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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.

Gold Finds Strong Support from Negative Real Rates
April 5, 2017

7 Reasons to Be Bullish on Emerging Europe

In case you haven’t already noticed, inflation has been steadily creeping up since July. In February, the most recent month of available data, consumer prices advanced at their fastest pace in five years, hitting 2.7 percent year-over-year. March data won’t be released until next week, but I expect prices to proceed on this upward trend, buttressed by rising mortgages and costs associated with health care and energy.

One of the consequences of strong inflation is that real rates—what you get when you subtract the current consumer price index (CPI) from the nominal rate—have turned negative. And when this happens, gold has typically been a beneficiary. This is the Fear Trade in action.

Take a look below. Gold shares an inverse relationship with the real 10-year Treasury yield, which is influenced by consumer prices. When inflation is soft and the yield goes up, gold contracts. But when inflation is strong, as it is now, it can push the Treasury yield into subzero territory, prompting many investors to move into other so-called safe haven assets, including gold.

Gold Expected to Continue Benefiting from Low to Negative REal Rates
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Again, I expect consumer prices to continue rising, especially if President Donald Trump gets his way regarding immigration and trade. Slowing the stream of cheap labor from Mexico and other Latin American countries, coupled with raising new tariffs at the border, should have the effect of making consumer goods and services more expensive. Although it might sting your pocketbook, faster inflation could be constructive for gold investors.

$1,475 an Ounce Gold this Year?

In its weekly precious metals report, London-based consultancy firm Metals Focus emphasized the importance of negative real rates on the price of gold, writing that “real and even nominal rates across several other key currencies, including the euro, should also remain negative for some time.” The European Central Bank’s deposit rate currently stands at negative 0.4 percent, not including inflation, and Sweden’s Riksbank, the world’s oldest central bank, will continue its negative interest rate policy as it awaits stronger economic growth. Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan left its short-term interest rate unchanged at negative 0.1 percent at its meeting last month.

This is all beneficial for gold. Discouraged by the idea of negative rates eating into their wealth, many savers might be compelled to invest in gold, which enjoys a reputation as an excellent store of capital.

Based on the near-term outlook for real rates, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, rising populism in Europe and Trump’s trade and foreign policies, Metals Focus analysts see gold testing $1,475 an ounce this year. If so, that would put the yellow metal at a four-year high.

Central Banks Still Have an Appetite for Gold

Since 2010, global central banks have been net buyers of gold as they move to diversify their reserves away from the U.S. dollar. Although 2016 purchases fell about 35 percent compared to 2015, they still remained high on a historical basis, thanks mostly to China and Russia.

These purchases are likely to continue this year, according to Metals Focus, though at a slower rate as many banks get closer to meeting their target reserves amount.

Central Banks Have Been Net Buyers of Gold Since 2010
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Because gold accounts for only 2.3 percent of China’s reserves, as of March, the Asian country might very well keep up with its monthly purchases for some time. (The U.S., by comparison, has nearly 75 percent of its reserves in gold.)  

I’ve pointed out before that it’s reasonable for investors to pay attention to what central banks are doing. They’re diversifying their assets and, in a way, hedging against their very own policies. It would be prudent for every household to do the same. As such, I recommend a 10 percent weighting in gold, with 5 percent in bullion (coins and jewelry), the other 5 percent in quality gold stocks.

Lipper Recognizes Our Gold Fund

I believe an exceptional way to get exposure to high-quality gold stocks is through our Gold and Precious Metals Fund (USERX), which invests in precious metals mining “seniors,” or those that generally have the largest market cap in the mining sector. The first no-load gold fund in the U.S., USERX seeks not just capital appreciation but also protection against monetary instability and the very inflation I discussed earlier.

I’m very pleased to tell you that the fund was recently recognized by Thomson Reuters Lipper. In a New York City ceremony in March, the mutual fund data provider awarded USERX with two Fund Awards for 2017 in the Precious Metals Equity Funds category for the three- and five-year periods.

In January, the Gold and Precious Metals Fund was also awarded a 5-Star Overall Rating by respected investment ranking and analysis firm Morningstar, as of December 31, 2016. The fund was rated among 71 Equity Precious Metals funds, based on risk adjusted returns.

USERX is co-managed by myself and precious metals expert Ralph Aldis. The two of us were honored with the Mining Journal’s Best Americas Based Fund Manager award for 2016.

I invite you to visit the fund page for the Gold and Precious Metals Fund (USERX) to explore its holdings and performance! 

 

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.

Past performance does not guarantee future results. A high ranking does not necessarily mean that a fund had a positive return over the ranking period. See current performance for the Gold and Precious Metals Fund here.
Gold, precious metals, and precious minerals funds may be susceptible to adverse economic, political or regulatory developments due to concentrating in a single theme. The prices of gold, precious metals, and precious minerals are subject to substantial price fluctuations over short periods of time and may be affected by unpredicted international monetary and political policies. We suggest investing no more than 5% to 10% of your portfolio in these sectors.

Morningstar ratings for the Gold and Precious Metals Fund (USERX), in the Equity Precious Metals fund category: USERX was rated 5 Stars Overall out of 71 funds, 5 Stars out of 71 funds for the three-year period, 5 Stars out of 64 funds for the five-year period, and 4 Stars out of 46 funds for the 10-year period, as of December 31, 2016.

The Morningstar Rating™ for funds, or "star rating", is calculated for managed products (including mutual funds, variable annuity and variable life subaccounts, exchange-traded funds, closed-end funds, and separate accounts) with at least a three-year history. Exchange-traded funds and open-ended mutual funds are considered a single population for comparative purposes. It is calculated based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a managed product's monthly excess performance, placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of products in each product 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. The Overall Morningstar Rating for a managed product is derived from a weighted average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five-, and 10-year (if applicable) Morningstar Rating metrics. The weights are: 100% three-year rating for 36-59 months of total returns, 60% five-year rating/40% three-year rating for 60-119 months of total returns, and 50% 10-year rating/30% five-year rating/20% three-year rating for 120 or more months of total returns. While the 10-year overall star rating formula seems to give the most weight to the 10-year period, the most recent three-year period actually has the greatest impact because it is included in all three rating periods.

Lipper named the Gold and Precious Metals Fund the Best Precious Metals Equity Fund, out of 62 funds, for the three-year period ending 11/30/2016. The fund was also recognized as Best Precious Metals Equity Fund, out of 58 funds, for the five-year period ending 11/30/2016.   The award was earned for the fund’s consistent performance over the three-year and five-year periods ending 11/30/16.The award selection process began with Lipper calculating a Consistent Return score for each fund for the three-year and five-year time periods as of 11/30/16. Consistent Return is a quantitative metric that incorporates two characteristics: risk-adjusted return, and the strength of the fund's performance trend. The top-scoring Consistent Return fund within each classification received the awards. 

Although Lipper makes reasonable efforts to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the data contained herein, the accuracy is not guaranteed by Lipper. Users acknowledge that they have not relied upon any warranty, condition, guarantee, or representation made by Lipper. Any use of the data for analyzing, managing, or trading financial instruments is at the user's own risk. This is not an offer to buy or sell securities.

The Mining Journal’s Best Americas Based Fund Manager award is among the publication’s annual Outstanding Achievement Awards and was decided based on metrics provided by Morningstar. The Mining Journal, based in London, is a leading publication for the global mining industry.

The consumer price index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals.  The weights of components are based on consumer spending patterns.

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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Can Trump Dig Coal out of Its Slump?
April 3, 2017

Can Trump Dig Coal out of Its Slump?

Flanked by coal workers, President Donald Trump signed the American Energy Independence Executive Order last week, directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s signature environmental policy. Unveiled in August 2015, the plan is intended to reduce carbon dioxide emitted from U.S. power plants 32 percent by 2030. Because Trump cannot directly overrule this particular regulation, the EPA must come to a finding on whether it needs to be modified or repealed.

Shares of American coal mining companies jumped in response last Tuesday. Kentucky-based Ramaco Resources closed up more than 13 percent, with impressive gains also made by Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy

As expected, the executive order prompted criticism from environmentalist groups and acclaim from business leaders and workers in the energy sector. Among the media outlets that heaped praise on Trump was the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which wrote that the president “deserves credit for ending punitive policies that harmed the economy for no improvement in global CO2 emission or temperatures.”

I believe the editors make a valid point that Obama’s plan accomplished too little at too great expense. However, there are two points on which I might disagree with others

One, part of Trump’s goal here is to make America energy-independent, as the order’s name implies. Free of burdensome regulations, it’s believed, U.S. energy can be unleased, and we can become a net-exporting nation. The truth is that the U.S. has never been so energy-independent as it is now, even in the face of strict Obama-era rules and regulations. In January, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted that, even with the Clean Power Plan in place, the country would be a net energy exporter by 2026. Trump’s executive order is unlikely to move that target significantly. And remember, thanks to fracking and the recent lifting of a 40-year ban on oil exports, the U.S. is now a net petroleum exporter.

Two, Trump’s efforts are seen as benefiting the coal industry the most, but I think there are greater forces at work than regulations, as restrictive as they’ve become.

Where Have All the Coal Jobs Gone?

To be clear, I don’t think anyone sincerely believes Trump can “save” coal or coal miners’ jobs. We can probably all agree, however, that he’s at least seeking a way for the coal industry to do what it can to compete with other forms of energy, including renewables and fracking. Coal might very well continue to lose share in the U.S. even after regulations are lifted. That’s fair. But it will be the free market making the choice to retire coal, not government officials.

It’s important to recognize that coal faces several challenges that deregulation won’t be able to block. For one, the fracking boom flooded the market with cheap natural gas, compelling many U.S. power plants to make the switch from coal to gas. Thanks to fracking, gas and oil production now outpaces coal production. By 2040, natural gas will account for 40 percent of U.S. energy production, and renewables will have a larger share than coal, according to EIA estimates.

Can Trump 'Save' Coal?
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Take a look at the 114-year history of the coal industry in West Virginia, the second-largest U.S. coal producer after Wyoming. Since shortly after World War II, the number of coal mining jobs has steadily decreased. In 2014, the state industry employed a little over 18,000 people, a far cry from the 125,000 it employed in 1948.

West Virginia Coal Employee-Production Gap
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Interestingly, though, annual production levels since 1948 have remained within a 100-million-ton range. This suggests that, like fracking, better and more efficient mining tools and methods have offset the need for so many workers. More is done with less. It’s safe to say we can’t wholly blame regulations for the decline in coal jobs.

Growing Demand in Renewables

Also working against coal is the rising demand in renewable energy, specifically solar. This is reflected in the growing number of jobs in solar energy installation, to say nothing of solar manufacturing, project development, and sales and distribution. In 2016, more than 137,000 people were employed in solar installation in the U.S., compared to a little over 50,000 people in coal nationwide.

U.S. solar energy installation jobs now outnumber coal mining jobs
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According to the Solar Foundation, the industry accounted for one out of every 50 new U.S. jobs in 2016, the fourth consecutive year in which solar employment grew more than 20 percent.

As I’ve written about before, the surge in solar demand is a boon for copper, necessary for the conduction of electricity, and lithium, used in lithium-ion batteries to store the energy.

Consumers More Confident Than at Any Time Since 2000

President Trump’s policies aren’t just exciting coal workers. Consumer confidence rose sharply to a 16-year high in March on an improved jobs market and the potential for robust economic growth. The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index hit 125.6, its highest reading since January 2000 during President Bill Clinton’s final days in office.

U.S. consumer confidence surges to a 16-year high in march
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This comes as optimism among CEOs and business owners stands near all-time highs as well. In December, the month after the presidential election, the National Federation of Independent Business’ (NFIB) Small Business Optimism Index soared to 105.8, up from 98.4 in November, a 12-year high. Since then, the index has held above 105, indicating that, despite recent legislative and judiciary setbacks, Trump’s pro-growth agenda  continues to excite small business owners.

Gold on the Mind

Holmes on CNBC

Tomorrow, April 4, I will be speaking at the European Gold Forum in Zurich, Europe’s most prestigious gold and silver investing conference.

In the meantime, I had the pleasure to sit down with Louisa Bojesen, anchor for “Street Signs” at CNBC International’s London location. We discussed gold’s relationship with negative real interest rates both in the U.S. and U.K., South African gold mining stocks and fiscal policy in the States, among other topics. You can watch the interview here.

 

Some links above may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content. All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every invest.

The Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) is an indicator which measures consumer confidence in the Economy.

The National Federation of Independent Business’s (NFIB) Index of business optimism is based on responses from 1221 member firms.

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 12/31/2016.

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7 Reasons to Be Bullish on Emerging Europe
March 28, 2017

7 Reasons to Be Bullish on Emerging Europe

1. Eurozone PMI at a Six-Year High

For the month of March, the preliminary purchasing manager’s index (PMI) for the eurozone reached 56.7, its highest reading since April 2011. Significant gains were made in new work and backlogs of work, employment and service sector job creation.

Eurozone PMI and GDP Holding Steady
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2. European Economic Sentiment Holding Above Its Long-Term Average

For the month of February, the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI)—which measures industrial confidence, services confidence, consumer confidence, construction confidence and retail trade confidence—posted a score of 108, safely above its 26-year average of 100.

Europe's economic sentiment indicator still rising above its long-term average
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3. Emerging Europe Manufacturing: Full Speed Ahead

When Western Europe is performing well, Eastern Europe typically benefits by proxy, as the latter exports to the West. With a thriving manufacturing industry that’s attracted top international corporations such as Mercedes-Benz, GM, Audi, Bosch, Lego and Nestlé, just to name a few, Hungary led all others in February, posting a PMI of 59.5.  

Emerging Europe Manufacturing SEctor Looks Strong
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4. The Migration Crisis Has Abated

Mediterranean sea arrivals into Europe have fallen to 2,731 a month, from a high of 220,000 in October 2015. This is important because concerns of immigration and terrorism have largely driven recent secessionist and anti-European Union sentiment, most notably among far-right hopefuls such as the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and France’s Marie Le Pen.

Refugee Crisis is an Overstated Risk
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5. Trump and OPEC May Have Helped Russian Stocks

The election of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin, as well as crude oil production cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), may have helped Russian stocks shrug off recent declines in the price of Brent oil. With the country coming out of recession, BCA Research just overweighted Russian equities, the ruble and credit relative to other emerging European states.

Russian Stocks Shrug Off Brent... Trump to Thank?
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6. Poland Making Good on Promise to Support Families

The Polish economy has lately benefited from increased social spending and wage hikes. The government delivered on its Family 500+ program, giving each family with more than one child 500 PLN ($130) per child per month. This has doubled some families’ disposable incomes and led to a recent surge in new private housebuilding starts. What’s more, Poland is currently experiencing a baby boom, which should support economic growth in the years to come.

Private Housebuilding Starts in Poland Have Recovered Strongly
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7. Attractive Valuations

Finally, European stocks look very attractive compared to U.S. stocks, down slightly more than one standard deviation. This should be especially enticing for investors who believe American stocks are too expensive right now.

Euro Area at Historically Inexpensive Valuations
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All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.

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.

The Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) is a composite indicator made up of five sectoral confidence indicators with different weights: Industrial confidence indicator, Services confidence indicator, Consumer confidence indicator, Construction confidence indicator Retail trade confidence indicator. The economic sentiment indicator (ESI) is calculated as an index with mean value of 100 and standard deviation of 10 over a fixed standardized sample period.

The MSCI Russia Index is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid-cap segments of the Russian market. With 21 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in Russia.

The MSCI Europe Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure developed market equity performance in Europe. As of September 2002, the MSCI Europe Index consisted of the following 16 developed market country indices: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

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

The Shiller PE ratio, also known as the P/E 10 ratio, is a valuation measure, generally applied to broad equity indices, that uses real per-share earnings over a 10-year period.

Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility.

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 12/31/2016.

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Strategist: Keep Calm, Tax Reform Is On Its Way
March 27, 2017

keep calm tax reform

Stocks had their worst day in months last Tuesday. The S&P 500 Index retreated more than 1 percent for the first time since October, and the small-cap Russell 2000 Index gave back more than 2 percent for the first time since September. As of Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nine out of the past 10 days.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the Trump rally was fresh uncertainty House Republicans could successfully repeal and replace Obamacare, one of their headline campaign promises for seven years now. Failure to do so, it’s believed, could seriously push back tax reform. And the promise of tax reform—along with deregulation and infrastructure spending—is arguably what’s driven the Trump rally.

This uncertainty was confirmed Friday when President Donald Trump asked House Speaker Paul Ryan to pull the new health care bill from consideration—a stunning setback for the new president, who largely ran on his credentials as a master negotiator and closer.

Trading the “Trump Slump"

The thing is, the selloff was a huge overreaction. That’s the opinion of Marko Papic, geopolitical strategist with BCA Research, who visited our office last Thursday and briefed us on the investment implications of the domestic and European political climate. As always, Marko dazzled us with his deep intellect, quick wit and infectious enthusiasm.  

In his view, the market rally that immediately followed the election of President Donald Trump is still the “right” response. Among the companies that saw impressive returns were domestic, small-cap names, which have the most to gain (and less to lose) from Trump’s pledge to lower corporate taxes, slash regulations and raise tariffs. Small business optimism, meanwhile, posted its highest readings since 2004.

Small Businesses Investors Still Faith Trump
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Investors, according to Marko, are making too much of the Obamacare issue. Regardless of its failure to be repealed, tax reform is on its way. On Friday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reassured Americans that we could still expect “comprehensive” tax reform by August. It’s also worth recalling that, even though he failed to reform health care during his eight years in office, President Bill Clinton still managed to tackle tax reform with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993.

 

Does President Trump Lack Political CapitalIncreasing the likelihood that tax reform and infrastructure spending can be brought to light is, paradoxically, President Trump’s historically low approval rating. As you can see, he significantly trails the average rating of nine previous presidents during their same weeks in office. Congress’ job approval fares even worse at 28 percent, as of February.

What this means is the sound of the clock ticking is deafening. Midterm elections are less than 20 months away, and Trump could very well be a one-term president. According to Marko, this gives Trump tremendous political capital among those who share his vision and urgently wish to pass legislation toward that end.

Trump is seeking high growth now, not in 2020 or 2024, and I think it’s a mistake for investors to dismiss him,” Marko said, adding that the president’s goal of 4 percent GDP growth is more than attainable. But how?

Get Ready for Inflation

I’ve written about the inflationary implications of Trump’s more protectionist policies before. Over the past 30-plus years, free trade agreements (FTAs) such as NAFTA have certainly been easy on consumers’ pocketbooks. But the downside is that many U.S. companies have found it challenging, if not impossible, to compete with overseas companies whose operating expenses are a fraction of the cost, forcing them to shut down or move production out of the country.

There’s disagreement among economists and policymakers about the extent of FTAs’ impact on jobs and wages here in the U.S., but the case can be made that they’ve been negative. Certainly this is the case Trump and his supporters made during his campaign.

In the chart below, I compare U.S. wages as a percent of GDP between 1970 and 2013 and the KOF Globalization Index, which measures the economic, social and political dimensions of globalization on a scale from one to 100. The closer to 100, the more globalized a country is. As you can see, there’s at least a strong correlation between rising globalization and falling wages in the U.S.

Is Globalization Blame Lower Wages
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Trump’s director of the National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, argued in January that “there is no question” the U.S. needs a border adjustment tax (BAT) to bring jobs back and grow wages:

“Would you rather have cheap subsidized… goods dumped into Walmart and not have a job and not have your wages go up in 15 years, or would you like to pay a little bit more—not much—a little bit more, and have a job and have your wages going up? I think the American people are going to make that choice.”

Whether you agree with Trump and Navarro on this point, it’s important to recognize that inflation is poised to surge in the coming years. Consumer prices rose 2.7 percent year-over-year in February, the seventh straight month they’ve advanced. And if Trump manages to restrict immigration and raise trade barriers, we can expect prices to rise even more—along with manufacturing activity, wages and ultimately GDP growth.

Bullish on Europe

A final thought I want to share from Marko’s visit is his bullishness on Europe right now. “Forget about what you see in the news about Europe,” he said, “and look at the data.”

He has a point. For one, the Markit Flash Eurozone PMI, released Friday, showed the region’s manufacturing activity growing at its fastest pace in six years. For the month of February, its PMI rose to 56.7.

Terrorism remains a concern, as we saw in London last week, but the Syrian refugee crisis is emphatically done. Also overblown are Euroscepticism—or criticism of the European Union and its currency, the euro—secessionism and Trump-like populism. Geert Wilders’ far-right, anti-Muslim Party for Freedom (PVV) failed to secure an electoral victory in the Netherlands last week. Meanwhile, in France, the far-right Marie Le Pen still struggles to close the gap between herself and her two rivals, former prime minister of France François Fillon—currently being investigated on charges of corruption—and the socialist Emmanuel Macron.

Marie Le Pen No Trump
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With only one month remaining before France’s presidential election, Le Pen trails both rivals by about 20 points, throwing her candidacy into doubt. At this point in the U.S. presidential election, Trump had proven himself a very competitive candidate, trailing the much more politically experienced Hillary Clinton by single digits.

The key risk, according to Marko, is the upcoming Italian election, to be held no later than May 23. More and more, Italians are turning against the euro, and Euroscepticism is alarmingly high relative to other European Union countries. Whereas productivity is rising in Germany, France and Spain, Italy’s has stagnated since 2000.

Whatever happens, it’s important to monitor the eurozone’s PMI because, as I’ve often pointed out, it’s a precursor to commodities demand.

 

Some links above may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content. All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every invest.

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 12/31/2016.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry. 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 Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals. The weights of components are based on consumer spending patterns.

The 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 KOF Globalization Index, which measures the economic, social and political dimensions of globalization, observes changes in the globalization of a series of countries over a long-term period. Based on 23 variables, the KOF Globalization Index 2016 covers 187 countries and relates to the period 1970 to 2013. The Index comprises an economic, a social and a political component and measures globalization on a scale from 1 to 100.

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Lithium Suppliers Can’t Keep Up with Skyrocketing Demand
March 23, 2017

Next year, Tesla plans to make 500,000 electric cars all of which will require lithium-ion-batteries

Near the extinct volcano known as Monte Pissis, high in the Andes on the Chile-Argentina border, the air is thin and animal life scarce. It’s also a prime location for lithium, the silvery-white metal used in the production of lithium-ion batteries.

According to Sam Pelaez, an analyst on our team who recently visited the deposit, the seasonal meltdown of the snowy peaks collects lithium, sodium and other minerals from the soil and underwater hot springs, all of which flows down to the flats and settles—hence the name salt flats or, in Spanish, salares. Over long periods of time, with seasonal temperature variations, the salt builds a crust on top of the “lake,” making for a stunning landscape. Under the crust are high concentrations of lithium.

To extract lithium, Sam says, brine is pumped into large evaporation ponds, resulting in a higher concentration of metals. The brine is then trucked to a facility that extracts the lithium using chemical and metallurgical processes. The lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide is sold to battery manufacturers, including Tesla.

“It’s possibly the most remote place I’ve ever been to,” Sam says, speaking of the deposit. The 3Q Project, as it’s called, is a five-hour drive from Fiambala, the nearest township, located in Argentina’s Catamarca Province. The province, and the one neighboring it, are known not only for their lithium salt flats but also gold deposits.

The 3Q Project, developed by Toronto-based Neo Lithium, is one of the largest salares discovered in recent decades, with remarkably low impurities when compared to other lithium deposits around the world.

Neo Lithium president and CEO Waldo Perez believes the project has the potential to be considered high-grade.

“The brine found in an open reservoir has the right chemistry for low-cost evaporation process, contains potash as a valuable by-product and lithium grades are equal or superior to all other known undeveloped projects and many producing mines,” Perez says.

41 Million Electric Cars by 2040

Next year, Tesla plans to make 500,000 electric cars all of which will require lithium-ion-batteries

This past January, Tesla began mass producing lithium-ion battery cells at its 1.9-million-square-foot Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. With Panasonic’s cooperation, the company expects to produce a mind-boggling 35 gigawatts of battery power a year by 2018, or about as much as the rest of the world’s current battery capacity combined. (A gigawatt, by the way, is equal to one billion watts.)

Cofounded in 2003 by serial entrepreneur and all-around genius Elon Musk, Tesla is arguably the world’s leading company involved in the production of energy storage units. But it’s certainly not the only one. China’s CATL, or Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd., is quickly gaining ground and plans to surpass Tesla in terms of battery production by 2020. By that year, close to 85 percent of all lithium-ion batteries in the world will be produced in either the U.S. or China, according to Goldman Sachs, which sees the battery market climbing to $40 billion by 2025.

On a global scale, nearly 40 percent of all lithium supply is used in the production of batteries, including those that power battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

It should come as no surprise, then, that lithium demand is being driven, as it were, by BEVs, sales of which are expected to rise from 0.3 million in 2015 to 11 million by 2025, according to Morningstar. And by 2040, BEV sales could hit 41 million, representing 35 percent of all new automobile sales, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“We expect sales of electric and hybrid vehicles to push lithium demand growth 16 percent annually over the next decade, faster than almost any major commodity over the past century, from about 175,000 metric tons in 2015 to about 775,000 by 2025,” writes Morningstar analyst David Wang.   

Global Lithium Mine Capacity Expected to Surge
click to enlarge

Wang continues: “Each electric vehicle uses roughly 28,000 grams of lithium in its battery, about 4,000 times as much as the seven grams used in a smartphone. Each hybrid uses roughly 1,900 grams, approximately 270 times as much as a smartphone.”

(Electric cars and hybrids also require more copper than conventional vehicles. The Tesla Model 3 uses three times as much copper wiring than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.)

Morningstar estimates that lithium supply will struggle to keep pace with growing demand in the coming years, resulting in a 105,000-metric ton deficit by 2025. This supply-demand imbalance could raise the price of lithium significantly, “from $6,500 per metric ton currently to $10,000 by 2020,” writes Wang.

Who Are the Beneficiaries?

World lithium production is currently dominated by four companies: North Carolina-based Albemarle, Philadelphia-based FMC Corporation, Chile’s Sociedad Química y Minera and China’s Tianqi Lithium. Among these, Albemarle has the highest exposure to lithium, according to Morningstar. Just this month, the company raised its lithium demand forecast by the end of the decade, saying demand will grow by 30,000 metric tons a year, up from an earlier forecast of 20,000 metric tons.

For 12 months now, lithium stocks have been on a steady uptrend, outpacing their 200-day moving average.

Lithium Producer Stock Prices Hitting Record Highs
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But China is catching up. Its greatest advantage over the U.S. is its access to lithium. The Asian country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, is the fourth-largest producer, having mined 2,000 metric tons in 2016 alone.    


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According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China already leads the world in the number of electric two-wheelers and bus fleets. Working in the market’s favor is Beijing’s recent call for automobile companies to double their battery capacity between now and 2020. BEV ownership also entitles Chinese citizens to an exemption from acquisition tax and the excise tax, worth between 35,000 and 60,000 renminbi, or between $5,000 and $9,000. (In the U.S., tax credits for purchasing a BEV vary from $2,500 to $7,500.)

Trump to Scrap Fuel Economy Standards?

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has ordered a review of corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, which have mandated gradual increases in the fuel economy of cars and light trucks since 1975. Average fuel economy currently stands at 31.3 miles per gallon, as of February, and will need to reach 54.5 by 2025.  

Sales-Weighted Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)
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Overturning CAFE standards would mean automakers could produce vehicles with a lower fuel economy, for a lot less than hybrids and BEVs. This is a threat to BEV demand—and ultimately lithium— since they’re typically more expensive, with the Tesla Model 3 starting at $35,000. However, like all new tech, prices will likely drop significantly over time. By 2022, the cost of battery-powered cars is expected to be comparable to those with an internal combustion engine.

In response to Trump’s opposition to fuel economy regulation, about 30 U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, are reportedly planning to spend as much as $10 billion on new electric vehicles for police cruisers, trash haulers, street sweepers and more. Such a move is intended to show automakers there’s demand for BEVs, which also bodes well for lithium.

 

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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 12/31/2016: Neo Lithium Corp.

Share “Lithium Suppliers Can’t Keep Up with Skyrocketing Demand”

Net Asset Value
as of 04/24/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.38 0.02 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.31 -0.14 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $6.39 -0.08 China Region Fund USCOX $8.52 No Change Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.26 0.17 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.18 0.15 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $19.29 0.19 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.22 -0.01 U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change