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Real Estate Moguls Scaring Me

Steve Roth is a bull and Mort Zuckerman's a bear. <I>TheStreet</I> senior reporter Dan Freed wonders why that is so scary.



) -- Mort Zuckerman is bearish, Steven Roth is bullish, and it's hard to know which is scarier.

Both moguls, Zuckerman of

Boston Properties

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and Roth of

Vornado Realty Trust

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, are super savvy real estate investors. Zuckerman, however, is the owner of the

New York Daily News


U.S. News & World Report

, and is rarely if ever shy about expressing his views.

In a heavily data-driven opinion piece he wrote for the

Financial Times

, Zuckerman doesn't let up for a moment with the negativity. Citing a survey of U.S. households in which more people believe their income will decline than rise over the next six months, Zuckerman writes: "This is the first time in over four decades that more people believe they will be worse off than better."

I have to say I find this a bit weird. A year ago more people thought their income was more likely to rise than decline over the next six months? Don't things at least look better now than they did a year ago? Still, if this really is the first time in four decades this has happened, it is scary indeed.

And Zuckerman proved better than most at realizing there was a commercial real estate bubble a few years ago. That is a big reason Boston Properties is up 8.24% over the past five years, compared to a decline of 22.55% for the

iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate ETF

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Steven Roth, Chairman of Vornado Realty Trust

Roth's Vornado has also performed well versus its peers, and over a 10-year stretch, the return on the shares has roughly matched that of an investment in Boston Properties. Still, Boston Properties has bested Vornado over the past 5 years and 13 years, which is as far back as I am able to compare the two stocks on

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. If stock price equates to brains, Zuckerman would appear to have Roth beat, though it wouldn't stun me to learn that Roth has personally made more money.

Suffice it to say both men have proven they see through walls, so why should I be more convinced by Zuckerman's FT piece than the bullish comments Roth made on


Tuesday morning?

"New York real estate has made bottom," Roth told his



Except -- what was the usually publicity-shy Roth doing on


? -- you might ask. A clue came after another real estate mogul, Richard LeFrak, started making bearish comments on the same program.

"You're talking down my book," Roth told him.

"I'm talking down my book, too," LeFrak said.

But LeFrak was born into his real estate fortune. Roth is more of a wheeler dealer. It is easy to imagine that his rare media appearance to express his bullishness is actually a bearish signal: A sign he has thrown in the towel and is ready to try absolutely anything to get the real estate market going.

Another scary signal recently came from Michael Neal, head of

General Electric

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's GE Capital unit. He revealed at a conference last week that GE wants to unload up to half of its $80 billion commercial real estate book, while also seeking to sell equity stakes in favor of debt.

GE has hung on to its commercial real estate through the crisis and has seen values rebound well off their lows. While Neal did not give a timetable for when GE expects to complete its sales, the fact that it is looking for the exits, while trying to play it safe by focusing more on debt, suggests something significant has changed.

Have we hit the market top already?


Written by Dan Freed in New York