A divergence in the farce …

In our last edition we took a look at this chart for clues to where we’re at in “the cycle” …

Housing Price Index to Production Wage Index
Interesting Image

SOURCE: FEDERAL RESERVE ECONOMIC DATA HTTPS://FRED.STLOUISFED.ORG

(The data came from the Fed, but the chart was put together by The Heritage Foundation here)

You can see a tight correlation between wage growth and property prices from 1991 to 1999.  Then something happened to create a divergence.

That divergence blew into a BIG gap between wages and housing prices … with home prices inflating much faster than wages.  At least until the middle of 2007.

Then something else happened which crashed housing prices … and not just back down to the wage trend line …

… but housing prices dipped well below the trend line (“over-corrected”), hitting bottom in 2011 and starting a new “bull run” in early 2012.

That’s when Warren Buffet famously proclaimed on CNBC 

I’d Buy Up ‘A Couple Hundred Thousand’ Single-Family Homes If I Could

Warren Buffett 2/27/12

Smart guy.  Obviously, when you look at the chart, the timing was perfect.  And most folks who were buyers in 2012 are sitting on piles of equity today.

But now it’s clear the correlation between housing prices and incomes remains broken.  Housing prices are once again stretching the limits of incomes.

No wonder there’s pressure to lower taxes, interest rates, and oil prices!

The only way to keep this party going is to make those relatively anemic household incomes control bigger loans.  And to no surprise …

Average U.S. mortgage size hits record-high $354,500

Reuters, 3/13/19

Does this mean housing prices are about to crash again?  Maybe.

It’s said history doesn’t always repeat itself, but it often rhymes.  That’s a catchy way of saying people often find new ways to make the same mistakes.

Then again, smart people learn from their mistakes so they can avoid making them again.

In this case, go back and look at the chart.  But instead of focusing on housing prices, focus on incomes.

What do you see?

Incomes are slowly, consistently, persistently, steadily … rising.

Of course, if you look at the CPI (inflation) chart below, you can see the cost of living is also rising …

Interesting Image
So just because people are making more money, it doesn’t mean they’re getting ahead.

In fact, folks who don’t own inflating assets which can be sold or borrowed against to supplement their incomes … are falling further and further behind.

So what does it mean, what can we learn, and what can we do to survive and thrive?

These are all topics of a much bigger discussion.  We covered some if it in a recent radio show.

For now, here are a few suggestions to consider:

Focus on investing and underwriting for cash-flow …

Yes, you’ll make more money on equity.  But equity is a by-product of cash-flow.  The more cash-flow, the more equity.

More importantly, conservative cash-flow gives you staying power when asset prices temporarily collapse.

Think of equity as a fun, but fickle lover … and cash-flow as the loyal, predictable partner you can build a life with.

Sequester some bubble equity for a rainy day …

Rates are low.  Lending guidelines are softening.

This indicates there’s a lot of motivation (desperation?) to get more debt in the system … a sometimes-telltale sign we’re nearing the end of a boom cycle.

Of course, when you harvest equity from properties, it’s important to be smart about using the proceeds.

We think it’s best to create cash-flow (have we mentioned this is important?) … along with liquidity, and safety from volatile markets and financial systems.

We could do an entire series on this one topic … and in fact, we’re working on it.

Something like … “knowing what we know now, this is what we wish we would have done heading into the 2008 financial crisis.”

Yes, we know the title needs a little work.

Watch for signs which signal shifts …

Shift happens.  It’s painful when you’re on the wrong end of it, and that usually happens because you missed the sign … not because it wasn’t there.

In 1999, Uncle Sam pressured then semi-private Fannie and Freddie to lower their lending standards to help marginal borrowers buy homes.

It worked.  Home ownership … and prices … went way up.

In 2001, the Alan Greenspan Fed threw gasoline on the fire by pumping in billions (which was a lot of money back then) into the system to reflate the stock market after the Dot Com crash.

But a lot of the money ended up in bonds … mortgage-backed securities in particular … and ultimately into housing … inflating an equity bubble.

Oops.

In fact, Greenspan tried to jawbone the markets into prudence.  But he’d already spiked the punch bowl … and everyone was in full-blown party mode.

More recently, the Fed tried to take away the current punch bowl by raising rates … and took a lot of criticism.

When you see interest rates and lending standards falling, it’s a sign.

Study history … and talk with smart, experienced people …

 Everything is 20/20 in hindsight. It’s easy to predict the past.

But as it’s been said …

 “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke

That’s why we encourage attendance at live events like the New Orleans Investment Conference and the Investor Summit at Sea™.

These are great places to connect with like-minded folks, have our perspectives broadened, and get into great conversations.

But even if you’re a dedicated homebody, invest in finding a local tribe of similarly interested people to study and talk with.

You’ll learn more faster in conversations with others compared to simply gorging yourself on terabytes of content.

It’s important to use conversation to process what you consume.

Enjoy the sunshine, but pack an umbrella …

We’re not saying a crash is coming.  But no one can say it isn’t.

It seems to us the best plan is to prepare for sunshine or rain.  In practical terms, this means ….

… organize some liquidity and keep it insulated from both market risk and counter-party risk …

… build a solid brand and network with well-capitalized potential investors …

… fortify the cash-flows and financing structures on your keepers …

… jettison assets you think already have their best days behind them …

… study history, watch for clues in the news, and mastermind with smart investors.

Because you’re only better off for doing all these things whether the party continues or comes to an ugly end.

And this is probably not a good time to get too over-extended.

Besides, even if you’re interested in aggressive personal wealth building right now …

… it’s arguably faster and safer to build rapid wealth through syndication rather than getting personally over-extended.

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.


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Real estate wins …

Real estate investing can be lonely.  Very few financial conferences or commentators even talk about real estate … much less endorse it as a wealth building vehicle.

So real estate investors huddle together in obscure corners of the financial community … quietly making money and muttering about the trials and tribulations of tenants, toilets and 1031 tax-deferred exchanges.

But recently, mainstream financial headlines seem to be painting a rosier picture of real estate …

Several news outlets published articles referencing this Bankrate.com article and survey which says Americans prefer real estate over cash, stocks, gold and bonds …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The article says …

“… for the third consecutive year real estate is the favorite way to invest money not needed for at least a decade …”

“… home prices have gone gangbusters recently, climbing back above their record pre-crisis levels … according to CoreLogic.”

Click Bait and Switch

But then the balance of the article is essentially dedicated to telling readers why the survey respondents are wrong for preferring real estate over stocks …

“Still, ‘it’s a rather poor investment,’ says [a] RBC Wealth Management financial advisor.  ‘It’s highly illiquid, and markets aren’t always rational.’”

“One study … found that housing only returned 1.3 percent per year after inflation from 1900 to 2011, while stocks tended to perform more than four times better.”

As you might guess, RBC Wealth Management deals in paper assets.

Their trite critiques of investment real estate reveal a lack of understanding at best … and a dishonest bias at worst.

Let’s break it down.  Because whether you’re raising private capital to invest in real estate …

… or just trying to convince your spouse or in-laws real estate is a viable alternative to stocks, bonds and mutual funds …

… it’s important to be able to rebut the financial fake news bias against real estate.

Liquidity – LOL

The flip side of liquidity is volatility.  When traders can move in and out of an asset quickly, it makes the asset price volatile.  So liquidity isn’t automatically a good thing.

The survey asked about money “not needed for at least a decade” … so liquidity isn’t what investors are looking for when they buy real estate.

Besides … to say housing is “illiquid” is inaccurate. 

“Illiquid” means “not easily converted into cash” and “of a market with few participants and a low volume of activity”. 

Sure, you can’t day trade houses … but we see that as a plus.  It keeps prices more stable.

And when you can usually sell a house at a fair market price in about two months, that’s hardly “illiquid”.   Drop the price, and you’ll sell it faster.

Market Rationality – ROFL

A paper asset promoter saying real estate “markets aren’t always rational” … are you KIDDING???  That seems a LOT like the pot calling the kettle black. 

Way back in the 90’s before the dot-com stock crash, Alan Greenspan famously accused stock market participants of “irrational exuberance”.

Of course, a few years later the stock market crashed … and scared investors flocked TO real estate in the early 2000’s.

With the stock market at nose-bleed levels today, we’re guessing that’s why people are preferring real estate over stocks again.

Only Returned 1.3 Percent – LMAO

The idea that “housing only returned 1.3 percent per year after inflation” is so off the mark it borders on absurd.

The argument is the PRICE of a home in 1900, adjusted for inflation to 2011, only grew on an annual basis of 1.3 percent …

… and that during that same period, stocks grew by “about four times that.”

This argument assumes the only financial benefit of real estate ownership is price appreciation, which is a false premise.

We won’t bore you with all the math, but you should grab a calculator and do it all so you can quickly blow-up this ridiculous idea that stocks beat real estate over the long haul.

Here it is in simple terms …

Leverage

When you put 25 percent down, you own property at 4:1 leverage.  So 1.3 percent appreciation is a 5.2 percent equity growth rate.

Right there, you’re even with “about four times that”.  But wait!  There’s more …

Cash Flow 

Also missing from the comparison of stocks versus real estate is the rental income.  

Even if you’re before tax positive cash flow is only two percent, with 4:1 leverage, your cash-on-cash rate is 8 percent. 

Amortization

A 30-year fully amortized loan at 5 percent reduces the loan balance (i.e., builds up equity) at a rate of over 2.6 percent per year.

Add 4:1 leverage, and you’re growing equity at over 13% per year.  Now you’re destroying stocks.

We’ll skip tax benefits, which make it even BETTER, and let you tally the total. Any ONE of the three beats “four times that” all by itself.  Together … it’s a wipe out.

People Aren’t Stupid

Main Street investors have common sense … and at this stage of the information age, they’re able to research and fact check quickly.

They know stock prices are being propped up by cheap money and corporate buybacks … and with the Fed raising interest rates, the party might be ending soon.

The Bankrate.com survey reinforced what our anecdotal conversations tell us … Main Street investors are nervous about the stock market. 

Their preference for cash over stocks for a ten year hold says a lot.  Main Street is looking for safety and surety.

And Main Street investors like real estate.  They understand real estate.  They TRUST real estate.

But it’s not just Americans seeking financial safety in real estate.  Foreign buyers just purchased a record amount of U.S. houses.

Real estate is where people park money for long term wealth development and preservation.

Go with the Flow …

Even though home ownership in the U.S. remains at decade lows, it’s actually a boon for real estate investors.  Less homeowners means more renters.

For flippers and syndicators, real estate is highly regarded and in demand.  Money wants to be in real estate … so there’s a big opportunity helping it get there.

And while anything can happen, it seems the appeal of real estate isn’t abating any time soon.

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.

Forecasts, fallacies and fortitude …

As of this writing, the Fed hasn’t yet announced their economic forecasts or whether they’ll raise interest rates.

The talk on the street says the Fed will raise by 25 basis points (.25%).

History says a recession is coming … because 10 of the last 13 times the Fed engaged in a rate hike campaign, that’s what happened. They’re not particularly skilled at “soft landings”.

The Fed also has a dismal record for economic forecasts. They chronically see sunshine even when clouds are forming. But that’s not why Wall Street pays attention to them.

Day traders, hedge fund managers, and other players in the Wall Street casinos fixate on the Fed … hoping to be on the right side of whatever flow of cash results from anything they do or say.

Their mantra is “buy low, sell high” to generate cash flow. It’s a fast-paced, high stakes game perfect for adrenalin junkies.

It’s also a game which generates brokerage fees, highly taxable capital gains, and big bonuses. So both Wall Street and Uncle Sam love it.

Meanwhile, real estate investors sit off to the side … casually interested in what the Fed does … but much more concerned with collecting rent, watching expenses, and managing cash flow.

Cash flowing real estate is pretty boring. And super sexy. Like a faithful wife or girlfriend.

But if the Fed’s likely hike is signaling a higher probability of recession, what’s a real estate investor to do?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from a Business Insider article quoting legendary real estate investor Sam Zell

“Sure, I’m always looking for unlocked potential … but everybody wants to look at how good a deal can get. People love focusing on the upside. That’s where the fun is. What amazes me is how superficially they consider the downside.

For me, the calculation in making a deal starts with the downside. If I can identify that, then I understand the risk I’m taking. What’s the outcome if everything goes wrong? What actions would we take? Can I bear the cost? Can I survive it?”

Zell also says, “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns … in life, as well as in investments.”

In other words, success is not about avoiding risk, but rather in understanding, accepting and managing risk … and only taking it on when the upside is worth it and you can afford the downside.

Here are some things for real estate investors to think about in preparing for the possibility of recession …

Consider increasing liquidity

Right now, there’s a lot of equity in both stocks and real estate. If you’ve got excess equity on your balance sheet, it could be an ideal time to convert some of it to cash.

Yes, it’s tempting to be fully deployed in good times. But if things slow down, cash is king. And if asset values fall, the market’s going to take the equity anyway. Better for you to grab it first.

Emphasize durability of cash flow

It’s a lot more fun to push rents to increase net operating income, and you should always look to optimize income. But earn it by delivering better value and not just by riding a hot economy.

If times get tough for your tenants, they’ll start looking for value. When they do, make sure they find YOU at the top of the list.

Look for ways to trim expenses, lock in solid tenants with competitive longer-term leases, and restructure debt with an emphasis on stability.

You may leave a little on the table, but consider it recession insurance.

Gravitate towards affordable markets

If recession comes, businesses and households will be much more aggressive in seeking value.

Once you know you’re competitive in your current markets, consider expanding your portfolio into markets that are likely to be popular with people and businesses looking to save.

Over-priced markets and properties will probably recede. While affordable markets and properties will likely benefit from increased demand.

Watch for “Sea Change”

Sometimes recessions are just bumps on the road of business-as-usual.

Sometimes recessions are part of a much broader transformation.

There are MANY things going on in the world which are far from business-as-usual. Like recessions, they can be unnerving, but they also create opportunity.

The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency, technology’s impact on labor, unprecedented global debt, the ascent (and now slowing) of China … are some of the many macro-factors we pay attention to.

Each of these has the potential to change the investing landscape in substantial ways.

Consider this CNBC headline …

‘Made in China’ could soon be ‘Made in the US’

“Contrary to widespread belief, China isn’t the cheap place to manufacture that it once was, and rising costs have been forcing manufacturers to explore new countries to make their goods.”

The article quotes the president of a Chinese textile firm …

“Add in the possibility of a lower corporate tax to as little as 15 percent, as proposed by Trump, and the U.S. becomes a no-brainer for many manufacturers …”

Could hard times in China lead to a resurgence of the U.S. rust belt?

Here’s the point …

Recession in and of itself isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. It’s an event. In fact, it’s a regularly recurring event.

Recession isn’t necessarily universal or global. In other words, it doesn’t affect all industries, people or locations the same way at the same time.

A recession in one place can lead to a boom in another and vice-versa as people, businesses and money flow to and from challenges and opportunities.

Like winter, a recession is a season. It may not be as fun as the sunshine, but for the prepared it’s not a big deal.

Going back to the wisdom of Sam Zell … acknowledging the reality of the downside isn’t a reason to hunker down and do nothing. Doing nothing has its own downside.

The world is full of very real threats … and that’s GOOD. It creates movement from which pockets of opportunity emerge.

Because, as Sam Zell says “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns …

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become a well-informed and diligent risk-taker.

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.