I continue to believe the choices for investors are much more challenging than they normally are, as I have written about several times. Though maybe soon, this will just be the new normal (in which case investors won’t have the fairly easy choices they have had for much of the last 100 years).
In previous posts I have discussed the value of real estate investments in this investing climate. Real estate is one way to cope with the challenges of extremely low yields today.
There are many advantages to city property, in the right city. When I was looking at my first house I looked for something that would be easy to rent out. The most important factor to minimize vacancy is high demand. If there is high demand, the worst you should face is the need to lower your asking price.
An additional consideration in buying condos (your only option in large urban centers like New York City, seen in my photo of the Empire State Building) are condo fees. Fees and taxes can make positive cash flow a challenge and they continue when the property is vacant thus creating more risk for the investor. Of course, in popular markets and good times rents are very attractive for owners and price increases can make them great investments.
During downturns rental property that is not in high demand can be vacant no matter the price. And those properties with some, but not overwhelming, demand will face the need for dramatic rent decreases to minimize vacancy (and large declines if you need to sell). My purchase was 3 blocks from a metro stop (close in to Washington DC). All housing near metro stops in DC have high demand and that close in to the city has even higher demand.
In over 10 years I have had maybe 2 months of vacancy – the first year I messed up; I was new to trying to rent places out and believed people were going to sign the lease because they said they would but then they backed out. I think I may have had 1 more month sometime, but maybe not, I can’t really remember.
I have considered tourist property but have decided against it so far. The rental yield are higher but you have higher vacancy rates, which is manageable, but also much more property management issues to deal with. In order to cope with that you need to hire a property manager, for example, Summit Vacations Property Management Company, very carefully. You need to carefully check their experience, reliability and competence.
And even for residential real estate the hassles of dealing with the property management yourself may lead investors to use property managers. This cuts into the advantages of direct real estate investments and so if you are going to use property managers then looking at REITs has to be considered. I believe if you are sensible direct real estate investments would normally return more but the risks are significantly higher and the hassle is somewhat to significantly higher. Likely the decision on whether to use direct real estate investing is more about personal preference than just a decision on which option would be a better investment.
Brett Arends writes about the investment portfolio he uses?
It’s 10% each in the following 10 asset classes:
- U.S. “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- International Developed “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- Emerging Markets “Minimum Volatility” stocks
- Global natural-resource stocks
- US Real Estate Investment Trusts
- International Real Estate Investment Trusts
- 30-Year Zero Coupon Treasury bonds
- 30-Year TIPS
- Global bonds
- 2-Year Treasury bonds (cash equivalent)
This is another interesting portfolio choice. I have discussed my thoughts on portfolio choices several times. This one is again a bit bond heavy for my tastes. I like the global nature of this one. I like real estate focus – though as mentioned in previous articles how people factor in their personal real estate (home and investments) needs to be considered.
Related: Cockroach Portfolio – Lazy Golfer Portfolio – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation – Looking for Dividend Stocks in the Current Extremely Low Interest Rate Environment
This is a startling piece of data, from The nagging fear that QE itself may be causing deflation:
The situations have many differences, for example, China is a poor country growing rapidly, Japan was a rich country growing little (though in 1990 it showed more growth promise than today). Still this one of the more interesting pieces of data on how much a bubble China real estate has today. Japan suffered more than 2 decades of stagnation and one factor was the problems created by the real estate price bubble.
The global economic consequences of the extremely risky actions taken to bail out the failed too-big-too-fail banks including the massive quantitative easing are beyond anyones ability to really understand. We hope they won’t end badly that is all it amounts to. Noone can know how risky the actions to bail out the bankers is. The fact we not only bailed them out, but showered many billions of profit onto them (even after taking billions in fines for the numerous and continuing violations of law by those bailed out bankers), leaves me very worried.
It seems to me we have put enormous risk on and the main beneficiaries of the policies are the bankers that caused the mess and continue to violate laws without any consequences (other than taking a bit of the profit them make on illegal moves back sometimes).
The West ignored pleas for restraint at the time, then left these countries to fend for themselves. The lesson they have drawn is to tighten policy, hoard demand, hold down their currencies and keep building up foreign reserves as a safety buffer. The net effect is to perpetuate the “global savings glut” that has starved the world of demand, and that some say is the underlying of the cause of the long slump.
I hope things work out. But I fear the extremely risky behavior by the central banks and politicians could end more badly than we can even imagine.
Related: Continuing to Nurture the Too-Big-To-Fail Eco-system – The Risks of Too Big to Fail Financial Institutions Have Only Gotten Worse – USA Congress Further Aids The Bankers Giving Those Politicians Piles of Cash and Risks Economic Calamity Again – Investment Options Are Much Less Comforting Than Normal These Days
Dylan Grice suggests the Cockroach Portfolio: 25% cash; 25% government bonds; 25% equities; and 25% gold. What we can learn from the cockroach
Government bonds protect against deflation (provided your money’s invested in solid government bonds and not trash). Equities offer capital growth and income. And gold, as we know, protects against currency depreciation, inflation, and financial collapse. It’s vitally important to maintain holdings in each, in my opinion.
The beauty of a ‘static’ allocation across these four asset classes is that it removes emotion from the investment process.
I don’t really agree with this but I think it is an interesting read. And I do agree the standard stock/bond/cash portfolio model is not good enough.
I would rather own real estate than gold. I doubt I would ever have more than 5% gold and only would suggest that if someone was really rich (so had money to put everywhere). Even then I imagine I would balance it with investments in other commodities.
One of the many problems with “stock” allocations is that doesn’t tell you enough. I think global exposure is wise (to some extent S&P 500 does this as many of those companies have huge international exposure – still I would go beyond that). Also I would be willing to take some stock in commodities type companies (oil and gas, mining, real estate, forests…) as a different bucket than “stocks” even though they are stocks.
And given the super low interest rates I see dividend paying stocks as an alternative to bonds.
The Cockroach Portfolio does suggest only government bonds (and is meant for the USA where those bonds are fairly sensible I think) but in the age of the internet many of my readers are global. It may well not make sense to have a huge portion of your portfolio in many countries bonds. And outside the USA I wouldn’t have such a large portion in USA bonds. And they don’t address the average maturity (at least in this article) – I would avoid longer maturities given the super low rates now. If rates were higher I would get some long term bonds.
These adjustments mean I don’t have as simple a suggestion as the cockroach portfolio. But I think that is sensible. There is no one portfolio that makes sense. What portfolio is wise depends on many things.
Based on my thoughts on killing the Goose laying golden eggs in Iskandar Malaysia posted on a discussion forum. The government has instituted several several policies to counteract a bubble in luxury real estate prices in the region (new taxes on short term capital gains in real estate [declining amounts through year 6]), increasing limits on purchases by foreigners, new transaction fees (2% of purchase price?) for real estate transactions, requirements for larger down-payments from purchasers…
Iskandar is 5 times the size of Singapore and is in the state of Johor in Malaysia. Johor Bahru is the city which makes up much of Iskandar but as borders are currently drawn Iskandar extends beyond the borders of Johor Bahru.
The prospects for economic growth in Iskandar Malaysia in the next 5, 10 and 15 years remain very strong. They are stronger than they were 5 years ago: investments that produce economic activity (theme parks, factories, hospitals, hotels, retail, film studio…) have come online and more on being built right now.
Cooperation with Singapore is the main advantage Iskandar has (Iskandar is next to the island of Singapore similar to those areas surrounding Manhattan). It provides Iskandar world class advantages that few other locations have (it is the same advantages offered by lower cost areas extremely close to world class cities – NYC, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco etc.). Transportation connections to Singapore are critical and have not been managed as well as they should have been (only 2 bridges exist now and massive delays are common). A 3rd link should be in place today (they haven’t even approved the location yet).
A MRT connection to Singapore (Singapore’s subway system) should be a top priority of anyone with power interested in the future economic well being of Iskandar and Johor. Johor Bahru doesn’t have a light rail system yet this would be the start of it. It has been “announced” as planned for 2018 but not officially designated or funded yet.
There are many asset allocation strategies; which often are pretty similar. In general they oversimplify the situation (so an investor needs to study and adjust them to their situation – though most don’t do this, which is a problem). In general, I think asset allocation suggestions are too heavily weighted on bonds, and that is even more true today in the current environment – of could that is just my opinion.
I ran across this suggested allocation in Eyewitness to a Wall Street mugging which I think has several good values.
- It focuses on low fee, market index funds. Fees are incredibly important in determining long term investment success
- It has lower bond allocation than normal
- It has more international exposure than many – which I think is wise (this suggested portfolio is for those in the USA, USA portion should be lowered for others)
- It includes real estate (some suggested allocations miss this entirely)
In my opinion this allocation should be adjusted as you get closer to retirement (put a bit more into more stable, income producing investments).
My personal preference is to use high quality dividend stocks in the current interest rate environment. I would buy them myself which does require a bit more work than once a year rebalancing that the lazy golfer portfolio allows.
I would also include 10% for Vanguard emerging markets fund (VWO) (for sake of a rule of thumb reduce Inflation Protected Securities Fund to 10% if you are more than 10 years from retirement, when between 10 and 1 year from retirement put Inflation Protected Securities Fund at 15% and Total Stock Market Index Fund at 35%, when 1 year from retirement or retired lower emerging market to 5% and put 5% in money market.
Depending on your other assets this portfolio should be adjusted (large real estate holdings [large net value on personal home, investment real estate…] can mean less real estate in this portfolio, 401k holdings may mean you want to tweak this [TIAA CREF has a very good real estate fund, if you have access to it you might make real estate a high value in your 401k and then adjust your lazy portfolio], large pension means you can lower income producing assets, how close you are to retirement, etc.).
The Lazy Golfer Portfolio (Annually rebalance the fund on your birthday and ignore Wall Street for the remaining 364 days of the year) contains 5 Vanguard index funds
- 40% Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX)
- 20% Total International Stock Index Fund (VGTSX)
- 20% Inflation Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX)
- 10% Total Bond Market Index Fund (VBMFX)
- 10% REIT Index Fund (VGSIX)
Related: Retirement Planning, Looking at Asset Allocation – Lazy Portfolio Results – Investment Risk Matters Most as Part of a Portfolio, Rather than in Isolation – Starting Retirement Account Allocations for Someone Under 40 – Taking a Look at Some Dividend Aristocrats
I think the current investing climate worldwide continues to be very uncertain. Historically I believe in the long term success of investing in successful businesses and real estate in economically vibrant areas. I think you can do fairly well investing in various sold long term businesses or mutual funds looking at things like dividend aristocrates or even the S&P 500. And investing in real estate in most areas, over the long term, is usually fine.
When markets hit extremes it is better to get out, but it is very hard to know in advance when that is. So just staying pretty much fully invested (which to me includes a safety margin of cash and very safe investments as part of a portfolio).
I really don’t know of a time more disconcerting than the last 5 years (other than during the great depression, World War II and right after World War II). Looking back it is easy to take the long term view and say post World War II was a great time for long term investors. I doubt it was so easy then (especially outside the USA).
Even at times like the oil crisis (1973-74…, stagflation…, 1986 stock market crash) I can see being confident just investing in good businesses and good real estate would work out in the long term. I am much less certain now.
I really don’t see a decent option to investing in good companies and real estate (I never really like bonds, though I understand they can have a role in a portfolio, and certainly don’t know). Normally I am perfectly comfortable with the long term soundness of such a plan and realizing there would be plenty of volatility along the way. The last few years I am much less comfortable and much more nervous (but I don’t see many decent options that don’t make me nervous).
One of the many huge worries today is the extreme financial instruments; complex securities; complex and highly leveraged financial institution (that are also too big to fail); high leverage by companies (though many many companies are one of the more sound parts of the economy – Apple, Google, Toyota, Intel…), high debt for governments, high debt for consumers, inability for regulators to understand the risks they allow too big to fail institutions to take, the disregard for risking economic calamity by those in too big to fail institutions, climate change (huge insurance risks and many other problems), decades of health care crisis in the USA…
A recent Bloomberg article examines differing analyst opinions on the Chinese banking system. It is just one of many things I find worrying. I am not certain the current state of Chinese banking is extremely dangerous to global economic investments but I am worried it may well be.
I was just taking a look at a couple of properties in Zillow and found it interesting how big the real estate tax bite can be. I have 2 rental properties and the real estate tax cost is 15% and 12% of the rental income. At least for my area Zillow underestimate rent rates (the vacancy rate is very low and properties in general rent within days or weeks – at rates 10%+ higher than Zillow estimates on average -based on my very limited sample of just what I happen to notice).
I thought I would look at the real estate tax to property value estimate and rent estimate by Zillow in Various locations.
Arlington, Virginia – real estate taxes were 1% of estimated property value and 17.5% of rental estimate.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina – 1.5% of value and 41% of rental estimate.
Madison, Wisconsin – 2.4% of value and 39% of rental estimate.
Flagstaff, Arizona – .7% of value and 9.5% of rental estimate.
Grand Junction, Colorado – .4% of value and 6% of rental estimate.
This is just an anecdotal look, I didn’t try to get a basket of homes in each market I just looked at about 1-5 homes so there is plenty of room for misleading information. But this is just a quick look and was interesting to me so I thought I would share it. While the taxes are deductible (from the profit of the rental property) they are a fixed expense, whether the house is rented or not that expense must be paid.
A high tax rate to rental rate is a cash flow risk – you have to make that payment no matter what.
In my opinion one of the most important aspects of rental property is keeping the units rented. The vacancy rate for similar properties is an extremely important piece of data. Arlington, Virginia has an extremely low vacancy rate. I am not sure about the other locations.
I wanted to use Park Slope, Brooklyn, NYC but the data was confusing/limited… so I skipped it; the taxes seemed super low.
The USA economy is still in very fragile ground. The continued problems created by policies focused on aiding too big too fail institutions and continued huge federal budge deficits are dangerous. And the continued problems in Europe and mounting problems in China are not helping. Still, rental prices continue to rise across the USA.
The graph above shows housing rents (as shown by the Zillow rent index) have increased 5.4% in the last year (through July) across the USA. In Boston the increase was 4.5%; Grand Junction, Colorado -4.9%; San Francisco up 8.8%; Washington DC up 7.3%; Raleigh, NC up 1.8% (though the last one couldn’t be added to the graph for some reason). I just picked some cities I found interesting – with some diversity.
Housing prices are up 1.2% in the same period, according to the Zillow price index.
When looking at data on rental prices and home prices you will notice different sources give different readings. Judging these changes across the nation is very difficult and requires making judgements. Even at the local level the measures are imprecise so the figures you see will vary. Taking a look at several different measures, from reputable sources, is often wise.
Related: USA Apartment Market in 2011 – Top USA Markets for Buying Rental Property – Apartment Vacancies Fall to Lowest in 3 Years in the USA (April 2011) – Apartment Rents Rise, Slightly, for First Time in 5 Quarters (April 2010)
The extremely low interest rate environment created by the too big to fail financial institution bailouts has severely harmed savers. Most severely harmed those in retirement that didn’t count on irresponsibly regulators and bankers creating a situation where to avoid a depression they had to punish savers to favor large banks (and others).
For some savings that might normally go into bonds (if the bond market were not so manipulated by the central banks to punish savers) dividend stocks are a good option. The stocks have risks but frankly with extremely strong companies with huge amounts of positive cash flow the future looks brighter than it does for those debt ridden governments.
Apple (AAPL) announced they will start paying a $2.65 quarterly dividend which works out to $10.60 annually. At the current stock price, this is a yield of nearly 1.9%. That is hardly going to make you rich but it is extremely attractive when you can get a much higher yield than savings account, treasury bills… and have the potential gains in stock price. Yes you do also have risk of a declining stock price, but as I have said I think Apple’s stock is an extremely good investment now.
Other good options include: Intel (INTL) which offers a 3.3% yield and Abbott (ABT) which offers a 3.4% yield. I own those 3 and also ONEOK Partners (OKS) which sports a 4.8% yield (but is a bit tricker situation that is suitable for a lower investment I think).
Even a stock like Toyota (TM), which I like as an investment, while it offers only a 1.8% yield that is much higher than you get for savings or treasury bills. So even stocks that are not about yield in the normal market conditions offer an attractive yield today.
I am a bit nervous about health care dividend investments but Pfizer (PFE) is worth considering at 4.1% (as are JNJ and MRK). I really like ABT (they have raised dividends for over 40 straight years, I think), sadly they are splitting into 2 companies. Even so I am planning on staying invested but it is avery big change and would make me worried about having too much committed to ABT.