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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.

What Do Quincy Jones, Serena Williams and Blockchain Have in Common?
January 29, 2018

Frank Holmes Robert Friedland

Two big themes last week at Inside ETFs, the Comic-Con of exchange-traded funds attended by more than 2,300 advisors and investors, were innovation and disruption. Like all other industries, the investing world has seen its fair share of disruption in the past quarter-century—think indexing, passive investing, the rise of robo-allocation and now blockchain and cryptocurrencies. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first ever ETF, and today total ETF assets top $3 trillion. That’s a far cry from the estimated $40 trillion sitting in mutual funds worldwide, but exchange-traded funds are rapidly catching up as investors seek cheaper, more innovative and tax-efficient instruments.

Consider robo-advisors, which emerged only 10 years ago. Who would have thought in the mid-2000s that so many investors would be comfortable enough with the idea of a machine managing their money? And yet here we are. By 2020, Citi analysts predict, assets controlled by robo-advisors could reach close to $450 billion globally.

Robo advisor  platforms forecast to continue growing around the world
click to enlarge

Disruption was definitely top of mind during many of the presentations and interviews at Inside ETFs, including that of producer and composer Quincy Jones, who was at the conference to promote a new stock index that tracks music and entertainment companies. “Q” is the very definition of a legend, having been at the center of some of the most influential musicians, actors, and artists over the course of his long career. With a record 79 Grammy Award nominations to his name, he’s made an indelible impression on the music, television, and film we all consume and enjoy, whether we’re aware of it or not.

When CNBC’s Bob Pisani asked Jones if he was ready for the day when robots write and perform music, the 84-year-old Jones said, “You can’t stop the technology,” adding that he was among the earliest experimenters of synthesizers. (Anyone remember the synthy theme song to the old 1960s-1970s detective show, Ironside? That was composed by Quincy Jones.)

“You got to always stay curious. You got to be willing to take a chance,” he said.

Tennis star Serena Williams being interviewed by Barry Ritholtz at Inside ETFs 2018

A similar forward-thinking attitude was expressed by Serena Williams, who was also in attendance. The tennis virtuoso and four-time Olympic gold medal winner, who bagged her 23rd Grand Slam last year while pregnant, is a savvy businesswoman in her own right, sitting on the board of online survey firm SurveyMonkey and Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon that controls a number of media outlets such as HuffPost, Yahoo and Tumblr.

When asked why she was drawn to tech firms in particular—her husband Alexis Ohanian co-founded Reddit—Williams said, “This is a new time, and I don’t want to be left behind.”

I couldn’t agree more with Jones and Williams.

Embracing Disruption with HIVE Blockchain Technologies

Curiosity and a willingness to embrace change and innovation are what led me to invest in HIVE Blockchain Technologies and agree to become its chairman last year. As many of you know, HIVE is the first publicly-traded company engaged in the mining of virgin digital currencies, including bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Monero and many more.

I’m thrilled to be at the forefront of this new technology that’s already disrupting our industry and reshaping how transactions are made and companies raise funds across the globe. The year 2017 was the real catalyst, bringing cryptocurrencies into mainstream conversations as bitcoin hit an all-time high of nearly $20,000 apiece in mid-December.

Total crypto market cap briefly cracked $830 billion earlier this month yet has since receded to around $540 billion, with strong pressure being exerted by the global equities bull market. A record $33.2 billion flowed into stocks in the week ended January 24, according to investments data provider EPFR Global. U.S. stocks alone attracted $7 billion, while emerging markets saw inflows reach $8.1 billion, the second-highest amount recorded in a week.

Competition among digital currencies is also heating up. Although bitcoin remains the top dog, it faces tough competition from the likes of Ethereum, Litecoin, Ripple and the other nearly-1,500 coins on the market today. It now accounts for about 40 percent of the entire market, down from almost 100 percent just a few years ago.

Bitcoin is facing gretaer competition from other cryptocurrencies
click to enlarge

What’s important to remember is that digital currencies are, at the moment, highly volatile and speculative. Unlike gold and other hard assets, they haven’t been tested in all economic backdrops. Bitcoin was created only in 2009, after the worst months of the financial crisis, and it’s existed mainly in an environment of rising equity prices and gradually improving economic conditions. How investors might use it in the next recession or major market correction is unknown at this point.

Coinbase Generated $1 Billion in Sales Last Year

Having said that, the crypto space is rapidly maturing in a number of different ways. Every day, more and more businesses accept the currency as a form of payment. Investors can now buy bitcoin futures. Fidelity and USAA both allow account holders to monitor their cryptocurrency holdings. Blockchain ETFs are appearing on the market—though a couple of proposed bitcoin ETFs have hit roadblocks getting approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And I overheard at the Canaccord Genuity Blockchain Conference in Toronto last week that as many as 10,000 millionaires have been created from Ethereum.

Last year, the cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase booked $1 billion in revenue, almost double what company executives had expected for 2017. Founded only six years ago and boasting more than 13.5 million accounts, Coinbase has recently closed the door on any additional venture capital, leaving investors to hope for an initial public offering (IPO) sometime in the near future.

Coinbase is about to face some serious competition, though, as smartphone-only trading app Robinhood will begin allowing customers to trade bitcoin and Ethereum next month—all commission-free.

World Gold Council: Cryptocurrencies Are No Substitute for Gold

Several attendees at Inside ETFs and the blockchain conference raised concerns that cryptocurrencies are on a path to replace gold as a safe haven investment. I’ve mentioned multiple times before that I do not see this to be the case, for a number of reasons. Unlike bitcoin, gold has thousands of years’ worth of history to justify its role as a currency and store of value. Central banks own gold, as do institutional and retail investors. It’s widely used not just as money but also as jewelry and in dentistry and electronics. The metal, in fact, can be found in the very computer hardware used to mine bitcoin.

Now, in a new report, the World Gold Council (WGC) takes the position that, while cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are attractive, they simply don’t and can’t usurp gold’s place in investors’ portfolios.

What’s more, “there isn’t any quantifiable evidence that gold holdings are directly suffering from competition from cryptocurrencies,” the WGC writes.

Tennis star Serena Williams being interviewed by Barry Ritholtz at Inside ETFs 2018

Need proof? According to the group, bitcoin currently trades around $2 billion a day on average. That’s less than 1 percent of the $250 billion in gold bullion that’s traded every day. Remember, gold is one of the most liquid currencies in the world, with a highly developed and accepted market structure.

There are several other important differences between the two asset classes, and I highly recommend you read the full report. You can do so by clicking here.

Investors Pile into Gold-Backed ETFs Ahead of Potential Jump in Inflation

Coming back full circle to ETFs, Bloomberg reported last week that holdings in gold bullion-backed funds rose to their highest level since 2013 on a weaker U.S. dollar, rising geopolitical risk and growing expectations that inflation could finally heat up in 2018.

Holdings climbed to 2,250 metric tons earlier last week, the highest amount since May 2013, when gold prices were still in the $1,400 to $1,500-an-ounce range.

Holdings in bullion backed ETFs are at their highest since 2013
click to enlarge

The U.S. dollar has plunged in value for the past several weeks, dipping more than 1 percent last Wednesday alone—the biggest one-day pullback in 10 months—following Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that a weaker buck “is good for us as it’s related to trade and opportunities.” The greenback similarly tanked back in April 2017 when President Donald Trump said the dollar is “getting too strong.” Soon after, it fell below its 200-day moving average.

US dollar has lost 12 percent since Trumps inaug
click to enlarge

Last Thursday, however, Trump walked back Mnuchin’s (and his own) comment, telling CNBC that the dollar “is going to get stronger and stronger, and ultimately I want to see a strong dollar.”

In any case, this has all been constructive for the price of gold, which Thomson Reuters GFMS now sees hitting $1,500 an ounce this year. If you remember, $1,500 was approximately my estimate after analyzing gold’s performance in the months following the December rate hikes in 2015 and 2016.

According to Thomson Reuters, the price appreciation could be driven by “concerns that the United States may pull out of NAFTA.”

Doing so, of course, would be highly inflationary—and inflation, as I point out in last week’s episode of Frank Talk Live, has historically been a tailwind for gold. The tax overhaul is already helping to boost wages at Walmart, Starbucks and elsewhere, and the U.S. recently slapped fresh tariffs on imported washing machines and solar cells. In response, South Korea opened two cases against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

And let’s not discount geopolitical noise. Last week, the “Doomsday Clock” was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight and now stands only two minutes away. That’s the closest to midnight the symbolic barometer has come since 1953, when both the U.S. and Russia first began testing thermonuclear weapons—among the most disruptive advancements of the past 100 years.

Curious to learn more about what’s driving gold? Click here!

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

Frank Holmes has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors of HIVE Blockchain Technologies. Both Mr. Holmes and U.S. Global Investors own shares of HIVE, directly and indirectly.

The U.S. Dollar Index (USDX, DXY) is an index (or measure) of 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. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2017.

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Another Positive Year Ahead for Gold, Says the World Gold Council
January 24, 2018

Another Positive Year Ahead for Gold, Says the World Gold Council

In a year when the S&P 500 hit all-time highs, gold also held strong, finishing 2017 up 13.5 percent, according to the World Gold Council. Gold’s annual gain was the largest since 2010, outperforming all major asset classes other than stocks. Contributing to this gain was a weaker U.S. dollar, stock indices hitting new highs and geopolitical instability, all of which fueled uncertainty. Investors continued to add gold to their portfolios to manage risk exposure, with gold-backed ETFs seeing $8.2 billion of inflows last year.

gold outperformed major asset classes in 2017
click to enlarge

The World Gold Council (WGC) recently released its annual outlook on the yellow metal identifying four key market trends it believes will support positive gold performance in 2018, and we agree. Below I summarize the report for you and add some of my own thoughts on gold’s trajectory.

Key Trends Influencing Gold in 2018

1. A year of synchronized global economic growth
Economies are on the rise with global growth increasing in 2017 and on track to continue the trend this year. China and India, two of the world’s largest consumers of gold, will see their economies and incomes grow due to the implementation of new economic policies. WGC research shows that as incomes rise, the demand for gold jewelry and gold-containing technology tends to rise as well. Investment and consumer demand for the yellow metal results in a lower correlation to other mainstream financial assets, such as stocks, making it an effective portfolio diversifier.

there's a positive relationship between gold demand and wealth
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2. Shrinking balance sheets and rising interest rates
Expectations are for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates three times this year and shrink its balance sheet by allowing $50 billion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to mature each month. Over the past decade, central banks pumped trillions into the global economy and cut interest rates, allowing asset values to break records and market volatility to reach record lows.

With these banks reining in expansionary policies in 2018 and hiking rates as global debt increases, market volatility may go up again, making gold a more attractive asset. According to WGC research, when real rates are between zero and 4 percent, gold’s returns are positive and its volatility and correlation with other mainstream financial assets are below long-run averages.

3. Frothy asset prices
As the WGC points out, not only did asset prices hit multi-year highs around the world in 2017, but the S&P is still sitting at an all-time high. This rosy environment saw investors seeking out additional risks, hoping for additional returns. A continued search for yield has “fueled rampant asset price growth elsewhere,” the report explains. This includes exposure to lower quality companies in the credit markets as well as investments in China.

Although the bull market could very well continue throughout 2018, some analysts and investors alike are understandably cautious about just how much risk exposure to continue taking on. That’s where gold comes in. As you can see in the chart below, the price of the yellow metal tends to increase during periods of systemic risk. Should global financial markets correct, investors could benefit from having an exposure to gold in their portfolio. Historically, gold has reduced losses during periods of distress or instability in the markets.

the gold price tends to increase in periods of systematic risk
click to enlarge

4. Greater market transparency, efficiency, and access
Financial markets have become more transparent and efficient over the past decade, with new products broadening access for all kinds of investors. Last year the London Bullion Market Association launched a trade-data reporting initiative and the London Metal Exchange launched a suite of exchange-traded contracts intending to improve price transparency, according to the WGC.

In fact, momentum is building in India to develop a national spot exchange to make the market less complicated and fragmented. In addition, more progress in gold investing might be seen in Russia this year with the current 18 percent VAT on gold bars possibly being lifted. More easily accessible gold-backed investment vehicles should lead to more gold investors and transactions worldwide.

Now Could Be a Good Time to Add Gold to Your Portfolio

World Gold Council’s Chief Market Strategist, John Reade, said in his 2018 outlook for gold that, “Over the long run, income growth has been the most important driver of gold demand. And we believe the outlook here is encouraging.”

We couldn’t agree more. Gold has historically helped to improve portfolio risk-adjusted returns. It is a mainstream asset as liquid as other financial securities and its correlation to major asset classes has been low in both expansionary and recessionary periods, as the WGC points out.

I’ve always advocated a 10 percent weighting in gold in a portfolio - with 5 percent in bullion or jewelry and 5 percent in gold stocks or well managed gold mutual funds and ETFs. If you’re interested to learn more about gold, I encourage you to sign up for my blog, Frank Talk. Happy Investing!

 

 

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 Standard & Poor's 500 Index, often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. The S&P 500 index components and their weightings are determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index (BBDXY) tracks the performance of a basket of 10 leading global currencies versus the U.S. Dollar.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM) is a broadly diversified commodity price index distributed by Bloomberg Indexes. The index was originally launched in 1998 as the Dow Jones-AIG Commodity Index (DJ-AIGCI) and renamed to Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index (DJ-UBSCI) in 2009, when UBS acquired the index from AIG.

The Bloomberg Barclays US Treasury Index measures US dollar-denominated, fixed-rate, nominal debt issued by the US Treasury.

The Bloomberg WTI Crude Oil Subindex is a single commodity subindex of the Bloomberg CI composed of futures contracts on crude oil. It reflects the return of underlying commodity futures price movements only and is quoted in USD.

The MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australia and Far East) Index measures the performance of the leading stocks in 21 developed countries outside North America.

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance in the global emerging markets.

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You'll Want to Read This Living Legend's Thoughts On Copper
January 22, 2018

Frank Holmes Robert Friedland

Last week the U.S. Global Investors office was visited by a living legend in the junior mining industry, billionaire founder and executive chairman of Ivanhoe Mines, Robert Friedland. In case you don’t know, back in the mid-1970s, Robert was caretaker of an apple orchard south of Portland that one of his buddies from Reed College would often visit. That buddy’s name was Steve Jobs, who later went on to found a little company he named—what else?—Apple.

Before Robert and Steve Jobs began palling around, Jobs was known as shy and withdrawn. It was Robert who taught him his skills in what’s been described by many as “reality distortion.” Having seen numerous speeches by Robert over the years, I can attest to his masterful ability to utterly command a room of hundreds with his electric charisma. Some of that charisma must have rubbed off on Jobs, helping the future iPhone innovator evolve into the shrewd, larger-than-life business leader he’s celebrated as today.

frank holmes and robert friedland ivanhoe mines

Robert’s “reality distortion” was on full display during his visit. I was pleased and honored, as were my U.S. Global team members, to have the opportunity to hear his unique insights on a wide range of issues, from the debilitating smog in Delhi, India; to China’s efforts to become the world’s leading electric vehicle (EV) economy; to Ivanhoe’s development of the Kamoa-Kakula Copper Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, independently ranked as the largest high-grade copper discovery in the world.

Robert made a very compelling case for Kamoa-Kakula, which he calls “the most disruptive Tier One copper project in the world today.” In its first year of production, its average copper grade is estimated to average an ultra-high 7.3 percent. Because the site is flat and uninhabited, and wages are paid in local currency, the cash cost for the life of the mine is projected to be a low, low $0.64 per pound of copper. As of my writing this, copper is priced at $3.20 a pound, so the margin is significant. After an initial $1.2 billion in capital costs to develop the project, the company expects a payback period of only 3.1 years.

It’s all a very attractive proposition.

Robert Friedland: You're Going to Need a Telescope

I reminded Robert that we’re bullish on both copper and the industries it supports, including the imminent EV revolution and massive electricity demand in emerging markets, especially China and India. EVs, as I’ve pointed out before, require three to four times as much copper as traditional gas-powered vehicles. By 2027, as much as 1.74 million metric tons of copper will be needed to meet EV demand alone, up from only 185,000 tons today, according to the International Copper Association.

The red metal was one of the best performing commodities last year, surging more than 30 percent, and with investment demand near all-time highs, I predict another year of phenomenal returns. That would represent a third straight year of positive gains, something copper hasn’t accomplished this decade.

As you can see below, open interest in copper futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) is still historically high, even after cooling somewhat from its all-time high set in late July, when contracts hit an average 319,000 contracts. Open positions last month averaged more than 285,000, up 7.3 percent from the previous month and 26.9 percent from December 2016.

Open interest in copper futures off record still historically high
click to enlarge

Robert expressed confidence that copper—along with aluminum, cobalt, nickel, platinum and scandium—will be among the biggest beneficiaries of the global transition to EVs and clean energy.

“You’re going to need a telescope to see copper prices in 2021,” he told us theatrically.

A rally is already in the works. From its recent low two years ago this month, the Bloomberg Industrial Metals Subindex, which tracks aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc, has surged more than 65 percent. Support looks strong, and copper prices could be headed even higher on global supply disruptions, as labor negotiations continue in Chile, the world’s top producer of the red metal.

“There are between 20 and 25 collective negotiations expected. If some of them lead to significant strikes, that would have a positive impact on [copper] prices,” explained Sergio Hernandez, vice president of Cochilco, Chile’s state copper commission.

Industrial metals exhibiting strong upward momentum
click to enlarge

Other fundamental trends are driving commodities, as I’ve noted earlier. The global purchasing manager’s index (PMI), a gauge of the manufacturing industry, is near a seven-year high. Construction confidence in the eurozone turned positive. And construction spending here in the U.S. hit $1.257 trillion in November, a new high.

China and India Cleaning Up Its Act

About half of all the copper produced globally every year is consumed by China. Last year, the Asian giant set a new record in importing the red metal. Imports climbed to a never-before-seen 17.35 million metric tons in 2017, up 2.3 percent from the previous year.

Chians copper imports notched yet another record in 2017
click to enlarge

The metal is needed not just for the construction of new buildings but also to manufacture millions of new electric vehicles in the world’s largest auto market. Sometime this year, China is expected to announce when it plans to outlaw gas-powered vehicles, joining a growing number of other countries, including the U.K. (which is shooting for a 2040 ban), France (2040), Germany (2030), India (“next 13 years”) and more.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, about 1,293 gigawatts per hour (GWh) are forecast for the lithium-ion battery market. That’s up spectacularly from only 19 GWh in 2015. About two thirds of the demand will come from China and the U.S.

Forecasted demand for lithium ion batteries from electric vehicles
click to enlarge

To accommodate all these new EVs, China has pledged to build a charging station for every vehicle on the road by 2020. That equates to around 4.8 million charging outlets and stations, requiring a total investment of $19 billion. China had 190,000 charging stations at the end of September, so to call this goal ambitious is an understatement. The U.S., by comparison, has a little over 64,000 outlets and stations around the country, according to the Department of Energy.

Even William Ford Jr., Ford Motor’s executive chairman, acknowledged that the Chinese are more aggressive than most in their mission to fully embrace the electric vehicle. “When I think of where EVs are going,” Ford said in Shanghai last month, “it’s clearly the case that China will lead the world in EV development.”

Not only was China the largest importer of copper, crude oil, natural gas and other natural resources, it also outspent every other country in new clean energy capacity. The country invested as much as $132.6 billion in 2017, about 16 percent more than the U.S. and Europe combined. The government’s efforts already seem to be having a positive effect, as sales of face masks and air purifiers in Beijing have fallen dramatically compared to last winter.

Sales of face masks in beijing are down this year thanks in part to the governments huge investment in clean energy

Another market that’s in urgent need of clean energy is India. In Delhi, the country’s capital territory, the air quality has become so noxious and filled with heavy metals that the World Health Organization has likened it to smoking at least 50 cigarettes a day. The city’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, went so far as to call it a “gas chamber.”

Shell Shelling Out for Electricity Provider

It’s not just governments seeking to diversify their energy mix. Royal Dutch Shell, the largest oil company in Europe, is steadily acquiring smaller providers of electrical power and natural gas. In December it announced a deal to buy retail energy provider First Utility. It’s just the latest in a series of purchases by large oil and gas companies looking ahead to the day when charging stations, rather than gas stations, might be the norm.

In an interview this month, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden sees the current energy transition as an opportunity.

“We have to embrace the future, and the future will include battery electric cars,” van Beurden said. “Importantly, I believe Shell can achieve this without destroying value in the company. It is about identifying real business opportunities to thrive through the energy transition.”

As my friend Robert Friedland sees it, those business opportunities lie in copper, aluminum, cobalt and other key industrial metals.

“We’re in the battery business,” he told us, adding that very little of lithium-ion batteries is actually lithium.

Racing for Bitcoin

Have 48 bitcoins this lamborghini could be yours

Last week I was in Delray Beach, Florida, attending the Black Diamond Investment Conference, where I was excited to see a 2007 Lamborghini Murcielago for sale. It wasn’t so much the fact that it was a Lamborghini but that the sellers were seeking payment in cryptocurrency only. In case you have 48 bitcoins lying around—valued at a little over half a million dollars at today’s price—you could be the proud new owner of a top-quality sports car. I’m pleased to see even more transactions being made in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

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.

The Bloomberg Industrial Metals Subindex is composed of longer-dated futures contracts on aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc. It reflects the return on fully collateralized futures positions and is quoted in USD.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and 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 of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 12/31/2017: Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

 

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Recipe Calls for a Broad Commodities Rally in 2018
January 16, 2018

At the beginning of every year, we update what’s typically one of our most popular pages, the Periodic Table of Commodity Returns. I encourage you to explore 10 years’ worth of data on basic materials such as aluminum, zinc and everything in between. A word of warning, though—the interactive feature makes the table highly addictive. Please feel free to share it with friends and family!

best of the year top 5 frank talk posts of 2017

It was a photo finish for commodities in 2017. The group, as measured by the Bloomberg Commodity Index, barely eked out a win for the second straight year, edging up 0.7 percent. Spurred by a weaker U.S. dollar and strengthening materials demand from factories, the index headed higher thanks to a breathtaking rally late in the year that lasted a record 14 consecutive days.

The annual return might not look too impressive, but I believe the economic conditions are ripe for a broad commodities rally in 2018. I’m not alone in predicting they’ll be among the best performing asset classes by year end, perhaps even beating domestic equities as quantitative tightening threatens to put a damper on the nine-year bull run.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs, for instance, are overly bullish on commodities, recommending an overweight position for the next 12 months. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is calling for a $7,700-a-tonne copper price target by mid-2018, up from $7,140 today. In last Friday’s technical market outlook, Bloomberg Intelligence commodity strategist Mike McGlone writes that the “technical setup for metals is similar to the early days of the 2002-08 bull market.” Hedge fund managers are currently building never-before-seen long positions in heating oil and Brent crude oil, which broke above $70 a barrel in intraday trading Thursday for the first time since December 2014. It’s now up close to 160 percent since its recent low of $27 a barrel at the beginning of 2016.

Few have taken such a bullish position, though, as billionaire founder of DoubleLine Capital Jeffrey Gundlach, whose thoughts are always worth considering.

Commodities Ready for Mean Reversion?

Last month I shared with you a chart, courtesy of DoubleLine, that makes the case we could be entering an attractive entry point for commodities, based on previous booms and busts. The S&P GSCI Total Return Index-to-S&P 500 Index ratio is now at its lowest point since the dotcom bubble, meaning commodities and mining companies are highly undervalued relative to large-cap stocks. We could see mean reversion begin to happen as soon as this year, triggering a commodities super-cycle the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 2000s.

the new periodic table of commodity returns 2017
click to enlarge

Gundlach has more to say on this subject. During his annual “Just Markets” webcast, he told investors that “commodities will outperform in 2018” because they “always rally sharply—much more sharply than they have so far—late in the business cycle as we head into a recession.”

Speaking to CNBC, he added that the S&P 500 “may go up 15 percent in the first part of the year, but I believe, when it falls, it will wipe out the entire gain of the first part of the year with a negative sign in front of it.”

Gundlach might be in the minority here, but it’s hard to ignore the tell-tale signs that we’re approaching the end of the business cycle, as I’ve pointed out before. We’ve begun a new interest rate hike cycle, both here in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. The Federal Reserve has started to unwind its massive balance sheet. The Treasury yield curve continues to flatten. And the S&P 500 just had its least volatile year on record.

All of these indicators, among others, have historically preceded a substantial market correction.

In his 2018 outlook, David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Canadian wealth management firm Gluskin Sheff, makes similar observations, writing that “it is safe to say that we are pretty late in the game.”

the equities bull market is 90% through, or past the seventh inning stretch.

How late? After looking at a number of market and macro variables, Rosenberg and his team concluded that we’re about “90 percent through, which means we are somewhere past the seventh inning stretch in baseball parlance but not yet at the bottom of the ninth.”

Look for mean reversion this year, Rosenberg adds, “which would be a good thing in terms of opening up some buying opportunities.”

Resource stocks, I believe, could be an attractive place to look, as they’ve traditionally outperformed in the last phase of an economic cycle.

Manufacturing and Construction Booms Underway

You don’t have to bet on a recession to be bullish on commodities. The dollar appears to have peaked, making materials less expensive for overseas markets, and the Global Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) ended 2017 at 54.5, close to a seven-year high. The sector has been in expansion mode now for the past 22 months, with the eurozone signaling its fastest growth in the series’ two-decade history.  

Global PMI Ended 2017 at Near Seven-Year High
click to enlarge

That’s not the only constructive news out of Europe. The European Commission’s headline economic sentiment indicator jumped more than economists had anticipated in December, ending the year at a 17-year high. Construction confidence in the eurozone also looks as if it’s fully recovered and is trending in positive territory for the first time since the financial crisis.

Strong eurozone economy a tailwind for commodities demand (Dec. 1997 - Dec. 2017)
click to enlarge

Strong manufacturing and construction expansion here in the U.S. is likewise supportive of commodity prices. December’s ISM Manufacturing PMI clocked in at a historically high 59.7. New orders grew 5.4 percent from the precious month to 59.4, its highest reading since January 2004. What’s more, U.S. construction spending in November rose to an all-time high of $1.257 trillion, according to this month’s report from the Census Bureau.  

Strong eurozone economy a tailwind for commodities demand (Dec. 1997 - Dec. 2017)
click to enlarge

Which Commodities Are Set to Rally the Most?

Palladium was the best performing commodity of 2017, climbing more than 56 percent on a weaker dollar, concerns of a supply crunch and a robust global auto market. Along with its sister metal, platinum, palladium is used primarily in the production of catalytic converters, which curb emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles.

For the first time since 2001, palladium traded higher than platinum beginning in September, and the week before last it hit an all-time intraday high of $1,099 an ounce. A healthy correction at this point wouldn’t be surprising, as the metal’s looking overbought compared to platinum.  

Palladium looks overheated compared to platinum
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“Pressured by diesel-emission scandals, platinum appears too low vs. palladium,” writes Bloomberg’s Mike McGlone. We might be in for another price reversal this year.

As I wrote recently, gold’s Fear Trade growth drivers are firmly in place. If a “Fed rally” occurs similar to the past two rallies, we could see gold climb to as high as $1,500 an ounce by summer. We also have the Chinese New Year to look forward to, which falls on February 16.

I believe 2018 could also be silver’s year to shine. The white metal rose 6.42 percent in 2017, with Indian silver bullion imports jumping an amazing 90 percent compared to imports the previous year, according to Metals Focus. Goldman Sachs analysts point out that silver has historically fared better than gold near the end of the business cycle, “as it is more strongly leveraged to global growth, given its significant industry use.”

A recent online survey conducted by Kitco News found that nearly 40 percent of respondents believed silver would outperform in 2018, compared to four other metals. Twenty-seven percent of readers said gold would outperform, followed by a quarter for copper. About 10 percent were most bullish on either platinum or palladium.

 

HIVE Blockchain Technologies Gets a New Ticker: HVBTF

Investors should be aware that HIVE Blockchain Technologies, the blockchain infrastructure company that U.S. Global Investors made a strategic investment in last year, recently got approval to change its ticker on the OTC Markets. HIVE will now trade under the stock symbol HVBTF. It was previously trading under the symbol PRELF. No action is required by current shareholders, but I thought they should be made aware nonetheless.

 

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 Bloomberg Commodity Index (BCOM) is a broadly diversified commodity price index distributed by Bloomberg Indexes. The index was originally launched in 1998 as the Dow Jones-AIG Commodity Index (DJ-AIGCI) and renamed to Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index (DJ-UBSCI) in 2009, when UBS acquired the index from AIG.

The S&P GSCI (formerly the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index) serves as a benchmark for investment in the commodity markets and as a measure of commodity performance over time. It is a tradable index that is readily available to market participants of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index, often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. The S&P 500 index components and their weightings are determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices.

The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

Frank Holmes has been appointed non-executive chairman of the Board of Directors of HIVE Blockchain Technologies. Both Mr. Holmes and U.S. Global Investors own shares of HIVE, directly and indirectly.

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2018 Could be Another Knockout Year for Emerging Europe
January 9, 2018

A market square in Warsaw Poland

Domestic stocks were a great place to invest in 2017, but hopefully you didn’t overlook opportunities overseas. Emerging markets had a gangbusters year, surging more than 37.5 percent with dividends reinvested, as measured by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. A combination of rising PMIs—or the purchasing manager’s index I talk so often about—and a steadily declining U.S. dollar helped emerging economies in Asia, Latin America, Europe and elsewhere eke out their best year since 2010.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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This was a boon for our Emerging Europe Fund (EUROX), which crushed its benchmark in 2017.

EUROX, which invests in companies domiciled in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) economies, beat its benchmark, the MSCI EM Europe 10/40 Index, by 2.4 percent and outperformed its main competitor, the T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe Fund (TREMX), by 4.7 percent. Throughout 2017, the fund traded consistently above its 200-day moving averages and ended the year at a three-year high.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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I’m optimistic this upswing can be sustained this year, supported by low unemployment, low inflation and record manufacturing growth. The European Central Bank (ECB) has indicated that it will continue its accommodative monetary policy by keeping rates low and expanding its balance sheet some 270 billion euros ($326 billion) through the first three quarters of 2018.

EUROX Outperformed, Thanks Largely to Active Management

I can’t stress enough the role active management played here. Using financial indicators such as cash flow return on invested capital (CFROIC) and low debt-to-equity, we managed to outperform the fund’s benchmark and its main competitor.  

Two positive contributors to fund performance last year were an overweight in Turkish stocks and underweight in Russian stocks. When screening for CFROIC, our model pointed to Turkey as having the most attractive companies on a relative basis. Our allocation was well-made, as Turkey far outperformed its CEE peers. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index ended the year up close to 48 percent in local currency, followed by Poland’s  WIG20, which advanced more than 26 percent.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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Again, we underweighted Russia based on our model and after factoring in overall negative investor sentiment, which really began in earnest in 2014 after the country annexed Crimea, inviting international sanctions. The ill will only intensified during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and today, we see Russian stocks, as measured by the MOEX Russia Index, decoupling from Brent crude oil prices.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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Historically, Russian stocks have closely tracked Brent prices, which accounted for nearly 50 percent of the federation’s exports in 2016. But it seems now as if a selloff is underway as new details continue to emerge from the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election. It appears markets have mostly soured on Vladimir Putin, with the MOEC ending the year down 5.5 percent.

A good illustration of our attentive stock selection in Russian equities was our exit out of Magnit, the country’s largest retailer. We dumped the stock in April after it had lost around 9 percent for the year. By the end of 2017, it had fallen a further 25 percent.

Meanwhile, we remained long Sberbank, the number one holding in EUROX. In the third quarter of 2017, the Russian bank posted a record 224.1 billion rubles (approximately $4 billion) in net profit, an amazing 64 percent increase from the same three-month period in 2016. Sberbank ended the year up more than 46 percent.

A European Manufacturing Boom Could Be Constructive in 2018

Besides a weak U.S. dollar, the real catalyst for growth in emerging European markets last year was a reenergized manufacturing sector. Take a look at the PMIs in the CEE area. All of the major economies that EUROX invests in saw manufacturing expand strongly throughout most of 2017—and that includes debt-ridden Greece, which had been a laggard in this area until recently. In December, the Mediterranean country’s manufacturing sector rose the fastest since 2008. (Anything above 50 indicates expansion; anything below, deterioration.)

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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The PMI, unlike gross domestic product (GDP), is a forward-looking indicator. That all CEE countries are in expansion mode is good news, I believe, for the next six months at least, if not the rest of 2018.

The eurozone as a whole knocked it out of the park in December, posting a 60.6, the highest PMI reading ever in the series’ two-decade history. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Ireland all ended the year at record-high levels, while Italy and France had their best showing since 2000.

As I’ve shared with you before, CEE countries have tended to benefit greatly from strong economic growth in its western neighbors, and last year was no exception. The Czech Republic and Hungary were standouts, their manufacturing sectors growing at the fastest rates on improved output, new orders and job creation. Brexit has also been a windfall for the CEE regions, as companies have moved high-quality jobs out of the United Kingdom and into Poland and other central and eastern European Union nations.

Poland Now a “Developed Economy”

On a final note, Poland was recently upgraded from the “advanced emerging” category to “developed” by FTSE Russell, effective September of this year. This will place Poland in the same company as, among others, the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany and Singapore. The country is the first in the CEE region to receive “developed” status, and I believe the news will attract even more inflows from foreign investors.

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 forecasts its economy in 2018 to grow 3.3 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+.

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. 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.

 

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.

 

Total Annualized Returns as of 9/30/2017:
Fund One-Year Five-year Ten-Year Gross Expense Ratio
Emerging Europe Fund (EUROX) 26.83% -3.85% -6.96% 2.33%
MSCI EM Europe 10/40 Index 25.42% -11.03% -34.91% n/a
T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe Fund 22.59% -2.21% -6.00% 1.75%

Expense ratio as stated in the most recent prospectus. Performance data quoted above is historical. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. For a portion of periods, the fund had expense limitations, without which returns would have been lower. Current performance may be higher or lower than the performance data quoted. The principal value and investment return of an investment will fluctuate so that your shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus which, if applicable, would lower your total returns. Performance quoted for periods of one year or less is cumulative and not annualized. Obtain performance data current to the most recent month-end at www.usfunds.com or 1-800-US-FUNDS.

Foreign and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and less public disclosure, as well as economic and political risk. By investing in a specific geographic region, a regional fund’s returns and share price may be more volatile than those of a less concentrated portfolio. The Emerging Europe Fund invests more than 25% of its investments in companies principally engaged in the oil & gas or banking industries.  The risk of concentrating investments in this group of industries will make the fund more susceptible to risk in these industries than funds which do not concentrate their investments in an industry and may make the fund’s performance more volatile.

The Standard & Poor's 500, often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. The S&P 500 index components and their weightings are determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices. The MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) Europe 10/40 Index is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid-cap representation across 6 Emerging Markets (EM) countries in Europe. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is an index created by Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) designed to measure equity market performance in global emerging markets. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index is a capitalization-weighted index composed of National Market companies except investment trusts. The WIG20 is a capitalization-weighted stock market index of the twenty largest companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. The Athens Stock Exchange General Index is a capitalization-weighted index of Greek stocks listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. The index was developed with a base value of 100 as of December 31, 1980. The Budapest Stock Exchange Index is a capitalization-weighted index adjusted for free float. The index tracks the daily price only performance of large, actively traded shares on the Budapest Stock Exchange. The index has a base value of 1000 points as of January 2, 1991 and is a Total Return index. The PX index is the official price index of the Prague Stock Exchange. It is a free float weighted price index made up of the most liquid stocks and it is calculated in real time. The MOEX Russia Index (formerly MICEX Index) is the main ruble-denominated benchmark of the Russian stock market. 

The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

Cash flow return on invested capital (CFROIC) is a calculation used to assess a company’s efficiency at allocating the capital under its control to profitable investments.

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

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the Emerging Europe Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 9/30/2017: Magnit 0.00%, Sberbank of Russia PJSC 10.71%. Holdings by region in the Emerging Europe Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 9/30/2017: Russian Federation 34.55%, Turkey 15.37%, Poland 14.5%, Greece 6.98%, Austria 4.6%, Hungary 3.3%, Germany 2.7%, Cyprus 2.25%, Czech Republic 1.38%, Canada 1.25%.

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

Share “2018 Could be Another Knockout Year for Emerging Europe”

Net Asset Value
as of 07/17/2018

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.67 -0.01 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.56 -0.08 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $3.84 -0.03 China Region Fund USCOX $10.47 -0.11 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.82 0.01 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $25.57 0.08 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $19.71 0.09 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.20 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change