The ghosts of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 still linger (as they should) in the minds and hearts of seasoned real estate investors …
… even though it’s been a an equity party for the last 10 years.
Of course, no one wants to hear it might be ending. Then again, every new beginning comes from another beginning’s end.
And as we recently noted, a bend in the road isn’t the end of the road … unless you fail to make the turn.
Right now, it seems like the global financial system is flashing caution lights all over the place.
Consider these recent headlines …
U.S. Treasury bond curve inverts for first time since 2007 in recession warning – Reuters, 8/14/19
Ex-Fed boss Greenspan says ‘there is no barrier’ to Treasury yields falling below zero – MarketWatch, 8/14/19
China Prepares Its “Nuclear Option” In Trade War – OilPrice.com, 8/13/19
Some real estate investors see these headlines … and yawn. Probably a mistake.
Experienced real estate investors and their mortgage professionals know mortgage rates pivot off the 10-year Treasury yield.
And because mortgages are the most powerful tool in a real estate investor’s toolbox and interest one of the biggest expenses, interest rates matter.
Regular listeners know we like fixed rates now because the risk of rates rising is greater than the benefit of them falling further.
It doesn’t mean they will. There’s a LOT of effort to keep them down.
In fact, just a year ago, 10-year Treasury yields were nearly 3.5 percent and today it’s half that. But at just over 1.5 percent, how much lower can they go?
You’d be surprised.
After all, the venerable Alan Greenspan himself is publicly raising the possibility Treasury yields could fall below zero.
How is that even possible?
Who makes a loan (buy a bond) not just for free (no interest income), but knowing they’ll get paid back LESS than the principal amount?
You might think no one in their right mind would do that, yet …
Negative-Yielding Debt Hits Record $14 Trillion as Fed Cuts
Bloomberg, August 1, 2019
And in Denmark, home-buyers can get a 10-year mortgages at NEGATIVE .5 percent interest …
More good news for homeowners: Mortgages below 0% at fixed interest rates
(Unless you’re fluent in Danish, you’ll need to run this one through Google translate)
Home-buyers are being PAID to borrow.
So you can add negative interest rates to the list of items under “this time it’s different” … because this has never happened before.
What does it mean?
We’re still working on figuring that out. but we think it’s a clear sign something is broken … or least seriously different.
One of our favorite Brainiac economic commentators and an unconventional thinker is Keith Weiner at Monetary-Metals.
In a recent essay, Keith argues that based on the Net-Present-Value calculation, when interest rates hit zero, the value of assets become infinite.
We’re not sure we agree, because the limiting factor is the ability to debt service … even if all you’re doing is repaying principal.
But we do agree the result of cheap money is equity growth.
And this creates a HUGE and unique opportunity for income property investors.
That’s because when you get a mortgage to buy an income property, you’re also purchasing the income to pay down the loan.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s a risk-free ride.
If you lose your self-control and pay more for the property than the property’s income can service, you’ve transitioned from investor to speculator.
Now you’re banking on the equity growth in the property to compensate you for the negative cash flow … a subsidy that must come from someplace else.
This structure is most likely to occur with 1-4 unit residential properties because those lenders will let you supplement the property’s income with your own.
A word to the wise …
Unless you have a very specific, high probability plan to raise rents post-purchase …
… be VERY careful about buying a negative cash-flow property in an uber-low interest rate environment.
It’s doubtful lower rates will come along to reduce your interest expense and boost cash flow.
Of course, most commercial lenders won’t make a negative cash-flow loan, so if you’re playing at the pro level, you’re less likely to step on that landmine.
But the aforementioned headlines have some even MORE CONCERNING things to consider …
First, yield-curve inversion has preceded the last five recessions.
Fortunately, those recessions don’t usually show up for about year and a half.
So if you pay attention today, there’s no reason to be blind-sided in two years. Hopefully, you’ve got time to prepare. But the clock is ticking.
Recessions mean softer employment and less Main Street prosperity.
Remember, when things are tight, people and businesses tend to move where the cost of living and tax burdens are lower.
Keep this in mind when picking markets, property types, and price points.
It’s always good to have some people above you on the food chain, who will move down and bolster demand in your niche during tough times.
Of course, that’s just your run-of-the-mill market-cycle awareness. Nonetheless, it’s always good to remember the basics.
But what if the system breaks down? What if the “this time it’s different” items tell a different story?
We’ve been watching this for quite a while.
We first spoke about it at the New Orleans Investment Conference six years ago.
We got into more detail on it at our Future of Money and Wealth conference. Of course, we’ve been writing about it regularly.
Now we’re talking about it even more because mainstream financial media is finally taking notice. Maybe we’re not crazy.
So even though we just wrote about it last week, when you hear about “nuclear options” in a trade war between the two biggest economies, would you rather hear the warnings multiple times … or risk missing it altogether?
And what if the Fed is really lowering interest rates to preemptively buffer the impact of China pushing the nuclear button? Will it be enough?
There’s a lot of hype about “the best economy ever” … and perhaps statistically it’s true.
But if interest rates spike suddenly, all that “best ever” talk goes away, along with trillions in equity … and it’s a whole new ball game.
Our pal Peter Schiff thinks the Fed will create trillions of dollars in a desperate attempt to reflate asset prices and keep rates down.
Gold is suggesting foreign central banks are preparing for trouble.
Those aware and prepared will make fortunes. Those unaware and unprepared will likely take a hit … or worse.
It’s not the circumstances that are good or bad. It’s how well you’re prepared and how quickly you respond when things start moving quickly.
The warning lights are flashing. Better to be prepared and not have a problem, than to have a problem and not be prepared.
Now is the time to expand your education, understanding, and network … and fortify your portfolio, just in case.
Until next time … good investing!
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