Keeping it real in a surreal world …

If you’re a newshawk like us, you’ve probably noticed the world is a little crazy.  Even something as mundane as money and wealth has become weird.

The most obvious case in point is the dramatic rise and retreat of Bitcoin.

In 2017, something triggered a rush of money into Bitcoin … driving it from $1000 in early January to a peak of nearly $20,000 less than a year later.

Pundits are still trying to divine what happened and why.  Of course, what’s just as interesting is how the world reacted.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC), which is China’s version of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has moved aggressively to crush cryptos.

Okay.  But does that matter if you’re not Chinese or a Bitcoin buyer?  How does any of this relate to Main Street real estate investing?

Patience, grasshopper …

China’s not the only government attacking private cryptos.  Six others have already banned it, though they admittedly aren’t big players.

But India is reportedly about to join the anti-crypto club.  They’re pretty big.

South Korea (home of Samsung, LG and Hyundai) is another biggie that’s floating the idea of banning cryptos.

Of course, legislation isn’t the only way to attack an alternative to government issued currency …

We’ve been listening to precious metals pundits allege that central banks … surreptitiously through their agents … use futures contracts to manipulate the price of gold and silver.

Interesting.  Let’s put on our tinfoil hats and think about it  …

According to this CNBC report, Bitcoin started trading on the futures exchanges on December 18th.

This chart shows Bitcoin’s price peaked at $19,180 on Sunday, December 17th.

But since then, Bitcoin’s been declined sharply … all the way down to under $7000 this week.  That’s a HUGE decline.  And it started December 18th …

Weird.  Probably just a coincidence.

Of course, the story of cryptos and their impact on the future of money and wealth is a MUCH bigger discussion.

But we think it’s safe to say that cryptos are here to stay in some shape or form.

What’s also interesting is how governments are now connecting cryptos to both gold and oil … linkages which are the heritage of U.S. dollar dominance.

Meanwhile, Russia (the world’s largest producer of oil) and China (the world’s largest consumer of oil) have both been accumulating TONS (literally) of gold.

Why?

According to this article in the India Times, “The Chinese central bank is trying to diversify from the US dollar on which it has become overly reliant

(Side note: you might want to think about how reliant YOU are on the dollar … maybe China knows something …)

This article in Russia affirms the role of gold in diversifying away from the U.S. dollar.

Apparently, gold does actually have a role in global economics … even though most Americans think of it as a barbarous relic or merely a trading tool to accumulate dollars.

But major sovereign nations are using gold as a hedge against the U.S. dollar.

Smart.  Turns out 2017 was the dollar’s worst performance in 14 years.

So if Bitcoin and gold each expose the dollar’s weakness … it’s not totally shocking the issuer of dollars, the Federal Reserve, might want to see both Bitcoin and gold prices held down.

We’re not saying the Fed is behind any alleged suppression.  But we’re not saying they aren’t.  We don’t know.

But in this surreal world where we’re not quite sure of the real motivations of those in power, nothing would surprise us.

The bigger questions are … what does it all mean to Main Street investors and how can we position ourselves to both grow and protect wealth in this crazy world?

Here’s some thoughts …

If the dollar is doomed to continue its 100+ year decline … then debt and real assets are your best friend.

Debt lets you pull future dollars into the present, where you can use them at today’s purchasing power (stronger than the future’s) to acquire things of real value.

By “real value” we mean utility …  things that provide permanent and essential service to people.  Food, housing, farmland, energy, and commodities all come to mind.

Of course, when you use debt, you have those pesky payments.

So it’s REALLY nice when you can acquire real assets that produce enough cash flow to service the debt you used to buy them.  They literally pay for themselves.

Naturally, debt-financed income-producing real estate is arguably one of the best investment vehicles in a falling dollar environment.

You can buy it with relatively cheap debt and use the income to service the debt.

Over time, as the dollar falls, the dollar price of the property rises while the debt stays fixed.

Not only that, but a debt-ridden government is highly motivated to perpetuate a weakening dollar (inflation), which benefits all debtors … including YOU.

In other words, using debt aligns your investing with the government’s motivations and likely actions.

Nice.  But it gets better …

Because real estate provides housing for people … who vote, work, and have pitchforks … or in the case of the USA, AR-15s …

…  governments are much more motivated to SUPPORT real estate than attack it.

They might go after cryptos (until they can issue their own).  They might go after gold again.

They might print free money for their friends in Wall Street to blow up paper asset bubbles and drive down interest rates (nice, if you’re a real estate investor).

But if they attack real estate … that hits home (literally) … and it’s a revolution.

That’s why, as we saw in 2008, even when they screw up and real estate is collateral damage to their financial shenanigans …

… governments, central banks, Wall Street, and even corporate America all rally to prop up real estate.

From that stand point, people still hold the power.  And people live, work, and depend on real estate.

So to keep things real in a surreal world, you could do a lot worse than making real estate the anchor of your investment portfolio.

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.

A tale of two Americas …

You might think this is a political rant about income inequality … or contrasting the America of today to some past period of “the good old days.”

But it’s really more pragmatic.

Right now headlines say the economy is booming, unemployment is down, the stock market is up, and the biggest problem in housing is there’s not enough inventory.

While all that may be true, there are certainly markets where pricing is low, vacancies are high, and “bargains” can be found.

And with lots of newbie investors getting on the real estate bandwagon, we think it’s a good time to revisit a timeless piece of investment wisdom …

Cheap isn’t necessarily a good deal.

Before we expound, let’s consider the opportunities which may lie hidden inside of a U.S. economy in transition.

In other words, might one of yesterday’s disaster markets turn out to be tomorrow’s rising star?

After all, the Trump administration is putting a big emphasis on bringing manufacturing back to the USA.

And as you’ll see, many of today’s distressed real estate markets are in so-called “rust-belt” states … many of which declined substantially since “the good old days” (sorry, had to) of the heyday of U.S. manufacturing.

Now, just because Trump wants manufacturing to come back doesn’t mean it will.  And even if it does, it doesn’t mean it will come back to where it left from.

But it might.  At least in some places.  So it all bears watching.

Because if you can see something happening before most other people, you can make your move in front of the wave and go for a nice ride.

Back in November, 24/7 Wall Street published an article 30 American Ghost Towns.

It was all about neighborhoods with TOO many vacant homes … even in the midst of a housing shortage.

Naturally, houses in these areas are CHEAP …  WAY less than $100,000 per house.  In some cases, as low as $20,000.

And there are some MAJOR cities on this list including Baltimore, Kansas City, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, and Cincinnati.

Now before the hate-mail starts flying, we’re not saying these are all bad cities to invest in … or that houses are cheap and vacancies are high in the ENTIRE cities mentioned.

Big cities are made up of multiple zip codes, and when you look at the 24/7 Wall Street report, you’ll see it’s reporting on SPECIFIC zip codes within those cities.

So THIS is our first point for all out-of-area investors … especially newbies …

You don’t invest in cities.  You invest in NEIGHBORHOODS. 

 And you either need to take the time to get to know your neighborhoods well … or to build a good relationship with someone who does (our favorite method).

Over the years, we’ve seen rookies get into some bad deals by researching a city and seeing promise, then buying the wrong neighborhood and ending up with a big problem.

So be smart.

Also, just because a city or zip code has fallen on bad times, doesn’t mean it will last forever.  By paying attention, you might catch a down-and-out area on the upswing.

Of course, you can die of old age bird-dogging a dead market, so how do you tell the difference between a market with potential … and one that’s probably terminally ill?

Here’s what we look for …

Population – If there’s not enough people for politicians and CEOs to pay attention to, you can be sure that town won’t get much love … or money … to change any time soon.

Education – Industry needs skilled labor, which today is still fairly intellectual (as opposed to manual).  Even in trades, computers and sophisticated equipment are often involved.

When a community has access to quality education, it’s easier for a population to upgrade skills to take advantage of opportunity when it arrives.

Families also prefer to live in areas where educational opportunities are better in the elementary to high-school levels, so education’s impact on an area’s appeal is more than just college and trade schools.

Transportation – In order for people and goods to move around, there needs to be a good airport, highway system, and in some cases, a rail system for raw materials.

Public transportation is helpful too, especially if residential areas are distanced from employment centers.

But don’t discount a small town, IF it’s near a big one.  If the commute isn’t bad, when the big city economy picks up, that nearby small town can benefit too.

Business-friendly State – Some cities are just disadvantaged because they happen to be in a state that’s unfriendly to business.

We like to talk with the local Chamber of Commerce, and read the local Business Journal, because it gives us insight into how businesses feel about themselves, their community, and what they’re working on.

Most expansions don’t happen in a vacuum, so if you’re paying attention you can see trends (both positive and negative) developing ahead of the curve … giving you the opportunity to make your moves … in or out.

Become a student of markets …

It’s more than we can go into here, but a fun exercise if you’re a real estate investing geek is to do your own common-sense analysis of what markets on a list like this have in common.

When you know the common characteristics of good markets, or bad markets, then you’ll recognize when a shift is in progress.

Obviously, recognizing trends early allows you to get out of the path of problems, and ride a wave in the path of progress.

So it’s probably not good enough to simply buy a big market or a booming economy … because things change.

Detroit was once the richest city in the world.  Then it became the largest municipal bankruptcy in the world.  That’s a big shift.  And it happened for many reasons.

It also took decades, so even sleepy investors could adjust.  Even so, there were people who didn’t see it … or bought into a decline they didn’t understand.

Sometimes when prices fall, it doesn’t mean they’ll come back any time soon.

It’s also important to realize the world is moving faster today, so a market might go from boom to bust or vice-versa more rapidly than in the past.

That’s partly because information travels faster, so people paying attention see things sooner … and they react quicker.

But if you fail to pay attention, then no amount of information can help you. The world will just spin faster … with or without you … and you’ll miss out.

To paraphrase the late, great Jim Rohn …

The book, seminar, podcast, article, or homework you don’t see or do … can’t help you.

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.

North Korea and you …

With so much craziness in the world, we thought we’d consider what it might mean for real estate investors.

After all, why should paper asset investors get all the thrills of global instability?  Real estate investing might be stable, but it doesn’t have to be boring!

Biggest sword competition …

You may have heard that U.S. President Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un recently publicly compared sword sizes.

Since both the U.S. and North Korea are nuclear powers … this has the world understandably jittery.  Though things seem to have calmed down the last few days.

Still, geo-political jitters usually amplify the two basic emotions of investing … fear and greed.

Scared money tends to flee to “quality.”  (Trapped money flees to Bitcoin … but that’s a different discussion …)

Frightened investors are more concerned about preserving capital and purchasing power (which aren’t necessarily the same thing) … than making a profit.

For much of recent history, a flight to quality meant piling into the U.S. dollar and U.S. bonds.

But with another debt-ceiling debacle on the horizon, record debt at every level, pensions in crisis, huge unfunded liabilities, and an economy sending very mixed messages …

… it’s not inconceivable the world might not continue to see the U.S. dollar and bonds as the financial fallout shelter of choice.

Meanwhile, greedy money tends to focus on front-running the scared money, and buying up the scared money’s abandoned assets at bargain basement prices.

As for real estate investors …  we sit on the sideline munching popcorn and collecting rent checks.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks, opportunities and lessons for real estate investors to learn from all the drama.

War is expensive …

We recently discussed the potential shift from “monetary” stimulus (cheap money funneled from central banks to the financial markets) …

… to “fiscal” stimulus (government spending funneled into the economy on infrastructure and military spending).

Now we’re not saying Uncle Sam is purposely pursuing war to stimulate the economy.  That would be far too cynical for two happy-go-lucky real estate guys.

But IF more war happens, it’s sure to be expensive.  And because Uncle Sam already operates at a deficit and has no savings (technically “broke”) … it means a lot more borrowing.

The big question is … from whom does Uncle Sam borrow?

This matters because whom Uncle Sam borrows from to pay for more war … and how it’s done … will probably impact asset prices and interest rates.

Watch your monitors …

If Uncle Sam issues bonds (borrows) and the bids are soft, interest rates rise.  It also says something about the way the world views the dollar (not good).

Of course, this means rising interest rates in the whole swimming pool … including good debt (your mortgages) and bad debt (your tenants’ credit card and car loans).  Either or both of those affect your bottom line.

Another sign confidence in the dollar is declining will be a spike in gold prices.  

If gold catches a bid, it could mean scared money would rather hide in a barbarous relic with no yield … over stacks of paper with pictures of dead people printed in green ink.

(Not sure how green paper is less useless than yellow metal … but that’s a different debate …)

But if big money prefers gold over greenbacks, it’s a clue about the direction of the dollar.

And assuming your assets, liabilities, and income are all denominated in dollars, we’re guessing the value of the dollar is of interest to you … or should be.

Pre-emptive strike …

So what do you do when you don’t know what’s going to happen?

Here are some things to think about …

Uncle Sam already has a huge debt problem.  Another war doesn’t change anything … it just speeds it up.

In the short term, a flight to quality could be temporarily good for the dollar and drop rates by creating demand for both dollars and bonds.

If rates fall for a season (and even if they don’t … they’re pretty low right now), it might be a great time to back up the truck and load up on lots of good debt … and use it to acquire assets that conservatively yield more than the cost of the loan.

That’s effectively going “short” the dollar based at a time of temporary strength.

You can also go a little further short by adding some gold to the mix.  But remember, gold isn’t about profit … it’s about preservation of purchasing power.  

Sure, a falling dollar causes gold to go “up” in dollar terms, but so does everything else, so more dollars doesn’t put you ahead … it just keeps you from falling behind.

Side note …

If you’re not really sure about gold or how it fits into what you’re doing, join us when we speak at the New Orleans Investment Conference in October.   

Some of the biggest brains in precious metals and resource investing will be in New Orleans … along with our friends Robert Kiyosaki, Simon Black, Peter Schiff and Simon Black.  It’ll be like an Investor Summit at Sea™ reunion!

Back to our story …

Something else to consider carefully right now are the markets you’re invested in … because the idea of “flight to quality” applies to real estate markets too.

People and businesses will move to where they can get a better life at a better price.

We like affordable markets in low tax, business friendly, fiscally sound states …

… places with good infrastructure (transportation, utilities, medical, education, resources), strategic location (distribution, travel hub, geographic amenities), and diverse economic drivers.

Also, take a look at your current debt and equity structure.

It might be wise to harvest excess equity and lock in low long-term rates on properties you’re committed to owning long term.

You can then use the proceeds to pick up additional properties in growth markets … or add some cash, precious metals, or high-yield private mortgages to add some diversification into your portfolio.

Stay calm and invest on …

It’s easy to freak out when the world is weird.  But it’s been weird before and it’ll be weird again.

Meanwhile, unlike so many other styles of investing, real estate allows you to hedge most probable outcomes.

Plus, there’s the time-tested assurance that virtually every major power player in the food chain has a vested interest in supporting real estate.

No one wins when real estate loses … and even as we learned in 2008 … if a bomb goes off in real estate, the powers-that-be move heaven and earth to fix it as quickly as possible.

Sure, there’s risk.

But it’s risk that’s largely understandable, reasonably mitigated and … so long as you’re structured to weather the occasional economic storm …

… real estate is arguably the most stable and easily operated investment vehicle available to everyday people.

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.