11/2/14: Clues in the News – Election, Market Direction and Alan Greenspan’s Warning

There’s lots of news affecting real estate investors…and most of it doesn’t have anything to do with real estate.

In this episode, we read between the headlines to what’s in the news that real estate investors should be paying attention to.

In the broadcast newsbooth for this informative edition of Clues in the News:

  • Your anchor and host, Robert Helms
  • His dead-weight co-host, Russell Gray

In case you were in a coma the first week in November, the Republicans took over the U.S. Congress by winning a majority in the Senate and strengthening their hold on the House of Representatives.

Maybe that makes you happy.  Maybe it doesn’t.  But it doesn’t really matter how you, or we, feel about the results.  It happened.

So the next questions are…what does it mean, what happens next, and how is it likely to affect real estate investors?

The Election Results are a Barometer of the Mood of the Market

We think it’s pretty obvious the electorate isn’t happy with the state of the Union.  After all, happy prosperous people don’t vote to rock the boat if everything is smooth sailing.

So all’s not well on Main Street in spite of a booming stock market, allegedly low unemployment and continued low interest rates.

Since your tenants are part of the electorate, we’re guessing their pocket books aren’t overflowing with joy…or money…right now.  So we continue to favor affordable markets and product types, and nothing in the election or other news changes our mind.

The Maestro Sings a New Song

As we discussed in a recent blogpost on Alan Greenspan’s Shocking Confession, Alan Greenspan seems to agree that Fed policy hasn’t done much to help the real economy.  No wonder the voters threw a fit.

Also, Greenspan said that the timing of rising interest rates might be outside the Fed’s control.  If so, this affirms that it’s a good idea to grab as much cheap money as you can reasonably control with conservative cash flows and lock in fixed rates for the long term.

Last, but FAR from least, according to the Wall Street Journal, Greenspan said, “gold is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.”

Considering gold was tanking as he was talking, it seems like Alan Greenspan is concerned about “the policies conducted by governments”.

So in spite of the dollar’s recent surge and gold’s recent decline, for long term investors, it seems that even Alan Greenspan is a fan of real asset investing.

Maybe one of the governments he was talking about is Japan…

Bank of Japan Stuns Financial Markets with Massive Stimulus

So the whole world watches the Fed announce tapering and then, to many pundits’ surprise, actually do it…all the while touting the “robust” U.S. economy (funny…seems no one told the voters, who apparently missed the memo).

Then, as soon as the Fed’s expected tapering is done, the Wall Street Journal reports Japan’s “stunning” announcement of a MASSIVE stimulus package.

According to the Wall Street Journal article, “Japanese policy makers jolted global markets” by taking “Japanese economic policy into the uncharted territory of extreme stimulus“.

How extreme?

Well, according to Bloomberg, who also published an article on the move, the Bank of Japan “plans to buy 8 trillion to 12 trillion yen ($108 billion) of Japanese government bonds per month.”

For perspective, the QE that the Fed just finished started at $85 billion per month and tapered down.  That means the Japanese QE is 27% bigger than the U.S. program at it’s PEAK.  That’s massive, especially considering that the Japanese economy is only 1/3 the size of the U.S.

The Bloomberg article quoted the chief economist at Japan Macro Advisors as saying, “The BOJ is basically declaring that Japan will need to fix its long-term problems by 2018 or risk becoming a failed nation.”

So we have a few observations…especially if you’re sitting there thinking, “What the heck does Japan have to do with my rental house on Main Street, USA?

First, we’re in a GLOBAL economy.  Just think about how much foreign money is buying U.S. stocks, real estate and bonds.  Not to mention, how many Japanese companies employ U.S. workers?  And how many U.S. companies earn profits selling to Japanese businesses and consumers?

In a global economy, when a major component (Japan is #3 behind the U.S. and China) fails, EVERYONE is affected.

Right now, no one is saying Japan will fail.  And if it did, no one knows for sure what that looks like for everyone else.  But it bears watching, which is why we are.

Also, Japan has been a major purchaser of U.S. Treasuries.  In fact, according to the Unites States Treasury website, Japan is the second largest owner of U.S. debt behind China.  If we had to guess, we wouldn’t be surprised to see some of all that stimulus end up in U.S. Treasuries.  After all, if the Fed and China are curtailing purchases, either bond prices will drop (interest rates will rise)…or someone (Japan?) will need to fill the void.

The point is that when ANY central bank prints gobs of money and buys bonds, it affects interest rates for everyone…including Main Street real estate investors.

But it isn’t just bond prices and interest rates which are affected…

Back to the Wall Street Journal article, which says that the Bank of Japan will expand its asset buying program to include “not just more government bonds, but also stocks and real-estate funds.”

In our travels, we talk to lots of Main Street real estate investors and agents.  We hear reports all the time that foreign buyers concerned about the safety of their money are parking it in U.S. real estate.

Obviously, when any central bank is printing money like crazy, smart investors in ANY nation move quickly to get into real assets. But here’s where it gets a little complicated.

Right now, the dollar is “strong” because major currencies like the Yen and the Euro are being destroyed faster than the dollar.  So any commodity denominated in dollars gets cheaper (gold, silver, oil, etc).

Worse, there’s strong sentiment, if not substantial proof, that nearly every asset market is largely manipulated by central banks, which makes investing in many asset classes a risky business.

So, in addition to the cultural appeal of real estate for Asian investors, even die-hard paper asset investors are looking at real estate as a solid place to store and build wealth.

In addition to foreign capital moving into U.S. real estate, lending is starting to loosen up both in government and private loan programs.  This means more purchasing power moving into real estate.

We think this is bullish for real estate prices in the near term, though it will be mitigated by the weakness of U.S. home buyers.

But before you get too excited about all the equity happening to you, remember to pay attention to rents.  Because right now, asset values are growing faster than incomes.  This means housing is becoming less affordable for both renters and home buyers.

The last time this happened, lots of us made tons of money on appreciation (get ready, because equity is happening again), but real estate quickly went from being a sound investment to simply being another hot money wave to ride.

We’re not saying don’t ride it.  Quite the contrary.

Just remember to structure your deals so that when the wave goes out again (and it will)…that you can hold on for the long term.  When the tide goes out, everyone can see who’s been swimming naked.

Meanwhile, we’ll be here watching the headlines for Clues in the News.

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The Great Debt Ceiling Debate – Part 3

This is part 3 of a multi-part series on the “great debt ceiling debate” written as an accompaniment to our radio show broadcast and podcast, “Raising the Roof – How the Great Debt Ceiling Debate Impacts You”.  You can download the episode on iTunes or find it on our Listen page.

In our last installment, we explored the bond market and how interest rates are established in the open market.  Bonds are debts and the interest rates are set by risk, reward, supply and demand.  Now we will explore how the Federal Reserve Bank affects interest rates.  You should already know how interest rates affect you. 😉

How the Fed Influences Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed) is the bank of the Treasury.  The Treasury is the government.  The Federal Reserve is NOT the government.  If you want to learn more about the Fed, we highly recommend reading The Creature from Jekyll Island, which is conveniently located in The Real Estate Guys™ Recommended Reading area.

The Magic Checkbook

For now, you only need to know that the Fed can write checks on itself that will not bounce.  In other words, it doesn’t need money.  It creates money simply by writing a check.  That may sound unbelievable, but for now, just take our word for it.  This isn’t an expose on the Fed, so you can look it up in your spare time.

Now that we know how the Fed’s magic checkbook works, let’s imagine that Uncle Sam shows up to hold a Treasury bond auction.  But there isn’t enough demand, so interest rates start to go up.  In prior installments, we discussed what happens to the value of all the existing debt out there when interest rates go up (it goes down), but to toss in some extra motivation for the Fed, the current Fed leadership believes that low interest rates stimulates borrowing, which stimulates spending, which stimulates production, which stimulates hiring.  This is a “Keynesian” view of economics.  That is, that borrowing and spending is the key to growth and job creation (how’s that working out so far?).

Side note: For an opposing viewpoint, may we recommend you look into “Austrian” economic theory, which puts forth the idea that one must actually produce before one can consume or borrow, and that production and savings are the keys to economic growth.  In other words, in its most rudimentary terms, before you can eat, you need to grow or hunt food.  And if you have more food than you need, then you have something of value to trade with.  If you don’t have anything to eat and nothing of value to trade with, you need to either beg, borrow or steal from someone who actually does produce.  And the only way to have trading partners is if they produce more than they consume, so there’s something extra for you to trade for.  The bottom line is that production, not spending, is the key to prosperity. That’s why printing money or stimulating consumption doesn’t create jobs.  And as real estate investors, we want to invest where jobs are being created.  Because unless you’re renting to people subsidized by the government, your best tenants will need jobs to pay you rent. Now, back to our main feature….

Now if you, like Big Ben Bernanke, believe that borrowing is the key to prosperity, where do you think interest rates need to be?  Hint: LOW interest rates attract borrowers.  Sorry, was that hint TOO obvious?

Let’s get back to our Treasury auction.  Uncle Sam is there holding his bonds out for sale, but not enough buyers show up. So Uncle Sam has to start lowering his price (increasing the yield) and interest rates start going up.  Big Ben thinks this is bad.  So he gets out his Magic Checkbook and buys, say $600 billion of Uncle Sam’s bonds (does the term QE2 some to mind?), to help create some extra demand.  Shazam! Interest rates stay low.

Well, if you’re a government addicted to debt, deficits and spending, this makes you very happy.  Just like when the interest rate on your growing credit card balance stays low.  With low interest rates, you can borrow more for the same payments.  No need to cut spending. Let the good times roll!  The only thing better than low interest rates is an increase in your credit line (isn’t there some discussion about that?)

To summarize, when the Fed buys Uncle Sam’s Treasury bonds in the open market, the extra demand drives the bond prices up and their yields (interest rates) down.  Then, the ripple effect of interest rate pricing kicks in, as all riskier debt pivots off the interest rate of Uncle Sam’s “safest debt in the world”.  That is, if Treasuries pay x, then a riskier debt pays x plus a little bit more (usually denominated in “basis points”, which are 1/100 of a percentage. So 25 basis points is 1/4 of 1% or .25).  The farther away you move up the risk scale, the more expensive the debt is for the borrower.  This is why everyone has their undies in a bunch over Uncle Sam’s credit rating.  It he loses his coveted super-duper AAA rating, then interest rates go up….and Big Ben may need to step in with his Magic Checkbook.

But what happens when Big Ben uses his Magic Checkbook?  Are there any side effects we should be considering?  Hmmm….?  Inquiring minds want to know!

So join us next time, as we delve into How the Fed’s Purchase of Treasuries Affects the Money Supply.  Hint: “Trickle Down” isn’t just for supply-siders any more.

11/21/10: Real Estate Economics – Interviews with the Federal Reserve and National Association of Realtors

As we’re guiding our real estate sailing ship through the choppy economic seas of the past few years, we’ve learned the wisdom of having a lookout watching the horizon for threats and opportunities.

We also like to compare notes with other sailors – especially those whose lookout platforms are higher up than ours.  They can see more and farther than we can.  That’s very helpful when trying to catch a wave or avoid a storm.

So we dove at the chance to interview some high profile people – to find out what they can sea, sea, sea from their higher vantage point.

In beautiful Miami, sitting on the dock of our radio bay, watching the tide roll away:

  • Show host and captain of the good ship Equity, Robert Helms
  • The cut rate first mate, co-host Russell Gray
  • Chief Economist of the National Association of Realtors®, Dr. Lawrence Yun
  • Vice President and Associate Director of Research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Thomas Cunningham, Ph.D
  • President Elect of the National Association of Realtors®, Moe Veissi

Wow!  What an all star line-up!  After watching each of their presentations to the Congress, we decided to chase them down for a quick conversation that we could share with our listeners.  Though they’re all busy men, each was gracious enough to sit down for some one on one with Robert.

Dr. Yun kicks off the show with some comments on the US housing market.  He’s the first economist on earth to see and analyze the housing data gathered by the National Association of Realtors®.  He’s also able to combine the statistical data with lots of relevant anecdotal data – since he interacts regularly Realtors® around the country.  He points out some of the reasons he believes the worst of the storm is past.

Next, we talk to Thomas Cunningham of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  Unless you’ve been in a coma the last two years, you know that the Fed has been very active in trying to stimulate the economy with lower interest rates, expanded credit facilities to banks and that mysterious “quantitative easing”.  What does it all mean?  Our mission is to find out!

While economics and monetary policy is interesting, it’s pretty high in the clouds.  So we wrap the show up with a lively conversation with the energetic President-elect of the National Association of Realtors®, Moe Veissi.  Moe shares his thoughts as he transitions from local real estate practitioner to the helm of the world’s largest trade association.

It’s all good stuff, so listen in – and be sure to tell a friend!

The Real Estate Guys™ Radio Show podcast provides education, information and training to help investors make money with their real estate investments.

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4/4/10: The Brave New World of Finance – How to Master Your Debt with Jordan Goodman

We’ve heard estimates that every man, woman and child in the US is currently saddled with $40,000 to $170,000 in debt – just for the Federal government!  Then tack on state and local government debt, and before you even get your first credit card, debt has a dominating hold on your finances.  As we boldly go where no one has gone before, it’s more important than ever to be strategic in managing your debt.  To help us explore the galaxy of information on this topic, we beamed a best selling author into The Real Estate Guys’™ studios.

On the bridge of our radio starship:
•    Captain, Chief “Helmsman” and Host, Robert Helms
•    Pointy-eared Co-Host, Russell “Mr. Spock” Gray
•    Ship’s Financial Doctor and Godfather of Real Estate, Bob Helms
•    Best selling author, the Money Answer Man and ship’s Financial Engineer, Jordan “Don’t call me Scotty” Goodman

“Debt, the endless frontier.  These are the continuing escapades of a spendthrift society.  It’s apparent mission: to encumber itself beyond any hope of repayment; to seek out new debt ceilings and then monetize that debt; to boldly go where no one is sure we should.”  Da ta daaa, ta da ta da DAAAA!!!! Swoosh!!!!

Sorry.  We got carried away.  All this may sound like a tee up for political commentary (we are soooo tempted), but it isn’t.  Our point is that debt, both public and private is a major part of every person’s financial future.  And as we attempt to break free from the gravitational pull of the Great Recession, we find ourselves looking at a brave new world of finance – one with new rules that it behooves each of us to learn.

At its core, debt involves getting other people’s money (which we like!) and paying them interest (we like that less).  The motivation of the lender is, like a drug dealer, to get you hooked on debt and forever paying interest.  The motivation of the addict…we mean borrower, is to enjoy now and pay later (or never).  So where does an investor fit in?

As investors, we want to borrow cheap and invest high – just like the banks.  But since there are no bailout programs for us, we need to be more careful.  The first step is to understand the rules – and then to implement effective strategies.  Sound easy, but when the rules change, we need to examine our strategies.

We launch the show talking about the new realities of debt in the post meltdown economy.  For the older folks, we’re getting back to “normal”.  For younger people, free and easy credit was “normal” and the current environment is no fun at all.  We talk about where things are now and where they might be headed.

With the new Credit Card Act of 2010, the rules of credit cards have changed.  Credit cards, like light sabers (we know we’re mixing sci-fi metaphors), are powerful tools in the right hands – while they can be equally dangerous when used by the untrained.  Since the rules are changing, investors and consumers alike need a little training on the state of the art.  Our special guest and prolific author Jordan “Mr. Money Answers” Goodman, brings us up to speed on some of the need to know items.

As the US and the world is coming out of their bunkers and beginning to explore the economic wasteland, governments, industry and individuals are all making adjustments.  For many individuals with unsustainable levels of debt, professional help may be the best answer.  Jordan shares with us his insights about the important differences between Debt Settlement and Credit Counseling Services.  You’ll want to hear what he has to say.

For some people, the aftermath of the meltdown means foreclosure and perhaps even bankruptcy.  Does that mean game-over or is there life after debt?  Once again, Jordan brings in great practical information and insights to help you chart your personal course.

For the two of you who are facing the brave new world with good credit scores and equity, Jordan reveals an AWESOME strategy for accelerating your mortgage.  Long time listeners – and especially readers of Equity Happens –  know The Real Estate Guys™ have never been big fans of mortgage acceleration.  But Jordan shows us how to use the power of cash flow to accelerate the pay off of a mortgage without amortization.  We know it sounds like science fiction, but it’s real.  Check it out!

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