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Hedge Fund Managers Pour SALT on U.S. Stocks, Look to Europe
May 22, 2017

Hedge Fund Managers Pour SALT on U.S. Stocks, Look to Europe

Europe is back on the map. That was one of the main takeaways last week from the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, where $3 trillion in assets was represented. Speaker after speaker touted European equities for their attractive valuations and as a means to diversify away from the volatile American market in light of rising U.S. geopolitical risk. France’s election of centrist Emmanuel Macron over far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen this month has especially eased investors’ fears that antiestablishment forces would challenge the integrity of the European Union (EU).

Economic growth is finally picking up in Europe—“solid and broad,” as European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi recently put it—and many countries’ purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) are at five- and six-year highs. Export orders and hiring have accelerated. Labor participation is improving. European commodity sectors, including energy and metals, look cheap and oversold, meaning it might be time to start accumulating.

Trading at around 17 times earnings, European companies are priced to move compared to American firms, which are trading at 22 times earnings.

European Stocks Have an Attractive Dividend Yield

Dividend yields also look attractive relative to U.S. stocks. The MSCI Emerging Europe Index, which is most heavily weighted in Russian, Polish and Turkish stocks, currently yields 3.2 percent. The S&P 500 Index, by comparison, yields 2 percent.

A recent Barron’s article, “Europe on Sale: Time to Buy Foreign Stocks,” makes the same bullish case as many of the SALT presenters. Its author, Vito J. Racanelli, suggests that the eight-year bull run in the U.S. could be coming to an end, and that the baton is being passed to Europe. Overseas markets have already attracted more fund flows so far this year than the U.S. market, with a whopping $6.1 billion being plowed into European equity funds in the week ended May 10.

“Given attractive valuations, diminished political risk, low interest rates and a pickup in global growth, international markets, and Europe in particular, could finally start to outperform,” Racanelli writes.

 

 

Talking Geopolitics

Before moving on, I want to share a few other takeaways from SALT. One of the highlights was hearing billionaire investor Dan Loeb, who manages the $16 billion hedge fund firm Third Point. Loeb said that serious investors should closely monitor geopolitics as a backdrop or overlay when making investment decisions because government policy can have the fastest and most significant impact on your portfolio.

Daniel S. Loeb

That was flattering to hear. Not only do I spend a lot of time discussing and analyzing geopolitics, both here in the weekly commentary and my CEO blog Frank Talk, but it’s baked right into U.S. Global Investors’ methodology: Our investment process clearly asserts that “government policy is a precursor to change.” Loeb’s comments, I felt, validated our emphasis on geopolitics.

Many conferences I attend can often get bogged down in partisan politics, but SALT was refreshingly balanced. Joe Biden was as welcome on-stage as Jeb Bush. No one came out entirely in favor of or against President Donald Trump or his policies. Instead, presenters discussed the inherent risks and opportunities in an intelligent, even-handed manner. I aspire to do the same.

One of the speakers was John Brennan, the former CIA director, who’s scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee later this month as part of its investigation into Russia’s alleged involvement with the 2016 election. Brennan, who told lawmakers as far back ago as August that the agency had information pointing to possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, shed some much-needed light on allegations that Trump shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials this month—a “serious mistake,” he said—explaining that such leaks to the media are potentially just as damaging to national security as the president’s actions.

Also notable was former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke’s thoughts on Washington’s little-known power dynamics. He said there are really three parties jockeying for control in the capital—Republicans, Democrats… and the “beltway party.” It’s this last group, composed of deeply entrenched lobbyists and career bureaucrats, that gives Washington outsiders such as Trump the hardest time and actively tries to sabotage agendas that shake up the status quo.

Trump's young presidency closely resembles Jimmy Carter's

In this regard, Bernanke said, the presidency Trump’s tenure so far resembles the most is not Richard Nixon’s, as some have suggested. It’s not even Andrew Jackson’s, which Trump himself expressly would like to emulate. Instead, it’s Jimmy Carter’s.

This might seem counterintuitive, but think about it: Both men were Washington outsiders. Both men arrived in the beltway with aspirations to transform the capital’s insular culture and “drain the swamp.” Both men had the great fortune of working with a party majority in both chambers of Congress. But because they exuded an “I alone” attitude and often picked fights with members of their own party, both men faced unusual difficulties in getting key components of their agendas passed. And just as Carter had little success in his first 100 days—in his entire four-year term, in fact—Trump’s young presidency has similarly been unable to make significant strides so far in getting much accomplished.

A White House in Crisis?

This is precisely what markets were reacting to last Wednesday, the worst week for major U.S. indices in months. Investors, fearing Trump’s pro-growth agenda could be threatened by troubling news and allegations coming out of the White House, punished small-cap stocks in particular, sending the Russell 2000 Index down 2.62 percent, its sharpest one-day loss since March. Recall that it was small caps that saw the strongest surge following the election, as investors bet on domestic growth stemming from the then-president-elect’s “American first” proposals.

the importance of diversification
click to enlarge

Now, however, some are wondering if Trump, embroiled in numerous scandals, will finish out his term. A few SALT presenters even uttered the “i” word. Jim Chanos, founder and investment manager of Kynikos Associates in New York, told the packed auditorium that he believes the market hopes Vice President Mike Pence will become president. Investors are seeking deregulation and tax cuts, plain and simple, Chanos said, and the “more stable” Pence is seen as having a better shot at delivering. This squares with reports from British gambling and betting company Ladbrokes, which announced last week that Trump is now odds-on, or highly likely, to face impeachment by the end of his first term, with bookies having to cut the price from 11/10 to 4/5.   

Banks, which stand to benefit from Trump’s plan to loosen financial regulations, were Wednesday’s biggest losers. JPMorgan was down 3.81 percent, or $3.34 a share. Goldman Sachs fell 5.27 percent, or $11.88 a share.

Apple finished the day down 3.36 percent, wiping away some $20 billion in market value. The smartphone giant, which recently became the first company ever to be worth more than $800 billion, could also benefit from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s efforts to make it easier for multinationals to repatriate cash that’s held overseas. And if that describes any company today, it would be Apple: The iPhone-maker holds nearly $250 billion in cash and securities in offshore accounts.  

 

Dollar Weakness Gives a Boost to Gold

More so than equities, the U.S. dollar is highly sensitive to geopolitical drama. Last week, the greenback tumbled to its lowest level since the November election compared to other major currencies.

U.S. Dollar Gives up its post-election gains
click to enlarge

This helped gold, miners and commodities end the week in positive territory. Gold gained 2 percent, gold miners 0.57 percent and commodities 1.36 percent. The S&P 500, meanwhile, finished the week down 0.8 percent.

For diversification benefits, I always recommend around a 10 percent weighting in gold and gold stocks, and last week proved yet again that this strategy could help mitigate the losses in risk assets.

Unsure what else drives the price of gold? Find out!

 

Some links above may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content. 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.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Europe Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 6 Emerging Markets (EM) countries in Europe. With 83 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The Russell 2000 Index is a U.S. equity index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000, a widely recognized small-cap index. 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 Bloomberg Commodity Index is made up of 22 exchange-traded futures on physical commodities. The index represents 20 commodities, which are weighted to account for economic significance and market liquidity.

Dividend yield is a financial ratio that indicates how much a company pays out in dividends each year relative to its share price. 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.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 3/31/2017.

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The 5 Costliest Financial Regulations of the Past 20 Years: A Timeline
May 18, 2017

The 5 Costliest Financial Regulations of the Past 20 Years: A Timeline

Last year, the Federal Register—the U.S. government’s depository of rules and regulations—hit an all-time high of 81,640 pages. Among the industries that bear the greatest regulatory oversight is financials, which has seen a disproportionate amount of scrutiny in recent years, especially following the 9/11 attacks and subprime mortgage crisis.

Although I agree with the need to have and play by the rules, financial regulations have become so onerous that they render all but the largest firms noncompetitive. It’s a game whose rules are continually shifting, and there often seems to be more referees than players. A recent Thomson Reuters survey found that more than a third of all financial firms spend at least a whole work day every week tracking and analyzing regulatory changes. This is an obligation most companies simply can’t afford in the long term.

It serves no one, least of all investors and borrowers, to have fewer options in the capital markets. But this is precisely what the most recent regulations have contributed to. In the last 20 years, the number of listed companies has been cut in half, and since 2008, one in four regional banks has disappeared.

President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are actively working to alleviate any additional regulatory pressure. In January, the House passed a bill requiring securities officials to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of any new rule—something that should have been done in the first place—and in February the president signed an executive order requiring the elimination of two federal regulations for every new one that’s adopted.

As for when those that are already in place can be lifted, in whole or in part, is a different matter.

Having said that, I want to share with you a timeline of the five costliest financial regulations of the past 20 years. Please note that when I say “costly,” I’m referring not only to dollar figures but also additional workload and compliance hours.

October 2001: International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001

October 2001: International Money Laundering Abatement and Financial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001

Passed in October 2001 as part of the USA PATRIOT Act, this particular act aims to prevent black money from being used to finance terrorist activities. It actually reforms two previous anti-money laundering (AML) laws, the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 and the Money Laundering Control Act of 1986.

Although I think most of us would agree that catching terrorists is an admirable mission, the AML rules come at a very high cost to financial institutions. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Heritage Foundation, the current rules cost the U.S. economy between $4.8 billion and $8 billion annually. And with so few money laundering cases opened and investigated every year, each conviction since the law went into effect carries an estimated $7 million price tag.

Consequently, many banks, facing strict penalties and compliance costs, have cancelled thousands of “high-risk” accounts, including those belonging to money-transfer firms and humanitarian organizations.

July 2002: Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX)

July 2002: Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX)

Enacted in July 2002, Sarbanes-Oxley, or SOX, was intended to prevent large-scale corporate and accounting fraud that led to the demise of Enron, WorldCom and others. It set in place new requirements for public companies.

The most burdensome of these is Section 404, which requires external auditors to report on the adequacy of a firm’s “internal controls.” Since such auditing is so complex and costly—sometimes quadruple the normal amount—many smaller companies have found it prohibitively difficult to raise capital in the public markets. Before SOX, there were an average 528 initial public offerings (IPOs) a year, according to Dealogic data. Since it was enacted, that number has fallen to 135, a decline of nearly 75 percent.

This has resulted in the rise of private capital and has locked retail investors out of high-growth investment opportunities.

Speaking to the Detroit Economic Club in 2013, Home Depot founder and former CEO Bernie Marcus said that, had SOX existed when he helped conceive the company in the late 1970s, he wouldn’t have been able to get it off the ground, let alone take it public. This would have been a shame, as Home Depot is now one of the largest employers in the U.S. and has among the highest market caps, standing at nearly $188 billion. A $5,000 investment in the company when it first IPOed in September 1981 would today be worth well over $27 million. In its current form, SOX threatens to put an end to such high-growth opportunities.

March 2010: Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)

March 2010: Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)

Signed by then-President Barack Obama, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) allegedly aims to clamp down on tax evasion by requiring participating foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with names, addresses and account details of all American accountholders living abroad with assets over $50,000.

As I wrote back in 2014, the law’s mandates would be felt hardest “not by wealthy ‘fat cat’ tax dodgers but hardworking Americans who have no intentions of cheating the U.S. tax system.”

I’m not alone here. The IRS, of all groups, has come out on the side of taxpayers, writing in 2015 that “the IRS’s approach to FATCA implementation has created significant compliance burdens and risk exposures to a variety of impacted parties.” The rule’s underlying assumption, it says, is that “all such taxpayers should be suspected of fraudulent activity, unless proven otherwise.”

Until the law is reformed, the IRS adds, its efforts “will continue to be unsystematic, unjustified and unsuccessful.”

Many others apparently agree—especially those FATCA targets. The number of overseas individuals renouncing their U.S. citizenship crossed above 5,000 in 2016, an all-time high, with 2,300 expatriating in the final quarter alone.

Crude Oil Historical Patterns
click to enlarge

July 2010: Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

July 2010: Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

The most sweeping reform of the U.S. financial services industry since the Great Depression, the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law July 2010, creating some 400 new rules and mandates as well as several new councils, bureaus and agencies. Standing at more than 22,000 pages, Dodd-Frank is such a behemoth piece of legislation that it’s impossible to discuss it comprehensively in such a short space.

Suffice it to say, though, that since it went into effect, a startling number of community banks have gone under, giving borrowers fewer options. Lower-income customers are disproportionately at a loss, as many banks have done away with free checking.

Both former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan and billionaire investor Warren Buffett have suggested Dodd-Frank needs to go, with Greenspan saying he’d love to see the 2010 law “disappear.” Buffett, meanwhile, commented that the U.S. is “less well equipped to handle a financial crisis today than we were in 2008. Dodd-Frank has taken away the Federal Reserve’s ability to act in a crisis.”

Reforming Dodd-Frank is supposedly near the top of President Trump’s priorities, and a 600-page replacement called the Financial Choice Act 2.0 has already been drafted. If passed, the legislation would relax some of Dodd-Frank’s more restrictive rules and limit the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It would also roll back the so-called Volcker Rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, which effectively bans banks from making speculative investments that don’t directly benefit their customers.

April 2016: Department of Labor (DOL) Fiduciary Rule

April 2016: Department of Labor (DOL) Fiduciary Rule

On its surface, the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule sounds like something everyone can get behind. It mandates that all who serve as fiduciaries—broker-dealers, investment advisors, insurance agents and the like—must act in the best interest of their clients. Fine. But how the rule will be interpreted and applied could have negative consequences in the securities markets.

What’s naturally going to happen is financial professionals, in an effort to remain compliant with the rule, will recommend only the least expensive products, regardless of whether they’re a good fit for their clients. Many mutual funds—which might be better performing but have higher expenses than other investment vehicles—will fall off brokerage firms’ platforms.

It would be like the DOL telling consumers they can only shop at Walmart and buy their coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts because anything more expensive—Target or Starbucks, say—is “riskier,” even though it’s of higher quality.

Issued in April 2016, the rule was delayed for 60 days by the Trump administration and is now scheduled to go into effect early next month. It’s already had disruptive consequences. Investment Company Institute (ICI) President and CEO Paul Schott Stevens, speaking this month to ICI members, stated the rule was “causing great harm,” adding that brokers are “simply resigning from small accounts en masse” to avoid legal and regulatory risk.

It might be difficult for Trump and Congress to provide relief from these and other financial regulations—especially now that the multiple investigations into the Trump campaign threaten to sideline such efforts—but I still have faith.

For expert insight and intelligence on gold, emerging markets and natural resources, subscribe to our weekly, award-winning Investor Alert!

 

 

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.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 3/31/2017.

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3 Factors that Are Changing the Oil Trade
May 16, 2017

Oil Rigs

For the last five years, crude oil has been behaving a little differently than it has in the past. At least that’s the takeaway from the chart below, based on the Moore Research Center’s analysis of oil’s seasonal trading patterns. Note that the index on the left measures the greatest historical tendency for the asset to make a seasonal high (100) or low (0) at a given time.

Crude Oil Historical Patterns
click to enlarge

First, take a look at the dark and light blue lines, which represent the average price action for the 15-year period and 30-year period. In either case, oil looks remarkably the same—lows were most likely to have occurred in mid- to late winter, followed by a rally leading into the busy summer travel season. March historically yielded the highest monthly returns, October and November the lowest.

But then something changed. The five-year period, represented by the orange line, shows oil hitting lows not in the winter but in late fall. Highs were more likely in May, not September.

So why’s this happening?

Behold exhibit A, U.S. crude oil production since 1983:

U.S. crude oil production in thousands of barrels per day
click to enlarge

American Fracking Responsible for Record Output

Frankly, a lot has changed in the five-year period compared to the longer-term periods. We can put hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at the top of the list, as it’s responsible for the huge ramp-up in production you see in the chart above.

Fracking has been among the most disruptive technological applications in the history of U.S. energy production. In 2009, oil producers were averaging a little over 5,300 barrels a day. Just six years later, they were well on their way to 10 million barrels a day before an oversupplied market kneecapped prices, prompting producers to shut down operations and abandon oilfields.

U.S. crude oil production in thousands of barrels per dayNow, with the number of active rigs in North America on the rise—for the week ended May 5, the number crossed above 700 for the first time in two years—production is beginning to mount once again. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), domestic output should average 9.3 million barrels a day this year and nearly 10 million in 2018, a level we haven’t seen in this country since 1970.

Obviously this has a huge effect on the price of oil, which is reflected in the five-year trading pattern. Look again at the orange line. The dramatic plunge you see in October and November coincides with the same period in 2014 when the oil price fell by half.

As influential as fracking is, though, there are a couple other shifting factors at play, including the weather and OPEC policy.

A Growing Number of Weather Events Costing $1 Billion

Weather undeniably affects production, from droughts to floods to hurricanes. The Canadian wildfires in the summer of 2016, for example, cost oil sands producers an estimated $1.4 billion and knocked out as much as 800,000 barrels of oil a day.

Such extreme weather events are on the rise, according to most experts. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NOAA) reports that in the first quarter of 2017, there were five unusual weather incidents in the U.S. with losses exceeding $1 billion each. That might not sound like a lot—until you learn that between 1980 and 2016, the annual average for similarly large events was 5.5. (In 2016, the total was 15.) We appear to be running ahead of schedule, then, which could have the effect of disrupting some projects.

OPEC Strategy Is Less Effective

There was a time when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) commanded great influence over global oil prices. Responsible for about 40 percent of the world’s production, OPEC can modulate the flow of the black stuff like a spigot with the intent to raise or lower prices. 

It’s a strategy that’s reliably worked in the past. In December I showed what happened in the weeks and months following its agreement to cut production in 1998, 2001 and 2008. The data show that prices rallied in the two years after such a pact.

But with American frackers increasingly dominating the global market, OPEC’s decision to trim output is becoming less and less effective.

Take a look:

Does OPEC Policy Influence Oil Prices Anymore?
click to enlarge

Since the cartel announced on November 30 that it would reduce production by 1.2 million barrels a day, or about 1 percent of global output, prices climbed to as high as $54 a barrel. Now, however, they  look ready to return where they started.

Don’t get me wrong—OPEC still exerts vast control. Oil’s poised to have its best week since late March on news that the cartel and Russia are both planning to extend production cuts into next year, with Saudi Arabia saying it’s prepared to do “whatever it takes” to draw down inventories.

But it’s important to recognize that, in a world where fracking now accounts for more than half of American output, such a strategy is less effective. It will be interesting to see what OPEC decides at its meeting later this month.

Americans Ready to Hit the Road

In its short-term energy outlook, the EIA expects record U.S. highway travel and fuel consumption this summer, which is constructive for energy stocks. Americans are projected to travel 1.4 percent more than last summer and consume 9.5 million barrels of gas per day, 20,000 more than the same period last year.

This bodes well for the types of companies held in our Global Resources Fund (PSPFX), which invests in firms involved not only in the exploration, production and processing of petroleum, natural gas, coal and other, but also basic materials such as chemicals and paper and forest products.

 

 

 

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. Because the Global Resources Fund concentrates its investments in specific industries, the fund may be subject to greater risks and fluctuations than a portfolio representing a broader range of industries.

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.

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An Unexpected Change in Gold’s Seasonal Trading Pattern
May 15, 2017

an unexpected change in gold's seasonal trade pattern

Here at the outset, I want to share with you an interesting observation we made last week of gold’s seasonal trading pattern. As you can see in the chart below, based on data provided by Moore Research Center, the five-year pattern, represented by the orange line, is diverging from the longer-term trends. Note that the index on the left measures the greatest tendency for the asset to make a seasonal high (100) or low (0) at a given time.

Gold Historical Patterns
click to enlarge

The data show that lows are now reached late in the year, not in January (according to the 15-year period, represented by the dark blue line) or August (according to the 30-year pattern, represented by the light blue line). Historically, September has seen the highest returns on gold as Indians make huge purchases in preparation for Diwali and the fourth-quarter wedding season, but lately we’ve seen changes. When we calculate the average monthly returns of the past five years, from January 2012 to December 2016, we find that January is the strongest month, returning 5.3 percent, followed by August with 2.3 percent. September actually returns negative 1.3 percent.

There could be a number of reasons why this is, but it’s important to recognize that the five-year period captures the bear market that dragged gold from its high of $1,900 an ounce in August 2011 to a recent low of $1,050 in December 2015. The years 2013, 2014 and 2015 all saw negative returns, so it’s little wonder why the orange line trends down from February-March to December. 

Inflation Props Up Gold

Consumer and producer prices rose in April compared to the same time last year, favoring gold prices going forward. Consumer goods climbed 2.2 percent, down slightly from March’s 2.4 percent. Wholesale goods, meanwhile, flew up 5.3 percent, higher than economists’ expectations and the strongest year-over-year increase in nearly six years. 

U.S. Inflation's Gonna Get You
click to enlarge

On numerous occasions I’ve shown that higher inflation supports demand for gold, which has often been seen as a safe haven investment. The money you have sitting in the bank right now is guaranteed to lose value over time. The five-year Treasury bond is currently yielding a negative return. Diversiying a part of your portfolio into gold and gold stocks could help mitigate the effects of inflation on your household wealth. I’ve always recommended a 10 percent weighting with annual rebalances.   

Chindia Demand Was Strong in the First Quarter

Chindia Demand was strong in the first quarter

In India, no one questions this. Aside from property, gold is seen as the most reliable store of value, which is why it’s routinely given as a gift during weddings, graduations, births and other important life events.

Indians’ demand for gold jewelry jumped 16 percent year-over-year in the first quarter, according to the World Gold Council (WGC), as the country slowly recovers from the economic shock of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization scheme in November.

Demand in China for gold bars and coins had an unusually strong start to the year, fueled by concerns over a weakening renminbi and uncertainty over the country’s real estate market. The first quarter has historically been a good time for Chinese demand, as that’s when the Lunar New Year falls. This year, though, demand was up an amazing 30 percent, with 105.9 metric tons (tonnes) purchased during the three-month period. According to the WGC, this was the fourth-strongest quarter on record.

Looking ahead, gold prices could be supported by steadily declining mine production. Over the next five to 10 years, output from currently-operational mines is expected to drop off steeply as a consequence of deep spending cuts for project development as well as a lack of significant new deposit discoveries.

Mine Production Likely to drop beyond 2018 as the project pipeline is squeezed
click to enlarge

Between 2012 and 2016, capital expenditure for companies in the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index contracted 65 percent, the WGC reports. This will inevitably squeeze the supply chain and help prices firm up.

Stock Investors Have No Fear

In the near term, gold faces a number of headwinds, including a strong U.S. dollar, rising nominal interest rates and a still-robust stock market. Despite recent geopolitical shockwaves such as President Donald Trump’s surprise firing of FBI director James Comey, investors still see stocks as a good place to be, with the CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, trading at lows last seen in 1993.

investor fear at near-record lows: headwind for gold?
click to enlarge

Popularly known as the “fear gauge,” the VIX measures expected volatility in the S&P 500 Index over the next month. That it’s trading so low suggests that geopolitical uncertainty doesn’t always translate into investor uncertainty. Evidently Wall Street doesn’t share the same sense of impending doom as some voters and media figures appear to have right now concerning Comey’s termination and the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

This matters because gold has historically benefited in times of crisis and uncertainty, whether real or perceived. But with the VIX signaling near-record-low fear in the marketplace, some investors might see this as weakening the case for gold.

Where We See the Gold Opportunities

In this environment, we seek high-quality producers that are profitable and show improvements in revenue and cash flow. This yields junior companies such as Klondex and Wesdome, both of which have demonstrated strong fundamentals, low SG&A (selling, general and administrative expenses),  cost-conscientious management and higher-grade ore.

The recent bubble in gold stocks unwound, which was harmful to some quality gold names that were affected by the issues involving the VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ), which I wrote about last week. Since the GDXJ methodology update was announced, the ETF has recorded large redemptions, with assets plunging as much as 25 percent.

The GDXJ doesn’t have any smart beta attributes—instead, it relies on market cap. As portfolio manager Ralph Aldis put it, this means “we find a lot of high-quality companies being indiscriminately sold down.” We see this as an opportunity to nibble at some attractive small-cap growth names.

 

 

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.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals.  The weights of components are based on consumer spending patterns. The Producer Price Index (PPI) measures prices received by producers at the first commercial sale.  The index measures goods at three stages of production:  finished, intermediate and crude.

The NYSE Arca Gold BUGS (Basket of Unhedged Gold Stocks) Index (HUI) is a modified equal dollar weighted index of companies involved in gold mining. The HUI Index was designed to provide significant exposure to near term movements in gold prices by including companies that do not hedge their gold production beyond 1.5 years.

Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX) shows the market's expectation of 30-day volatility.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies.

Beta is a measure of the volatility, or systematic risk, of a security or a portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole.

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 3/31/2017: Klondex Mines Ltd., Wesdome Gold Mines Ltd., VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF.

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The Case of the Missing U.S. Stocks
May 9, 2017

The Case of the Missing U.S. Stocks

In the last 20 years, the U.S. stock market has undergone an alarming change that too few people are aware of or talking about. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of listed companies fell by half, from 7,300 to 3,600, according to a recent report by Credit Suisse. This occurred despite the U.S. economy growing nearly 60 percent over the same period.

Number of Listed U.S. Companies Continues to Drop
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What’s even more flummoxing is that the U.S. seems to be the only developed country that lost so many stocks. Most other countries actually gained around 50 percent.

This matters because the U.S. stock market accounts for a little over half of the entire global equity market, meaning a huge (and growing) number of investors and fund managers now have fewer options to choose from than they did only a couple of decades ago.

So why’s the pool of publically-traded companies shrinking? We can point to a few different culprits.

For one, merger and acquisition (M&A) activity has strengthened in recent years, and when an M&A takes place, a company is consequentially delisted (if it was listed before the deal). The same thing happens, of course, when a company goes out of business.

Another reason could be the growth of private capital, which allows companies to raise funds without having to go public. Between 2013 and 2015, the amount of private money invested in tech start-ups alone tripled from $26 billion to $75 billion, according to consulting firm McKinsey. As a result, more and more software firms are managing to reach $10 billion in value before their IPO. Think wildly successful companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, Pinterest, Uber—all of which, for now, have avoided selling shares to public investors.

Unintended Consequences

My belief is that, out of all the reasons for fewer U.S. stocks and IPOs, the most impactful has been the surge in federal regulations over the last two decades. Rising costs associated with being listed on an exchange and meeting compliance standards have prohibited IPOs for all but the very largest U.S. firms. Small businesses—which, according to the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF), account for more than half of all U.S. sales and 66 percent of all new jobs since 1970—are increasingly less competitive.  

This partly explains why more and more companies are delaying  going public. Back in 1980, Apple’s IPO came a mere four years after Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne founded the company in Jobs’ garage. Amazon waited only three years after Jeff Bezos founded it in 1994. Today that number has risen dramatically. It’s now estimated that the average age of a tech firm at the time of IPO is 11 years.

Some might disagree that regulations have had much of an effect on the U.S. equity market, but I believe the evidence is incontestable.

Consider the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. Its goal, to prevent massive corporate fraud such as we saw from Enron and WorldCom, is an admirable one. But SOX has had several unintended consequences, as I’ve explained before. Because SOX’s requisite internal control procedures are so costly and cumbersome—necessitating additional compliance and accounting positions, not to mention hundreds of hours in compliance-driven tasks—smaller firms are inevitably at a disadvantage.

As a result, many small to mid-sized companies are delaying going public, or avoiding it altogether, to escape the regulatory burden. Before SOX, there were an average 528 IPOs a year. Since it was enacted, that number has fallen to 135, a decline of nearly 75 percent, according to Dealogic data. Last year, only 111 IPOs made it to market, a far cry from the 779 that took place in pre-SOX 1996.

Sarbanes Oxley Act Has Decreased the Number of IPOs 75% and Prohibited Smaller Companies from Going Public
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Other legislation has deterred even more companies from pursuing an IPO, including the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

Consider also that small business loans have all but dried up for small businesses. In 2004, small business loans represented about 40 percent of commercial banks’ loan portfolio. Today, it’s closer to 20 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. This pullback in lending can be blamed on several factors, the Dallas Fed writes, “with regulatory burden among the most prominent”:

Large banks have indicated they are less likely to make small loans because the cost of processing a $100,000 loan is comparable to that of a $1 million loan. As a result, large banks have significantly reduced loans below a certain threshold, typically $250,000, or have stopped lending to businesses with revenue less than $2 million.

U.S. Banks Cutting Small-Business Loan Concentrations
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It’s little wonder that, in an August 2016 survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), small-business owners  said “unreasonable government regulations” were their second-highest concern, following “cost of health insurance.” More than 33 percent said regulations were a “critical” problem.

In another survey, this one conducted by the Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC), nearly 80 percent of corporate treasurers, CEOs and CFOs said they had seen their business negatively affected by changes in the financial markets following the implementation of Dodd-Frank.

Relief Is Coming

But there’s hope. President Donald Trump has pledged to roll back many of the rules that have acted like plaque build-up in the heart of smaller companies seeking to expand. Just this week, the House Financial Services Committee approved a bill to begin gutting many of the provisions in Dodd-Frank. The S&P 500 Index edged up to close at a record high Friday.

In December, a month after the election, the NFIB’s Small Business Optimism Index soared to 105.8, up from 98.4 in November, a 12-year high. Optimism fell somewhat to 104.7 in March, the most recent month of available data, but it still holds at historically high levels.

small business optimism still at historically high after retreating somewhat in march
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Markets lately were beginning to lose faith in the president’s ability to deliver on a number of his key campaign promises. But after the House gave him a much-needed victory this week by voting to repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, many small business-owners’ excitement about other Trump proposals such as deregulation and corporate tax reform is likely to be rekindled.

Until Trump can streamline regulations, however, it’s probably wise to focus on large-cap stocks, especially those that have an attractive dividend yield and are buying back their stock.

 

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The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) Index of business optimism is based on responses from 1221 member firms.

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.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 3/31/2017.

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Net Asset Value
as of 06/28/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.39 0.06 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.37 0.06 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $6.29 0.01 China Region Fund USCOX $9.45 -0.04 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.32 0.05 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.45 0.18 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $19.91 0.26 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.23 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change