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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.

Early-Stage Investing with Adam Sharp (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)
August 30, 2018

For years, Adam Sharp has helped accredited and retail investors get in on the ground floor of some of the most promising early stage investment opportunities. These include not just venture capital but also equity crowdfunding and cryptocurrencies, which he added last year to his two research offerings, First Stage Investor and Crypto Asset Strategies.

I recently had the pleasure to speak one-on-one with Adam, whose deep knowledge of the rewards and challenges of early stage investing is bar none. Read on to get his unique insights into the future of bitcoin trading, the promise of cannabis stocks and what he looks for in a startup. 

When did you first get involved with bitcoin?

I got into the financial newsletter industry in about 2008, doing marketing and search engine optimization (SEO), and I started reading people who come from the libertarian, Austrian school of economics—Bill Bonner, Porter Stansberry and some others. It was on one of these online message boards in 2011 that I first heard about bitcoin. It might have been trading for less than a dollar. I watched it for a while, and in 2013 I finally decided to pull the trigger because there was a reputable exchange at this point. I got in at $84 a coin, and I’ve held onto them ever since.

It’s been a wild ride, and the volatility we’re seeing right now is admittedly hard. It’s difficult to maintain a positive community during a correction like this, but I think the alt-coins that are able to survive the downturn are going to come out even stronger and be in a really good place in a couple of years.

Early on, did you experience any pushback from friends and colleagues?

I might have convinced a few people successfully to buy bitcoin, but not many. It wasn’t easy, trying to describe this new alternate financial system that had maybe 100,000 participants around the world. I think part of it is that, at the time, I didn’t fully know what was going to happen. Maybe it would be worth a lot of money some day?

Turkish lira down more than 45% for the year
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Now that I’ve been through a couple of cycles, I can see how the growth works, and I believe it’s sustainable over long periods. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general have built up big enough communities and momentum that I think they can become a major monetary force in the world. What’s really going to drive this forward are currency crises around the world, not to mention growing distrust in banks and governments. It’s a slow process, and it won’t happen overnight.

So where are the institutional investors?

The institutional crypto boom we’ve been anticipating is real. The infrastructure is in place now to support big investors. Contrarians will likely lead the way. It might be as much as a year out, but eventually you’ll have a couple of guys move heavily into cryptocurrencies and start posting some attractive returns. And then I think you’re going to see many numbers of followers jump in.

Speaking of that, you wrote recently about Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), owner and operator of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), launching Bakkt. Many people are calling this project a game changer. Explain what Bakkt means for cryptocurrency trading.

Bakkt is definitely the biggest news of the year. It’s exactly the type of qualified, regulated custody solution big financial firms need to be comfortable enough to get started in crypto—and it launches in November. It has the backing of ICE, the NYSE, Microsoft, Starbucks and others. It’s going to be a huge step in the right direction in terms of getting big firms on board, and I think it should help pave the way for a bitcoin ETF as well. The market’s reaction so far has been nothing short of ecstatic.

designed to solve the need for trusted price formation in cryptocurrencies. what bakkt will provide

Perception is definitely an important factor when writing about not just cryptocurrencies but also cannabis, an industry you also follow. What do you think will be the biggest challenges in changing people’s minds about these asset classes?

I think we’ve already hit the tipping point with cannabis. It’s just a matter of how long the Feds can last under the pressure. Right now in every state, there are kids with epilepsy and other disorders, and their parents are desperate for new treatment options. This is what’s driving the entire thing. Kids and adults both need access to cannabidiol (CBD) oil—which isn’t the psychoactive part of marijuana, by the way—and it’s getting tougher for government officials to deny them this.

What’s convinced a lot of skeptics is that, not only can you treat epileptic children with CBD oil, you can also get them off Xanax and other incredibly addictive sedatives. The medical potential is limitless, touching on pain relief, insomnia, anti-inflammation, appetite and many other applications. The pharmaceutical companies are probably terrified, and they should be.

And yet we still know so little about it.

We’ve discovered as many as 113 different cannabinoids, but so far very little research has been done. Most of it isn’t happening here in the U.S., either, and I’m afraid we could fall behind the rest of the world. In recent months, for example, some very promising studies in Israel have shown that autism can be treated with CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). We’re just beginning to scratch the surface.

the pharmaceutical companies are probably terrified, and they should be.

Let’s move on to private equity and venture capital. Global private equity firms raised a record $453 billion in 2017. Why do you think this space is booming right now? What are the contributing factors?

A lot of it has to do with the Enron scandal in 2001 and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) that was enacted afterward, which made it many times more expensive to be a publicly traded company. To be clear, I think public markets are a very good thing overall for companies. They enforce discipline, and they make things transparent. But more and more, people want the privacy of being a private corporation. Combined with SOX, this is what’s leading the boom in private equity. This huge venture ecosystem has sprouted up to meet demand, and companies now have access to the best deals, the best networks and the most capital. If you’re a company like Uber, you really don’t need to go public anymore.

global private equity raised a record amount in 2017
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One thing we’re constantly trying to find for our members is different ways to invest in private companies. There are a few good publicly traded stocks through which you can access private equity. With equity crowdfunding, you can also invest in individual startups that are raising money online. It’s really a fascinating industry, and it’s a lot of fun because you get to work with young entrepreneurs. I believe it’s the future of capital formation.

I should also add that the whole initial coin offering (ICO) phenomenon was partly a reaction to the lack of opportunities in public markets.

What do you look for in a startup?

My favorite startups are those that haven’t raised much, if any, funding, but they’ve built the business with sweat equity and elbow grease. If they’ve invested their own money, that’s great, but if they’ve boot-strapped their way to a couple million dollars in revenue, that’s the ideal situation for me. It doesn’t really matter what industry it’s in, as long as the company’s growing at a fast and sustainable rate.

Other than that, I look for startups headed by people who are experts in their field, with a deep background and understanding. Ideally the founder or chief executive has a magnetic personality and can attract capital, talent and press. You want somebody that can tell their story well, and that people want to work for and write articles about. I’d like to think that when I talk to a founder I can tell how much magnetism they have, but you do get false positives from time to time.

You co-founded and write for a number of subscription research services. Tell us about some of these projects, what they focus on and how our readers can sign up for them.

We believe early stage investing and cryptocurrencies are the two leading alternative investments that are available to everyday investors, so that’s what we try to focus on. 

Our first service, First Stage Investor, covers startup investments. Basically, we look at all of the equity crowdfunding deals that are on the market at any given time and we try to find the best ones for our members to invest in. We have a cryptocurrency portfolio in First Stage Investors that we started last summer, so you get a mix.

Our other service is called Crypto Asset Strategies, which, as the name implies, is crypto-only, with the exception of a couple of publicly traded stocks. We look for the most promising bitcoin and Ethereum competitors—coins that are 1/100th or 1/500th the size of bitcoin or Ethereum. And then we do the research. We talk to the founders when possible, and we recommend what we feel are the best ones to our members.  

Curious to learn more about the blockchain and cryptocurrency market? Stay up to date by subscribing to the FREE, award-winning Investor Alert!

 

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

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 6/30/2018.

 

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The 5 Dimensions of a Rich Life
August 27, 2018

5 dimensions of a rich life

Studies show that mindfulness and having an attitude for gratitude is important in all aspects of life. One way to increase gratitude is to regularly take stock of not only your finances, but the other dimensions of your life as well. This includes relationships with family and friends, personal and professional achievements, and ways in which you give back.

During my recent trip to the Oxford Club’s Private Wealth Seminar in Whistler, I was reminded of this very topic. I had the privilege of hearing from numerous inspiring and intelligent investment professionals during the event, including my good friends and chief strategists at the Oxford Club, Alex Green and Marc Lichtenfeld.

One of the presentations, however, really stood out to me. The topic included the five dimensions to living a rich and fulfilling life, a theme also covered in Alex Green’s book Beyond Wealth.

The key? Being “rich” isn’t all about money.

1. Monetary Gain and Financial Freedom

When you think of richness, you likely go straight to monetary wealth. Granted, this dimension of life is incredibly important, but what’s more important are the steps taken to achieve a sense of financial stability. Having the knowledge and skills to responsibly build wealth can bring a sense of strength, comfort and safety that is unmatched.

This is particularly true for those approaching retirement age, a time when families don’t want to rely on the government for assistance, but instead want a nest egg, and then some.

As demonstrated in one of my favorite books, The Millionaire Next Door, the average millionaire doesn’t make ostentatious displays of wealth, rather they under consume and live in average-to-middle class neighborhoods and focus on investing. Simple strategies like these can make a world of difference.

2. Extraordinary Experiences

GPD and PMI car anologAre you challenging yourself to stray from your everyday activities? Extraordinary experiences, such as traveling the world, bring a new perspective to life. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the key to growth.

I often write about the importance of explicit and tacit knowledge, with tacit knowledge referring to real world experiences, or boots-on-the-ground research. I have always believed this type of knowledge is just as important as textbook knowledge. Having your driver’s license, for example, is simply a piece of paper. It means nothing until you put it to use, get out on the open road and explore.

I travel often for both business and leisure and it’s true that you have to see the sights, taste the food, meet the people and hear the music to experience the limitless delights that the world has to offer.

3. Personal Achievement

Everyone has different goals they set out to accomplish in their lifetime. Taking time to list out all of your personal achievements thus far, as well as the goals you’re still working toward, is one way to truly put things in perspective.

Continuing the pursuit of personal achievement keeps you active physically and mentally, and encourages you to keep learning. One personal achievement I am very proud of is my completion of numerous marathons all over the world. Running these races was challenging no doubt, but equally as rewarding.

4. Ways of Giving Back

One of the many rewarding aspects of life is having the ability to make a lasting impact on your community and those around you. Giving back typically comes in the form of volunteering, whether it’s with your time or money, to help support causes close to your heart. At U.S. Global Investors we make it a point to support our local community and I’ve always encouraged employees to volunteer for and share causes important to them.

5. Strong Relationships– Intellectual and Emotional

Love and friendship are easily two of the most meaningful components of a rich and fulfilling life, and both are achieved through strong relationships. Whether at home or at the office, surrounding yourself with like-minded, passionate, successful and caring individuals can truly be the driving force behind how you choose to live your life.

Social wealth and a sense of connection are just as powerful as financial wealth. Self-confidence and self-worth are important feelings, and often times, high self-worth is correlated with high net worth. To me, relationships are one of the most rewarding aspects of life and in this video I discuss the crucial role that mentors played in mine. The wisdom and experience of someone who has walked a different path than you, or who is further down the road than you are, can help steer you away from setbacks or roadblocks to maintain a balanced life.

Maintaining a Well-Balanced Portfolio

GPD and PMI car anolog
click to enlarge

Interpersonal relationships aren’t the only thing that a fulfilled person should balance. It’s never too late to start learning the basics of a well-managed portfolio.

One rule of thumb is to have an ever-shifting balance between equities and bonds, with some exposure to gold for diversification. Traditionally, equities are more growth-oriented than bonds, but also hold greater risk. As you age, your portfolio should evolve to contain a higher allocation to bonds, which favor safety and liquidity over growth.

Learn more about investment opportunities in the bond market by clicking here!

I believe it’s prudent that your allocation to bonds be equal to your age, as seen in this chart. Follow the 10% Golden Rule, and put the remainder of your portfolio in equities.

GPD and PMI car anologAs a refresher, here’s what I mean by the “10% Golden Rule”. The rule suggests a 10 percent portfolio allocation to gold, with 5 percent in bullion or gold jewelry and 5 percent in well-managed gold mutual funds or ETFs.

Remember to rebalance annually, adjusting allocations and weightings as investment goals change.

While we have an eye for gold at U.S. Global, we also provide investors with a wide array of opportunities to invest with us, ranging from emerging markets and natural resources to infrastructure and domestic funds. Explore potential opportunities for diversifying your portfolio by clicking 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.

Diversification does not protect an investor from market risks and does not assure a profit.

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Investing for the Long Term: A Conversation with Marc Lichtenfeld
August 20, 2018

the oxford club's marc lichtenfeld One of Marc Lichtenfeld’s proudest moments was getting to ring announce a world title boxing fight promoted by Mr. “Only in America” himself, Don King.

“He was one of my main clients for many years,” Marc tells me, adding that the boxing impresario “is always the smartest guy in the room. He’s three steps ahead of everyone else.”

You could say the same thing about Marc. As the Oxford Club’s chief income strategist—his day job when he’s not announcing boxing matches—Marc has spent much of his career educating investors on how best to stay “three steps ahead” of the market.

That means, among other things, taking a long-term investment approach and focusing on what he calls “Perpetual Dividend Raisers”—high-quality companies that consistently raise their payouts, preferably by a significant amount.

“The longer you can stay invested the better, as your dividends will grow and so should your capital,” he writes in his most recent book, You Don’t Have to Drive an Uber in Retirement.

Staying disciplined and sticking to this strategy go a long way in helping investors roll with whatever punches the market might throw.

Read on for more highlights from my recent conversation with Marc Lichtenfeld.

What inspired you to get into the financial world?

When I was in college, I had no interest in the stock market or finance. I wanted to be a sportscaster. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started to invest for myself, and I became kind of obsessed with it. This was before the internet, so I would spend Saturday afternoons in the library researching companies and learning everything I could.

I eventually decided to make my hobby my profession, but nobody was interested in hiring a 20-something kid with no relevant experience.

I decided to visit a trading firm right down the street from my house that I knew was looking for a trading assistant. When I walked in and handed them my resume, I got the impression that I wouldn’t be getting a call back. I could see, though, that they desperately needed help entering orders and balancing their books, so I made the guy an offer he couldn’t refuse. I told him I’d work for free for a week, and if he wasn’t happy with what he saw, he could tell me no thanks. But by the end of the week, he told me to come back on Monday and that he’d start paying me.

That was my entry into the world of finance. From there, I had a couple of other positions, including as a sell-side analyst at Avalon Research Group, and then in 2007 I joined the Oxford Club, where I’ve been ever since.

Tell us about your start with Oxford Club and how the group has contributed to your professional development.

One of the things I admire most about the Oxford Club is its emphasis on individual investors. It really tries to teach investors how to grow their wealth the right way by managing risk and investing in quality companies.

get rich with dividends. how to build a portfolio with double digit returns I began there by writing about biotech, which even now I believe is an industry of the future. A few years later, I spoke with Julia Guth, our CEO and publisher, about taking over the dividend newsletter, and in 2013 I launched my own dividend newsletter, the Oxford Income Letter.

My main focus since then has been on dividend growth companies. Around the same time that we launched the Oxford Income Letter, I wrote a book called Get Rich with Dividends. The strategy I describe is one that’s worked for many years. When you invest in companies that are raising their dividends 5 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent a year, you vastly improve your odds of generating some impressive returns and beating the market year after year. If you’re still in the wealth-building phase, it’s also important to reinvest the dividends because then the compounding machine just goes into overdrive.

This can really make a significant difference in the size of your portfolio and change your life down the road. It’s one of the many reasons why I started my kids investing in dividend growth companies. If they started as children, they could be in a very good position 30 years from now when they’re looking to buy a house or send their own kids to college.

Sticking with that strategy sometimes requires a lot of discipline.

I was actually having a conversation with my brother recently because he’s looking to put some money to work and wanted to get my thoughts. He’s a bit of a worrier, though, so I reminded him that if he’s going to invest, he really needs to be disciplined and not freak out if the market takes a downturn in, say, three years. What’s far more important is where the market will be 10 years from now. Historically, the market is up 10 years down the road—it’s very rare that it’s not—but you need to have the discipline to stay with it.

The important takeaway here is to know your tolerance for risk and adjust your investments accordingly. My brother’s very cautious, so he probably shouldn’t put every dollar in the market if he’s going to lose sleep over a correction and sell at the wrong time.

It’s easier for those who’ve seen the data and know that the market has historically been up in 10 years, even if we’re at the top of the business cycle. In Get Rich with Dividends, I talk about the only times when markets have been down over a 10-year period, and those are in the middle of the Great Depression and in 2008-2009 during the Great Recession. You would literally need to cash out in the middle of a historic downturn not to make money over 10 years, and that’s if you sold right at the bottom. If you had waited another year or two, you might have come out at least breaking even, if not better.

Who were your mentors early on?

My biggest mentor was David Hines. David was my research director at Avalon, which had the reputation of being the most contrarian research firm on Wall Street. We initiated ratings on stocks only if that rating was going to be contrarian. If we were bullish on energy and so was the rest of the Street, there was no reason for us to publish our research. Why would anyone listen to us versus Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley?

In any case, I thought I was contrarian—until I met David. Any time I came to him with my research, he would just poke so many holes in it. It made me double and triple-check that all my i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed before presenting an argument to him.

What book do you think every investor should read?

I would say The Richest Man in Babylon, by George Clason. It’s 70 or 80 pages, so you could read it in an afternoon. The book, which is about 100 years old now, is filled with great life lessons on money management and saving and investing. I would recommend it especially to someone who has a teenager or young adult in their life, and they want to impart some important lessons.

On the more technical side, I would recommend David Dreman’s Contrarian Investment Strategies. He’s considered to be the father of contrarian investing. The book is pretty data-rich, but if you like that kind of thing, it really makes a strong argument for contrarian investing.

In one of your recent presentations, which I attended, you explained that cash flow is more important than earnings. Can you elaborate on that?

There’s no doubt earnings are important. Stock prices tend to follow earnings over the longer term, but they can easily be doctored and manipulated. Let’s say a company records a sale of $1 million on December 30. Even if it hasn’t been paid yet, it can still include that sale as part of its revenue for the  fiscal year, depending on the industry. The $1 million means nothing, then, in terms of its ability to pay bills and dividends and meet payroll.

Cash flow can tell a truer story because it excludes all the non-cash items and adjusts for accounts receivable. It represents only the cash that has come into a business during the year, and it gives you a better idea of a company’s ability to pay the bills. In the above example, cash flow would show you that the $1 million hasn’t come in yet. Also, if there’s fraud going on, oftentimes cash flow is where you’ll be able to detect it. If earnings are constantly going straight up and cash flow is not following it, this might raise some red flags.

Now, I want to caution, this doesn’t always mean fraud is taking place if earnings rise for a year or two and cash flow doesn’t follow. But if you see a trend of rising earnings but deteriorating cash flow, then you might want to start asking some questions.  

So what’s your outlook for the rest of 2018?

We don’t try to time the market at the Oxford Club. Rather, we focus on trying to find great opportunities—stocks that are undervalued or that we expect to go up because of momentum or fundamentals—and manage risk.

Having said that, I don’t see any reason to expect a market correction at this point. The market has so far shrugged everything off—trade wars, outrageous presidential tweets, higher interest rates and more. It seems the market wants to keep going higher, so we’re going to continue to try to ride it higher, too.

 

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.

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.

Cash flow is the total amount of money being transferred into an out of a business, especially as affecting liquidity.

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It's Time for Contrarians to Get Bullish on Gold
August 14, 2018

It’s Time for Contrarians to Get Bullish on Gold

Gold can’t seem to catch a break. The yellow metal normally acts as a safe haven in times of political and economic strife, but in the face of Turkey’s lira meltdown, investors have taken cover instead in the U.S. dollar. On Monday, the stronger greenback pushed gold to end below $1,200 an ounce for the first time since January 2017.

The lira fell to its lowest level ever recorded against the dollar Monday, mainly in response to President Donald Trump’s call to sanction and double steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey. This sent gold priced in Turkey’s currency to all-time highs. If you recall, we saw the same thing happen recently in Venezuela, where inflation is expected to hit 1 million percent by the end of the year.

Turkish lira down more than 45% for the year
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Turkey’s faith in gold was on full display this week as President Recep Erdogan urged his fellow Turks to convert their gold and hard currencies into lira in an effort to prop up the country’s hammered currency. The same strategy was used in December 2016, a month after Trump’s election sent the lira tumbling against the dollar.

The Love Trade Is Strong in Turkey

As I’ve discussed before, Turkey has a long and rich history with gold. Home to the world’s very first gold coins more than 2,500 years ago, Turkey still stands as one of the largest buyers of the yellow metal. In the June quarter, the Eurasian country was the fourth largest consumer of gold jewelry, following India, China and the U.S. Twelve and a half metric tons were purchased in the three-month period, up 13 percent from the same time a year ago.

Along with Russia and Kazakhstan, Turkey also continues to add to its official gold holdings. Its central bank’s net purchases in the first half of the year totaled 38.1 metric tons, up 82 percent from the same six-month period in 2017, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). This made it the second highest buyer, after Russia.

Time to Get Contrarian

Gold investors might be discouraged by its performance this year, compounded by news that hedge funds are shorting the metal in record numbers. A lot of this has to do with the fact that, so far this year, gold has had a very high negative correlation to the U.S. dollar—more precisely, a negative 0.95 correlation coefficient, according to gold research firm Murenbeeld & Co. What this means is that gold prices have been moving in nearly the exact opposite direction as the greenback.

I think it’s important to point out that, despite a stronger dollar, gold is still up for the 36-month period—and climbing even higher over the long term. The dollar has only recently broken even, whereas gold has continued to hit higher lows since its phenomenal breakout in December 2015.

despite a stronger u.s. dollar, gold is still up for 36-month period
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The dollar could be ready to peak, with the potential for even higher gold prices. The metal is currently down two standard deviations over the past 60 trading days, so the math is currently in our favor for gold to rally.

Vanguard Just Gave Precious Metal Investors the Short Shrift

There’s another sign that gold has found a bottom.

Last week, I spoke with Kitco’s Daniela Cambone about Vanguard’s decision to change its Precious Metals and Mining Fund. Starting next month, the fund’s exposure to metals and mining will be dropped from 80 percent today to only 25 percent—meaning the world’s largest fund company will no longer offer investors a way to participate, should gold and precious metals rally.

does vanguard's latest fund name change mean gold has found a bottom?
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This isn’t the first time Vanguard has done this to investors. Back in 2001, it removed the word “gold” from what was then the Gold and Precious Metals Fund. The change coincided with a decade-long precious metals bull run that saw gold rally from an average price of $271 an ounce in 2001 to an all-time high of more than $1,900 in September 2001. That’s more than a sevenfold increase.

And now it’s dropping the fund altogether—at a time when gold might be ready to break out.

So could this mean another bull run is in the works? No one can say for sure, of course, but the timing of Vanguard’s announcement is certainly interesting.

What I can say with certainty is that there are likely many investors in the Vanguard ecosystem who are in for a rude awakening when they find out their exposure to the metals and mining sector has inexplicably shrunk.

Fortunately, investors have other options! Learn more by clicking 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.

The U.S. Dollar Index is an index 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.

Standard deviation is a quantity calculated to indicate the extent of deviation for a group as a whole.

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 6/30/2018.

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The Pool of Publicly Traded Stocks Is Shrinking. Here's What Investors Can Do
August 13, 2018

Many U.S. Tech Firms Have Delayed Going Public

Elon Musk is no stranger to making controversial and outlandish comments, and his tweet last week is no exception. As you probably know by now, the perennial entrepreneur announced to his more than 22 million Twitter followers that he is “considering taking Tesla private at $420.”

Despite the Herculean challenge—such a move would be the largest leveraged buyout in history—and despite Musk’s history of being a provocateur, Wall Street seemed to take his comment seriously. Tesla stock rose close to 11 percent last Tuesday to end at $379, a few bucks shy of its all-time high of $385, set in September 2017.

There are many reasons why investors should take note. For one, Musk and Tesla are now likely to face heightened scrutiny from securities regulators.

My reason for bringing it up is that, should Musk follow through and take the electric carmaker private, the already shrinking universe of investable U.S. stocks will lose yet another name.  

This is a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.

As I wrote in May 2017, the number of publicly listed companies in the U.S. has fallen steadily since 1997. More companies have delisted, in fact, than gone public in every year of the past 20 years except one, 2013.

Put another way, the pool is getting smaller even while the population and economy are expanding.

The number of publicly listed U.S. firms has been falling steadily since 1997
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The U.S. Has 5,000 Fewer Listed Companies Than It Should

In 1976, there were about 23 listed companies per 1 million U.S. citizens. Today, it’s closer to 11 per million.

That’s according to a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report by respected financial economist René Stulz, who adds that the U.S. has roughly 5,000 fewer companies listed on exchanges than you would normally expect, given the country’s size, population, economic and financial development and respect for shareholder rights.

Are we seeing the same phenomenon in other countries, developed or otherwise?

“There are other countries that have lost listings since 1997, but few have experienced a greater percentage decrease in listings,” Stulz writes. “Further, the U.S. is in bad company in terms of the percentage decrease in listings—just ahead of Venezuela.”

Given that Venezuela’s economy is in freefall, with inflation forecast to hit 1 million percent this year, I would call it bad company indeed.

So why is this happening?

A Record $2.5 Trillion in M&A Activity

One of the main causes of fewer listings is the explosion in mergers and acquisitions (M&As). When one company acquires another, or when two companies merge, that lowers the number of traded stocks—assuming they were available to be traded to begin with. So far this year, worldwide M&A activity has been very robust, with a record $2.5 trillion in deals announced in the first six months alone. That puts 2018 on track to surpass $5 trillion, which would be the most ever recorded.

the total value of global deals of $10 billion or more has surged in 2018
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What also makes 2018 different from past years is the high number of mega-deals that exceed $10 billion. Together, these deals total $950 billion, more than in any past first-six-month period.

Among the biggest deals is AT&T’s takeover of Time Warner, valued at $85 billion. Coincidentally, that’s about $80 billion less than the deal that merged Time Warner and America Online (AOL) back in 2000, still the largest in history.

There’s nothing wrong with M&As, of course. The problem arises when there aren’t enough initial public offerings (IPOs) to replenish the pool and give investors early access to new firms.

At the most basic level, fewer stocks means fewer options. It becomes more difficult to build a diversified portfolio when you don’t have a diversity of stocks to choose from.

Consider how many companies Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has acquired over the years. It owns recognizable brands like Duracell, Dairy Queen, GEICO, Fruit of the Loom and more, not to mention is the majority owner of a number of other companies. There’s even talk that Buffett might buy a domestic airline outright, possibly Southwest.

But at more than $311,000 a share right now, Berkshire’s A stock is out of most Main Street investors’ price range. How long until they’re priced out of participating in the entire market?

What’s more, profits are being divided among fewer winners. This is contributing to inflated valuations and market frothiness. In many ways, Apple can thank its $1 trillion market cap largely on the fact that there’s less competition now among equities—specifically tech equities. Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Coinbase, and many other huge tech unicorns have delayed or put off getting listed altogether.

Many U.S. Tech Firms Have Delayed Going Public

Tougher Regulations Have Contributed to Private Equity Boom

So why would a company like Uber or Airbnb choose not to seek public funding? We can point to two related causes: stricter regulations on publicly traded firms, and the boom in private equity.

The most reported among these regulations is the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. More commonly known as SOX, the law was passed and signed in 2002 in response to major accounting scandals that brought down WorldCom and Enron.

In May 2017, I named SOX one of the five costliest financial regulations of the past 20 years. Its notorious Section 404, which requires external auditors to report on the adequacy of a firm’s internal controls, disproportionately hurts smaller companies, costing them six times as much in accounting fees in relation to larger firms, according to estimates by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Because of these added costs, many smaller companies and startups are opting not to raise funds from public capital markets—or at least to delay it.

Nasdaq private market sets new record in deal flows in the first half of 2018In the meantime, firms are finding it easier to get adequate private financing—which Main Street investors don’t have access to. According to Reuters, the global private equity industry raised $453 billion from investors in 2017, a new record. And last week, Nasdaq Private Market (NPM), which helps companies facilitate shareholder liquidity, announced it conducted a record 33 company sponsored liquidity programs in the first half of 2018. Deal volume grew 74 percent compared to the same period last year and exceeded $10 billion for the first time.

You can see now why some companies like Uber are staying private for longer. Some prefer not to have added costs associated with compliance. Others might not want to answer to a board or share financial details publicly.

These are among the things Elon Musk apparently wants to avoid by taking Tesla private. He’s become more combative with analysts and shareholders, especially short sellers, going so far as to tell listeners during a May conference call to “sell [Tesla] stock and don’t buy it” if they’re concerned about volatility.

Before SOX, the average age of a company at the time of its IPO was 3.1 years. Today, it’s more like 13.3 years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

This hurts Main Street investors. Because they’re generally not able to invest in private equity, they lack access to companies when they might be expanding at their fastest pace.

Check out the chart below. In the 10-year period through 2015, private equity and venture capital averaged 11 percent or more annually. They far outperformed stocks and bonds, sometimes by more than double.

investors are locked out of number 1 asset class
click to enlarge

What Investors Can Do

Ideally, regulations would be streamlined to lower the costs of going public. I believe this would encourage more firms to get list earlier in their existence.

Outside of that, investors should take the long-term view and diversify in domestic and emerging market stocks, municipal bonds and gold.

As for domestic stocks, I think it’s important to focus on companies that are consistently raising their dividends on an annual basis and buying back their own stock. We’ve found that companies that are growing their revenue streams, quarter after quarter, and that show strong free cash flow generation have tended to outperform over the long run. Our funds favor these metrics.

I’ll have more to say about dividends and free cash flow, so stayed tuned!

 

 

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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.

Free cash flow (FCF) is a measure of how much cash a business generates after accounting for capital expenditures such as buildings or equipment. This cash can be used for expansion, dividends, reducing debt, or other purposes.

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 6/30/2018.

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