Something weird is happening with mortgages …

Real estate investing is largely the business of using debt to acquire streams of income and build oceans of equity.

In the hands of a professional real estate investor, mortgages are like a super-charged power tool … making the job of wealth building easier, faster, and more profitable.

Of course, powerful tools in the hands of amateurs can do a lot of damage … hacking off chunks of equity or creating wounds which hemorrhage cash flow.

But in all cases, for any investor who has, or is building, a lot debt in their portfolio … it’s wise to pay close attention to the condition of credit markets.

Sometimes new tools create opportunity. Sometimes there are hints that something might be breaking down.

In a little more esoteric corner of our news feed, we noticed a potentially concerning headline …

MBS Day Ahead: Another Chance to Watch MBS Suffer
Mortgage News Daily, 8/27/19

For the uninitiated, MBS isn’t referring to the controversial crown prince from Saudi Arabia. They’re talking about Mortgage Backed Securities.

Mortgage-backed securities are the vehicle Wall Street uses to funnel investment dollars into Main Street real estate.

As you may recall, it was Wall Street stuffing toxic sub-prime mortgages into the MBS they sold to institutional investors that triggered the 2008 financial crisis.

So it’s well known that MBS suffering can lead to serious Main Street suffering, especially for aggressive users of mortgages … like real estate investors.

The notable takeaway from the article is this chart which shows mortgage rates have decoupled from 10-year Treasury yields …

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Source: Mortgage News Daily

According to The Real Estate Guys™ secret decoder ring, this means mortgage rates aren’t falling as far as fast as those of the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond.

This is notable, because it’s generally accepted among mortgage pros that the two are inextricably linked … because it’s always been that way.

But not now. Weird.

Of course, it begs the question … WHY?

According to the article, bond “traders are citing increased supply … with an absence of buyers …”

Now you can see from the chart, this has only been going on for a couple of weeks … so perhaps it’s just a little anomaly and nothing to freak out about.

But just like some war vets have panic attacks when a backfiring engine pops like live ammo, we get a little spooked when the bid on MBS dries up.

After all, it was MBS going no bid was the nuclear bomb which ignited the 2008 credit market collapse.

No one is saying another Great Financial Crisis is imminent … although for the aware and prepared, it could be a HUGE opportunity …

… but softness in MBS demand is a dot on the curve worth noting.

Looking at some other dots …

US home price growth slows for 15th straight month
Yahoo Finance, 8/27/19

“The market for existing-home sales remained soft in June despite some boost from lower mortgage rates as consumers remain wary of high home prices …”

Remember, home prices reflect the value of the collateral for mortgages being packaged up and put into mortgage-backed securities.

When property prices are rising, lenders (the buyers of MBS) see their security go up in the form of greater “protective equity” which insulates them from loss in the case of default.

Also, equity gained from rising property values creates greater incentives for the borrower to make the payments.

Sometimes, in a rising price environment, as lenders compete to make loans, they’re willing to take on more risk at inception …

… because they believe rising property values will increase their security over time.

So whereas a lender might really want 20-25% protective equity (75-80% loan-to-value) … they might be willing to originate a loan at only 10-15% to get the loan.

Then, as prices rise and equity builds, the lender quickly ends up with the protective equity they’re looking for.

But when prices slow or reverse, you’d expect the opposite …

FHA sets limits on cash-out refinancing
The Washington Post, 8/27/19

“Beginning Sept. 1, FHA borrowers will now be limited to cash-out refinancing a maximum of 80 percent of their home value.”

We’ve also heard rumors that Fannie Mae will be limiting access to cash-out loans on multi-family properties.  Stay tuned on that one.

Is this a meltdown? Hardly. But it’s a subtle shift in the wind which bears watching.

Meanwhile, rates are GREAT. Loans are still largely readily available.

And if you’ve got lots of equity and cash flow, now could be a great time to liquefy equity using long term debt while paying careful attention to cash flow.

If there’s a chance prime properties in solid markets will be going on sale in the not-too-distant future, you’ll want to be prepared to go shopping.

Meanwhile, there are still affordable rental markets offering reliable cash flows TODAY.

Repositioning equity from high-priced markets to affordable cash flow markets or product niches can be a great way to make your balance sheet work harder … without having to wait for a recession (or worse) to provide bargains.

After all, sometimes markets don’t crash suddenly or at all. They simply recede slowly for a season before ratcheting back up.  So sitting on the sidelines waiting for “the big one” could take your entire career. Base hits win games, too. Never swinging means you’ll never get on base.

Meanwhile, it’s probably a good idea to pay close attention to credit markets on the macro level and cash flow on the micro level.

Until next time … good investing!


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Avoid getting caught in this trap …

A long, long time ago in a world without video games, we played a boardgame called Mousetrap. Since a picture’s worth a thousand words …

image

To see it in action, click here.

As you can see, Mousetrap is a pretty elaborate set up where an initial action sets off a chain reaction of subsequent actions …

… until finally the unsuspecting mouse is caught in a descending trap.

Credit markets are a lot like Mousetrap …

… and the further back you can see through the chain of events, the more likely you are to see what’s coming … and avoid getting trapped out of position.

The Great Financial Crisis of 2008 taught us how dangerous it is to keep our noses myopically to the real estate investing grindstone … falsely aloof and insulated from the turmoil of credit and currency markets.

When the trap fell, we were caught … illiquid and upside down … with not enough time to react.

So we’ve learned to pay careful attention to the machinations of the markets. And right now, there are a lot of moving parts.

Depending on how long you’ve been watching, some of the action may seem disconnected and even irrelevant to your daily real estate investing.

Be careful.

Gold, oil, trade, tariffs, currency, and bonds are far more intertwined than most folks realize … and they all conspire together to impact credit markets and interest rates.

And last time we looked, credit markets and interest rates are very important to serious real estate investors.

By now, you’re probably aware the Fed dropped interest rates for the first time in 11 years.

Granted, it wasn’t much … only 25 basis points (.25%).

But the stock market didn’t like it. And neither did President Trump, who was unabashed in his displeasure with the Jerome Powell led Fed.

So that’s one piece of the puzzle.

You’ve also probably heard that the U.S. and China have been engaged in an economic pissing contest for quite some time.

Here again, President Trump is displeased with China’s trade policy with the U.S. and he’s been using tariffs to goad them to the negotiating table.

But the last round of talks didn’t end well, so Trump slapped more tariffs on the Chinese exports to the United States.

Once again, the stock market didn’t like it much.

Let’s take a time out here to remind ourselves that when money flees the stock market, it usually ends up in bonds. As demand for bonds goes UP, interest rates go DOWN.

Then, as interest rates do down, investors go back to stocks in pursuit of yield, and everything reverses. It’s an ebb and flow of funds which creates a degree of equilibrium.

Or at least that’s how it usually works …

Sometimes, when investors don’t like either stocks or bonds, they buy other things for safety … including gold and real estate.

This is a far more interesting development and something we discussed at length in a recent commentary.

But that was before China allegedly punched back at Uncle Sam’s latest tariffs by allowing their currency to fall below the politically significant 7:1 ratio to the dollar.

Now before your eyes glaze over, it’s not as complicated as it seems. And as we’re about to point out, it has more of an impact on your real estate investing than you may realize.

When China allows its yuan to weaken relative to the dollar, it takes more yuan to buy a dollar. More significantly, it means dollars will buy more Chinese goods.

In other words, it makes Chinese goods cheaper for Americans … effectively negating the punitive impact of U.S. tariffs. It’s like blocking the punch.

The Trump Administration wasn’t happy about China’s “block” and, for first time since the Clinton Administration, decided to brand the Chinese as “currency manipulators”.

Without getting into the weeds, it means the conflict is escalating … and the two heavyweight economies are turning a gentleman’s disagreement into a street fight.

With the two economies highly intertwined with each other … and very influential around the globe … this altercation has the potential to impact virtually everyone world-wide … including Main Street real estate investors.

Of course, we’ve been talking about this since 2013 when the clues in the news made it clear the dollar is under attack by China (and Russia).

We’re not telling you this to brag. We’re simply saying these are events which many people have seen coming … and have been preparing for.

And it’s not over by a long shot.

So if want a broader context for what you see reported in the daily news, you might want to check out our Real Asset Investing report and our Future of Money and Wealth video series.

And if you’re not sure why all this matters to a lowly Main Street real estate investor, consider this headline …

China could unleash this weapon on the financial markets to wallop the USYahoo Finance, August 6, 2019

“They [China] could start selling Treasuries which is what they use to benchmark the yuan to the dollar and that would be the doomsday scenario.

(By the way, Russia’s already done it, but they’re small fry compared to China.)

“While China has reduced its holdings of Treasuries in recent years,
any amount of pronounced dumping could send U.S. interest rates skyrocketing.

Remember, this is Mouse Trap …

Think about what “skyrocketing” interest rates would mean to an economy bloated with record levels of consumer, corporate, municipal, and federal debt.

As we discussed exactly one year ago, America’s debt could be an Achilles heel China could attack by dropping the interest rate bomb.

Back then, this was considered an extreme view … highly unlikely because dumping that many Treasuries at once could cost China billions.

But China’s been stocking up on gold … perhaps as a hedge against collapsing the dollar?

And when you consider the cost of “war” … even a trillion dollar loss is less than what the U.S. has spent in the Middle East.

So it’s not too far-fetched to think China might consider the loss just the cost of winning the trade war.

Let’s bring it back down to Main Street …

We’re not saying interest rates will skyrocket. But they could. There’s a lot more room to rise than decline.

And if China is playing a different game than Uncle Sam thinks, they may make a move few expect.

Is your portfolio fortified to withstand a sudden spike in interest rates?

“The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shining.” – John F. Kennedy

Think about it. Pay attention. Inspect the roof … and make repairs.

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.


Love the show?  Tell the world!  When you promote the show, you help us attract more great guests for your listening pleasure!