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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.

Top 10 Countries with Largest Gold Reserves
July 5, 2018

Beginning in 2010, central banks around the world turned from being net sellers of gold to net buyers of gold. Last year official sector activity rose 36 percent to 366 tonnes – a substantial increase from 2016.

top 10 central banks ranked by largest gold holdings as of june 2018

The top 10 central banks with the largest gold reserves have remained mostly unchanged for the last few years. The United States holds the number one spot with over 8,000 tonnes of gold in its vaults – nearly as much as the next three countries combined. For six consecutive years the Russian Central Bank has been the largest purchaser of gold, increasing its holdings by 224 tonnes in 2017 and overtaking China to hold the fifth spot, according to the GFMS Gold Survey.

Not every central bank is a net buyer. For the second year in a row, Venezuela has been the largest seller of gold, with 25 tonnes sold last year to help pay off debt. However, gross official sector sales declined by 55 percent last year, to the lowest since 2014, indicating that central banks are happy to keep their reserves in gold, historically viewed as a safe-haven asset.

Central Banks Continue Gobbling Up Gold central bank purchases from 1997 to 2017
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2018 could be another strong year for central bank gold demand. According to the World Gold Council (WGC), demand in the first quarter was up 42 percent year-over-year, with purchases totaling 116.5 tonnes for the highest first quarter total since 2014. As global debt continues to skyrocket, central banks and individual investors alike might want to keep gold in their pockets, as it historically has performed well during times of economic downturn and geopolitical uncertainty.

Below are the top 10 countries with the largest gold holdings, beginning with India.

 

10. India

Tonnes: 560.3

Percent of foreign reserves: 5.5 percent

It’s no surprise that the Bank of India has one of the largest stores of gold in the world. The South Asian country, home to 1.25 billion people, is the second largest consumer of the precious metal, and is one of the most reliable drivers of global demand. India’s festival and wedding season, which runs from October to December, has historically been a huge boon to gold’s Love Trade.

Construction on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, concluded in 1604

9. Netherlands

Tonnes: 612.5

Percent of foreign reserves: 68.2 percent

The Dutch Central Bank announced that it will be moving its gold vaults from Amsterdam to Camp New Amsterdam, about an hour outside the city, citing burdensome security measures of its current location. As many others have pointed out, this seems odd, given that the bank fairly recently repatriated a large amount of its gold from the U.S.

The Gold Souk building in Beverwijk, The Netherlands, houses a marketplace for gold dealers and goldsmiths

8. Japan

Tonnes: 765.2

Percent of foreign reserves: 2.5 percent

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is also the eighth largest hoarder of the yellow metal. Its central bank has been one of the most aggressive practitioners of quantitative easing—in January 2016, it lowered interest rates below zero—which has helped fuel demand for gold around the world.

The Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, japan, features beautiful gold-leaf coating

7. Switzerland

Tonnes: 1,040.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 5.3 percent

In seventh place is Switzerland, which actually has the world’s largest reserves of gold per capita. During World War II, the neutral country became the center of the gold trade in Europe, making transactions with both the Allies and Axis powers. Today, much of its gold trading is done with Hong Kong and China.

Credit Suisse gold bars and coins

6. China

Tonnes: 1,842.6

Percent of foreign reserves: 2.4 percent

In the summer of 2015, the People’s Bank of China began sharing its gold purchasing activity on a monthly basis for the first time since 2009. Although China comes in sixth for most gold held, the  yellow metal accounts for only a small percentage of its overall reserves – a mere 2.4 percent – the lowest of the top 10 central banks with the most gold. However, this figure is up slightly from 2.2 percent of holdings in 2016.

China is also the number one gold producing nation. What other countries are top gold producers? Find out here!

Over 2,000 ancient Buddha statues have been excavated in China

5. Russia

Tonnes: 1,909.8

Percent of foreign reserves: 17.6 percent

The Russian Central Bank has been the largest buyer of gold for the past six years and earlier this year overtook China to have the fifth largest reserves. In 2017 Russia bought 224 tonnes of bullion in an effort to diversify away from the U.S. dollar, as its relationship with the West has grown chilly since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in mid-2014. To raise the cash for these purchases, Russia sold a huge percentage of its U.S. Treasuries.

Gilded domes of the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

4. France

Tonnes: 2,436.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 63.9 percent

France’s central bank has sold little of its gold over the past several years, and there are calls to halt it altogether. Marine Le Pen, president of the country’s far-right National Front party, has led the charge not only to put a freeze on selling the nation’s gold but also to repatriate the entire amount from foreign vaults.

Anne of Brittany's wedding crown

3. Italy

Tonnes: 2,451.8

Percent of foreign reserves: 67.9 percent

Italy has likewise maintained the size of its reserves over the years, and it has support from European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi. The former Bank of Italy governor, when asked by a reporter in 2013 what role gold plays in a central bank’s portfolio, answered that the metal was “a reserve of safety,” adding, “it gives you a fairly good protection against fluctuations against the dollar.”

Detail of a gold lion in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy

2. Germany

Tonnes: 3,371.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 70.6 percent

Last year Germany completed a four-year repatriation operation to move a total of 674 tonnes of gold from the Banque de France and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York back to its own vaults. First announced in 2013, the move was expected to take until 2020 to complete. Although gold demand fell last year after hitting an all-time high in 2016, this European country has seen gold investing steadily rise since the global financial crisis.

A variety of Germman coins

1. United States

Tonnes: 8,133.5

Percent of foreign reserves: 75.2 percent

With the largest official holdings in the world, the U.S. lays claim to nearly as much gold as the next three countries combined. It also has the highest gold allocation as a percentage of its foreign reserves at over 75 percent. From what we know, the majority of U.S. gold is held at Fort Knox in Kentucky, with the remainder held at the Philadelphia Mint, Denver Mint, San Francisco Assay Office and West Point Bullion Depository. Which state loves gold the most? Well, the state of Texas went so far as to create its very own Texas Bullion Depository to safeguard investors’ gold.

The US holds most of its gold at the US Bullion Reservatory at Fort Knox

Can't get enough of gold? Learn all about the yellow metal's seasonal trading patterns by downloading our free whitepaper, Gold's Love Trade, today!

gold love trade whitepaper 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.

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A Massive Windfall for China's Fast-Growing Tech Giants
July 2, 2018

massive windfall china's fast growing tech giants

Stop buying Iranian oil or face the music.

That’s the message the U.S. government shared with the world last week, giving importers until November 4 to cut their consumption of Iran’s crude to zero—or expect sanctions. The threat comes a month after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear deal.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) responded by adding more than $6 to the price of a barrel last week alone, to end above $74.

U.S. toughness on iran pushes crude above $70 a barrel
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Other drivers included supply disruptions in Canada and Libya, as well as a sharp, more-than-expected decline in U.S. crude inventories. Nearly 10 million barrels were drawn in the week ended June 27, the most since September 2016. Crude is now up an eye-popping 70 percent from the same time last year, contributing to the inflationary pressure that’s pushed consumer price growth to a six-year high.

And there could be more upside, should supply crunches continue along with Trump’s ongoing geopolitical efforts to isolate Tehran. Ready to see $90-a-barrel oil? That’s the forecast from Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Hootan Yazhari.

“We are in a very attractive oil price environment,” Yazhari told CNBC this week, “and our house view is that oil will hit $90 by the end of the second quarter of next year,” or 12 months from now.

Even if this prediction ends up overshooting the mark, I believe there could still be money to be made in the energy space on tightening supply and strong global demand. For more, I urge you to watch this brief video outlining the six factors that matter when picking energy stocks.

Bull Market May Have Just Hit a Trade War Wall

The U.S. market is mere days from hitting a milestone that some investors might not have anticipated in the business-friendly era of Trump. Both the S&P 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average have been stuck in correction mode since early February of this year, when inflation fears and concerns of a global trade war triggered a monster selloff.

Today marks the 100th day both indices have been in correction, and according to MarketWatch, if they stay sideways another nine trading days, it will become the longest such stretch since 1984.

Stocks managed to recover then, but as I see it, unless Trump softens his stance on trade, they will have a difficult time doing the same today. Stiff retaliatory barriers are scheduled to be raised by China, Canada and other key markets, and Canadian consumers have already started boycotting American-made goods. U.S. exports of steel, soybeans and other products are down from a year ago because of friction over the tariffs, which are essentially regulations that could jeopardize the positive work Trump has done in cutting red tape in other areas.

Below is the Dow’s performance so far this year, not including today, annotated with some key moments in the Trump trade war. I chose the Dow specifically because it includes the very largest U.S. exporters, some of which do tens of billions of dollars in sales in China alone. As the biggest U.S. exporter, Boeing delivered more than 200 aircraft to the Asian country last year, accounting for a quarter of the plane maker’s global sales. Apple generated around 20 percent of its revenue in China, or the equivalent of $44.7 billion.

key moments in trump trade war
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The question now is whether we’re headed for a recession, and how investors can prepare—though I believe the market is oversold, as I explain in the most recent edition of Frank Talk Live. The last nine years have been extraordinarily profitable, but every bull market must come to an end—not from age, remember, but from changes in monetary or fiscal policy.

Last week I offered one of my favorite strategies to face the next bear market with confidence. Discover what it is by clicking here.

Trade war friction has strained international relations in other ways than just trade, of course. Among those is foreign direct investment (FDI), essential for global economic growth.

Chinese FDI in the U.S. Just Fell 92 Percent

China’s tech industry is exploding. Last year, gross output value of Chinese tech firms hit 20 trillion yuan, or about $3 trillion, for the first time ever. Nine of the world’s 20 biggest tech firms now call China home, beginning with Alibaba, valued at half a trillion dollars. And for the past several years, China has filed far more patent applications than the U.S. on an annual basis. (I should point out, though, that the U.S. still has more patents overall, having just issued patent number 10 million.)

The Asian country, in fact, has more unicorns—or startups worth $1 billion or more—than any other nation on earth. Chinese unicorns account for more than half of the global total, and 66 percent in terms of valuation, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Just look at the top 10 Chinese unicorns. Ant Financial, formerly known as Alipay, ranks first with a valuation of $145 billion. That’s about twice the value of the number one U.S. unicorn, Uber.

top 10 china unicorns
click to enlarge

It’s very likely even more capital will flow into these firms this year and next. That’s because Chinese FDI in the U.S. fell an incredible 92 percent in the first half of 2018, as the government cracks down on capital flight. The decline is also likely in response to the U.S. government’s increased scrutiny of Chinese acquisitions.

chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the U.S. fell 90 percent in the first half of 2018
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According to economic research firm Rhodium, Chinese investors have sold $9.6 billion worth of U.S. assets, including office buildings in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles. That’s after making only $1.8 billion in investments. What this means is that the country’s net U.S. FDI is negative $7.8 billion so far this year.
And regarding a possible rebound in Chinese investment activity, “looming U.S. policies present substantial headwinds,” writes Rhodium’s director of research, Thilo Hanemann.

So where will all this capital go?

I don’t think anyone can say for sure, but my guess is that this will be a huge windfall for the already fast expanding Chinese tech industry.

Only Half of China Is Online

There are even more reasons to be optimistic about the Chinese tech industry, including the fact that only a little over half of the country’s population is online. At 772 million people, the user base is massive—more than twice the size of the entire U.S. population—but penetration is only 54.6 percent, according to UBS. That’s well behind the U.K. (94.8 percent), Japan (93.3 percent) and the U.S. (87.9 percent).

china's online universe still has room for growth
click to enlarge

This means, of course, that the country’s tech and internet industries still have much room to grow.

China is already number one in mobile payments, having surged to a whopping $9 trillion in 2016, compared to only $112 billion for the U.S. The Asian giant is rapidly becoming cashless—so much so that a friend of mine recently had a hard time using paper money to make a purchase in a Chinese convenience store. In fact, a number of unmanned, fully-automated stores—most notably BingoBox and Alibaba’s Tao Cafe—have sprung up all over the country. Transactions are made simply by scanning your smartphone on a designated counter or plate before leaving the store.

Learn more about one of the world’s fastest-growing regions 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 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.

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 3/31/2018: The Boeing Co.

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How to Face the Next Bear Market with Confidence
June 27, 2018

How to Face the Next Bear Market with Confidence

We’re about nine years into the economic recovery following the Great Recession. It’s been an extraordinarily profitable period for the stock market—one of the best in U.S. history—and I hope you’ve participated.

But every bull market ends with a bear market, and while no one knows for sure when that will be, it’s probably safe to assume we’re in the final stretch. In its June outlook of the U.S. economy, Spanish bank BBVA put the probability of a recession in the next 12 months at 16 percent, up from 5.2 percent in January. That’s the highest figure since 2016, when financial markets grew restless in anticipation of the U.S. presidential election. Before that, the model was last highest right before the crisis a decade ago.

The question you should ask yourself now is: Am I well positioned to withstand the next recession or bear market?

The thing is, after nine long years, many of us might have lost the muscle memory of what a bear market feels like, or how to adjust our portfolios accordingly. Some of you reading this might be too young to have ever experienced a major contraction.

In that case, here’s a sobering reminder:

five worst bear markets of past 45 years
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Can You Handle the Stress of Losing 40 Percent?

Not counting corrections, or declines of between 10 percent and 19 percent, there have been five major stock bear markets in the past 45 years. On average, they’ve given up more than a heart-stopping 40 percent. That’s what you could have expected to lose had you been invested only in domestic stocks, with no exposure to precious metals, commodities, bonds, foreign markets or other asset classes.

Not only that, but in the two most recent bear markets, you would have had to wait between six and seven years just to claw back to a breakeven price.

This should be disquieting to anyone. Nearly every mutual fund investor surveyed in a 2017 Investment Company Institute (ICI) study said that retirement was a financial goal. Three quarters said it was their primary financial goal. A bear market could seriously clobber a poorly positioned portfolio and wreck a person’s retirement plans. 

majority of mutual fund investors focus on retirement
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If you’re in your 20s and 30s, you still have time to recover. But if you’re close to retirement, or already retired, the idea of waiting six or seven years to get back what you lost is unthinkable.

Baby Boomers Could Have Most to Lose

It’s for this reason that baby boomers could especially be at risk as we head into the end of the business cycle. Look closely at the chart below. Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are not only the largest mutual fund shareholder group (37 percent), they also hold the largest percentage of mutual fund assets (50 percent).

Baby boomers are the largest shareholder group and hold half of mutual fund assets
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The entire U.S. mutual fund industry, by the way, is currently valued at $18.7 trillion. That means the baby boom generation owns something like $9.35 trillion—a mind-boggling sum.

Granted, this leaves out other investment vehicles—ETFs and hedge funds, for instance—so it doesn’t show a complete picture of who owns what. And obviously there’s a wide variety of mutual funds, from aggressive equity growth funds to less risky government bond funds. But the chart above should nonetheless make the point that retirement-bound and retirement-age baby boomers could be most at risk should a Great Depression-caliber bear market occur tomorrow.

So how should you position your portfolio to soften a potential heartbreak?

Building a Better Portfolio with Municipal Bonds

Okay, I’ll say it: When people hear “municipal bonds,” their eyes sometimes glaze over. Compared to hot tech stocks or cryptocurrencies, munis can be a little… sleepy.

That’s the point. Munis are there not necessarily to grow your capital, but to preserve it.

Because of their attractive risk-reward profile, I think muni bonds should act as the bedrock of investors’ portfolios—especially the closer they get to retirement age, and especially as we near the end of this cycle.

But to get the sort of risk-adjusted returns you might be seeking, it’s important to focus on short-term, high-quality, investment-grade munis and muni bond funds. I like to stay mostly in the one-year to five-year range, and A-rated or higher. Going further out on the yield curve or down the credit-quality ladder might increase returns, but it could also strip away the diversification benefits—which would defeat the purpose of holding them in the first place.

As for allocation, a good rule of thumb is to increase your weighting the older you get. Early in your career, 20 percent to 25 percent might be ideal. Later in life, it might make sense to readjust to 50 percent stocks, 50 percent bonds.

That way, you can better manage the risks inherent in the next bear market with confidence.

Curious to learn more? Check out “5 Reasons Why Short-Term Municipal Bonds Make Sense Now.”

 

A bond’s credit quality is determined by private independent rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch. Credit quality designations range from high (AAA to AA) to medium (A to BBB) to low (BB, B, CCC, CC to C).

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

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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Basic Materials Seem to Be on Sound Footing with Home Construction Boom
June 21, 2018

U.S. Housing starts roared to an 11-year high in May

Thirty-year mortgage rates might have ticked up in the past 12 months, but for now that doesn’t seem to be weighing on new home demand.  According to the Commerce Department, housing starts climbed to an 11-year high of 1.35 million units in May, a clear sign that the market has continued to improve following the subprime mortgage crisis a decade ago. This is constructive—pun fully intended—not only for the economy but also consumption of building materials, energy and resources.

U.S. Housing starts roared to an 11-year high in May
click to enlarge

According to home-construction services firm Happho, for every 1,000 square feet of new housing, nearly 8,820 pounds of steel are required, as well as 400 bags of cement, 1,800 cubic feet of sand and 1,350 cubic feet of gravel and other aggregate. This doesn’t begin to touch on finishers such as brick, paint and tiles, or fittings such as windows, doors, plumbing and electrical.

I believe metal miners and manufacturers of basic materials could very well be beneficiaries of the construction surge. For the 12-month period through June 20, a basket of industrial metals such as aluminum, copper and nickel are already up 21 percent, with technical support on a clear uptrend.

indusrial metals testing support
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Is the Rental Housing Explosion Over?

One sign that the growth in homebuilding might be sustainable is that the rate at which Americans are renting instead of buying appears to be slowing. For the first time since 2004, the number of renter households actually declined last year, according to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

This could be the result of an improved economy and the unemployment rate being at historically low levels. After nearly a decade, consumers may finally feel financially secure enough to get out of their apartments and make a down payment on a new home.

after a decade of expansion the pace of growth in renter households has slowed
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Likewise, we see the homeownership rate in the U.S. beginning to recover after hitting a floor in the second quarter of 2016. From its peak in October 2004, the rate fell to a 50-year low of only 62.9 percent. It might be too early to tell if this marks a significant rebound, but the upturn suggests at least that the homeownership rate has stabilized.

homeownership rate in U.S. finally beginning to recover
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Lumber Prices Appear to Have Peaked

A strong headwind to further demand growth right now is higher material prices. A forest fire in Canada last summer severely disrupted the lumber supply chain, while the Trump administration’s tariffs on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, aluminum and steel have somewhat softened homebuilders’ confidence.

But lumber prices appear to have peaked and are currently in decline. After hitting $651 per 1,000 board feet in mid-May, prices have dropped close to 20 percent and have posted losses in seven of the last eight trading days through June 19.

Curious to know what factors we use to select companies in our Global Resources Fund (PSPFX)? Watch this brief video featuring Frank Holmes, CEO and chief investment officer, and Sam Pelaez, chief investment officer at Galileo Global Equity Advisors, as they discuss the fund and its investment objectives.

 

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.

Foreign and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and less public disclosure, as well as economic and political risk. Because the Global Resources Fund concentrates its investments in specific industries, the fund may be subject to greater risks and fluctuations than a portfolio representing a broader range of industries.

The Bloomberg Industrial Metals Subindex is composed of futures contracts on aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc. It reflects the return of underlying commodity futures price movements only. You can’t invest directly in an index.

U.S. Global Investors owns a 65% interest in Galileo Global Equity Advisors. The mutual fund mentioned in this piece is open to U.S. investors only.

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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Take the Long-Term View in a Late-Cycle Market
June 18, 2018

rebalance, stick to a plan and remember: get invested and stay invested. J.P. Morgan's Samantha Azzarello

The U.S. inflation story made further inroads this month, with year-over-year price growth for consumers and producers alike hitting multiyear highs. U.S. consumer prices expanded at their strongest pace in more than six years, climbing to an annual change of 2.8 percent in May. Prices for final demand goods, meanwhile, grew 3.1 percent, their strongest annual surge since December 2011.

annual consumer prices advance the most in six years
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As you might expect, energy was the greatest contributor to higher prices in May, with fuel oil jumping more than 25 percent from the same month a year ago. The current average price for a gallon of regular gas nationwide was just under $3.00, compared to only $2.33 in June 2017, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Inflation is set to get an even bigger jolt now that President Donald Trump has formally approved 25 percent tariffs on as much as $50 billion of Chinese goods. China has already announced retaliatory action. While I agree some targeted tariffs are welcome to address intellectual property theft, tariffs at the wholesale level are essentially regulations that threaten to undermine all the work Trump has done to supercharge the U.S. economy. They act as headwinds to further growth, which in turn makes gold look attractive as a safe haven investment.

Blaming OPEC

Let’s return to energy for a moment. Hot off the success of his historic summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, Trump took a stab at foreign oil producers last week, tweeting: “Oil prices are too high, OPEC is at it again. Not good!”

The president isn’t wrong, but I believe he may be overselling the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ influence here. In May, the 14-member cartel added an extra 35,000 barrels per day (bpd) in output compared to the previous month, to reach a total of 31.8 million bpd. This is down from the average 32.6 million and 32.4 million bpd OPEC collectively produced in 2016 and 2017.

Venezuela’s output deteriorated once again, falling more than 42 percent in May to 1.4 million bpd, which is less than half of what it produced 20 years ago.

The beleaguered South American country didn’t have the biggest monthly decline among OPEC members, however—that title belonged to Nigeria, which saw its April-to-May production tumble 53.5 percent to 1.7 million bpd. Analysts predict output could fall further to 1.4 million bpd by July—a level not seen since 1988—as the country’s Nembe Creek Trunk Line (NCTL) has had to be closed recently to address product theft along its route.

OPEC will meet later this month and is widely expected to loosen production curbs as global demand strengthens. In the meantime, the U.S. continues to pump even more oil on a monthly basis, and by 2019 it could be producing more than 11 million bpd for the first time ever. This would make it the world’s top oil producer, above Russia.

Want to learn more? Watch this brief video featuring Samuel Pelaez, who outlines the six factors we use to select best-in-class oil and gas exploration and production companies!  

Gold Glitters on Inflation Fears and U.S. Budget Imbalance

gold surged to a four-week high after the fed raised rates a second time this year and signaled two more hikes in 2018

The inflation news helped support the price of gold, which traded as high as $1,309 an ounce last Thursday, its best intraday showing in four weeks.

The price jump came a day after the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates another 0.25 percent, the second time it has done so this year. Although rising rates have historically made the precious metal look less competitive, since it doesn’t offer a yield, gold markets could be forecasting slower economic growth as a result of higher borrowing costs, not to mention costlier servicing of corporate and government debt.

On that note, the Treasury Department announced last week that in the first eight months of the current fiscal year—October through May—the U.S. government deficit widened to a whopping $532 billion, or 23 percent more than the same eight-year period a year ago. That’s already more than the total deficits in fiscal years 2014 and 2015. Because of higher spending and lower revenues, it’s estimated that the deficit by the end of the fiscal year will balloon to $833 billion, which would be the greatest amount since 2012.

I believe this makes the investment case for gold and gold equities even more appealing as a store of value. In the chart below, notice how the price of gold has responded to government spending. I inverted the bars, representing surplus and deficit, to make the relationship more clear. In the years following the Clinton surplus of the late 90s, the difference between expenditure and revenue surged to new record amounts on the back of military spending in the Middle East and the multibillion-dollar bailouts of financial firms during the subprime mortgage crisis. Consequentially, the price of gold exploded.     

relationship between price of gold and u.s. government deficit spending
click to enlarge

Learn more about what’s driving the price of gold right now by clicking here!

How Close Are We to the End of the Business Cycle?

But back to the Fed. Besides lifting rates, the central bank has also signaled that we can expect two more hikes in 2018, suggesting it sees less and less need to accommodate a booming U.S. economy. Since the start of this particular rate hike cycle two and a half years ago, we haven’t yet seen four increases in a single calendar year.

This raises the question of how close we are to the end of the business cycle.

Rising rates, among other indicators, have often preceded the end of economic expansions and equity bull markets. Among other telltale signs: a flattening yield curve, record corporate and household debt, an overheated jobs market and increased mergers and acquisition (M&A) activity. So far this year, the value of global M&As has already reached $2 trillion, a new all-time high. The last two periods when M&As reached similar levels were in 2007 ($1.8 trillion) and in 2000 ($1.5 trillion), according to Reuters. Careful readers will note that those two years came immediately before the financial crisis and tech bubble.

Now, the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, has reportedly turned bearish on “almost all financial assets,” according to one of its most recent notes to investors.

In the firm’s Daily Observations, co-CIO Greg Jensen writes that “2019 is setting up to be a dangerous year, as the fiscal stimulus rolls off while the impact of the Fed’s tightening will be peaking.”

Don’t Miss the Opportunities

Be that as it may, calling the end of the cycle would be a fool’s errand and could result in missed opportunities, as J.P. Morgan’s Samantha Azzarello points out in a recent note to investors. Late-cycle returns can still be quite substantial, she says. Take a look at the chart below, which highlights returns 24 months, 12 months, six months and three months leading up to the past eight market peaks. Obviously returns were higher in the longer-term periods, but even the three-month periods delivered some attractive returns—returns that would be left on the table if skittish investors exited now. According to Azzarello, it’s important to “rebalance, stick to a plan and remember: get invested and stay invested.”

S&P 500 Index Returns Leading up to Market Peaks
click to enlarge

As further proof that many investors still see plenty of fuel in the tank, the June survey of fund managers conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) found that equity investors are overweight U.S. stocks for the first time in 15 months. Commodity allocations are at their highest in eight years. And two-thirds of managers say the U.S. is the best region in the world right now for corporate profits, which is at a 17-year high.

That’s not to say there aren’t risks, however. Forty-two percent of survey participants said they believed corporations were overleveraged. That’s well above the peak of 32 percent from soon before the start of the financial crisis. Fund managers cited “trade war” as the biggest “tail risk” for markets at present.

This is largely why we find domestic-focused small to mid-cap stocks so attractive right now. These firms are well positioned to take advantage of Trump’s high-growth “America first” policies, yet because they don’t have as much exposure to foreign markets, they bypass many of the trade war pitfalls large multinationals must face. Since Election Day 2016, the small-cap Russell 2000 Index has outperformed the large-cap S&P 500 Index by more than 8.5 percent.

Get the scoop on small to mid-cap stocks by clicking here!

Rethinking Market Cap-Weighting

On a final note, I want to draw attention to a change we’ve observed in S&P 500 returns—specifically, the difference in performance between an equal-weighted basket of stocks and one that’s market cap-weighted. For the longer-term period, equal-weighting outperformed. But more recently, market cap-weighting has pulled ahead. This is the case for the one-year, three-year and five-year periods.

market cap-weighted has beaten equal-weighted more recently
click to enlarge

So why is this? Simply put, the phenomenally large FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) have made the S&P 500 top heavy. Today, these five stocks represent a highly concentrated 12 percent of the S&P 500, nearly double from their share just five years ago. Apple alone represents 4 percent of the large-cap index.

Ten years ago, the FAANG stocks—excluding Facebook, which wasn’t public yet—had a combined market cap of $390 billion, according to FactSet data. In 2018, they’re valued at more than eight and half times that, or right around $3.32 trillion—a mind-boggling sum.

Market cap-weighted also means more money is disproportionately being reallocated to top winners such as Apple and Amazon, and so it becomes a self-fulling prophecy. This leaves you with too much exposure to companies that would be hardest hit in the event of a market downturn, and too little exposure to names and sectors that might rotate to the top in the next cycle.

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The S&P 500 Index is a market capitalization weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies by market value. The Russell 2000 Index is a small-cap stock market index of the bottom 2,000 stocks in the Russell 3000 Index.

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 3/31/2018.

Share “Take the Long-Term View in a Late-Cycle Market”

Net Asset Value
as of 07/17/2018

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