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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.

Investors Brace for a Storm of Uncertainty with Gold
February 13, 2017

As Winter Storm Niko blanketed the Northeast in snow last week, disrupting scores of flights in the U.S., airline executives convened in Washington to talk shop with President Donald Trump.

Back in November, I wrote that domestic carriers are likely to see the new president—himself the former owner of the now-defunct Trump Airlines—as a strong partner in several key areas. Although a couple of airline CEOs have recently expressed strong opposition to some of Trump’s protectionist immigration policies, Thursday ’s meeting appeared to be constructive, with the president telling the group he would soon be announcing something “phenomenal in terms of tax and developing our aviation infrastructure.”

Details of the tax plan, he said, would likely be announced sometime in the next two or three weeks. This rejuvenated some of the spirit that swept through the market soon after his election, reassuring investors that reform would come sooner than expected.

Among other topics discussed at the meeting were the need for airport infrastructure improvements, industry deregulation, air traffic  control and U.S. carriers’ competitive disadvantage to heavily-subsidized Persian Gulf carriers. Three state-owned Gulf carriers in particular have received as much as $50 billion in subsidies from Middle Eastern governments since 2004, which allow them “to operate without concern for turning a profit,” according to a letter addressed to Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, and signed by three U.S. airline CEOs, including Doug Parker of American Airlines, Edward Bastian of Delta Air Lines and Oscar Munoz of United Airlines. U.S. airlines, obviously, do not have the same privilege, putting them at a competitive disadvantage in the international market. Encouraging the Gulf states to end subsidization, as the CEOs hope, would be a huge win for domestic carriers and their workers.

The market seemed to like what it heard, as the NYSE Arca Airline Index rallied close to 2.3 percent Thursday. This was the biggest one-day move for the group in about a month, during which Trump’s executive immigration ban grounded airline stocks.

Immigration Policy Grounded International Carriers
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The selloff following the executive order was overdone, I think, but it gave airline investors such as Warren Buffett an attractive buying opportunity.

Speaking of which, we learned last week that Buffett was convinced to bet big on the industry, reversing his famously negative opinion of the group, after being in attendance at one of Doug Parker’s investor presentations last March. Parker told attendees that consolidation had fundamentally transformed the industry, making it efficient and focused on demand.  

What else is driving the airline industry?

 

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Airlines got another boost last week after a federal appeals court, in a unanimous decision, struck down Trump’s travel ban. This prompted the president to tweet “SEE YOU IN COURT,” presumably meaning the Supreme Court.

With respect to Trump, I’m reminded of a statement former president George W. Bush made back in 2010, less than a year after leaving office. “Here’s what you learn,” he said. “You realize you’re not it. You’re part of something bigger than yourself.” The buck might stop with the president, but the office is so much greater than one man.

George W. Bush speaking on the Office of the President October 2010

Trump, the art of the deal

This point was made by David Gergen, former advisor and senior official to a number of presidents, including Nixon, Ford and Reagan. He’s now a CNN political analyst, and it was my pleasure to hear him speak at Harvard recently. Trump is learning the hard way, Gergen said, that the Office of the President cannot be run like the Trump Organization, or any other private company. In public office, there are checks and balances, and there’s blindingly harsh transparency—all of which the billionaire president, aged 70, has never had to deal with.

Trump ran largely on his dealmaking expertise, and I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can negotiate good deals for the U.S. But it’s important to remember that successful deals, in business and in government, often can’t occur without a judicious amount of compromise. If he truly believes in the value and necessity of imposing a temporary immigration ban on seven mostly-Muslim countries, his administration will need to go about it in a way that pleases the courts.

But then, none of us should be surprised if he insists on the ban in its current form. “My style of dealmaking is quite simple and straightforward,” he wrote 30 years ago in Art of the Deal. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

Hedge Fund Managers Sound Off

Meanwhile, the president’s unpredictability and Twitter outbursts have inevitably engendered quite a lot of market uncertainty, which, as you know, investors don’t like. This has prompted several big-name hedge fund managers to weigh in.

One such manager is value investor Seth Klarman, who oversees $30 billion as head of Boston-based Baupost Group. He tends to be media-shy, but Klarman is no slouch. In the last 34 years, he’s lost money in only three. He’s one of the very few money managers to receive open praise from Buffett himself.

Anyway, in his annual letter to investors, Klarman raised concerns that Trump’s protectionist policies and deep tax cuts could seriously hamper economic growth, both domestically and abroad, by isolating the U.S. from global trade and adding significantly to the already-bloated national debt.    

“Exuberant investors have focused on the potential benefits of stimulative tax cuts, while mostly ignoring the risks from America-first protectionism and the erection of new trade barriers,” he wrote. You can read more of Klarman’s letter over at Andrew Ross Sorkin’s DealBook.

Managers at hedge fund firm Carlson Capital, which controls over $8 billion, share many of the same concerns, telling investors recently that Trump’s trade policies could “cause a global depression and a major equity market decline.”

Even for some money managers who were initially excited by Trump—Ray Dalio and Jeff Gundlach among them—reality is beginning to set in.

Gold Gains on Uncertainty

Trump, the art of the deal

Last year, central bank policy and negative real interest rates drove the gold rally. This year, it seems to be uncertainty over Trump and other antiestablishment leaders, which is convincing the smart money to make wagers on the yellow metal, often seen as a safe haven during shaky times. So far in 2017, it’s up close to 7 percent, compared to the S&P 500’s 2.6 percent. In fact, if you compare this year’s price action to last year’s, they look remarkably the same, with a dip in December before the Federal Reserve raised rates. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, gold could gain another $100 an ounce this year if it continues to follow the same trajectory.

Gold Continues to Mirror Price Action from Last Year
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Among those who are bullish on the yellow metal is Stanley Druckenmiller, the legendary hedge fund manager who dumped his gold the same day he learned Trump had been elected. Before that, it was the number one holding in his family office account. Now he’s back, telling Bloomberg he “wanted to own some currency and no country wants its currency to strengthen. Gold was down a lot, so I bought it.”

Higher demand has been good for both junior and senior gold miners, which recently crossed above their 200-day moving averages.

Junior and Senior Gold Miners Above Their 200-Day Moving Averages
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The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index was up for an incredible seven straight days ended Monday, while the MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners has made positive gains in eight of the nine previous days.

Germany Brings Home More of Its Gold

Hedge fund managers aren’t the only ones whose demand for gold is strong. For the sixth straight year, central banks continued to be net importers of the metal in 2016, with China, Russia and Kazakhstan leading world consumption.

Germany repatriated 216 metric tons of gold in 2016

Although it might not have purchased any gold in 2016, the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, ramped up its repatriation program, bringing home some 216 metric tons from vaults in New York, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2011, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said central banks held gold simply because it’s tradition. I think the reason goes much deeper than that. Gold is money—it has been ever since the first gold currency appeared in China more than 3,000 years ago—and Germany’s efforts are proof of that.    

 

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 NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is a modified market capitalization weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold and silver.  The index benchmark value was 500.0 at the close of trading on December 20, 2002. The MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners Index includes companies that generate at least 50% of their revenues from (or, in certain circumstances, have at least 50% of their assets related to) gold mining and/or silver mining or have mining projects with the potential to generate at least 50% of their revenues from gold and/or silver when developed. Such companies may include micro- and small-capitalization companies and foreign issuers.

The NYSE Arca Airline Index (XAL) is an equal dollar weighted index designed to measure the performance of highly capitalized companies in the airline industry. The XAL Index tracks the price performance of major U.S. and overseas airlines.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2016: Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc.

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Trump’s Tax Plan Could Cost You. Here’s What to Do About It
February 7, 2017

Top earners have traditionally been attracted to municipal bonds for their tax-exempt status at the federal and often state and local levels. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory, however, muni investors were forced to readjust their expectations of fiscal policy going forward. Because Trump had campaigned on deep cuts to corporate and personal income taxes, equities soared while munis sold off, ending a near-record 54 weeks of net inflows.

This appears to have been premature, for a couple of reasons.

Tax Reform Unlikely to Happen Anytime Soon

House Speaker Ryan: We'll tackle Obamacare and infrastructure before tax reform As I explained to you this week, Trump and congressional Republicans are currently butting heads on how best to handle tax reform, with many lawmakers saying it’s unlikely they’ll get around to it during the new president’s first 100 days, and possibly his first 200 days.

According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress will focus instead on replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and funding Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending package before it worries about taxes. With an estimated 30 million Americans enrolled on Obamacare exchanges, finding a suitable replacement is of high importance and might take some time. The same goes with negotiating a costly infrastructure deal, which several fiscally conservative lawmakers are hesitant to support.

Besides, we all know how fast Congress operates, even on a good day. Former President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, and even with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, his signature health care law didn’t reach his desk until March the following year.

All of this is to say that it might be premature to start dumping your munis, or withhold an investment in munis, purely on the notion that income taxes are about to get a haircut. We’re probably looking at many more months of Obama-era tax rates, including the 3.8 percent Obamacare surcharge on investment income.

Other investors have realized this as well, which is why we’re seeing positive net inflows back into muni bond funds.

OIl Historically Rallied in the Two Years Following OPEC's Agreement to Cut Production
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Plus, You Could End Up Paying More in Taxes

If enacted as conceived, Trump’s tax reform plan would indeed be the most significant in decades, simplifying the number of tax brackets from seven to three, lowering the top rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent and eliminating personal exemptions and filing status options.

Trump's tax proposals could end up costing some americans.

One of the unintended consequences of this is that income taxes could actually go up for certain middle-income filers. According to an analysis of Trump’s proposal by the independent Tax Policy Center, as many as 8 million American families, including a majority of single-parent households and large families, could end up paying more than they do now (emphasis mine):   

Increasing the standard deduction would significantly reduce the number of filers who itemize. We estimate that 27 million (60 percent) of the 45 million filers who would otherwise itemize in 2017 would opt for the standard deduction. Repealing personal exemptions and the head of household filing status, however, would cause many large families and single parents to face tax increases.

What this means is that tax-exempt muni bonds could still play a valuable role in your portfolio.

But What About Rising Interest Rates?

In December, the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates for only the second time in nearly a decade, and many expect to see up to three additional increases this year.

It’s important to be aware that when rates rise, bond prices fall because if newly issued bonds carry a higher yield, the value of existing bonds with lower rates declines.

This is why I believe investors should take advantage of short- and intermediate-term munis, which are less sensitive to rate increases than longer-term bonds, whose maturities are further out. 

Our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) invests primarily in short-term municipal debt issued by quality, fiscally responsible jurisdictions. As of December 31, the fund is rated four stars overall by Morningstar among 172 funds in the Muni National Short category.

Morningstar Rating

Overall/172
3-Year/172
5-Year/147
10-Year/94

Morningstar ratings based on risk-adjusted return and number of funds
Category: Muni National Short
Through: December 31, 2016

 

To learn more, check out

 

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.

Morningstar Ratings are based on risk-adjusted return. The Morningstar Rating for a fund is derived from a weighted-average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five- and ten-year (if applicable) Morningstar Rating metrics. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For each fund with at least a three-year history, Morningstar calculates a Morningstar Ratingä based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a fund’s monthly performance (including the effects of sales charges, loads, and redemption fees), placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of funds in each category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. (Each share class is counted as a fraction of one fund within this scale and rated separately, which may cause slight variations in the distribution percentages.)

Bond funds are subject to interest-rate risk; their value declines as interest rates rise. Though the Near-Term Tax Free Fund seeks minimal fluctuations in share price, it is subject to the risk that the credit quality of a portfolio holding could decline, as well as risk related to changes in the economic conditions of a state, region or issuer. These risks could cause the fund’s share price to decline. Tax-exempt income is federal income tax free. A portion of this income may be subject to state and local taxes and at times the alternative minimum tax. The Near-Term Tax Free Fund may invest up to 20% of its assets in securities that pay taxable interest. Income or fund distributions attributable to capital gains are usually subject to both state and federal income taxes.

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

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Investors Shift Back into Gold as Trump’s Honeymoon Period Ends
February 6, 2017

Investors Shift Back into Gold as Trump’s Honeymoon Period Ends

That didn’t take long.

After little more than two weeks, President Donald Trump’s honeymoon with Wall Street appears to have been put on hold—for the moment, at least—with major indices making only tepid moves since his January 20 inauguration. That includes the small-cap Russell 2000 Index, which surged in the days following Election Day on hopes that Trump’s pledge to roll back regulations and lower corporate taxes would benefit domestic small businesses the most.

Is Trump's Honeymoon with Wall Street Over Already?
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And therein lies part of the problem. Although the president managed to sign an executive order last week requiring the elimination of two federal regulations for every new rule that’s adopted (and ordered a review of Dodd-Frank and former President Obama’s fiduciary rule), other campaign promises that initially excited investors—tax reform and an infrastructure spending deal among them—might have already hit a roadblock.

According to Reuters, a three-day meeting in Philadelphia between President Trump and congressional Republicans ended in a stalemate, with it looking less and less likely that tax reform will happen during Trump’s first 100 days in office—perhaps even the first 200 days. As for infrastructure, several Republicans were reportedly wary of committing to such an enormous spending package before more complete details become available.

Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO, dropped out of Trump's business advisory panel

Meanwhile, Trump’s seven-nation travel ban received a lukewarm—and, in some cases, hostile—reception from many in the business world who have traditionally depended on foreign talent. That’s especially the case in Silicon Valley, where close to 40 percent of all workers are foreign-born, according to the 2016 Silicon Valley Index. (Around the same percentage of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants, including Steve Jobs, whose biological father was Syrian.) One of the more dramatic responses toward the travel ban was Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s dropping out of Trump’s business advisory panel, following an outcry from users of the popular ride-sharing app who saw his participation with the president as an endorsement of his immigration policies.

Notable Silicon Valley Immigrants

I’ve shared with you before that the media often take Trump literally but not seriously, whereas his supporters take him seriously but not literally. I think it’s evident that the market is finally coming to terms with the fact that Trump, unlike every other politician before him, actually meant everything he said on the campaign trail, including his more protectionist and nationalist ideas.

Although I don’t necessarily agree with Trump’s plans to raise tariffs, withdraw from free-trade agreements and restrict international travel, it might be easy to some to see why he feels American companies need protecting from foreign competition. Last week I attended the Harvard Business School CEO Presidents’ Seminar in Boston, and among the topics we discussed was China’s ascent as an economic and corporate juggernaut. Take a look at the chart below, using data from Fortune Magazine’s annual list of the world’s 500 largest companies by revenue. Whereas the U.S. has lost ground globally over the past 20 years, China’s share of large companies has exploded, from having only three on the list in 1995 to 103 in 2015. The number of Japanese firms, meanwhile, has more than halved in that time.  

U.S. Has Lost Share of World's Largest Companies to China
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I will say, while I’m on this topic, that the uncertainty and unpredictablilty surrounding Trump has given active management a strong opportunity to demonstrate its value in the investment world. Assessing the risks and implications of his actions, policies and tweets, which change daily, really requires a human touch that fund managers and analysts can provide.

Dollar Down, Gold Up

One of those implications is the U.S. dollar’s decline. Following Trump’s comment that it was “too strong” and hurt American exporters’ competitiveness, currency traders shorted the greenback, causing it to have the worst start to a year since 1987.   

U.S. Dollar Has Rockiest Beginning of the Year Since 1987, Boosting Gold
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This, coupled with a more dovish Federal Reserve, expectations of higher inflation and growing demand for a safe haven, has helped push gold prices back above $1,200 an ounce. January, in fact, was the best month for the yellow metal since June, when Brexit anxiety and negative government bond yields sent it to as high as $1,370.

Gold Posts Its Biggest Monthly Gain Since June 2016
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Demand for gold as an investment was up a whopping 70 percent year-over-year in 2016, according to the World Gold Council. Gold ETFs had their second-best year on record. But immediately following the November election, outflows from gold ETFs and other products accelerated, eventually shedding some 193 metric tons.

But now, just two weeks into Trump’s term as president, the gold bulls are banging the drum, with several large hedge fund managers taking a contrarian bet on the precious metal.    

Inflationary pressures are indeed intensifying. U.S. consumer prices rose 2.1 percent in December year-over-year, their fastest pace since 2014, and inflation across the globe is beating market forecasts, with the Citi Global Inflation Surprise Index turning positive for the first time since 2012. Anything above zero indicates that actual inflation is stronger than expectations for the month.

Global Inflation Beats Expectations in December for the First Time Since 2012
click to enlarge

 

 

OPEC Making Good on Production Agreement

Among the commodities showing resilience right now is oil, especially on reports that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is 60 percent of the way to reaching its output target after agreeing to cutting production in early December for the first time since 2008.

Gold Posts Its Biggest Monthly Gain Since June 2016
click to enlarge

Of course, this news is tempered by analysts’ expectations that U.S. producers will export more crude than four OPEC members combined in 2017. According to Bloomberg, the U.S. could sell as much as 800,000 barrels a day overseas, which is more than Libya, Qatar, Ecuador and Gabon produced in December.

 

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

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 U.S. Trade Weighted Dollar Index provides a general indication of the international value of the U.S. dollar.

The Citi Global Inflation Surprise Index measure price surprises relative to market expectations. Readings below zero indicate that actual inflation is below market expectations, where readings above zero indicate that inflation is above expectations.

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 12/30/2016.

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What These Four Global Leaders Have in Common with Trump
February 2, 2017

President Donald J. Trump was elected on promises to “Make America Great Again,” and since January 20 he’s already signed a number of executive orders to tighten border security and ease regulations. Whether you approve of his actions or not, no one can deny that many of Trump’s policies are a sharp departure from American politics of the last 70 years, which has emphasized globalism and interventionism.

It isn’t until we look at the bigger picture, though, that we realize Trump’s ascent is in line with a nationalistic wave that’s spreading across the globe, from Asia to Europe and beyond. As investors, it’s important that we familiarize ourselves with these global policymakers, thought leaders, mavericks and disruptors. Government policy, after all, is a precursor to change.

Below are four such leaders who have more in common with Trump than you might realize.  

1. Narendra Modi – India

Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan, “Good times ahead,” is in many ways cut from the same idealistic cloth as “Make America Great Again.” Indeed, the similarities between Modi and Trump are numerous. Both men have made it their top goals to strengthen economic growth by deregulating key industries and taking a protectionist approach to manufacturing, reflected in their respective “Make in India” and “America First” policies. A former tea merchant, Modi has often been described as a Hindu nationalist, with alleged goals to replace secularism with Hinduism as the guiding principle of Indian government and society. Like Trump, he’s interested in “draining the swamp” of public corruption. To that end, Modi took an extreme measure in November, eliminating all 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes—90 percent of the nation’s currency—one of the effects of which was a sharp decline in December’s gold demand.   

Modi's Demonetization Scheme Impacted India's Gold Imports in December 2016
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2. Xi Jinping – China

Upon taking leadership of the People’s Republic of China in 2013, Xi Jinping made it his mission to crack down on corrupt “flies” (rank-and-file party officials) and “tigers” (senior officials) who were suspected of lining their pockets with black money. Since Xi began to “drain the swamp,” courts have prosecuted more than 200,000 officials on corruption-related charges and disciplined hundreds of thousands more. His campaign, which has been wildly popular with the masses, hit Asian gaming capital Macau particularly hard. Before the crackdown, Macau, a special administrative region of China, was adding the equivalent of a Las Vegas Strip every year in revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal. More recently, Xi instructed senior officials to lead by example, warning them there were “no forbidden areas in intra-party supervision, and no exceptions.”

Macau's Gaming Revenue Took a Hit from Chinese Anti-Corruption Measures
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3. Mauricio Macri – Argentina

It might be hard to believe now, but Argentina once ranked among the top 10 wealthiest nations in the world, following the U.K., U.S. and Australia. Following years of rule by the far-left Justicialist Party, however, the South American country languished in corruption and stagnation. In November 2015, voters said “no, gracias” to further leftist rule by electing businessman and two-term Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Marci as president. It was an upset victory for the people of Argentina, who have seen their once-prosperous nation deteriorate under decades of Marxist policies. Since being sworn in, Macri has made business growth and the economy a number one priority, loosening regulations in the telecommunications sector, easing currency controls, cutting energy subsidies and eliminating tariffs.

Can Mauricio Macri Make
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4. Nigel Farage – United Kingdom

Not all disruptors need to be presidents or prime ministers. As founder and once-leader of the populist, right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage has already made a lasting impact on the United Kingdom. The former commodities trader was instrumental in the campaign to leave the European Union (EU), and following the referendum’s passage, Farage invoked the 1996 sci-fi action film “Independence Day” by declaring June 23 “our independence day” from failed socialist rules, regulations and immigration policies. Reportedly close to Trump, Farage was the first British politician to meet with the then-president-elect after the November election and has since come out in full support of his more controversial policies, including the “extreme vetting” of refugees.   

Brexit Pounded the POund
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Honorable Mention, Looking Ahead

These five global mavericks, Trump included, are certainly not the only ones in power right now, and we can expect to see more in the months and years ahead. Emboldened by Brexit and Trump, other nationalistic candidates are rising in European polls, with several major elections coming up this year in France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Among the candidates with a reasonable chance to gain control is Marine Le Pen, president of France’s Front National Party, which takes a hard Euroskeptic stance. (She is, in fact, daughter of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.) If elected president of France in May, Le Pen pledges many dramatic changes, including withdrawing from  the Schengen Area, which eliminates border controls and passports among 26 European countries; giving priority to French citizens with regard to jobs and housing; reintroducing the death penalty and boosting spending on prisons; and issuing a “Frexit” referendum to quit the EU.

 

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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China Sets the Stage to Replace the U.S. as Global Trade Leader
January 30, 2017

golden rooster

Saturday marked the Lunar New Year, the most important date in the Chinese calendar. It’s also the start of the longest holiday at two weeks, during which the largest mass migration of humans occurs every year as families reunite and go on vacations, both domestic and overseas.

2017 is the year of the 10th Chinese zodiac, the fire rooster, one of whose lucky colors is gold. Year-to-date, gold—the metal, not the color—is up 3.5 percent, which is below the 5.7 percent it had gained so far around this time last year. Unfortunately, gold prices won’t find support from Chinese traders this week, as markets will be closed in observance of the new year. If you remember, the yellow metal had one of its worst one-day slumps of 2016 back in October during China’s Golden Week, when markets were similarly closed.

But there are other opportunities to get excited about. More than 3 billion trips are expected to take place domestically this year—58 million by air alone. That’s up from 55 million last year and is equivalent to the combined populations of Texas, Ohio and New York. China Southern Airlines, the largest carrier in Asia, added as many as 3,600 flights to accommodate the demand.

58 Million Expected Flight Chinese New Year
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As disposable incomes rise in the world’s second-largest economy, travelers are more inclined to take their new year celebrations outside the country. This year, 6 million Chinese tourists are expected to travel abroad and spend more than $14 billion in 147 destinations, the U.S. included. As I’ve mentioned before, China is home to some of the biggest overseas spenders, with 128 million people spending a whopping $292 billion in 2015 alone.

Betting on China’s Surging Middle Class

A theme I’ve written and spoken about frequently is the emergence of new investment opportunities as more and more Chinese citizens join the middle class and build disposable incomes. The size of the Asian giant’s middle class has already exceeded that of America’s. Looking ahead 10 years, the number of Chinese households with incomes over $35,000 is now expected to surge 300 percent, from 40 million today to 160 million by 2025. That projection can be found in a January report from Oxford Economics, which points out that these new middle-class Chinese consumers “will demand more of the services and higher-end products that American companies export.”

Chinas Surging Middle Class Growth Market US Businesses
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“As China’s middle class expands, we expect demand for American-made goods and services to rise as well,” the economic advisory firm writes.

Among those goods are advanced-technology products (ATPs), made in American industries such as robotics, aerospace, electronics and pharmaceuticals. Chinese demand for such goods has indeed risen, from less than 24 percent of total imports in 2002 to close to 34 percent in 2016. However, the U.S. has been losing market share in exporting ATPs to China, according to a report this week from BCA.

Chinas Demand Advanced Technology Products Opportunity US
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Free Trade Has Benefited American Businesses and Consumers

BCA argues that President Donald Trump will need to work more cooperatively with the Chinese to regain market share for American ATPs if he’s truly committed to creating quality manufacturing jobs here in the U.S. At the moment, it’s unclear whether he’s serious about actually imposing sanctions on Chinese goods or whether he’s using the threat simply as a negotiating tactic.

I agree with BCA’s analysis. Trump’s isolationist and protectionist leanings certainly raise the specter of a trade war with China, which would likely end up being worse for U.S. businesses and consumers in the long run. According to Oxford Economics, our trade relationship with China supports about 2.6 million jobs in the U.S. and has helped put money in Americans’ wallets by keeping consumer prices lower than they otherwise would have been. A typical American family making $56,500 in 2015 saved about $850 that year because of trade with China, Oxford estimates.

US China Trade Largely Benefited American Businesses Consumers
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“Brewing trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies are undoubtedly negative for both the global economy and financial markets,” BCA writes, recommending that investors “should certainly hedge against such a scenario… with long positions on the dollar, gold, and the VIX,” or the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility index.   

BCA makes a compelling case for gold. I’ve always recommended a 10 percent weighting—5 percent in bullion (coins, wafers and 18-22 carat jewelry), the other 5 percent in quality mining stocks and mutual funds.

 

China Champions Free Trade

Now that Trump is rethinking America’s involvement in free-trade agreements such as NAFTA, having already withdrawn the U.S. from the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), President Xi Jinping seems interested in positioning China as the global leader in free trade.

Earlier this month, Xi made the first-ever visit by a Chinese president to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he urged the world to “say no to protectionism.”

“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air,” he colorfully said. “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war.”

It’s definitely a sharp departure from the norm of the past several decades that China should emerge as the world’s top defender of global trade at a time when the U.S. is set to turn inward, but this is the reality we live in now. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Speaking to Congressional Republicans in Philadelphia last week, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said that, while both countries are now on a more isolationist trajectory, the U.S. and U.K. must resist the “eclipse of the West.”

“We—our two countries together—have a joint responsibility to lead,” she said, “because when others step up as we step back, it is bad for America, for Britain and the world.”

As if to reaffirm its commitment to being a global leader in trade and economic development, China just agreed to cooperate with the Philippines on 30 regional infrastructure projects valued at $3.7 billion, according to Global Trade Magazine. This comes despite the two countries sharing a traditionally strained relationship over territorial rights.

What’s more, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)—founded in 2015 to serve as an alternative to Western creditors such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—will be joined by 25 new member-nations this year alone, including Ireland, Canada, Ethiopia and Sudan. The bank is leaving the door open for U.S. membership, but that appears unlikely under a Trump administration.

In its monthly investment report, HSBC recommends an overweight position in Chinese equities, citing improved economic activity, policy stimulus and strong credit. As for a U.S.-China trade war, the investment bank believes it to be unlikely. However, “rising trade protectionism or U.S.-China trade frictions may accelerate the development of high-valued industries in China,” it writes.

 

Touring the World’s Largest Building

Boeing factory

On a final note, I was in Vancouver last weekend attending and speaking at the annual Vancouver Resource Investment Conference alongside old friends and colleagues such as Frank Giustra, Thom Calandra and many others.

While up there, my friend Marin Katusa of Katusa Research organized a tour of Boeing’s monolithic Everett factory near Seattle, where the plane-maker builds its 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner jets.

At 13.3 million cubic meters, Boeing’s factory is recognized as the world’s largest building by volume. Words fail me in trying to describe how small and insignificant you feel in the presence of the site, which covers a massive 98.3 acres. The doors alone are the size of football fields. Among the world locations that could comfortably fit inside are the Pentagon, the Pyramids and all of Disneyland.

The thing is so monstrous, it has its own weather system.

Boeing Profits 787 Dreamliner Stock Record High
click to enlarge

It’s helpful to think of the factory as a small enclosed city, complete with its own hospital, daycare center, fire department and more. Security is very tight, and a strict “no photos” policy is enforced, for obvious reasons.

That’s why I recommend you go on the factory tour yourself the next time you’re in the Seattle area. Or make a special trip of it. Take a friend. It’s an impressive, awesome reminder of what American ingenuity and innovation is capable of, and I’m grateful to Marin for the opportunity to visit it.

On behalf of everyone at U.S. Global Investors, I want to wish you a Happy Chinese New Year! May the Year of the Rooster bring you lasting happiness, strong health and good fortune!

 

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Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/30/2016: China Southern Airlines Co. Ltd., The Boeing Co.

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