As of this writing, the Fed hasn’t yet announced their economic forecasts or whether they’ll raise interest rates.
The talk on the street says the Fed will raise by 25 basis points (.25%).
History says a recession is coming … because 10 of the last 13 times the Fed engaged in a rate hike campaign, that’s what happened. They’re not particularly skilled at “soft landings”.
The Fed also has a dismal record for economic forecasts. They chronically see sunshine even when clouds are forming. But that’s not why Wall Street pays attention to them.
Day traders, hedge fund managers, and other players in the Wall Street casinos fixate on the Fed … hoping to be on the right side of whatever flow of cash results from anything they do or say.
Their mantra is “buy low, sell high” to generate cash flow. It’s a fast-paced, high stakes game perfect for adrenalin junkies.
It’s also a game which generates brokerage fees, highly taxable capital gains, and big bonuses. So both Wall Street and Uncle Sam love it.
Meanwhile, real estate investors sit off to the side … casually interested in what the Fed does … but much more concerned with collecting rent, watching expenses, and managing cash flow.
Cash flowing real estate is pretty boring. And super sexy. Like a faithful wife or girlfriend.
But if the Fed’s likely hike is signaling a higher probability of recession, what’s a real estate investor to do?
“Sure, I’m always looking for unlocked potential … but everybody wants to look at how good a deal can get. People love focusing on the upside. That’s where the fun is. What amazes me is how superficially they consider the downside.
For me, the calculation in making a deal starts with the downside. If I can identify that, then I understand the risk I’m taking. What’s the outcome if everything goes wrong? What actions would we take? Can I bear the cost? Can I survive it?”
Zell also says, “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns … in life, as well as in investments.”
In other words, success is not about avoiding risk, but rather in understanding, accepting and managing risk … and only taking it on when the upside is worth it and you can afford the downside.
Here are some things for real estate investors to think about in preparing for the possibility of recession …
Consider increasing liquidity
Right now, there’s a lot of equity in both stocks and real estate. If you’ve got excess equity on your balance sheet, it could be an ideal time to convert some of it to cash.
Yes, it’s tempting to be fully deployed in good times. But if things slow down, cash is king. And if asset values fall, the market’s going to take the equity anyway. Better for you to grab it first.
Emphasize durability of cash flow
It’s a lot more fun to push rents to increase net operating income, and you should always look to optimize income. But earn it by delivering better value and not just by riding a hot economy.
If times get tough for your tenants, they’ll start looking for value. When they do, make sure they find YOU at the top of the list.
Look for ways to trim expenses, lock in solid tenants with competitive longer-term leases, and restructure debt with an emphasis on stability.
You may leave a little on the table, but consider it recession insurance.
Gravitate towards affordable markets
If recession comes, businesses and households will be much more aggressive in seeking value.
Once you know you’re competitive in your current markets, consider expanding your portfolio into markets that are likely to be popular with people and businesses looking to save.
Over-priced markets and properties will probably recede. While affordable markets and properties will likely benefit from increased demand.
Watch for “Sea Change”
Sometimes recessions are just bumps on the road of business-as-usual.
Sometimes recessions are part of a much broader transformation.
There are MANY things going on in the world which are far from business-as-usual. Like recessions, they can be unnerving, but they also create opportunity.
The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency, technology’s impact on labor, unprecedented global debt, the ascent (and now slowing) of China … are some of the many macro-factors we pay attention to.
Each of these has the potential to change the investing landscape in substantial ways.
Consider this CNBC headline …
“Contrary to widespread belief, China isn’t the cheap place to manufacture that it once was, and rising costs have been forcing manufacturers to explore new countries to make their goods.”
The article quotes the president of a Chinese textile firm …
“Add in the possibility of a lower corporate tax to as little as 15 percent, as proposed by Trump, and the U.S. becomes a no-brainer for many manufacturers …”
Could hard times in China lead to a resurgence of the U.S. rust belt?
Here’s the point …
Recession in and of itself isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. It’s an event. In fact, it’s a regularly recurring event.
Recession isn’t necessarily universal or global. In other words, it doesn’t affect all industries, people or locations the same way at the same time.
A recession in one place can lead to a boom in another and vice-versa as people, businesses and money flow to and from challenges and opportunities.
Like winter, a recession is a season. It may not be as fun as the sunshine, but for the prepared it’s not a big deal.
Going back to the wisdom of Sam Zell … acknowledging the reality of the downside isn’t a reason to hunker down and do nothing. Doing nothing has its own downside.
The world is full of very real threats … and that’s GOOD. It creates movement from which pockets of opportunity emerge.
Because, as Sam Zell says “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns …”
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become a well-informed and diligent risk-taker.
Until next time … good investing!
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