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5 Agents of Change Investors Need to Know About Now
November 6, 2017

the world is running out of gold mines, here's how investors can play it

The world is changing fast right now in ways that many investors might not easily recognize or want to admit. This could end up being a costly mistake. If you’re not paying attention, you could be letting opportunities pass you by without even realizing it.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of five agents of change that I think investors need to be aware of and possibly factor into their decision-making process. 

1. Xi Jinping

October cover of The Economist

At China’s 19th National Party Congress two weeks ago, Xi Jinping’s political thought was enshrined into the country’s constitution, an honor that, before now, had been reserved only for Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, and Deng Xiaoping. It was Deng, if you recall, who in 1980 established special economic zones (SEZs) that helped turn China into the economic powerhouse it is today.

But back to Xi. His elevation to Chairman Mao-status not only cements his place in the annals of Chinese history but also makes him peerless among other world leaders in terms of political and militaristic might, with the obvious exception of U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

But whereas Trump has been criticized by some for setting the U.S. on a more isolationist path—shrinking the size of the State Department, just to name one example—Xi sees China emerging as the de facto global leader by 2050. To get there, his country is spending billions on the “Belt and Road Initiative” and other massive infrastructure projects, opening its doors to foreign investors, reforming state-run enterprises, weeding out corruption, investing heavily in clean energy and public transportation and expanding its middle class. And let’s not forget that the Chinese yuan, also known as the renminbi, was included in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) basket of reserve currencies in 2015, placing it in the same league as the U.S. dollar, British pound, Japanese yen and euro.

During his three-hour speech before the congress, Xi made reference to the “Chinese dream,” adding that the “Chinese people will enjoy greater happiness and well-being, and the Chinese nation will stand taller and firmer in the world.”

Xi has his own detractors, of course, who see China’s rise as a threat to established world order. But if his vision is to be realized, it might be prudent to recognize and prepare for it now. China’s economy grew a healthy 6.8 percent in the third quarter year-over-year, helping it get closer to meeting economists’ target of 6.5 percent for 2017. And although manufacturing expansion slowed in October, falling from 52.4 in September to 51.6, it was still well above the 50 threshold.  

China manufacturing power expanded at slightly lower pace in October
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Citing these indicators as well as strong medium and long-term bank lending to nonfinancial corporations, research firm BCA recommended that investors overweight Chinese stocks relative to the emerging market aggregate.

 

 

2. Poland

Besides China, another region I’m keeping my eye on is Poland. Already one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, the country was just upgraded from the “advanced emerging” category to “developed” by FTSE Russell, effective September 2018. This will place Poland in the same company as, among others, the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, Singapore and South Korea, the last country to have joined the club of top-ranking economies. Poland is the first Central and Eastern European (CEE) country to receive “developed” status.

Among the decisive factors behind the upgrade were the country’s advanced infrastructure, secure trading and a high gross national income (GNI) per capita. The World Bank expects Poland’s economic growth in 2017 to reach 4 percent, up significantly from 2.7 percent in 2016, on the back of a strong labor market, improved consumption and the child benefit program Family 500+.

Poland one of the fastest growing economies in th eEuro area
click to enlarge

Economists aren’t the only ones noticing the improvement. Young Polish expats who had formerly sought work in the U.K. and elsewhere are now returning home in large numbers to participate in the booming economy, according to the Financial Times. Banks and other companies, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, are similarly considering opening branches in Poland and hiring local talent.

This represents quite an about-face for a country that, as recently as 1990, was languishing under communist rule.

One of U.S. Global’s analysts, Joanna Sawicka, has seen the dramatic transformation firsthand. A native of Bialystok, Poland, Joanna has vivid memories of waiting in line for hours just to buy food and school supplies. After returning to the U.S. from a visit to her hometown in 2015, though, she was singing its praises:

“I saw big changes. There’s now a small business on every street corner. A lot of my old friends own businesses now. Poland is the largest beneficiary of European Union funds, and people are clearly taking advantage of having more money and better opportunities.”

 

 

3. Bitcoin

One of the most influential agents of change right now is bitcoin, and indeed the entire digital currency market. Cryptocurrencies are challenging underlying notions of the global monetary framework, upending the way many companies raise funds and disrupting the investment world.

All this from an asset class nobody even knew about 10 years ago.

For the first time last week, bitcoin traded above $7,000 a coin, bringing its 2017 gains to around 650 percent. Some are calling this a bubble, but I recently shared with you a chart that shows that, when placed on a logarithmic scale, bitcoin doesn’t appear to have found its peak yet.

Bitcoin broke above 7000
click to enlarge

 

Bitcoin can no longer be called a curiosity or niche investment. Large brokerage firms and financial institutions, including Fidelity and USAA, now allow clients to use their websites to check their holdings of bitcoin and other digital currencies alongside their more traditional assets. And just last week, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced it will be offering a bitcoin futures contract by the end of the year, giving investors an easier way to trade cryptos.

Following the announcement, Coinbase, a leading digital currency broker, saw a record number of people opening new accounts on its platform. Within a single 24-hour period, as many as 100,000 new users opened accounts, helping to double the number of Coinbase clients since the beginning of the year.

This explosion in interest hasn’t come without consequences in other markets, however. The U.S. Mint reported that this year’s sales of American Eagles, the popular gold coins, have fallen to their lowest level since 2007, presumably as investors who otherwise would have bought bullion have instead put money in bitcoin as a store of value.

4. U.S. Tax Reform

It’s been at least a generation at least since the U.S. has had meaningful tax reform. That might be about to change, though, as Congress and the president last week unveiled their plans to overhaul the tax code and deliver the “biggest tax cut in U.S. history,” according to Trump.

If passed and signed, the plan would consolidate the number of income brackets, currently at seven, down to only four, while also eliminating a number of tax credits and exemptions, including the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The fourth bracket, with a rate of 39.6 percent for the nation’s top earners, was added at the last minute to address concerns the new code would blow up the deficit. Many savers are no doubt relieved to learn that 401(k)s will be left alone, ending rumors that annual contribution caps would be lowered.

As for corporate taxes, the plan is to slash them from 35 percent—the highest among any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—to a much more competitive 20 percent. This change would be both immediate and permanent.

Right now, as much as $2.5 trillion or more in cash is estimated to be held overseas by multinational corporations to avoid having to pay the steep rate. Lowering it would allow these firms to bring profits home and reinvest them in workers, new equipment and more. It would also encourage American companies to relocate operations back to the U.S., as we saw last week with semiconductor manufacturer Broadcom.

After failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, both Congress and the president need this win if they expect voters to give them another term.

5. Jerome Powell

For the final agent of change, I’m picking someone whom some readers might not agree reflects real change. Jerome “Jay” Powell, the person Trump has tapped to replace Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen—assuming he gets Senate confirmation—is being described as someone who’ll mostly hold to the status quo established by his two immediate predecessors, Yellen and Ben Bernanke. Powell appears to be dovish and supportive of the cautious interest rate hikes we’ve seen during Yellen’s tenure, which will come to an end in February 2018. 

Federal reserve chair Janet Yellens tenure
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There’s one huge difference, however—one that likely convinced Trump a change was needed, despite his previous acclaim for Yellen’s handling of the job. Whereas Yellen has expressed support for the raft of financial regulations that were introduced in the wake of the financial crisis, Powell generally seems to be in favor of deregulation, in line with Trump’s own agenda. On numerous occasions I’ve written that our industry needs more streamlined rules and laws, so I see this as very constructive. Although Powell, as head of the Fed, won’t have any policymaking authority to alter or reverse such rules, at least he’ll serve as an ideological ally of Trump’s.

On top of all this, Powell’s appointment will set new precedent. He’ll be the first Fed chair in decades not to hold an advanced degree in economics—he’s a former investment banker with the Carlyle Group—and he’ll also be the first in nearly as many years to replace someone before the end of their full 14 years.

In any case, I speak for everyone at U.S. Global by wishing Powell the best, once confirmed, and hope his policies can help the U.S. economy continue moving in the right direction.

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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 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 9/30/2017.

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Holidays Come Early for Investors as Consumer Spending Surges from Previous Year
November 2, 2017

Home Depot Up Nearly 24% Year-to-Date

American consumers were more willing to open their wallets in September, an encouraging sign of what Santa might bring for investors this year. According to the latest Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) data, consumer spending in the U.S. rose a robust 1 percent between August and September, the largest month-to-month gain since 2009.

For investors, I think this news bodes well for the consumer discretionary sector as we head toward the busy holiday shopping season, already expected to be strong  compared to last year’s.

U.S. consumer spending surged in september
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In its report, the BEA notes that consumption was driven primarily by new automobile sales and household utilities. Americans drove an impressive 18.5 million autos and light trucks off car lots in September, up 4.7 percent from a year earlier. Contributing to this, it must be pointed out, was the loss of an estimated 1 million vehicles as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Among the companies whose stock appreciated following the two devastating storms was Copart, a preowned vehicle auctioneer. The company has yet to report sales figures for the third quarter—which includes the period when Harvey and Irma struck the U.S.—but its July quarter saw attractive top and bottom growth year-over-year, with sales up 14 percent.

Copart, which just celebrated its 35th anniversary, is one of the top holdings in our Holmes Macro Trends Fund (MEGAX).

Leading vehicle reseller and auctioneer copart gained following august-september hurricanes
click to enlarge

Although the unusually high consumption rate partially reflected Americans’ need to replace vehicles and other durables in the wake of Harvey and Irma, total U.S. spending in September was also supported by rising household incomes and strengthening confidence in the U.S. economy.

According to the University of Michigan’s survey of U.S. households, consumer sentiment surged to 100.7 in October, up from 95.1 in September. This is the highest monthly level since 2004 and, amazingly, represents only the second time the survey has crossed above 100 since the end of the 1990s.

“Personal finances were judged near all-time record favorable levels due to gains in household incomes as well as decade highs in home and stock values,” the University of Michigan writes.

Americans Splurged on Home Improvement and DIY

Of particular note is the increase in spending at building, hardware and garden stores. The most recent Visa Retail Spending Monitor finds that consumption on home improvement and do-it-yourself (DIY) goods and services rose 12.8 percent in August compared to the same month in 2016.

Many Americans, according to Visa chief economist Wayne Best, “are opting to remodel rather than wait for the elusive housing market to pick up, a boon for building, hardware and garden sales.”

I believe this could also be a boon for our Holmes Macro Trends Fund (MEGAX). Not only is consumer discretionary the fund’s largest sector weighting at 27.55 percent, as of September 30, but it also invests heavily in names associated with building and home improvement. Among the companies we own in MEGAX are Home Depot, the fund’s number one holding; Trex, a decking and railing company; Toro, which manufacturers turf maintenance equipment; and the WD-40 Company.

As with Copart, we’re eagerly awaiting Home Depot’s third-quarter earnings report, but its financials for the July quarter were especially solid. Basic earnings per share stood at $2.26, up more than 14 percent from the same three-month period in 2016, on sales of $28.1 billion.

Home Depot Up Nearly 24% Year-to-Date
click to enlarge

Will Santa Deliver Record Holiday Sales?

As I said earlier, expectations for the upcoming holiday shopping season are high. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates sales in November and December to grow between 3.6 and 4 percent year-over-year, which would equate to between $678.8 billion and $682 billion, an all-time high.

“The combination of job creation, improved wages, tame inflation and an increase in net worth all provide the capacity and the confidence to spend,” says NRF chief economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Consulting firm Bain & Company has a slightly less optimistic estimate, forecasting sales to grow between 3.5 and 3.9 percent.

Both firms note, though, that consumption could get an extra boost this year on account of there being 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, as opposed to 31 last year, giving shoppers one additional day to browse in stores and online.

To learn more on consumer discretionaries with high growth potential, visit the fund page for our Holmes Macro Trends Fund (MEGAX).

 


 
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.

Stock markets can be volatile and share prices can fluctuate in response to sector-related and other risks as described in the fund prospectus.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index uses telephone surveys to gather information on consumer expectations regarding the overall economy. The preliminary report, which includes about 60% of total survey results, is released around the 10th of each month. A final report for the prior month is released on the first of the month. 

Visa’s Retail Spending Monitor provides a real-time window into how and where Americans are spending their money and its broader impact on the economy. With billions of transactions flowing through its payment network each day, Visa sees roughly 25 cents of every retail dollar spent in the United States. Using these actual transactions as a starting point, Visa has created a sophisticated, robust model that allows it to gauge overall spending activity across all forms of payment and across major spending categories, including retail, travel and entertainment.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the Holmes Macro Trends Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 9/30/2017: The Home Depot Inc. 5.87%, Copart Inc. 4.05%, Trex Co. Inc. 3.69%, The Toro Co. 3.21%, WD-40 Co. 2.38%.

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The World Is Running out of Gold Mines—Here’s How Investors Can Play It
October 30, 2017

the world is running out of gold mines, here's how investors can play it

My good friend Pierre Lassonde, cofounder and chairman of Franco-Nevada, doesn’t know how we’ll replace the massive gold deposits of the past 130 years or so. Speaking with the German financial newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft this month, Pierre says we’re seeing a significant slowdown in the number of large deposits being discovered. Legendary goldfields such as South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin, Nevada’s Carlin Trend and Australia’s Super Pit—all nearing the end of their lifecycles—could very well be a thing of the past.

Over the medium and long-term, this could lead to a supply-demand imbalance and ultimately put strong upward pressure on the price of gold.

According to Pierre:

If you look back to the 70s, 80s and 90s, in every one of those decades, the industry found at least one 50+ million ounce gold deposit, at least ten 30+ million ounce deposits and countless 5 to 10 million ounce deposits. But if you look at the last 15 years, we found no 50 million ounce deposit, no 30 million ounce deposit and only very few 15 million ounce deposits. 

So few new large mines are being discovered today, Pierre says, mostly because companies have had to slash exploration budgets in response to lower gold prices. Earlier this year, S&P Global Market Intelligence reported that total exploration budgets for companies involved in mining nonferrous metals fell for the fourth straight year in 2016. Budgets dropped to $6.9 billion, the lowest point in 11 years. Although we’ve seen an increase in spending so far this year, it still dramatically trails the 2012 heyday.

Total nonferrous exploration budgets fell to an 11 year low in 2016
click to enlarge

And because it takes seven years on average for a new mine to begin producing—thanks to feasibility studies, project approvals and other impediments—output could recede even more rapidly in the years to come.

“It doesn’t really matter what the gold price will do in the next few years,” Pierre says. “Production is coming off, and that means the upward pressure on the gold price could be very intense.”

Have We Reached Peak Gold?

Frank Holmes standing next to Pierre Lassonde right at Mines and Money London in December 2015

What Pierre is talking about, of course, is the idea of “peak gold.” I wrote about this last year and suggested another factor that could be curtailing new discoveries—namely, the low-hanging fruit has likely already been picked. Gold is both scarce and finite—one of the main reasons why it’s so highly valued—and explorers are now having to dig deeper and venture farther into more extreme environments to find economically viable deposits.

Other factors contributing to the decline include tougher regulations and higher production costs. And unlike with the oil industry, no “fracking” method has been invented yet to extract gold from hard-to-reach areas, though Barrick—the world’s largest producer by output—has been experimenting with sensors at its Cortez project in Nevada.

Take a look at how drastically annual output has fallen in South Africa, once the world’s top gold-producing country by far. In the 1880s, it was the discovery of gold in South Africa’s prolific Witwatersrand Basin—responsible for more than 40 percent of all gold ever mined in human history, if you can believe it—that helped transform Johannesburg into one of the world’s largest and most populous cities. Today, South Africa’s economy is the most advanced and stable in Sub-Saharan Africa, all thanks to the yellow metal.

In 1970, miners dug up more than 1,000 metric tons—an unfathomably large amount. Since then, production has steadily dropped. No longer in the top spot, South Africa produced only 167.1 tons in 2016, an 83 percent plunge from the 1970 peak. Meanwhile, miners in the notorious Mponeng mine—already the world’s deepest at 2.5 miles—continue to follow veins even deeper into the earth at greater and greater expense.

South Africa's gold output has been in steady decline for more than 45 years
click to enlarge

Australia could soon be seeing a similar downturn over the next four decades. A first-of-its-kind study conducted by MinEx Consulting and released this month, shows that Australia’s gold production is expected to see a significant drop between now and 2057. By then, all but four of the 71 currently operating mines in the country will be exhausted. Most of these will close in the next couple of decades. Any additional production will be dependent on new exploration success, which will become increasingly difficult if companies don’t invest in exploration and if the Australian government doesn’t relax rules in the mining space.

MinEx estimates that “for the Australian gold industry to maintain production at current levels in the longer term, it will either need to double the amount spent on exploration or double its discovery performance.”

To be fair, large discoveries haven’t disappeared entirely. Back in March it was reported that Shandong Gold Group, China’s second-largest producer, uncovered a deposit in eastern China containing between 380 and 550 metric tons of the yellow metal. If true, this would make it the country’s largest ever by amount. The mine has an estimated lifespan of 40 years once operations begin.

In addition, Kitco reports this month that Toronto-based Seabridge Gold recently stumbled upon a significant goldfield in northern British Columbia. The find appeared, coincidentally, after a glacier retreated. It’s estimated to contain a whopping 780 metric tons.

“There’s no question that as glaciers retreat, more ground will become available for exploration and more discoveries could be made in that part of the world,” Seabridge CEO Rudi Fronk told Kitco.

The company already has the permits to begin mining.

Seabridge gold is up 15 percent for the three month period
click to enlarge

Exploration Budgets Jumped

Gold represents over half of global annual commodities exploration budgets

 

As I said earlier, we just saw an encouraging spike in the amount spent on exploration. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, exploration budgets increased in the 12-month period as of September for the first time since 2012. Budgets jumped 14 percent year-over-year to $7.95 billion, with gold explorers leading the way. During this period, gold companies spent around $4 billion on exploration, which is roughly half the value of all nonferrous metals mining budgets.

But because exploration is getting more expensive for reasons addressed earlier, senior producers might very well decide instead to acquire smaller firms with proven, profitable projects.

This could create a lot of value for investors, so I would keep my eyes on juniors that look like targets for takeover. Dealmaking in the Australian mining industry, for example, is showing some growth this year compared to last, according to a September report by accounting firm BDO. Last year, Goldcorp finalized its deal to acquire Vancouver-based junior Kaminak Gold, and in May of this year, El Dorado announced it was taking over Integra Gold for C$590 million. I expect to see even more deals in the coming months.

In the meantime, I agree with my friend Pierre’s “absolute rule” that investors should hold between 5 and 10 percent gold in your portfolio. I would also add gold stocks to the mix, especially overlooked and undervalued names, and rebalance once and twice a year.

 

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. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 9/30/2017: Franco-Nevada Corp., Seabridge Gold Inc.

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Are ICOs Replacing IPOs?
October 23, 2017

Last week I was in Barcelona speaking at the LBMA/LPPM Precious Metals Conference, which was attended by approximately 700 metals and mining firms from all over the globe. I found the event energizing and stimulating, full of contrary views on topics ranging from macroeconomics to physical investment markets to cryptocurrencies.

My keynote address focused on quant investing in gold mining and the booming initial coin offering (ICO) market. I’m thrilled to share with you that the presentation was voted the best, for which I was awarded an ounce of gold. I want to thank the London Bullion Market Association, its members and conference attendees for this honor.

Speaking of gold and cryptocurrencies, the LBMA conducted several interesting polls on which of the two assets would benefit the most in certain scenarios. In one such poll, attendees overwhelmingly said the gold price would skyrocket in the event of a conflict involving nuclear weapons. Bitcoin, meanwhile, would plummet, according to participants—which makes some sense. As I pointed out before, trading bitcoin and other cryptos is dependent on electricity and WiFi, both of which could easily be knocked out by a nuclear strike. Gold, however, would still be available to convert into cash.

It’s a horrific thought, but the poll results show that the investment case for gold as a store of value remains favorable. Goldman Sachs echoed the idea last week, writing in a note to investors that “precious metals remain a relevant asset class in modern portfolios, despite their lack of yield.” The investment bank added that precious metals “are still the best long-term store of value out of the known elements.”

Metcalfe’s Law Suggests Crypto Prices Could Keep Rising

This isn’t meant to knock bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Because they’re decentralized and therefore less prone to manipulation by governments and banks—unlike paper money and even gold—I think they could also have a place in portfolios.

Even those who criticize cryptocurrencies the loudest seem to agree. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon, if you remember, called bitcoin “stupid” and a “fraud,” and yet his firm is a member of the pro-blockchain Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA). Russian president Vladimir Putin publicly said cryptocurrencies had “serious risks,” and yet he just called for the development of a new digital currency, the “cryptoruble,” which will be used as legal tender throughout the federation.

Follow the money.

Metcalfe’s law states that the bigger the network of users, the greater that network’s value becomes. Robert Metcalfe, distinguished electrical engineer, was speaking specifically about Ethernet, but it also applies to cryptos. Bitcoin might look like a bubble on a simple price chart, but when we place it on a logarithmic scale, we see that a peak has not been reached yet.

Bitcoin still has room to run
click to enlarge

Bitcoin adoption could multiply the more people become aware of how much of their wealth is controlled by governments and the big banks. This was among the hallway chatter I overheard at the Precious Metals Conference, with one person commenting that what’s said in private during International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings is far more important than what’s said officially.

I have a similar view of the G20, whose mission was once to keep global trade strong. Since at least 2008, though, the G20 has been all about synchronized taxation to grow not the economy but the role government plays in our lives. Trading virtual currencies is one significant way to get around that.

The Incredible Shrinking IPO Market

Just as water takes the path of least resistance, money flows where it’s respected most.

You need only look at the mountain of cash U.S. multinationals have stashed overseas, currently standing at an estimated $2.6 trillion. The steep 39 percent U.S. corporate tax rate—the highest among any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)— discourages companies from bringing their profits back home and reinvesting them in new equipment and employees.

Of course, taxes aren’t the only type of friction money can run up against. More and more stringent financial rules and regulations have been one of the top destroyers of capital and business growth over the past 20 to 30 years. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, signed in 2002, is widely blamed for limiting the number of initial public offerings (IPOs) that occur in the U.S. The legislation has made it prohibitively expensive for many smaller firms to get listed on an exchange. Between 1996 and 2016, the number of investable U.S. companies was cut in half, falling from 7,322 to 3,671.

Number of listed US companies continues to drop
click to enlarge

This has ultimately hurt everyday retail investors who not only have fewer stocks to invest in now but also lack access to many of the same potentially profitable opportunities enjoyed by angel investors, venture capitalists and other institutional investors. Private equity and venture capital can be much higher-yielding investments than common asset classes such as Treasuries and equities, but for the most part, only accredited investors can participate.

Bracing for MiFID

IPOs could be squeezed even further after the implementation of the European Union’s (EU) revised Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), set to go into full effect January 3. The directive, initially passed in response to the financial crisis, acts as a sweeping reformation of existing trading rules that affect everything from stocks to bonds to commodities. All 28 EU nations must have laws in place to comply with MiFID by the January deadline—or face litigation and fines.

With less than two months left on the clock, 17 countries, including Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, are still scrambling to convert MiFID into national law, according to Bloomberg. This is creating all sorts of financial uncertainty for banks, insurers and money managers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Half of the EU still scrambling to meet the January 3rd MiFID compliance deadline
click to enlarge

One rule in particular could threaten U.S. IPOs. It states that, to be more transparent, banks must now “unbundle” the costs of investment research from that of executing trades, a practice that’s been routine for decades. To produce stand-alone research, banks must register as investment advisers, a costly process that might prompt some firms to avoid it altogether. This would limit investors’ exposure to only the largest companies and, in turn, discourage smaller U.S. firms from pursuing an IPO, according to Cowen & Co. analysis and reported by Bloomberg.

MiFID is just the latest in a long string of regulations that, while conceived with good intentions, carry unintended consequences. It’s doubly unfortunate that an EU rule could so impact U.S. companies’ ability to gain the publicity necessary to go public.

But hasn’t this been the trend for years now? In many ways, doing business in the EU has only gotten more challenging, and bureaucrats seem determined to take punitive steps against successful American firms.
Look at how Facebook, Google and other large tech companies have been treated in Europe. Back in June, the search giant was slapped with a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine and has since been strongarmed into changing its online shopping service.

A restrictive regulatory backdrop is largely responsible for this. Because rules are so tight, European companies have a hard time innovating and staying competitive. So instead of building its own Facebook or Google, the EU’s only other recourse is to take a protectionist approach and wrap the 28-member bloc in more and more red tape.     

For Many Startups, ICOs Are a Solution

I believe this is part of the reason why we’re seeing such a massive surge in ICOs, which, at the moment, are nearly unregulated in the U.S. and Europe. In an effort to bypass the rules and costs associated with getting listed on an exchange, many startups now are opting to raise funds by issuing their own digital currency based on blockchain technology. And unlike with private equity, smaller retail investors can participate.

Again, money flows where it’s respected most.

Bitcoin and Ethereum are the best known cryptocurrencies, but there are more than 1,000 being traded around the world, with a combined market cap of around $150 billion, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML).

As of this month, IPOs have raised over $3 billion in 2017, more than seven times the amount generated in all years prior to 2017 and far surpassing expectations of around $1.7 billion for the year.

ICO market has raised more than 3 million so far in 2017
click to enlarge

To give you some perspective, the U.S. IPO market raised $4.1 billion from 29 deals in the September quarter alone, according to Renaissance Capital. Although this dwarfs the ICO market in dollar terms, both the number of IPOs and the amount raised are significantly lower than the same quarter in 2014, which saw an impressive $37.6 billion raised from 60 deals.

As long as the barriers to getting listed remain high, I expect we’ll see this trend of fewer IPOs and more ICOs continue.  

Bitcoin Now Bigger than Goldman Sachs

Not all cryptocurrencies will survive, obviously, and we’ll likely see huge transformations in the space before clear leaders pull away from the pack. Remember, no one knew in 1997 which internet companies would eventually dominant  the others.

But for now, it’s an exciting time for an asset class that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Trading above $6,000 for the first time last week, bitcoin reached a market cap of $96.7 billion. Amazingly, that’s more than Goldman Sachs’ market caps of $92.9 billion.    

Cryptocurrencies off their 2017 highs
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It’s important for investors to know that cryptos do face potential regulation risk. What kind of risk, though, is currently up in the air as U.S. regulators debate whether digital currency is a security or commodity. One would place it within the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the other within the jurisdiction of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Unsurprisingly, both agencies see cryptos as their own.

Last week also highlighted a new risk in the fledgling market. Tezos, the firm behind what was at the time the largest ICO in history, revealed a significant slowdown in the progress of its virtual coin, the “tezzie.” Back in July, Tezos made headlines for raising a then-unprecedented $232 million. But today, the group, headed by a husband-and-wife duo, is faced with a number of setbacks including a lack of developers and a highly-publicized management dispute.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Vigna, this has “put trading of Tezos tokens held by investors in limbo while also putting some of the technology on hold as well.”

Diwali Fails to Light Up Gold

U.S. Global Investors wishes our friendss & followers a Happy Diwali filled with light and prosperity

Turning to gold, the yellow metal made healthy gains the week before last, climbing more than 2.3 percent as we headed closer to the first day of Diwali. As I’ve explained numerous times before, it’s considered auspicious to give gifts of gold bullion and jewelry during the Hindu Festival of Lights, and in years past we’ve seen some price appreciation in the days and weeks leading up to the celebration.

Last week, though, the gold price fell below $1,300 an ounce as stocks continued their record-setting bull run.

But as the LBMA poll shows, it’s prudent to have some gold in your portfolio, as it’s negatively correlated with other assets. As always, I recommend a 10 percent weighting, with 5 percent in physical gold and 5 percent in gold stocks, and remember rebalance every year.

 

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 9/30/2017.

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Car Manufacturers Are Electrifying Copper, “The Metal of the Future”
October 16, 2017

Copper is being called the metal of the future

As many of you know, copper is often seen as an indicator of economic health, historically falling when overall manufacturing and construction is in contraction mode, rising in times of expansion.

That appears to be the case today. Currently trading above $3 a pound, “Doctor Copper” is up close to 28 percent year-to-date and far outperforming its five-year average from 2012 to 2016.

 

Copper is far outperforming the five year average
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Several factors are driving the price of the red metal right now. Manufacturing activity, as measured by the purchasing manager’s index (PMI), is expanding at a pace we haven’t seen in years in the U.S., eurozone and China. The U.S. expanded for the 100th straight month in September, climbing to a 13-year high of 60.8.

Speculators are also buying in response to word of copper shortages in China, despite September imports of the metal rising to its highest level since March. The world’s second-largest economy took in 1.47 million metric tons of copper ore and concentrates last month, an amount that’s 6 percent higher than the same month in 2016.

Why Copper Is the “Metal of the Future”

Why are we seeing so much copper entering China? One reason could be battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which require three to four times as much copper as traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

China is already the world’s largest and most profitable market for BEVs, and Beijing is now reportedly working on plans to curb and eventually ban the sale of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, according to the Financial Times. This would place the Asian giant in league with a number of other powerful countries similarly crafting bans on internal combustion engines within the next 25 years, including Germany, France, Norway, the United Kingdom and India.

Because of the sheer size of the Chinese market, this move is sure to delight copper bulls and investors in any metal that’s set to benefit from higher BEV production. That includes cobalt, lithium and nickel.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BEVs will account for 54 percent of all new car sales by 2040. That year, China, Europe and the U.S. are expected to make up 60 percent of the global BEV fleet.

This could have a huge effect on copper prices over the next 10 years and more. With fewer and fewer large deposits being discovered, demand should accelerate from 185,000 metric tons today to an estimated 1.74 million tonnes in 2027, according to the International Copper Association.

Electric vehicles expected to drive copper demand
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These are among the reasons why Arnoud Balhuizen, chief commercial officer of Australian mining giant BHP Billiton, called copper “the metal of the future” in an interview with Reuters last month.

“2017 is the revolution year [for electric vehicles], and copper is the metal of the future,” Balhuizen said, adding that the market is grossly underestimating the red metal’s potential as BEV adoption surges around the world.

Cobalt Gets Its Day in the Sun

And let’s not forget cobalt. The brittle, silver-gray metal, used to extend the life expectancy of rechargeable batteries, is up more than 81 percent so far in 2017 and 109 percent for the 12-month period. Performance is being driven not only by growing BEV demand but also supply disruptions in the Republic of the Congo, where more than 60 percent of the world’s cobalt is mined.

“It’s a really bright future for cobalt,” Vivienne Lloyd, analyst at Macquarie Research, told the Financial Times. “There doesn’t seem to be enough of it.”

Before now, there was very little mainstream interest in cobalt as an investment, but that’s changing as rapidly as world governments are joining the chorus to move away from fossil fuels. One sign of that change is the London Metal Exchange’s (LME) upcoming cobalt contracts, one for the physical metal and another for the chemical compound cobalt sulphate. This will allow investors to trade the underlying metal and participate in the electric vehicle “revolution,” as Balhuizen calls it.

In the meantime, investors can participate by investing in a producer with exposure to cobalt—among our favorites are Glencore, Freeport-McMoRan and Norilsk Nickel—or a natural resources fund.

 

Gold Closes Above $1,300 an Ounce

Gold also looks constructive as we head into the fourth quarter and beyond, according to a number of new reports and analysis last week.

UBS strategist Joni Teves finds it “encouraging” that gold has managed to recover this year off its 2016 lows. Although a likely December rate hike could be a headwind, Teves points out that the metal performed well in the months that followed the previous three rate hikes. What’s more, gold has rallied in each January since 2014. We could see a similar bump in price this coming January.

Not only is gold trading above its 50-day moving average again, but for all of 2017, it’s been following a nice upward trend as the U.S. dollar dips further.

Gold following a nice upward trend as US dollar weakens further
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A weaker greenback, of course, is bullish for all commodities, including copper. According to Bloomberg strategist Mike McGlone, unless the dollar unexpectedly recovers in the near term, commodities, as measured by the Bloomberg Commodities Index, could gain as much as 20 percent between now and year’s end.

Meanwhile, BCA writes that major risks in 2018—inflationary expectations stemming from President Donald Trump’s protectionism, tensions between the U.S. and China, and continued strife in the Middle East among them—could keep the shine on gold.

The research firm reminds investors that gold has historically done well in times of economic and geopolitical crisis, outperforming the S&P 500 Index, U.S. dollar and 10-year Treasury by wide margins. Because the metal is negatively correlated to other assets, it could potentially serve as a good store of value if equities entered a bear market.

Such a bear market, triggered by tighter U.S. monetary policy, could take place as early as 2019, BCA analysts estimate. Gold would then stand out as a favorable asset to hold, especially if inflationary pressures pushed real Treasury yields into negative territory.

A Fear Trade Lesson from Germany

This is the lesson Germany has learned over the past 10 years, as I shared with you last week. Before 2008, Germans’ investment in physical gold barely registered on anyone’s radar, with average annual demand at 17 metrics tons. The country’s first gold-backed exchange-trade commodities (ETCs) didn’t even appear on the market until 2007.

But then the financial crisis struck, followed by monetary easing and low to negative interest rates. These events ultimately pushed many Germans into seeking a more reliable store of value.

Now, a new report from the World Gold Council (WGC) shows that German investors became the world’s top gold buyers in 2016, ploughing as much as $8 billion into gold coins, bars and ETCs. Amazingly, they outspent Indian, Chinese and U.S. investors.

Gold investment in Germany hit a new high in 2016
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Analysts with the WGC believe there is room for further growth, citing a recent survey that shows latent demand in Germany holding strong. Impressively, 59 percent of German investors agreed that “gold will never lose its value in the long-term.” That’s a huge number, suggesting the investment case for gold remains attractive.

Learn more about investing in gold mining by watching my interview on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange!

 

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

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.

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.

The U.S. Dollar Index measures the value of the United States dollar relative to a basket of foreign currencies, often referred to as a basket of U.S. trade partners' currencies.

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 6/30/2017: BHP Billiton Ltd., Glencore PLC, Freeport McMoRan Inc., MMC Norilsk Nickel PJSC.

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Net Asset Value
as of 12/15/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.91 -0.03 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.27 -0.06 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $5.67 -0.05 China Region Fund USCOX $11.08 -0.09 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $7.06 -0.01 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.78 0.24 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $22.12 0.24 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.21 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change