Speaking at an event in the European Union yesterday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell once again took Congress to task for not providing a fiscal stimulus package. Speaking at a virtual panel at the European Central Bank's Forum on Central Banking, he suggested that both Congress and the Fed will have to do more to support the United States economy.
He also suggested that the pandemic would remake the workforce with more of an emphasis on technology. That's terrible news for lower-end service workers in our society. Powell said, "Even after the unemployment rate goes down and there's a vaccine, there's going to be a probably substantial group of workers who are going to need support as they're finding their way in the post-pandemic economy because it's going to be different in some fundamental ways."
Mr. Powell also said that the most significant risk to the economy remains COVID-19. He told the panel, "We've got new cases at a record level. We've seen a number of states begin to reimpose limited activity restrictions, and people may lose confidence that it's safe to go out. We've said from the beginning that the economy will not fully recover until people are confident that it's safe to resume activities involving crowds and people."
He is not as excited about the near term prospects of the vaccine as the stock market has been this week saying, "That is certainly good and welcome news for the medium term but significant challenges and uncertainties remain about timing production, distribution and the efficacy for different groups, and from our standpoint, it's just too soon to assess with any confidence the implications of the news for the path of the economy, especially in the near term."
We are flipping our approach to bank stock to more of a buy in the dip in the best names approach. We came into this pandemic with high cash balances and have spent very little of the stash so far. We just made that decision this week, so we have not had a dip yet worth buying, but I am hopeful.
The vaccine was the biggest driver of that reversal, as well as the sharp decline in the number of loans in forbearance or deferral at community banks.
The number of former mutual thrifts with high capital levels at ridiculous valuations also played a role in the decision.
Like the Fed Chair, my biggest concern about the United States right now is COVID-19. We are seeing cases rise, and despite the many outright denials and claims that it is all a result of more testing, hospitalization rates are rising right on schedule.
Some states are renewing lockdowns and restrictions, and we could have a rough couple of months ahead of us.
I am still not all that comfortable with reliance on 535 jackasses in DC to pass the needed stimulus bill, but I think the pressure for them to get something done will become enormous. The bankers and big commercial real estate players that have been generous supporters of the GOP have the most to lose here if the stimulus does not get done.
I am pretty sure that they all can get Mitch McConnell on the phone to express their opinion.
I am equally certain that all the Union Heads whose members are outing pressure on them for relief, as well as the state and local government agency heads that are running out of cash, have Nancy Pelosi's number as well.
I think the banking system is well-capitalized in the long term, and bankers have been using stringent criteria to make loans during this crisis. I would probably avoid banks with a large hotel or retail loan portfolio for the moment, but multifamily and single-family residential loans should end up working out just fine.
Speaking of Real Estate, many real estate investment trusts have been rocked by sellers this year. When I look at the First Trust S&P REIT Index Fund (FRI), the industry is off the March lows but still down about 13% on the year. The retail investor enthusiasm of REITs has not returned.
This is showing up in the pricing for some closed-end funds that invest in REITs. They are down on the year, and buyers have not returned. They are trading at large discounts the value of the REITs they own and are paying a large dividend.
The largest discount right now is in shares of CBRE Clarion Global Real Estate Income (IGR)/ The fund is down about 20%, and the shares trade at an 18% discount to the net asset value. That implies that the real estate owned by the REITs they own has declined by more than 30% this year. I might buy that if this thing was full of REITs that owned class B and C malls or mid-market small town hotels, but that's not the case.
Their most significant holdings include cell towers, data centers, warehouses, and other properties that increased due to the pandemic. They hold German Apartment REITs that are doing fine since the German government has a much more generous social system that we do, and collecting rents is not an issue. Equity Residential is in the top 10, and they are collecting 97% of expected rents in their high-end apartment buildings.
Roughly half of the portfolio is in the top ten holdings or preferred stocks that will be just fine and should not trade at such a massive discount.
CBRE Clarion is one of the largest real estate investment firms in the world. Their parent company, CBRE Group, is one of the largest commercial real estate services and advisory companies globally. These people know real estate.
There are three ways to make money with a REIT closed end fund. First, the REIT will eventually recover, and the share will go higher. The last time this fund had a down year because of REIT weakness, the shares soared by 40% the following year.
I expect similar results this time as well.
We can also make money when the discount to NAV narrows. That can add several percentage points to the annual return. Trading back to even with the NAV would be a 30%+ total return.
That total returns include the third way to make money. CBRE Clarion Global Real Estate Income Funds pays a dividend of 9.51%, and shareholders get paid monthly.
This closed-end fund is stupid cheap.
The story is almost exactly the same with shares of the Aberdeen Global Premier Properties (AWP). The discount is a little less at 14.8%, but it is still way too high for a portfolio of high-quality real estate. The top ten list is pretty much the same except for a larger allocation to industrial and warehouse REITs.
Remember that industrial and warehouse REITs are code words for e-commerce real estate.
The fund also has a healthy chunk of Alexandria Real Estate Equities, which owns life sciences buildings that leases office and lab space to the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. Almost all of the companies working on a coronavirus vaccine are tenants of Alexandria Real Estate.
Aberdeen Global Premier Properties also rocketed higher by more than 40% after the fund's last down year.
This fund also pays a monthly dividend that is 9.70% yield right now.
If you need income, these should be on your list. If you know anyone that needs income, tell them about it.
If you share my belief that COVID-19 is terrible but not the end of the world, you should buy these funds. Real Estate will come back, and when it does, these funds will explode higher. Buy them on down days and sit back and enjoy the ride-and the dividends.
If COVID-19 is the end of the world, I don't think we will be all that concerned about how are REIT closed-end funds are performing.
I looked at the college football schedule for the weekend, and there is not one game that looks like must-see TV. I suspect I will spend the day Saturday reading research with maybe Notre Dame -Boston College as background noise. Navy is postponed by COVID fears again this weekend, as are 11 other college games.
That is a little disconcerting. As we have more of these kids testing positive, the higher the chances of something of a horrific nature to happen. I do love me some college football, but these kids aren't getting paid. It would be awful if some young lives were ruined or ended to keep University Budgets afloat.
There is always something to research, so that should keep me busy. Although banks, closed-end funds, and REITs are my favorites, I will study and test anything that seems interesting. Ontap, this weekend is using some of Andrew Los work along with a highly unconventional twist of John Bollinger's approach to identify opportunities to buy and sell sector funds.
Some ongoing projects combine value and momentum strategies and a sector-focused dividend growth idea is under review right now. That, along with the newest Mitch Rapp book by Kyle Mills, the new Lucky John book from Mark Stone (a fun series. Not literature by any stretch but fun reads), and the new Grisham should keep me busy enough.
Maybe we can even sneak in an early beach trip with a certain blonde headed granddaughter.