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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.

Brexit One Year Later, in Five Charts
June 26, 2017

now the hard work begins

One year ago, British voters cast their ballots in favor of leaving the 28-member European Union, defying multiple opinion polls leading up to the Brexit referendum that said the “remain” camp would notch a narrow victory.

In a pre-Brexit Frank Talk last year, I wrote that Brexit would be regarded as the most consequential political event of 2016. President Donald Trump’s surprise election notwithstanding, I stand by my earlier comment.

Brexit, in fact, laid the groundwork for Trump. Both movements, described by many observers as populist and nationalistic, exposed an impatience and frustration with rampant bureaucracy, strangulating regulations, lax border security, political correctness and a sense of a loss of autonomy. “Take our country back!” and “We want our country back!” were the battle cries of supporters of Trump and Nigel Farage, then-leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

EU membership has been nothing if not costly. As I shared with you last year, the U.K. is the third-largest net contributor to the Brussels-based bloc after Germany and France, paying the equivalent of between $11 billion and $14 billion every year. On top of that, the 100 most expensive EU regulations, passed down by unelected officials, are estimated to cost somewhere in the vicinity of 33.3 billion pounds, or $49 billion.

Although the British economy is showing signs of slowing down, the country has not contracted or imploded as many Brexit opponents had predicted. In fact, certain British sectors such as exports and manufacturing continue to expand.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Now that the “leave” camp has its country back, the hard work of negotiating a satisfactory departure from the EU, of which it has been a member for four decades, has begun. Talks are expected to last at least two years. In a closely-watched speech before the House of Lords last week, Queen Elizabeth II, attired in what many saw as a not-so-subtle EU flag-inspired gown and hat, said that her government’s priority “is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union.”

Uk primminister theresa mays failure to secure a majority government could sour her efforts to negotiate a satisfactory exit from the EU

That task, however, has recently been complicated by Prime Minister Theresa May’s humiliating loss of her government majority in the June 8 snap election. The disappointing outcome possibly signals waning public support for Brexit, which Brussels officials could very likely capitalize on and see as giving them increased leverage over making demands. A 100 billion pound exit fee, which has been hinted at, would be a decisive negotiation defeat.

What’s unclear at this point is what kind of Brexit the U.K. and the EU will pursue: a “hard” or “soft” exit. The former, favored by British nationalists, would strip the U.K. of all access to the single market and customs union. The country would effectively have full control of its borders and would also be required to assemble new trade deals from scratch.

A “soft” arrangement, on the other hand, would keep in place the country’s role in the European single market, meaning goods and services could still be traded tariff-free. As such, the U.K. would need to adhere to some basic rules involving the movement of goods, capital and people. Other European countries with similar arrangements include Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

A piece in the Financial Times makes it clear that it’s this latter arrangement, the “soft” exit, that’s highly favored by British businesses of all sizes and from every sector. To be able to trade freely across borders without tariffs or other barriers, and to be able to hire skilled workers from the continent, would ensure that U.K. companies could remain competitive.

At this point, it’s really too early to tell which direction the two parties might take, but May’s crippling setback earlier this month will undoubtedly have a significant impact.

Below are five charts that illustrate where the U.K. has been in the 12 months following Brexit, both the good and bad—and where it could be headed next.  

1. Stocks Head Higher

The benchmark British index, the FTSE 100 Index, has performed relatively well since last year’s referendum, despite skeptics’ pessimistic attitudes. Stocks have risen about 18 percent, even though they’ve trailed the Euro Stoxx 50, which has likely benefited from the euro’s rally since the start of the year.

eurozone stocks have outperformed british stocks following brexit
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Working in the FTSE 100’s favor is the weaker British pound, which has contracted 13.5 percent against the U.S. dollar as of today. A weaker national currency gives exporters a more competitive advantage and helps boost corporate earnings.

2. Gold Profits from Volatile Government Bonds

Also as a consequence of a weaker currency, gold priced in pounds is up close to 14 percent over the same period, from 861.2 pounds to 980.6 pounds. Supporting the yellow metal is low government bond yields, with nominal yields decaying to nearly 0.5 percent in August and September of last year.

brexit introduced volatility in UK bond yields and gold
click to enlarge

3. Economic Growth Stalls

GDP growth in the U.K. was worse than expected in the first quarter of 2017, gaining only 0.2 percent, its weakest showing in 12 months. The eurozone, by comparison, rose 0.5 percent in the March quarter.

UK growth fell behind rivals in first quarter
click to enlarge

CBI, the U.K.’s top business organization, recently announced expectations that the country’s economy will slow in the coming years. The group sees the U.K. growing at a weak 1.6 percent this year and 1.4 percent in 2018, with “domestic political turmoil” mostly to blame. Strength in manufacturing and exports could be tempered by higher-than-expected inflation and low wage growth.

4. But Manufacturing Sees Further Growth

Many naysayers of the U.K. leaving the EU said demand for British-made goods would crumble, but the reverse has happened. The manufacturing sector remained strong and resilient in May, the most recent month of available data, with the PMI posting a 56.7. Output and new orders were strong, and job creation—its rate was positive for a straight 10 months—stood at a 35-month high, according to IHS Markit. What’s more, a survey of manufacturers found that 56 percent expected conditions to improve during the next 12 months.

UK manufacturing has improved since brexit
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5. Financial Trouble Brewing?

Manufacturing might be looking good, but the financial sector is preparing for the worst. A survey conducted recently by the CFA Institute found that 70 percent of respondents said Brexit has deteriorated competitiveness of the market. Troublingly, 57 percent said they thought financial institutions based primarily in the U.K. would eventually reduce their presence in the U.K. because of added uncertainty. And when asked which world cities were poised to benefit from Brexit, participants placed London last at only 10 percent. Frankfurt, Dublin and New York topped the list of cities expected to benefit from financial professionals relocating from the U.K., should the country lose access to the single market.

Brexit winners financial centers
click to enlarge

A similar study conducted by financial consultancy firm Synechron found that, were the U.K. to leave the European single market, giant financial services firms with a presence in the U.K. could face some steep departures. JP Morgan Chase could lose up to 1,000 personnel; Morgan Stanley, 1,250; Bank of America, 1,386; Goldman Sachs, 1,603; and Citigroup, 2,000.

Again, we’re too early in the divorce process to make any firm predictions. We could be looking at two long years that hopefully aren’t as grueling and messy as some people fear.

For more award-winning market analysis, subscribe to my CEO blog Frank Talk!

 

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

The FTSE 100 Index is an index of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization. The EURO STOXX 50 Index provides a Blue-chip representation of supersector leaders in the eurozone. The index covers 50 stocks from 12 eurozone countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

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 3/31/2016.

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Hedge Fund Managers Pour SALT on U.S. Stocks, Look to Europe
May 22, 2017

Hedge Fund Managers Pour SALT on U.S. Stocks, Look to Europe

Europe is back on the map. That was one of the main takeaways last week from the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) hedge fund conference in Las Vegas, where $3 trillion in assets was represented. Speaker after speaker touted European equities for their attractive valuations and as a means to diversify away from the volatile American market in light of rising U.S. geopolitical risk. France’s election of centrist Emmanuel Macron over far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen this month has especially eased investors’ fears that antiestablishment forces would challenge the integrity of the European Union (EU).

Economic growth is finally picking up in Europe—“solid and broad,” as European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi recently put it—and many countries’ purchasing managers’ indexes (PMIs) are at five- and six-year highs. Export orders and hiring have accelerated. Labor participation is improving. European commodity sectors, including energy and metals, look cheap and oversold, meaning it might be time to start accumulating.

Trading at around 17 times earnings, European companies are priced to move compared to American firms, which are trading at 22 times earnings.

European Stocks Have an Attractive Dividend Yield

Dividend yields also look attractive relative to U.S. stocks. The MSCI Emerging Europe Index, which is most heavily weighted in Russian, Polish and Turkish stocks, currently yields 3.2 percent. The S&P 500 Index, by comparison, yields 2 percent.

A recent Barron’s article, “Europe on Sale: Time to Buy Foreign Stocks,” makes the same bullish case as many of the SALT presenters. Its author, Vito J. Racanelli, suggests that the eight-year bull run in the U.S. could be coming to an end, and that the baton is being passed to Europe. Overseas markets have already attracted more fund flows so far this year than the U.S. market, with a whopping $6.1 billion being plowed into European equity funds in the week ended May 10.

“Given attractive valuations, diminished political risk, low interest rates and a pickup in global growth, international markets, and Europe in particular, could finally start to outperform,” Racanelli writes.

 

 

Talking Geopolitics

Before moving on, I want to share a few other takeaways from SALT. One of the highlights was hearing billionaire investor Dan Loeb, who manages the $16 billion hedge fund firm Third Point. Loeb said that serious investors should closely monitor geopolitics as a backdrop or overlay when making investment decisions because government policy can have the fastest and most significant impact on your portfolio.

Daniel S. Loeb

That was flattering to hear. Not only do I spend a lot of time discussing and analyzing geopolitics, both here in the weekly commentary and my CEO blog Frank Talk, but it’s baked right into U.S. Global Investors’ methodology: Our investment process clearly asserts that “government policy is a precursor to change.” Loeb’s comments, I felt, validated our emphasis on geopolitics.

Many conferences I attend can often get bogged down in partisan politics, but SALT was refreshingly balanced. Joe Biden was as welcome on-stage as Jeb Bush. No one came out entirely in favor of or against President Donald Trump or his policies. Instead, presenters discussed the inherent risks and opportunities in an intelligent, even-handed manner. I aspire to do the same.

One of the speakers was John Brennan, the former CIA director, who’s scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee later this month as part of its investigation into Russia’s alleged involvement with the 2016 election. Brennan, who told lawmakers as far back ago as August that the agency had information pointing to possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, shed some much-needed light on allegations that Trump shared sensitive intelligence with Russian officials this month—a “serious mistake,” he said—explaining that such leaks to the media are potentially just as damaging to national security as the president’s actions.

Also notable was former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke’s thoughts on Washington’s little-known power dynamics. He said there are really three parties jockeying for control in the capital—Republicans, Democrats… and the “beltway party.” It’s this last group, composed of deeply entrenched lobbyists and career bureaucrats, that gives Washington outsiders such as Trump the hardest time and actively tries to sabotage agendas that shake up the status quo.

Trump's young presidency closely resembles Jimmy Carter's

In this regard, Bernanke said, the presidency Trump’s tenure so far resembles the most is not Richard Nixon’s, as some have suggested. It’s not even Andrew Jackson’s, which Trump himself expressly would like to emulate. Instead, it’s Jimmy Carter’s.

This might seem counterintuitive, but think about it: Both men were Washington outsiders. Both men arrived in the beltway with aspirations to transform the capital’s insular culture and “drain the swamp.” Both men had the great fortune of working with a party majority in both chambers of Congress. But because they exuded an “I alone” attitude and often picked fights with members of their own party, both men faced unusual difficulties in getting key components of their agendas passed. And just as Carter had little success in his first 100 days—in his entire four-year term, in fact—Trump’s young presidency has similarly been unable to make significant strides so far in getting much accomplished.

A White House in Crisis?

This is precisely what markets were reacting to last Wednesday, the worst week for major U.S. indices in months. Investors, fearing Trump’s pro-growth agenda could be threatened by troubling news and allegations coming out of the White House, punished small-cap stocks in particular, sending the Russell 2000 Index down 2.62 percent, its sharpest one-day loss since March. Recall that it was small caps that saw the strongest surge following the election, as investors bet on domestic growth stemming from the then-president-elect’s “American first” proposals.

the importance of diversification
click to enlarge

Now, however, some are wondering if Trump, embroiled in numerous scandals, will finish out his term. A few SALT presenters even uttered the “i” word. Jim Chanos, founder and investment manager of Kynikos Associates in New York, told the packed auditorium that he believes the market hopes Vice President Mike Pence will become president. Investors are seeking deregulation and tax cuts, plain and simple, Chanos said, and the “more stable” Pence is seen as having a better shot at delivering. This squares with reports from British gambling and betting company Ladbrokes, which announced last week that Trump is now odds-on, or highly likely, to face impeachment by the end of his first term, with bookies having to cut the price from 11/10 to 4/5.   

Banks, which stand to benefit from Trump’s plan to loosen financial regulations, were Wednesday’s biggest losers. JPMorgan was down 3.81 percent, or $3.34 a share. Goldman Sachs fell 5.27 percent, or $11.88 a share.

Apple finished the day down 3.36 percent, wiping away some $20 billion in market value. The smartphone giant, which recently became the first company ever to be worth more than $800 billion, could also benefit from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s efforts to make it easier for multinationals to repatriate cash that’s held overseas. And if that describes any company today, it would be Apple: The iPhone-maker holds nearly $250 billion in cash and securities in offshore accounts.  

 

Dollar Weakness Gives a Boost to Gold

More so than equities, the U.S. dollar is highly sensitive to geopolitical drama. Last week, the greenback tumbled to its lowest level since the November election compared to other major currencies.

U.S. Dollar Gives up its post-election gains
click to enlarge

This helped gold, miners and commodities end the week in positive territory. Gold gained 2 percent, gold miners 0.57 percent and commodities 1.36 percent. The S&P 500, meanwhile, finished the week down 0.8 percent.

For diversification benefits, I always recommend around a 10 percent weighting in gold and gold stocks, and last week proved yet again that this strategy could help mitigate the losses in risk assets.

Unsure what else drives the price of gold? Find out!

 

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

The MSCI Emerging Markets Europe Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 6 Emerging Markets (EM) countries in Europe. With 83 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry.

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The Russell 2000 Index is a U.S. equity index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000, a widely recognized small-cap index. The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is a modified market capitalization weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold and silver. The Bloomberg Commodity Index is made up of 22 exchange-traded futures on physical commodities. The index represents 20 commodities, which are weighted to account for economic significance and market liquidity.

Dividend yield is a financial ratio that indicates how much a company pays out in dividends each year relative to its share price. 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 Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

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 3/31/2017.

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Nearly 100 Days In, Is Trump Any Closer to Fiscal Reform?
April 24, 2017

I will be visiting the White House next week for the Energy Policy & Geopolitics Conference

This week I will be in Washington, D.C., attending Evercore ISI’s Energy Policy & Geopolitics Conference, where I will be visiting senior staff from the White House infrastructure team and House Energy and Commerce Committee. I will also be meeting with John Fagan, head of the Treasury Department’s Markets Room, and Robin Dunnigan, the Bureau of Energy Resource’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Diplomacy. Among the topics of discussion will include energy independence, legal and policy issues impacting the energy sector, tax reform and geopolitical risks in Syria, Russia and Iran.

I want to extend my gratitude for this opportunity to Evercore ISI chairman Ed Hyman, who was ranked as the top economist by Institutional Investor magazine for 35 straight years, from 1980 to 2014. I’ll have much to share with our investment team when I return.

Let’s Get Fiscal

Last FridayPresident Donald Trump tweeted his frustration with the “ridiculous standard of the first 100 days,” claiming that no matter what he accomplishes during this period, the “media will kill” it.

There’s some truth here. No U.S. president in modern history has been so vehemently and routinely lambasted by a hostile press corps as Trump has. Harsh jabs have even been thrown by business news sources such as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, which are normally pretty centrist. 

But for those keeping score, Trump’s 100th day arrives this Sunday, April 29, and it would be disingenuous to describe his tenure so far as smooth sailing. He’s faced a number of significant setbacks and distractions, including federal judges’ smackdown of his two travel bans, a failure to repeal and replace Obamacare and an ongoing investigation into his administration’s possible collusion with the Russian government in the months leading up to the November election.

Although consumer confidence remains at scorching-hot levels, markets are beginning to express doubt in Trump’s ability to streamline corporate tax and regulation reform. From their all-time high in mid-March, blue chip stocks have given back more than 1 percent, while the U.S. dollar has contracted more than 3.4 percent since late December.

Are markets pricing in a longer-than expected delay in tax reform?
click to enlarge

I believe this response is way overdone. BCA geopolitical strategist Marko Papic said as much during his visit to our office last month. Marko insisted that tax reform is still on its way, despite Congress’ earlier failure to repeal Obamacare. Just last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were putting the “finishing touches” on a new health care bill—one that reportedly might scrap protections for people with preexisting conditions—while Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reassured Americans they can soon expect to see proposals for “the most significant change to the tax code since Reagan.”

Trump himself says a “massive” tax reform package could be unveiled as early this Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: This will be the most significant change to the tax code since Reagan.

Such change can’t come soon enough. Since 1993, the U.S. has had a top statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent, the highest of any other economy in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Trump expressly prefers to lower the rate to 15 percent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up between 20 and 25 percent. Regardless, tax relief would be a major win for small and mid-cap firms especially and encourage large multinational companies to repatriate foreign cash. According to one recent estimate, the top 50 largest American corporations stashed as much as $1.6 trillion overseas in 2015. It’s time we give them an incentive to bring some of that cash back home.

It’s worth pointing out that Trump is not yet lagging his predecessors in terms of delivering fiscal reform. Going back to the Kennedy administration, the average number of months into a new presidential term for fiscal legislation to be enacted is six months, according to LPL Research. It took nearly a year for the Tax Reform Act of 1969 to reach President Nixon’s desk. Last week marked Trump’s third month in office, so I see no cause for alarm just yet.

When Will Trump Sign Fiscal Legislation?
President Action Date Passed Months into New Term
Kennedy Spending Increases June 1961 5
Nixon Tax Cut December 1969 11
Ford Tax Cut March 1975 7
Reagan Tax Cut August 1981 7
Clinton Tax Increase August 1993 7
George W. Bush Tax Cut June 2001 5
Obama Tax Cut and Spending February 2009 1
Average: 6 Months
Source: LPL Research, U.S. Global Investors

As for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed by President Obama not 30 days into his first term, it had already been in the works before he took office.

There are other obvious reasons for lowering the corporate tax rate. Just take a look at Singapore and Hong Kong, both of which enjoy a top tax rate of between 16 and 17 percent. Consequently, they stand as glittering marvels of the modern world.

In the World Bank’s 14th annual “Doing Business 2017” report, Singapore ranked second in the world in ease of doing business, Hong Kong fourth. The U.S., meanwhile, came in at number eight. Tax reform could have the potential of moving the country up the scale.

Banks Awaiting Deregulation

Besides tax reform, hearings are expected to take place this week on how best to loosen Wall Street regulations. At the top of the docket is the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, for which Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas has drafted a 600-page replacement called the Financial Choice Act 2.0. If passed, the legislation would relax some of Dodd-Frank’s more restrictive rules and limit the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It would also roll back the so-called Volcker Rule, named for former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker, which effectively bans banks from making speculative investments that don’t directly benefit their customers.

In Hensarling’s words, the Financial Choice Act “holds Wall Street and Washington accountable, ends taxpayer-funded bank bailouts and unleashes America’s economic potential.”

Also facing a questionable future is the Labor Department’s Fiduciary Rule, which regulates how financial advisors service their clients, specifically by eliminating conflicts of interest. Originally scheduled to go into effect April 10, the Trump administration has delayed it until June 9, pending review.

As I wrote back in January, the Fiduciary Rule, though well-intentioned, would inevitably limit the number of investment products available to retail investors. In an effort to remain compliant with the rule, well-meaning financial professionals would recommend only the least expensive products, regardless of whether they’re a good fit. As a result, many mutual funds—which might be better performing but have higher expenses than other investment vehicles—would fall off of brokerage firms’ platforms.

In all fairness, there’s definitely demand for improved investor service among financial professionals. In a recent survey conducted by advisory firm Financial Engines, 93 percent of respondents said they felt financial advisors should legally be required to put investors’ interests first. 

Nine out of 10 Investors Favor the Fiduciary Rule
click to enlarge

However, the same survey found that nearly 70 percent of respondents had not heard of the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule. This tells me they might not have considered all the ramifications, including the good and the bad, of holding advisors to such strict standards.

A Modest Proposal

To be clear, I’m not in favor of scrapping every banking regulation that’s been introduced post-financial crisis. I am in favor of reviewing them, as Trump has ordered, and streamlining them to make them work for the financial sector and consumers rather than against them. This week Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell made a similar statement, cautioning policymakers against rolling back “core reforms” that in many ways have strengthened our financial system.

In addition, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its Global Financial Stability Report, warned that a “wholesale dilution or backtracking” of existing regulations in the U.S., coupled with deep tax cuts, could lead to dangerously high financial risk-taking such as we saw pre-2008.

“Many nonfinancial firms do have the balance sheet capacity to expand investment, and reductions in corporate tax burdens could have a positive impact on their cash flow,” the IMF writes. “But reforms could also spur increased financial risk-taking and, in some scenarios, could raise leverage from already-elevated levels.”

Indeed, as you can see below, median corporate leverage among the largest U.S. companies is nearing a record high as measured by debt-to EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization).

Median corporate leverage among big U.S. firms is close to an historic high
click to enlarge

Aux yeux de tous

The world was watching France this past weekend as voters headed to the polls in the first round of the country’s presidential election. It was currently a four-way race, with political novice  and social liberal Emmanuel Macron polling slightly ahead of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Radical socialist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had gained impressive ground, closing in on center-right François Fillon, the former prime minister of France.

Likely influencing voters’ decisions was last week’s attack on Paris’ iconic Champs-Élysées boulevard—just a few blocks from the presidential palace—which left one police officer dead. ISIS has already claimed responsibility. The incident is eerily reminiscent of a 2012 French thriller film titled “Aux yeux de tous,” about a terrorist attack in Paris that occurs mere days before a presidential election.

In the end, voters gave centrist Macron a slight edge over Le Pen, prompting global stocks to soar. Nevertheless, the outcome is a sharp rebuke of France’s more traditional parties. Macron and Le Pen will face off in the second round of voting on May 7.

 

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 Doing Business Report (DB) is a study elaborated by the World Bank Group since 2003 every year that is aimed to measure the costs to firms of business regulations in 185 countries.

The Global Financial Stability Report is a semiannual report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that assesses the stability of global financial markets and emerging market financing.

The net debt to earnings before interest, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) ratio is a measurement of leverage, calculated as a company's interest-bearing liabilities minus cash or cash equivalents, divided by its EBITDA.

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Amid Global Uncertainty, Pay Attention to this Manufacturing Index
April 10, 2017

There a lot construction Zurich now

Last week I returned from Zurich, where I spoke at the European Gold Forum. Investor sentiment for the yellow metal was particularly strong on negative real interest rates and heightened geopolitical uncertainty in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and South Africa. A poll taken during the conference showed that 85 percent of attendees were bullish on gold, with a forecast of $1,495 an ounce by the end of the year.

The upcoming presidential election in France is certainly raising concerns among many international investors. On one end of the political spectrum is Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate who, if elected, might very well pursue a “Frexit.” On the other end is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a socialist of such extreme views that he makes Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan. I was shocked to read that Mélenchon has pledged to implement a top tax rate of 100 percent—and even more shocked to learn that he’s moving up in the polls. An insane 100 percent tax rate would surely return the country to medieval-era feudalism, which is just another name for slavery. All the wealth naturally goes to the very top, and corruption thrives.

South African President Jacob Zuma

It’s important to recognize that in civil law countries such as France, hard line socialism is much more likely to take hold. Just look at South Africa. While in Zurich, I had the pleasure to speak with Tim Wood, executive director of the Denver Gold Group and former associate of South Africa’s Chamber of Mines.  According to Tim, the poor government policies of South Africa’s socialist president, Jacob Zuma, is driving business out of the country and has led to the resignations of several members of parliament. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Johannesburg demanding Zuma to step down, especially following his firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. The rand, meanwhile, has plummeted and the country was recently downgraded to “junk” status

One of the consequences of a weaker rand has been stronger gold priced in the local currency and higher South African gold mining stocks, as measured by the FTSE/JSE Africa Gold Mining Index. Among the gold companies that have seen some huge daily moves in recent days are Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold. 

South African Gold Stocks Rand Weakness
click to enlarge

South African gold stocks look very attractive in the short term. Over the long term, however, producers might find it increasingly difficult to operate efficiently and profitably in such a mismanaged jurisdiction.

 

PMIs Show Impressive Manufacturing Growth

It was an eventful week, to say the least. The U.S., for the first time, became directly involved militarily in Syria’s years-long civil war. Senate Republicans invoked the “nuclear option” to prevent a Democratic filibuster, allowing federal judge Neil Gorsuch to obtain Supreme Court confirmation. President Donald Trump met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, the so-called “Winter White House,” to discuss trade and North Korea, among other issues.

And on Friday we learned the U.S. added only 98,000 jobs in March, down spectacularly from the 235,000 that came online in February. In response to this and the Syrian air strike, gold jumped more than 1 percent, touching $1,272 in intraday trading, its highest level in five months.

Fresh purchasing manager’s index (PMI) readings for the month of March were also released, showing continued manufacturing sector expansion in the world’s largest economies, including the U.S., China and the eurozone. All of Zurich was under construction, it seemed, with cranes filling the skyline in every direction. And when I flew back into San Antonio, sections of the international airport were also under heavy construction. This all reflects strong local and national economic growth in Switzerland and the U.S.

I especially like the Zurich Airport. I travel a lot, and it’s the only airport I know of where you can sit out on an open deck and watch and listen to the jets take off and land.

Panoramic Zurich Airport

The official China PMI rose to 51.8, the fastest pace in nearly five years. Because the PMI is a forward-looking tool, this bodes well for industrial metals, as measured by the London Metal Exchange Index (LMEX). The Asian giant, as I’ve pointed out before, consistently ranks among the top importers of copper, aluminum, steel and more.

Industrial Metals Tracked China Manufacturing PMI
click to enlarge

The U.S. Manufacturing ISM cooled slightly to 57.2, down from 57.7 in February. This still remains high on a historical basis. Because the U.S. is the number three producer of crude, following Russia and Saudi Arabia, oil prices have tended to track the country’s manufacturing index.

Crude Oil Has Mostly Tracked US Manufacturing ISM
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Trump Tackles U.S. Trade with China

Again, Trump met with China’s Xi, a man who can be considered the U.S. president’s counterpart in many more ways than one. In February, I included Xi in a list of four global leaders who have more in common with Trump than some people might realize. Last week the Brookings Institute compiled a list of the many “striking similarities” between the two men. Among other commonalities, they’re both nationalists; they’re both populists and have expressed a desire to fight corruption; they both have a rocky relationship with the press and intellectual community; and they both prioritize domestic affairs over foreign affairs.

None of this stopped Trump from being very critical of China on the campaign trail. He threatened to name the country as a currency manipulator and raise tariffs as much as 35 percent. It will be interesting to see what agreements, if any, can come out of this meeting between the two leaders.

Trump is not wrong to raise the alarm over U.S.-China trade. In 2016, the U.S. trade deficit with China stood at a whopping $347 billion. This is down slightly from $367 billion in 2015, but still a huge number. If you look at the total U.S. balance of payments since 1960, you get an even greater sense of the imbalance.

Can Trump Balance US Trade
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At the same time, world trade volume growth has improved in recent months, especially in emerging markets and Asia.

World Trade Volume Growth Headed Right Direction
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It’s important that Trump put ample thought into improvements on international trade. I’m not convinced tariffs and border adjustment taxes (BATs) are the solution. Look at what happened in the 1930s with the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. In an effort to “protect American jobs,” the U.S. raised tariffs on more than 20,000 goods coming into the country, many of them as high as 59 percent. Once the act went into effect in June 1930, a trade war promptly ensued and global trade all but dried up. Today, historians almost unanimously agree that the policy, which President Franklin Roosevelt later overturned, only exacerbated the effects of the Great Depression.

One of the biggest reasons why the U.S. has such a trade deficit is due to its abnormally high corporate tax rate. The country’s largest export is intellectual and human capital. Think Apple and Google, which are designs and ideas. The problem is that the dollars received in exchange for these goods and services are sitting in Ireland, or elsewhere, and are thus not counted in the official trade balance. Should the corporate tax rate decline to an average of around 18 to 20 percent, which is consistent with other developed countries, U.S. multinational companies would likely be more inclined to repatriate those profits and tilt the balance back in America’s favor.

Tax reform, therefore, is key in making sure the U.S. remains competitive on the world stage.

 

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

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 12/31/16: Sibanye Gold Ltd., Harmony Gold Mining Co. Ltd.

The Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.  The ISM manufacturing composite index is a diffusion index calculated from five of the eight sub-components of a monthly survey of purchasing managers at roughly 300 manufacturing firms from 21 industries in all 50 states.

The London Metals Exchange Index (LMEX) is an index on the six designated LME primary metals contracts denominated in US dollars. Weightings of the six metals are derived from global production volume and trade liquidity averaged over the preceding five-year period. The index value is calculated as the sum of the prices for the three qualifying months multiplies by the corresponding weights, multiplied by a constant. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is one of the most widely recognized price measures for tracking the price of a market basket of goods and services purchased by individuals.

The FTSE/JSE African Gold Mining Index is a market capitalization weighted index.

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

7 Reasons to Be Bullish on Emerging Europe

1. Eurozone PMI at a Six-Year High

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 12/31/2016.

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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