 11 percent, Facebook with 7 percent and Microsoft with 6 percent, according to eMarketer, a research firm.

Forty-one cents of every advertising dollar online goes to one company. Amazing.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,