Trade war heats up and America’s Achilles heel

The Art of the Deal meets the Art of War

You’ve probably heard about the escalating trade war between the United States and China.

Maybe you think it doesn’t really matter to you … or you aren’t sure how.

But it’s a story we’re paying close attention to because we think there’s more to the story than meets the eye … with potentially HUGE ramifications.

Here’s a summary of the story in a series of headlines …

Okay, so what? What does any of this mean to a Main Street real estate investor?

Think of it this way …

If this was a military war and not a trade war … and there was a chance a bomb could land on YOU … would you pay attention?

But a bomb isn’t really the best analogy. It’s more like biological warfare.

There are financial diseases which could be unleashed into the financial system … and YOUR portfolio and future opportunities might get infected.

So now it’s not as simple as just watching out for dropping bombs.

Now you need enough expertise to recognize the symptoms of diseases while there’s still time to apply an antidote.

But when you KNOW the threat is real and the stakes are high, isn’t it a top priority to get knowledgeable fast?

In Greek mythology, when Achilles was born it was foretold he would die young.

To prevent this, his mother dipped him in magic water which made him invincible.

But the magic water didn’t coat his ankle where his mother held Achilles over the water, so that small part of his body remained vulnerable.

Achilles grew into a mighty man who survived many fierce battles. But one day, someone figured out his weakness … and shot a poisoned arrow into his heel.

Achilles died from the poison.  Today, the term “Achilles heel” is synonymous with a weakness, which in spite of overall strength, can lead to downfall.

In a trade war with China, is it possible Uncle Sam has an Achilles heel?

And if you’re an investor depending on any aspect of U.S. strength for your prosperity, it’s important to be aware and prepare for a possible downfall.

However, China may not actually be interested in destroying the United States.

Nonetheless, they could well be working on a plan to gain advantage over the U.S. … with potentially severe ramifications for Main Street investors.

We realize most American press is filled with reassuring commentaries about Uncle Sam holding all the trump cards (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves) …

… and that China’s going to back down in this trade war.

And we’ll concede that might APPEAR to happen. But what if China’s playing a different game?

Consider these quotes from famed Chinese military strategist and philosopher, Sun Tzu, in his classic book The Art of War …

“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.”

“Therefore, those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”

So even if Uncle Sam is more powerful … virtually invincible, as Achilles was … it’s possible for a strategic adversary to strike a victorious blow …

… just like the biblical story of little David taking on invincible giant Goliath.

The counter-argument is that China’s self-interest precludes it from inflicting serious harm on the United States … because China needs the U.S. to buy all it’s stuff.

True … but back to The Art of War 

“ … the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this … To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

“Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

And since we’re in the mood for quoting … here’s something we wrote heading into our Future of Money and Wealth conference …

A very interesting book we just finished is Exorbitant Privilege by Barry Eichengreen. He’s Professor of Political Science and Economics at Cal Berkeley.

Eichengreen published this book in 2011, which means he probably wrote it in 2010. Keep this in mind as we share these excerpts …

“What if foreigners dump their holdings and abandon the currency [dollar]? What, if anything, could U.S. policymakers do about it?”

“… it would have to start with what precipitated the crash and caused foreigners to abandon the dollar.”

“One trigger could be political conflict between the United States and China. The simmering dispute over trade and exchange rates could break into the open … American politicians … could impose an across-the-board tariff on imports from [China].”

Eichenberg wrote this at least FIVE years before Donald Trump even announced his candidacy, much less started his Presidency.

He’s basically saying the U.S. dollar could be America’s Achilles heel. One that Uncle Sam may not be taking adequate precautions to protect.

So …. did China “bring the enemy to the field of battle”?

We don’t know.

But as discussed in detail at Future of Money and Wealth, it sure seems there’s a bigger game being played.

For individual investors to understand all this and take appropriate precautions takes an investment of time, money, and energy.

It’s a bit more complex than just watching for big bombs to drop.  And sadly, it’s too much effort for most folks.

So they’ll just hope for the best, and trust the people in charge to have the skills and motivations to do the right thing.

But after hearing Ben Bernanke tell everyone in 2007 that the sub-prime crisis was contained and there’s nothing to worry about … we’re not convinced.

So we’ll close with this final quote from Sun Tzu …

“To rely on rustics and not prepare is the greatest of crimes; to be prepared beforehand for any contingency is the greatest of virtues.”

If you think it’s a good idea to be aware and prepared for the ramifications of what the news is only hinting at …

… consider investing the time and money to watch the Future of Money and Wealth.

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.

Forecasts, fallacies and fortitude …

As of this writing, the Fed hasn’t yet announced their economic forecasts or whether they’ll raise interest rates.

The talk on the street says the Fed will raise by 25 basis points (.25%).

History says a recession is coming … because 10 of the last 13 times the Fed engaged in a rate hike campaign, that’s what happened. They’re not particularly skilled at “soft landings”.

The Fed also has a dismal record for economic forecasts. They chronically see sunshine even when clouds are forming. But that’s not why Wall Street pays attention to them.

Day traders, hedge fund managers, and other players in the Wall Street casinos fixate on the Fed … hoping to be on the right side of whatever flow of cash results from anything they do or say.

Their mantra is “buy low, sell high” to generate cash flow. It’s a fast-paced, high stakes game perfect for adrenalin junkies.

It’s also a game which generates brokerage fees, highly taxable capital gains, and big bonuses. So both Wall Street and Uncle Sam love it.

Meanwhile, real estate investors sit off to the side … casually interested in what the Fed does … but much more concerned with collecting rent, watching expenses, and managing cash flow.

Cash flowing real estate is pretty boring. And super sexy. Like a faithful wife or girlfriend.

But if the Fed’s likely hike is signaling a higher probability of recession, what’s a real estate investor to do?

Here are some thoughts gleaned from a Business Insider article quoting legendary real estate investor Sam Zell

“Sure, I’m always looking for unlocked potential … but everybody wants to look at how good a deal can get. People love focusing on the upside. That’s where the fun is. What amazes me is how superficially they consider the downside.

For me, the calculation in making a deal starts with the downside. If I can identify that, then I understand the risk I’m taking. What’s the outcome if everything goes wrong? What actions would we take? Can I bear the cost? Can I survive it?”

Zell also says, “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns … in life, as well as in investments.”

In other words, success is not about avoiding risk, but rather in understanding, accepting and managing risk … and only taking it on when the upside is worth it and you can afford the downside.

Here are some things for real estate investors to think about in preparing for the possibility of recession …

Consider increasing liquidity

Right now, there’s a lot of equity in both stocks and real estate. If you’ve got excess equity on your balance sheet, it could be an ideal time to convert some of it to cash.

Yes, it’s tempting to be fully deployed in good times. But if things slow down, cash is king. And if asset values fall, the market’s going to take the equity anyway. Better for you to grab it first.

Emphasize durability of cash flow

It’s a lot more fun to push rents to increase net operating income, and you should always look to optimize income. But earn it by delivering better value and not just by riding a hot economy.

If times get tough for your tenants, they’ll start looking for value. When they do, make sure they find YOU at the top of the list.

Look for ways to trim expenses, lock in solid tenants with competitive longer-term leases, and restructure debt with an emphasis on stability.

You may leave a little on the table, but consider it recession insurance.

Gravitate towards affordable markets

If recession comes, businesses and households will be much more aggressive in seeking value.

Once you know you’re competitive in your current markets, consider expanding your portfolio into markets that are likely to be popular with people and businesses looking to save.

Over-priced markets and properties will probably recede. While affordable markets and properties will likely benefit from increased demand.

Watch for “Sea Change”

Sometimes recessions are just bumps on the road of business-as-usual.

Sometimes recessions are part of a much broader transformation.

There are MANY things going on in the world which are far from business-as-usual. Like recessions, they can be unnerving, but they also create opportunity.

The dollar’s future as the world’s reserve currency, technology’s impact on labor, unprecedented global debt, the ascent (and now slowing) of China … are some of the many macro-factors we pay attention to.

Each of these has the potential to change the investing landscape in substantial ways.

Consider this CNBC headline …

‘Made in China’ could soon be ‘Made in the US’

“Contrary to widespread belief, China isn’t the cheap place to manufacture that it once was, and rising costs have been forcing manufacturers to explore new countries to make their goods.”

The article quotes the president of a Chinese textile firm …

“Add in the possibility of a lower corporate tax to as little as 15 percent, as proposed by Trump, and the U.S. becomes a no-brainer for many manufacturers …”

Could hard times in China lead to a resurgence of the U.S. rust belt?

Here’s the point …

Recession in and of itself isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. It’s an event. In fact, it’s a regularly recurring event.

Recession isn’t necessarily universal or global. In other words, it doesn’t affect all industries, people or locations the same way at the same time.

A recession in one place can lead to a boom in another and vice-versa as people, businesses and money flow to and from challenges and opportunities.

Like winter, a recession is a season. It may not be as fun as the sunshine, but for the prepared it’s not a big deal.

Going back to the wisdom of Sam Zell … acknowledging the reality of the downside isn’t a reason to hunker down and do nothing. Doing nothing has its own downside.

The world is full of very real threats … and that’s GOOD. It creates movement from which pockets of opportunity emerge.

Because, as Sam Zell says “… taking risks is really the only way to consistently achieve above average returns …

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to become a well-informed and diligent risk-taker.

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.