“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” That’s how Warren Buffett described his investment strategy in a 1986 letter to shareholders. It’s easy to understand, but hard to implement because it takes courage.
Suppose over 30 years there are three business cycles. Maybe 20 years involve steady recovery and predictable progress. Maybe five years have irrational exuberance. Assume the other five years have a combination of fear, anger, despair, and panic, like now. Then it’s scary to do the wealth building thing.
Baron Rothschild offered the blunt directive, “Buy when there’s blood in the street.” Then he made a fortune buying during the investor panic that followed Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
You don’t need courage when the vast majority cheer for good and you. You don’t need courage when the rules are clear and evil is promptly penalized. You need courage when death and destruction are omnipresent and when evil seems to escape without consequence. Courage is not life without fear. Courage is acting despite fear.
In the fall of 2019, we knew we were in the nation’s longest recorded recovery. Investors were skittish about the recession that might come, someday, for some unknown cause. Unbeknownst to us, the COVID-19 virus was spring-loaded and aimed at the world.
By March 2020, the virus was the lead story of almost every newscast. Soon, America had Great Depression level unemployment. The wise understood this recession might be the worst downturn in our lifetime. What an awful possibility! How did they react?
Here’s the truth. Few people are showing courage. Most will lose wealth. The brave and the wise will make reputations and build wealth.
My day job involves talking to and serving millionaires and richer. My clients are among the globe’s most affluent 3%. Many are financially independent. They don’t have to work next week if they don’t want to. To serve them well I don’t have to agree with them, but it is vital that I understand them.
In the last few weeks more than 80% of the millionaires I talked with have said they intend to sit still and wait for stability to return. Many have the mental picture of hunkering down in the backyard, where almost no disruption can harm them.
Another image seems more relevant to me. Each household is in a boat. The vessel is moved by the wind and the currents. If the captain doesn’t use the available power and the rudder, the vessel drifts.
I like, respect, and in many cases, admire my clients. But most of the people that I serve are drifting. Drifting means that the currents move the boat. Choosing inaction means accepting whatever outcome occurs. I’ve drifted in kayaks and sailboats. When I let that happen, the wind and current often carried me to places I didn’t want to go. Millions of decision-makers are drifting.
Roughly once a decade there are spectacular opportunities. Most of those opportunities come to most people during recessions. I hate recessions! I didn’t volunteer for this virus. We’ve all been drafted into the virus and the recession.
For most of the last generation the San Diego apartment market is been a seller’s market. There were frequently five and sometimes ten “wanna be” buyers for every seller. That was then.
This is now. For a few months, the San Diego apartment market will be a buyer’s market. In 2023 hundreds will regret that they did not buy when prices were at 2019 levels or lower. The stock market dropped by more than 1/3 and then partially rebounded. I don’t expect most San Diego County apartments to fall by more than 10%, but they could slip by 5%.
A very few escrows will close for less than 90% of the February 2020 prices. Those few brave buyers may lock in five years of profit the day they close escrow. People who are sitting still, 90% of the owners, will never know what their money might buy.
Stick with me. Every year I participate in half marathons and triathlons. Hills slow every athlete. The fit widen their lead climbing the hills. The recession is awful, yet a few people will find an ethical way to gain advantage during this uncertainty. Woody Allen said 80% of success is showing up. The most successful investors show up as potential buyers during recessions.
The vast majority will hunker down in their boat, unwilling to consider the possibility of using their powerful cash. In 2023 most of them will regret not having bought by the end of 2020. In 2023 will you be among the few, like the fit runners, who widen the gap from the rest of the pack? Or will you be in the mob, moaning about how hard it was to slog up recession hill?
In the last recession my family sat with several years cash. We were scared. We bought nothing. We drifted. Other folks captured half price condos and houses.
For more than a decade I’ve regretted my cowardice. Today we put a property under contract. We don’t expect a spectacular return, but at least we’re paddling hard toward our chosen future. In this recession, we’re not drifting; we’re paddling. What about your household?
If you’re among the courageous few who seek profit in spite of this awful mess, please contact me, QUICKLY.
Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.”