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

Take the Long-Term View in a Late-Cycle Market
June 18, 2018

rebalance, stick to a plan and remember: get invested and stay invested. J.P. Morgan's Samantha Azzarello

The U.S. inflation story made further inroads this month, with year-over-year price growth for consumers and producers alike hitting multiyear highs. U.S. consumer prices expanded at their strongest pace in more than six years, climbing to an annual change of 2.8 percent in May. Prices for final demand goods, meanwhile, grew 3.1 percent, their strongest annual surge since December 2011.

annual consumer prices advance the most in six years
click to enlarge

As you might expect, energy was the greatest contributor to higher prices in May, with fuel oil jumping more than 25 percent from the same month a year ago. The current average price for a gallon of regular gas nationwide was just under $3.00, compared to only $2.33 in June 2017, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Inflation is set to get an even bigger jolt now that President Donald Trump has formally approved 25 percent tariffs on as much as $50 billion of Chinese goods. China has already announced retaliatory action. While I agree some targeted tariffs are welcome to address intellectual property theft, tariffs at the wholesale level are essentially regulations that threaten to undermine all the work Trump has done to supercharge the U.S. economy. They act as headwinds to further growth, which in turn makes gold look attractive as a safe haven investment.

Blaming OPEC

Let’s return to energy for a moment. Hot off the success of his historic summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, Trump took a stab at foreign oil producers last week, tweeting: “Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!”

The president isn’t wrong, but I believe he may be overselling the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ influence here. In May, the 14-member cartel added an extra 35,000 barrels per day (bpd) in output compared to the previous month, to reach a total of 31.8 million bpd. This is down from the average 32.6 million and 32.4 million bpd OPEC collectively produced in 2016 and 2017.

Venezuela’s output deteriorated once again, falling more than 42 percent in May to 1.4 million bpd, which is less than half of what it produced 20 years ago.

The beleaguered South American country didn’t have the biggest monthly decline among OPEC members, however—that title belonged to Nigeria, which saw its April-to-May production tumble 53.5 percent to 1.7 million bpd. Analysts predict output could fall further to 1.4 million bpd by July—a level not seen since 1988—as the country’s Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) has had to be closed recently to address product theft along its route.

OPEC will meet later this month and is widely expected to loosen production curbs as global demand strengthens. In the meantime, the U.S. continues to pump even more oil on a monthly basis, and by 2019 it could be producing more than 11 million bpd for the first time ever. This would make it the world’s top oil producer, above Russia. 

Gold Glitters on Inflation Fears and U.S. Budget Imbalance

gold surged to a four-week high after the fed raised rates a second time this year and signaled two more hikes in 2018

The inflation news helped support the price of gold, which traded as high as $1,309 an ounce last Thursday, its best intraday showing in four weeks.

The price jump came a day after the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates another 0.25 percent, the second time it has done so this year. Although rising rates have historically made the precious metal look less competitive, since it doesn’t offer a yield, gold markets could be forecasting slower economic growth as a result of higher borrowing costs, not to mention costlier servicing of corporate and government debt.

On that note, the Treasury Department announced last week that in the first eight months of the current fiscal year—October through May—the U.S. government deficit widened to a whopping $532 billion, or 23 percent more than the same eight-year period a year ago. That’s already more than the total deficits in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Because of higher spending and lower revenues, it’s estimated that the deficit by the end of the fiscal year will balloon to $833 billion, which would be the greatest amount since 2012.

I believe this makes the investment case for gold and gold equities even more appealing as a store of value. In the chart below, notice how the price of gold has responded to government spending. I inverted the bars, representing surplus and deficit, to make the relationship more clear. In the years following the Clinton surplus of the late 90s, the difference between expenditure and revenue surged to new record amounts on the back of military spending in the Middle East and the multibillion-dollar bailouts of financial firms during the subprime mortgage crisis. Consequentially, the price of gold exploded.     

relationship between price of gold and u.s. government deficit spending
click to enlarge

How Close Are We to the End of the Business Cycle?

But back to the Fed. Besides lifting rates, the central bank has also signaled that we can expect two more hikes in 2018, suggesting it sees less and less need to accommodate a booming U.S. economy. Since the start of this particular rate hike cycle two and a half years ago, we haven’t yet seen four increases in a single calendar year.

This raises the question of how close we are to the end of the business cycle.

Rising rates, among other indicators, have often preceded the end of economic expansions and equity bull markets. Among other telltale signs: a flattening yield curve, record corporate and household debt, an overheated jobs market and increased mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity. So far this year, the value of global M&As has already reached $2 trillion, a new all-time high. The last two periods when M&As reached similar levels were in 2007 ($1.8 trillion) and in 2000 ($1.5 trillion), according to Reuters. Careful readers will note that those two years came immediately before the financial crisis and tech bubble.

Now, the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, has reportedly turned bearish on “almost all financial assets,” according to one of its most recent notes to investors.

In the firm’s Daily Observations, co-CIO Greg Jensen writes that “2019 is setting up to be a dangerous year, as the fiscal stimulus rolls off while the impact of the Fed’s tightening will be peaking.”

Don’t Miss the Opportunities

Be that as it may, calling the end of the cycle would be a fool’s errand and could result in missed opportunities, as J.P. Morgan’s Samantha Azzarello points out in a recent note to investors. Late-cycle returns can still be quite substantial, she says. Take a look at the chart below, which highlights returns 24 months, 12 months, six months and three months leading up to the past eight market peaks. Obviously returns were higher in the longer-term periods, but even the three-month periods delivered some attractive returns—returns that would be left on the table if skittish investors exited now. According to Azzarello, it’s important to “rebalance, stick to a plan and remember: get invested and stay invested.”

S&P 500 Index Returns Leading up to Market Peaks
click to enlarge

As further proof that many investors still see plenty of fuel in the tank, the June survey of fund managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) found that equity investors are overweight U.S. stocks for the first time in 15 months. Commodity allocations are at their highest in eight years. And two-thirds of managers say the U.S. is the best region in the world right now for corporate profits, which is at a 17-year high.

That’s not to say there aren’t risks, however. Forty-two percent of survey participants said they believed corporations were overleveraged. That’s well above the peak of 32 percent from soon before the start of the financial crisis. Fund managers cited “trade war” as the biggest “tail risk” for markets at present.

This is largely why we find domestic-focused small to mid-cap stocks so attractive right now. These firms are well positioned to take advantage of Trump’s high-growth “America first” policies, yet because they don’t have as much exposure to foreign markets, they bypass many of the trade war pitfalls large multinationals must face. Since Election Day 2016, the small-cap Russell 2000 Index has outperformed the large-cap S&P 500 Index by more than 8.5 percent.

Rethinking Market Cap-Weighting

On a final note, I want to draw attention to a change we’ve observed in S&P 500 returns—specifically, the difference in performance between an equal-weighted basket of stocks and one that’s market cap-weighted. For the longer-term period, equal-weighting outperformed. But more recently, market cap-weighting has pulled ahead. This is the case for the one-year, three-year and five-year periods.

market cap-weighted has beaten equal-weighted more recently
click to enlarge

So why is this? Simply put, the phenomenally large FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) have made the S&P 500 top heavy. Today, these five stocks represent a highly concentrated 12 percent of the S&P 500, nearly double from their share just five years ago. Apple alone represents 4 percent of the large-cap index.

Ten years ago, the FAANG stocks—excluding Facebook, which wasn’t public yet—had a combined market cap of $390 billion, according to FactSet data. In 2018, they’re valued at more than eight and half times that, or right around $3.32 trillion—a mind-boggling sum.

Market cap-weighted also means more money is disproportionately being reallocated to top winners such as Apple and Amazon, and so it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. This leaves you with too much exposure to companies that would be hardest hit in the event of a market downturn, and too little exposure to names and sectors that might rotate to the top in the next cycle.

 

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 Index is a market capitalization weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies by market value. The Russell 2000 Index is a small-cap stock market index of the bottom 2,000 stocks in the Russell 3000 Index.

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 3/31/2018.

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Top 10 Gold Producing Countries
June 12, 2018

top 10 gold producing countries australia gold mine pit

Gold is one of the rarest elements in the world, making up roughly 0.003 parts per million of the earth’s crust. But how much gold is the world digging up each year and what countries produce the most?

In 2017, global gold mine production was a reported 3,247 tonnes. This figure is down 5 tonnes from the previous year and marks the first annual drop since 2008, according to the GFMS Gold Survey 2018. The driving forces behind the drop in output were environmental concerns, crackdowns on illegal mining operations and rising costs.

This raises the question I’ve explored recently – have we reached peak gold? The idea is that all the easy gold has already been discovered and explorers have to dig deeper to find economically viable deposits. For example, South Africa was once the top gold-producing country by far, digging up over 1,000 tonnes in 1970, but annual output has fallen steadily since. On the other hand, several nations have emerged in the last few years as growing gold producers. China and Russia have both seen production in an overall upward trend.

global gold production fell slightly in 2017 world gold council data
click to enlarge

As seen in the chart below, China takes the number one spot of global gold producers by a wide margin, extracting 131 tonnes more than second place Australia. The top 10 rankings remained unchanged from 2016 to 2017, with the exception of Canada and Indonesia switching between fifth and seventh place, respectively. Of the top producers, Russia posted the largest annual gain, boosting output by 17 tonnes.

top 10 gold producing countries in 2017
click to enlarge

Below are more details on the top 10 countries with the largest gold production in 2017, beginning with the top producer and top consumer of bullion, China.

1. China – 426 tonnes

For many years China has been the top producing nation, accounting for 13 percent of global mine production. Production fell by 6 percent last year due to escalated efforts by the government to fight pollution and raise environmental awareness. However, production is expected to pick back up this year due to several mine upgrades at existing projects.

2. Australia – 295.1 tonnes

Although gold production increased 5 tonnes from the previous year in Australia, MinEx Consulting released a report detailing an expected drop between 2017 and 2057 unless the amount spent on exploration is doubled. The minerals industry produces over half of Australia’s total exports and generates about 8 percent of GDP.

top 10 gold producing countries australia gold mine pit

3. Russia – 270.7 tonnes

A massive 83 percent of European gold comes from Russia, which has been increasing its production every year since 2010. The nation increased output by 17 tonnes last year, even as the ruble appreciated 13 percent, which hurts producers with weaker revenue growth relative to the cost of production. Who is the largest buyer of Russian gold? The Russian government, of course, which purchases around two-thirds of all gold produced locally.

4. United States – 230.0 tonnes

Gold output rose by 8 tonnes in the U.S. last year, marking the fourth consecutive year of annual increases. Production was supported by project ramp-ups at the Long Canyon project in Nevada and the Haile project in South Carolina. Around 78 percent of American gold comes from Nevada alone.

5. Canada – 175.8 tonnes

Starbucks CEO Schultz debt is the greatest economic threat to the United States

Canada inched up two spots on the list in 2017, producing 10 more tonnes of gold than the previous year. Toronto-based Seabridge Gold stumbled upon a significant goldfield in northern British Colombia after a glacier retreated and is estimated to contain a whopping 780 metrics tonnes. This could be a source of increased output in the coming years.

 

 

6. Peru – 162.3 tonnes

Gold output fell for the second consecutive year in Peru, by 6 tonnes, largely due to crackdowns on illegal mining operations in the La Pampa region. Mining is a significant portion of Peru’s economy and the nation is also number three in the world for copper production.

7. Indonesia – 154.3 tonnes

Production in the archipelago nation fell by 11.7 percent, dropping to number seven on the list of top global producers. The Indonesian government introduced a tax amnesty program that hoped to repatriate money from overseas, which led to production falling at new main sites as traders were reluctant to remain in the mining industry.

8. South Africa – 139.9 tonnes

Once the top gold-producer in the world by a wide margin, South Africa’s gold mines have been slowing every year since 2008, with the exception of 2013 when production rose by a few tonnes. The nation is still home to the world’s deepest gold mine, the Mponeng mine, extending 2.5 miles underground.

9. Mexico – 130.5 tonnes

Although production fell three tonnes from 2016 to 2017, Mexico remains a competitive gold source. Output has risen from just 50.8 tonnes in 2008 to over 130 tonnes last year, one of the largest increases in a nine year span. Mexico is an attractive place for mining due to a relatively low cost of regulation.

top 10 gold producing countries australia gold mine pit

10. Ghana – 101.7 tonnes

Ghana is Africa’s second largest producer of gold and is also known for its reserves of various industrial minerals. Bullion production rose 7 tonnes over the previous year and accounts for over 20 percent of the nation’s total exports.

 

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 03/31/2018: Seabridge Gold Inc., Goldcorp.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory.

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Texas Gold Investors Just Got Their Own Fort Knox
June 11, 2018

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017

If you live in Texas and have any extra gold bars, coins and/or jewelry lying around that need safekeeping, you’re in luck. The Texas Bullion Depository, the first of its kind in the U.S., officially opened to the public in Austin last week, putting a cap on three years of planning and construction. The private firm managing the facility, Lone Star Tangible Assets, calls it the “world’s most advanced depository.”

This is wonderful news. Because Texas is such a trend-setting state, it might encourage other states to look into creating their own depositories. It also has the potential to attract even more investors to precious metals, which I believe are crucial components of any well diversified portfolio. As I’ve shown before, gold has little to no correlation with other assets such as equities, cash and Treasuries.

That makes the yellow metal especially favorable—now more than at any time since the financial crisis. We’re in the second longest economic expansion since World War II, and some experts see another recession as soon as 2020. A new survey by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) finds that half a panel of 45 “professional forecasters” believe the next recession could occur between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment, it’s important to recognize the risks and headwinds and prepare accordingly.

“Troubled” Deutsche Has $1.7 Trillion in Assets

Among the most headline-worthy risks is the uncertain survival of Deutsche Bank. Shares of Germany’s biggest lender have plummeted following a first quarter report showing net income fell some 80 percent from a year ago, as well as news that the Federal Reserve downgraded the bank’s U.S. operations to “troubled.”

could deutsche bank be another lehman
click to enlarge

Many analysts are already making the dubious comparison between Deutsche and Lehman Brothers, the storied American financial services firm whose bankruptcy nearly 10 years ago set off the global financial crisis. At the time of its filing, Lehman had approximately $639 billion in assets. As of the end of last year, Deutsche controlled more than double that amount — $1.7 trillion — meaning its failure could be catastrophic to global financial markets.

Ideas are currently being floated to save the distressed bank, including a German government bailout and a merger with rival Commerzbank, but nothing is guaranteed.

Record Student Debt

Starbucks CEO Schultz debt is the greatest economic threat to the United States

Something else I’m keeping my eye on is the ever-growing mountain of government and household debt. Howard Schultz, the outgoing billionaire executive chairman of Starbucks, told CNBC last week that he considered national debt to be the greatest threat to the U.S.

“I think the greatest threat domestically to the country is this $21 trillion debt hanging over the cloud of America and future generations,” Schultz said, adding to speculation that the former Starbucks chief is considering a presidential run in 2020.

I couldn’t agree more with Schultz on this point. I should add that higher interest rates are making servicing this debt even more costly than it already is. No one is off the hook.

Household debt is also ballooning out of control, and today, student loan debt stands at more than $1.5 trillion. Student debt is now the largest form of debt in the U.S. after mortgages. It’s bigger than auto loan debt and credit card debt. Even more alarming is that an estimated 20 percent of borrowers right now are behind on their payments.

US outstanding student loan debt now stands at 1.5 trillion dollars
click to enlarge

Negative Interest Rates in America?

Between Deutsche and student debt, the implications are enormous. They also highlight my recommendation that investors have approximately 10 percent in gold, with half of that in physical bullion and the other half in high-quality gold mining stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.

As I said earlier, the investment case for gold is highly appealing right now. Should another recession happen anytime soon, the Federal Reserve at present would be hamstrung to offer monetary accommodation.

That’s according to a recent post by my colleague James Rickards, who writes that it’s historically taken between 3 percent and 5 percent in interest rate cuts to pull the U.S. out of a recession.

The problem with this is that the federal funds rate currently sits at 1.75 percent. You do the math.

Were a recession to strike tomorrow, the Fed would have very little wiggle room to ease monetary policy. It could cut rates exactly 1.75 percent, but then it would hit zero and “be out of bullets,” as Rickards says.

Of course, the Fed could dip rates into negative territory, which—in theory—should spur consumer spending. Better to spend your cash on that new boat, the thinking goes, than be punished for letting it sit in the bank. But there’s evidence negative rates haven’t worked as expected to prop up the economies that have experimented with them—notably Japan, Switzerland, Sweden and the eurozone.

And because there’s really no easier way to destroy wealth than with negative interest rates, I would expect gold investment demand to get a massive jolt.

This is precisely why German investors have quietly become the world’s biggest buyers of gold. Until recently, Germany wasn’t known as a nation of gold bugs. But following the financial crisis, the European Central Bank (ECB) slashed rates, and banks began charging customers to hold their cash. Yields on German bonds went subzero. Today, the five-year bond will cost you more than 20 basis points.

For many Germans, the only reliable store of value was gold. Investors ploughed as much as $8 billion into gold coins, bars and exchange-traded commodities in 2016, the most recent year of available data. Demand for safety deposit boxes surged.

I’m curious to see if the same will happen at the Texas Bullion Depository.

Gold ETFs Have Attracted $1 Billion a Month So Far in 2018

The latest report from the World Gold Council (WGC) shows that inflows into global gold ETFs in May were mostly solid. European gold funds grew by 26 metric tons, or $1.2 billion, as geopolitical uncertainty weakened the euro against the dollar. And in Asia, gold ETFs rose by 21 metric tons, or $862 million, a phenomenal 20 percent increase from the previous month. These gains were offset somewhat by net outflows from North American funds as a strong U.S. dollar pushed the price of gold below $1,300 an ounce.

So far this year, gold ETFs have attracted nearly $5 billion, or approximately $1 billion per month.

gold ETF flows were strong in may despite subdued metal prices
click to enlarge

This pace can be maintained for the rest of year, I believe, especially now that it looks as if the U.S. dollar has peaked. Since its 2018 high on May 29, the greenback has already lost close to 1.5 percent. This affords gold more upside potential as we head closer to Diwali and the Indian wedding season, when gifts of gold jewelry are considered auspicious.

 

 

 

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. 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 3/31/2018.

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Gold, World War II and Operation Fish
June 5, 2018

Darkest Hour I recently had the opportunity to see the excellent 2017 film Darkest Hour, about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s struggle to keep the United Kingdom in the fight against the Nazis, even as members of his own government pressured him to capitulate. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the tough-as-nails leader is at turns tender and rousing—and very well deserving of the Best Actor Oscar.

I’d recommend the film to anyone, whether they’re a student of World War II or not.

It got me thinking, though, about the important role gold played in how the war was financed, as well as the U.K.’s daring efforts to prevent its gold holdings from falling into Adolf Hitler’s hands, should Nazi forces successfully invade the island and ransack its central bank. After all, Germany had done as much in a number of Central European countries before threatening the U.K.

Although not directly addressed in Darkest Hour, the U.K. ended up evacuating billions of dollars’ worth of gold bullion and other assets across the Atlantic, all to be kept safely in Canada. The mission, codenamed “Operation Fish,” is still the largest movement of physical wealth in history.

Germany’s Economic Straits

So why was Hitler so interested in acquiring gold?

To answer that, we really need to go back to the 1920s. At the time, Germany was in serious economic straits. It faced unprecedented hyperinflation, among the very worst such incidents in world history.

This was clearly a problem for Hitler, who, soon after being appointed Reich Chancellor in 1933, set in motion the remilitarization of Germany, in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Because the Western European country is not particularly resource-rich—the one exception is coal—everything from aluminum to zinc would have to be imported to manufacture the guns, tanks, ships, and warplanes needed to wage an extended conflict in the age of advanced machines.

But this was the Great Depression, which had suffocated the German economy as much as it had the United States’. Unemployment climbed to as high as 30 percent. In his inaugural address via radio, Hitler vowed to “achieve the great task of reorganizing our nation’s economy” through “a concerted and all-embarking attack against unemployment.”

Much like Roosevelt’s New Deal in the U.S., Hitler’s government tackled unemployment by dipping into deficit spending. It financed great public works projects such as the autobahn, railroad, housing and more.

The plan worked. Within four years, just as promised, unemployment was virtually thwarted. It’s been said that, had Hitler stopped in 1936 or 1937, he might today be remembered as one of the 20th century’s most admired leaders.

However, Hitler assumed a much more aggressive stance toward national rearmament in an effort to reclaim lost dignity—the Treaty of Versailles be damned. What stood in his way was not only his country’s lack of natural resources but also the fact that many supplier nations would not accept Germany’s worthless currency. They insisted instead to be paid in their own currency; some other international, convertible currency such as Swiss francs or U.S. dollars; or hard currency.    

How then would Germany pay for Sweden’s iron ore? Romania’s oil? Turkey’s chromium? Portugal’s tungsten and Spain’s manganese?

Enter gold.

In Gold We Trust

Before we continue, I want to make it clear that Hitler had no respect for the yellow metal, any more than he had for human life. Gold as a currency is built on trust, of which Hitler had none. He hated the metal and all it stands for—but he needed it to push forward his rearmament strategy.

during world war II, Germany's suppliers preferred gold to the reichsmark

Walther Funk, the Reich’s minister of economics and president of the country’s central Reichsbank, echoed this resentfulness at having to rely on gold:

“As far as currency is concerned, gold is unimportant to us,” Funk said in 1940. “We don’t need it as backing for a currency—which is being managed by price, volume, and wage control—but only to pay clearing balances.” 

In other words: We have absolutely no need for gold—until we need it.

But here another problem emerged: Just as it had few natural resources of its own, Germany laid claim to a relatively small gold reserve. In 1933, the Reich’s official holdings stood at only $109 million—not nearly enough to finance the kind of force Hitler envisioned.

The Greatest Gold Heist in History

So began the Reich’s looting of Europe’s gold reserves, beginning with Austria’s in 1938. At the time, Germany’s coffers were nearly empty. The infusion of Austria’s 90 to 100 metric tons of hard currency gave Hitler the boost he needed to continue his plundering.

Today we remember the Nazi’s gold heist as “one of the greatest thefts by a government in history,” in the words of Ambassador and Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart E. Eizenstat, spoken during his 1997 hearing on the status of Holocaust assets. Although estimates vary, and although the gold price fluctuates over time, it’s believed that as much as $600 million—now valued in the billions—were seized from the central banks and vaults of neighboring, occupied countries, including Austria, Poland, Belgium, Holland and the Netherlands. Millions more in silver, platinum, diamonds, artwork and other assets were stolen as well.

Operation Fish

Not every country’s hoard was pilfered, however. Once it was clear what the Nazis were up to, many outlying European countries had the prudence and foresight to secure their own reserves and keep them falling into Hitler’s hands.

And this is where we catch up with the timeline in Darkest Hour. In July 1940, as fears of a Nazi invasion intensified by the day, the U.K. shipped as much as 1,500 metric tons in gold—worth a mind-boggling $160 billion in 2017 dollars—across the Atlantic to be stored in Canada’s central bank in Ottawa.

one of the gold-bearing ships, the HMS enterprise

Codenamed “Operation Fish,” the evacuation was one of the greatest gambles ever. Writes Ottawa-based historian James Powell:

The only way to transport the tons of gold and securities was by ship across the U-boat infested North Atlantic, where 100 Allied and neutral merchant ships had been sunk in May 1940 alone. History was also not reassuring. During World War I, the SS Laurentic, carrying 43 tons of gold from Liverpool to Halifax, had been sunk in 1917 by a German U-boat off of Ireland. The loss of even one treasure ship would have major negative consequences. To buy weapons and other war materiel that it sorely needed from neutral United States, Britain had to pay in gold or U.S. dollars; no credit was permitted under the strict Neutrality Act in effect in the United States at that time.

Britain’s gamble paid off. Every last ingot made it safely across the Atlantic and was prevented from being used by the Nazis to extend their reign of terror a single day longer.

Germany Today a Gold Powerhouse

Although Hitler’s goals were despicable, his absolute need for gold reflects the precious metal’s centuries-long role as a widely accepted and trusted currency.

It’s a lesson Germany hasn’t forgotten, even today.

The country’s official gold holdings stand at 3,372 metric tons, more than any other except the U.S. Gold represents a whopping 70 percent of its foreign reserves—again, second only to the U.S. This has helped Germany become one of the most powerful and stable economies in the world.

More recently, Germany has emerged as the world’s largest gold investor. Although China and India still outpace the European country in total amount of gold consumed, Germans are ploughing more money into gold coins, bars and exchange-traded commodities (ETCs).

Interested in reading more about the history of gold? Check out some of my other posts below!

 

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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GO GOLD! Inflationary Tariffs Could Supercharge the Yellow Metal
June 4, 2018

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017

Ready for inflation?

Just days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reassured markets that a trade war between the U.S. and China was “on hold,” the Trump administration announced that it would be moving forward with plans to impose 25 percent tariffs on as much as $50 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S. Beijing has already suggested that it will retaliate in kind.

The White House also reinstated tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU) after allowing earlier exemptions to expire. Again, there’s a big chance the U.S. will see some sort of tit-for-tat response.

Steel prices are already up 45 percent from a year ago. The annual change in the price of a new vehicle in the U.S. has been dropping steadily since last summer, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but with the cost of materials set to rise dramatically, we could see a price reversal sooner rather than later.

US midwest hot rolled steel price up 45 percent from last year
click to enlarge

Next up, the U.S. government could slap steep tariffs on imported automobiles—and possibly even ban German luxury vehicles outright, according to a report by German business news magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

These decisions, if fully implemented, will have a multitude of implications on the U.S. and world economies. What I can say with full confidence, though, is that prices will rise—for producers and consumers alike—which is good for gold but a headwind for continued economic growth.

You Can’t Suck and Blow at the Same Time

US midwest hot rolled steel price up 45 percent from last year

Let me explain. I’ve often said that middle class taxpayers elected Trump president by and large to take on entrenched bureaucrats, cut the red tape and streamline regulations. People are fed up. A study last year by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that government workers not only earn more on average than private-sector workers with similar educational backgrounds, they’re also guaranteed health, retirement and other benefits. Trump responded to these concerns by signing an executive order that eased the firing of federal workers.

He’s kept his word in other ways. Since being in office, he’s already eliminated five federal rules on average for every new rule created, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). He’s weakened Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, not to mention slashed corporate taxes.

In 2017, the number of pages in the Federal Register, the official list of administrative regulations, dropped to 61,950 from 97,069 the previous year. This is especially good news for productivity. Research firm Cornerstone Macro found that Americans were more productive when there were fewer rules, less productive when there were more rules. 

productivity decreased as the number of federal rules and regulations grew
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These are all positive developments that should help boost the economy. The problem is that they could be undermined by tariffs, which are essentially regulations. We believe government policy is a precursor to change, and history suggests that rising tariffs and regulations hurt the economy.

Consider automobiles. U.S. automakers are the second largest consumer of steel following construction. In March, the Wall Street Journal estimated that the tariffs could add at least $300 to each new vehicle sold in the U.S. And speaking to Bloomberg last week, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will make cars more expensive. “These tariffs will result in an increase in the price of domestically produced steel—threatening the industry’s global competitiveness and raising vehicle costs for our customers,” Gloria Bergquist said.

Do tariffs on imported vehicles threaten united states auto sales
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Higher Inflation Has Historically Meant Higher Gold Prices

The good news in all this is that higher inflation has historically been supportive of the price of gold. In the years when inflation was 3 percent or higher, annual gold returns were 15 percent on average, according to the World Gold Council (WGC).

gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation
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When gold hit its all-time high of $1,900 an ounce in August 2011, consumer prices were up nearly 4 percent from the same time the previous year. The two-year Treasury yield, meanwhile, averaged only 0.21 percent, meaning the T-note was delivering a negative real yield and investors were paying the U.S. government to hang on to their money. This created a favorable climate for gold, as investors sought a safe haven asset that would at least beat inflation.

CIBC: Major Gold Firms to Generate Strong Free Cash Flow and ROIC

gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

Finally, I want to draw attention to an exciting research report released last week by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). I’m a huge admirer of the work CIBC does, especially that of Cosmos Chiu, director of precious metals equity research. Chiu and his team write that the “future looks brighter” for gold equities on improved free cash flow and return on invested capital (ROIC). Both factors are among our favorites. I recently shared with you a chart that shows that, over the past 30 years, ROIC outperformed other factors by as much as one and half times.

With gold trading near $1,300 an ounce, producers are currently posting positive margins, according to CIBC. As a result, every stock in the bank’s large-cap universe, with the exception of Kinross, is expected to generate positive free cash flow through 2019.

Go Gold! Royalty/Streaming Companies Deliver the Profits

The bank has even better news for royalty and streaming companies, particularly Franco-Nevada, Royal Gold and Wheaton Precious Metals. For one, the three big royalty names delivered combined shareholder returns of 6.2 percent between 2013 and 2017, outperforming both senior producers and physical gold.

Three largest royalty and streaming companies forecast to deliver strong return on invested capital
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Now, CIBC forecasts the royalty group will generate strong ROICs, “steadily inching higher over the next decade… to average between the 5 percent and 8 percent mark from 2018 – 2023.” ROIC measures how well a company can turn its invested capital into profits.  

Loyal readers already know we’ve long been fans of Franco-Nevada, Wheaton Precious Metals and other royalty/streaming names. 

 

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

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 (03/31/2018): Franco-Nevada Corp., Royal Gold Inc., Wheaton Precious Metals Corp.

Free cash flow is the cash a company produces through its operations, less the cost of expenditures on assets. In other words, free cash flow or FCF is the cash left over after a company pays for its operating expenses and capital expenditures or CAPEX.

Return on invested capital (ROIC) is a profitability ratio. It measures the return that an investment generates for those who have provided capital, i.e. bondholders and stockholders. ROIC tells us how good a company is at turning capital into profits.

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Net Asset Value
as of 11/15/2018

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $4.86 0.06 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $6.41 0.13 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $3.16 0.01 China Region Fund USCOX $8.21 0.18 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.33 0.07 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.92 0.09 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $18.50 0.09 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.19 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change