The Feds raised rates … now what?

If you’re old enough, you may remember the old Pee Wee Herman movies … where Pee Wee falls off his bike and with brash bravado claims, “I meant to do that!”

Well to no one’s surprise, the Fed inched up their “target” Federal funds rates by 25 basis points.

So now, instead of just one-quarter of one percent (.25%), the rate is now a whopping one-half of one percent (.50%).

Of course, as we’ve previously discussed, the market already beat them to it.  So like Pee Wee Herman, it seems the Fed is not in as much control as they pretend to be.

Investor Summit at Sea™ faculty member Peter Schiff had some great commentary on this topic in a recent podcast.  You can listen to it yourself, so we won’t repeat it here.

But one of his best points is that the Fed’s own forecasts are WORSE going into 2017 than they were going into 2016.  Yet last year, the Fed projected FOUR increases for 2016.

In fact, in a panel on last year’s Summit, Peter and Jim Rickards debated this very point.

Jim said yes, the Fed would raise four times.  Peter said no raise in 2016.  Both were wrong, but Peter was closer to right.

So it seems even super smart guys have a hard time figuring out what the puppet masters are going to do.

But just because no one can say for certain what will or won’t happen … doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention.

We just don’t go ALL IN on any one outcome.  Why? You NEVER know what will REALLY happen.

Right now, both the stock market and real estate have been on multi-year booms… after HUGE declines in 2008.

According to data compiled into this nifty chart by the Pew Research Center, U.S. home prices “have almost recovered from the bust.”

Of course, the daily financial news is constantly blasting about the stock market … with the Dow flirting with 20,000 … in spite of the Fed’s interest rate “increase.”

Apparently people are continuing to pile into the stock market at these nose-bleed levels.

So that’s a lot of EQUITY happening in both stocks and real estate.

It’s no secret we’re equity guys.  We LOVE equity.  When we’re not talking real estate on the radio, we’re forcing equity through real estate development.  Equity’s AWESOME.

BUT … as we often point out … equity comes from cash flow.  They aren’t mutually exclusive.  In fact, they go hand in hand.

However, there’s another kind of equity out there.  The kind which comes from what David Stockman would call “bubble finance.”

That is, when central banks pump cheap money into the system, it can cause asset prices to rise WITHOUT underlying cash flows to support it.  It’s AIR.

This is a REALLY important concept, so PLEASE don’t tune out …

Think about it.

It’s easier to understand with stocks, but the principle is the same with real estate.  When buyers are paying MORE than the income justifies, it’s NOT sustainable.

But it IS tempting.  When you can buy a stock or property, hold it for a short period of time, and sell it for much more than you paid to a “greater fool,” the checks still cash.

However, when you stay in the casinos too long, the house (not yours) usually wins.

So YOU need to know how to tell the difference between real value and a bubble.  And then you need to have some strategy tools in your kit, so you can take appropriate action based on what you see.

Here’s how income creates equity:  If an asset is valued at some multiple of earnings, i.e., a rental property selling for 10 times gross rents, and the rents go UP $2,000 per year, the property’s VALUE just went up $20,000.

That’s cash-flow-driven equity growth.  (We know in the real world, properties are valued by Net Operating Income, but you get the idea.)

What if properties are going up but rents are NOT?  At some point, that’s a problem.

With home prices, in spite of still record LOW home ownership rates, values are still largely driven by affordability.  That’s REAL wages and mortgage rates.

We already know mortgage rates have been on the rise.  Those are easy to see.  There’s no massaging the numbers.  No seasonal adjustments.

Discerning real wages and inflation is a completely different matter.

The Fed says we have a “tight” labor market with a claimed unemployment rate of 4.6%.  Of course, you have to look at that in the light of a decades-low labor participation rate.

We’re not going to attempt to dive into any of that.  If you go too macro, you can’t see the ground anymore.

Here’s the point …

There’s a lot of equity happening.  Hopefully a lot of it is happening to you.

But if the Fed is really going to turn down the air to the jump house, some of your equity might leak out.

As real estate investors, our job is to proactively manage debt, equity and cash flow.  We let the property manager worry about tenants and toilets.

And when the wave machine of cheap money starts receding … potentially washing some of our newfound equity out to sea … we think about what we can do to protect it.

The GREAT NEWS is that mortgages in bubble equity markets are still cheap and readily available.  It’s a big part of why bubbles form.

But easy mortgage money means you can take equity off the table … even if you want to hold the property for the long term.

Accessing the equity isn’t the danger.  It’s what you do with the proceeds, how you manage the cash flow, and the risks.

Before he was President-elect Trump,  Donald Trump told us it’s ALWAYS smart to keep a little dry powder.  We’ll see how he does as a politician, but he’s got pretty good cred as a real estate guy.

So it’s probably smart to stash some cash … or other highly liquid assets (preferably without counter-party risk) … arbitrage the debt (loan out a chunk at a rate higher than you paid) … and/or reposition the equity into income producing properties in NON-bubble markets.

Yes.  Non-bubble markets exist.  These are markets where there’s very little if any financing and the income is real … not dependent on cheap money from central banks.

We know this idea may be getting a little repetitive.  But that’s partly because of the nature of real estate.  It moves SLOWLY.   So it’s easy for investors to nod off.

The bond market and the Fed’s rate hike are reminders for us to PAY ATTENTION.

And then … like The Real Estate Guys™ motto, use your Education for Effective Action™.

We know it’s a lot to absorb.  We have fond memories of living in our own little bubble from 2001 to 2007.  It was fun. It was easy.  Everything worked.  We were geniuses.

Then WHAM!

We didn’t see the problem until it washed away huge amounts of our portfolios.

We’ve been at this a LONG time.  But there are people in our audience who started their investing careers in the run-up since 2008.  They’ve only seen sunshine.

We’re not saying rain clouds are forming.  But they might be.

So we think it’s a good idea to be prepared no matter which way the wind blows.

That means investing in education, networking… being attentive to cash flow…and sometimes getting chunks of equity out of harm’s way.  Just in case.  And it’s better to be early than late.

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