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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?

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:

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Returns on U.S. Residential Real Estate

Personal residences represent the largest asset class allocation for many U.S. investors. What return do they generate, how do their returns relate to stock market returns and how do they vary across Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA)? In their January 2019 paper entitled “The Cross-Section of Expected Housing Returns”, Esther Eiling, Erasmo Giambona, Ricardo Lopez Aliouchkin and Patrick Tuijp examine how U.S. residential real estate returns vary across MSAs. They also examine relationships between MSA residential real estate returns and both U.S. stock market returns and overall U.S. residential real estate returns. Using monthly Zillow Home Value Index levels for 571 MSAs, zip code population data from the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. stock market returns during April 1996 through December 2016, they find that:

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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 following 12 ETFs as potential safe havens:

Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU)
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)
Vanguard REIT ETF (VNQ)
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 or monthly returns:

  1. Contemporaneous return correlation with the S&P 500 Index during all market conditions at daily and monthly frequencies.
  2. Performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as defined by the index being below its 10-month simple moving average (SMA10) at the end of the prior month.
  3. Performance during S&P 500 Index bear markets as defined by the index falling -20%, -15% or -10% below its most recent peak at the end of the prior month.

Using daily and monthly dividend-adjusted closing prices for the 12 ETFs since respective inceptions, and contemporaneous daily and monthly levels of the S&P 500 Index since 10 months before the earliest ETF inception, all through November 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

New Home Sales and Future Stock Market/REIT Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. new home sales 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 returns for the broad U.S. stock market or for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT)? To investigate, we relate returns for the S&P 500 Index (SP500) and for the FTSE NAREIT All REITs total return index (REITs) to changes in new home sales at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for SP500 and for seasonally adjusted annualized new homes sales starting January 1963, and for REITs starting December 1971, all through September 2018, we find that: Keep Reading

Housing Starts and Future Stock Market/REIT Returns

Each month, the Census Bureau announces and the financial media report U.S. housing starts as a potential indicator of future U.S. stock market returns. Release date is about two weeks after the month being reported. 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 returns for the broad U.S. stock market or for Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT)? To investigate, we relate returns for the S&P 500 Index (SP500) and for the FTSE NAREIT All REITs total return index (REITs) to changes in housing starts at the monthly release frequency. Using monthly data for SP500 and for seasonally adjusted annualized housing starts starting January 1959, and for REITs starting December 1971, all through September 2018, we find that:

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Rough Net Worth Growth Benchmarks

How fast should individuals plan to grow net worth as they age? To investigate, we examine median levels of household (1) total net worth and (2) net worth excluding home equity from several vintages of U.S. Census Bureau data. We make the following head-of-household age cohort assumptions:

  • “Less than 35 years” means about age 30.
  • “35 to 44 years” means about age 39.
  • “45 to 54 years” means about age 49.
  • “55 to 64 years” means about age 59.
  • “65 to 69 years” means about age 67.
  • “70 to 74 years” means about age 72.
  • “75 and over” means about age 78.

We also assume that wealth growth between these ages is constant via compound annual growth rate (CAGR) calculations. Using median levels of total net worth and net worth excluding home equity from 2000. 2005, 2010 and 2014 Census Bureau summary tables, we find that: Keep Reading

Worldwide Long-run Returns on Housing, Equities, Bonds and Bills

How do housing, equities and government bonds/bills perform worldwide over the long run? In their February 2018 paper entitled “The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015”, Òscar Jordà, Katharina Knoll, Dmitry Kuvshinov, Moritz Schularick and Alan Taylor address the following questions:

  1. What is the aggregate real return on investments?
  2. Is it higher than economic growth rate and, if so, by how much?
  3. Do asset class returns tend to decline over time?
  4. Which asset class performs best?

To do so, they compile long-term annual gross returns from market data for housing, equities, government bonds and short-term bills across 16 developed countries (Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the U.S.). They decompose housing and equity performances into capital gains, investment incomes (yield) and total returns (sum of the two). For equities, they employ capitalization-weighted indexes to the extent possible. For housing, they model returns based on country-specific benchmark rent-price ratios. Using the specified annual returns for 1870 through 2015, they find that:

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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

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

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

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