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Please note: The Frank Talk articles listed below contain historical material. The data provided was current at the time of publication. For current information regarding any of the funds mentioned in these presentations, please visit the appropriate fund performance page.

This AI Company Is the Future of Gold Exploration
February 11, 2019

 

Goldspot

Gold mining is one of the very oldest human occupations. The earliest known underground gold mine, in what is now the country of Georgia, dates back at least 5,000 years, when people were just starting to develop written language.

Over the centuries, a number of innovations have emerged that disrupted and forever changed how we explore and mine for gold and other metals. Think dynamite, or the steam engine.

Lately, however, innovation has slowed. Mining companies are in cost-cutting mode, and many producers have favored generating short-term cash flow, often to the detriment of longer-term value. In last year’s “Tracking the Trends” report, Deloitte analysts observed that “miners from 50 years ago would find little has changed if they entered today’s mines, a situation that certainly doesn’t hold true in other industries.”

Mining has consistently underspent in innovation relative to other industries
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Consider the earth-shattering change that’s taken place in oil and gas over the past two decades. Fracking and horizontal drilling have completely revolutionized how we extract resources from the ground, making hard-to-reach oil and natural gas accessible for the first time.

No equivalent technology exists in precious metals. Some companies are now using cutting-edge technology like blockchain to improve supply chain efficiency and transparency, but to date there’s no “gold fracking” method. As a result, metal ore grades are decreasing, and large-scale gold discoveries are becoming fewer and farther between.

One company thinks it has the formula to reverse this trend. I think it could be sitting on a gold mine, pun fully intended.

Meet Goldspot Discoveries

“Some people call it ‘peak gold,’ but I tend to think of it more as ‘peak discovery,’” says Denis Laviolette, the brains behind Goldspot Discoveries, a first-of-its-kind quant shop that aims to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to revolutionize the mineral exploration business.

A geologist by trade, Denis conceived of Goldspot while serving as a mining analyst with investment banking firm Pinetree Capital. His vision, as he described it to me last week, was to disrupt mineral exploration as profoundly as Amazon disrupted retail and Uber the taxi business.

Central Banks Haven't Bought This Much Gold Since Nixon Was President

“We have more data at our fingertips than ever before, yet new discoveries have been on the decline despite ever increasing exploration spending on data collection,” Denis continues. “We believe Goldpsot can change that. Harnessing a mountain’s worth of historic and current global mining data, AI can identify patterns necessary to fingerprint geophysical, geochemical, lithological and structural traits that correlate to mineralization. Advances in AI, cloud computing, open source algorithms, machine learning and other technologies have made it possible for us to aggregate all this data and accurately target where the best spots to explore are.”

Hence the name Goldspot—though I should point out that Denis considers the Montreal-based company “commodity agnostic,” meaning it collects and aggregates data for all metals, including base metals, not just gold.

Moneyball for Mining

Denis has the record to back up his extraordinary claims. In 2016, Goldspot took second place in the Integra Gold Rush Challenge, a competition with as many as 4,600 worldwide applicants. After consolidating more than 30 years of historical mining and exploration data into a 3D geological model, the company was able to identify several target zones with the highest potential for gold mineralization in Nevada’s Jerritt Canyon district, among several others.

Moneyball

Goldspot’s targeting approach was a complete success. New zones were discovered by AI, validating the company’s models of finding patterns in the data that humans alone couldn’t have seen.

The exercise stands as an example of what can be unlocked when machine learning is applied to geoscience.

“When I first entered the field, geologists were still using pen and paper, and I’m not even that old,” Denis says. “We were paying for all this data, but no one was really doing anything with it.”

 

Denis’ quant approach to discovery reminds me a lot of Billy Beane, the former general manager of the Oakland A’s and subject of the 2003 bestseller and 2011 film Moneyball. Beane was among the first in sports to pick players, many of them overlooked and undervalued, based on quantitative analysis. His strategy worked better than anyone anticipated.

Although the A’s had one of the lowest combined salaries in Major League Baseball—only the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays had lower salaries—the team finished the 2002 season first in the American League West.

Similarly, Goldspot seeks to help mining companies cut some of the costs and risks associated with discovering high-quality deposits—something it’s managed to do for a number of its clients and partners, including Hochschild Mining, McEwen Mining and Yamana Gold.

And speaking of teams, Denis has assembled an impressive roster of PhDs and experts in geology, physics, data science and other fields.

But Wait, There’s More…

The company, not yet three years old, does more than assist in exploration. It also invests in and acquires royalties from exploration companies, similar to the business model practiced by successful firms such as Franco-Nevada, Wheaton Precious Minerals, Royal Gold and others.>

The difference, though, is that Goldspot has developed an AI-powered screening platform to identify the very best and potentially most profitable investment opportunities.

For this, Goldspot has also received accolades. It was one of only five finalists in Goldcorp’s 2017 #DisruptMining challenge, for “revolutionizing the investment decision model by using the Goldspot Algorithm to stake acreage, acquire projects and royalties, and invest in public vehicles to create a portfolio of assets with the greatest reward to risk ratio.”

I’ll certainly have more to say about Goldspot in the coming weeks. For now, I’m excited to share with you that the company is scheduled to begin trading on the TSX Venture Exchange early this week. The future belongs to those that can mine data and harness the power of AI, and I’m convinced that what Denis and his partners have created fits that bill. Congratulations, and the best of luck to Denis Laviolette and Goldspot Discoveries!

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of (12/31/2018): Integra Resources Corp., Hochschild Mining PLC, McEwen Mining Inc., Yamana Gold Inc., Franco-Nevada Corp., Wheaton Precious Metals Corp., Royal Gold Inc.

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Will the China Bulls Turn Out for the Year of the Pig?
February 5, 2019

Happy Chinese New Year 2019 the year of the pig

Happy Year of the Pig! This week marks the start of China’s Spring Festival, during which an estimated 3 billion trips will be made using the country’s massive transportation network of roads and rail. That figure is a slight rise from the same period last year, despite slowing economic growth prompted by trade tensions with the U.S. and a strengthening dollar.

Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, forecasts that more than 400 million people will travel across the country for family reunions, while some 7 million will go abroad.

To prepare for the additional travel demand, China built as many as 10 new railways at the end of last year and expanded the length of its high-speed rail system to 29,000 kilometers, or around 18,000 miles. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) expects more than 532,000 flights to be scheduled during the week-long travel rush, a 12 percent increase from last year, according to China Daily.

China has nearly 220 billion dollars in new infrastructure projects since the start of 2018

Since the start of 2018, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top economic planner, has approved 27 large-scale infrastructure projects, totaling nearly $220 billion. Among the largest is the expansion of the Shanghai Metro, already the world’s largest transit system by route length. The $44 billion project, to be completed by 2023, will add six new subway lines and three intercity railways. 

Looking for a Resolution to the Trade Dispute

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that much of the news involving China right now is negative. Its manufacturing sector is slowing, and economic growth in 2018 was at a nearly-30-year low.

I believe this is only a temporary lull as we await a resolution to the U.S.-China trade war and a fall in the U.S. dollar, which has made American goods more expensive to its trade partners. So I remain bullish on China and the surrounding region, and I believe now might be an advantageous time to gain exposure.

The U.S. and China reportedly made “tremendous progress” during last week’s high-stakes talks between President Donald Trump and China’s Vice Premier Liu He. Although technology and intellectual property rights remain sticking points, China is slated to “substantially” increase its purchases of U.S. crops, energy and services.

Case in point: Just two days after the January 31 talks, Chinese state-run agricultural conglomerate COFCO Group and Sinograin reported purchasing at least 1 million tons each of American soybeans. This marked the Asian country’s first order of soybeans from the U.S. since summer of last year, when purchases were halted as a result of escalating trade tariffs.

Official White House photo

The good news here is that the U.S. and China appear to be working toward a resolution. Official Chinese outlets called the talks candid, specific and fruitful. President Trump affirmed that, although “much work remains to be done,” progress is being made.

Looking ahead, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will meet at least once with Chinese President Xi Jinping sometime later this month. And Trump is reportedly considering planning a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, possibly near the time of the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Ongoing U.S.-China Tension Expected to Divert Trade to the European Union

I’m confident that a resolution will come sooner rather than later, as neither side has anything to gain from continued trade hostility. In fact, they have much to lose. This week, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTD) estimated that the tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing will do very little to protect the respective economies, and that a majority of the bilateral trade will instead be diverted to firms in other countries, most of them European. Those in Mexico, Japan and Canada would also stand to benefit.

US China trade tariffs expected to divert trade to other countries
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“Overall, European Union exports are those likely to increase the most, capturing about $70 billion of the United States-China bilateral trade—$50 billion of Chinese exports to the U.S., and $20 billion of U.S. exports to China,” the report reads.

I think it’s safe to say that neither China nor the U.S. wants this, which drives me to believe that we’ll see a satisfactory resolution in the coming weeks. Hopefully then China’s manufacturing sector and gross domestic product (GDP) growth can recover.

How to Gain Exposure to China and the Surrounding Region

An excellent way to participate, I believe, is with our China Region Fund (USCOX), which provides investors access to one of the world’s fastest growing regions.  

China and the surrounding region has experienced many changes since USCOX opened in 1994, but we believe the region continues to hold further investment opportunities. Many Asian countries possess characteristics similar to the U.S. prior to the industrial revolution: a thriving, young workforce; migration from rural to urban areas; and shifting sentiment toward consumption.

Curious to learn more? Explore and discover the China Region Fund (USCOX) today by clicking here!

 

Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by visiting www.usfunds.com or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, Distributor. U.S. Global Investors is the investment adviser.

Foreign and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and less public disclosure, as well as economic and political risk. By investing in a specific geographic region, a regional fund’s returns and share price may be more volatile than those of a less concentrated portfolio.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the China Region Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 12/31/2018: Ctrip.com International Ltd. 0.00%, COFCO Group 0.00%, Sinograin Oils Corp. 0.00%.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

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Central Banks Haven't Bought This Much Gold Since Nixon Closed the Gold Window
February 4, 2019

Central Banks Haven't Bought This Much Gold Since Nixon Was President

Something big is happening in the gold market right now, and nowhere is that more apparent than in central banks of emerging economies. Last year was a watershed in the size of official gold purchases, as banks added an incredible 651.5 tonnes (worth some $27.7 billion) to their holdings, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). Not only is this a remarkable 74 percent change from 2017, but it’s also the most on record going back to 1971, when President Richard Nixon brought a formal end to the gold standard. In the final quarter of 2018 alone, central banks purchased as much as 195 tonnes, the most for any quarter on record, according to leading precious metal research firm GFMS.

Net Central Bank Gold Purchases in Fourth Quarter 2018 Were Highest on Record
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As I’ve shared with you before, central banks have been net buyers of the yellow metal since 2010 in an effort to diversify their reserves away from the U.S. dollar. Last week, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue with SmallCapPower’s Vasudha Sharma. You can watch the conversation by clicking here.

Most Western nations already have a comfortable weighting in gold relative to their total reserves, so the demand is almost strictly from emerging markets. Among the biggest purchasers last year were Russia, Turkey and Kazakhstan, and we also saw China add to its holdings for the first time since 2016. Meanwhile, Hungary, Poland, India and a number of other countries took deliveries for the first time this century.

Central Banks Recognize Gold as an Effective Diversifier and Store of Value

With gold representing a whopping 74 percent of U.S. reserves, the Federal Reserve has historically had the largest position among global central banks. (Venezuela’s weighting, at 76 percent, has lately roared past the U.S., but that’s thanks solely to hyperinflation and its rapidly deteriorating economy. I’ll have more to say on Venezuela later.)

Other countries have a lot of catching up to do—i.e., gold buying—to get to the same level of diversification. Russia, for instance, has the fifth most gold in the world at 2,066.2 tonnes, but this amount represents only 17.6 percent of its total reserves. In sixth place is China, whose holdings (a reported 1,842.6 tonnes) represent a very small 2.3 percent of reserves.

Below you can see Russia’s ongoing strategy of “de-dollarization.” To date, the Eastern European country has liquidated nearly its entire position in U.S. Treasuries to fund its rotation into gold. According to the WGC, Russia bought 274.3 tonnes in 2018, its greatest amount on record, and the fourth consecutive year of purchases above 200 tonnes.

Russian Gold Reserves Have Grown as a Result of De-Dollarization of its Reserves
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Gold Is the Only Thing Left of Value in Venezuela

Gold made even more headlines last week as it relates to Venezuela. The beleaguered South American country, as you probably know, is in the midst of a potential transfer of power, from current president and dictator Nicolas Maduro to the more centrist Juan Guaido, whom the U.S., European Union and other world governments have recognized as the de facto head of state.

Since the U.S. and other countries have imposed heavy sanctions on Venezuela and its oil industry, the cash-strapped country has had to rely on its gold holdings to make international bond payments, mostly to Russia and China. But the days of Maduro’s plundering of Venezuela’s hard currency might be numbered, and not just because he could be removed from power soon.

Central Banks Haven't Bought This Much Gold Since Nixon Was President Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro (left) shakes hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both strongmen's countries have a strong fondness and appetite for gold.
Photo: Kremlin | Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Last week Guaido sent a letter to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and the Bank of England (BoE), urging them not to send $1.2 billion from any sale of Venezuela’s gold reserves—held in the BoE’s vaults—to Maduro’s “illegitimate and kleptocratic regime,” according to the Financial Times. “Maduro has stolen a huge quantity of state assets,” including Venezuelan gold, a part of the letter reads. “There is no doubt that he will, if allowed, also steal the assets held by the Bank of England, which rightly ought to be saved to support the recovery of Venezuela.” The bank has honored Guaido’s request and is blocking Maduro’s efforts to sell the metal.

Later in the week, a Russian Boeing 777 allegedly landed in the capital city of Caracas and was loaded up with as much as 20 tonnes of Venezuelan gold, according to Bloomberg. It was later reported that the jet, for reasons unknown, left Caracas without the gold payment. There were additional reports, however, also by Bloomberg, that another aircraft, this one from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), had landed in the country and was awaiting delivery of the gold instead.

Venezuela's Oil Production Fell for a Third Straight Year in 2018
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These incidents are certainly dramatic, and I’m eager to see how they play out, but I think the key takeaway is that gold is an exceptional store of value. It’s the only asset of any value to which a socialist autocrat like Maduro still has access. The bolivar is worthless, and the country’s once powerful and influential oil industry is fading fast. Without gold, Maduro is powerless.

Four Straight Months of Gains. What’s Gold’s Next Move?

The gold rally that began late last year, when equities turned rocky, continued into the new year as the historic U.S. government shutdown gripped investors, and signs that Fed Chair Jerome Powell was set to pause monetary tightening intensified. For the fourth straight month in January, both the price of gold and gold mining stocks posted strong gains. Before then, the price of gold was down for six straight months, a losing streak we hadn’t seen in 40 years, when the yellow metal fell each month from December 1988 to May 1989.

Gold and Gold Producers Were Up For Fourth Straight Month In January
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The yellow metal ended last month at a nine-month high, and with the U.S. dollar expected to lose momentum on higher deficit spending, we could see prices surge to as high as $1,400 or even $1,500 an ounce this year.

I’m not alone in my bullishness. Billionaire Sam Zell, creator of the real estate investment trust (REIT), bought gold for the first time in his life, citing the fact that supply is shrinking.

And Mad Money’s Jim Cramer also came out strongly in favor of the yellow metal last week.

“We are big gold believers here,” Cramer commented. “Now gold is at $1,300, we think gold is going to $1,400, $1,500. We suggest that everybody have a little bit of gold in their portfolio.”

I second Cramer’s suggestion. My recommendation has always been a 10 percent weighting in gold, with 5 percent in bullion and jewelry, the other 5 percent in high-quality gold mining stocks and well managed gold mutual funds and ETFs.

Did you miss our updated Periodic Table of Emerging Markets? Read all about it by clicking here!

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. By clicking the link(s) above, you will be directed to a third-party website(s). U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by this/these website(s) and is not responsible for its/their content.

Diversification does not protect an investor from market risks and does not assure a profit.

The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is a modified market capitalization weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold and silver. The index benchmark value was 500.0 at the close of trading on December 20, 2002.

A real estate investment trust (REIT) is a company that owns, and in most cases operates, income-producing real estate. REITs own many types of commercial real estate, ranging from office and apartment buildings to warehouses, hospitals, shopping centers, hotels and timberlands.

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These Emerging Markets Could Soar If the Dollar Falls
January 30, 2019

These Emerging Markets Could Soar If the Dollar Falls

Our fully-interactive Periodic Table of Emerging Markets has been updated for 2018! Check it out by clicking here!

Last year was admittedly a tough one for emerging markets. A number of currencies were under considerable pressure, with some of them falling to record or near-record lows against the strong U.S. dollar. Global trade tensions, threats of sanctions, rising U.S. interest rates and higher oil prices—before they began to crater in October, that is—also contributed to the selloff. From its 52-week high set in January 2018, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index sunk into bear market territory by the end of October.

Emerging Markets and the U.S. Dollar Have Shared an Inverse Relationship
click to enlarge

But since then the investment case for emerging markets has vastly improved, and global investors are betting big that the U.S. dollar will ease on less aggressive monetary tightening. This would relieve some of the pressure on emerging economies that must pay higher prices on imports from the U.S. when the dollar is strong. As of January 24, emerging market equity funds have seen positive inflows of over $3 billion for a remarkable 15 consecutive weeks.

Mobius and Gundlach Bullish on Emerging Markets

Some big-name investors have lately recommended that now might be the time to consider emerging markets, among them Mark Mobius and DoubleLine Capital founder and gold advocate Jeffrey Gundlach.

Speaking with Bloomberg this month, Mobius said he favors India, Brazil and Turkey as they’ve had a “terrific recovery” since the currency meltdown last year. Within a portfolio’s emerging markets allocation, he recommends 30 percent in India; 30 percent in Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Mexico; 30 percent in Eastern Europe countries such as Poland, Turkey and Romania; and the rest in China and other parts of Asia.

Some of Mobius’ picks were among the most banged up in 2018, as you can see in our updated Periodic Table of Emerging Markets. Turkey’s Borsa Istanbul 100 Index (BIST 100) was down around 41 percent for the year, priced in U.S. dollars. Argentina’s MERVAL Index fared even worse, losing slightly more than half its value on out-of-control inflation and interest rates as high as 60 percent—the highest in the world.

Eastern Europe Trading at Attractive Valuations

The best performing emerging economy in 2018 was Russia, which slipped only 1.5 percent. The country not only proved to be the most resilient to higher U.S. rates and trade war fears, but it also has both attractive dividend rates and strong valuation support. As you can see below, Russian stocks were trading at a very low 5.8 times earnings, a discount of nearly 50 percent against MSCI’s index of 24 emerging economies. Fellow Eastern European countries Turkey and Lithuania also had very attractive valuations, trading at 6.5 times earnings and 7.4 times earnings.

Eastern European Countries the Most Discounted Among Emerging Markets
click to enlarge

On an annualized basis, Russia has been a good bet for the 10-year period as well, delivering 9.21 percent on average through December 31, 2018.

What’s more, Central and Eastern European (CEE) economies are projected to grow 3.4 percent this year. That’s slower than in 2018, but stronger than Western Europe and the U.S.

Besides a weaker U.S. dollar, CEE countries should benefit this year from more favorable monetary policy. A number of central banks are expected to cut rates in 2019, including Turkey’s, which could lower them from 24 percent to 18 percent, according to Credit Suisse. Russia is also expected to ease, though likely by only 50 basis points.

Sberbank: “Outstanding Profitability” and an Attractive Dividend Yield

In a note this week, equity research firm BCS Global Markets forecasts that Russia’s RTS Index of 50 stocks will end 2019 at 1,450. Today the index is trading around 1,196, meaning there could be a more than 20 percent upside. Slava Smolyaninov, BCS’s deputy head of equity research, writes that the first half of the year looks promising on “attractive dividends, multi-year low valuations, lifting of sanctions on Rusal, a pause in global tightening and potential trade conflict resolution.”

The firm’s favorite picks include banks, especially Sberbank, which “ranks first as the most undervalued name with outstanding profitability… and one of the highest dividend yields in the sector”—an estimated yield of 8.9 percent for the 12-month period.

Curious to learn more? Check out 10 years of annual emerging market returns by clicking here!

 

The U.S. Dollar Index is a measure of the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the value of a basket of currencies of the majority of the U.S.'s most significant trading partners. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 24 Emerging Markets (EM) countries. With 1,125 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index is a capitalization-weighted index composed of National Market companies except investment trusts. The MERVAL Index (MERcado de VALores, literally Stock Market) is the most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange. It is a price-weighted index, calculated as the market value of a portfolio of stocks selected based on their market share, number of transactions and quotation price. The RTS Index is a free-float capitalization-weighted index of 50 Russian stocks traded on the Moscow Exchange, calculated in the US dollars.

There is no guarantee that the issuers of any securities will declare dividends in the future or that, if declared, will remain at current levels or increase over time.

A basis point is one hundredth of one percent, used chiefly in expressing differences of interest rates.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2018: Sberbank of Russia PJSC.

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

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What Headwinds? Airlines to Book Their 10th Straight Year of Profitability
January 28, 2019

Summary:

  • Despite the government shutdown, airlines beat on earnings and offer exciting guidance for 2019.
  • Global airlines are expected to log their 10th straight year of profitability—an industry first.
  • With incomes expanding worldwide, air travel demand is projected to outpace economic growth for the next couple of decades.

What Headwinds? Airlines to Book Their 10th Straight Year of Profitability

Domestic airlines weren’t exempt from the rout that hit stocks in December, the market’s worst month since the Great Recession. Shares of all four major U.S. carriers—American, Delta, United Continental and Southwest—saw double-digit losses. Delta ended December down 17.8 percent, its worst month since October 2009, when it gave back 20.3 percent.

The losses appeared to extend into the new year. On January 3, Delta forecast slightly slower revenue growth on concerns of a global economic slowdown, not to mention the partial U.S. government shutdown. In its first month, the shutdown—which ended Friday as President Donald Trump signed a bill to extend spending for three weeks—cost the U.S. aviation industry about $105 million, according to consulting firm ICF. Delta’s stock lost almost 9 percent for the January 3 trading day. Shares of the other three major airlines fell as well, though not by as much.

I believe the selloff was overdone, and the market seems to have agreed. Investors who bought the dip were rewarded. From January 3 to January 25, Delta shares recouped about 4.5 percent. Over the same period, the NYSE Arca Airline Index soared about 14.7 percent.

Ancillary Revenues Helped Offset Higher Fuel Costs in 2018

Much of this enthusiasm was driven by better-than-expected full-year and fourth-quarter earnings reports from a number of domestic carriers.

For 2018, United reported an impressive earnings per share (EPS) of $7.70, up 9 percent from 2017. This came even while total fuel costs were 34 percent higher. The carrier is now projecting an EPS of between $10 and $12 this year, based not just on increased demand but also growing ancillary revenue.

As a reminder, “ancillary revenue” includes all non-ticket items such as baggage fees, assigned seating, credit cards, loyalty programs and more. According to consultancy firm IdeaWorks, such fees on a global scale stood at a mind-boggling $92.9 billion in 2018, an increase of 312 percent since 2010. Of that amount, the “big four” U.S. airlines netted close to $27 billion. Taken together, these additional revenues have helped airlines offset rising fuel and labor costs.

global airline ancillary revenue represented an even larger share of total revenue in 2018
click to enlarge

Delta said as much in its own earnings report. For 2018, operating revenue was up 8 percent year-over-year to $44 billion “on an increasingly diverse revenue base, with 52 percent of revenues from premium products and non-ticket sources” (emphasis mine). The Atlanta-based carrier reported $1 billion in profits in the fourth quarter, an unbelievable increase of 240 percent from the same three months in 2017. That amounted to an EPS of $1.49, compared to $0.42 the previous year.

American also reported stellar earnings, and CEO Doug Parker tantalized the market with exciting guidance for this year. “At the midpoint of our guidance, 2019 diluted earnings per share, excluding special items, would increase approximately 40 percent versus 2018,” Parker said. Shares of American popped as much as 6.4 percent on the news.

10th Straight Year of Profitability?

Despite the recent spike in market volatility, I believe the investment case for global airlines looks favorable going forward. I’m not alone. In a press release dated January 23, Moody’s Investors Service stressed that although economic growth could be slowing worldwide, airlines are well-equipped financially for the next 12 to 18 months. The ratings agency writes that “the global passenger airlines industry is stable on steady operating margins, supported by higher passenger volumes, mixed growth in pricing and modestly lower fuel costs.”

If all goes according to plan in 2019, the global airline industry will have achieved something it’s never managed to do—that is, log 10 consecutive years of profitability. In its 2019 outlook, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes this will be the case, with net profits estimated at $35.5 billion, slightly ahead of 2018’s $32.3 billion. “An industry first,” the Geneva-based trade group tweeted on December 27. “2019 forecast to be 10th consecutive year of profitability for the global airline industry.”

Long-Term Outlook: Air Travel Demand Could Outpace Economic Growth

Looking ahead even further, 10 to 20 years, I think that airlines could be a profitable way to participate in the expansion of incomes around the world. In about a decade, an estimated 200 million people—many of them concentrated in developing countries such as China and India—are expected to join the middle class and, for the first time, be able to afford the cost of airfare, according to a new report by consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Air travel has historically been tied to change in a country’s or region’s gross domestic product (GDP), but there’s reason to believe that demand will actually outpace economic growth. For the past decade, air passenger traffic growth—as measured in revenue passenger kilometers (RPFs)—has already been faster than GDP growth on an annual basis. Analysts at Boeing now believe this trend will continue for the next 18 years. With a 6 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), African countries are projected to undergo the greatest expansion of any other region, followed by Latin America and Asia. Highly developed regions such as Europe and North America will likely see the weakest change year-to-year, but even then, air travel demand growth is expected to be faster than economic growth.

air passenger demand projected to outpace economic growth in every region
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More Than a Billion Indian Passengers by 2040?

For a moment let’s look just at India, currently the second most populous country on earth. One of the world’s fastest growing regions, it’s expected to replace the U.K. this year as the fifth largest economy. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), which hosted the Global Aviation Summit this month in Mumbai, India today has the world’s seventh largest aviation market with 187 million passengers. By 2022, it could be the third largest.

And if the trend continues, India could very well be the largest aviation market in the world with around 1.12 billion passengers flying to, from and within the South Asian country. That’s an incredible sixfold jump from 2018.

projection of total passengers to
click to enlarge

To accommodate so many passengers, the fleet size of scheduled airlines would need to expand dramatically. The FICCI believes the number of aircraft in India could swell from 622 in 2018 to as many as 2,360 by 2040.

This, of course, would benefit manufacturers such as Boeing, which FORTUNE just named as the most admired aerospace company in its annual list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.”

Boeing Just Unveiled Its Self-Driving Air Taxi

The jet maker recently showed off the progress of its planned self-driving air taxi, which it is building in cooperation with ride-hailing company Uber. “Uber Air,” as it’s called, is a battery-operated, autonomously flying vehicle, with a range of about 50 miles. Morgan Stanley Research estimates that the market for “autonomous urban aircraft” could be as large as $1.5 trillion by 2040. Boeing, which is projected to have a 40 percent market share of all aircraft by 2025, is well-positioned to take the lead in this exciting new technology.

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The S&P 500 Index (Standard & Poor's 500 Index) is a market-capitalization-weighted. index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies by market value, The index is widely regarded as the best single gauge of large-cap U.S. equities. The NYSE Arca Airline Index is a rules-based index designed to measure the performance of highly capitalized companies in the airline industry.

Ancillary fees/revenue, in the airline industry, is revenue from non-ticket sources, such a baggage fees and on-board food and services, and has become an important financial component for low-cost carriers. Diluted earnings per share (EPS) is a calculation used to gauge the quality of a company's EPS if all convertible securities were exercised. Operating margin measures how much profit a company makes on a dollar of sales, after paying for variable costs of production such as wages and raw materials, but before paying interest or tax. It is calculated by dividing a company's operating profit by its net sales. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is the rate of return that would be required for an investment to grow from its beginning balance to its ending balance assuming the profits were reinvested at the end of each year of the investment's lifespan. Revenue passenger miles (RPMs) and revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) are measures of traffic for an airline flight, bus, or train calculated by multiplying the number of revenue-paying passengers aboard the vehicle by the distance traveled. The FORTUNE World’s Most Admired Companies study surveys top executives and directors from eligible companies, along with financial analysts, to identify the companies that enjoy the strongest reputations within their industries and across industries.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of12/31/2018: American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., The Boeing Co.

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Net Asset Value
as of 03/22/2019

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $4.51 -0.07 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.38 -0.14 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $2.79 -0.04 China Region Fund USCOX $8.50 -0.19 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.59 -0.16 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $23.42 -0.49 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $16.70 -0.31 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.21 0.01 U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change