Why Americans Are Obsessed With These Ugly Sandals
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,623,020 (+0.08%)       Melbourne $974,710 (-0.81%)       Brisbane $992,583 (-1.37%)       Adelaide $896,270 (+0.26%)       Perth $892,481 (+0.31%)       Hobart $726,595 (-0.35%)       Darwin $664,958 (+1.76%)       Canberra $1,012,150 (+0.04%)       National $1,048,965 (-0.14%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $751,258 (-0.23%)       Melbourne $495,378 (+0.24%)       Brisbane $583,696 (-1.32%)       Adelaide $453,443 (-0.76%)       Perth $458,999 (+2.21%)       Hobart $509,191 (+0.99%)       Darwin $362,436 (+1.68%)       Canberra $497,643 (+0.69%)       National $536,245 (+0.06%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 9,903 (-109)       Melbourne 14,181 (+71)       Brisbane 8,075 (-54)       Adelaide 2,184 (+36)       Perth 5,723 (+16)       Hobart 1,216 (+3)       Darwin 275 (+14)       Canberra 888 (+5)       National 42,445 (-18)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,719 (+28)       Melbourne 8,357 (+7)       Brisbane 1,747 (+49)       Adelaide 405 (+23)       Perth 1,442 (+5)       Hobart 211 (-1)       Darwin 399 (-7)       Canberra 1,018 (+16)       National 22,298 (+120)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $800 (-$20)       Melbourne $620 ($0)       Brisbane $635 (-$5)       Adelaide $610 (-$10)       Perth $675 (-$20)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 (-$30)       Canberra $680 ($0)       National $666 (-$12)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 ($0)       Melbourne $595 ($0)       Brisbane $625 (-$5)       Adelaide $510 (+$10)       Perth $630 (+$5)       Hobart $470 (+$5)       Darwin $560 (+$30)       Canberra $550 ($0)       National $597 (+$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,884 (-132)       Melbourne 6,585 (+256)       Brisbane 4,488 (+137)       Adelaide 1,589 (+2)       Perth 2,880 (+283)       Hobart 411 (+13)       Darwin 93 (-4)       Canberra 632 (+17)       National 22,562 (+572)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 10,906 (+381)       Melbourne 6,312 (+294)       Brisbane 2,339 (+54)       Adelaide 371 (+21)       Perth 797 (+18)       Hobart 143 (+3)       Darwin 126 (+3)       Canberra 816 (+23)       National 21,810 (+797)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 2.56% (↓)     Melbourne 3.31% (↑)      Brisbane 3.33% (↑)        Adelaide 3.54% (↓)       Perth 3.93% (↓)     Hobart 3.94% (↑)        Darwin 5.47% (↓)       Canberra 3.49% (↓)       National 3.30% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND       Sydney 5.19% (↑)        Melbourne 6.25% (↓)     Brisbane 5.57% (↑)      Adelaide 5.85% (↑)        Perth 7.14% (↓)     Hobart 4.80% (↑)      Darwin 8.03% (↑)        Canberra 5.75% (↓)     National 5.79% (↑)             HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.8% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.7% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)      Perth 0.4% (↑)      Hobart 0.9% (↑)      Darwin 0.8% (↑)      Canberra 1.0% (↑)      National 0.7% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 0.9% (↑)      Melbourne 1.1% (↑)      Brisbane 1.0% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.5% (↑)      Hobart 1.4% (↑)      Darwin 1.7% (↑)      Canberra 1.4% (↑)      National 1.1% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 29.8 (↑)        Melbourne 31.6 (↓)     Brisbane 30.4 (↑)        Adelaide 25.3 (↓)       Perth 35.7 (↓)     Hobart 33.0 (↑)      Darwin 43.9 (↑)      Canberra 31.9 (↑)      National 32.7 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND       Sydney 30.2 (↑)      Melbourne 31.7 (↑)        Brisbane 27.1 (↓)       Adelaide 25.5 (↓)     Perth 37.5 (↑)        Hobart 38.0 (↓)       Darwin 37.9 (↓)     Canberra 41.2 (↑)        National 33.6 (↓)           
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Why Americans Are Obsessed With These Ugly Sandals

Margot Fraser’s feet hurt. Then she found Birkenstocks and brought them to the U.S. Now the company is worth billions of dollars.

By BEN COHEN
Sun, Oct 15, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 6 min

One of the iconic shots of the year’s biggest movie was Margot Robbie’s Barbie character in Birkenstocks.

She was only wearing them because of Margot Fraser.

This woman responsible for bringing the supremely comfy, seductively ugly German footwear to the U.S. was one of the most improbable business figures of her time.

She was an accidental entrepreneur who started distributing Birkenstocks from her California home in the 1960s, when nobody knew what they were or how orthopaedic sandals cured foot pain. The only places that would carry them were health-food stores, where each pair might as well have come with a jar of granola. She was a dressmaker with no clue about shoes, much less crunchy ones, but she grew the company from zero to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. She would even come to be known as Mrs. Birkenstock.

The sandals that she introduced to Americans have become more popular and the business much bigger than Fraser could have predicted. This week, when Birkenstock went public, the company was valued at $8.6 billion.

It’s fitting that Birkenstock’s initial public offering comes on the heels of a summer ruled by the spending power of women because this is a company whose U.S. business has always been built around their needs.

That’s in large part because of Margot Fraser, the most important woman in the company’s history. She paid attention to women—and it paid off. They were her first customers. They were also her best customers. Birkenstock’s financial documents credit “the breakthrough of modern feminism” as a key driver of its business, and the company’s private-equity backers cite the products’ appeal to women as one of the reasons they invested. In fact, Birkenstock says 72% of its customers are female.

It’s a remarkably high number for a company that explicitly markets its products as unisex. Steve Jobs wore them. Sneaker geeks want them. They were designed by Karl Birkenstock, a son of Carl and grandson of Konrad, descendants of the man who started the family’s tradition of shoemaking 249 years ago. More recently, the private-equity firm and family office of Bernard Arnault, the billionaire chief executive of LVMH’s luxury empire, bought a controlling stake and took the company public.

Anyone can now own stock in BIRK because of its connection to one of the world’s richest men, but Birkenstock never would have been in this position without a pioneering woman.

“It is because of Margot and the foundation she built that the brand is enjoying the success that it is today,” the president of the company’s American division said when she died in 2017.

She was the first to admit that she was an unlikely footwear executive and had to learn how to run the business one step at a time.

“I didn’t know a thing about shoes,” she once said. “What I did know was that my feet were always hurting.”

But that was all she needed to know. She figured that millions of women across the country must have feet that were always hurting, too.

Fraser had a keen sense of the American consumer for someone who grew up in war-torn Germany. The principal of her elementary school in the 1930s taught her that “girls were capable of anything and should follow their dreams,” but not everyone in her life agreed. “My mother thought that was all ridiculous feminist stuff,” Fraser wrote in a book offering business advice. Her father wasn’t exactly Betty Friedan, either. When she told him she wanted to travel the world for business and show people that “not all Germans were bad,” he responded: “My dear, you could never do that as a woman.”

She went to dressmaking school and moved to the countryside to make clothing for farmers, who paid her in eggs and butter. It was the teenager’s first taste of entrepreneurship. When she couldn’t see a future in Germany after World War II, she decided to leave home in pursuit of her childhood dream, and she boarded a trans-Atlantic ship with $25 in her pocket.

But it was only when Fraser returned as a tourist nearly 15 years later that she discovered the shoes that would rescue her feet and transform her life.

She was living in the U.S. when she took a spa trip back to Germany in 1966 and came across “sandals that weren’t pretty to look at.” But after years of trying anything to fix her aching feet—even standing on a phone book and gripping it with her toes—she tried on her first Birkenstocks.

She was pain-free within months.

Fraser realised that her feet were always hurting because of her painful footwear. No amount of standing on phone books would have made a difference for women in constrictive heels with pointed toes. What did make the difference for Fraser were these sandals made with leather, cork and a footbed the Birkenstock men invented. They were following in the footsteps of Johannes Birkenstock, which date back to 1774, when the cobbler was mentioned in the church records of a village near Frankfurt. The company’s first sandals were released in 1963, not long before Fraser slipped them on.

They were so comfortable that she didn’t care if they were ugly. Birkenstocks provided value because they solved a problem. They were basically Hokas for hippies.

Fraser took the sandals back to the U.S. and wrote to the Birkenstock family asking if she could sell them to Americans. They said yes to the dressmaker. At first, it seemed unwise. The owners of local shoe stores wouldn’t talk to her, and doctors treated her like a threat to the podiatry business.

She was desperate when a friend mentioned that a group called the Health Food Association was hosting a national convention nearby, which is how she found herself in a San Francisco hotel pitching sandals to people who sold lentils.

She needed to find people who didn’t mind how their shoes looked. As it turns out, they were the kind of people who owned health-food stores. Because they spent all day on their feet, they chose function over fashion. Fraser knew there would be a market for Birkenstocks when she spotted a woman at the convention shuffling around in nylons while carrying shoes that she couldn’t wear.

“The woman tried on a pair,” she wrote, “and bought them despite her husband’s protests.”

Once she had a foothold, Fraser began working out of her Bay Area home in 1967, calling her distribution company Birkenstock Footprint Sandals. She later renamed it Birkenstock USA.

She couldn’t have picked a better time or place for Birkenstocks to come plodding into the U.S. They would have crossed the ocean eventually, but the sandals became a symbol of rebellion because they landed in the heart of the counterculture, when and where people were allergic to the mainstream and willing to wear their antiestablishment values on their feet. “It was this perfect moment,” said Andrea Schneider-Braunberger, the curator of Birkenstock’s historical archives. “The culture was ready for such modern, convention-breaking shoes.”

Fraser worked closely with the Birkenstock family and shared their complete obsession with Birkenstocks. They made the shoes and decisions for the entire company based on her feedback.

The name of the funny-looking sandal that caught her eye was the “Original Birkenstock-Footbed sandal,” but Fraser told her German partners that American women were never going to buy something called “Original Birkenstock-Footbed sandal.” They took her marketing advice and branded the single-strapped sandal the “Madrid.” It remains one of the company’s top sellers.

It took six years for Fraser to venture beyond health-food stores and move into actual footwear stores. But that timing also turned out to be advantageous. By then, people were ready to buy Birkenstocks, and she was better at selling them.

She knew they intrigued baby boomers who didn’t want to look like their mothers and fathers. As it happens, their children don’t mind looking like them. Now, boomers and millennials make up almost the exact same percentage of Birkenstock’s consumers, and the company’s Arizona sandals and Boston clogs can be found in high schools and retirement homes.

The business is also barely recognisable from when she sold Birkenstock USA to her employees and retired in 2002. It was later folded into the German parent company, which is run by Oliver Reichert, the first person outside the Birkenstock family to be the CEO. Arnault’s L Catterton invested in 2021 with eyes on this week’s IPO.

Birkenstock has expanded into sneakers, boots and sandals in wool, shearling and waterproof material. Its proudly frumpy sandals meant to free women from the norms of fashion have become posh enough for celebrities, models and collaborations with Manolo Blahnik. The people who once turned up their noses at them now put their feet in them. And the company’s dominant market is the U.S.

None of that would have been possible without Margot Fraser.

Neither would the final scene in “Barbie.”

To sell more sandals to more Americans, she was always begging her partners for more colours, so Fraser would have been delighted to see what’s on the feet of another woman named Margot.

She’s wearing a pair of pink Birkenstocks.



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Is the Stock Market Near Its Top?

Don’t let the hum of the bull tune out signs warning that a bear may be lurking.

By ANDY KESSLER
Mon, Jul 15, 2024 3 min

The third season of the terrific show “The Bear” blends family dysfunction with the ups and downs of high-end restaurants. With markets chasing new highs—get out those Dow 40000 hats—this column is about a different kind of dysfunctional beast. Is the market bear dead, or is it about to sneak up on us?

A U.S. equity strategist told me the story of a Japanese portfolio manager who sat in his office in July 1987 asking for stock ideas. The strategist’s model was based on a proprietary survey of investor sentiment, though it never really worked. Nonetheless, he read off a list of dozens of stocks. The portfolio manager then asked if he would kindly put in an order for 20,000 shares of each. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked at 2722 in late August and crashed 22.6% on Oct. 19.

A friend was a portfolio manager of a massive growth-stock fund in 1999. He told me he bought shares of Yahoo, Cisco, F5 Networks, Infosys and others every day because money flowed into his fund every day. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index peaked on March 10, 2000. As money began to flow out, he had to sell every day. By year’s end, Nasdaq had fallen by more than half.

I met Cathie Wood as she was filing papers for her “disruptive innovation” funds—to “change the way the world works.” Her ARK Innovation exchange-traded fund, ARKK, launched in October 2014 and charges 0.75% management fees. In 2020 it was up 153% as stimulus money flew in, driving more buying. ARKK peaked in February 2021 with $28 billion in assets. Since then, its net asset value is down 70%, even amid a roaring bull market, especially in tech. Morningstar recently calculated that Ms. Wood’s Ark Invest funds have destroyed more than $14 billion in wealth. One of my favorite Wall Street sayings is, “Don’t mistake a bull market for brains.”

In almost every bull run, stock momentum lures in investors at the worst moment, I call them momos, ensuring they get burned when the buying stops. Since 2009, excepting a few brief sell-offs, cash has been trash. That made some sense during the era of zero interest rates. But now with higher inflation and short rates above 5%? Confusing. Maybe investors are already anticipating another Donald Trump antiregulation pro-growth presidency, forgetting that he is married to a growth-killing pro-tariff agenda. Is the bear dead, or does it have a long fuse?

Predicting stock markets is a fool’s errand. My Series 7 test for General Securities Representative Qualification lapsed long ago, so you won’t get investment advice from me. But there are warning signs.

Have we run out of buyers? Sometimes there are triggers that scare them away: oil shocks, viruses, bank failures. But sometimes they simply collapse from exhaustion. More than 40% of households reportedly own stocks—a higher percentage than in 2000. It was 20% in 2010. Some market indicators also point to asset managers being fully invested. Who’s left to buy?

Market breadth is concerning. The 1973 market peak was driven by stretched valuations of the Nifty Fifty, which included IBM , Coca-Cola and GE but also Polaroid and Xerox . Fifty? Now it’s the Magnificent Seven: Alphabet , Amazon , Apple , Meta , Microsoft , Nvidia and Tesla . Seven? Artificial-intelligence hype, way ahead of even the rosiest of realities, drove Nvidia to make up almost a third of the S&P 500’s first half gains. Another quarter came from Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Eli Lilly . Maybe fat bulls need Mounjaro.

Stock values feel divorced from reality. The so-called Warren Buffett indicator—the ratio between total stock-market value and gross domestic product—was 138% in March 2000. It’s now 196%. Certainly not a buy signal. And Bitcoin, my go-to bubblicious bat signal, is down about 20% since March. A dead canary?

“Don’t worry, be happy,” the bulls sing. Inflation is slain, and the Fed will cut rates. But investors won’t like the reason for those cuts. We’re already seeing earnings disasters—Nike, Walgreens , Lululemon , Delta and Wells Fargo . If the economy slows, earnings glitches and stock implosions become contagious. Plus, banks’ exposure to commercial real estate is scary, with buildings being dumped at huge haircuts almost weekly. This is now infecting rental buildings, and there are signs of a private housing glut. Inventory in Denver is up nearly 37%. Sure, markets climb a “wall of worry,” and bull markets tend to last longer than people expect, but sometimes the nightmares are real. Recessions are like honey to bears.

Even writing about the bear is bullish. Bull runs end when everyone is a believer. Still, another favorite saying of mine is, “No one’s ever lost money taking a profit.” Someday, cash will be king again. I prefer to buy stocks when everyone hates them.

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