Commercial Mortgages

April 25, 2021

by Steve Stofka

They’re at it again. Thirteen years ago, the financial crisis originated in RMBS, residential mortgage-backed securities. Now banks and investment companies have been packaging CMBS, mortgage-backed loans on office and retail space, not residential, properties. Most of these loans are backed by or facilitated by the Small Business Administration and other government agencies. Who will pick up the tab when some of these loans default because of the pandemic? The same people who picked up the tab for the financial crisis – taxpayers. Even if the direct cost of bailouts is repaid, the loss of economic output and incomes is a crushing blow to many Americans.

Next month, the Federal Reserve will release its semiannual Financial Stability Report a comprehensive examination of the assets and lending of America’s financial institutions. Their last report in November 2020 was based on nine months of data, six months after Covid restrictions began. Concerning the Fed were several trends that were far above their long-term averages.

High yield bonds and investment grade quality bonds were almost double long-term trend averages (Fed, 2020, p. 17). High-yield bonds are issued by companies with low credit quality. Well established companies with good credit issue bonds rated investment grade. These are attractive to pension funds and life insurance companies who need stability to meet their future obligations to policy holders. Many companies took advantage of low interest rates during the Covid crisis. 60% of bank officers reported relaxing their lending standards; that same practice preceded the financial crisis in 2008. Will we eventually learn that commercial property evaluations were overvalued, just as house prices were generously valued before the financial crisis?

Many commercial mortgages are backed by commercial real estate (CRE) and packaged into CMBS, commercial mortgage-backed securities. The Fed noted that “highly rated securities can be produced from a pool of lower-rated underlying assets” (p. 51). This was the same problem with residential mortgages. CMBS are riskier than residential mortgages and delinquencies on these loans have spiked (p. 27). The Fed devoted most of their TALF (below) program in 2020 to CMBS (p. 16). 

Before the election last year, more than 70% of those surveyed by the Fed listed “political uncertainty” as their #1 concern (p. 68). 67% listed corporate defaults, particularly small to medium sized businesses. Respondents were from a wide range of America, from banking to academia. Only 18% of respondents were concerned about CMBS default. Simon Property Group (Ticker: SPG), the largest commercial real estate trust in the U.S. fell by almost 50% last spring. Although it has recovered since then, its stock price is still 20% below pre-pandemic levels.

Who thinks that the market for commercial space, retail and office, will return to pre-pandemic levels? Vacancy rates have improved, but even hot markets like Denver have a 17% direct vacancy rate (Ryan, 2021), near the 18% vacancy rate during the financial crisis, and far above the 14% during a healthy economy. 25% of space in Houston, Dallas and parts of the NY Metro area is vacant.

The stock market is convinced that the economy will come roaring back. In total, investors may be right but I think there will be some painful adjustments in the next year or two. The Covid crisis has diverted the habits of people and companies into new channels, and the market has not priced in that semi-permanent diversion. I would rather not wake up to another morning like that one in September 2008 when we learned that the global financial world was on the brink of disaster. I hope that the Fed report released in a few weeks will show a decrease in some of these troubled areas.

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Photo by John Macdonald on Unsplash

TALF – Term Asset Backed Securities Loan Facility

Federal Reserve System (Fed). (2020 November). Financial Stability Report. Retrieved from https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/financial-stability-report-20201109.pdf. (Page numbers cited in the text are the PDF page numbering, six pages greater than the page numbers in the report).

Ryan, P. (2021, April 20). United States Office Outlook – Q1 2021, JLL Research. Retrieved April 24, 2021, from https://www.us.jll.com/en/trends-and-insights/research/office-market-statistics-trends

Could Trump Be Right On Trade?

May 6, 2018

by Steve Stofka

On Tuesday morning I had an epiphany. Some background first. I disagree with Donald Trump about many things. One of them is his fundamental tenet of international trade: it creates winners and losers. This violates an established principle of economics: comparative advantage. Trade between countries benefits the people of both countries, or a win-win. That is Principle #5 in Greg Mankiw’s Principles of Economics taught in many colleges and universities. From the textbook (6th Ed): “Trade allows countries to specialize in what they do best and to enjoy a greater variety of goods and services.”

Here’s Professor Trump on trade with the Japanese during their boom years in the late 1980s: “First [the Japanese] take all our money with their consumer goods, then they put it back in buying all of Manhattan. So either way, we lose.” (1990 Playboy interview quoted in National Review).

As I put my dishes in the dishwasher, a memory from a 1989 Christmas party in Los Angeles flashed through my mind. I was visiting from Colorado, doing more listening than talking. At the party were several people in real estate, construction and software development.

One guy complained that the Japanese were buying up chunks of California and there should be a law limiting their ownership. The comment began a spirited discussion and I sensed the resentment in the group. I asked if the Japanese owned that much California real estate. They were able to name landmark office buildings and vineyards.

As was my habit, I made a note to find out how much California real estate the Japanese did own. The Japanese had bought a few headline grabbing commercial properties, but they owned less than 1/10th of 1% of California real estate. The number of Japanese investors who bought homes did affect ordinary Californians, however. The percentage of homes bought was small but helped drive up prices, and fueled resentment of the Japanese.

The principle of comparative advantage is modeled on trade in goods. Real estate is different. That’s the point that I missed at the Christmas Party almost thirty years ago. Real estate is an investment whose present value is based on an estimate of future cash flows. A common refrain is “location, location, location.” Unlike an investment in a plant or machinery, real estate often consists of two types of asset: 1) a building, which has a limited, depreciable life; and 2) la location that has an unlimited, and appreciable, life. The first part is like a bond. The second part is like a stock. Real estate is a hybrid product of both asset types.

Let’s go to the first part of Trump’s statement: “First [the Japanese] take all our money with their consumer goods.” Let’s follow the money with an example. A company called Taro has a factory in Japan (not financed with U.S. dollars) that makes computers which it sells to U.S. consumers. Because Taro is making so many of these computers, people and peripheral businesses move near the factory.  This drives up the value of the factory’s real estate in Japan.

Taro’s capital is better deployed at making computers, so it sells the factory and land to a private equity firm, from which it leases back the factory. Taro then invests the U.S. dollars it has accumulated from computer sales, plus part of the proceeds from the sale of its real estate in Japan, to buy an office building on 5th Ave in Manhattan, that I’ll call Fifth.

To buy Fifth, Taro must outbid another buyer for the property, a U.S. investor I’ll call Bulldog. The higher price that Taro pays implies that the future cash flows from Fifth will be more than Bulldog’s estimate. If those future cash flows are mis-estimated by Taro, then Taro has introduced a form of bad money into the economic system of New York real estate. Gresham’s law states that bad money tends to drive good money out of circulation. We’ll see that the principle applies here.

There are two parts to Taro’s equity in Fifth. The first is the profits in U.S. dollars from selling computers to U.S. customers, a re-bundling of U.S. dollars. The second part is the profits from the real estate frenzy in Japan. What fueled the lofty sales price in Japan? Rosy estimates of future economic activity, robust cash flows, and a limited supply of property in desirable areas of Japan. Taro has transferred that frenzy, and risk, from a property in Japan to a property in the U.S.

Banks and other credit institutions, both U.S. and foreign, fund the rest of the sale. Because Taro has more equity to put into the property than Bulldog, the ratio of financed principle to Taro’s equity may be nearly the same as Bulldog’s proposal (the numbers are at the end below).  The rosy estimates that drove the Japanese valuation now influence, or infect, the wider international finance community as well.

Because the U.S. is not in a boom, Bulldog may not have access to the same funds and credit that Taro does.  This puts Bulldog at a disadvantage. Bulldog does not buy the building. No big deal, right? He’ll just buy another property with a more reasonable evaluation. But, wait. At any one time, only a fixed amount of credit money is available at a particular interest rate. The money that a bank lent to Taro for its acquisition is no longer available to Bulldog at the same interest rate for his buy of another property. Taro’s purchase, fueled by speculation in Japan and agressive estimates of cash flow in New York, will cost Bulldog money.

Economic models of comparative advantage tend to ignore the financing aspect for two reasons. Money is regarded as neutral in economic models, and the machinations of international finance are difficult to model.  The competition for credit is global and fierce, fought by vast private and public pools of capital and policy.  Those who buy and sell premium real estate in markets like New York City are regularly reminded of the fact.  They put their textbooks down and come out fighting.

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The numbers:  For every $100 in price that Bulldog offers, Taro offers $110. To finance Bulldog’s offer, he can put up $20 for every $100, or 20%. Taro can put in $27.50 for every $110 of its offer. In Bulldog’s case, $80 is financed. In Taro’s offer, $82.50 is financed. Taro has a leverage of 4-1 ($110 / $27.50), compared to Bulldog’s leverage of 5–1 ($100 / $20). Taro’s leverage looks safer. Its future cash flow estimates are 10% higher, but the finance ratio on the deal is only 3.1% higher ($82.50 / $80). If Taro’s cash flow projections are 5% too high, a lender calculates that Taro can still make payments.

Dance of Debt

April 9th, 2017

Last week I wrote about the dance of household, corporate and government debt. When the growth of one member of this trinity is flat, the other two increase. Since the financial crisis the federal debt has increased by $10 trillion. Let’s look at the annual interest rate that the Federal government has paid on its marketable debt of Treasuries. This doesn’t include what is called interagency debt where one part of the government borrows from another. Social Security funds is the major example.

In 2016, the Federal government paid $240 billion in interest, an average rate of 1.7% on $14 trillion in publicly held debt. Only during WW2 has the Federal government paid an effective interest rate that is as low as it today. World War 2 was an extraordinary circumstance that justified an enormous debt. Following the war, politicians increased taxes on households and businesses to reduce the debt. Here is a graph of the net interest rate paid by the Federal government since 1940.

InterestRate

In 2008, before the run up in debt, the interest rate on the debt was 4.8%. If we were to pay that rate in 2017, the interest would total $672 billion, more than the defense budget. Even at a measly 3%, the interest would be $420 billion.  That is $180 billion greater than the interest paid in 2016.  That money can’t be spent on households, or highways, or education or scientific research.

The early 1990s were filled with political arguments about the debt because the interest paid each year was crippling so many other programs. Presidential candidate Ross Perot made the debt his central platform and took 20% of the vote, more than any independent candidate since Teddy Roosevelt eighty years earlier. Debt matters. In 1994, Republicans took over Congress after 40 years of Democratic rule on the promise that Republicans would be more fiscally responsible. In the chart below, we can see the interest expense each year as a percent of federal expenses.

PctFedExp

Let’s turn again to corporate debt. As I showed last week, corporate debt has doubled in the past ten years.

CorpDebt2016

In December, the analytics company FactSet reported (PDF) that the net debt to earnings ratio of the SP500 (ex-financials) had set another all time high of 1.88. Debt is almost twice the amount of earnings before interest, taxes, debt and amortization (EBITDA). Some financial reporters (here, for example ) use the debt-to-earnings ratio for the entire SP500, including financial companies. Financial companies were highly leveraged with debt before the crisis. In the aftermath and bailout, deleveraging in the financial industry effectively hides the growth of debt by non-financial companies.

What does that tell us? Unable to grow profits at a rate that will satisfy stockholders, corporations have borrowed money to buy back shares. Profits are divided among fewer shares so that the earnings per share increases and the price to earnings (profit), or P/E ratio, looks lower. Corporations have traded stockholder equity for debt, one of the many incidental results of the Fed’s zero interest rate policy for the past eight years.

Encouraged by low interest rates, corporations have gorged on debt. In 2010, the pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson was able to borrow money at a cheaper rate than the Federal government, a sign of the greater trust that investors had in Johnson and Johnson at that time.

Other financial leverage ratios are flashing caution signals, prompting a subdued comment in the latest Federal Reserve minutes ( PDF ) “some standard measures of valuations [are] above historical norms.” Doesn’t sound too concerning, does it?

Each period of optimistic valuation is marked by a belief in some idea. When the bedrock of that idea cracks, doubts grow then form a chasm which swallows trillions of dollars of marketable value.

The belief could be this: passively managed index funds inevitably outperform actively managed funds. What is the difference? Here’s  a one-page comparison table. In 1991, William Sharpe, creator of the Sharpe ratio used to evaluate stocks, made a simple, short case for the assertion that passive will outperform active.

During the post-crisis recovery, passive funds have clearly outperformed active funds. Investors continue to transfer money from active funds and ETFs into index funds and ETFs. What happens when a smaller pool of active managers make buy and sell decisions on stocks, and an ever larger pool of index funds simply copy those decisions? The decisions of those active managers are leveraged by the index funds. Will this be the bedrock belief that implodes? I have no idea.

Market tensions are a normal state of affairs. What is a market tension? A conflict in pricing and risk that makes investors hesitate as though the market had posed a riddle. Perhaps the easiest way to explain these tensions is to give a few examples.

1. Stocks are overvalued but bond prices are likely to go down as interest rates rise. The latest minutes from the Fed indicated that they will start winding down their portfolio of bonds. What this means is that when a Treasury bond matures, they will no longer buy another bond to replace the maturing bond. That lack of bond purchasing will dampen bond prices. Stocks, bonds or cash? Tension.

2. Are there other alternatives? Gold (GLD) is down 50% from its highs several years ago. Inflation in most of the developing world looks rather tame so there is unlikely to be an upsurge in demand for gold. However, a lot of political unrest in the Eurozone could drive investors into gold as a protection against a decline in the euro. Tension.

3. What about real estate? After a run up in 2014, prices in a broad basket (VNQ) of real estate companies has been flat for two years. A consolidation before another surge? However, there is a lot of debt which will put pressure on profits as interest rates go up. Tension.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, we discovered that financial companies, banks, mortgage brokers and ordinary people resolved market tensions through fraud, a lack of caution, and magical thinking. Investors can only hope that there is enough oversight now, that the memories of the crisis are still fresh enough that plain old good sense will prevail.

During the present seven year recovery there have been four price corrections in the Sp500 (Yardeni PDF). A correction is a drop in price of 10 – 20%. The last one was in the beginning of 2016. Contrast this current bull market with the one in the 2000s, when there was only one correction. That one occurred almost immediately after the bear market ended in the fall of 2002. It was really just a part of the bear market. From early 2003 till the fall of 2007, a period of 4-1/2 years, there was no correction, no relief valve for market tensions.

Despite the four corrections and six mini-corrections (5 – 10%) during this recovery, the inflation adjusted price of the SP500 is 50% higher than the index in the beginning of 2007, near the height of the market.  Inflation adjusted sales per share have stayed rather stable and that can be a key metric in the late stages of a bull market. The current price to sales (P/S) ratio is almost as high as at the peak of the dot com boom in 2000 and that ratio may prove to be the better guide. In a December 2007 report, Hussman Funds sounded a warning based on P/S ratios.  Nine years later, this report will help a reader wanting to understand the valuation cycles of the past sixty years.

Caution: Strong Growth Ahead

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their estimate of the fiscal impact of the AHCA, the draft version of the Republican health care reform plan. I’ll take a look at the CBO methodology later in this post. For those who may be tiring of the almost constant focus on the AHCA, let’s turn our attention to some economic indicators.

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CWPI (Constant Weighted Purchasing Index)

February’s survey of purchasing managers (PMI) indicated a broad base of confidence among purchasing managers in most industries. New orders in manufacturing are surging, an expansion more typical in the early stages of recovery after recession. Regardless of how one feels about Trump, there is a sense of renewal in the business community. Consumer Confidence is at record highs. Confident of finding another job, the number of employees who are quitting their jobs is at a 16 year high.

The CWPI is a composite of both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing PMI surveys and is weighted toward the two strongest indicators of future growth, employment and new orders. Since October, the composite has been rising from mild to strong growth.

CWPI201702

For most of 2016, new orders and employment were below their five year average.  Since October, they have been above that average.

EmpNewOrders201702

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Housing

The Housing Market Index released by the National Assn of Homebuilders just set a multi-year record. Housing starts are strong and single family homes under construction are the best in ten years. A popular ETF of homebuilders, XHB, is nearing a recovery high set in August 2015. 58,000 construction employees found work during a particularly warm February. Now the big picture. As a percent of the working age population, housing starts are still at multi-decade lows.

HouseStartsPctWorkPop201702

There has been an upshift toward multi-family units in some cities but, in a broad historical context, these are also near all time lows as a percent of the working age population.

MultiFamPctWorkPop201702

A primary driver of new housing construction, both single and multi-family, is the growth in new households, which is still soft. In 2016, households grew by 1%, below the 30 year average of 1.2%, and far below the 70 year average of 1.7%.

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Consumer Credit

Here’s an interesting data series from the FRED database at the Federal Reserve: the percent of people with subprime credit in each county. Click on the link and zoom in to see the data for a particular county. In New York City, Manhattan has a 16% subprime rate, less than half the 35% rate of the nearby Bronx. Give the link a few seconds to load the data and display the map.

Subprime

On July 1st, the credit rating agencies will remove tax liens and judgments from their records if liens do not include the full name, address, SSN or date of birth of the debtor. This will raise the credit scores of hundreds of thousands of subprime consumers.

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Real Estate Pricing Tool

Trulia has a heat map, by zip code, of the median home price per square foot. I will include this handy tool on the tool page.

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IRS Data

Of the 145 million returns filed, 46 million itemized deductions. Under the Republican draft of tax reform (PDF), almost all deductions would be eliminated in favor of a standard deduction that is almost twice as large as current law, $12,000 vs. $6300. (Deductions, Child Credits ). Half of capital gains, interest and dividends would not be taxed. For most filers, the dreaded 1040 tax form is only 14 lines. Publishers of tax software like Intuit are sure to lobby against such simplicity.

BetterWayTaxForm.png
Health insurance reform is the prerequisite to tax reform.  If House Speaker Paul Ryan encounters strong resistance in his own party to health insurance reform, his tax reform plan will be stymied as well.

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AHCA

This past Monday, the Congressional Budget Office released their “score” (summary report and full PDF report) of the American Health Care Act, or AHCA. Score is a euphemism for the 10 year cost estimate that the CBO customarily gives on proposed legislation.

The CBO was careful to stress the uncertainty of their estimate. A critical component is the human response to changing incentives and the tentativeness of future state legislation. With most major legislation, the CBO estimates the macroeconomic effects. They did not include such an analysis in this report and note that fact. In short, the CBO is saying “take this estimate with a grain of salt.”

The headline number was the amount of people estimated to lose their health insurance over the next ten years – a whopping 24 million. Democrats used this ballpark estimate as a defining fact as they bludgeoned the plan. How did the CBO come up with their numbers?

Medicaid is the health insurance program for low income families and individuals.  When the program was introduced in 1965, enrollment was 1/4 million.  Today, 74 million are on the program.  The federal government and states share the costs of the program; the federal share averages 57%. Under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, low income individuals younger than 65 without children could enroll.  An increase in the income threshold enabled more people to qualify for the program.  The federal share was guaranteed to not fall below 90% of those individuals enrolled under the expansion guidelines.

Medicaid (CMS) reports that 16.3 million people were added to Medicaid under the ACA expansion program and represent almost 75% of all enrollment under ACA. California has 12% of the U.S. population, but accounts for more than 25% of additional enrollees under Medicaid expansion. (State-by-state Medicaid enrollment ) Only 31 states adopted Medicaid expansion. The CBO estimates that those 16.3 million are 50% of the total pool of individuals that would be eligible if all states adopted the expansion program. So the CBO estimate of the total pool is almost 33 million.

Undere current law, the CBO estimates that additional states will adopt expansion so that 80% of the estimated total pool, or 26.4 million, will be enrolled under Medicaid expansion by 2026.  Under the AHCA, the CBO estimates that only 30% of that eligible population of 33 million, about 10 million, will be enrolled as of 2026. 26.4 million (under ACA) – 10 million (under AHCA) equals 16 million whom the CBO estimates will lose coverage under Medicaid. Note that this is a lot of blue sky math.

To summarize the ten year loss estimate under the rollback of Medicaid expansion: 6 million current enrollees and 10 million anticipated enrollees.

Medicaid expansion accounts for 16 million fewer enrollees. Where are the remaining 8 million missing? In the non-group private market. Currently, there are 11.5 – 12 million enrolled in these individual plans, an increase of about 5 million over the 6.6 million enrollees in 2007 (Health and Human Services brief) . The CBO estimates that, in 2018 and 2019, 2 million additional enrollees would take advantage of the ACA subsidies to buy policies. That results in a potential pool of about 14 million. Under the AHCA, the CBO estimates that the non-group private insurance market will return to its former level of 6 – 7 million, a loss of about 8 million.

Voila! 16 million under Medicaid expansion + 8 million in non-group private insurance = 24 million loss.

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Side Note

How do people get their health insurance?
74 million people, about 25% of the population, are enrolled in Medicaid. Half of Medicaid enrollees are children.
55 million, about 16% of the population, are on Medicare.
Over 150 million, or 50% of the population, are enrolled in an employer group plan (Kaiser Family Foundation).
Approximately 27 million, or 9% of the population, are uninsured.

Before the ACA, almost 50 million, or 16% of the population, were classified as uninsured. About 6 million of these uninsured had high deductible insurance plans called catastrophic plans. Offered by large insurance companies, they contained exclusions for pre-existing conditions, did not cover pregnancy, or mental disease, but were adequate for many self-employed tradespeople, contractors, consultants and farmers. (Info) In late 2013, the ACA redefined catastrophic plans by specifying the minimum benefits that a catastrophic plan must offer and, in 2014, began offering these plans through the state health care exchanges.

Portfolio Stability

February 14, 2016

Disturbed by the recent volatility in the stock market, some investors may be tempted to trade in some of their stock holdings for the price stability of a CD or savings account.  After a year of relatively little change, stock prices have oscillated wildly since China began to devalue the yuan at the beginning of the year.

Just this week, the price of JPMorgan Chase (JPM), one of the largest banks in the world, fell almost 5% one day then rose 7% the next.  Such abrupt price moves in a large multi-national company are driven less by fundamentals and more by fear.  As the price of oil fell below $30, hedge fund and investment managers began to doubt the safety of bank loans to energy companies, particularly those smaller companies whose fortunes have risen recently during the fracking boom.  Even if these types of loans were a miniscule portion of JPM’s total loan portfolio, investors remember that the financial crash began in 2007 with growing defaults of home loans that started a financial chain reaction of derivatives that blew up.  Sell, sell, sell, then buy, buy, buy.

Price stability is a term usually associated with measurements of inflation like the Consumer Price Index (CPI). A basket of typical goods is priced each month by the BLS and the changes in those prices are charted.  Each of us has a basket of investment goods that have varying degrees of price stability.  Stock prices vary a lot;  bond prices less so; house prices even less.  Cash type instruments like savings accounts and CDs have no nominal variation.

Each of us desires some degree of stability as we chug through the waters of our lives.  Like a ship we must make a tradeoff between speed and stability.  A stable ship must compromise between the depth and breadth of its keel, that part of the ship which is below water.  A deep keel provides stability but puts the ship at the risk of running aground in shallow water.  A broad keel is stable but increases the water’s drag, slowing the ship. (Cool stuff about ships)

It is no surprise that stocks provide the power to drive our investment ship.  Few investors realize that housing assets provide more power and stability than bonds.  We judge stability by the rate with which the price of an asset changes.  The slower the price change, the more stable the asset.  Over decades, residential housing has better returns and steadier pricing than bonds, although that might surprise readers who remember the housing bubble and its aftermath.

Many investors include the value of their home in their net worth but not necessarily in their investment portfolio and may underestimate the stability of their portfolio. Let’s imagine an investor with $750,000 in stocks, bonds, CDs, savings accounts and the cash value of a life insurance policy.  Let’s say that $375K is invested in stocks, $375K in bonds and cash equivalents.  That appears to be a middle of the road allocation of 50/50 stocks/bonds.  I will use bonds as a stand in for less volatile investments.

Let’s also assume that this investor has a house valued at $215K with no mortgage.  If we add in the $215K value of the house, we have a total portfolio of $965K and a conservative allocation closer to 40/60 stocks/bonds, not the 50/50 allocation using a more standard model.

We arrive at a conservative estimate of a house value based on the income or rental value that the house can generate, not the current market value of the house, which can be more volatile.  In previous posts, I have noted that houses have historically averaged 16x their annual net operating income, which is their gross annual rental income less their non-mortgage operating expenses. For real estate geeks, this multiplier is 1 divided by the cap rate.

Let’s use an example to see how this multiplier works.  Let’s say that the going rent for a modest sized house is $1600 per month and we guesstimate an average 30% operating expense, leaving a net monthly income of $1120.  Multiplying that amount by 12 months = $13,440 annual net operating income.  Multiply that by our 16x multiplier and we get a valuation of $215K.  Depending on location, this house might have a market value of $260K but we use  historic income multiples to calculate a conservative evaluation.

Our revised portfolio provides a more comprehensive perpective on our investment allocation and the stability of our “buckets.” During the past year, we may have seen a 5 – 10% increase in the value of our home, offsetting some of the apparent riskiness of a 10% or 20% move in the stock market.  Adjusting our portfolio assessment to allow for a home’s value might reveal that our stock allocation is actually a bit on the low side after the recent market decline and – quelle horreur! – we should be selling safer assets and buying stocks to maintain our target portfolio balance.  But OMG, what if stocks fall further?!  Then we might have to buy even more stocks to meet our target allocation percentages!  This is the essential strategy of buying low and selling high, yet it is so counterintuitive to our natural impulses.  We buy some assets when we are fearful of them.  We sell other assets when we think they are doing well.

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For anyone interested in housing as a business, the Wall St. Journal published a comprehensive guide, Wall St. Journal Complete Real Estate Investing Guidebook by David Crook in 2006. Recently, Moody’s noted that apartment building cap rates had declined to 5.5%, resulting in a multiplier of 18x that is above historical norms.

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