What Does a Chinese Yuan Reserve Currency Mean for Real Estate Investors?

While American media is focused on the chances of a Thanksgiving weekend terrorist attack (not to make light of those concerns)…a group of international bureaucrats will be meeting to decide if the world will take a step closer to a Chinese yuan reserve currency.

On Monday November 30th, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) votes on whether the yuan (the currency of China, also known as the renminbi) gets into the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket.

Who cares?

China does.  They care a LOT.  And YOU should probably care too…even if you don’t know it yet.

What is an SDR?

Special Drawing Rights (SDR) are the currency of the International Monetary Fund.

The SDR “basket” is a collection of “premium” currencies whose values collectively determine the value of the SDR using a special formula.

Confused already?  That’s okay.  Just don’t give up….

Remember all those real estate investors in 2005 that didn’t pay attention to Wall Street…thinking what do stocks, bonds and derivatives have to do with Main Street real estate investing?

In 2008 we all found out.  Oops.

So here’s a quick primer on the situation (for a better understanding, read Jim Rickards’ books Currency Wars and Death of Money)…

In the U.S., when an individual bank runs low on cash, they can borrow from the central bank (the Federal Reserve).  All major countries have a similar system.

But where do central banks go when they need to borrow?

So here’s where it gets a little complicated. But stick with us because we plan to show how it matters to you and your Main Street investing.

A little history…

What is the IMF?

The IMF is the International Monetary FundPrior to 1944, countries settled trade in gold.  So if you imported more than you exported, you owed someone a pile of shiny yellow metal.   Or at least a claim ticket for it.  Makes sense.

After two world wars, most of the world’s gold and remaining production capacity was primarily in the United States.

After all, it’s hard to export anything when all your production capacity and infrastructure was bombed to smithereens.  So almost by default (not that Americans weren’t smart and didn’t work hard) the U.S. had the world’s dominant economy.

In 1944, at the Bretton Woods conference, a NEW financial order was set up…and the U.S. took over for Great Britain as the financial capital of the world.

Remember the golden rule?  He who has the gold, makes the rules.

That’s what happened in Bretton Woods.  The U.S. had the gold, so King Dollar was crowned.  For most folks reading this, it’s the only system you’ve ever known.The dollar become the world's reserve currency at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944

But that doesn’t make it permanent.  In fact, history tells us that dominant economies, currencies, governments and systems eventually change.

Anyway, the idea of a central bank for the central banks also came out of Bretton Woods.  They called it the International Monetary Fund or IMF.

Five years later, it launched.  Keep in mind that these things take time.  It’s easy to miss…or forget…that fundamental change is happening.

Basically, the IMF is the central bank to the central banks.

Twenty years later, in 1969, the idea of a special currency for the IMF came up.  They called it “Special Drawing Rights” or SDR.

Lame name, but lucky timing (probably just a coincidence…) because just two years later, in 1971, the U.S. defaulted on the Bretton Woods agreement with the “Nixon shock”.

That’s when President Richard Nixon shocked the world on national TV announcing he was closing the gold window “temporarily”.  (Still closed today by the way…)

But don’t take our word for it…watch Nixon make the announcement yourself:

The ORIGINAL Bretton Woods deal was that countries holding paper dollars could turn them into Uncle Sam and get real gold.  In essence, the dollar was as good as gold.

But when Nixon suddenly changed the deal (reminds us of the exchange between Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian in Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back below), it meant all countries holding U.S. dollars formerly redeemable for U.S. gold now simply held green pieces of paper with pictures of dead U.S. leaders.

Now…to no surprise…no one wanted or trusted U.S. dollars.  So the dollar crashed.  Gold and inflation soared.  The U.S. economy and stock market tanked.  “Stagflation” became the term to describe a new strain of economic malaise.

Research it yourself.  There are many important lessons to be learned about how a major economic policy change ripples through economies.

And sometimes the UNTHINKABLE happens.

For example, in a vain attempt to contain the inflation unleashed by his default on the gold dollar, Nixon instituted a wage and price freeze:

After defaulting on the Bretton Woods gold dollar standard, Nixon imposed a freeze on wage and price increases

Who would think that in the Land of the Free, it would be a FEDERAL CRIME to give an employee a raise…or to raise the price of the merchandise in your OWN store?!?

But it happened.  In America.

The point is that defaulting on the Bretton Woods promise to redeem dollars for gold was a HUGE reset.

The gold dollar was dead.

BUT…the U.S. still had a strong balance sheet, a big army, huge manufacturing capacity…and a plan.

Shortly thereafter, the petro-dollar was born.

“Petro-dollar” just means that the U.S. dollar became the currency which worldwide oil transactions were settled in.  It created a huge and ever-present permanent new demand for U.S. dollars.

Now there’s SO much more to say about that…but not today.

Again, we encourage you to study the history of the dollar, gold and oil.  Or come to a live event and buy us a beer or two or three…and we can talk about all this until the wee hours (that’s what happens after a few beers…)

Back to our story…

So now we’re in the petro-dollar era and the IMF is there with its SDRs and the SDR value is based on a “basket” of currencies it’s indexed to.

The SDR basket is made up of all the “best” currencies…the U.S. dollar, the British pound, the Japanese yen, and the European Union’s euro.IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDR) are valued based on a basket of currencies including the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound, EU Euro. China wants their yuan (renminbi) included.

That’s a pretty exclusive club considering there are 190+ countries out there.

China wants the yuan to join the SDR club.

But at the last vote in 2010 (these things only get looked at every 5 years), they got voted down.

Not dissuaded, China went to work.  We chronicle much of this in our special report on Real Asset Investing.

But this time, it seems China has a Plan B…in case the IMF slams the door again.

So while they’re working to comply with IMF requirements, China’s also taken steps to go independent if need be.

Does China want a yuan reserve currency?

We don’t know.  If Beijing calls us with a heads up, we’ll be sure to pass it along.

But how often can you trust anything ANY government says?  It’s better to WATCH what they DO.

Right now, it seems to us that China looked at what the U.S. did to be top dog at Bretton Woods and are copying it as best they can.

It’s a long list, but some notable items are:

Pay close attention to that last one.  We think this will be a BIG story in the not too distant future.

In 2015, China formed its own international bank (the AIIB – Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) in spite of U.S. resistance…and wooed dozens of countries to join, including Uncle Sam’s “pal”, Great Britain.

It’s kind of like, “If you can’t join them, beat them.”  Or at least show you’re ready to beat them if necessary.

But no one wants to fight the U.S. toe to toe…including China.  Better to get voted in with a yuan reserve currency.

Of course, the U.S. has an effective veto with over 16% of the IMF voting rights (it takes 85% to pass).  So even if Uncle Sam’s buddies don’t back him again, he can still stop China from getting in the club.

But we think China’s ready for that.  And we think Uncle Sam knows China’s ready.  So we wouldn’t be surprised if Uncle Sam cries…well, uncle.

But who knows?  We’ll find out soon enough.

THEN…it will be interesting to see what happens next.

If China gets in, it’s like adding a new stock to the S&P 500. It creates an immediate spike in demand for the new stock…and something gets dumped to make room.

Art Cashin, Director of Floor Operations at UBS and famed commenter on CNBC has been quoted saying…

Art Cashin is the Director of Floor Operations for UBS and has traded on the stock exchange for 50 years. He says a yuan reserve currency would mean trillions of dollars would shift into yuan denominated assets“If [SDR] approval were given, we could be looking at shifts in the trillions of dollars.”

We’re not that bright, but when a BIG shift happens we know to pay attention.

In that same article, Lombard Street Research’s chief economist and head of research, Diana Choyleva was quoted…

“’If the yuan goes in the basket, then the likelihood is that the Chinese would prefer a gradual depreciation of their currency against the US dollar.’”

And if the yuan is NOT accepted?

Choyleva says…

“The Chinese leadership is not going to wait another five years…And they will not be so keen to be such a responsible global citizen….If the yuan is not accepted in the SDR, they will go for a one-off large devaluation and that would then be … a financial crisis, specifically, a real-economy crisis with the resulting impact on the …markets.”

Another financial crisis doesn’t sound like any fun.

It SEEMS like Uncle Sam and China are actually working closely together to gently ease a Chinese yuan reserve currency into the club.

But like raising kids, adolescents always think they’re ready too soon…and parents always hold on too long.

China’s clearly growing up.  And China’s financial decisions affect Americans…even real estate investors on Main Street.

This headline is a case in point:

U.S. Steel to Lay Off Thousands of WorkersU.S. Steel announced thousands of layoffs partially because of a strong dollar against the Chines yuan

“…U.S. Steel blamed the temporary closure on tough market conditions ‘including fluctuating oil prices, reduced rig counts and associated inventory overhang, depressed steel prices and unfairly traded imports.’”

“Earlier this year, U.S. Steel permanently shuttered a longtime plant outside of Birmingham, Alabama, laying off 1,100 workers. That closure came on the heels of a string of layoffs in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, among other states.”

Those are all working class jobs in great rental property states.

Getting closer to home now?

The article continues…

“[China’s] recent slowdown threatens to exacerbate problems for American steelmakers, as Chinese policymakers look to boost exports and more steel hits the global market.”

The Chinese policies referred to include tweaking the relative strength of the yuan…because a cheaper yuan means cheaper goods into the U.S., which costs U.S. jobs.

And this is just ONE industry.  Think of ALL the other industries China is involved in…especially in any markets YOU are invested in.

So what’s an investor to do if there is a Chinese yuan reserve currency?

Pay attention.

Watching two elephants dance isn’t exciting.The United States and China are two elephants locked in a strategic dance for dominance. Will the dollar remain the reserve currency of the world or will the yuan become the reserve currency of the world?

They aren’t graceful and they move slowly.

But when you’re locked in the same economy and those elephants can crush you, you’re wise to stay alert.  And everyone knows we need more lerts. 😉

So REALLY get to know YOUR markets, demographics, ultimate income sources, and critical dependencies.

You want to see weakness or opportunity before others so you can move in or move out ahead of the crowd.

Remember, it takes time to tweak a real estate portfolio.  Of course, compared to the dancing elephants, you’re a water bug.  But you still need to be looking and moving ahead

Focus on macro trends.

China’s been working on getting into the SDR club more than a decade.  The dollar’s recent strength is an aberration in a well-chronicled 100 year slide.

You’ll lose sleep…and hair (we know)…trying to understand every tick in some chart.  Looking at the big picture smooths out a lot of  the noise.

Watch for game changers.

A yuan reserve currency could be a real game changer for U.S. investorsBretton Woods in 1944 was a game changer.  A fundamental change to the global financial system.

The Nixon Shock in 1971 was a game changer. Another fundamental change to the global financial system.

China’s ascension has been a slowly developing game changer.

It used to be Americans could just go about their business.  The rest of the world was too puny to really severely impact the mighty U.S. economy and dollar.

Now, when China gets a cold, so does Uncle Sam.  You can read it in the news everyday.

Is adding the Chinese yuan into the IMF SDR a game changer?

We don’t know yet.  Could be.

Or maybe the Chinese will do a reverse Nixon shock. We’re pretty sure THAT would be a game changer. (Think about it…)

Invest in things that are REAL and ESSENTIAL.

It’s our recurring theme.  Housing, food, energy, commodities.  All have roots in real estate.  Sure, they can go boom and bust.  But they’re ALWAYS needed.  Pets.com?  Not so much.

Use financial structures which can withstand economic pull backs.

The flirty girl at the frat party might get a lot of attention, but she’s not the one you take home to Mama.

Bubbles and leverage create lots of sexy opportunities, but when the glitter rubs off, you want to be with markets, product types, demographics and teams which are in it for the long haul.

Credit lines, equity and buyers all can (and usually do) disappear when you need them the most.  They’re fickle.Sometimes cash in hand is the best way to prepare for a financial crisis

A little cash on hand can be your best friend in a downturn.  If you have your chips on the table and get a bad roll, you’re out.  Donald Trump told us he learned it’s ALWAYS good to have some cash available in the down times.

So don’t envy the guy getting lucky with the hot deal when it’s all sunshine.   Otherwise, you’ll certainly be envying the guy with the stable portfolio when the clouds come.

Now if you’ve read this far, we’re guessing you’re SERIOUS about understanding these chaotic times.  We are too.

So if you REALLY want to jump start your learning…

We invite you to invest a week to sharpen your understanding of economics, investing and real asset portfolio strategies aboard our 14th annual Investor Summit at Sea.

One of our discussion topics will be The Future of Money and Banking…with Robert Kiyosaki, G. Edward Griffin and experts in economics, precious metals, crypto-currency and alternative banking.  Not to mention real estate, tax and estate planning, asset protection and more.  Your brain will hurt.  But you’ll LOVE it.

>>> Click here now to learn more about the next Investor Summit at Sea.

Meanwhile, stand by….and we’ll let you know whether there’s a Chinese yuan reserve currency in your future.

04/26/15: Clues in the News – China’s Latest Attack on the Dollar…and YOU

In this edition of Clues in the News™, we take on the biggest story most real estate investors are ignoring…and discuss why we think it matters to real estate investors…

In the studio to discuss China’s latest moves and the potential impact on U.S. real estate investors…

  • Your clued in host, Robert Helms
  • His clueless co-host, Russell Gray

The world is in constant flux.  There are SO many variables moving around out there. It can make your head spin…even more than a thick, frosty imperial IPA. 😉

To make sense of it, we try to take all these events we read about in the news…and put them into major categories.

In this case, today’s episode is really about the future of the U.S. dollar…specifically as the world’s reserve currency…and how a change might affect every day real estate investors on Main Street.

So let’s start with the Big Picture…

Out with the Old and In with the New

Virtually all active real estate investors today only know one financial world.  The U.S. is the dominant economy and the dollar is the world’s reserve currency.

This means that interest rates, job creation, access to capital have always stood on the foundation of U.S. financial dominance.  And not just in the U.S., but around the world too.

BUT…this has been slowly changing…and the evidence is right in front of you IF you take the time to look at it.

There hasn’t been anyone for the U.S. to be accountable to for decades.  Uncle Sam can just go into debt and wage war endlessly. No one can stop him.

Understanding Economic Cones

When it comes to your real estate investing, the LOCAL economy is what really matters.

Of course, your local economy may be VERY much connected to macro and even global factors.  To figure all that out, you need to understand the concept of an economic “cone”.

A “cone” or Primary Driver in any geographic market is something that brings money into the region from the outside.

Think of Google or Apple.  They’re based in Silicon Valley, but bring in revenue from all over the world, which creates jobs, incomes and spending in Silicon Valley.  Google and Apple are “cones” that funnel outside money into the local region.

Now think about Walmart or Costco.

Sure, Walmart and Costco sell all over the world…but each location only sells to local customers.  That means the income is generated in the local community.  So when the people who work in the local store spend they wages in the local economy, it’s simply a recycling of local money.

The idea is that when a Walmart or Costco is located in a place like Silicon Valley, the OUTSIDE money is funneled into the local economy through the employees who work at Google or Apple is then spent at Walmart and Costco.

In other words, if Google or Apple went away, it’s likely that business at the local Walmart or Costco would decline.  That is, the overall region would have LESS prosperity because they only would be trading among themselves…instead of pulling in money from around the world.

Make sense?

So think about how the U.S. government affects the flow of money into the local communities where YOU invest in real estate...and what would happen if the government was no longer able to go deeper and deeper into debt just to keep on spending.

What happens to YOU if Uncle Sam’s credit card is cut off?

Military

If you own properties near military bases or defense contractors, you’ve been an indirect beneficiary of Uncle Sam’s blank checkbook.

Money flows through those operations into the local community…directly as wages which are spent on rent…and indirectly when the military, its contractors, their suppliers and employees all trade with each other locally.

Are YOU invested in an area where many of the employers are directly…or INDIRECTLY…nursing on Uncle Sam’s…checkbook?

Section 8

If you own Section 8 housing, you’ve been a direct beneficiary of government subsidies.  How often do you worry about your Section 8 check bouncing?

But if Uncle Sam is forced into “structural reform” and “austerity”….with is geo-political jargon for shutting down spending programs and cutting costs…what happens to YOU if the Section 8 program gets a big haircut…or completely shut down?

College Loans

What about college towns and student housing? There’s been hundreds of billions of dollars of government subsidized student loans which feed the college towns.

Your student tenants might be using their loan proceeds to pay their rent.  Or maybe Mom and Dad are using the tuition savings to pay the rent on behalf of the kids, while the student loan pays for the tuition.

And of course, if you’re renting to employees of the school and they depend on tuition paid by student loans and the student loans stop…then what?

How exposed are YOU to austerity in student loans?

Social Security

What about senior housing? Do you have tenants who are collecting social security and using it to pay the rent?

Disability, Food Stamps

There are RECORD numbers of people on disability and food stamps in the U.S. right now. But Uncle Sam already admits that the disability fund will be insolvent in 2016.

How many of your tenants are depending on these subsidies to survive?  What happens to their ability to pay you rent if their benefits are cut off?

Real Estate Loan Subsidies…Fannie, Freddie, Ginnie, VA, FHA; plus down payment assistance

For decades, homeowners and real estate investors have benefited from cheap mortgage money.

In fact, the risk premium (interest rate) on those funds wasn’t enough to compensate for the risks, and that’s why these programs always teeter on insolvency. Fannie, Freddie have both been bailed out by Uncle Sam…with BORROWED funds…because Uncle Sam doesn’t have any savings.

It’s Greek to Me…

So…what happens if the U.S. can no longer go into endless debt?  What happens when the U.S. is accountable…say…like Greece?

Right now, Greece is broke. Their Prime Minister came right out and said, “We’re broke and we can’t pay the ECB (European Central Bank)”.

How many times has the U.S. said, “Hey, we’re broke. We can’t pay our debt?”

Okay, so they SAY it…but it’s never been an issue because they can always…

Raise the Roof!

Actually, the U.S. has threatened to “default” a few times…but then Congress simply raises the debt ceiling.

In other words, they just borrow more. It’s like applying for a new credit card every time you run out of money…rather than deal with the fact you have a spending problem.

How is it the U.S. can do that and Greece can’t?

It’s because the U.S. gets to print the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar.

And when places like China produce more than they consume and produce excess, they keep their saving in U.S. Treasuries.

In other words, the world “saves” by loaning money to Uncle Sam.  What a deal for the U.S!

How did the U.S. get this sweet deal?

Way back in 1944… in a place called Bretton Woods… the world “agreed” to allow the U.S. to be the world’s banker.  And why not?  Uncle Sam had the biggest army and biggest stash of gold.

Because…back then, gold was money. And U.S. dollars were redeemable for gold…

Well, not by citizens.  Because in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt used an Executive Order and took away the right for citizens to own gold.

But other countries COULD turn in their dollars for shiny yellow metal.

So all international trade would be settled in dollars, and then the holder of those dollars could go the U.S. and redeem those dollars for physical gold.

The ability to redeem dollars for gold kept the United States accountable to not printing too many dollars…at least that’s the way it was supposed to work.

But it didn’t.

Handed a virtually unlimited credit line, the United States began spending like crazy…the same way we do today…on endless wars and social programs.  In the 60’s it was the Vietnam War and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty…also known as the Great Society.

So the U.S. printed billions of dollars (which was a lot back then) and as they made their way around the world, holders would come and redeem them for gold.

Before long it was apparent that the U.S. was running out of gold.

So on August 15, 1971 President Richard Nixon announced to the world that he was “temporarily” suspending the redemption of dollars for gold….and…we’re still waiting for the “temporary” ban to be lifted.

In the next few years after that, the dollar crashed (gold went from $35 per ounce to $850), interest rates soared (and creative real estate was born)…as the world figured out how to conduct business in this new financial environment.

But they did figure it out.  People are amazingly resourceful.

Along the way some people got rich. Other people got wiped out. That’s what happens when financial systems re-set. People who are prepared and paying attention do well. Those who aren’t…don’t.

Right now, the wheels are in motion for a changing of the global financial guard. We’ve been monitoring this for the last couple of years and wrote about it in our Real Asset Investing report.

EVERY DAY IT GETS CLOSER.

You may have seen these headlines…

March 17, 2015 NPR – European Allies Defy U.S. in Joining China-Led Development Bank

FOUR key allies…Germany, France, Italy and the UK (“one of American’s staunchest allies”) all got on board the new Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite U.S. opposition…

“The Obama administration opposes the AIIB and has pressured allies such as South Korea, Japan and Australia not to join…says there’s no need for another international lending institution.”

“It’s believed China is prepared to put half of the initial $100 billion budget, probably giving it veto power, much the same as the U.S. has with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.”

March 23, 2015 (Reuters) – China’s Premier asks IMF to include Yuan in SDR basket

SDR = Special Drawing Rights – it’s an international reserve currency made of dollars, yen, euros and pounds.  Now China wants a seat at the SDR table…

“China hopes to, through the SDR, play an active role in the international cooperation to maintain financial stability and promote the further opening of China’s capital market and financial area.”

The IMF’s Managing Director is reported to have said, “China’s yuan at some point would be incorporated in the SDR currency basket”.

The Reuters article concludes with “The yuan’s inclusion could be seen as diminishing the dollar’s standing internationally.

March 24, 2015 (Reuters) – UK Official says IMF inclusion of yuan a very live issue

The yuan is the world’s fifth most-used currency in trade, and Beijing has made almost weekly strides this year in introducing the infrastructure needed to float it freely on global capital markets.

“Almost weekly strides this year”!  In other words, things are happening FAST.

March 28, 2015 (Reuters) – More countries join China backed investment bank.

Russia, Australia and the Netherlands became the latest to…join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank…adding clout to an institution seen as enhancing China’s regional and global influence.”

“Other countries such as Turkey and South Korea have also said they would join. Brazil, China’s top trading partner, said it would sign up.”

“China’s Finance Ministry said Britain and Switzerland had been formally accepted…Austria had also applied.”

The AIIB has been seen as a significant setback to U.S. efforts to extend its influence to balance China’s growing clout and assertiveness.”

April 6, 2015 (Reuters) – Larry Summers has a major warning for the US economy and everyone should be paying attention.

In an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers wrote, “This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.

“So while the US has been the dominant global economic power of the last 50 years, the point is that now countries across the globe are seemingly falling over themselves to be more closely aligned with China.”

Summers said, “I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution and the failure of the United States to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain, to stay out.”

The article concludes, “The global economic tide has started receding from the US and moving toward China.

And what happens if the US loses its role as the “underwriter of the global financial system”?

The U.S. loses the ability to go into endless debt and it becomes more like Greece, dependent on the largess of global central bankers.

Up to now, the U.S. has been the dominant force in global banking.  The headlines say…along with Larry Summers…that that’s in the process of changing.

What will it mean for real estate investors?

We’re not completely sure…but you can bet we’ll be discussing it with the biggest brains we can find.

It seems like government spending will need to be reeled in, so if your real estate portfolio is heavily dependent on government subsidized tenants or industry, you may want to diversify.

Long term inflation is a very serious concern…even though it may not seem like it now. So long term debt (30 year fixed mortgages) seems smart, as does owning real assets…like cash flowing real estate.

The most important thing is to be aware things are changing…to watch carefully as events unfold… and constantly ask, how does this affect me? And where are the opportunities?

James Rickards said in his best-selling book, The Death of Money, that the SDR is the most logical choice for replacing the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

Of course he said that years ago and now it’s making it’s way into the mainstream news.

We’re guessing more of this stuff will be popping up in the mainstream…which tells us that the changes are getting closer.

We’re EXCITED!

History tells us that most of the great opportunities are found in the midst of change. But the prizes go to those you are aware, prepared, nimble and fast to react.

So stay tuned for more insights as this important trend continues….

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12/29/13: Thinking Outside the Buck – How Savers Can Avoid Being Losers

Robert Kiyosaki says, “Savers are losers”.   Does this mean you should consume more than you produce, or that saving is bad?  Of course not.

There are multiple meanings to the Savers are Losers concept.  In addition to drawing a distinction between working for money (saving) versus having money work for you (investing), there’s the problem of money versus currency.

As real estate investors, we put a lot of time and effort into “making money”.  And while it’s fun to consume, most of us create profits with the idea of accumulating and storing wealth…at least temporarily until the next great investment comes along.

The challenge comes when the vehicle we use to store the value of our profits (paper currency) is being consistently devalued by its issuer.

With central banks (like The Federal Reserve) around the world “printing currency” at unprecedented rates, everyone doing business in currency (like the dollar) is affected.  And the dollar has the greatest effect of all because it’s used globally as the world’s reserve currency.

So while most folks are simply simply focused on how to earn and accumulate more money, we thought it would be a good idea to think about what “money” is, and whether the dollar is the best or only vehicle to use as money.

So put on your golden thinking cap, and get ready to think outside the buck…

Sitting behind The Real Estate Guys™ silver microphones for this episode:

  • Your precious silver-tongued host, Robert Helms
  • His generic round co-host, Russell Gray
  • Special guest and golden boy, Anthem Blanchard

As real estate prices rise (denominated in dollars) and equity happens, real estate investors are going to be the proud owners of bulging balance sheets.  Finally!

Of course, we’ve seen this movie before, so while we enjoy booms, we’re very aware of the boom / bust cycle that is inherent in an unsound money system. If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it for now.  Just remember that there are booms and busts (ups and downs), and when a market is booming, you ride it up.  Along the way, you’re extracting profits and storing them up for the next bust, so you can go out into the wreckage and snap up bargains.

So as prices rise and lending comes back into the market, investors will have the ability to realize profits (through sales) or extract equity (through refinancing).  Even buy and hold investors (presuming positive cash flow) will be stacking up dollars because the more properties you own, the more cash reserves and operating “float” you hold.

Most people hold this cash in currency, like dollars.  In fact, for most people, dollars are the ONLY measurement of wealth.

But thinking outside the buck, we wonder if it might make sense to store a percentage of those profits and reserves in something other than currency?

After watching the “bail-in” that victimized savers in Cypress last year, the concept of “counter-party risk” changed our perception of risk when dealing with banks.  Especially considering the miniscule reserves held by the FDIC against the huge amount of bank deposits insured.  We already know banks can fail because hundreds did during the Great Recession.  What if the insurer fails?

Soif money in the bank isn’t as safe as…well, money in the bank…then where can you store wealth until you’re ready to use it again?

And even if money in the bank is safe from the bank failing to return it (counter party risk), what happens if when the bank returns it, it isn’t worth as much as when you deposited it?  Think about putting $5 in a bank account in 1965 when gas was 25 cents a gallon.  For five bucks, you could fill up a 20 gallon gas tank!  That’s a lot of driving!

But today, $5 won’t buy you 2 gallons of gas.  So even if the bank gives you your five dollars back, it’s lost its purchasing power.  This is what many baby boomer savers are discovering as the try to sail off into their golden years.  They have more money than they’ve ever had, but it won’t buy as much.

So we sit down to talk with Anthem Blanchard, who literally grew up in the precious metals business.  His father, James Blanchard, was a pioneer in restoring Americans’ right to own gold.  For you young folks out there, you may not know that from 1933 until 1971 is was illegal for U.S. citizens to own gold.

Really.

It’s a long and sad story, but the short of it is that when the U.S. was founded and for most of world history, gold and silver were regarded as “money”.  And dollars were just paper coupons redeemable for real money (gold and silver).  But in 1933, the U.S. decided it was bad for people to own gold, so they made it illegal.

The reason that happened is at the heart of the challenge faced by savers today:  governments wanted to spend more money than they have.  Shocker. And it’s obviously going on today in record fashion.

So alert investors are looking for alternatives.  In fact, it’s gotten so bad that even consumers are looking for alternatives.  There’s a reason Bitcoins are gaining so much popularity.  It’s a currency that isn’t controlled (yet) by government.

The fact that Bitcoins are creating such a stir tells you that people are concerned about the dollar.  And it isn’t convenience.  Because while tech is cool, dollars are effectively virtual too.  Just think about credit cards, debit card, wire transfer, online payments, etc.  All digital.

The issue with Bitcoins are they aren’t real and they don’t have government backing.  We’re not here to put down Bitcoins, but compared to the thousands of years of human history with gold and silver, we’d rather look to precious metals as an alternative to dollars for storing and transporting wealth.

Of course, because metals are tangible, they aren’t easy to use in commerce.  But that’s changing!

Just as innovators came up with Bitcoins as an alternative to the dollar, creative entrepreneurs are coming with technologies to make using precious metals more convenient.  Anthem Blanchard is one of those innovators.

So listen into this edition of The Real Estate Guys™ radio show as we discuss precious metals as an alternative to the dollar for the long term storage of wealth, and how technological innovations can make the use of precious metals in daily commerce less expensive and more convenient.

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If you like this topic, be sure to check out our special report: Real Asset Investing – How to Grow and Protect Your Wealth Against a Falling DollarClick here to request now.

10/20/13: Real Asset Investing – Using Hard Assets to Hedge Against a Falling Dollar

The dollar has been on a steady decline since Nixon took it off the gold standard in 1971.  Since then, the dollar has lost a staggering 80% of its purchasing power.  Ouch.

The flip side of a falling dollar is that it takes more of them to buy anything that’s real.  That’s why that gallon of gas you could buy for 35 cents in 1970 now costs ten times as much.  And amazingly, gas is a product which has actually become cheaper to produce!  It’s also why gold, which was $35 an ounce in 1971 is now $1300 an ounce.  Or why that 3 bedroom house you could buy for $30,000 is now worth $300,000.

In other words, equity happens to those who own real assets when a currency declines, which is the topic of this episode.

In the studio for another powerful parade of playful pontification:

  • A man whose hard asset is his real talent for talking, your host Robert Helms
  • His inflated co-host whose value continues to fall, Russell Gray

Last episode, we talked about the government shutdown and the “threat” of a U.S. government debt default.  You know, like in “Put down that healthcare or we’re going to blow up the economy.” 

We’re not making light of it (well, maybe a little), but did anyone seriously think they were going to default?  No.  All the financial markets just yawned and munched popcorn while they watched the same movie play that we all watched in 2011.  Only this time, we didn’t even get sequestration.  All the theater’s fun, but we have work to do.

Now that it’s clear to all (as if it wasn’t before) that Uncle Sam has neither will nor the skill to curtail spending and Uncle Ben is handing the printing press keys to Janet Yellen-for-more QE, our focus is (as it was before) on how to position ourselves for the perpetual flood of currency.  Because we know that just standing here watching the waves come in is a good way to get washed away with the rest of the debris.

And all of this is happening against the backdrop of a disastrous roll out of the latest mega-entitlement program (Obamacare), as if the other two (Social Security and Medicare) weren’t already putting enough pressure on Uncle Sam’s budget.  Oh wait.  What were we thinking?  Uncle Sam doesn’t HAVE a budget!  No worries, because now he doesn’t have a credit limit either.  Problem solved!

Not really.  More like “Problem exacerbated”.  But that’s just what Uncle Sam is doing to HIMSELF.  Remember, now China’s making noise about Uncle Sam’s shenanigans.

China holds a LOT of U.S. debt.  And they’re smart enough to know that getting paid back in cheaper dollars is a rip off.  They aren’t happy.  The Chinese Premier was publicly taking the U.S. to task back in 2010 for out of control spending and printing.  Did we listen?  Noooooo…..

So the Chinese went and cut a deal with Russia to settle their trade without going through the dollar.  “Don’t worry.  This isn’t a repudiation of the dollar standard,” they said.  No. More like a warning shot across the bow, but Uncle Sam closed his eyes.

Now China is making a lot more noise about removing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  And not only are they making noise, but they’re busy cutting  many more deals to settle their international trade without using the dollar.  So what?

All that trade requires countries to buy dollars.  That’s DEMAND.  When they don’t use the dollar, demand goes down.  Combine that with QE (printing), which INCREASES the supply of dollars.  What happens when you decrease demand and increase supply?  Prices drop.  So hence, ergo, therefore my Dear Watson, etc., etc., the dollar’s future is murky.

Yes, we know it’s nearly Halloween and this all seems like a nightmare.  BUT….there’s actually a LOT of OPPORTUNITY in all of this.  So don’t go hide under your bed sheets just yet.

To thrive in all of this, you simply have to keep it real.  As in, REAL ASSETS.

Long time listeners know that after the Great Recession of 2008, we’ve spent a lot of time looking at the macro factors affecting real estate… because it makes no sense to build your real estate empire on the beach when there’s a tsunami coming.  The last tsunami caught us myopically counting doors, which we were buying everywhere and anywhere.  Today, we’re working hard to be a lot smarter.

In other words, market selection, price point, product type and financing structure have become VERY important for the long term buy and hold income property investor.

We learned the hard way that even through a rising tide (of easy credit) lifted all boats (asset values), when the tide recedes, only those investments with solid fundamentals weathered the storm.

Now, here we are in a jobless recovery and it isn’t credit (yet) that’s pumping up asset values.  In fact, interest rates are rising.  The FHA (the post 2008 supplier of “sub-prime” funding) needs a bailout.  And fewer people have good paying jobs.  And everyone is being squeezed by rising real world costs of living (forget the bogus CPI number).  So if higher incomes and looser lending isn’t pushing up values (yet), who is?

Investors.  Some call them speculators, but we’re not so sure.  We think it makes sense to buy real estate when you can get it below replacement costs, use relatively cheap long term financing when you can get it, and pick up tax breaks;  knowing that over the long haul, that debt will be easier to pay off with cheaper dollars.

In other words, Uncle Sam is a big borrower and he’s rigging the system to favor the borrower.  So we want to be borrower’s too.  And income producing real estate provides arguably the best vehicle for shorting the dollar through long term debt.

So if you’re not betting on short term price increases (it’s happening now, but could end tomorrow), then what you’re really doing is betting on LONG term inflation and controlling the asset with the cash flow and tax breaks generated by the property.  In that regard, the game isn’t much different than it’s always been.  In fact, it’s gotten better because the debt is cheaper and the prospects for long term inflation are high.

BUT, the weak economy created by QE creates some real budget challenges for the working middle-class, which means they have a hard time handling rent increases.  In fact, they may need to move to a cheaper property – maybe even a cheaper market.  That’s why picking the right market and price point is important.  We think there will be more demand for cheaper places in big markets with nice amenities.  So proper price point and market selection can be a hedge against a falling dollar.

Obviously, if the deal made cash flow sense when you bought it and you locked in long term financing, you have a much better chance of riding an asset valuation bubble up and down.  And as much as we like to reposition equity (the free duplex story in Equity Happens), there’s no guarantee the financing to do it will be there when the equity is.  If you can do it, great.  But if not, don’t get too attached to that equity and be prepared to ride the wave for the long haul.

So right now, we think the risk of rising interest rates justifies a slight premium to lock in long term financing.  After all, a falling dollar means any lender who loans for profit (as opposed to the Federal Reserve, who loans for political reasons), will want higher interest to compensate for the weak dollar.  So, borrowing long at fixed rates is another hedge against a falling dollar.

But any time you borrow, you put the collateral (the property) at risk if you suffer disruptions in cash flow.  And as asset prices rise faster than rental incomes, cap rates are pushed down, which makes it harder to have a comfortable cushion to weather weakness in rental incomes. (Cap rate is like the interest rate on the investment).

Since wages are slow to respond to “stimulus”, especially since the U.S. has shipped many of its blue collar jobs overseas in the name of “free trade”, how can a U.S. landlord (an any landlord for that matter) hedge against fragile rents?

Good question!  And it’s one we talked about a few episodes back when we looked at cash flowing oil and gas investments as a tool to supplement cash flow.  We won’t bore you with the details now, but you can learn all about it in our special report, Using Oil to Lubricate Your Real Estate Portfolio.  The bottom line is oil, like other commodities, is useful for hedging against a falling dollar.

And speaking of commodities….

Our friend Robert Kiyosaki says, “Savers are losers”.  He doesn’t mean that people should consume more than they produce.  Far from it.  He’s saying that it makes little sense to hoard anything that is decaying.  You wouldn’t buy a 10 year supply of fresh fish, right?  After all, over time the value decays along with the fish.  It’s a losing deal.

It’s the same with the dollar.  If the dollar’s value continues to decay overtime, why would you stock up on them?  Sure, we know that ALL currencies are fiat (unbacked by anything other than the trust of the seller and the taxing power of the issuer), but that just makes the dollar (at best), the least rotten fish in the market.

We also acknowledge that the world still does business (for now) in the dollar, so you have to enough dollars on hand to handle your daily transactions.  But why hold more than necessary?  And what’s the alternative if you want to remain reasonably liquid?

Since real estate investors, like many businesses, tend to have quite a bit of float sitting in their bank accounts, some are taking a chunk of those dollars and converting them to gold and silver bullion.

We know.  It’s a “barbarous relic”.  And it’s dropped in dollar value 30% in the last year (after 12 years of spectacular gains).  But we’re not talking about short term speculation in metals or using metals as a vehicle to accumulate more dollars.  Nor are we suggesting abandoning the fiat dollar and adopting a gold standard (though that’s not a half-bad idea!).

We’re simply saying, in the context of hedging against a falling dollar (or falling currencies of all types), that time-tested hedges are gold and silver.  So if you’re concerned about the long term value of the dollar, it might make sense to take 30-50% of your “always there” bank balance and put it in bullion.  You can easily convert it back to dollars if needed, but the plan is to just let it sit there (and grow), as a component of your liquid reserves  that is something other than dollars.  It’s not only a hedge against a falling dollar, but against counter-party risk (like a Cypress-style bail in).

Does your brain hurt yet?  Our hands our tired of typing.  Plus, it gets crowded when two guys are working on the same keyboard.

So we’ll close by letting you know we’re also looking into farmland investments as a hedge against a falling dollar.  It’s the same concept as combining traditional rental property with an incoming producing commodity investment like oil, except the tenants are trees and the commodity is food, not energy.  All under the banner of Real Asset Investing.  Because we think there’s a lot of air in the paper asset market right now, and it the stock market farts, not only will it stink, but people’s portfolios will get messy.  Not pretty.

So sit back, put your feet up (you’ve earned it, if you’ve read this far!) and enjoy the discussion of Real Asset Investing!

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The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training and resources that help real estate investors succeed. Visit our Feedback page and tell us what you think!