The future of interest rates …

WOW … the news is FULL of things to keep an investor awake at night.

Some of it’s so exciting, you can’t wait to seize the opportunity.  Other things are so spooky, you want to pull the covers up and hope it’s just a Halloween gag.

Right now, stock market investors are learning it can be a mistake to try to ride the bull all the way to the peak … squeezing every drop of paper profit out …

… falsely believing you can beat the bears to the exit.

Stocks fall for 12 of the last 14 trading sessions – Yahoo Finance, 10/23/18

Yeah, but that’s Wall Street …

Existing-Home Sales Decline Across the Country in September – National Association of Realtors, 10/19/18

Oops.  Meanwhile …

Homeowners poised to start tapping $14.4 trillion in equity – CNBC, 10/19/18

Big banks reveal challenges in consumer credit, mortgages – Yahoo Finance, 10/15/18

“banks are seeing challenging headwinds … as charge-off rates – a measure of defaulted balances –  continue to rise.” 

So while there are MANY things to like about what’s going on in the U.S. economy …

U.S. named world’s most competitive economy for the first time in 10 years– Washington Post c/o The Chicago Tribune, 10/17/18

We remind you (and ourselves) … the economy and the financial system supporting it are two VERY different things.

That’s why you can have two camps … one saying the economy is strong … and another saying disaster is looming.  And they’re BOTH right.

Of course, “disaster” does NOT mean the end of the world … or a descent into some Mad Max post-apocalyptic anarchistic society.

Disaster can be as simple as a rapid shift in asset or currency values that the majority of people are on the wrong end of.

Just like the 2008 crisis ( a warm-up for what Peter Schiff calls The Real Crash which is yet to come) …

… those who were not aware and prepared got CRUSHED … while those who were made MILLIONS.

So “disaster” isn’t a universal experience when the economic winds shift suddenly.

It’s more a personal choice (often by default from neglect) and depends on the set of YOUR personal financial sail.

You’ll either get capsized, face severe headwinds … or you’ll catch a gust of wind at your back and sail on to new fortunes.

So watching the changing economic winds is an important responsibility of any serious investor.

Interest rates are the barometer which signals a change in the economic winds.

That’s why pro investors fixate on every move or utterance of the Federal Reserve, which is ONE of the most powerful influencers of interest rates … but NOT the only one.

No investor left behind …

 Interest rates are a by-product of the bid on bonds, which are debt securities.

So if the U.S. Treasury decides to borrow money (which they do ALL the time), the bid on those securities sets the yield.

The lower the bid, the higher the yield and vice-versa.

Falling interest rates (yields) come from a STRONG bid on bonds.  That is, there’s lots of buyers for bonds relative to the supply of bonds for sale.

When the Fed wants to push rates down, they add to market demand by BUYING bonds … bidding UP the bond price and driving DOWN the yield.

Are you with us so far?

But when the Fed wants to push rates UP, they do NOT bid on bonds (leaving demand up to the open market without the Fed’s bid).

Sometimes, the Fed will even SELL bonds they already own (“unwinding their balance sheet”) … adding to the supply offered by the Treasury (and other sellers like RussiaChina and even Japan).

And more supply and less buyers means bids go down … so yields go UP.  Make sense?

Apparently, government officials aren’t concerned about soft demand for Treasuries …

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: I won’t be ‘losing any sleep’ if China dumps US bonds in retaliation over trade – CNBC 10/12/18

“If they decide they don’t want to hold them, there are other buyers …”

Okay then. No worries.  But …

Foreign Buying of U.S. Treasurys Softens, Unsettling Financial Markets –Wall Street Journal, 10/23/18

“Yet it is clear that the foreign pullback has helped fuel a bond selloff this fall, which has driven the 10-year yield to 3.17% and has shaken the nine-year-long rally in U.S. stocks …”

There’s a reason stocks are tanking and it has little to do with the economy.  That’s why President Trump is so upset with the Fed.

But it seems to us rising interest rates could be bigger than the Fed.  And the world looks different if the Fed loses control of interest rates.

Head spinning yet?  That’s okay.  It can be complex.  But there’s a reason big money watches the bond market like a hawk.

We try to keep is simple and just focus on the big concepts and how they trickle down to our Main Street investing …

More bonds than buyers mean rates are likely to rise.

For real estate investors, it means downward pressure on values … and more caution when using short-term financing.

Of course, when you can lock in long-term rates, today’s debt actually becomes an asset over time.  But that’s a topic for another day.

And just in case the ramblings of two dudes with mobile microphones and a fetish for news articles don’t make the case …

Last Saturday, we paid a visit to the New York home of former Director of the Office of Management and Budget or OMB (like the OMB numbers you see on your tax forms) … David Stockman.

Of course, we plunked down our mics and recorded a FASCINATING interview at his kitchen table … looking out his penthouse window at the stunning New York City skyline.

If you have any doubt Stockman is a world-class brainiac, buy a copy of his EPIC tome, The Great Deformation.

Bring your lunch and dictionary, but it’s totally worth it.  Only Robert Kiyosaki’s copy is more highlighted and marked up than ours.

You may not agree with Stockman’s politics, but he’s well-qualified to have an opinion on economic matters.  So we listen carefully.

Stockman believes even higher interest rates are coming to an economy near you.

So if there’s any doubt all this airy-fairy macro-economic babble matters to YOUR Main Street investing … think again.

And be VERY thankful these things roll out slowly.

There’s still time to re-arrange your portfolio and activities to fall squarely in the “aware and prepared” camp … and NOT in the “WTF is happening?” camp.

Of course, you can’t just float along with the crowd … unless you’re very careful to pick the right crowd.

But even then, it’s dangerous to fall asleep at the controls of your portfolio.

If you’re super studious, you can probably load up on books, podcasts, newsletters, video courses, and news articles … and you’ll be ahead of most.

And if you’re like us, you’ll do all that.

But you’ll ALSO invest to get in the right rooms with the right people so you can have portfolio-saving conversations.

Since you’ve read this far, you should consider joining us at both or either theNew Orleans Investment Conference and the Investor Summit at Sea™.

It’s where we go to get around a lot of REALLY smart people for SUPER enlightening conversations.

And it’s arguably more important RIGHT NOW than in recent memory …

,,, because for many investors, this is the first time in their investing career they’ve faced a rising interest rate environment.

You can learn by trial and error (expensive and painful) … or by gleaning wisdom from seasoned investors and well-qualified subject matter experts.

It’s probably obvious which one we advocate.

Until next time … good investing!


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Six lessons from Sears’ bankruptcy …

Your reaction to the news of Sears’ bankruptcy would tell us a lot about your age and economic status growing up.

But whether you’re sad and nostalgic because there’s another nail in the coffin of an iconic piece of Americana …

… or you’re completely oblivious because the Sears brand has no meaning or relevance in your life …

… there are several important lessons for real estate investors to be gleaned from the slow, painful demise of this 125-year old retail institution.

We could do an entire series on this topic … as each lesson could be an article in its own right.

But with so many things to comment on, we’ll keep each lesson short …

Lesson #1:  Evolve or die

Sears revolutionized retailing when it pioneered catalog sales.  Sears was the Amazon.com of its day.

But Sears failed to evolve with technology … and with a shrinking middle-class.

So pay close attention to emerging trends in your niche and do your best to stay ahead of the curve.  Attend conferences.  Talk to other active investors.

Because the world is constantly changing.  For example, the services and amenities desired by today’s tenants are very different from even 10 years ago.

And as the Millennial demographic wave rolls through the seasons of life, don’t assume they’ll mirror the needs of the boomers before them.

Surveys are already indicating it’s a whole new ballgame.  So be prepared to evolve … or die.

Lesson #2:  Don’t let the fox guard the hen-house 

Maybe this is a little harsh … and we’ll admit we only have visibility into the situation from what we’ve read in the news …

… but it sure seems like the head guy at Sears had a huge conflict of interest.

We’re not here to accuse or defend.  Time will tell if he wins or loses, but it seems clear he’s on both ends of the deal … so at the very least, the temptation is there.

As your portfolio grows, and more people are involved in helping you operate it, be VERY aware of when someone may be tempted to enrich themselves at your expense.

And be EXTRA careful when you’re managing investor money.

Lesson #3:  Consuming equity to pay operating expenses is a cancer.

Because Sears failed to evolve, it managed to lose money for SEVEN YEARS in a row.  It made up the shortfall by going into debt and selling off assets.

We know this is a bad plan because we’ve done it. (See Lesson #4)

It’s one thing to see your net worth shrink as a result of fluctuating asset values.  This is par for the course when you denominate net worth in dollars instead of doors.

But as long as you’re playing the long game, fluctuating asset values is a side-show.

And if your cash-flows are solid and your holdings of real assets (doors, tenants, properties, ounces, etc.) is growing, you’re on the right path.

When the market gives you a temporary spike of paper equity, it can be smart to quickly convert it into more units of real value.  But that’s a lesson for another day.

Our point now is when you start using equity to debt-service or pay operating expenses, your portfolio has cancer.  And you better fix it FAST.

If you don’t, your negative cash-flow will eventually consume you … like it has Sears … even though it may take many years.

Lesson #4:  Don’t let a strong balance sheet make you lazy.

With lots of assets, including real estate, Sears’ management could handle the financial problems their business problems created.

It’s like a football team with a big lead that stops playing to win and just tries to protect the lead.

They use the scoreboard to make up for not scoring points on offense or giving them up on defense … hoping the game-clock will win the game.

When your P&L and cash-flow reports tell you that your properties are failing, don’t kick the can down the road with your balance sheet just because you can.

Because when your balance sheet is really strong, you might be able to avoid dealing with the real problems for years … sometimes decades.

But you risk losing the momentum, resourcefulness, and relationships you need to turn it around.

As Jim Collins says in Good to Great, you must “confront the brutal facts.”  And the sooner, the better.

Uncle Sam, are you listening?

Lesson #5:  You’re in the people business, not the numbers business.

Your brand (your reputation … how people feel about you) is your MOST important asset.

When you have lots of people who know you, like you, trust you … then even when you need to change what you sell because of market dynamics … your customers will buy.

Over-time, Sears … like MANY big companies … became more focused on the numbers than on the customers’ experience.

When this happens, you not only break trust with your customers … you forget how to innovate.

Innovation comes from looking at everything through the eyes of the customer and asking, “How can we make this better for the customer?”

When you do this, you grow revenue, retention, referrals, and profit. It’s an abundance mindset.  And it takes faith.

But when it’s only numbers, you ask, “How can we squeeze more profit out of what we’re already doing?”.  It’s lazy (see Lesson #4).

It’s also a reflection of scarcity thinking.  It’s rooted in fear, and asks the customer to conform to the company’s needs.  Bad plan.

Your tenants are customers. They have needs.  They aren’t just rent mules who exist to pull your financials to the next plateau.

When you take care of the people and your business model, your numbers take care of themselves.

Lesson #6:  It’s not over until it’s over.

We got hit HARD in 2008.  In many ways, we’re still recovering.  For Sears, Chapter 11 provides some relief while they work on re-inventing themselves.

Sometimes no one believes in you and you’re on your own to keep grinding it out to save things.

We don’t know anything about Sears’ team or relationships.  So we have no opinion on whether they have what it takes to make it or not.

But there are many companies who go into bankruptcy, re-organize, and get back on their feet.  American Airlines is a fairly recent example.

For Main Street real investors and entrepreneurs, it’s like Les Brown says …

“Any day you wake up and there’s not a white chalk line around your body … it’s going to be a good day!”

In other words, where’s there’s life, there’s hope.

So whether you’re crushing it now … or being crushed … it’s wise to never take anything for granted.  Just keep pushing forward because neither good times nor bad times last forever.

Until next time … good investing!


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Forming a real-world investment thesis …

We all have beliefs that guide our investment decisions … even when we don’t put much thought into them.

Sometimes we don’t even know what we believe, until we’re sitting in a pile of rubble asking ourselves, “What the heck was I thinking?”

So sometimes it’s smart to slow down to go faster … investing time to form a more cogent investment thesis.

That’s why we do our annual goals retreat, and make it a high priority to get away together with other serious investors at conferences and summits.

Plus, you compress time frames by listening to and talking with others … especially those with different perspectives and experiences.

Honest investors will tell you some of their hypotheses proved true, while others didn’t.  We’ve never met anyone who’s ALWAYS right.

But if you can be right more than you’re wrong … you may lose a few battles along the way, but you’ll win the war.

That is as long as you NEVER risk it all on any ONE thesis or deal.

For example, before 2008, it could be said U.S. housing prices had never declined.

Sure, individual properties … even certain areas … had pulled back or dipped.

But across the United States, the average and median prices of homes had been on a 40-year upward trajectory.

So everyone from Wall Street to Main Street had investment strategies based on the premise that U.S. housing prices were highly stable.

Of course, in typical fashion, the wizards of Wall Street leveraged their investment thesis to the extreme … using multiple derivatives of mortgage-backed-securities …

… and by so doing changed one of the important dynamics of stability (sound loan underwriting) … with catastrophic results.

Some saw it coming.  Most didn’t.

So again, never bet the farm on one deal, one market, or one thesis.  We know … because we’ve done it.

Way back in pre-2008, Dallas Texas was one of the most boring major real estate markets in the nation. B-O-R-I-N-G.

But on the 2009 Investor Summit at Sea™, Robert Kiyosaki’s real estate advisor Ken McElroy … the master of simple brilliance … told us his investment thesis.

Ken said he thought that coming out of the recession, energy producing economies would create the most jobs, attract the most people, and lead to steady demand for working class housing.

He reasoned those jobs are linked to where the energy is … because you can’t move an oil field or huge refineries to China or Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor.

So any region heavily involved in energy would probably do well.

In the fullness of time, Ken’s thesis proved correct.  Texas led the nation in job creation and the energy sector was a big part of it.

Dallas … along with other energy markets … boomed.

We understood the concept and wondered what other industries are geographically linked?

We came up with distribution and healthcare.  After all, people need supplies … and those supplies need to be shipped.

People also need healthcare, especially as boomers age, and they’re not going to China for it.

And neither supplies or healthcare are highly discretionary either.  People need them in good times and bad.

So things that are necessary at all times, and linked to geography and/or extremely hard to build or move infrastructure …  are more likely to remain stable.

Based on that thesis, we took an interest in distribution markets like Memphis and Dallas (energy AND distribution) …

… which both turned out to be great residential real estate investment markets to this day.

This is just another real-world example of starting with a conversation with a smart investor … forming a simple investment thesis (focus on markets with geographically linked jobs) …

… doing some research, using common sense, and then stepping out and testing the thesis in the real world.

Over time the thesis is either proven or refuted.  In this case, so far so good!

Of course, the “geographically linked jobs” thesis is only about regional industry.

There’s also demographics and economics to consider …

Robert Kiyosaki has been warning for years about a shrinking middle class.

Robert’s a smart guy.  So we listened, we researched, and we reasoned.

And because it made sense to us, we rolled the premise of a shrinking middle class into an investment thesis described in this 2011 article.

Later, building further on our studies of the shrinking middle class, we found opportunity in something we call the dumbbell effect.

We won’t rehash those musing here, but they’re worth reviewing today … now that you have the benefit of hindsight.

Lastly, this very recent news article provides perspective supporting another long-held thesis we’ve had about affordable housing markets.

According to ATTOM Solutions, one of the industry’s biggest and most reputable data crunchers …

 “At the moment, demand for rental homes is strongest in less expensive housing markets, which serve households with lower incomes.”

“The weakest demand is in the high-end and the strongest demand is in the low-end …”

A “booming” economy might low unemployment and rising wages.

But it can also mean higher interest and energy expenses, which are cost components of EVERYTHING people need to buy.

So the national economy might be booming … but is it showing up for the working class folks on Main Street?  Maybe.

But when it comes to residential real estate, we still feel safer in affordable markets and property types … things like B-class apartments and mobile homes.

Right now, the data seems to support the thesis.

But what about going FORWARD?

Today, investors are facing a rising interest environment for the first time in decades.

At the same time, and perhaps related, the dollar is under attack with a global resistance led by China, Russia, Iran and other nations.

Mainstream financial news pays some attention to these things … but only from Wall Street’s perspective.

Yet these events all directly or indirectly roll down to Main Street investing … creating both challenges and opportunities.

While we’re still formulating our theses for today’s changing world, it seems likely that product classes and markets with higher-yields will become capital magnets …

… eventually driving the yields down, but also creating gobs of equity for people already in the space.

That means now could well be a land-grab opportunity in those key markets and product types.

There’s also the changing of the demographic guard as baby boomers sail off into their rest-home years and Millennials become the new pig in the python.

So paying attention to Millennial trends will become increasingly important.

That’s why we have an Investor Summit at Sea™ Young Adult Program to get more young people into our conversations.

Another developing trend is the current drive to rebuild America’s manufacturing capabilities.

As this leads to a revitalization of the rust belt, it could create a convergence of affordability, demographics, and capital attraction … with lots of opportunity.

The point of all this is the world is changing … as it always does.

Our experience is the most successful investors pay close attention, get lots of qualified input, and then make important adjustments to their core theses so they can stay ahead of the curve.

Until next time … good investing!


More From The Real Estate Guys™…

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


Love the show?  Tell the world!  When you promote the show, you help us attract more great guests for your listening pleasure!