Rent control … a sign of the times?

A very big real estate story splashed across mainstream news recently, but got buried underneath (insert the sensational political headline you’re sick of) …

Oregon Okays First Statewide Mandatory Rent Control Law

 Associated Press, 2/28/19 

Okay, we admit this is a government policy … so it’s political.

But politics is easy to laugh at when it’s happening in cyberspace.  It’s a little less funny when it hits hard on Main Street.

For thousands of Main Street landlords in Oregon, politics just landed hard … right in their portfolio.

Of course, as is often the case, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

So even if you don’t own property in Oregon … or won’t for much longer 😉 … there’s a lot to glean from this watershed legislation.

We could debate whether or not government should step into a “free” market and regulate the price of anything … from housing to healthcare to haircuts.

But it doesn’t matter if WE think they should or shouldn’t.  They do.

And as a broken financial system keeps growing a wedge between haves and have-nots … we’re guessing more politicians will try to legislate affordability.

So like it or not (we don’t), rent control is something every investor everywhere should be watching out for.

Let’s take a look at how rent control works in the real world …

Real estate investors buy property to produce income and build long-term wealth.  The more income a property produces, the more it’s worth.

In order to create more wealth, real estate investors need to create more income … which means creating more value that a tenant is willing and able to pay for.

The essence of real estate investing is using capital to acquire long-term cash flow.  This is how real estate investors think.

Make sense so far?

Politicians, whom we’re guessing are NOT real estate investors, think investment starts and ends at acquisition.

Unless you’re Warren Buffet, paper asset investors don’t buy stocks with the intention of improving the cash flow.

You just buy, own, and sell.  Maybe collect some dividends along the way.

But when value-add real estate investors buy properties in poor condition with lousy amenities …

… they’re excited about the potential to make further investments into the property AFTER the acquisition.

For example, a property without a washer and dryer might rent for $50 a month less than one with that amenity included.

So for perhaps $600 per unit additional capital invested, a landlord could acquire $600 per year cash flow.

That’s a good ROI.  It’s also a nice amenity for the tenant.

You could say the same about covered parking, self-storage, a laundry room, a workout room, free wi-fi, and on and on.

Rent control caps the owner’s ability to create positive returns by improving properties.  So guess what?  They don’t.

So crappy properties stay crappy … because the incentive to improve them is removed.

And as nicer properties deteriorate, there’s not much incentive to maintain them above the bare minimum.

With profit potential capped on the revenue side … and no cap on the fixed expense side …

… as margins get squeezed, property owners have no choice but to cut services and defer maintenance.

So rent control makes both landlords and properties cheap.  In a bad way.

And because there’s always more people on the low-end of the economic scale (part of the reason Oregon is doing this) …

… there will always be a line of people waiting to get into these “affordable” rentals … even though they’re crappy.

And with little market pressure on landlords to compete for tenants, there’s even less incentive to improve properties, add services and amenities, or lower rents.

But it gets “better” … or actually worse …

As property values decline … or stagnate relative to rising costs of labor and materials … incentives for developers to build new inventory declines too.

Rising values are what attract developers to create more supply … which is the answer to moderating rising values.

Yes, it’s sad when marginal tenants’ incomes don’t grow as fast as rents … or other inflating necessities.

But capping the property’s growth doesn’t pull the tenants up.  It pulls the properties down.

It’s a bad scene. That’s why nearly every investor we know stays away from rent control areas.

But it’s also important to consider WHY this is happening …

The Fed dropped interest rates to zero for nearly a decade, then pumped trillions of dollars into the financial system … primarily to inflate asset values (stocks, bonds, real estate).

It worked … at least for some people.

Those paying attention, with both resources and financial education … snapped up the money, rode the equity train, and got much richer.

You might be one of them … or hope to join them.  We hope you succeed.

You can’t blame people for playing the game using the rules and circumstances in their own best interests. But politicians do.

But the real issue is the financial policy wizards thought these now richer folks would then spend the money … and build businesses … and prosperity would trickle down to Joe six-pack and Larry lunch-bucket. 

In many ways, it worked.  The problem is the wealth didn’t allocate very evenly.  It never does.

Certain markets got a disproportionate share of the goodies. 

And even though Oregon wasn’t really on the list … it was nearby … and so became a collateral beneficiary /victim.

Lots of cheap money ended up in tech stocks, which blew up real estate values in tech hubs like Seattle and Silicon Valley.

As prices shot up, folks in those uber high-priced markets got pushed off the back of the bus … and gravitated to nearby “affordable” places like Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona.

Of course, the folks already in those nearby affordable areas end up competing with the new people who see everything as cheap … and easily bid things up.

It’s a regional variation of gentrification … with its roots in paper asset bubbles blown up by cheap stimulus money.

But politicians are notoriously myopic when it comes to “fixing” things … especially financial problems.

As Peter Schiff says, “Good economics is bad politics, and good politics is bad economics.  That’s why you always get bad economics from politicians.”

Sadly, there are signs it could get worse as politicians try to contain the consequences of an over-financialized economy.

So even though we tout the opportunity to invest in affordable areas ahead of the crowds, it’s REALLY important to stay aware of the political climate.

If you bought into Oregon ahead of the migration …

… you’re now the proud owner of a property where the state government views you more as a public utility to be regulated than a free entrepreneur to be incentivized.

So you’ll either need to get out while the getting’s good … or not as bad as it could get … or start brushing up on your C-class property management skills.

Until next time … good investing.


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Trump’s tariffs and your real estate investing …

Let’s take off our blue, red, and orange team colors … hold hands … and take a real-world look at trade tariffs in action.

Most nose-to-the-grindstone real estate investors may not pay attention to, or understand, trade tariffs … or how they could affect real estate investors.

But, like many things we obsess about after 2008, tariffs might mean more to your real estate investing than you realize.

Consider this headline from National Real Estate Investor Online …

Construction Costs Spike for Multifamily Projects 

It’s short and you should read it, but here are some quick highlights …

  • The cost of construction is rising for apartment developers and contractors … including materials, labor, and leasing.
  • Lumber prices are “out of control” having “increased substantially” … with March prices up 25 percent over January and February.  Yikes.
  • “The U.S. has added trade tariffs to Canadian lumber of over 20 percent over the last year” and “government policy is also pushing up the price of steel”. 
  • “Prices of construction materials are outpacing consumer inflation by a factor of two”. 
  • “Contractors have been forced to offer higher wages to attract more workers.” 
  • “… apartment projects are becoming more expensive to build … ‘You can only pass so much of that on to consumer,’ says … the National Home Builders Association.” 
  • “The number of job openings in the construction industry rose to record-breaking or near-record-breaking levels in each of the last five months of 2017 …” 
  • “The number of people employed in the construction industry rose … more than twice the growth compared to … overall non-farm payroll.”

Okay, so there’s the foundation.  Now let’s unpack it …

First, a boom in apartment building has caused a glut in some markets leading to rent concessions.

If increasing leasing expenses, construction loan interest; materials, and labor costs are all increasing … builders will need to either raise rents or stop building.

Both can be good for nearby owners of existing inventory over the long term.

But in the short term, be attentive to property maintenance and customer service … or you might lose some tenants to those short-term concessions.

But beyond the impact on builders, what about the impact of tariffs on markets, labor, and industries?

If tariffs successfully reset the pricing of commodities like lumber, steel, copper and concrete, there are many potential ramifications.

The motivation behind tariffs is to wean domestic buyers off cheaper foreign goods … and make it more profitable to produce those goods domestically.

The goal is to create domestic jobs in lumber, steel, and mining.

In other words, if Chinese steel or Canadian lumber become more expensive, it could pull up domestic prices to where it’s profitable for businesses to expand domestic production … and hire more workers.

This could mean job growth and subsequent housing demand in those markets which produce these items.

So we’re watching this whole tariff tussle carefully for clues about which geographic markets might end up catching a boom … just like the energy industry markets did after 2008.

But rising commodity prices can creep into consumer goods too … making MANY things more expensive.

And if prices rise faster than wages, people will actually be poorer in terms of purchasing power … which puts downward pressure on prices … including rents.

Squeezed far enough by rising costs of living … people will move to more affordable housing … and even to more affordable areas.

So again, this is something to pay attention to.  In spite of the current economic “good times” … we’re still fans of the more affordable markets and properties.

Lastly, we’ve learned to be cautious about construction driven employment and wage booms.  We think it’s dangerous to invest long-term based on a short-term boom.

Think about it … construction is about building something.  But after it’s built, the work is done.  Then what do those workers do?

Unless there’s perpetual building, workers need to change industries or move to where there’s more building going on.

So it’s good to remember that housing is a reflection of economic growth, not a driver of it. Housing is built for and occupied by people who work at something else.

In other words, you don’t want to be buying apartments to house people who are building apartments … or anything else that will be “done” at some point.

Whereas a business is a “going concern” and generates on-going revenue, sustainable jobs, and a long-term pool of tenants.

So even if you’re a residential investor, pay attention to commercial, industrial, warehouse, and office in terms of construction, absorption, and occupancy.

These are leading indicators of where residential property demand might increase.  Because when businesses are expanding in an area, it’s a pretty safe bet residential will too.

Until next time … good investing!


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The REAL cause of rising rates …

Maybe it’s just us …

But as we’re preparing for our Future of Money and Wealth conference … (our way of sharing our epic Investor Summit at Sea™ faculty with more people) …

… we keep seeing headlines that make us think there’s more happening in the financial world than just a little stock market volatility …

From Bloomberg on February 7th:

Dollar Will Stay Weak If China Has Its Way, Morgan Stanley Says

There’s SO much we could say about that one headline …

… in which a major U.S. financial institution acknowledges both China’s desireand ability to weaken the almighty dollar.

But we’ll restrain ourselves (for now) and ask a more mundane, but relevant question …

What does a weak dollar mean to real estate investors? 

We’re told a weak dollar is good for U.S. business … because it makes U.S. products cheaper for foreigners to buy with their now relatively stronger currency.

Okay, so maybe that’s good for local economies that depend on exporting.

And maybe it helps landlords in those areas because more export sales might mean more jobs and higher wages for local workers (your tenants).

But a weak dollar also means imports are more expensive for U.S. consumers.  All that stuff made in China now costs MORE for U.S. buyers.

Last time we looked, tenants buy a lot of stuff made in China.  If they’re paying more for it, then they have less money available for rent increases.

So a weak dollar is bad if it leads to consumer price inflation …

And sure enough, from CNBC on February 14th:

Consumer Prices Jump Much More Than Forecast, Sparking Inflation Fears

According to the report …

“Markets reacted sharply to the news, with stocks sliding and government bond yields rising.”

“Bond yields rising” is just fancy talk for rising interest rates.

If you talk to any savvy mortgage broker, they’ll tell you mortgage rates pivot off of 10-year government bonds.

When bond yields go up, so do mortgage rates.

And to no surprise comes this Market Watch headline on February 15th:

Mortgage Rates Rise to Nearly Four-Year High on Inflation Concerns

As Robert Kiyosaki always reminds us, real estate investing is about debt and cash flow.

Your mission is to acquire more of both … but with a positive spread.  So if the debt costs you 5%, you want the cash flow to be at least 2-3% higher.

But when rates are rising, and tenants are being squeezed by inflation, your spread might compress.

Long-time followers know we’ve been advocates of locking rates long term because of the probability rates would turn up.  Now it seems they are.

If the trend continues, short-term adjustable loans could get uncomfortable.

Real estate investors not paying attention may be unprepared for higher rates.

But the mini-news cycle above illustrates an important lesson …

If you understand how these things fit together and their domino effect … you can see them coming … and prepare.

A weak dollar leads to inflation which leads to rising rates.

We could spend a lot more time explaining all that, but that’s the gist of it.

While it played out in the above headlines in just over a week … often these trends chug along over months or even years.

So, it’s easy (but dangerous) to fall asleep at the wheel.

Of course, it isn’t just the 10-year bond that’s signaling dollar weakness.  So is gold (rising), and oil (rising), and even cryptos (exploding).

But as mentioned earlier, for us … the MOST interesting part of the story is China … something we’ve been talking about for over four years.

Morgan Stanley, as reported by Bloomberg, essentially acknowledges that China’s economic size and strength are now able to influence the dollar … and YOUR interest rates.

Of course, U.S. policy also plays a substantial role, and piling on gobs of debt isn’t helping.

The point is that the future of money and wealth is evolving rapidly right before our very eyes … in ways far more profound than just routine economic cycles.

What’s an investor to do?

We think the right real estate, structured with the right debt, will prove to be one of the most attractive investments in the months and years to come.

But lazy or naïve investors seeing only “higher wages” and a “strong economy” and position only for sunshine are living dangerously.

Right now, we’re convinced every serious real estate investor should be paying close attention to the future of money and wealth.

That’s not a sales pitch for our event.

We created the event because headlines have been telling us for years something’s coming … and it’s getting closer every day.

So we’re getting in a room with the smartest people we know for two full days to focus on what’s happening and how to play it for safety and opportunity.

Stay alert, informed, optimistic, and pro-active.

Until next time … good investing!


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

The disrupted American Dream …

One of today’s most popular buzzwords is “disruptive”.  It describes an event, idea, or invention that upends the status quo in some aspect of life or society.

“Disruptive technology” is used for everything from Amazon to Uber.

And as we’ve previously discussed, many of these things impact real estate and investing.

But disruption transcends technology.

Donald Trump’s election and Brexit are two examples.  The world appeared to be on one course … then boom.  A new direction.

So, political norms, societal norms, government and business models …almost everything is being disrupted right before our eyes.

In fact, disruption is so commonplace, it’s become the new normal.

But really, disruption is nothing new.  It goes back to pre-historic times.

The wheel was disruptive … and revolutionized the world (sorry, we had to…)

Farming was disruptive.  It changed the entire societal model … accelerating labor specialization, commerce … even banking.

The printing press was disruptive … connecting human minds past and present at greater speed, for lower cost, and with greater accuracy than ever before.

The U.S. Constitution was disruptive … protecting private property rights for the common man … the foundation on which all personal wealth is based.

That’s a personal favorite. 😉

Radio, telephone, personal computing, the internet, smart phone … all disruptive … each one taking idea sharing to never-before-seen levels.

Trains, automobiles, and airplanes all disrupted the transportation norms of their time … allowing people and their possessions to circulate faster and less expensively.

Now blockchain technology … at least for now … is threatening to disrupt how freely money and wealth circulate.  And governments have noticed.  Uh oh.

Of course, history shows with every disruption, there are winners and losers.

For every railroad baron or millionaire automobile maker, there were thousands of wagon-makers and liveries put out of business.

So while disruption isn’t new … the rate is unprecedented.  The world we live and invest in is evolving at a dizzying pace.

Blink and you miss huge opportunity.  Or worse, you get wiped out by a trend you didn’t even see coming.

The faster the world is going … the further ahead you need to look.

 So with this mindset, here’s a headline that caught our attention …

Why it makes more sense to rent than buy – Market Watch, 1/13/18

Obviously, a real estate headline.  But disruptive?  Seems pretty mundane.

After all, the rent vs. buy debate has been going on forever … usually linked to temporary circumstances favoring one side over the other at the time.

But this article references two interesting reports …

One is the ATTOM Data Solutions 2018 Rental Affordability Report.

It notes … buying a home is more affordable than renting in 54 percent of U.S. markets, but 64 percent of the population live where it’s cheaper to rent.

Hmmm …

Looks like folks prefer to rent where they want to live than buy where the numbers make sense.  Apparently, buying just isn’t that important to them.

Which leads to the second report, A Revision of the American Dream of Homeownership.

This one’s a premium report, so the link’s to the press release … but look at the title … “a REVISION of the American Dream”.

The idea that something so foundational as the American Dream is being … disrupted … is something worth thinking about.

Market Watch did another article based on this report … “Renting is better than owning to build wealth – if you’re disciplined to invest as well.”

Some might say it’s a hit-piece on real estate to entice millennials to put their savings in the stock market rather than a home.

But that would be cynical.

More interesting is the possibility there’s really a disruptive trend developing in terms of the way society views home ownership.

Consider this …

We have a friend who’s a very successful millennial, who can easily afford to own any kind of car … several of them … if he wanted to.

He doesn’t.

Now that he’s discovered ride-sharing, he sees no value in owning a car … not as a status symbol or an investment.

We’re not suggesting this guy’s viewpoint represents the millions of millennials out there.  But it’s worth noting.

Millennials are a big, powerful demographic rolling through the seasons of life … just like the baby boomers did.

Except millennials aren’t like Boomers …they live in a different world and view it through their own lens.

Career, opportunity, family, community, home ownership … roots … are very different today compared to 50 years ago.

In a world where you may change jobs a dozen or more times in a career, and you operate in a global economy, with a social network that’s not local, but virtual …

… home ownership can go from being stabilizing to burdensome.

The sharing economy is changing the way people think about the value of owning things they simply want the use of.

Absent paradigms of ownership, sharing is arguably more efficient.  But for the first time in history, it’s logistically possible.

No generation before has had as many options for sharing as there are today.  

And while pay-per-use seems like a no-brainer when discussing a depreciating asset like a vehicle, Market Watch isn’t the first to argue a home isn’t a great investment.

The pioneer in the “your home is not an asset” mindset is none other than our good friend (and boomer), Robert Kiyosaki.

Of course, Robert’s an avid real estate investor, so his issue isn’t real estate.  It’s about respecting the difference between consuming and investing.

Investing is about profit.  But when you consume, you want value … the right mix of quality, service, and price.

Some people rent their residence because they get a better value, have less responsibility, enjoy more flexibility and variety …

… and it frees up money to invest in rental properties.  They get a better ROI.

So they own real estate … just not the home they live in.

If there’s a new attitude about home ownership working its way into the marketplace, it could lead to a new experience in landlording too.

Because now you might have more affluent, well-qualified tenants competing for longer term tenancies in nicer properties in better areas.

Stable people with good jobs and incomes, who want to live and keep a nice home in a good area, but don’t want the responsibility of home ownership … can be great tenants.

They can also be a way for you to collect premium properties while someone else pays for them.

It’s a trend we’re watching.

Until next time … good investing!


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

Bad times can be good times for real estate investors …

Lost in all the hype over Bitcoin and a red-hot stock market are the millions of people whose real incomes and purchasing power are slipping backwards.

These are the folks falling into the wealth inequality chasm … which has largely been created by the financialization of the economy.

“Financialization” is wonk talk for “making money” by not doing anything more than trading paper …

… as opposed to actually producing goods and services that benefit people.

You can’t eat, enjoy, be healed or entertained by paper trading profits.

All you can do is spend those profits to buy real goods and services … assuming someone else gets up and creates them.

But to high-level lever pullers, goosing financialization is a way to move numbers … like the Dow Jones … without a corresponding level of ACTUAL productivity.

We understand the THEORY is all these paper profits will make their way into spending … thereby creating demand for products and services and stimulating productivity.

But just like high-priced real estate doesn’t mean higher rents (it’s the other way around), a booming stock market doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs and productivity.

Of course, no one in charge is asking our opinion.  The lever-pullers act according to what they believe.

We don’t need to agree.  But we do need to understand.

Low interest rates are the fuel of financialization … and loose money from low interest rates can cause asset prices to bubble up … sometimes to all-time highs.

Don’t get us wrong.  Bubbles are great … IF you own bubbling assets like stocks, real estate, and now Bitcoin.

But if you’re Joe Sixpack, or an underemployed Millennial with college debt, living paycheck to paycheck … and you don’t own any of these assets … you don’t get to sip the bubbly at the asset party.

Meanwhile rising costs of essentials like rent and healthcare are taking bigger bites out of the household budget.    Not surprisingly, people are going further into debt.

Some pundits say consumers are taking on more debt because they’re feeling better about the economy.  Maybe.

But with credit card interest rates rising and defaults increasing, it seems to us the consumer is having a hard time.

Meanwhile, home ownership remains at historically low levels.  That’s millions of people heading into retirement without the benefit of home equity.

So it seems many Main Street Americans have a prosperity problem.

When we interviewed then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and asked him about his plan for homeownership, he gave us a one word answer … “jobs.”

In the meantime, while now-President Trump works on jobs … we think the forces pushing against Main Street prosperity remain fairly formidable.

While we’re waiting for Washington and Fed prosperity policies to trickle down to Main Street … local municipalities are making some interesting moves …

… which have the potential to affect a popular real estate investing niche.

Check out this headline from an article recently published on the PEW 
Charitable Trusts website …

Why Some Cities Are Buying Trailer Parks

This article is worth reading … whether you’re personally interested in mobile home parks or not.  For now, here are a couple of select excerpts …

“… rising prices are prompting park owners to sell their land to developers …”

“… localities, desperate to hang on to homes middle- and working-class people can afford, have stepped in to buy parks, fix them up, and transfer ownership to residents or to a nonprofit on conditions that rents be kept low.

If you’re not familiar with mobile homes (sometimes called “trailer” homes), it’s a very interesting and potentially profitable niche.

Typically, the land is referred to as the “park” … like a big parking lot … where the individual mobile homes are parked.

The residents usually own the structure (the home) and pay rent to the land owner for the parking space the structure sits on.

It can be a great niche because the structure is owned by the tenant …  and so do the costs for maintenance and repairs.  Great!

Also, because the structure is more permanent than mobile, the tenancies tend to be long term.  This means less vacancy and turnover expenses.  Great again.

The park owner (the landlord) collects rent and is primarily responsible for infrastructure and common area maintenance.

We really like the mobile home niche because we expect affordable areas and product types will increase in demand based on economic conditions and demographics.

So what are the take-aways from this week’s musings?

First, Main Street USA is still struggling in terms of real income and standard of living.  This will have a direct impact on their housing choices.

We also think this affirms our contention that demand for affordable product types and markets will grow.

We think both mobile home parks and apartments … and their owners … will likely be among the beneficiaries.

Of course, this is a drum we’ve been pounding for quite a while.

What’s new is that cities and counties … “localities” … are stepping in and competing with investors to acquire mobile home parks.

These are potentially deep-pocketed players not concerned with profitability, so they’re both capable and potentially willing to bid up prices to unrealistic levels.

Think about it.

If the reason the government is stepping in to buy the park is because “rising prices are prompting park owners to sell their land to developers” …

… they’ll need to bid MORE than the developers to get the park.

And if the plan is to keep rents DOWN, the deal can’t possibly make financial sense without subsidies from somewhere … presumably the local taxpayers.

Hopefully the local voters are okay with this.  But we suppose that’s the politicians’ problem.

Meanwhile, we’re guessing our friends who’ve been pouring money into mobile home parks are probably smiling.

After all, while mobile home parks crank our great cash flows, they’re also a long-term land banking play.

Eventually, the path of progress or demand drives up the value of the land.  It’s always fun to get in position ahead of the crowd … and even better when being early still cash flows.

This also bolsters our argument that the right real estate is a winner in both good times and bad.

In this case, increased demand for affordable housing due to soft real economic growth at the working-class level …  is potentially increasing mobile home rents and asset values.

Of course, in good times, everything goes up, including the demand for developable land … whether it’s land under your C-class apartments or your mobile home park.

The moral of the story is even bad times can be good times for strategic real estate investors because people will ALWAYS need affordable housing in ANY economy.

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.

The future of growth …

Put on your thinking cap.  This one’s going to use some brainpower.  But if your investment plans involve money and the future, it’s probably worth the effort.

During our 2017 Investor Summit at Sea™, Chris Martenson warned that a financial system dependent on perpetual growth is unsustainable in a world of finite resources.

We’ll forego discussing “finite resources”, though there’s probably a lot of opportunity there.  The New Orleans Investment Conference is a great place to learn more.

For now, let’s consider “a financial system dependent on perpetual growth” … one of the most important, yet least understood, concepts about the eco-system we all operate in.

It’s simple, yet confusing.  Here it is in two sentences …

When dollars are borrowed into existence, the only way to service the debt is to issue more debt.  If the debt is paid off, the economy ends.

Imagine playing Monopoly and each player starts with $1,500.  With four players, the “economy” of the game is $6,000.  This “start” money comes from the banker.

New money is introduced two ways:

When a player passes Go and collects $200 from the banker … or when a player mortgages a property by borrowing from the banker.

Notice all the money to play comes from the banker.

So let’s MODIFY the game ever-so-slightly …

Let’s have the banker LOAN the start and payday money to each player at 10% interest per turn.

We still have four players starting with $1,500 each for an “economy” of $6,000.  But at the end of the first round, each player now owes the bank $150 of interest.

(We’ll forget about the additional payday loans … it just complicates the math and isn’t necessary to make the point)

But borrowing money into circulation creates three (hopefully) obvious problems …

First, there’s only $6,000 in circulation.  With total debt of $6,000 borrowed plus $600 of interest owed, it’s now IMPOSSIBLE to pay off the debt using only the money in the game so far.

And if the only way players get NEW money is borrowing, this creates a cycle of perpetually expanding debt.

Second, if each player paid ONLY the interest out of their $1,500 start money, after ten turns, they’ll have no money left at all.  But they still owe the original $1,500!

So you MUST GROW your asset base by more than the interest expense or you’re consumed by the debt.

Third, if all players try to free themselves from debt, they would take ALL the money in the game and give it to the banker, the game would end, and each player would still be in debt.

In this system, it’s physically impossible to extinguish the debt without extinguishing the economy and ending the game. 

Naturally, to keep the game going, the banker continually extends credit to the players.

It’s basically the way the global money system works and why people way smarter than us say it’s unsustainable.

It’s also like a Venus fly trap because any attempt to reduce overall systemic debt is deflationary, making existing debt even more burdensome.

Deflation means borrowers pay debt down with dollars worth more than those they originally borrowed.

Worse, any assets borrowed against have dropped in value.

Think of 2008 when the credit bubble deflated.  Property values fell, while the outstanding debt remained fixed.  Property owners were “underwater” (negative equity).

Meanwhile, the dollar was STRONG.  It took a whole lot LESS dollars to buy anything.

Everything was on sale and cash was king.  Lots of people got rich buying things with cash when others couldn’t borrow to buy.

Deflation is awesome when you’re sitting on cash.

You’d think lenders are happy to be paid back with better dollars.  And they are … IF they actually get paid.

But underwater borrowers often decide to default on the loan so they can keep their dollars.

So bankers HATE deflation.  No wonder the system they set up in 1913 demands perpetual expansion of debt and prices.

In fact, the Federal Reserve overtly targets 2% per year INFLATION:

“… inflation at the rate of 2 percent … is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate.”

Here’s the problem with perpetually expanding debt … it weakens an economy.

Sure, it drives inflation, but inflation weakens consumption.  When things cost more, people buy less.

Debt also requires interest.  Even at minimal rates, HUGE balances require big payments.

Interest on public and private debt take money away from production and consumption … causing both to shrink.  Just not at the beginning.

When first injected into an economy, debt gooses activity and provides a temporary high.

And as in our modified Monopoly game, once deployed, more NEW money is required just to keep the interest from consuming the economy. There’s a point where new injections produce diminishing returns.

Whew!  Thanks for staying with us.  Tape an aspirin to your forehead.

With that backdrop, consider this headline from Investor’s Business Daily

Here’s Why China’s Latest Growth Scare Should Worry You – May 30, 2017

Credit has been growing twice as fast as nominal GDP for years. The diminishing returns suggest that many loans are going to unprofitable ventures. They also signal that sustainable economic growth is far less than current growth rates. Such a rapid deceleration from the world’s No. 2 economy would sap demand and prices for raw materials such as copper, exacerbate overcapacity issues and act as a drag on an already-sluggish worldwide economy.”

Uh oh.  “Diminishing returns” and “deceleration” in the face of rapid credit growth.

When a junkie can’t get high, they either increase the dosage to the point of toxicity … or they wean themselves from the drug.

China is getting serious about weaning its economy off torrid credit growth, and data and financial markets already are showing early withdrawal symptoms.

Hmmm… sounds like they’re leaning towards weaning.  We like the addiction metaphor.

China and the United States are the two biggest economies.  What either does affects the world.

Right now, headlines say China is slowing its use of debt, which in turns slows its economic growth, with a ripple effect on other economies.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is talking bigly about reducing the deficit and debt. Will he do it? Can he do it?

Who knows? But if the global economic system sustains itself on ever-increasing debt. and the two biggest borrowers are going on debt diets … who’s willing and able to take on a bigger share of global debt?

And if no one does, then what happens to asset values?  Is deflation on the horizon?

Last question … then you can take a nap …

Would the Fed and other central banks allow deflation … or do they roll out QE4ever (quantitative easing) in an attempt to stop it?

Meanwhile, now seems like a good time to consider repositioning equity from properties and stocks with high asset values into properties with sober valuations and strong cash-flows.

After all, stocks and even real estate values might be a roller-coaster ride, but rents are more of a merry-go-round. Boring, but a nice place to hide when feeling queasy.

Until next time … good investing!


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