Real Estate

Most investors hold real estate as a home. Some invest separate in this asset class directly or indirectly via real estate investment trusts (REIT). Are these investments effective diversifiers?

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Illiquid Asset Returns over the Long Run

Are illiquid assets competitive as investments with liquid financial assets over the long run? In his March 2016 paper entitled “The Long-Term Returns to Durable Assets”, Christophe Spaenjers summarizes long-term returns for three types of illiquid assets since the start of the 20th century:

  1. Houses and farmland.
  2. Collectibles (art, stamps, wine and violins).
  3. Gold, silver and diamonds.

He focuses on capital gains but comments on ancillary costs and potential associated income where relevant. Using available monthly price indexes for these assets from a variety of sources during 1900 through 2014, he finds that: Keep Reading

Best Safe Haven ETF?

A subscriber asked which exchange-traded fund (ETF) asset class proxies make the best safe havens for the U.S. stock market as proxied by the S&P 500 Index. To investigate, we consider the the following 12 ETFs as potential safe havens:

Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU)
SPDR Dow Jones REIT ETF (RWR)
iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
iShares 7-10 Year Treasury Bond (IEF)
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond (SHY)
iShares Core US Aggregate Bond (AGG)
iShares TIPS Bond (TIP)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
PowerShares DB Commodity Tracking ETF (DBC)
United States Oil (USO)
iShares Silver Trust (SLV)
PowerShares DB G10 Currency Harvest ETF (DBV)

We consider three ways of testing these ETFs as safe havens for the U.S. stock market based on daily, weekly and monthly return measurement frequencies:

  1. Contemporaneous return correlation with the S&P 500 Index during all market conditions.
  2. Return/performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as specified by the index being below its 200-day/40-week/10-month simple moving average (SMA) for the prior measurement interval.
  3. Return/performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as specified by the index being in drawdown from a prior high-water mark by more than some percentage (baseline -10%) for the prior measurement interval.

Using daily, weekly and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 ETFs from their respective inceptions through January 2016, and contemporaneous daily, weekly and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index from 10 months before the earliest ETF inception through January 2016, we find that: Keep Reading

Reverse Mortgage as Retirement Strategy Component

Which is worse with respect to sustaining retirement income: sacrificing potential investment portfolio growth early, or exposing mortgage debt to interest rates later? In his November 2015 paper entitled “Incorporating Home Equity into a Retirement Income Strategy”, Wade Pfau simulates different strategies for incorporating home equity into a retirement plan (both income assurance and legacy) via a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (reverse mortgage). A reverse mortgage is a non-recourse loan that enables many U.S. homeowners to tap (untaxed) up to $625,000 of home value. The different strategies are:

  1. Ignore Home Equity: A baseline not comparable to the other strategies.
  2. Home Equity as Last Resort: Delay opening a reverse mortgage line of credit until the investment portfolio is exhausted.
  3. Use Home Equity First: Open a reverse mortgage line of credit at the start of retirement and draw upon it first, letting the investment portfolio grow.
  4. Sacks and Sacks Coordination Strategy: Open a reverse mortgage line of credit at the start of retirement. Draw upon it (until exhausted, with no repayments) only after years when the investment portfolio loses money.
  5. Texas Tech Coordination Strategy: Open a reverse mortgage line of credit at the start of retirement. Draws upon it (until exhausted) when investment portfolio balance falls below an estimated 80% of a required wealth glidepath. Pay it down when investment portfolio balance rises above an estimated 80% of required wealth glidepath.
  6. Use Home Equity Last: Open a reverse mortgage line of credit at the start of retirement. Use it only after the investment portfolio is exhausted.
  7. Use Tenure Payment: At the start of retirement, implement a reverse mortgage tenure payment (life annuity) option, with the balance of annual spending drawn from the investment portfolio.

For each strategy, he runs 10,000 Monte Carlo simulations of a 40-year retirement based on historical annual distributions of 10-year bond yield, equity premium, home appreciation, short-term interest rate and inflation rate. Annual withdrawals and investment portfolio rebalancings (to 50% stocks and 50% bonds) occur at the start of each year. Assuming initial home value $500,000, initial tax-deferred investment portfolio value $1 million, annual withdrawal 4% of initial investment portfolio value ($40,000, subsequently adjusted for inflation) and marginal tax rate 25% for investment portfolio withdrawals, he finds that: Keep Reading

Home Prices and the Stock Market

Homes typically represent a substantial fraction of investor wealth. Are there reliable relationships between U.S. home prices and the U.S. stock market? For example, does a rising stock market stimulate home prices? Do falling home prices point to offsetting liquidation of equity positions. Do homes effectively diversify equity holdings? Using monthly levels of the non-seasonally adjusted S&P Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index (Home Price Index) and the S&P 500 Index during January 1975 through June 2015 (about 41 years), and annual median sales prices for existing homes from RealEstateABC.com and the National Association of Realtors spanning 1968 through 2014 (47 years), we find that: Keep Reading

Housing Starts and Future Stock Market Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. housing starts (seasonally adjusted and annualized) as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Release date is about two weeks after the month being reported. Moreover, new releases may substantially revise recent past releases, so that the Census Bureau historical data set effectively has a longer lag. Does this economic indicator convey useful information about future stock market returns? To investigate, we relate future S&P 500 Index returns to housing starts at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for the S&P 500 Index and for seasonally adjusted annualized housing starts over the period January 1959 through September 2014 (621 months), we find that: Keep Reading

New Home Sales and Future Stock Market Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. new home sales (seasonally adjusted and annualized) as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Release date is about three weeks after the month being reported. Moreover, new releases may substantially revise recent past releases, so that the Census Bureau historical data set effectively has a longer lag. Does this economic indicator convey useful information about future stock market returns? To investigate, we relate future S&P 500 Index returns to new home sales at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for the S&P 500 Index and for seasonally adjusted annualized new homes sales over the period January 1963 through September 2014 (621 months), we find that: Keep Reading

Investing in Producing Real Estate

Is producing real estate (farmland, timberland, energy delivery infrastructure and commercial properties) a good investment? In his May 2013 paper entitled “The Performance of Direct Investments in Real Assets: Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Commercial Real Estate”, Martijn Cremers investigates the performance of direct investments in natural resources (farmland and timberland), energy infrastructure Master Limited Partnerships (MLP) and commercial real estate. He considers return, risk‐return trade‐off, downside risk, diversification benefits relative to U.S. stocks and U.S. Treasury bonds, exposure to stock market shocks and inflation hedging power. Data for natural resources and commercial real estate investments are voluntarily reported by members (mostly pension funds) of a U.S. trade association. These data include property management fees. Data for energy infrastructure investments are based on the Alerian MLP Infrastructure Index, reflecting the performance of 25 publicly traded MLPs. Using quarterly and annual investment performance data during 1978 through 2012 for real estate and monthly data during 1996 through 2012 for energy infrastructure, he finds that: Keep Reading

Simple Tests of RWX as Diversifier

A subscriber suggested testing the diversification power of SPDR Barclays International Real Estate (RWX) as a distinct asset class. To check, we add RWX to the following mix of asset class proxies (the same used in “Simple Asset Class ETF Momentum Strategy”):

PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking (DBC)
iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index (EEM)
iShares MSCI EAFE Index (EFA)
SPDR Gold Shares (GLD)
iShares Russell 1000 Index (IWB)
iShares Russell 2000 Index (IWM)
SPDR Dow Jones REIT (RWR)
iShares Barclays 20+ Year Treasury Bond (TLT)
3-month Treasury bills (Cash)

First, per the findings of “Asset Class Diversification Effectiveness Factors”, we measure the average monthly return for RWX and the average pairwise correlation of RWX monthly returns with the monthly returns of the above assets. Then, we compare cumulative returns and basic monthly return statistics for equally weighted (EW), monthly rebalanced portfolios with and without RWX. We ignore rebalancing frictions, which would be about the same for the alternative portfolios. Using adjusted monthly returns for RWX and the above nine asset class proxies from April 2007 (first return available for RWX) through April 2013 (73 monthly returns), we find that: Keep Reading

Predicting Returns on Real Estate

Are returns on real estate usefully predictable? In the June 2012 version of their book chapter entitled “Forecasting Real Estate Prices”, Eric Ghysels, Alberto Plazzi, Walter Torous and Rossen Valkanov examine the evidence of predictability in U.S. residential and commercial real estate markets. They review methodologies used in constructing widely used real estate price indexes. They then survey the key empirical findings from academic studies of short-run momentum and long-run reversals in real estate returns. Finally, they test the ability of different variables (past stock market return, stock market dividend yield, 3-month Treasury bill (T-bill) yield relative to its 12-month moving average, inflation rate, term spread between 5-year and 3-month maturities, combination of forward interest rates and industrial production growth) to predict real estate returns as calculated from several price indexes and a real estate investment trust (REIT) index. Using monthly and quarterly index levels for the real estate market proxies and values for the predictive variables as available, focusing on 1991 through 2010, they find that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on How to Buy Real Estate Overseas

Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of the Live and Invest Overseas group, opens her 2013 book, How to Buy Real Estate Overseas, by stating: “The idea of diversifying your investments, your assets, your life and your future overseas can seem frightening, intimidating, even paralyzing. Could you really do it? Yes, you could. I say that based on 30 years of experience at this.” The book takes the perspective of a U.S. citizen seeking to diversify assets via direct ownership of non-U.S. real estate. Using examples based on her experience investing in real estate in 20 countries and operating businesses in seven, she concludes that: Keep Reading

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