Thursday, August 23, 2007

Skyline - Retail Deposit Tracking

It's been some time since a news update on Boomerang - in the past month we have been working on several new ideas. The most compelling is solving a long standing mystery in the banking industry. One significant business for a bank is supporting a retail customer - such as your local grocery store or the Home Depot. These customers need to deposit large amounts of cash and checks during the course of the business day. These deposits are usually picked up by an armored carrier such as Brinks or AT Systems, and carried to a central deposit processing center where the bags of money are opened, counted and credited to the merchant's account. This has been going on for decades and generally works fairly well.

One of the business patterns that crop up (and usually end up getting us involved) is that long standing patterns become less acceptable as customer expectations change. In this case there was a surprising lack of information about the status of these deposits as they were transported and processed. The customers were asking, rightly so, I can send a pencil to our offices in Tampa and know within a minute or so every step it takes along the route via Fedex, why is it my $200,000.00 deposit can't have the same?

Enter a new system we have given the working name Skyline. Content based integration is all about being able to transform enterprise data and raw resources into tagged and attributed content in XML and RSS. This content can be syndicated to multiple consumers, including other applications, where it can be combined with other content and used to create a composite application. In this case we are building Feedlets (tiny content producing engines) on top of the transport systems for the armored carriers, then syndicating the deposit transport status to the banks. The banks can fetch this information via a secure channel (these are high value bank deposits after all!). Inside the deposit processing center, other Feedlets tap into the data from the systems that track the deposit bags in the vault and monitor each stage of the deposit processing workflow. The end result is merged (Mashed up in the classical term) to produce web content that is viewed through the bank's customer facing portal.

Suddenly, the bank's customers have Fedex style tracking of their deposits from the time they are picked up by the armored car to the time they are processed and credited. It all shows up transparently in the bank's portal, and the net result is the customers are happier and the bank's customer service team has a significant reduction in calls from retailers wanting to know where their bags of money for deposit are.

Like all good Boomerang applications, there are multiple ways that the content can be combined and correlated - and we end up with multiple views of this information. Below is a screen shot of the "command center" application that the bank's product managers can use to monitor the entire deposit system at a enterprise, regional and district level.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

2 Million Single Family Homes... And Counting

Well it was bound to happen. Hardtack passed 2 million single family homes on the market this afternoon pacific time. For a while we were certain it would happen towards the end of June, but there was a significant and broad based reduction in MLS inventory at the end of June. For a while we figured it was another of our disappointing "data anomalies" (see posting about Washington DC), but it was broad based decline across multiple areas.

Since then, inventory counts have been rebuilding, with a few areas still doing strange things (Seattle is a great example).

Please note, this is not the end all-be all tally of home inventory. Hardtack does not track every market, only the 300 largest. To be certain the amount of inventory up for sale right now is truly staggering, and represent a real threat to the near term financial health of this country.

Whichever way it works out, Hardtack will continue to provide transparent statistics and information on this crucial part of our economy.

Monday, July 9, 2007

More Plugs for Hardtack

We've received a couple great plugs for Hardtack recently. Make sure and check out these sites:

  • Housing Intelligence
  • California Housing Forecast

    This site is also good for some laughs: Housing-Crash. It is especially interesting to us since it is focused on our hometown area of San Diego.

  • Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Foreclosures Surge – Hardtack Relation

    May saw a record number of foreclosures in the US, up nearly 90% from the same month in 2006.

    There were 176,137 notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions last month, led by California, Florida and Ohio, the Irvine ...

    "Such strong activity in the midst of the typical spring buying season could foreshadow even higher foreclosure levels later in the year," [James Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac] said in the report. That will add "to the downward pressure on home prices in many areas."

    At present Hardtack is showing inventory (under track) at 1,939,682 units. To put that another way, nearly 10% of everything you see on the market is under foreclosure. Not all of those are in the MLS, some of them have already dropped off and are in the process of becoming REO (Real Estate Owned). This means we should be seeing increasing inventory again in a few month. I find it tough to imagine the overhang would be even larger soon.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Washington DC - Bucking The Trend Or Just Bucked Up?

    So if you are watching Hardtack, you can't help but notice something odd in Washington DC. Specifically we suddenly had about 7,000 single family homes disappear from the MLS. This has made for a huge dip in the inventory numbers and a skew in all other statistics that depend on it. What is going on?

    First of all, the chances that this is an actual sale of that many properties in a single week is near zero. Now it could happen, but chances are very very slim. It would mean a massive surge of buying north of 1,000 houses a day in the DC area. More likely causes would be:

    1) Some of the inventory was never there. The MLS's had some properties that were taken off the market without selling, but stayed in the MLS until the performed a massive purge, and the inventory numbers we have now reflect the actual reality.

    2) The MLS's have changed zip codes. The US Census bureau and the Postal guys are constantly adding new zip codes to better deal with statistical sampling and mail handling. A high population zip code that we were tracking may have been split in two, with a new zip code we are not tracking. This could also explain the drop.

    3) Bug in Hardtack. We are pretty sure we did not introduce any bugs in the data miners, but it is possible.

    In short, we see it - it worries us, we are looking into what really happened and how to fix it. It may happen to other regions as well before long. We sure hope not

    Sunday, June 3, 2007

    Flash 9 installation on Mac OS X

    In my one year of using a Mac I have never had any problems doing an installation, or doing anything for that matter. Nothing, that is, until I tried to upgrade to version 9 of Adobe's Flash player.

    I finally found a workaround here.

    Friday, June 1, 2007

    Pending Home Sales Number - Inventory Correlation

    The National Association of Realtors reported pending home resales today.

    The index of signed purchase agreements, or pending home resales, fell 3.2 percent to 101.4, the lowest since February 2003, after a revised 4.5 percent decline in March, the National Association of Realtors said today in Washington.

    Rising mortgage defaults are putting more houses back on the market and prompting banks to tighten lending standards, making home purchases less affordable. Federal Reserve policy makers are forecasting that the glut of unsold homes will probably prolong the housing slump, already the deepest in a decade and a half.

    ``We've still got a very big overhang of home inventory,'' said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at Global Insight Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts. ``A housing recovery won't happen this year.''

    This helps to account for the large and growing inventory numbers Hardtack is showing, as of June 1st we are up to:

    Single Family: 1,928,568
    Multi Family: 125,144
    Condo: 525,762
    Land: 513,773