April 26, 2006

‘It’s The Law Of Gravity’ For The Massachusetts Bubble

The Massachusetts press reacts to the March housing numbers. “Were single family home sales up or down in Massachusetts last month? That depends on who is tracking sales. According to figures released yesterday by The Warren Group of Boston, sales of detached single-family homes in Massachusetts dropped 1.5 percent last month compared with March 2005.”

“The Massachusetts Association of Realtors showed single-family home sales up 2 percent over March 2005. Both organizations showed a decline in the median sales prices of single-family homes, though the respective prices differed.”

“Warren Group CEO Timothy M. Warren Jr. said his organization’s figures are taken from the sales logged in the county registries of deeds. He downplayed the difference in numbers, saying that they show the same general trends. ‘There’s virtually no difference between what they’re showing and what we’re showing,’ he said. It was a matter of the decadelong housing boom slowing down.”

“‘I think it’s the law of gravity,’ he said. ‘Sales volumes are down after a tremendous run. Home prices have gone up since the middle 1990s every year. What goes up must come down, eventually. It’s a leveling of the market, or what Wall Street calls a correction.’”

“Experts attribute some of the market’s improvement to mild weather in January, when many buyers who closed on homes in March initially went house shopping. ‘I think this is kind of an echo effect of the warm January we had, which brought a lot of people out looking at homes,’ said John Bitner, chief economist at Boston-based Eastern Bank. ‘I think (gains) aren’t as strong as they appear.’”

“For instance, median house-sale prices actually fell last month to $344,000. That’s off 1.7 percent from March 2005 and 8.3 percent from a $375,000 peak recorded in July.”

“‘Inventory is at record highs, so buyers are taking their time,’ said David Wluka, president of the MAR. ‘They can pick among several houses so they don’t feel the pressure.’”

“The housing market in Massachusetts ’simply isn’t as strong as it is in other states,’ said (economist) Patrick Newport. ‘People are leaving for other states, and there’s less demand for housing than there is in the rest of the country,’ he said.”

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Comment by fishbones
2006-04-26 05:47:17

It’s a leveling of the market, or what Wall Street calls a correction.

Is this the first time someone in a major media outlet has used the “c” word?

Comment by grim
2006-04-26 05:51:02

I always thought the word correction had a postive connotation associated with it.

Comment by John in VA
2006-04-26 06:00:58

People still can’t avoid playing semantic games. Since when is a “leveling” the same thing as a “correction” on Wall Street?

Comment by Rainman18
2006-04-26 07:58:10

It’s the same thing as companies who used to say “We’re down sizing”, which sounded negitive. Now they say “We’re right siziing”, which still means you’re getting canned but hey, don’t you feel better about it since we put it like that?

Anybody associated with the RE industry choose their words and phrases with deadly consideration.

Comment by Craven Moorehead
2006-04-26 05:49:03

I’m on the North Shore. Inventory in my city has been increasing. The only thing that seems to move are homes under $350,000 and there are not many of those. It’s the people listing in the $400,000-$500,000 range that appear to be getting killed. The stuff is just piling up. Someone yesterday mentioned how Massachusetts sellers are completely disconnected from reality. That is dead-on. I track ridiculously overpriced trash on the MLS and it’s all sitting there rotting. The trend towards MLS rot really started to take off in mid-March. There are price reductions everywhere but it doesn’t matter; it still doesn’t sell. Unlist-relist shenanigans abound to hide DOM. Hey dummies: drop the pig a hundred large and get the F out while you can. Greed, indeed.

Comment by pinch a penny
2006-04-26 06:46:21

That is the first stage, as those overpriced 400 to 500K houses correct back to around 300. Those that are 300 now will feel the pressure of much nicer houses, and will have to drop to 200, and so on and so forth, until the 400K to 500K are back to their original 200K price of 1999.
If you have bought in the last 2 years, you better pray that you have a stable income, and that you can wait 10 years to sell… meanwhile my ING CD’s are doing 5%.

Comment by eastcoaster
2006-04-26 07:19:45

This is the scenario I’d like to see played out. Though I’m still nervously skeptical…

Comment by Drop the bubble
2006-04-26 07:34:26

I couldn’t agree more. Why do people still think real estate is a good investment when the risk free rate is around 5%? It’s amaizing how many people will still buy today without doing any due dilligence. They follow the sheeple and beleive they can still make a profit.

Comment by Nikki
2006-04-26 10:42:08

Hey, we’re on the same track as you guys down here in Balto. I too am tracking overpriced crap that’s been sitting on the market since Jan, but the difference is that any price drops are token, really, like $5K. Sellers of existing homes just have this amazing sense of entitlement to “their” price. I really think it will take the headline of something like “Home price declines becoming widespread in bubble-prone metro areas.”, but you know if that actually happens, then the sh*t really has hit the fan. My favorite is one that went from $389,900K to $389,000. Yeah, that $900 is what was keeping buyers away…

Comment by krazy_canuck
2006-04-26 05:53:05
Comment by crispy&cole
2006-04-26 05:57:32

New home sales up huge - UGH!

Comment by Polestar
2006-04-26 06:02:32

yet again the conflicting information!

From Marketwatch:
“U.S. March new home sales price falls 2.2%”
“U.S. March home sales stronger than 1.10 million expected”
“U.S. March new home sales up stunning 13.8%”

We may not be confused, but the average person thinking of buying a house must be holding his head to stop it from spinning. That’s ok. I’m sure the realtor will interpret the data for him.

Comment by Bubbly in the South Bay
2006-04-26 08:44:20

That information is not conflicting, those metrics measure different things.

“U.S. March new home sales price falls 2.2%”

This means the new home sales price fell by 2.2%. It does not immediately tell us whether it is the mean or median, or the absolute level of the price.

“U.S. March home sales stronger than 1.10 million expected”

That is true, but it does not tell us who “expected” the levels to be at 1.10 million. I know that it was economists, but I’m not sure who these economists were or what assumptions they were basing their expectations on.

“U.S. March new home sales up stunning 13.8%”

I may take issue with the use of the adjective “stunning,” but the fact that new home sales were up by this amount is true. Again, we need to know the absolute levels as well. Was February unusually low, again, the headline doesn’t tell us.

This is more of a cautionary tale about how misleading true headlines can be based on the information they include or omit.

Comment by Polestar
2006-04-26 12:31:17

Exactly my point

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Comment by Ben Jones
2006-04-26 06:13:36

I’m just waiting on the Commerce department to put out the report. Prices still falling and sales below starts by several hundred thousand.

Comment by cabinbound
2006-04-26 06:20:40

The New Home Sales number is obviously faked today.

We are to believe, based on yesterday’s professed reaction to the Existing Home Sales rise of 0.3% (statistical noise!), that a rise in home sales means further Fed interest rate hikes, higher 10-year bond yields, etc.

So today the 10-year treasury bond spiked from 5.095% to a full 5.12% instantly on this news. That’s how the script is supposed to play out. But that lasted all of ten minutes, and now it’s at 5.08%.

The homebuilder stocks continue to creep upwards however. They will probably creep up all the way to the close. And in three days they’ll give it all up and then some, just like the huge rise on the Fed braying last Tuesday. God these obvious short squeezes are starting to get annoying.

Comment by Bubbly in the South Bay
2006-04-26 08:48:50

Why is it obviously faked? This is pretty much what we’ve been expecting:

Homebuilders need to move inventory and will cut prices if necessary. Therefore, there will be cuts in prices by homebuilders first, thereby pressuring the price levels in used homes.

Further, homebuilding numbers are based on smaller samples than the used homes, so they are subject to more wild fluctuations.

Additionally, the new home reports and the used home reports are compiled by different entities, so why shouldn’t they be different.

They’re also measuring different goods (although they are clearly substitutes).

Comment by jmunnie
2006-04-26 05:58:10

OT, college kid and his credit card debt:

Ask The Consumerists: Getting Out of Credit Card Debt

“Ah, to be in college again, free of care, living life to the hilt, and mired in thousands of dollars of credit card debt.

“In his third year at college, L.S. writes he has managed to get himself into owing a spot or two. He’s got $1300 on his Chase card at 23.74% APR and $850 on his Citicard at 17.74%. He makes $400 a month at his part time job.

“CapitolOne’s Smartswitch debt consolidation program is looking attractive, says L.S.

“Consumerist readers, older and wiser or young and precociously fiscally responsible, what should L.S. do?”

One person, who had similar debt in the past, wrote that “It took two years, but now the only debt I have is my car, and $1500 left on my student loans. As soon as I clear that, I’m buying a house.”

Comment by dennis
2006-04-26 06:09:01

Maybe 2 years plus so he does not get killed a second time.

Comment by Drop the bubble
2006-04-26 06:32:30

I would love to only have $1,500 in student loans. After grad school I had a total of $82,000 in student loans. The good thing is I got some relief by consolidating with a low rate and a term of 30 years. Inflation will make this debt less of a burden in coming years also. Why do people rush to pay off student loans with low rates? The future value of money always decreases making it easier to pay as time goes on.

Comment by fishbones
2006-04-26 06:49:02

There is a certain amount of peace of mind which comes with living debt-free, although your financial moves make sense.

I think they should teach personal economics in high school. The first thing they should teach is the difference between “good debt” and “bad debt.” I’m fortunate because my parents taught me these concepts but I’m sympathetic to people who were not. They get taken and it hurts society as a whole.

Comment by Drop the bubble
2006-04-26 06:53:15

Given today’s housing mess, would having a mortgage be considered good debt or bad debt? Perhaps the answer to this question has changed over the last few years.

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Comment by Rainman18
2006-04-26 08:10:53

Bubblefucius say:

One who saves for a purchase, leans on no man. One who borrows, liens with pay plan. One who borrows unwisely, liens for life span.

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Comment by Diggs
2006-04-26 14:49:25

Good debt vs. Bad debt

Should really be:

Bad debt vs Worse debt

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Comment by MsTerra
2006-04-26 07:22:15

What should he do? How about consolidate at a low interest rate, cut up the cards, and stop “living life to the hilt”? When I was in college twenty years ago getting into that much debt on two cards wasn’t even an option. If the ramen and tuna diet was good enough for my compadres and me, it’s good enough for L.S. Sheesh. Personal finance isn’t exactly rocket science.

Also, I notice that “one person” seems to have skipped a step between clearing most of his debt and buying a house - saving up for a down-payment and cash reserves. *sigh* What’s happening to this country?

Comment by NH_renter
2006-04-26 08:38:04

What’s happening is that anyone with a pulse can get a mortgage with basically no money down.

Comment by Upstater
2006-04-26 09:01:41

I ate pancakes for 10 weeks in my single days to afford a trip to Disney World….now people just throw it on credit!

Comment by ajh
2006-04-26 18:18:18

L.S. can get an absolutely risk free 23.74% return by paying down principal on his Chase Card, and after that 17.74% by paying down his Citicard.

I wish I could find investments like that :D.

Comment by John in VA
2006-04-26 06:11:57

Treasuries are getting pummeled today
Marketwatch: Yield on 10-year hits 5.12% — highest since June 2002 — as durables data batter Treasury prices.

Comment by krazy_canuck
2006-04-26 06:19:18

Gold rallied after housing numbers came out - Why??

Comment by nhz
2006-04-26 06:34:35

with new home sales up and prices stabilizing there is every reason to believe that the flow of easy money continues, and that inflation will get even worse.

Gold is testing $ 635 resistance, no clear breakout yet.

Comment by John in VA
2006-04-26 06:45:02

Durable goods orders were way up and this means that that inflationary pressures remain. Gold and the bond markets are worried that the Fed isn’t acting aggressively enough to control inflation.

Comment by flat
2006-04-26 06:17:22

canton OH- does anyone have a job there ?

Comment by DenverKen
2006-04-26 06:25:47

This is getting more Soviet by the day. You look around and SEE what is happening, HEAR what is happening, and then….out come the government statistics..like new home sales…and learn what the government is SAYING is happening.

New home sales at record levels…seasonally adjusted of course.

Comment by Bubbly in the South Bay
2006-04-26 08:52:16

With all due respect, I don’t think you’re paying close enough attention. The important numbers are price and the absolute number of inventory on the market. The absolute number of inventory is at an all-time high, and there was a YOY price decline.

It should come as no surprise that with YOY decline, sales would increase. Also, if you only read the realtor (TM) spin, of course it will sound good for them.

Dig a little deeper.

Comment by Housing Bear
2006-04-26 06:26:33

Comment by flat
2006-04-26 06:17:22
canton OH- does anyone have a job there ?

Walmart is hiring!

Comment by Drop the bubble
2006-04-26 06:49:04

Good thing we have Walmart or job growth numbers would tell a different story.

Comment by House Inspector Clouseau
2006-04-26 07:29:51

“The housing market in Massachusetts ’simply isn’t as strong as it is in other states,’ said (economist) Patrick Newport. ‘People are leaving for other states, and there’s less demand for housing than there is in the rest of the country,’ he said.”

My, how quickly it all changes. I started lurking last summer, and up through late fall/early winter people like Homeowner_MA and other folk were talking about how “everybody wants to live in the NE corridor and Boston in particular” and that’s why prices would never fall there.

Just a few months later, it comes out that everybody doesn’t want to live there after all. (although I believe MA has lost population for over 2 years now… but let’s not get into facts. And yes, I know that much of the population loss went to neighboring states where people still commute to Boston).

We will see the above quote many times over the next year, as desireable city after desireable city scrambles to understand why the home prices are going down. IMHO it will occur next in San Diego proper which is also losing population and has a stalling RE market… or perhaps Miami/S Florida as the next wave of Hurricaines remind people as to why South Florida is at best a paradise lost

In the end, people look at trends, and then make conjectures as to the reason/s why. The problem is that there is usually no rational answer in a mania, on the way up OR down.


Comment by NH_renter
2006-04-26 08:45:00

I hear the “everybody wants to live here” line a lot. I work in a suburb of Boston. Once I asked 4 of my coworkers if they ever thought about leaving the Boston area. All 4 said they were seriously considered it. All of them actually wanted to move out West. I asked 2 guys who moved here a few months ago and they had serious regrets about making the move.
Maybe everyone wants to LEAVE here…

Comment by passthebubbly
2006-04-26 10:01:32

New England is a hard place to move to unless you’re from there or perhaps metro NYC. People are real insular, cliquish, distrustful and protective of their “territory”, and not just in a housing sense. I say that having grown up in CT and with my mom’s side from the Boston area. I go back there (all over the region) often and it has its charms, but it’s real hard to break into, not that you’d want to.

Comment by MsTerra
2006-04-26 11:20:35

I grew up in a small town in western MA, and I have to disagree. New Englanders probably come across as being more reserved (and possibly less polite) than people from other parts of the country are used to, but they’re reasonably welcoming of people who don’t come in with “an attitude”. (I think this is true everywhere you go - who wants to listen to someone always complaining that “it’s not like this where I’m from…”?) When I was a kid, new kids at school from other parts of the country were greeted with friendly curiosity. The Boston area is quite cosmopolitan and people move there from elsewhere all the time. New England is not really any worse than any other place. The most provincial people I’ve run across are native New Yorkers, and while it isn’t too hard to assimilate here, the real natives will never fail to remind you that at heart you’re not a “real” New Yorker because you didn’t grow up here.

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Comment by passthebubbly
2006-04-26 11:35:50

Fair enough, we can agree to disagree on some things, but it shocks me to encounter standoffish attitudes in places such as Cape Cod and northern NH, especially when I consider myself to be somewhat “from” there.

My experience is not one of “I lived in Boston once and the people there suck, so I moved away.” It’s more a disappointment that the place(s) I have such fond memories of as a kid don’t seem so great as an adult.

Comment by MsTerra
2006-04-26 12:00:52

Nah, you’re from CT, which is practically New York. ;)

I’m surprised you’d find those attitudes shocking. If you went to the Cape and NH on vacations as a kid, you probably just didn’t notice that the locals were wary of tourists and may not have liked them much on the whole. Being a native New Englander would not have made you less a tourist in their eyes. I suspect you would have a different experience if you were to move to one of these places full-time and become a member of the community.

Comment by passthebubbly
2006-04-26 12:18:28

Well, one of my rules is when I am giving you my 100% discretionary tourist dollars, try to act like you appreciate it.

My frame of reference is actually the opposite — 98% of the tourists in the White Mountains are from elsewhere in NE (mostly MA). When I visit from Chicago, it would be nice not to be lumped in with MA/NH border-war crossfire I’m sure you’re familiar with.

Oh well, the mountains are still pretty, and I have ten 4000-footers left to hike before I complete the list.

I’m job searching right now, and I’m free to move anywhere I want. I’ll happily live in NYC or Fairfield County, but don’t care for the rest of NE. Maybe I’m the embodiment of what I’m complaining about, who knows.

Comment by crashmaster101
2006-04-26 08:21:52

Hi all. It’s been ages since I posted, but I could not resist.

Last year I had told all that Boston and MA in general was going to crash something fierce. Homeower_MA and Beacon_st_fool told me that Boston was strong and would be resiliant. NOT TRUE.

MY data and models tell me that Boston is going get riped a new one. Last year my model turned, and everything was in place for the beginning of The Crash. It has begun. Feedback is now established, and price will respond according. Either that or the private central bank will devalue the dollar according to mask the fall in value of housing and the general stock market. OR if they chose, they could simply let is all fall apart and save the value of their paper money. It’s their choice. But someone will have to feel the pain.

Comment by LinQ
2006-04-26 11:53:45

Missed you, Crash! I would love it if you would post your model somewhere. My sister moved to Salem last summer & bought in Oct. She is still spouting realtor-speak.

Comment by crashmaster101
2006-04-26 13:12:01

Sorry, LinQ, can’t share the model. Proprietery. I’ve got to keep my secrets so I can make my fortune, cause in our new brave economy, school and hard work will not provide for a very comfortable life. My models are my way of playing the game, in a system that values speculation. IF I share them with the world, then they have no value.

But, I will say that now is NOT the time to buy real estate. It’s one of the worst assets one could purchase at this juncture in time and space.

Comment by Drop the bubble
2006-04-26 13:39:40

You know you want to show us the model. We need the model. Please! Show us the model!

Just kidding, but keep us posted on what the model is telling you. We also want to know the truth.

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Comment by Patriotic Bear
2006-04-26 14:34:32

I have a model and you can not see her either.

Comment by LinQ
2006-04-26 14:13:48

Oh, well. Still nice to hear from you around here. Lots of the vets have stopped posting.

I tried to tell her that but of course not having taken a weekend class I’m not a professional. (Touting a bubble in SoCal since ‘02 doesn’t help either.)

Each to his own path. I hope yours brings you all you desire. :)

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Comment by ilsm
2006-04-26 08:24:59

I sold for $135K in 2000.

Came back and it looked like $185K in 2003. Too much then!

Last I looked same thing was $245K. Outrageous now.

I am thinking 40% over priced. Won’t move til then.

Comment by Tulkinghorn
2006-04-26 12:25:50

I’m agreeing with you on the 40% decline, either in prices or inflation or some combination of the two.

How long to the bottom? If people lose their nerve we could see bottom w/in two years…

Comment by Oscar de low Renta
2006-04-26 08:26:45

If oil/gas prices remain a problem (and it’s hard to imagine a long term scenario in which they won’t) .. that will further erode the desirability of living in the Northeast. This past winter was mild in temperature (on average), but the prior two were brutal and would have been even more so at today’s oil prices.

Comment by Upstater
2006-04-26 09:12:42

“If oil/gas prices remain a problem (and it’s hard to imagine a long term scenario in which they won’t) .. that will further erode the desirability of living in the Northeast.”

IMHO, I do believe energy pricing affects air conditioning in the south and that commutes in southern cities can be just as trying (IE Atlanta). Other threads have remarked Texas, Florida, California and Arizona losing population due to insurance and housing costs.

But I don’t think we’re gonna be seeing people jam into Tornado Alley or anything running away from the coasts and cold north.

Comment by MsTerra
2006-04-26 09:40:54

In the immortal words of Emily Litella, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. People who don’t like long, cold winters aren’t going to like living in the northeast no matter how expensive or inexpensive it is. If you like a place enough, you find your niche and figure out a way to stay. Personally, I think this whole “economic refugee” thing tends to get overstated in these bubble blogs. The spouse and I are planning to move back to MA despite the rising cost of energy - but on the other hand it’s definitely something we plan to take under consideration when we start house-shopping. No McMansions for us!

Comment by MsTerra
2006-04-26 09:42:20

“Emily Litella” should be “Roseanne Rosannadanna”. Since I’m dating myself here, the reader can assume that my memory ain’t what it used to be…. ;)

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Comment by House Inspector Clouseau
2006-04-26 11:17:52

“Emily Litella” should be “Roseanne Rosannadanna”. Since I’m dating myself here, the reader can assume that my memory ain’t what it used to be….

“Oh…. Nevermind!”

There: now we have Emily Litella as well.

And in the immortal words of Rosanne’s late mother and father- Joanne-Anne and Dan-the-Man Roseannadanna- “I swear, if it ain’t one thing, it’s another!”



Comment by dba
2006-04-26 10:33:32

in the northeast we have a nice public transportion system to make up for high gas prices. there are 4 separate commutter rail systems running into NYC and a variety of buses that run out to the suburbs as well. and of course there is the NYC subway which is an engineering wonder by itself. there are also plans to extend the long island rail road and other rail systems. these systems serve more people daily then the combined population of several large US cities.

Comment by Randy
2006-04-26 18:26:19

Here’s what a lot of people are missing… where are the new non-RE related jobs in Metro Boston (up to 495) going to come from?

If you remember, we’ve lost much of our 90s IT prowess (Powerbuilder, Genuity, BNN, etc), financial might (John Hancock, Putnam, Thompson, etc), and long term stable industries (Polaroid, Teradyne, Reebok, and now Gilette). And I’m not even counting places like DEC, Data General, and all those other formerly elite hardware vendors.

Our once great city is falling into the toilet. We’re on the way to becoming a new Detroit unless you think that Genzyme is going to hire everyone?

Comment by NH_renter
2006-04-27 03:29:23

The decline has set in and it’s only going to get worse, unfortunately. I saw the same thing play out in Upstate NY. ALL of the Upstate cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, Albany) have been crushed by outsourcing. The fact is that the taxes and regulations in NY make it a very expensive place to conduct business. Every newspaper in Upstate NY constantly laments the lack of growth and economic opportunity, yet they never approach the solution (cut the cost of doing business!).

I see the same thing happening in MA. I predict that in 15 years Boston will be a shadow of its former self. And just like in NY the local media and politicians will be clueless to why things are in decline. It might be worse in Boston. Politicians here seem to think that business has an infinite capacity to absorb taxes and regulatory costs.

Comment by Randy
2006-04-27 07:42:56

I think NH_renter is on the mark. The difference between Mass and let’s say Upstate NY is our infinite arrogance that we’re the Switzerland a/o Hong Kong tech enclave of America and that our economy can always rebound without a hitch (ala “there’s always another Prime, DEC, or Genzyme in the mist”). Well, let me tell you, there are no major upcoming technology firms on the horizon. Ken Olsen and the Massachusetts miracle is for the history books of the twentieth century. All of our VC firms expect any MIT/Harvard related baystate start-up (biopharma or even nanotech) firm to have a significant portion of their development staff in a cheaper offsource facility (countries such as Russia, Brazil, India, or China). This will not lead to the mass of hirings needed to maintain property prices and our local economy humming like in the late great twentieth century.

Comment by NH_renter
2006-04-27 14:28:50

Funny that you mention tech start-ups outsourcing a lot of their work. I work for a start-up and we outsource almost everything imaginable. It’s staggering to think of how much work gets done with only 15 employees. We do almost anything possible to avoid adding employees because of the simple fact that it’s very expensive to keep someone employed in this area. I think of this everytime I hear someone say that Boston has great research universities, and the start-up companies spun off by them will keep Boston prosperous. It’s probably true that there will always be start-ups from places like MIT and Harvard, but the question is: how many jobs will these create? Not as many as hoped, if my company is any indication.

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Comment by Randy
2006-04-27 19:10:12

Yeah, the whole startup venture to new DEC/Wang is a thing of the past in Mass. Widespread hirings won’t happen as a result of startups anymore.

Harvard (and to a lesser extent MIT) will be finishing schools for the intellectual/power elites in the world than a source of companies for the region. Professors and a handful of grad students can outsource dev work to Moscow or Beijing and only maintain a sales force in the northeast to meet with clients.

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