What do Trump and Sanders primary wins say to real estate investors?

Trump and Sanders and a Bigger Economic Picture

In the recent New Hampshire primary vote, Trump and Sanders brought home big wins. Donald Trump summed it up in his New Hampshire victory speechTrump and Sanders NH Primary Wins - Donald Trump won the New Hampshire Republican primary by a large margin

If we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we’d have these gatherings?

He could be right.

In spite of “glowing” employment reports and a Fed so confident in the “strength” of the economy it raised interest rates a “whopping” 25 basis points for the first time in nearly a decade…the ire of the electorate (and the stock market) could be telling a much different story.

John Burns Consulting recently issued a report confirming something we’ve been projecting for quite some time:

Americans Are Leaving Big Cities for More Affordable Cities in the South and Northwest

When it comes to real estate, for homeowners or renters (and therefore for landlords), the basis for growth isn’t from foreigners snapping up U.S. real estate as a safe haven…or from hedge funds pumping billions of dollars into single-family home speculation…The real driver underneath fundamental real estate strength is real growth in both jobs and wages.

But in spite of the 4.9% unemployment rate touted by the government, that same government says labor participation is historically very low.

Look at this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

trump and sanders win - U.S. labor participation rate has seen falling substantially for the last 10 years

U.S. Labor Participation Rate – Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Boomers to blame? 

Some say the decline in labor participation is due to baby boomers retiring, but the government’s very own stats don’t support this assertion…

From 2004 to 2014, the only age group to INCREASE in labor participation was age 55 and OLDER.

Labor participation for anything UNDER 55 was actually NEGATIVE.

Clearly, baby boomers aren’t driving down the labor participation rate.  They’re the main group propping it UP!

What about wages?

Back in October 2014, Pew Research revealed that real wages have been stagnant (at best) for decades:

Trump and Sanders and the economy - purchasing power chart

Source: Pew Research Center

More recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported real earnings notched up a tad, but a big chunk of the tiny gain came from a lower CPI (Consumer Price Index).

So small pay raises supplemented by lower prices produced a slight increase in purchasing power.

Is that enough to sustain the robust rental increases landlords have been enjoying the last couple of years?

No.  That’s probably why people are moving to more affordable markets.  A trend we expect to continue.

As you can see, it’s easy to get lost in the statistical weeds.

But the New Hampshire results are telling an easy to understand message on both sides of the aisle.

This economy isn’t booming for working class folks.

Trump and Sanders NH Primary Wins - picture of bernie sanders

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders

So the voters want to kick the bums out, make America great again, return the power to the people, and stick it to the Wall Street elites…which explains (at least partly) the surprising popularity of candidates like Trump and Sanders.

Will the Fed continue to raise rates in an attempt to instill confidence?  

Based on the market’s reaction, it’s hard to imagine they will.  After all, the stock market’s been throwing a hissy fit since the December “hike”.  Just like Peter Schiff said they would.

As we discussed in a recent newsletter, the Fed rate increase resulted in a DECREASE in mortgage rates.

That’s because investors dumped stocks for the “safety” of bonds, pushing yields down (yields or interest rates DECREASE when the prices of the bonds are bid UP by growing demand).

Great!  Cheaper money is always nice for real estate investing.

It’s a reminder that bad times can be great times for investors, so don’t be dismayed by economic uncertainty.

Oil’s still not well…

Another big concern for 2016 remains the impact of lower oil prices on the credit markets.Falling oil prices threaten to implode the bond markets.

If oil prices remain suppressed for whatever reason, while it’s great for consumers (your tenants), it makes it harder for indebted oil companies (employers) to meet their debt obligations.

No surprise U.S. oil bankruptcies have spiked 379%!

And if Wall Street levered up on oil bonds the way they did with sub-prime mortgage bonds, a meltdown in oil bonds could trigger another epic financial crisis…maybe even The Real Crash Peter Schiff has been warning about.

We don’t know.  We just keep watching.

For real estate investors, the message is the same as it’s been for a while…

Affordable properties in tax and business friendly states with good infrastructure, diverse economic drivers, and quality of life amenities will probably see a disproportionate influx of people and businesses.

So while real estate, like everything else, will be impacted by a financial crisis…it isn’t an asset easily dumped by panicked investors.

And the powers that be, from governments to central banks to big business, are all highly motivated to prop up real estate.

Even better, if you’ve locked in super cheap mortgage money for the long term, and picked properties which conservatively cash flow, you’re in a position to ride out a storm.

And if you’re really prepared, you may have converted some of your equity into cash in case prices fall.

As he told us before he was a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump says in the down times, it’s always good to have some cash on hand to go bargain shopping.

For now, the Trump and Sanders freight train seems to be telling us Main Street isn’t drinking the “all is well” Kool-Aid.

So our focus remains on markets, properties and financing structures which position real estate investors to prosper in an economy that isn’t yet on solid footing for Main Street.

After all, that’s where our tenants live.

Until next time…

Good Investing!

Betting on Chinese Home Buyers in the US

John Burns Real Estate Consulting provide market intelligence to the real estate development and investment industry

Contributed by John Burns

Chinese home buyers comprise roughly 2% of US housing demand—and far more than that in the gateway metro areas with excellent airport access.

  • According to the NAR, 16% of international home buyers come from China and spent $29 billion last year, surpassing Canada, which has fallen from 24% of foreign activity to 13%.
  • CNBC reported that 39% of foreign buyers in Manhattan are Chinese, up from 12% last year. Passenger travel to the US from Beijing has increased 141% in the last 5 years and has increased 127% from Shanghai.
  • Of the 8 currencies we track for foreign buying activity, the Chinese currency is the only one that has held up against the dollar in the last year, and that just began changing last week.
  • The Chinese economy has grown more than 800% in 14 years, clearly creating many millionaires along the way.

Chart of China's Gross Domestic Product

 

Strength of Chinese Currency Relative to the US Dollar

I live and work in Irvine, California, which many consider to be ground zero for Chinese new home investment in the United States. In addition to everything else great about living in America, Irvine has fantastic schools, many new homes (Chinese have a huge preference for new over resale), a very well established Chinese culture, and is within one hour of Los Angeles International Airport. Some of the new home communities we have worked on in Irvine have sold more than half of their homes to Chinese buyers, and I am being conservative here. Prices often exceed $1 million, and frequently there is no mortgage. CNBC recently featured Irvine in their story on Chinese home buyers.

Since 2006, when I had lunch with Peter Navarro, the bearish author of The Coming China Wars and Death by China, I have been carefully watching the impact of Chinese buyers on the US housing market, and specifically in Irvine. We have written two white papers on the topic, interviewed countless numbers of sales agents, hosted an intern whose family had just migrated here and bought a home in Irvine, and are now partnering with real estate brokerage Pacific Union in San Francisco on a research project to learn more. To give you an idea of the Chinese interest in California housing, we presented at Pacific Union’s annual housing outlook conference last year, which was broadcast live at three venues in China.

Chinese interest in US housing is not confined to California, as our consulting team has noticed Chinese home buying in areas served by all of the major airport hubs. In South Florida, agents have been flying directly to China to compensate for declining demand from South America.

While the recent Chinese stock market correction has caused a decline in sales (one of my builder clients has noticed a sharp pullback, another just told me about a home sale cancellation specifically due to the buyer’s stock market losses, and one publicly traded home builder even mentioned the pullback on their earnings call.), our research has convinced us of tremendous Chinese demand to buy US real estate for their families and as investments.

Nonetheless, we remain very uncertain about the level of future Chinese home buying:

  • Is the number of people who can no longer afford to purchase a home after the stock market correction and currency devaluation greater or less than the number of people who will be encouraged to buy here by the stock market and currency instability?
  • Will the government lift the $50,000 annual overseas investment cap later this year as anticipated, which could cause a flood of Chinese investment in US housing?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but the future success of many new home communities depends on the answer. If you have some particular insight based on your knowledge of China, please let us know. We are constantly in search of new and better information.


John Burns is the CEO of John Burns Consulting and specializes in providing actionable research to the real estate industryJohn Burns is the CEO of John Burns Consulting. John Burns Real Estate Consulting, LLC provides independent research and consulting services related to the US housing industry.  Click here to learn more.

Picking the Right Niche in a Booming Market

We’ve talked many times about the baby boomers.  While many are homeowners and will remain so in retirement, there’s a chunk who will either remain or become renters.

In a 70 million person demographic, a “chunk” can be a sizable market!  And when you’re building any kind of a business, rental real estate or otherwise, it’s nice to have a big market.

But in addition to having a big market, it’s also important to have a good understanding of what the customer wants and needs.

So when a summary of a survey of 55+ year olds from the webinar (below) by John Burns Consulting popped up in our inbox, we took note of some interesting findings.

But before we go there, let’s talk a moment about why a boomer might want or need to rent rather than buy.

You’ve probably heard rumblings from the Fed that they plan to raise interest rates “sometime”. The reason we fixate on interest rates is because rates influence consumer and investor behavior.

Right now, low interest rates incentivize home buyers to finance because a) the payment is as low or lower than renting in many nice areas, b) the money not used in a down payment can be invested elsewhere at a yield higher than the mortgage rate, and c) mortgage interest remains tax deductible, while rent is not.

But if rates rise, things change.

If the house payment with a loan becomes too high, either paying all cash or renting are both more appealing.  And while some boomers will have the wherewithal and the willingness to tie up a chunk of cash in illiquid home equity, others won’t…so they’ll rent.

Also, if rates rise, then fixed income investments like bank accounts, CD’s, bonds and annuities all become more attractive to boomers trying to live off passive income.

When they do the math, some boomers may discover than it makes more sense to rent and use their cash to generate income to live on.

All that to say, there will be a sizable portion of boomers who will be renting.

So back to the survey…

Probably the most-telling, but least surprising, is that 77% of boomers want a single-story home. And while it may seem obvious that aging occupants would prefer to not have to deal with stairs, 77% is an overwhelming majority.

63% of boomers have pets.  Again, not surprising that empty-nesters would like the companionship and security of a pet, but it’s nice to see the assumption confirmed with hard data.

So simply based on those two revelations from the survey, it seems that a residential landlord who wanted to focus on serving the housing needs of renting boomers would be wise to invest in single-story homes with a pet-friendly policy.

Add to the mix that 41% want to accommodate an adult child and another another 33% need room for a elderly parent, and it seems obvious that more bedrooms is better than less…even though it would seem older couples might want to downsize.

But before you go buy up a bunch of single-family 4 bedroom homes in a 55+ community, consider this: Only 23% of the boomers surveyed want age-restricted.

That’s why it pays to do your homework.

Here’s the webinar:

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