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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.

Fidel Castro’s Cuba vs Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore: A Tale of Two Economies (UPDATE)
November 29, 2016

On Friday, November 25, Fidel Castro died at age 90. The former revolutionary and hardline dictator of Cuba was among the 20th century’s longest-serving leaders, third only to Elizabeth II and Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who passed away in October.

Castro’s death comes at a pivotal moment in U.S.-Cuban relations. With trade between the two countries on the path to normalization, and with U.S. airlines making scheduled flights to Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, President-elect Donald J. Trump has pledged to reinstate many of the Cold War embargos that were lifted by President Barack Obama.

“If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate deal,” Trump tweeted on November 28.

In light of Castro’s passing, we are rerunning this Frank Talk from March 2015, in which Frank compares and analyzes the widely divergent economies of Cuba and Singapore under their now-deceased leaders, Castro and Lee Kuan Yew. 

A Victoria's Secret in the Toronto Pearson International AirportIt would be nearly impossible to find two world leaders in living memory whose influence is more inextricably linked to the countries they presided over than Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away this Monday at the age of 91.

You might find this hard to believe now, but in 1959—the year both leaders assumed power—Cuba was a much wealthier nation than Singapore. Whereas Singapore was little more than a sleepy former colonial trading and naval outpost with very few natural resources, Cuba enjoyed a thriving tourism industry and was rich in tobacco, sugar and coffee.

Fast forward about 55 years, and things couldn’t have reversed more dramatically, as you can see in the images below.

Cube in 1950, Singapore in 1950, Cuba today, Singapore today

The ever-widening divergence between the two nations serves as a textbook case study of a) the economic atrophy that’s indicative of Soviet-style communism, and b) the sky-is-the-limit prosperity that comes with the sort of American-style free market capitalism Lee introduced to Singapore.

Sound fiscal policy, a strong emphasis on free trade and competitive tax rates have transformed the Southeast Asian city-state from an impoverished third world country into a bustling metropolis and global financial hub that today rivals New York City, London and Switzerland. Between 1965 and 1990—the year he stepped down as prime minister—Lee grew Singapore’s per capita GDP a massive 2,800 percent, from $500 to $14,500.

Since then, its per capita GDP based on purchasing power parity (PPP) has caught up with and zoomed past America’s.

Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore Flourished while Fidel Castro's Cuba Floundered
click to enlarge

Under Castro and his brother Raúl’s control, Cuba’s once-promising economy has deteriorated, private enterprise has all but been abolished and the poverty rate stands at 26 percent. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, “the average Cuban’s standard of living remains at a lower level than before the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Its government is currently facing bankruptcy. And among 11.3 million of Cuba’s inhabitants, only 5 million—less than 45 percent of the population—participate in the labor force.

Compare that to Singapore: Even though the island is home to a mere 5.4 million people, its labor force hovers above 3.4 million.

Singapore Had Third-Highest GDP Based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) Per Capita

Because of the free-market policies that Lee implemented, Singapore is ranked first in the world on the World Bank Group’s Ease of Doing Business list and, for the fourth consecutive year, ranked second on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. The Heritage Foundation ranks the nation second on its 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, writing:

Sustained efforts to build a world-class financial center and further open its market to global commerce have led to advances in… economic freedoms, including financial freedom and investment freedom.

Cuba, meanwhile, comes in at number 177 on the Heritage Foundation’s list and is the “least free of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region.” The Caribbean island-state doesn’t rank at all on the World Bank Group’s list, which includes 189 world economies.

Many successful international businesses have emerged and thrived in the Singapore that Lee created, the most notable being Singapore Airlines. Founded in 1947, the carrier has ascended to become one of the most profitable companies in the world. It’s been recognized as the world’s best airline countless times by dozens of groups and publications. Recently it appeared on Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list.

Singapore AIrlines

We at U.S. Global Investors honor the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew, founder of modern-day Singapore. He showed the world that when a country chooses to open its markets and foster a friendly business environment, strength and prosperity follow. Even on the other side of the globe, the American Dream lives on.

 

 

The Global Competitiveness Index, developed for the World Economic Forum, is used to assess competitiveness of nations. The Index is made up of over 113 variables, organized into 12 pillars, with each pillar representing an area considered as an important determinant of competitiveness: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation.

The Ease of Doing Business Index is an index created by the World Bank Group. Higher rankings (a low numerical value) indicate better, usually simpler, regulations for businesses and stronger protections of property rights.

The Index of Economic Freedom is an annual index and ranking created by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal in 1995 to measure the degree of economic freedom in the world's nations.

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 9/30/2016.

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

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The Great American Splurge
November 28, 2016

Retail madness: more than 137 million american consumers plan to shop thanksgiving weekend

In a Frank Talk last week, I discussed the surge in small-cap stocks since Donald Trump’s election. A bet on smaller domestic stocks, I wrote, is a bet that Trump will deliver on his promise to “make America great again.” He plans to lower taxes, streamline regulations and spend big on infrastructure—all of which has led to a rally in the small-cap Russell 2000 Index and the 10-Year Treasury yield.

big moves in small-cap stocks and treasury yields since trump's election
click to enlarge

The ramifications of government policy change under Trump, especially fiscal policy, have the potential to be huge. Since Election Day, we’ve seen the strong U.S. dollar hurt gold, while the Canadian dollar and Chinese renminbi have dropped.

The question now is whether Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will put the brakes on the so-called Trump rally. She asserts that Fed policy is not politically motivated, but I wonder how many people actually believe that. She’s already criticized Trump’s plans to tear up or at least significantly weaken Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform.

Both former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and billionaire investor Warren Buffett have recently suggested Dodd-Frank needs to go, with Greenspan telling CNBC that he’d love to see the 2010 law “disappear.” Buffett, meanwhile, commented in an interview this month that the U.S. is “less well equipped to handle a financial crisis today than we were in 2008. Dodd-Frank has taken away the Federal Reserve’s ability to act in a crisis.”

Retail madness: more than 137 million american consumers plan to shop thanksgiving weekend

Since the election, banks have seen strong inflows, as investors are betting that the financial industry could be one of the largest beneficiaries of Trump’s administration.

According to Evercore ISI analyst Glenn Schorr, “Animal spirits and higher confidence have returned, and investors are now expecting a better revenue, expense, tax, capital and regulatory profile for financials.” In addition, “we might have just flipped from feeling pretty late cycle right back to early cycle depending on how much we want to buy into Trump’s pro-growth agenda.”

Americans Take Advantage of Low Inflation

Last year, lower gas prices helped American households save $700 on average. Although savings aren’t likely to be as much this year, Americans managed to save in other ways—namely, food and beverages.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the cost of a typical Thanksgiving meal for 10—consisting of a turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, a pumpkin pie and other traditional sides—fell 24 cents from last year’s average to $49.87. That translates to a per-person cost of just under $5, confirming that “U.S. consumers benefit from an abundant high-quality and affordable food supply,” says AFBF Director of Market Intelligence Dr. John Newton.

As I’ve said multiple times before, the U.S. shale oil boom helped deliver an “oil peace dividend” to the world, which drove transportation costs and, therefore, food and beverage costs down over the past two years.

A Thanksgiving Meal fell below $5 per person this year
click to enlarge

Low fuel costs also encouraged a huge number of families to hit the highway this Thanksgiving weekend. According to AAA, roughly 50 million people—about 1 million more than last year— journeyed 50 miles or more from their homes, the most since 2007.

With gas prices at their second lowest level in a decade, driving remains the most popular mode of transportation. But as I previously shared with you, flying has also become more and more affordable for many Americans. This week, an estimated 27 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines, an increase of 2.5 percent over last year.

27 million passengers will fly U.S. airlines this Thanksgiving week, up 2.5 percent from last year

Black Friday Is the New Cyber Monday

It isn’t just travel that’s back to pre-recession levels. This year, it appears more Americans than ever before—enjoying low inflation and rising wages—will be spending their savings on gifts for friends and family, if estimates from the National Retail Federation (NRF) are accurate.

According to the retail trade association, as many as 137.4 million consumers planned to shop this Thanksgiving weekend, nearly a whopping 60 percent of Americans. This figure is up from last year's 135.8 million people. This includes both in-store shopping as well as online shopping, which, as you might have noticed, is becoming a huge deal.

Black Friday remains the busiest shopping day, with 74 percent of consumers telling the NRF they planned to venture out into the crowds to take advantage of gotta-have-it bargains.

But e-commerce is quickly catching up, with the internet-only Cyber Monday second in sales to Black Friday. For the first time this holiday season, online purchases are expected to account for more than 10 percent of all retail sales, according to consumer research firm eMarketer. “Online sales,” reports Bloomberg, “are likely to climb to $94.7 billion, representing almost 11 percent of total sales in November and December, an all-time high.”

E-commerce is set to account for a record share of retails sales this holiday season
click to enlarge

The growing popularity of online shopping has prompted more and more brick-and-mortar retailers to push their e-commerce sales earlier to Black Friday and even Thanksgiving Day. In years past, retailers waited until Cyber Monday to post digital discounts, but today they risk losing market share among shoppers who increasingly prefer making purchases off their laptop and smartphone.

One of these retailers is Walmart, which will start offering online sales two days in advance, in a bid to stay ahead of competitor Amazon.  In a press release, the Arkansas-based behemoth announced it has tripled its assortment of online products, from 8 million last year to more than 23 million today.

Another Record Year for Packages Delivered

The rise in e-commerce has had the inevitable effect of giving more business to ground and air delivery companies such as FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS). It’s expected that, with online sales jumping 17 percent this year, the number of packages handled and shipped will jump to a record high.

According to Business Insider, UPS—the world’s largest delivery company—projects it will ship a record-setting 700 million packages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or 70 million more than the same time last year. FedEx hopes it can ship 10 percent more than the 325 million it delivered last year.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s plans to establish its own in-house transportation network have hit a setback. About 250 pilots contracted with Amazon partners Air Transport Service Group and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings went on strike Tuesday over a “longstanding labor dispute.” The Jeff Bezos-run retailer has been determined to deliver its own products after bad weather in 2013 delayed millions of Christmas deliveries, but it appears these efforts are off to a rough start.

Wishing You Health, Wealth and Happiness!

I wish to conclude by giving thanks to our loyal Investor Alert readers as well as investors. Visit us on Facebook or Twitter and let us know what you’re thankful for this season!      

 

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 Russell 2000 Index is a U.S. equity index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000. The Russell 3000 Index consists of the 3,000 largest U.S. companies as determined by total market capitalization.

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 9/30/2016: United Parcel Service Inc.

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Surprise! Buffett Books a Flight on Airline Stocks
November 21, 2016

warren buffett bets big on airlines

It’s never too late to change your mind.

After years of deriding the airline industry, Warren Buffett confirmed last week that his holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, has invested nearly $1.3 billion in four big-name domestic carriers: American, Delta, United and Southwest.

Domestic Airlines Surge Buffett Investment News
click to enlarge

The stake is a dramatic reversal for the 86-year-old investing wizard, who previously called the industry a capital “death trap” and once joked that investors would have been served well had Orville Wright’s plane been shot down at Kitty Hawk.

The thing is, Buffett held these opinions long before airlines began making the fundamental changes that would flip their fortunes from bankruptcy to record profitability. When Buffett first tried his hand at making money in the aviation industry in 1989, airlines were still struggling in a fiercely competitive marketplace. Many carriers called it quits, including President-elect Donald Trump’s Trump Shuttle, which ceased operations in 1992. Others spent years in bankruptcy court.

But following the massive wave of industry consolidation between 2005 and 2010, a new business environment emerged, one characterized by disciplined capacity growth, new sources of revenue, greater efficiency and a commitment to repairing balance sheets. I’ve written about these changes for the past 18 months, all of which are summarized in this brief five-minute video.

2 million people fly us every day

Buffett also likes airlines now for the same reason he’s long been a fan of railroads—namely, the barriers to entry are extremely high if not entirely impenetrable to new competitors. This is the “moat” Buffett refers to when talking about rail.

As a value investor, he prefers inexpensive stocks, and among industrials, airlines are cheapest of all, based on price-to-earnings and cash flow.

Airlines Least Expensive Among Industrials
click to enlarge

Buffett’s bullish rotation into airlines was followed by news last week that Citi also made fresh buys of Southwest, Delta, American and Allegiant shares, on the “broad theme that sector consolidation and an improved economy will reap benefits,” according to Seeking Alpha’s Clark Shultz.

Challenges still remain, of course, but domestic airlines today are profit-making, dividend-paying machines. In the first nine months of 2016, the top nine U.S. carriers—Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United—reported combined net income of $18.3 billion. That’s quite an improvement from the $11.2 billion they pocketed for the entire year in 2014.

Domestic airlines 11 billion shareholders nine month 2016

Over the same nine-month period, airlines returned $11.4 billion to shareholders via stock buybacks ($10.5 billion) and dividends ($912 million), according to industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A).

Here’s Why Blue Skies Could Last

In the near-term and long-term, airlines continue to look very attractive. Air travel demand is rising as incomes grow and the size of the global middle class expands.

This Thanksgiving week, more than 27 million passengers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines, an increase of 2.5 percent over the previous year, according to A4A. Much of the demand is being driven by affordable airfare, which is at its lowest in seven years.

The picture looks just as optimistic further down the road. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) sees global passenger demand nearly doubling over the next 20 years. The group expects 7.2 billion people to fly in 2035, up dramatically from 3.8 billion last year.

chinas middle class overtakes us

The Asia-Pacific region should be the biggest demand driver, with China displacing the U.S. as the world’s largest aviation market. As I’ve written about before, the U.S. and China both agreed to extend visas for business travelers, tourists and students, which has already led to increased travel between the two nations. When I last visited the New York Stock Exchange recently, I noticed that half of the tourists appeared to be from China.

What Effect Might President Trump Have on Airlines?

In the week following the presidential election, we saw modest gains in several sectors, including airlines. Evercore ISI’s proprietary Company Surveys, designed to monitor the economy on a weekly basis, showed a post-election bounce, rising 1.1 points to 49.6.

steady improvement week following election
click to enlarge

In many more ways than one, Donald Trump is unlike any other person ever to occupy the White House, bringing with him a unique set of skills and experiences that no other president can claim. As I mentioned earlier, he will become the first U.S. president who was formerly an airline executive. He also boasts an extensive background in tourism and hospitality, having built and managed everything from hotels to resorts to golf courses

Donald Trump first US president airline executive

Industry leaders, therefore, hope Trump will prove to be a powerful ally and take their side on several key issues. For starters, many are encouraged that the president-elect has proposed as much as $1 trillion in infrastructure spending on “our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals,” as he announced the day following last week’s election.

Trump has also promised to swing the pendulum away from monetary policy toward fiscal policy—cutting taxes and relaxing regulations—which has put Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on the defensive. On Friday, she defended the Dodd-Frank Act, which Trump has vowed to dismantle, stating a repeal would increase the likelihood of another financial crisis.

As for the aviation industry, U.S. carriers have been pushing Congress for years to reform air traffic control so that the steering wheel is in the hands not of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) but a private, not-for-profit entity. Canada made a similar transition in 1996 when it turned authority of its civil air navigation service over to the privately-run Nav Canada, which today manages approximately 12 million aircraft movements a year.

The industry would also like to see open talks with several state-owned Middle Eastern carriers, whose governments provide tens of billions of dollars in “unfair” subsidies every year.

Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, an airline lobby group, has urged Trump, a harsh critic of international trade agreements, to protect the interests of American airlines and workers.

“The Gulf carrier subsidies threaten the jobs of 300,000 U.S. aviation workers and the American aviation industry as a whole,” Zuckman alleged, “and we are optimistic that the Trump administration will stand up to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, enforce our trade agreements and fight for American jobs.”

Other leaders see headwinds in some of Trump’s more isolationist and nativist rhetoric, particularly his tough stance on immigration from Mexico—currently the number two market for travel and tourism to the U.S.—and Arabic-speaking countries.

Arrivals into the U.S. by Country, 2013
Rank Country Number of Visitors,
in Millions
Percent Share
#1
Canada Flag
Canada
23.39 33.5%
#2
Mexico Flag
Mexico
14.34 20.6%
#3
UK Flag
United Kingdom
3.84 5.5%
#4
Japan Flag
Japan
3.73 5.3%
#5
Brazil Flag
Brazil
2.06 3.0%
#6
Germany Flag
Germany
1.92 2.7%
#7
China Flag
China
1.81 2.6%
#8
France Flag
France
1.50 2.2%
#9
South Korea Flag
South Korea
1.36 1.9%
#10
Australia Flag
Australia
1.21 1.7%

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a travel ban on Muslims entering the U.S.—a controversial proposal Trump has since softened—could cost the U.S. economy as much as $71 billion a year and up to 132,000 American jobs. As The Economist pointed out in a recent article, travelers from the Middle East tend to be big spenders, shelling out 50 percent more per trip than Europeans on average.

Trump has also expressed interest in reversing current diplomatic relations with Cuba, favoring a reinstatement of old travel and trade embargos. (“The people of Cuba have struggled too long,” he tweeted in October. “Will reverse Obama’s Executive Orders and concessions towards Cuba until freedoms are restored.”) Many U.S. airlines have already begun scheduled flights to Havana, including United, American and Southwest, with others soon to follow (JetBlue, Alaska, Delta and Spirit, among others).

As for whom Trump might name as head of the Transportation Department—which oversees the FAA, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration and other agencies—rumors are circulating that it’s come down to either Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), former House Transportation Committee chairman; or James Simpson, former commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Transportation.

The airline industry has proven itself resilient time and again, emerging stronger from a decade ago. For investors, the group is relatively inexpensive and generous with its dividends and stock buybacks. Changes might very well be in the cards, but I remain bullish on airlines, just as Warren Buffett is.

 

CLICK HERE FOR ADDITIONAL RESEARCH ON THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY!

 

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

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

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

The price-earnings ratio (P/E Ratio) is the ratio for valuing a company that measures its current share price relative to its per-share earnings.

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.

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 9/30/2016: American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Allegiant Travel Co., Alaska Air Group Inc., Hawaiian Holdings Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Spirit Airlines Inc. 

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Is this the Airlines Liftoff Investors Have Been Waiting For?
July 18, 2016

Silver Takes the Gold: Commodities Halftime Report 2016

A flurry of good news lifted airline stocks higher last week, reversing a drop in altitude that’s weighed on the industry so far in 2016. Fueled primarily by a bullish report from Deutsche Bank, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Continental collectively advanced 6.5 percent last Tuesday alone. The German bank’s all-clear signal halted a six-month slide on overcapacity, Brexit uncertainty and heightened fears of global terrorism.

US Airlines Jump Most Since 2014 Following Deutsche Bank Report
click to enlarge

Leading the group was American Airlines, which announced last Tuesday that it would renew its credit card deals with both Citigroup and Barclays, a move that’s estimated to add $1.55 billion to the carrier’s pretax income over the next three years—$200 million this year, $550 million in 2017 and $800 million in 2018.

The agreement will allow Citi to offer its credit cards to new customers on American Airlines’ website and mobile apps, through direct mail and in Admirals Club lounges, while Barclaycard will be permitted to reach customers in airports and during American flights.

Investors also rewarded Delta for better-than-expected profits, which rose 4.1 percent to $1.55 billion in the second quarter. In an effort to push up fares, the number two carrier announced plans that it would cut capacity on U.S.-U.K. flights due to British pound weakness following Brexit.

Playing the Long Game with Near-Term Results

Looking ahead, aircraft-makers Boeing and Airbus both see huge growth in deliveries as the global middle class continues to swell in rank. In its Current Market Outlook, Boeing projects total demand for nearly 40,000 new jets over the next 20 years—a 4 percent increase over last year’s forecast—with a large percentage of the growth occurring in Asia. Altogether, these deals are valued at a monumental $5.9 trillion.

Total new jet deliveries estimated at 5 9 trillion
click to enlarge

Airbus’ forecast, while somewhat more conservative, is no less impressive. The French airline manufacturer sees demand for more than 33,000 new aircrafts between now and 2035, all with a market value of $5.2 trillion.

The lion’s share of this expansion is expected to take place in emerging and developing countries such as India and China, where middle class growth is booming. Higher incomes should heat up flight demand and help air traffic double over the next 15 years, according to Airbus. In India alone, air traffic is expected to accelerate fivefold between now and 2035. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sees the number of global revenue passenger miles rising from 877 billion in 2015 to 1.02 trillion in 2024.

Global middle class to move from 2 8 billion to 4 8 billion in 20 years
click to enlarge

In the near term, domestic airlines continue to trade at extremely low multiples compared to other stocks in the industrials sector. Compare airlines’ price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios to transportation stocks and the broader stock market. Whereas American is trading at a little over 4 times earnings, transportation stocks—which include trucks, railroads and other industrials—trade at more than 14 times earnings. The S&P 500 Index, meanwhile, currently trades at more than 20 times earnings.

Domestic Airlines Price-to-Earnings (P/E) Ratios As of July 15
American Airlines 4.15
United Continental 4.11
Delta Airlines 7.1
Southwest Airlines 11.53
  S&P Transportation Select Industry Index 14.06
  S&P 500 Index 20.06

Domestic carriers also continue to return money to shareholders in the form of dividends and stock buyback programs. American, for example, repurchased more than 50 million shares, worth $1.7 billion, in the second quarter. As of March, Southwest Airlines had a phenomenal three-year dividend growth rate of 101.2 percent, according to GuruFocus data. This helps support the thesis that the industry offers many attractive buying opportunities right now.

How Regulations Have Hurt Retail Investors

In past weeks and months, I’ve written about how excessive regulations are atrophying global economic growth. Granted, regulations are often well intentioned and necessary to create a level playing field. But when they grow too large in number and scope, it’s a little like having more referees than players on the basketball court.

Here in the U.S., federal regulations cost U.S. businesses more than $1.88 trillion a year. If they were their own economy, American regulations would be the ninth largest in the world, just ahead of Russia. Small businesses, which are responsible for more than half of all U.S. sales and employ 55 percent of all American workers, increasingly rank regulations as one of the top challenges facing their growth and survival.

This isn’t just an American phenomenon, of course. Last month, Brits voted to leave the European Union largely because they recognize overzealous regulation and envy policies as impediments to innovation. They’re tired of falling behind. Why else did the European Commission recently require American tech giants Netflix and Amazon to guarantee that at least 20 percent of their streaming video content is shot in Europe? Were EU rules not so corrosive to innovation, the continent might have its own Silicon Valley and its own Netflix (and, I might add, more attractive tax incentives to produce movies and TV shows in their countries).

Now, thanks to a slide deck from InvestX Financial CEO Marcus New, it’s clear just how detrimental U.S. regulations have been in the formation of capital. In the years preceding 2001, we could have expected to see 100 new companies on average go public every quarter. Since then, that number has fallen to around 30. Because of the mounting risks involved, the gestation period leading up to an IPO has ballooned from three years to more than 13 years, with an average $261 million raised per issuer, compared to $88 million between 1990 and 2001.

Most Profit Now Generated Private Stage Typically Fewer than 50 Investors
click to enlarge

Also because of regulations, smaller retail investors have effectively been blocked from participating in higher-yielding investments—namely, private equity and venture capital, whose 10-year compound annual growth rates have averaged 11.8 and 11 percent, quite a bit more than Treasuries, equities and other common asset classes.

Investors Are Locked out of 1 Asset Class
click to enlarge

For the most part, only accredited investors—those who have earned income that exceeds $200,000 or a net worth of over $1 million—are permitted to participate. As a result, it’s only the rich who get, well, richer.

Again, these rules are well intentioned. The justification is that everyday investors should be protected from the heightened risks involved in more sophisticated assets. At the same time, many people are being restricted from opportunities that might help them move up the socioeconomic ladder—opportunities that are open only to those who’ve already “made it.”

It seems, then, that the Occupy Movement and other class warriors who criticize and bash the 1 percent for “stealing all the wealth” would do well to direct some of their ire at the socialist rules responsible for restricting their social mobility.

Personal finance and investing were among the many topics discussed last week at FreedomFest, “the largest gathering of free minds,” which I regrettably couldn’t attend this year. FreedomFest was founded in 2002 by my friend Mark Skousen, then-president of the Foundation for Economic Education and author of several books, including one of my favorites, The Big Three in Economics: Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes. I highly recommend you check it out.

Keep Munis Tax-Free

You might be aware of the debate happening right now on whether to lift the tax exemption on municipal bonds. Last Friday, Municipal Bonds for America (MBFA) sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to affirm its opposition “to any legislative proposal that taxes, in whole or in part, municipal bonds.”

Tax-free munis, as the coalition points out, have long been responsible for funding public infrastructure projects, from schools to highways to airports to seaports.

Part of munis’ appeal as an investment is that they are tax-free at the federal level and often the state and local levels. Removing the exemption could dramatically limit their attractiveness, which would ultimately affect America’s ability to maintain livable communities.

But here’s why I believe it won’t happen. Both major candidates for president, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, strongly support increasing infrastructure spending. In fact, it’s the one thing they have in common with each other. I don’t believe either President Trump or President Clinton would be in favor of allowing munis to be taxed, thereby risking financing for new projects.

A Brokered Democratic Convention?

In closing, it might seem like a done deal that Hillary and Trump will be our nominees. After all, Senator Bernie Sanders finally threw in the towel, endorsing his Democratic rival.

But don’t count Sanders out just yet, especially now that the investigation into Hillary’s private email server has bruised her poll numbers. There’s historical precedence for a contested convention. In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt—who, like Sanders, was considered by many to be too far left to win the general election—failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority of delegates. He was even rumored to have endorsed his rival, Governor Al Smith. And yet, Roosevelt brokered a deal at the convention that won him his party’s nomination and, eventually, the presidency.

Will history repeat itself? Could Sanders attempt to do the same? We’ll find out soon enough.

With political uncertainty high, and with fiscal and monetary policies imbalanced, gold remains an attractive asset class. As always, I suggest a 10 percent weighting in gold bullion and gold stocks, with a rebalance either quarterly or annually.

 

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 price to earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is the measure of the share price relative to the annual net income earned by the firm per share. The P/E ratio shows current investor demand for a company share. A high P/E ratio generally indicates increased demand because investors anticipate earnings growth in the future.

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.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The S&P Transportation Select Industry Index represents the transportation sub-industry portion of the S&P Total Stock Market Index.

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 3/31/2016: American Airlines Group, Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., The Boeing Co., Airbus Group SE, Barclays Bank PLC,

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Mile-High Merger: Alaska Airlines Buys Virgin America, Expanding Market Reach
April 11, 2016

Mile-High Merger: Alaska Airlines Buys Virgin America, Expanding Market Reach

A little over 10 years ago, there were a dozen major domestic airlines. Following a wave of bankruptcies, the industry consolidated, and today four remain—American, Delta, United and Southwest.

For the past couple of years, these newly-strengthened carriers, along with a full roster of regional and low-cost carriers, have been beating expectations, generating record profits and free cash flow and rewarding shareholders with dividend growth and stock buybacks. Low fuel costs have served as an additional windfall.

Consolidation Strengthened the U.S. Airline Industry
click to enlarge

That doesn’t mean the industry now lacks the room to change (and improve), however. In February, the short-haul regional carrier Republic Airlines filed for bankruptcy—the first such filing in the industry since American’s in 2011—after losing a number of unionized pilots in a drawn-out salary dispute. (More on that later.)

And just this past weekend, 84-year-old Alaska Airlines announced it would be buying Virgin America, billionaire Richard Branson’s young, hip carrier.

Alaska to Become the Premiere West Coast Carrier?

The $2.6 billion deal, awaiting shareholder approval in June, would create the fifth-largest U.S. airline by traffic and result in a much more competitive player, especially on the West Coast. (Alaska is based in Seattle, Virgin in San Francisco.) According to the Wall Street Journal, Alaska’s annual revenue could grow 27 percent because of the deal.

Alaska airlines + Virgin America = One Huge West Coast Carrier
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As I’ve pointed out in the past, the acquiree in deals such as this normally sees a short-term bump in share price, while the buyer’s stock might fall because, among other reasons, it must pay a premium for the acquisition. For the three-month period as of April 6, Virgin was up nearly 66 percent.

Virgin America Rallies on Alaska Airlines Takeover
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Integration can sometimes be tricky for airlines—more so than for other industries—because they involve not just employees and aircrafts but also information technology systems, booking procedures, rewards programs and flight schedules. All of this must be accomplished while the carriers remain fully operational.

Airlines that have gone through this often-messy process have seen their quality ratings drop off. This was certainly the case with American as it slowly integrated and digested US Airways, a two-year endeavor that concluded in October 2015.

The Alaska-Virgin deal could end up being very different, though. Both carriers have an exceptionally firm handle on their operations and provide sterling customer service. Alaska has received the highest rating in J.D. Powers’ North America Satisfaction Survey for eight consecutive years. For the fourth straight year, Virgin has held the top spot in the annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR) system, developed to rank airlines based on 15 “elements” such as on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage and the like.

Aircraft integration between the two companies poses arguably the most significant challenge—not just for Alaska and Virgin but also for jet manufacturer Boeing. Alaska exclusively flies the Boeing 737 while Virgin operates the Airbus A320, almost all of them leased. Once the Airbus leases are up in 2020, Alaska could choose to let them go, or it might decide to keep or even expand the fleet. At some point, this could be a concern for Boeing.

Pilot Shortage Intensifies While Demand Soars

Nevertheless, Boeing has an unprecedented seven-year order backlog of 5,800 commercial jets. To put that number in perspective, the U.S. airline industry collectively has 6,871 jets in its commercial fleet right now, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Because of increased passenger and cargo demand, this number is expected to reach at least 8,400 by 2036.

Boeing Has a 7 Year Production Backlog

This raises the question of who will be flying these additional aircrafts.

I’ve previously written about the imminent pilot shortage, which was spurred on by new FAA rules that tightened pilot training and service. Pilots must now retire when they reach 65, and they must have at least 1,500 hours of flight time before they can be considered for a position—usually with a regional carrier such as Republic for a starting salary close to $20,000. While Republic was trying to negotiate a new labor contract, it was losing about 40 pilots a month, according to Bloomberg.  

This has contributed to an industrywide pilot shortage that could intensify as more and more pilots retire, with fewer and fewer new pilots to replace them. It also has the effect of encouraging capacity growth discipline.

Meanwhile, commercial flight demand, both here and abroad, continues to climb. According to the Transportation Department, the number of passengers carried by U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the U.S. reached an all-time high of 895.5 million in 2015, a 5 percent increase from the previous year.

Record Number of Passengers Served in 2015
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Passenger traffic in the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, also grew 5.5 percent year-over-year in 2015 to reach a record-breaking 100 million passengers, according to Airports Council International (ACI).

By the way, I want to congratulate Brussels Airport for (partially) reopening following the devastating attacks last month. The repairs will no doubt take a long time and cost millions of dollars, but this is the first step among many toward normalcy.

The role airports play in the U.S. economy is hard to exaggerate. They contribute a jaw-dropping $768.4 billion per year to the national economy, or nearly 5 percent of GDP, according to the Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP). What’s more, they generate $1.6 trillion in goods and services and provide 7.6 million jobs—4.3 percent of all U.S. jobs—that pay workers a combined total of $453 billion.

Clearly we depend on airports, but how are they funded? In a word: munis.

American airports as a whole have capital needs that average $14.3 billion per year, according to ACI estimates. The FAA annually provides $3.35 billion, leaving a difference of $10.95 billion. About 54 percent of that amount is typically funded with general obligation (GO) bonds and other municipal bonds that are tax-free at the federal level and often at the state and local levels.

Short-Term Municipal Bonds: The Solution to Rising Interest Rates and Skyrocketing Income Taxes

worried about interest rates and high taxes? the solution: short-term, tax-free munis.

Besides the fact that they help make America strong and provide tax-free income, munis are attractive because they’re known to preserve capital, even in times of economic crisis.

This is key. Many investors have two huge fears right now: rising interest rates and skyrocketing federal income taxes. The Federal Reserve began rate normalization in December, and Chair Janet Yellen has stated that two hikes are likely this year alone. Bond prices fall when rates rise, and vice versa, but short-term munis are less sensitive to these fluctuations than longer-term bonds.

Also keep in mind that this is an election year, and it’s possible that we might vote to put a self-described socialist in the White House. By his own admission, income taxes will rise. Dramatically. It’s important, then, to have your wealth in something that provides tax-free income, like municipal bonds.

Speaking of socialism, I find it interesting that a great majority of the global public figures who have been identified in the leaked Panama Papers hail from far-left, socialist and communist regimes. This is what’s known as a “champagne socialist”: someone who is perfectly fine with the idea of high taxes—until he himself must pay them. This also goes to show that corruption is much more prevalent, and its magnitude much more significant, in countries with far-left governments. Corruption occurs everywhere—at all levels, in all countries, by people of all political stripes—but its frequency and depth seem to be much more extreme in such countries.

What Happens in Vegas Could Be Your Key to Successful Investing

On a final note, I want to invite you to plan a trip to Las Vegas next month to attend the 35th anniversary MoneyShow, where I’ll be speaking on gold and the airline industry. The MoneyShow is one of the most widely-attended investing conferences today, and best of all, registration is free! I’ll be joined by a number of highly-respected thought leaders in the industry, including Gary Shilling, Jeffrey Hirsch, Peter Schiff and many more. The conference will be held between May 9 and 12 at the beautiful Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino. I hope to see you there!

MoneyShow Las Vegas Frank Holmes

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.

The 2015 North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction among both business and leisure passengers of major carriers in North America. The study is based on responses from 11,354 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2014 and March 2015. The Airline Quality Rating (AQR) is a weighted average of multiple elements important to consumers when judging the quality of airline services.

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 12/31/2015: American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Alaska Air Group Inc., Virgin America Inc., The Boeing Co.

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Net Asset Value
as of 11/24/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $6.07 0.10 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.39 0.03 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $5.78 0.02 China Region Fund USCOX $11.95 -0.23 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $7.07 -0.02 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.08 0.02 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $21.36 No Change Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.21 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change