At this rate, something’s gotta give …

Real estate investors tend to like low interest rates.  

After all, low rates mean lower payments for the same size mortgage … or a bigger mortgage for the same payments.  Nice.

The current Wizard of Rates is Fed chair Jerome Powell.  And he just showed up on 60 Minutes and told everyone …

“‘We don’t feel any hurry’ to raise rates this year.”

Many Fed followers consider this a bit of an about face.

And those who use the Fed’s actions as a barometer of economic health and stability are asking what this more dovish stance means.

After all, isn’t the motive of low rates to goose a sluggish economy?  So then what’s all that healthy economy talk?

Also weird is that just over six months ago, Powell stood at a podium and defended his plan to RAISE rates.

Then two months ago he said, ‘The case for raising rates has weakened …”

Last summer, he apparently couldn’t see six months ahead … and now all of the sudden he’s clear for a year? 

Maybe the answer is here …

Fed Chair Powell: ‘The US federal government is on an unsustainable fiscal path’
– Yahoo Finance, 2/26/19

Summit faculty member Peter Schiff constantly reminds us … the economy is addicted to cheap money and Uncle Sam is addicted to spending.

Of course, addicts … and their enablers … sometimes take extreme steps to keep the party going.

So that could mean more money printing … because that’s how the Fed keeps rates down.  And as any debt-ridden household knows, lower interest rates help make a giant debt load a little easier to service.

That’s probably more important than anyone’s letting on.

Because with record corporate, consumer, and government debt … there’s a lot of cheap money junkies out there.

So … maybe the Fed’s just trying to keep them all supplied?

Of course, we have no way of really knowing what data or philosophy is driving Jerome Powell’s decisions.  We just watch and react.

But based on all the green lights flashing across stocks, bonds, oil, and precious metals … it looks like asset price inflation is the bet du jour.

At least for now.

But even though it’s party time in the Wall Street casinos, real estate investors need to play the game differently.

We don’t have the luxury of jumping in and out of positions on a moment’s notice.  Besides, that’s not our game.

We’re not trying to buy low and sell high.  Real estate investors work to find a spread between the cost of capital and the cash flow on capital invested.

So let’s switch from the macro view and get a little closer to Main Street … and glean some lessons from self-storage investors.

But before you tune out, this isn’t about self-storage … it’s about how real estate investors are reacting to an big influx of capital. 

Because as cheap capital floods any market (niche, geography, asset class) it affects prices and yields.   So sooner or later, investors move around searching for opportunities.

And that’s what’s happening in self-storage … 

Self-Storage Investors Start Looking at Smaller Markets to Capture Higher Yields
National Real Estate Investor, 3/11/19

This headline caught our attention because of what the Fed is doing with interest rates.  And as we dug deeper, we found some notable excerpts …

“Investors are being more careful about which assets to bet on …”

“ … worried about the number of new … properties …”

 “To avoid competition from new properties coming on-line … buyers have turned their attention to secondary markets …”

“ … buyers in overbuilt markets are taking more time to underwrite their deals, double-checking assumptions about future leasing and rent growth.”

There’s more, but let’s stop and process these thoughts …

First, these are lessons investors in ANY income-property niche should take note of.  So it’s not just about what’s happening in self-storage.

Notice the attention to supply and demand. 

We see lots of rookie real estate investors crunch the numbers of the property … but completely ignore the inventory pipeline of the market.

And of course, there’s also the supply of prospective renters in a market.  That’s why we also look at population and migration trends.

The article also highlights something we’ve been talking about for a while …

People, businesses, and investors will “overflow” from mature primary markets into emerging secondary markets in search of affordability.

The danger is getting into an emerging market ahead of a migrating problem.

Think about it …

If investors are moving into secondary markets to find better opportunities than in an over-built market … what happens when builders move in for the same reason?

Cheap money makes building easy.  Developers love it.

But Austrian economists warn of “malinvestment” … when bad investments look good primarily because money is cheap.

All long-term debt needs stable long-term cash-flow to service it.  If supply exceeds demand, and rents and cash flows fall … debt can go bad fast.

So when looking at markets, pay attention to the capacity of market to absorb more inventory without collapsing rents.

Because if you go in with optimistic underwriting (tight cash flow) and supply expands faster than demand and rents fall … you could be in trouble.

That’s why self-storage investors are “taking more time to underwrite their deals”.  Maybe you should too.

Hot markets can be intoxicating for investors.  It’s easy to jump on a hot trend hoping to catch a nice ride …

Despite these worries … investors keep paying higher and higher prices … relative to income.  Cap rates … are at their lowest point on record.”

“They continue to trend lower even though interest rates have begun to rise …”

“There is a tremendous amount of capital chasing yield.

That’s what happens when interest rates are low.

Don’t get us wrong.  We’re not complaining.  We like low-cut interest rates as much as the next guy.  But hot markets can be fickle. 

So the moral of this muse is to stay sober and diligent about your underwriting … and be very wary of using short term money to invest long.

Until next time … good investing!


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The dichotomy economy …

Have you noticed a bit of division in the news … over just about EVERYTHING?

As you may know, we obsess on all things economic and how they affect Main Street real estate investors … and try to steer clear of the more divisive topics.

But even the financial news is a polarized collection of confusing banter.

On the one hand, we see reports about low unemploymentGDP growth over 4 percentrising consumer confidence, and record high small business optimism.

That all sounds awesome.

On the other hand, we read about record levels of household debtstagnant real wages, and growing government deficits … at a time when interest rates are rising.

Then there’s the ballooning corporate debtgrossly underfunded pensions even as boomers are retiring at 10,000 plus per day … and the hard-to-understand impact of a strong dollar on pretty much everything.

All that sounds mostly scary.

Sure, you could say it all blends together into a balanced and comfortable investing climate …

But that’s like saying if you have one foot in a bucket of boiling water and the other in a bucket of ice water … on average you’re comfortable.  Probably not.

But before you pull the sheets over your head and hope it all blows over, consider this pearl of wisdom from Atlas Shrugged author, Ayn Rand …

“You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”

Of course, we’ll never unpack all this with today’s simple commentary …

… but we hope to encourage you to watch what’s happening, get in conversations with similarly engaged folks, and consider how all these things can and do affect YOU and YOUR investing.  Because they do.

For now, let’s just take a VERY simple investing principle and see if it helps us make sense of this schizophrenic financial world …

Would you borrow money at 2 percent if you could invest it at 4 percent?

 Most investors and businesspeople would.  So on its face, the borrowing isn’t the big problem.  It’s maintaining a positive spread.

This is the world real estate investors live in … borrowing and investing at a positive spread.

Of course, it gets a little trickier when rates are rising.   But the fundamentals of the game remain the same.  When rates rise, you MUST increase earnings, or you lose.

So it’s not just how much you borrow, but what you do with the proceeds.  If you borrow to consume or retire less expensive debt, you’re in trouble.

If you borrow to invest in growth, to acquire higher-yielding assets, to start profitable businesses … debt can be your most valuable tool.

Right now, Uncle Sam is borrowing and spending at a wicked pace.  The multi-trillion-dollar question is whether the borrowing will pay off.

The most recent 10-year Treasury auction saw a record amount of U.S. debt offered and scooped up by investors … at a yield under 3 percent.

(We watch the 10-year because it’s the most correlated to mortgage rates)

So it seems bond investors aren’t overly concerned about Uncle Sam’s debt-levels and capacity to repay with a comparably valued dollar.  For now.

And in spite of the highly touted tax cuts, federal income tax receipts actually GREW nearly 8 percent in the first 10 months of 2018.

BUT … while income is up, deficits and debt are up MORE.

As investors, we understand it sometimes takes time for investments to pay off, so it’s probably not time to judge … yet.

However, this is something we’ll continue to watch carefully.

If the investments pay off, especially in a way that resurrects rust belt markets… there could be some serious real estate investing opportunities on the horizon.

If they don’t, and this is all just a debt-driven faux boom, the end game could be a collapsed currency, ugly recession, and interest rates even the Fed can’t hold down.

Of course, if all the “bad” stuff happens, there’ll be lots of quality assets available at fire-sale prices … for those with enough foresight to liquefy some “boom” equity and keep it at the ready.

Of course, probably the BIGGEST opportunity in either scenario is to have a large network of aware and prepared investors on speed-dial … so you can put together investment funds to ride the wave or pick up the pieces after a crash.

The bottom-line is …

… it’s not external circumstances that primarily control individual success or failure, but rather the individual investor’s awareness, preparedness, and propensity to ACT as circumstances unfold.

How are YOU preparing?

Until next time … good investing!

More From The Real Estate Guys™…

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