Are these two commodities trying to tell you something?

We’re still just a little more than a week removed from a mind-blowing 9-day mind-meld with brilliant thought leaders, niche experts, and seasoned investors and entrepreneurs …

… so we’ve been busy catching up on the news and looking at the world through our freshly expanded paradigms.

There are two things bouncing around our brains we think are important, but few real estate investors are paying attention to …

Gold and oil.

Sure, both these “commodities” fit well with real estate in a strategic real asset portfolio.  And if you’re not sure how all that works, you can start with these past podcasts about gold and oil.

But bigger picture, both gold and oil probably drive more of geo-politics than most casual observers realize … and both are quasi-proxies for the dollar.

In other words, when you understand what’s happening with gold and oil, you have insights into the future of the dollar … and some of the things governments are doing to either defend dollar dominance … or break free from it.

Of course, if you earn, invest, borrow, or denominate wealth in dollars, the future of the dollar should be of great interest to you … even if you think of the dollar as being as permanent and reliable as air (it’s not).

As real estate investors, our primary interests (besides occupancy and cash flow) are demographics, migration trends, local economic strength, interest rates, taxes, and the supply and demand dynamics in our local market.

But all of that sits on the foundation of a functional financial system with two primary components … credit and currency.  Gold and oil provide insight into both.

Oil is important at both the macro and the micro level.

In the macro, it takes energy to drive economic activity.  When energy’s expensive, it drives up the costs of everything and is a drag on economic activity.

At the micro level, high dollar-denominated oil prices drive up the cost of living for your dollar-denominated tenants.

But for metros where oil is big business, oil also means local jobs.  Remember, Texas and its robust energy sector were the primary driving force for U.S. job creation coming out of the 2008 recession.

Investors who realized this (like our pal Kenny McElroy) strategically invested in those markets while most people were hiding under the sheets.

So whether or not you’re interested in oil as a direct investment, paying attention to the oil business can be a great way to pick markets likely to hold up well if oil prices rise.

Oil also has a potential impact on credit markets and interest rates.  Billions of dollars of debt has been created to fund shale oil production.

If oil prices drop, it both undermines the ability of regional oil economies to grow … but also for those employers to service their debt.

In the macro, if a big chunk of the debt goes rotten, credit markets could tighten.  Think about what happened in 2008 when sub-prime mortgage debt went bad.

So again, whether you’re an oil investor or not, the oil industry has a direct impact on your real estate investing.

Watching oil helps you see what’s coming sooner … so you have time to position yourself to capture opportunity and mitigate risk.

Of course, the good news and bad news about real estate is it moves slowly.

So while you have plenty of time to be proactive IF you’re paying attention, it’s really hard to act fast if you’re not.  That’s why we pay attention.

What about gold?

On the macro level, gold is a good gauge of how the world feels about U.S. Treasuries and the dollar.

When things get choppy in stocks, paper investors worldwide tend to flee into Treasuries for safety.  After all, Treasuries are backed up by the Fed’s printing press.

Of course, what does the Fed print?  U.S. dollars.

But to quote Watto from Star Wars – The Phantom Menace … 

“Republic credits are no good here.  I need something more … real.”

That is, when investors worldwide are looking for safety … and they don’t trust the paper … they go into gold.

So what does that mean to real estate investors?

Remember, mortgage rates and availability derive from healthy bond markets … most notably, U.S. Treasuries.

The 2008 Great Financial Crisis had its genesis in a broken bond market … mortgage-backed-securities.  When those went bad, frightened investors worldwide piled into Treasuries … and rates fell.

But what happens if investors worldwide don’t trust Treasuries?

You don’t have to wonder.  China came out in 2009 and scolded Uncle Sam about the size of the deficit and all the dollar printing doing on.

Why did it bother them? Because they own TRILLIONS in U.S. bonds.  They don’t want to get paid back in diluted dollars.

But Uncle Sam’s debt, deficits, and printing have BALLOONED since then.

So it’s no surprise that China … along with Russia and several other countries … have been diligently accumulating and repatriating gold.

They’re getting out of dollars and Treasuries to do it.  And who can blame them?

Paper money has an atrocious long-term record as a store of wealth …

 

Interesting Image

Source:  World Gold Council 

Consider this when you think about where you’re storing YOUR long-term liquid wealth.

Meanwhile, there’s just a little more to the developing story of gold … and the story behind the story.  It’s a little complicated, but interesting and noteworthy.

After the 2008 crisis, the world’s bankers got together in Basel, Switzerland to come up with voluntary rules to prevent another financial crisis.  The agreement is called the Basel Accord.

A provision in the agreement, known as Basel III (the agreement’s rolled out in phases) allows financial institutions to consider gold “Tier 1” capital.  So adding gold is supposed to make banks more liquid and stable.

This is a bit of a promotion for gold.  Some observers think this means demand for gold will increase, but we’re not smart enough to have an opinion on that.

But there are a couple of things we are thinking about …

Perhaps most obviously, international bankers apparently consider gold more valuable than simply a “barbarous relic” with no place in a modern monetary system.

Keep that in mind when you hear people criticize the placement of gold in a portfolio. If gold can make a bank more stable and liquid, can’t it do the same for you?

To be clear, we’re not fans of gold as an investment.  It’s just an alternative to cash … a way to store long-term liquidity while hedging against a declining dollar and bank counter-party risk.

But the more interesting aspect of gold’s now elevated role in bolstering the banking system is why it’s necessary in the first place.

Is it because the banking system is still fragile and in need of support?  Is it because the world needs more leverage to expand … and so more collateral to lever?  Why not just use Treasuries?

We don’t know yet.  But we’ll be checking in with our big-brained gold experts to see what they think.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to think outside both the real estate and mainstream financial media boxes.  It seems like oil and gold might be trying to tell us something.

Are you listening?

Until next time … good investing!


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A potentially big real estate story for 2019 …

While most Americans are fixated on the brouhaha surrounding the government shutdown, we’re thinking about something even MORE slimy …

Oil.

Long time followers know we’ve been watching oil for quite a while … and for a variety of reasons over and above the amazing tax breaks.

Oil and energy have a substantial impact on the economy, inflation, geo-politics … even the health of the financial system. 

We’ve observed that as oil prices rise and fall, the specific area of their impact shifts.   There are important clues and opportunities to be gleaned from watching these dynamics.

When oil prices rise, it’s a drag on economic growth and can also be a sign of inflation.   It’s no secret President Trump wants to lower cost inputs to help fuel economic growth.

The Trump formula is lower taxes, lower oil, lower interest rates, a weaker dollar, and less regulation.  Labor is the only input he wants to see rise.

You may agree or disagree, but that’s what Trump wants.  Of course, there are some conflicting goals in the Trump recipe …

Specifically, low interest rates and a weaker dollar generally mean rising prices (inflation) … and oil is one of the first places it shows up.

Also, more economic activity leads to more energy consumption, which means higher demand … and rising prices.

So … the only way to keep oil prices low in an environment like this is to increase oil production to where supply overwhelms both higher demand and a weaker dollar … and pushes oil prices down anyway.

Perhaps obviously,  a domestic agenda which needs lower energy costs will affect U.S. relations with oil rich nations.

We think Trump’s stance towards Saudi Arabia … in spite of denials … makes it clear low oil prices are a high priority for the White House.

It’s consistent with what Trump told us when we asked him about his vision for housing and real estate.  He said, “Jobs”.

Remember, oil and energy were the largest drivers of job growth in the United States coming out of the 2008 financial crisis.

Many real estate investors who recognized this trend and got involved in Texas real estate in 2009 …and  have done very well over the last 10 years.

We think that party’s probably not even close to over.

One less obvious, but very important connection between oil and real estate is in the financial system … specifically, the debt markets.

As we’ve discussed several times over the years, LOTS of loans were made to oil companies when oil prices were over $100 per barrel.

But when interest rates rise and oil prices fall … it’s the worst of both worlds for heavily indebted domestic oil producers.

MANY billions of oil-related debt has the potential to go bad … and crater the financial system just like bad mortgage debt did in 2008.

And when credit markets seize for whatever reason, liberal users of debt, such as real estate investors … are directly affected.

We don’t think it will happen.

First, there’s too much upward pressure on oil prices.

Second, as we’re about to discuss, there’s BIG motivation to stimulate domestic production … which provides a lot of cash flow to service debt.

Of course, we could be wrong … as Ben Bernanke was about the dangers of sub-prime … so real estate investors should pay attention to oil.

Using the gas pump as an indicator, you probably already know oil prices have been a little soft.

Of course, businesses and consumers (including your tenants) LOVE this because it makes everything more affordable.

U.S. car manufacturers love it because it means they can sell more gas guzzling SUVs and trucks.

But bigger picture … oil and energy are major cost inputs on virtually all products.

After all, it takes energy to manufacture and transport everything.

And many products are made from petroleum derivatives, such as plastic, roof shingles, and asphalt.

So even though energy is left out of the “core inflation” index, the effects of changes to oil pricing are still reflected in it.

And so partly due to subdued oil prices, concerns about excessive inflation have been muted … even in the midst of a red-hot economy.

Obviously, sellers of oil would prefer higher prices. 

But you can only charge what the market will bear … which is a factor of supplydemand, and capacity to pay.

It’s also important to note that energy, like real estate and food, isn’t a discretionary purchase.

People MUST have energy to survive and thrive.  Therefore, demand for energy is ever-present.

So when it comes to oil … the thing to watch is supply and capacity to pay.

Breaking out capacity to pay from the traditional supply and demand model is something we started doing a long time ago … because there’s no effective demand without it.

Just because you want something, doesn’t mean you can afford it.  Think of it like debt-to-income ratios and interest rates in real estate.

Just because someone makes an offer on a house (demand), if they can’t quality for the loan (capacity to pay), there’s no sale.

And when mortgage rates rise, but wages don’t, the dynamic negatively impacts qualifying ratios … thereby decreasing capacity to pay and ultimately, effective demand.

That’s why observers often expect rising interest rates to lead to decreased housing demand.

It’s similar with oil.

When oil prices rise and wages don’t, then lack of  “real” wage growth (incomes outpacing inflation) makes it hard for the market to bear price increases.

That’s why the recent blowout jobs report was notable.

Not only were lots of jobs created, but wages grew at the best rate since 2008.

That means capacity to pay improved.

As you may recall, Saudi Arabia (the leader of the middle-eastern oil cartel OPEC and one of the largest oil producers in the world) INCREASED production …

… which meant MORE supply and LOWER prices (and thanks from President Trump).

But just recently, Saudi Arabia reversed course, calling for a target price of $80 per barrel … and a REDUCTION in production to make it happen.

Now before your A.D.D. kicks in … remember, this ALL has ramifications for real estate investors …

The point is there’s some real pressure on oil prices to rise … and a lot of motivation by President Trump to take steps to push prices down.

We think BOTH will happen and lead to interesting opportunities for real estate investors … in spite of the pressure higher oil prices puts on your paycheck-to-paycheck tenants.

If you invest in oil for the tax breaks and oil prices go up … there’s big potential for a double dip … tax breaks and profits.

Nice.  You can use both for your next down payment.

Higher oil prices reduce the risk of oil debt imploding credit markets.  Healthy credit markets are essential to vibrant real estate markets.

If oil prices rise on the international stage, we’d bet President Trump will do whatever he can to further stimulate domestic production to counteract it.

And that means more U.S. jobs and robust regional economies … with increased demand for real estate to in those areas.

All this to say, we think it’s smart to pay attention to oil … as an investment, as an economic gauge, and as a treasure map to potentially hot markets.

Oil will be a big topic of discussion on our upcoming Investor Summit at Sea™.

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!