It might be time to start worrying …

The mother of all private equity firms just issued a warning …

Blackstone Group Warns of the Mother of All Bubbles
Investopedia via Yahoo Finance – 11/11/19

According to the article, Blackstone’s “… biggest concern is negative yields on sovereign debt worth $13 trillion …”.

Remember, the 2008 financial crisis was detonated in bond markets … and the bomb landed hard on Main Street real estate.

So yes, this is something Main Street real estate investors probably want to pay attention to.

In fact, the article says Blackstone “… sees a troubling parallel with the 2008 financial crisis …”

Keep in mind, Blackstone manages over $550 billion (with a B) … which includes over $150 billion of real estate equity in a portfolio of properties worth over $320 billion.

So Blackstone has both the means and the motivation to study these things intensely … and they think about real estate too.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re right. But they’re certainly qualified to have an opinion worthy of consideration. And right now, Blackstone is worried.

And they’re not alone …

More than half of the world’s richest investors see a big market drop in 2020, says UBS survey
CNBC – 11/12/19

“Fifty-five percent of more than 3,400 high net worth investors surveyed by UBS expect a significant drop in the markets at some point in 2020.

“… the super-rich have increased their cash holdings to 25% of their average assets ….”

Of course, they’re talking to paper asset investors, but the sentiment applies to the overall investment climate, which also affects real estate.

Also, by “super-rich”, they’re talking about investors with at least $1 million investable. So while that’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s also not the private jet club either.

So from behemoth Blackstone Group to main street millionaires, serious investors are worried right now.

Should YOU be worried too?

Probably. But it’s not what you think …

In fact, according to this article, Blackstone’s CEO Stephen Schwarzman believes worrying is fun 

“In his new memoir What it Takes, the private-equity titan advises readers that worrying ‘is playful, engaging work that requires you never switch it off.’

This approach helped him to protect Blackstone Group investors from the worst of the subprime real estate crisis …”

There are some really GREAT lessons here …

Worrying is something to be embraced, not avoided.

Many people believe investing and wealth will create a worry-free life. Our experience and observation says this is completely untrue.

In fact, to adapt Ben Parker’s famous exhortation to his coming of age nephew Peter Parker in the first Tobey Maguire Spider-Man film …

“With great wealth, comes great responsibility.”

Worrying is the flip side of responsibility. They go hand and hand. If want wealth, you need to learn to live with worry.

Worrying isn’t about being negative or pessimistic.

In Jim Collins’s classic book, Good to Great, he says great businesses (investing is a business) always “confront the brutal facts”.

That’s because you can’t solve a problem you don’t see.

But missing problems isn’t merely a case of oversight or ignorance. Sometimes, it’s bias or denial.

In fact, one of the most dangerous things in investing is “normalcy bias.

This is a mindset which prevents an investor from acknowledging an imminent or impending danger and taking evasive action.

Mega-billionaire real estate investor Sam Zell says one of his secrets to success is his ability to see the downside and still move forward.

Threats often aren’t singular or congruent … they’re discordant.

According to this article …

“CEO Steve Schwarzman of Blackstone searches for ‘discordant notes’, or trends in the economy and the markets that appear to be separate and isolated, but which can combine with devastating results.”

This is the very concept of complexity theory that Jim Rickards explains in his multi-book series from Currency Wars to Aftermath.

The point is that major wealth-threatening events seldom occur in isolation or without a trigger and chain reaction that is often not obvious.

It’s why we think it’s important to pay attention to people and events outside the real estate world.

The more you see the big picture and inter-connectedness of markets, geo-politics, and financial systems, the more likely you are to see a threat developing while there’s time to get in position to avoid loss or capture opportunity.

Cash is king in a crisis.

This might seem obvious, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. After all, cash isn’t king in Venezuela … because their cash is trash.

Americans don’t think of cash apart from the dollar. And their normalcy bias says they don’t need to.

It’s true the dollar is king of the currencies … for now.

Yet as we explained in our Future of Money and Wealth presentation, the dollar has been under attack for some time.

But even as high-net worth investors, the most notable of which is Warren Buffet, build up their cash holdings, it’s a good time to consider not just the why of cash … but the HOW.

The WHY of cash is probably obvious …

When asset bubbles deflate, it takes cash to go bargain hunting.

It’s no fun to be in a market full of quality assets at rock bottom prices … and have no purchasing power.

But the HOW of cash is a MUCH more important discussion … and too big for the tail end of this muse. Perhaps we’ll take it up in a future writing or radio show.

For now, here are something to consider when it comes to cash …

Cash is about liquidity. It’s having something readily available and universally accepted in exchange for any asset, product or service.

So, “cash” may or may not be your local currency.

Even it is, perhaps it’s wise to have a variety of currencies on hand … depending on where you are and where you’d like to buy bargain assets.

It should be obvious, but cash is not credit.

So, if you’re counting on your 800 FICO, your HELOC, and your American Express Black Card for liquidity, you might want to think again.

Broken credit markets are often the cause of a crisis, so you can’t count on credit when prices collapse. You need cash.

Counter-party risk is another important consideration. This is another risk most Americans seldom consider … but should.

That’s because one of the “fixes” to the financial system after 2008 is the bail-in provisions of the Dodd-Frank legislation.

“With a bank bail-in, the bank uses the money of its unsecured creditors, including depositors and bondholders, to restructure their capital so it can stay afloat.”
Investopedia – 6/25/19

Yikes. Most people with money in the bank don’t realize their deposits are unsecured loans to the bank … or that the bank could default on the deposit.

That’s why the recent repo market mini-crisis has so many alert observers concerned. Are banks low on cash?

As we’ve noted before, central banks are the ultimate insiders when it comes to cash … and they’ve been stocking up on gold.

Maybe it’s time to consider keeping some of YOUR liquidity in precious metals.

You can’t win on the sidelines.

Even though serious investors are increasing liquidity in case there’s a big sale, they aren’t hiding full-fetal in a bunker. They’re still invested.

This is where real estate is the superior opportunity.

It’s hard to find bargains in a hot market when your assets are commodities like stocks and bonds. Price discovery is too efficient.

But real estate is highly inefficient … and every property and sub-market is unique. So compared to paper assets, it’s a lot easier to find investable real estate deals … even at the tail end of a long boom.

Of course, if you’re loaded with equity, it’s probably a smart time to harvest some to build up cash reserves. Just stay VERY attentive to cash flow.

Pension problems percolating …

In a complex financial eco-system, there are MANY components, dependencies, and inter-dependencies …

… any of which can be the catalyst for a seismic economic earthquake.

The flip side and basis of real estate’s stability is real estate’s relative lack of liquidity as compared to publicly traded securities.

After all, you can’t hit a buy or sell button and execute a real estate transaction in seconds like you can with stocks, bonds, currencies and options.

Real estate moves slowly.

That’s why real estate prices and rents don’t bounce around on a daily basis after a Presidential tweet, an executive faux pas, a jobs report, or even a Federal Reserve interest rate pronouncement.

It’s also why so many Mom and Pop investors come home to real estate when the Wall Street roller coaster ride becomes a little too nauseating.

But because most minor economic waves tend to break harmlessly against the breakwater of real estate’s stability…

… real estate investors can get bored of watching the horizon for the occasional financial tsunami.

And boredom’s not the only problem.

There’s also the issue of overwhelm. In today’s complex world, there’s not only a lot more to watch, there’s a lot more chatter.

While lots of information is generally good, some stories get lost in the noise. And entering an election year, there’s a LOT of noise out there.

But it’s a mistake to tune out and assume all is well. Or to put blind faith in the “smart” people whose hands are on the controls.

Sometimes, those in control are the very people creating and downplaying the problems.

Remember, it was then Fed chair Ben Bernanke who assured the world in 2007 that the sub-prime crisis was contained and didn’t pose a threat to the economy.

We all know how that ended.

Current Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently assured the world that the U.S. economic expansion is sustainable.

Perhaps.

But there’s a long list of alarm bells going off … in bond markets, in oil, in trade, the dollargeo-politics, and the resumption of easy money (just don’t call it QE).

Okay. Take a breath. Yes, Halloween is coming up, but we’re not trying to scare you … much.

It’s unwise to unplug a blaring smoke alarm because it’s interrupting your sleep.

If you’re trapped in the wrong slow-moving real estate and you wake up late to a developing problem …

… you may not be able to rearrange your portfolio fast enough to avoid losses and capture opportunities.

Remember … a bend in the road isn’t the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn … and problems and opportunities exist concurrently in any transition.

Events are often only as good or bad as your personal awareness and preparation make them.

So back to our threat assessment …

You’re going to be hearing more about problems with pensions.

But before you check out because you think pensions don’t have anything to do with you … think again.

You may not have a pension. But lots of people do.

More importantly, pensions control a HUGE chunk of assets in the economy, including stocks, bonds, and real estate.

While there may be many reasons for any particular pension fund’s failure, there are a couple of undeniable macro-factors common to all …

… artificially low-interest rates and an aging population.

This one-two punch has many pension plans on the ropes.

Recently, General Electric (GE), an iconic company once revered for its great management, announced it’s freezing workers’ pensions.

GE is FAR from alone.

Both public and private pension programs, not to mention Social Security, have been on a slow motion collision course with insolvency for many years.

There are many potential ramifications for real estate investors. Some good. Some not so much.

Starting with the not so good …

Loss of purchasing power creates a ripple effect in any economy … affecting which states, cities, neighborhood, product types, and price points people can afford for housing.

Jobs and wages are important. But neither have a direct impact on retired people living on fixed income.

When costs tenants can’t control rise for essential items such as energy, healthcare, food … they’re forced to cut back on big things they can control, like rent.

Think about that when you jump on the senior housing bandwagon. Not all senior housing communities or investments are created equal.

Also, for investors with properties in retirement markets … even if YOUR tenants aren’t depending on pensions and social security directly …

… those retirement checks still provide the economic fuel for the local economy.

After all, your tenants might work at the restaurant, gas station, grocery store, dry-cleaner, auto shop, or landscaping service providing services to retirees.

When retirees cut back, it affects those tertiary businesses and their employees (your tenants). Pay attention to these dependencies.

Bigger picture, failing pension plans mean potential bailouts.

While the Federal government can (for now) still print unlimited amounts of dollars, local municipalities cannot.

So failing local government pensions create a huge temptation for local officials to increase property taxes and the costs of municipal services.

Landlords are easy targets for pandering politicians in cash-strapped towns.

And while you might not pay directly for all municipal services, it doesn’t matter. If the tenant’s costs go up, it puts downward pressure on their ability to pay you rent.

It’s a complex eco-system and we’re all inter-connected.

Bailouts also could mean big federal tax increases, or perhaps even worse … loss of faith in the dollar, rising interest rates (pressure on both you and the tenants), and a general decline in the economy, jobs, and wages.

Robert Kiyosaki tells us failing pensions are one of his biggest concerns right now.

There’s more to watch out for, but before you go into a full-fetal coma, let’s end on a high note …

The flip-side of any crisis is opportunity.

When asset prices collapse, those who are liquid, educated, well-connected, and emotionally prepared can acquire quality assets at bargain prices.

So note to self: Now is the time to get liquid, educated, well-connected, and emotionally prepared.

Sadly, many retirees will sell homes to raise cash, then enter the ranks of renters. So just like 2008, demand for rentals in the right areas could actually increase.

Therefore, it’s important to really understand your markets, their drivers and demographics, and to be mindful of the product types and price points favored by an increasingly large retirement population.

For example, multi-story homes can be less desirable to seniors. Warm weather is a plus … who wants to shovel snow in their 70s?

Great local medical services are also really important to seniors.

And if retirees have moved away from friends and family in search of affordability, great transportation infrastructure is another valuable market “amenity”.

And of course, areas with an overall lower tax burden help those fixed incomes stretch further.

It’s not rocket science, but you do have to think.

That’s why we attend conferences and listen to smart people talk about all these things from different perspectives.

It’s also why we host the Investor Summit at Sea™ each year, where we get together with big-picture thinkers together and street-level niche experts to find ways to think big but invest small and smart.

Whether you join us at these events or find your own tribe, we encourage you to take your nose off the grindstone a few times a year and confer with the smartest investors you can find.

Because even though you can’t possibly watch it all and see every threat or opportunity forming, your tribe can. And you can all learn faster together.

Until next time … good investing!


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