Summit Notebook

Exclusive outtakes from industry leaders

Living wages at Xanadu Meadowlands? Think again, New Jersey

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dollarDo not expect the developer that’s working on the massive Meadowlands shopping and entertainment complex in northern New Jersey to compel its tenants to pay their workers a living wage. Related Companies, the New York-based real estate developer behind the project, said on Tuesday that it would be a deal breaker.

We talked to Stephen Ross, Related’s founder, chairman and CEO at our Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit, and after a while, talk turned to the stalled project, slated to open in 2011, four years after the 2007 planned opening date. Among other things, we learned that the name “Xanadu” isn’t happening anymore. Related, which took over the project after a bunch of lenders dropped out, has a list of other names, but wouldn’t share them with us.

The most interesting thing that I heard is that Related would not force stores at the complex, located in East Rutherford, N.J., by Giants Stadium, to pay living wages to their employees. While a minimum wage is the lowest hourly, daily or monthly wage that employers must pay, a living wage is what is considered the lowest amount of money that someone requires to pay for shelter, clothing and other basic needs. Here’s what Ross (incidentally, the 95 percent owner of the Miami Dolphins football team) said about that:

That would be a deal breaker for any retail development. … People earn tips. The large retail tenants have a different wage scale that they pay. I think the most important thing today is creating jobs.

‘Take Me out to the Racetrack?’

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PreaknessThe bulk of our conversations at the Reuters Global Real Estate and Infrastructure Summit deal with, well, real estate and infrastructure. On Tuesday, however, we got onto the subject of horse racing. Our guest was Gregory Cross, a lawyer at Venable LLP. He is the head of Venable’s bankruptcy practice and represented the state of Maryland, a creditor of Magna Entertainment Corp, which runs the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and its famous Preakness Stakes horse race and filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

We asked Cross what could help ailing racetracks improve their financial performance. His answer? A little less Damon Runyon and Dick Francis, and a little more Black Stallion and National Velvet — crossed with Field of Dreams.

LeFrak: We’ve been bunting for years

LeFrakWatch out for Richard LeFrak when he’s at bat and you’re in the outfield. He has a tendency to bunt.

This is a funny baseball technique to use when most executives spend their time trying their best to hit home runs, but LeFrak Organization‘s chairman, president and CEO says it’s worked for his real estate empire, so there’s no need to stop now. When we asked him at our Reuters Global Real Estate Summit why his company didn’t borrow a ton of money during the real estate boom, he said:

That’s rich. I meant the wine.

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Jeffrey Rubin

What do gold and wine have in common?

Price.

Well, too high of a high price, according to Jeffrey Rubin, director of research at Birinyi Associates, the stock market research and money management firm.

Rubin told the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit on Tuesday that he thought gold prices were “certainly a little frothy” at current levels and that he would rather be a buyer of the gold miners such as Newmont Mining Corp, Barrick Gold Corp, or Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc. Gold hit an all-time high  above $1,250 an ounce on Tuesday as investors piled in due to fears that European credit contagion could lead to a double-dip recession.

Q+A: Maria Fiorini Ramirez

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I sat down with Maria Fiorini Ramirez today after she joined us at the Reuters Investment Outlook Summit and asked her about starting her own company — the global economic consulting firm Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc — her advice for young entrepreneurs, and if women can balance a successful work and home life.

Where you were you born?
Naples, Italy

When did you come to the U.S?
1960. To East New York.

Did you go to high school there?
Yes, St. Michael’s. An all girl’s Catholic school.

Ritholtz: I zig when everybody zags

INVESTMENT-SUMMIT/RITHOLTZ

The U.S. economy is experiencing an ongoing but slow recovery, says Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research at Fusion IQ. But that’s not stopping him from enjoying discounted prices in a low-inflation environment, at least when it comes to his personal spending habits. The world is on sale if you’ve got the money to spend, he told the Reuters Investment Outlook summit in New York when asked, for example, if he might spend less while on a vacation or forego a purchase or two.

“I am an enormous counter-cyclical spender. At the top of the bull market I don’t want to buy anything. I am a seller into a bull market. We have been buying a ton of stuff over the past year. We got two new cars long before the May…. so we picked up two new cars. We’re doing work on the house. We’re adding a kitchen. I got my wife a very lovely birthday gift. She got me a very lovely birthday gift. We’ve been buying artwork. We’ve buying jewelry. I love to buy stuff when it is on sale. I hate to buy top dollar for it.

from Shop Talk:

Check Out Line: Luxury chains facing dilemmas

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BOELNCheck out the challenges before the luxury sector:

Many fancy European companies like Valentino have widened their entry-level offerings to lure more shoppers, given how edgy the global economy remains.  This could be shortsighted, experts said this week at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in Paris, New York, Dubai and London.

For instance, Valentino's 300 euro T-shirts are dubbed "Couture T-shirts" a term some in the industry view as an oxymoron and could harm the cachet so essential to luxury's appeal.

from DealZone:

Markdown poster child: I’d do it again

With the luxury of hindsight, Saks Chief Executive Stephen Sadove said he wouldn't hesitate to repeat the big markdowns of the 2008 holiday season if faced with the same tough environment that made the retailer the poster child of recessionary sales.

"It was the right thing to do to generate the cash," Sadove said at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in New York.

from Shop Talk:

Check Out Line: Cautious notes hit by top luxury execs

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bulgari1Check out the cautious notes being sounded in the global luxury market.

Industry executives voiced concerns about everything from unemployment to Europe's brewing economic crisis, but are nonetheless banking on growth from China and a recovering U.S. market.

Leading officials speaking at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit said the debt crisis in Europe is threatening to halt luxury's rebound, but demand for fine merchandise was picking up in the United States while China's shoppers were venturing frequently into Tokyo for top brands.

from Shop Talk:

The Uneducable American Male

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Coach's Lew Frankfort has given up trying to teach American men about fashion, but he still sees opportunity for expanding sales to a male clientele. 
     
"I believe the American male is largely uneducable," Coach Chairman and CEO Frankfort said at the Reuters Global Luxury Summit in New York. 
     
"We need to focus on the segment of males that have real discerning taste. But I can also say that even the undiscerning American male is a smart consumer: that person is looking for a product that is durable, that is classic, that can stand the test of time and that's what our products do," Frankfort said. 
     
Sales of Coach's man-bags, wallets and other accessories represent 5 percent of its total take, and that is one area where the company is trying to build growth. At a test store for men only, on Bleecker Street in Manhattan, it has seen sales results run at about triple its own expectations, Frankfort said.
     
"There's a lot of appetite among the discerning male for quality accessories made out of excellent materials that are stylish. ...  In North America, the male consumer remains heavily utilitarian-driven, replacement-oriented, value-based. There are discerning males in Boise, Idaho. I don't mean to suggest there aren't." 

(Photo of Frankfort/Reuters)

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