The Fed’s Plan Revealed…

Will the Fed Raise Interest Rates?

Global stock markets continue to convulse as participants and pundits try to divine whether Janet Yellen will really pull the trigger and raise interest rates.

Our bet is no.  Or if so, maybe by only a quarter point (25 basis points in bank-speak) just to prove the Fed hasn’t forgotten how to do it.  After all, it’s been about 8 years.

But we think not.

The list of reasons is far too long for this missive, but here’s a few:

The Dollar is Too Strong

We’re not saying WE think this is bad.  But the people in charge think so.Some say the dollar is too strong and that's bad for the economy

They say a strong dollar makes it harder for U.S. companies to sell exports…because it takes more foreign currency to buy anything denominated in dollars.

And U.S. companies doing business abroad are losing out when converting their foreign sales back into U.S. dollars.  So they say a strong dollar is bad for earnings and stock prices.

Also, a strong dollar means the U.S. government is paying more real interest on all its debt to foreigners.

The goal for a borrower is to receive strong dollars today and pay back weaker dollars later.  It’s why policy makers (and real estate investors) like a falling dollar.

A strong dollar is deflationary, which is the polar opposite of what the Fed wants (more on that in a moment…)…though most consumer we know LIKE IT when prices fall.

But when prices on things like houses, cars, stocks, bonds, etc., drop in dollar terms…and those things are being used as collateral, it means the value of the collateral drops.

That forces painful margin calls and creates a temptation for borrowers to bail on the debt.  Just think back to the sub-prime crisis which triggered the Great Recession.  It all started when debt went bad.

And speaking of debt, there’s the other major reason NOT to raise interest rates…

Uncle Sam is Drowning in Debt

When interest rates rise, payments go up.  That puts downward pressure on spending, which the financial brainiacs believe is the key to economic expansion.

The US government is carrying a large debt burdenThe problem today is that interest rates are SO LOW that even a 25 basis point increase is a substantial percentage increase.

Do the math.

If you have debt at 2% and rates rise by .25% that effectively increases your interest expense (and payment) by 8%.

That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re Uncle Sam and you’re already paying out $381 BILLION in interest each year…an 8% increase costs an additional $30 BILLION.

Now if interest rates were to rise 100 basis points, say from 2% to 3%, that’s a 33% increase…or a whopping $125 BILLION increase in interest payments.

And because Uncle Sam is already running in the red, it’s all debt compounded on debt.  Just like using your credit card to pay the credit cards you used to pay the credit cards you used to pay your house payment.

In financial terms, we call this a “train wreck”.

Since the last great re-set in the 80’s when then Fed chair Paul Volcker jacked rates up to over 20%, the government has gone aggressively into debt and lowered interest rates steadily for three decades.

But now we’re at the bottom of the interest rate barrel.

So if you can’t lower interest rates to leverage your payments into servicing higher loan balances (just like you do when you refinance your mortgage to a lower rate and keep the same balance …or grow it…while reducing your monthly payment)…

Then the only other options you have is to make more money.Uncle Sam needs to ask its taxpayers for MORE money...again

For Uncle Sam, this means raising taxes.  And there are two ways to do this.

The small government faction says lower rates to grow the private sector and take a smaller percentage of a bigger pie.

That is, lower tax rates, which they believe will leave more profits in the hands of entrepreneurs who will use it to expand their businesses (if they can find customers).

Then, when the pie is big enough, the smaller percentage of tax yields more absolute dollars to Uncle Sam.

Go red team!

The big government faction says raise taxes on the entrepreneurs and uber-rich and funnel that money through the government to the poor and middle class.

Then, when those everyday people spend all that money, it will provide customers and profits for the businesses, which will in turn result in even more tax revenue.

Go blue team!

Obviously, these two policies are polar opposites and each one enrages the proponents of the other.

So everyone beats up on each other and nothing gets done.

Go purple team!

BUT…there is another way…Ben Bernanke says the Fed can print as much money as it wants...at essentially no cost.

And on November 21, 2002 a guy named Ben Bernanke (who later took over for Alan Greenspan to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve) explained it in a speech before the National Economists Club in Washington DC.

Big Ben said….

“…the U.S. government has a technology called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent) that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.”

“By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services.”

The Fed can print as much money as it wants...for free.“We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation.”

“…sufficient injections of money will ultimately always reverse a deflation.”

Our emphasis.  Always.

And just so you know we don’t make this stuff up, you can read the whole thing here.

So we think the Fed will find some excuse to turn the Quantitative Easing (QE) printing presses back on.

But, you say (correctly) didn’t they already do QE?  Like, 4 times?  Then why didn’t prices rise?

Great observation.

Here’s the short of it…and why it matters to real estate investors RIGHT NOW

The Fed expanded its balance sheet (printed) by about 4 TRILLION DOLLARS since 2008.

Most of the money ended up in bonds (causing bond prices to rise and interest rates to fall)…or stocks (causing stock prices to rise to record levels)…and on banks’ balance sheets (as reserves parked at the Fed).

Of course, when you read Big Ben’s 2002 comments, he expected the banks to lend.  That’s the way all the new money was supposed to get to the market.

But frightened borrowers weren’t anxious to take on more debt.  They were inclined to save or pay off debt, rather than spend.

So there’s not been a long line of borrowers to lend to.

On the lender side, with the politicians busy POUNDING on the banks (and rightfully so)…banks decided it was safer NOT to loan…except to only the very BEST borrowers.

But now that all the very best borrowers have taken on their fill of debt, Uncle Sam is back to making nice with the banks…hoping to get all the money pushed out into the market.

And guess which sector they’re focused on?

Yep.  Real estate.  And it’s happening as we head into an election year.  But that’s probably just a coincidence.

Check out this headline:

FHA Offers Olive Branch to Hesitant LendersWall Street Journal 9/1/15

The government is trying to coax banks back to making mortgage loans to risky borrowers…”

This makes sense because we already have construction lending surging.  But builders can only borrow if they have buyers to sell to.  And most buyers can only buy if they can get financing.

So Uncle Sam can see that the bottleneck in the pipeline is at the street level…where real estate investors like you invest.

All this to say (and thanks for reading to the end) that the stock market gyrations could actually be GOOD for real estate in the mid-term.

When nervous stock investors seek safety, they’ll go to bonds and push interest rates down.  Great!  Borrow all you can and lock in LOW FIXED rates.

Make SURE your properties cash flow conservatively and focus on big, affordable markets with low taxes, a friendly business environment, and a diverse local economy.

Some frightened stock investors will pile into real estate…just like they did in 2001 after the tech bubble deflated.  The Chinese already are.

So, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a run UP in prices in the near term…which could be a chance to grab some equity and move it to safety…once again taking advantage of increasingly liberal lending.Is another housing bubble forming?

Eventually, the real estate bubble that’s beginning to inflate now will “pass a little gas”.  Or maybe a lot.

Sure, it will stink.  But it won’t kill you if you’re prepared to hold your breath and go in and do some bargain hunting.

Meanwhile, as all this unfolds, it’s a good idea to continue to watch and prepare.  You can’t control it.  But you can roll with it.

Good investing!

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11/2/14: Clues in the News – Election, Market Direction and Alan Greenspan’s Warning

There’s lots of news affecting real estate investors…and most of it doesn’t have anything to do with real estate.

In this episode, we read between the headlines to what’s in the news that real estate investors should be paying attention to.

In the broadcast newsbooth for this informative edition of Clues in the News:

  • Your anchor and host, Robert Helms
  • His dead-weight co-host, Russell Gray

In case you were in a coma the first week in November, the Republicans took over the U.S. Congress by winning a majority in the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House of Representatives.

Maybe that makes you happy.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But it doesn’t really matter how you, or we, feel about the results.  It happened.

So the next questions are…what does it mean, what happens next, and how is it likely to affect real estate investors?

The Election Results are a Barometer of the Mood of the Market

We think it’s pretty obvious the electorate isn’t happy with the state of the Union.  After all, happy prosperous people don’t vote to rock the boat if everything is smooth sailing.

So all’s not well on Main Street in spite of a booming stock market, allegedly low unemployment and continued low interest rates.

Since your tenants are part of the electorate, we’re guessing their pocket books aren’t overflowing with joy…or money…right now.  So we continue to favor affordable markets and product types, and nothing in the election or other news changes our mind.

The Maestro Sings a New Song

As we discussed in a recent blogpost on Alan Greenspan’s Shocking Confession, Alan Greenspan seems to agree that Fed policy hasn’t done much to help the real economy.  No wonder the voters threw a fit.

Also, Greenspan said that the timing of rising interest rates might be outside the Fed’s control.  If so, this affirms that it’s a good idea to grab as much cheap money as you can reasonably control with conservative cash flows and lock in fixed rates for the long term.

Last, but FAR from least, according to the Wall Street Journal, Greenspan said, “gold is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.”

Considering gold was tanking as he was talking, it seems like Alan Greenspan is concerned about “the policies conducted by governments”.

So in spite of the dollar’s recent surge and gold’s recent decline, for long term investors, it seems that even Alan Greenspan is a fan of real asset investing.

Maybe one of the governments he was talking about is Japan…

Bank of Japan Stuns Financial Markets with Massive Stimulus

So the whole world watches the Fed announce tapering and then, to many pundits’ surprise, actually do it…all the while touting the “robust” U.S. economy (funny…seems no one told the voters, who apparently missed the memo).

Then, as soon as the Fed’s expected tapering is done, the Wall Street Journal reports Japan’s “stunning” announcement of a MASSIVE stimulus package.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, “Japanese policy makers jolted global markets” by taking “Japanese economic policy into the uncharted territory of extreme stimulus“.

How extreme?

Well, according to Bloomberg, who also published an article on the move, the Bank of Japan “plans to buy 8 trillion to 12 trillion yen ($108 billion) of Japanese government bonds per month.”

For perspective, the QE that the Fed just finished started at $85 billion per month and tapered down.  That means the Japanese QE is 27% bigger than the U.S. program at it’s PEAK.  That’s massive, especially considering that the Japanese economy is only 1/3 the size of the U.S.

The Bloomberg article quoted the chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors as saying, “The BOJ is basically declaring that Japan will need to fix its long-term problems by 2018 or risk becoming a failed nation.”

So we have a few observations…especially if you’re sitting there thinking, “What the heck does Japan have to do with my rental house on Main Street, USA?

First, we’re in a GLOBAL economy.  Just think about how much foreign money is buying U.S. stocks, real estate and bonds.  Not to mention, how many Japanese companies employ U.S. workers?  And how many U.S. companies earn profits selling to Japanese businesses and consumers?

In a global economy, when a major component (Japan is #3 behind the U.S. and China) fails, EVERYONE is affected.

Right now, no one is saying Japan will fail.  And if it did, no one knows for sure what that looks like for everyone else.  But it bears watching, which is why we are.

Also, Japan has been a major purchaser of U.S. Treasuries.  In fact, according to the Unites States Treasury website, Japan is the second largest owner of U.S. debt behind China.  If we had to guess, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some of all that stimulus end up in U.S. Treasuries.  After all, if the Fed and China are curtailing purchases, either bond prices will drop (interest rates will rise)…or someone (Japan?) will need to fill the void.

The point is that when ANY central bank prints gobs of money and buys bonds, it affects interest rates for everyone…including Main Street real estate investors.

But it isn’t just bond prices and interest rates which are affected…

Back to the Wall Street Journal article, which says that the Bank of Japan will expand its asset buying program to include “not just more government bonds, but also stocks and real-estate funds.”

In our travels, we talk to lots of Main Street real estate investors and agents.  We hear reports all the time that foreign buyers concerned about the safety of their money are parking it in U.S. real estate.

Obviously, when any central bank is printing money like crazy, smart investors in ANY nation move quickly to get into real assets. But here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Right now, the dollar is “strong” because major currencies like the Yen and the Euro are being destroyed faster than the dollar.  So any commodity denominated in dollars gets cheaper (gold, silver, oil, etc).

Worse, there’s strong sentiment, if not substantial proof, that nearly every asset market is largely manipulated by central banks, which makes investing in many asset classes a risky business.

So, in addition to the cultural appeal of real estate for Asian investors, even die-hard paper asset investors are looking at real estate as a solid place to store and build wealth.

In addition to foreign capital moving into U.S. real estate, lending is starting to loosen up both in government and private loan programs.  This means more purchasing power moving into real estate.

We think this is bullish for real estate prices in the near term, though it will be mitigated by the weakness of U.S. home buyers.

But before you get too excited about all the equity happening to you, remember to pay attention to rents.  Because right now, asset values are growing faster than incomes.  This means housing is becoming less affordable for both renters and home buyers.

The last time this happened, lots of us made tons of money on appreciation (get ready, because equity is happening again), but real estate quickly went from being a sound investment to simply being another hot money wave to ride.

We’re not saying don’t ride it.  Quite the contrary.

Just remember to structure your deals so that when the wave goes out again (and it will)…that you can hold on for the long term.  When the tide goes out, everyone can see who’s been swimming naked.

Meanwhile, we’ll be here watching the headlines for Clues in the News.

Listen Now:

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Alan Greenspan’s Shocking Confession

The Real Estate Guys™ just returned from the New Orleans Investment Conference where we (and some of our listeners) had a chance to hear from the Maestro himself, Dr. Alan Greenspan.

The Real Estate Guys Radio Show host and several listeners with former Fed chairman Alan GreenspanIf you’re a long time follower of The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and blog, you know we pay close attention to the Federal Reserve because of it’s strong influence on interest rates, the value of the dollar, and asset prices (like real estate).

In fact, many economists and market pundits believe Alan Greenspan’s policies when he headed up the Fed (1987 to 2006) led to the real estate boom and ultimate bust in 2008.

Coming into the conference, we’d heard rumors that Greenspan was singing a strikingly different tune…about a great many things…than when he was at the helm of the most powerful financial institution on the planet.

Now it should be plainly obvious that Fed policy is hugely important to everyone who owns an asset, runs a business, earns a paycheck, has a savings account or pays on a loan.

So now that he’s on the outside, knowing exactly how it works on the inside, what is Alan Greenspan saying today about the Fed, the dollar, the future of interest rates, and what investors can and should do?

First, he says the bond-buying program known as QE didn’t help the “real economy” (i.e., jobs for the middle-class, real wage growth, or increasing purchasing power and consumer demand).

However, he admits QE did boost asset prices.  So stocks, bonds and real estate are all artificially higher because of easy money.

In other words, the Fed helped the rich get richer, while doing nothing for the middle-class and poor.

But as if THAT admission wasn’t enough, the Wall Street Journal’s article covering Mr. Greenspan’s speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on October 29th said this:

“He also said, ‘I don’t think it’s possible’ for the Fed to end its easy-money policies in a trouble free manner.”

Shortly after Greenspan’s comments, the Fed announced the end of its bond-buying program known as Quantitative Easing (QE).

Does this mean trouble is coming?

(Before you hit the panic button, remember that the flip side of every problem is an opportunity, so “trouble” is usually only bad for the unprepared…)

As real estate investors, not only do we care about jobs, wage growth and purchasing power (after all, it’s hard for unemployed poor people to pay rent), but we also care about interest rates.

So what does Alan Greenspan have to say about the future of interest rates?

Alan Greenspan says it's a good time to by goldBack to the Wall Street Journal article…

“He said the Fed may not even have that much power over the timing of interest-rate increases.”

“‘I think that real pressure is going to occur not by the initiation of the Federal Reserve, but by the markets themselves,‘ Mr. Greenspan said.”

What does THAT mean???

We’ve covered this in detail in previous blogs (just search our site for “Fed”), but the short of it is that without the Fed using QE to create demand by bidding (and buying) U.S. bonds, someone (the market) is going to have to step up and buy them…because if they don’t, the lack of bidding will cause bond prices to drop.

And when bond prices drop, interest rates rise.  So if the markets don’t bid strongly enough on bonds, then no matter what the Fed says, the markets will decide when and how much interest rates rise.

In other words, how the market feels about the quality of the debt (the likelihood of being repaid) AND the quality of the currency the debt is denominated in (purchasing power) makes a BIG difference in what yield investors will demand from the borrower.

Right now, investors still consider U.S. Treasuries as “safe”.  That is, there’s very little probability of default…in spite of past political posturing over debt ceilings. That’s because the Fed can print as many dollars as it takes to pay off the debt.

But when that happens, it reduces confidence in the dollar itself (the quality of the currency).  Because just like when a company issues more shares of stock against the same earnings and assets, the value of each share (in this case, dollar) is diluted.

Real Asset Investing - How to Grow and Protect Your Wealth Against a Falling DollarAs we chronicle in our special report, Real Asset Investing – How to Grow and Protect Your Wealth in the Face of a Falling Dollar, there’s already been substantial moves away from the dollar and dollar denominated assets and trade.

China has signed bi-lateral currency swap agreements with virtually every major country, which essentially facilitates their international trade without having to use dollars.  And China is the world’s second largest economy to the U.S….and closing fast.

Meanwhile, China and Russia have been stocking up on gold as fast as they can.  It seems they’d rather hold their savings in a tangible asset versus a paper asset…like the U.S. dollar or dollar denominated Treasuries.

And what does Alan Greenspan have to say about gold?

Back to the Wall Street Journal article….

“Mr. Greenspan said gold is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.”

It seems Alan Greenspan is a fan of real assets.  He sounds more like Jim Rickards (author of The Death of Money) than a former chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Yet gold tanked after the Fed quit QE!  And other real assets like real estate and oil have also been sliding.

So is Greenspan wrong…or does he know something is coming that will change the value of the dollar?

It seems that Greenspan is warning us that interest rates are likely to rise before the Fed is ready.  And if that happens, the Fed is likely to get back in the bond buying business to stop it.  Peter Schiff says there will be more QE programs than Rocky movies.

And every time the Fed exits QE, only to come back and do it again…and again (remember, this was QE3 with an Operation Twist thrown in between 2 & 3 for good measure), at some point the world loses faith in the dollar.

When THAT happens, interest rates go up, the dollar falls, and real assets like gold, housing, farmland and energy will be in demand…not just for their utility, but for their ability to retain value as currencies like dollars, euros and yen fail.

Fortunately, real assets are on sale right now.

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The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training and resources that help real estate investors succeed.