April 20-April 24, 2020

a look back at this week’s essays…

The Corona Economy, Part I:

Will America Survive It? 

The trouble with mixing ethics and economics is not that they are incompatible. Quite the contrary, they are inextricably linked. The problem is that if you talk about them simultaneously, you never get anywhere.

Click here to read more.

My Last Essay on the Coronavirus (I Promise!)

5 Important Questions; 5 Conclusions 

Today, I’m going to try to answer the question of how deadly this novel virus is as part of what I promise will be my final essay on the virus itself.

Click here to read more.

The Corona Economy, Part II

Will America Survive It? 

America will soon be “opening up again.” Not because Donald Trump wants it to.  Nor will it happen because we’ve passed the peak of the contagion. (There will be a second wave.) State governors will have lots to say about it, but they won’t actually make the important decisions. America’s people – its entrepreneurs, professionals, corporate executives, and employees will.

Click here to read more.


quick quiz 

  1. How much do you remember about this week’s “Words to the Wise”? Use each of these words in a sentence:

* peremptory (4/20/20)

* perfervid (4/22/20)

* hyperbole (4/24/20)

  1. Fill in the blanks in this week’s quotations:

* “_____ is a subject that does not greatly respect one’s wishes.” – Nikita Khrushchev


* “Imagine preventing health crises, not just _____ them.” – Nathan Wolfe


* “Performance is better than promise. Exuberant _____ are cheap.” – Joseph Pulitzer (4/24/20)

  1. Are these statements True or False?

* In 1920, quarantined in the South of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to a dear friend describing what he was going through. (4/20/20)

* Coronavirus is the biggest killer in America. (4/22/20)

*The Dow Jones Industrial Average has not yet rebounded from its pre-Great Depression levels. (4/24/20)


recommended links from this week’s blog 

* “Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis” LINK

* “Provisional Death Counts for COVID-19” LINK

* “COVID-19 risk factors: Age, underlying conditions, genetics, and unknowns” LINK

* “How deadly is the new coronavirus?” LINK

* “Odds of Hospitalization” LINK

* “The Deadliest Viruses on Earth” LINK

* “Beware of the World’s Most Deadly Infectious Disease: Tuberculosis” LINK

* “Causes of Death – Our World in Data” LINK

* “Perspectives on the Pandemic, Episode 2”

* “Perspectives on the Pandemic, Episode 3” LINK

* “List of human disease case fatality rates” LINK

* “Matchstick Art” – Got some spare time on your hands? Here’s an idea… LINK

* “How COVID-19 Kills – I’m a Surgeon – and Why We Can’t Save You” LINK

* “Happy Feet!



Your Question:

What do you think about real estate as an investment, given what seems like an inevitable recession and possibly worse?

My Answer:

It depends on the sort of real estate investments we are talking about. If I had a large position in REITs, for example, I’d be concerned because REITs are basically stocks, and the value of stocks is half-dependent on the trust investors have in the stock market generally. If stocks go down further and stay down for five or 10 years, some of the underlying businesses would almost surely go bust.

If, like a good friend of mine (who became very wealthy through real estate) I had a large position in high-end malls, I’d be very concerned. If we go into a deep recession, some of those properties will be all but abandoned. I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes now.

If I were invested in higher-end residential properties, I’d be worried, too. Generally speaking, the more expensive properties carry more debt. (In 2017, the most recent available data, West Virginia had the highest share of “free and clear” ownership at 54%. Maryland and the District of Columbia were on the other end of the spectrum with rates of 27% and 24%, respectively.) More debt means less resiliency in tough economic times and a greater risk of default.

And if I were invested in hotels, I’d definitely be worried. Wait! I am invested in hotels! My worry is not for myself, because I limited my investment to what I can afford to lose. I’m worried about the managing partner. He is jumping through hoops to keep the doors open right now. If things do not go back to “normal” by, say, a year from now, he’s going to be in trouble.

What I’m not much worried about are the apartments I own in working-class neighborhoods (usually referred to as “workforce housing”). The rent rolls would certainly go down in an extended recession. But since my total debt load on those properties is less than 5%, I’m confident I’ll be able to maintain them even at a rent reduction of 40% or more. Plus, the asset value should return when the economy returns because there won’t be much building during a serious recession.

The other type of real estate I favor is buildings that house businesses I own. So long as those businesses stay in business, I’m not worried about rental payments because they account for less than 5% (and usually only 2%) of expenses.

And finally, I’m not worried about my land-banking portfolio. It isn’t designed to have an income, and the maintenance costs, because of the locations, are very low. I will hold onto these properties until prices start climbing. I’m in no rush.

What all this amounts to is this: When it comes to real estate, I’ve always been very conservative. I invest primarily in income-producing properties for which there will always be a demand. And I use leverage (mortgages) on a temporary and limited basis.

My formula is not optimal for increasing wealth in an up market. But it is good for reducing my exposure to a long down market.

Have a question for me? Submit it on our Contact Us page. 

A look back at the stock market LINK