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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.

Can the TPP Save the Global Economy?
May 31, 2016

TPP Trans-Pacific Partnership

Last week, President Barack Obama was in Vietnam and Japan drumming up additional support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and meanwhile I was in the U.K., where Brexit drama is dominating headlines and airwaves. Only a month remains before voters decide whether the country will stay in or leave the European Union. As I said before, an exit could trigger a currency crisis with both the euro and pound, in which case owning gold might be a good idea.

Speaking of the yellow metal, I had the opportunity to meet with the World Gold Council (WGC) while I was in London. It’s a pleasure to share with you that the group’s CEO, Aram Shishmanian, has agreed to join me as a special guest during our next webcast, scheduled for Wednesday, June 8. We’ll be discussing gold, specifically the reasons behind its rally this year and the pullback we’re seeing this month. I highly urge you to register for the webcast because you won’t want to miss Aram’s rich insights into gold.

Aram Shishmanian, CEO of the world council

As Oil Hits $50 a Barrel, Americans Hit the Road

I was disappointed to see that U.S. manufacturing activity showed more signs of slowing growth, according to preliminary purchasing managers’ index (PMI) data. The PMI posted a 50.8, just above the neutral 50.0 threshold separating expansion and deterioration. What’s more, the index fell below its three-month moving average, which we’ve found to be a headwind for commodities and energy three to six months out.

Markit Flash US Composite PMI Falls below Three-Month Moving Average

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This could threaten additional recovery in the oil and gas industry. For the first time this year, West Texas Intermediate crude briefly touched $50 a barrel on Thursday last week. Prices between $50 and $60 are widely seen as a “goldilocks” scenario: high enough for oil companies to stay profitable yet low enough for consumers.

Gas prices, in fact, were expected to be the lowest in 10 years this Memorial Day weekend, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). The motor club estimated prices would average around $2.26 a gallon, or 45 cents less than last year. More than 38 million Americans were expected to travel this past weekend, AAA says, the second-highest volume on record. If you’re one of them, I wish you happy, safe travels! But however you plan on spending the weekend, remember to honor those who bravely served the U.S. and gave the ultimate sacrifice.

The U.S. Can Now Export Weapons to Vietnam

Last Monday, Obama lifted the 40-year-old weapons embargo against Vietnam, ending what many see as the last vestige of the U.S. and Southeast Asian country’s former animosity. It was also part of his administration’s “pivot” to Asia to deepen relations with countries in the fastest growing region of the world.

Indeed, Vietnam is in an exciting position right now. In the fourth quarter of 2015, its gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate expanded an impressive 7.01 percent, and Goldman Sachs predicts its economy will become the 17th largest by 2025, up from 55th today. The most populous city, Ho Chi Minh City, commonly known as Saigon, has blossomed into one of the world’s premier manufacturing and tech startup hubs, with huge investments flowing in from companies such as Samsung and Intel.

Vietnam’s defense spending has also been growing rapidly in recent years, and today a lot of business is up for grabs. Between 2011 and 2015, the country was the world’s eighth largest arms importer, just one rung above the U.S., according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). This year it’s expected to spend $5 billion, a dramatic increase from the estimated $1 billion it spent in 2005.

With the embargo out of the way, American aerospace and defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have the opportunity to move into this new Asian market. Boosted by recent geopolitical fears and terrorist activity, both companies are trending near their all-time highs.

Lockheed Martin Raytheon Trending Near All Time Highs

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They also provide attractive dividends, which are increasingly sought-after in a world that’s seen a third of all government bond yields around the world turn negative.

Read how negative interest rates are also pushing foreign investors into American muni bonds!

Selling the TPP

One of Obama’s main objectives in visiting Vietnam and Japan was to shore up support for the TPP, the historic trade agreement that, if ratified by all 12 participating countries, is designed to eliminate as many as 18,000 tariffs. Sixteen to 30 years after ratification, 99 percent of all goods trade among these countries will be entirely liberalized.

In the map below, you can see the massive scale of who’s involved. TPP countries have a combined GDP of $28 trillion, close to 40 percent of world GDP, and they account for almost a quarter of total world exports.

The United States Total Trade with TPP Countries

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Vietnam has the most to gain from the TPP Eliminating thousands of tariffs should allow its important apparel and textile industry to export even more goods to the U.S. In turn, the U.S. would have the opportunity to sell more vehicles in the Asian country. The World Bank estimates a 10 percent bump in Vietnam’s economy over a decade as a result of the deal.

Among the TPP countries, the U.S. runs the largest trade deficit, which widened to $57.5 billion in April. As you can see, the U.S. has an unfavorable (and worsening) trade gap with Vietnam (-$2.7 billion in March) and Japan (-$6.7 billion). The TPP could help rebalance this.

Americas Ever Widening Trade Deficit with Vietnam

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Americas Ever Widening Trade Deficit with Vietnam

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According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), the TPP “will increase annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of GDP, and annual exports by $357 billion, or 9.1 percent of exports, by 2030.” For all member nations, the deal is expected to add $492 billion in real income.

Challenges Ahead

Of course, none of this will come to pass if the TPP can’t be ratified. The PIIE warns that delaying the TPP’s launch by even a year could lead to a permanent opportunity loss of between $77 billion and $123 billion for the U.S. Obama has repeatedly said he wants to see it passed by the end of 2016.

But a delay at this point appears highly possible, with both major U.S. presidential candidates opposing it. Support in Congress is muted. Of the 12 TPP countries, only Malaysia has ratified it.

There’s still strong support for the deal. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, responding to recent positive findings by the International Trade Commission, wrote an open letter asserting its support, stating that passage of the TPP is critical for the U.S. to remain a leader in the global marketplace.

I agree. The deal is far from perfect, but it’s what we need now to help reignite global growth.

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 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. Composite PMIs are published monthly by Markit Economics in conjunction with sponsors, and are based on surveys of over 400 executives in private sector service companies. The surveys cover transport and communication, financial intermediaries, business and personal services, computing & IT and hotels and restaurants.

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 3/31/2016: Lockheed Martin Corp., Raytheon Co.

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Silver Wheaton: The Ultimate Streaming Service
May 2, 2016

Silver Wheaton CEO Randy Smallwood (right) with USGI portfolio manager Ralph Aldis

“There’s a healthy appetite for streams right now.”

That’s according to Randy Smallwood, CEO of Silver Wheaton, who stopped by our office last week during his cross-country meet-and-greet with investors.

Randy should know about the appetite for streams. His company had a phenomenal 2015—“the best year we ever had,” he says—highlighted by two successful stream acquisitions, strong production and fully-funded growth. Silver Wheaton stock is up more than 51 percent for the year. And the company just received the Viola R. MacMillan Award, presented by the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC), for “demonstrating leadership in management and financing for the exploration and development of mineral resources.”

We were one of Silver Wheaton’s seed investors in 2004. In the summer of that year, the company was spun off from Wheaton River, a producer that took its name from a stream in the Yukon where one of its mines, the Luismin property, produced silver. It was founded by Ian Telfer, chairman and CEO of Wheaton River, and the company’s then-chief financial officer, Peter Barnes, who later headed up Silver Wheaton management. My friend, the mining financier and philanthropist Frank Giustra, also had a hand in its conception.

As the only pure silver mining company, Silver Wheaton couldn’t have been founded during a more opportune time. The commodities boom was still young. I remember that when the idea for the company was shared with me, what I found most attractive was that it had virtually no competition. Franco-Nevada, which had been acquired by Newmont in 2001, wouldn’t be spun off for three more years. It was a no-brainer to put capital in this new endeavor.

Wheaton River was eventually bought by Goldcorp—the entire story is told at length in the book “Out of Nowhere: The Wheaton River Story”—and today, Silver Wheaton is the world’s largest precious metals streaming company, with a market cap of over $9 billion.

But Wait, What’s a “Stream”?

A “stream,” in case you were wondering, is an agreed-upon amount of gold, silver or other precious metal that a mining company is contractually obligated to deliver to Silver Wheaton in exchange for upfront cash. (The company’s preferred metal is silver because, as Randy puts it, it’s a smaller market and has a higher beta than gold.) The payment generally comes with less onerous terms than traditional financing, which is why miners favor working with Silver Wheaton (or one of the other royalty companies such as Franco-Nevada, Royal Gold and Sandstorm.)

Overview of Royalty and Stream Financial Model
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Streaming allows producers to “take the value of a non-core asset and crystallize that into capital they can invest into their core franchise,” Randy explains in a video prepared for the PDAC awards.

With operating costs mounting and metals still at relatively low—albeit rising—prices, royalty and streaming companies have become an essential source of financing for junior and undercapitalized miners. Between 2009 and 2014, operating and capital costs per ounce of gold rose 50 percent, from $606 to $915 per ounce, according to Dundee Capital.

Gold and Silver at 15-Month Highs

Paradigm Capital estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of global miners’ operating costs are covered when gold reaches $1,250 an ounce. The metal is now at this level—it’s currently at $1,298, up 22 percent so far this year—but as recently as December, prices were floundering at $1,050, which cut deeply into producers’ margins.

Royalty and streaming companies, on the other hand, get by with a materially lower cost of $440 an ounce.

From only 11 stream sales in 2015, miners collectively raised $4.2 billion, which is double the amount they raised in 2013.

These partnerships are a win-win. The miner gets reliable, hassle-free funding to cover part of its exploration and production costs, and the streaming company gets all or part of the output at a fixed, lower-than-market price. A 2004 streaming arrangement made with Primero on the San Dimas mine in Mexico entitles Silver Wheaton to buy all of its silver for an average price of $4.35 an ounce. With spot prices now at more than $17.89 an ounce, up 29 percent year-to-date, the San Dimas property is one of Silver Wheaton’s more lucrative assets. (The mine represents an estimated 15 percent of Silver Wheaton’s entire operating value, according to RBC Capital Markets.)

As part of its contracts, Silver Wheaton gets the added value of optionality on any future discoveries. This is important, since an estimated 70 percent of all silver comes as a byproduct of other mining activity, including gold, zinc, lead and copper. According to Randy, all of Silver Wheaton’s silver is byproduct.

Seventy Percent of Silver Is a Byproduct of Other Mining Activity

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Huge Rewards, Minimal Risk

Investors find royalty companies such as Silver Wheaton attractive for a number of reasons, not least of which is that they have exposure to commodity prices but face few of the risks associated with operating a mine.

They have minimal overhead and carry little to no debt. Franco-Nevada, in fact, added debt for the first time ever last year to buy a stream from Glencore. By year-end, the company had already paid down half this debt, and it plans to tackle the rest this quarter.

Royalty companies also hold a more diversified portfolio of mines and other assets than producers, since acquiring new streams doesn’t require any additional overhead. This helps mitigate concentration risk in the event that one of the properties stops producing for one reason or another.

Royalty Companies Hold a More Diversified Portfolio of Assets

Consequently, margins have historically been huge. Even when the price of gold and gold mining stocks declined in the years following 2011, Franco-Nevada continued to rise because it had the ability to raise capital at a much lower cost than miners. And with precious metals now surging, royalty companies are highly favored, with Paradigm Capital recommending Franco-Nevada, which has “exercised the most buying discipline among the royalty companies,” and the small-cap, highly diversified Sandstorm.

Gold Royalty Company vs. Gold Bullion vs. Gold Miners
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With only around 30 employees, Silver Wheaton has one of the highest sales-per-employee rates in the world. According to FactSet data, the company generates over $23 million per employee per year. Compare that to a large senior producer like Newmont, which generates “only” $200,000 per employee.

Royalty Companies Have a Superior Business Modelclick to enlarge

Royalty companies can often minimize political risk because they don’t normally deal directly with the governments of countries their partners are operating in. This is especially valuable when working with miners that operate in restrictive tax jurisdictions and under governments with high levels of corruption. Silver Wheaton’s contract with Brazilian miner Vale, for instance, stipulates that Vale is solely responsible for paying taxes in Brazil, which are among the highest in Latin America. Vancouver-based Silver Wheaton pays only Canadian taxes.

Political risk is still a thorny issue, however. When government corruption is too pervasive, or the red tape too tortuous, the miner’s corporate guarantee is obviously threatened. In cases such as this, Silver Wheaton can simply elect not to work with the producer, as it had to do recently with an African producer.

A key risk right now is Silver Wheaton’s ongoing legal feud with the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), regarding international transactions between 2005 and 2010. Randy says the company might finally be nearing a resolution to the dispute.

“We do have resource risk. We do have mining production risk,” he says. “But with that risk comes rewards, and I think if we’re selective in terms of our investments, the rewards far outweigh the risks. I think we’ve been really successful making sure we invest in good quality, high-margin mines. We really put a strong focus on mines that are very profitable.”

A New Precious Metals Upcycle Has Begun

Want more on silver, gold and other precious metals? I’ll be speaking at the MoneyShow in Las Vegas, May 9 – 12. Registration is completely free. 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.

Beta is a measure of the volatility, or systematic risk, of a security or a portfolio in comparison to the market as a whole.

The S&P/TSX Global Gold Index is an international benchmark tracking the world's leading gold companies with the intent to provide an investable representative index of publicly-traded international gold companies.

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: Silver Wheaton Corp., Goldcorp Inc., Franco-Nevada Corp., Royal Gold Inc., Barrick Gold Corp. 

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China: Still the World’s Number One Heavy Metal Rock Star
April 26, 2016

I want to begin with a quote from a recent Cornerstone Macro report that succinctly summarizes the research firm’s view on growth prospects in emerging markets and China specifically. Emphasis is my own:

Our most out-of-consensus call this year is the belief that China, and by extension many emerging markets, will see a cyclical recovery in 2016. We understand the bearish case for emerging markets on a multiyear basis quite well, but we also recognize that in a given year, any stock, sector or region can have a cyclical rebound if the conditions are right. In fact, we’ve already seen leading indicators of economic activity and earnings perk up in 2016 as PMIs have rebounded in many areas of the world. That is all it takes for markets, from equities to CDS, to respond more favorably as overly pessimistic views get rerated. And like in most cyclical recoveries that take place in a regime of structural headwinds, we don’t expect it to last beyond a few quarters.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll say upfront that Cornerstone’s analysis is directly in line with our own, especially where the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) is concerned. China’s March PMI reading, at 49.7, was not only at its highest since February 2015 but it also crossed above its three-month moving average—a clear bullish signal, as I explained in-depth in January.

I spend a lot of time talking about the PMI as a forward-looking indicator of commodity prices and economic activity. As money managers, we find it to be far superior to GDP in forecasting market conditions three and six months out. In the past I’ve likened it to the high beams on your car.

GDP and PMI

We were one of the earliest shops to make the connection between PMIs and future conditions, and we continue to be validated. Just last week, J.P.Morgan admitted in its morning note that “stocks are taking their cues from the monthly PMIs,” the manufacturing surveys in particular, as opposed to GDP.

We eagerly await China’s April PMI reading and are optimistic that this cyclical recovery has legs.

Cornerstone’s outlook is supported by a recent study conducted by CLSA, which found that 73 percent of “Mr. and Mrs. China” expect to be better off three years from now, while only 3 percent expect to be worse off:

Optimism is strongest among those in higher-tier cities, reflecting the disparity in economic vibrancy across tiers: as many as 80 percent of families in first-tier cities have optimistic outlook. The figure is lower, albeit still strong, at 68 percent among families in the third tier.

More than half of those surveyed said they expected to be driving a nicer car and living in a bigger home in the next few years, which is a boon for materials and metals such as platinum and palladium, used in catalytic converters.

As a reflection of growing demand for new homes, house prices in China are climbing right now in first-tier and, to a lesser extent, lower-tier cities, a sign that more and more citizens are seeking the “Chinese dream.”

Housing Prices Rising in China, Year-over-Year Growth
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China’s Insatiable Appetite for Metals

China’s appetite for metals—gold, silver, copper, iron ore and more—is growing, another sign that the Asian giant is in turnaround mode.

China is the world’s largest importer, consumer and producer of gold. Last year, physical delivery from the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) reached a record number of tonnes, more than 90 percent of total global output for 2015. Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China continues to add to its reserves nearly every month and is now the sixth largest holder of gold—the fifth largest if we don’t include the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As of this month, the bank holds 1,788 tonnes (63 million ounces) of the yellow metal, which amounts to only 2.2 percent of its total foreign reserves, according to calculations by the World Gold Council.

Now, in a move that’s sure to boost China’s financial clout in global financial markets even more, the country just introduced a new fix price for gold, one that is denominated in Chinese renminbi (also known as the yuan).

Gold is currently priced in U.S. dollars. That’s been the case for a century. But since gold demand has been shifting from West to East, China has desired a larger role in pricing the metal. The Shanghai fix price is designed with that goal in mind.

It’s unlikely that Shanghai will usurp New York and London prices any time soon, but over time it will allow China to exert greater control over the price of the commodity it consumes in vaster quantities than any other country.

China’s gold consumption isn’t the only thing turning heads. I shared with you earlier last week that the country imported 39 percent more copper in March than in the same month last year. (Shipments also rose 18.7 percent in renminbi terms in March year-over-year.)

The heightened copper demand has fueled renewed optimism in the red metal. Prices are up 6 percent month-to-date.

Housing Prices Rising in China, Year-over-Year Growth
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Caixin reports that China’s iron ore imports are surging on lower prices. In the first two months of 2016, the country purchased 86 percent more iron than it needs. What’s more, total imports were up 84 percent from the same time last year.

Steel production, which requires iron ore, is likewise ramping up.  Output is currently at 70.65 million tonnes, an increase of nearly 3 percent year-over-year.

Chinese Steel Production is on the rise
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For reasons unknown, China has also been growing its silver inventories pretty substantially for the past six months, according to an article shared on Zero Hedge. This month, as of April 19, the Shanghai Futures Exchange added a massive 1,706 tonnes, which is a 452 percent increase from the amount it added in April 2015. Shanghai silver inventories are now at their highest level ever.

Silver Mountain
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Though unconfirmed, it’s possible this silver will eventually be used in the production of solar panels, every one of which uses between 15 and 20 grams of the white metal. China is already the world’s largest market for solar energy—it surpassed Germany at the end of last year—with 43.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. (By comparison, the U.S. currently has 27.8 GW.) But get this: It plans on adding an additional 143 GW by 2020, which will require a biblical amount of silver.

Not to be outdone, India also plans significant expansion to its solar capacity, with a goal of 100 GW by 2022, according to the Indian government.

Metals Still Have Room to Rock

We know that money supply growth can lead to a rise in commodity prices. Note that Chinese money supply peaked in 2010 and has since fallen, along with commodity prices.

New Loans and M2 Money Supply in China
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New bank loans in China have spiked dramatically this year while money supply has grown more than 13 percent year-over-year, which is good for metals and manufacturing.

The increase in metals demand, not to mention the weakening of the U.S. dollar, has allowed silver to become the top performing commodity of 2016 after overtaking gold.

Metals Make Huge Gains
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Despite the rally, gold doesn’t appear to be overbought at this point, based on an oscillator of the last 10 years. We use the 20-day oscillator to gauge an asset’s short-term sentiment. When the reading crosses above two standard deviations, it’s usually considered time to sell. Conversely, when it crosses below negative two standard deviations, it might be a good idea to buy.

Silver is currently sitting at 1.2 standard deviations, suggesting a minor correction at this point would be normal.

Gold Still Has Plenty of Upside Potential, Silver Long in the Tooth?
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Time to Take Profits in Oil?

The same could be said about Brent oil, which has returned 61 percent since hitting a recent low of $27.88 per barrel in January. This has driven up the Russian ruble and energy stocks. (We’ve recently shown the correlation between world currencies and commodities.)

The rally has been so strong over the past three months that it’s signaling an opportunity to take profits or wait for a correction. Based on the 20-day oscillator, Brent’s up 1.3 standard deviations, which suggests a correction over the next three months.

Brent Crude Oil 20-Day Percent Change Oscillator
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Oil has historically bottomed in January/February. The rally this year has not disappointed. Further, it has helped many domestic banks that have been big lenders to the energy sector. High(er) oil prices translate into stronger cash flows for loans.

 

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 GSCI Total Return Index in USD is widely recognized as the leading measure of general commodity price movements and inflation in the world economy. Index is calculated primarily on a world production weighted basis, comprised of the principal physical commodities futures contracts.

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.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory. 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.

M2 Money Supply is a broad measure of money supply that includes M1 in addition to all time-related deposits, savings deposits, and non-institutional money-market funds.

The 100 Cities Index tracks pricing data for 100 Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 cities in China.

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If You’re Not Following this Energy Trend, You’re Being Left in the Dust
April 18, 2016

Investor and author Gianni Kovacevic visited USGI office this week. My Electrician Drives a Porsche book

Last week our office was visited by my friend, investor and author Gianni Kovacevic, who is at the halfway point of a cross-country book tour to promote the latest edition of “My Electrician Drives a Porsche?” As part of the tour, he’s driving a Tesla Model S from Boston to Palo Alto, California—Tesla’s hometown—to demonstrate the potential of green energy and spread his message that “the future is now.”

His book features a successful young man—the titular electrician, and an analogue of Gianni himself—who instructs his older family doctor on how to invest in the rise of the new spending class. Not only is “Electrician” a fact-filled, convincing treatise on the importance of following long-term trends in China, copper and other “financial soap operas,” it’s also a real page-turner. I urge you to grab a copy and check it out.

Copper: Beneficiary of Unprecedented Number of New Consumers

Central to the book’s thesis is a concept that is both simple and yet profound: As the size of the world’s middle class continues to grow, demand for “things that come with an electrical cord” will surge. Below is a brief excerpt:

My point is that once a group of people make the move from rural to urban, from peasant to worker and on to consumer, their way of life changes. Subsistence disappears from their vocabulary and their lives begin to revolve around the three Cs: comfort, convenience and communication. And in order to achieve any of those things, it takes a whole lot more stuff than ever before. We get a dishwasher to free up time and a television to waste it. We get an air conditioner to stay cool and a heater to stay warm. Then later on, we get other luxuries like solar panels on our roofs and newer, more modern cars. When a society achieves its very own consumer revolution, as China and the developing world are undergoing right now, life becomes less about needs and more about wants. With an unprecedented number of new consumers, these luxuries need way more stuff to make them possible.

Back in 2014, Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates predicted that by 2035, there will be “almost no poor countries left in the world.” You might scoff, but for a moment let’s imagine this turns out to be the case. What effect would that have on energy demand? Millions more people joining what Gianni calls the spending class will increase the demand for millions more things—dishwashers, air conditioners, smartphones, cars—and necessitate the production of thousands more megawatts of electricity than the world currently generates.

All of which is a boon for copper. However energy is produced, the red metal is needed for conductivity. In fact, even more copper wiring is used in new energy technologies than in traditional sources. An electric car such as the Tesla Model S uses three times as much copper wiring than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

Each New Generation of Car Needs More Copper Wiring
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It was reported this week that China imported 39 percent more copper (and 13 percent more crude oil) in March than in the same time last year, a sign that the Asian giant’s appetite for commodities and energy remains strong. Despite a slowdown in GDP growth, China is still the number one importer of metals and number two consumer of oil.

China's Copper Imports Surge in March
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Shipments out of China also rebounded the most in a year, rising 11.5 percent in the first quarter. This suggests its economy fared much better than what analysts were predicting.

China Exports Surge 11.5 Percent in First Quarter
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The country’s manufacturing industry saw very welcome improvement last month as well, with the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) coming in at 49.7—still below the key 50 threshold, but the highest reading since February of last year. The PMI was also above its three-month moving average for the first time since October.

Chinese Manufacturing Edges Close to Expansion
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The Rise of the Chinese Spending Class

Consider the dramatic difference in size between college graduates in older and younger Chinese generations. According to Gianni’s book, there are 160 million people aged 56 to 65, yet this cohort has only one million graduates. Meanwhile, millennials are 415 million strong—100 million more than the entirety of the U.S. population—and of those, 107 million have college degrees. So far. As this number rises, so too will incomes as well as the desire to live a more “Western” lifestyle filled with stuff.

This new generation is not only big in size, but also big in aspirations

You can check out the entire Visual Capitalist infographic on Gianni’s website.

The Asian country’s middle class is already larger than America’s. In October, Credit Suisse reported that there are more than 109 million middle-class consumers in China, compared to 92 million in the U.S.

109 Million. For the first time, the size of China's middle class has overtaken the U.S., 109 million compared to 92 million.

Indeed, domestic consumption in China is following a staggering upward trajectory. In 2015, total retail sales touched a record, surpassing 30 trillion renminbi, or about $4.2 trillion. By 2020, sales are expected to climb to $6.5 trillion, representing 50 percent growth in as little as five years. This growth will “roughly equal a market 1.3 times the size of Germany or the United Kingdom,” according to the World Economic Forum.

By 2020, Chinese Private Consumption Will Have Grown $2.3 Trillion
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The new Chinese spending class is still very concentrated along the country’s highly-urbanized eastern coast, in megacities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangdong and Shenzhen. But this is changing rapidly, with 39 percent of middle-class growth shifting inland toward more rural areas by 2022, according to McKinsey & Company. This will introduce new investment opportunities as these areas will require modern roads, railways and—most important—energy infrastructure.  

Chinese Middle-Class Growth is Shifting Inland

It’s estimated that between 2010 and 2025, 300 million Chinese citizens—a little less than the entire population of the U.S.—will migrate from rural areas to cities. As Gianni points out, lifestyles drastically change when this occurs, shifting from one of subsistence to one that revolves around convenience and comfort.

Tesla Disrupts the Auto Market

Key to this migration is transportation. In 1979, there were only 60 privately-owned automobiles in China. (That’s according to a 2006 report by legendary Canadian investment strategist Don Coxe, and cited in “My Electrician Drives a Porsche?”) Fast forward to today and China is now the world’s largest auto market. More than 21.1 million passenger cars were sold in the country last year, a 7.3 percent increase from 2014. Compare that to the U.S., the number two car buyer, where sales totaled 17.5 million, an all-time record.

By the way, 2015 sales of the Toyota Corolla, one of the top-selling sedans in the U.S., were a little over 350,000. That’s slightly more than the number of preorders for the Tesla Model 3, the company’s first mass-produced vehicle, within a single week of its unveiling on March 31. In a blog post, Tesla promptly proclaimed it “the week that electric vehicles went mainstream.”

The future, as Gianni says, is indeed now.

 

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 Caixin China Manufacturing PMI, released by Markit Economics, is based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives in over 400 private manufacturing sector companies.

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: Microsoft Corp.

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Rising Global Taxes and Regulations (Indirect Taxation) Are Chipping Away at the Benefits of Low Interest Money
March 21, 2016

Fracking Now Half of U.S. Crude Oil Production

During a trip to New York last week I was able to talk gold and commodities on Bloomberg TV, and also had the pleasure of hearing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau address Wall Street investors in the Bloomberg studios the same day. Trudeau discussed his plan for new infrastructure spending of C$60 billion over the next 10 years, as a means to lift the country’s highly oil-dependent economy. Trudeau answered questions on his country’s federal fiscal deficit and I was able to ask him about the amount of Ontario’s debt in particular. Ontario has twice the debt as the state of California and only half of its population.

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to Bloomberg in New York this weekIn the U.S., states are held to a strict balanced budget standard when it comes to fiscal taxation and spending, while the federal government can let the budget go into deficit spending. In Canada, however, it’s the opposite, and the provinces seem to have abused their debt levels, but Trudeau is ready to help.

The former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, never smiled like Justin Trudeau. But he was a great defensive leader, and his conservative leadership allowed the country to successfully weather the financial crash of 2008. Now the current government can leverage that strong balance sheet to stimulate economic activity.

During the Bloomberg conference, Trudeau sought to reassure his audience that he will remain cautious on spending.

Creeping Taxation and Negative Interest Rates Ignite Global Caution

Compliance and regulation measures have intensified from the financial sector to the food industry, from the U.S. all the way to Brazil. Many CEOs of banks, as well as brokers that I have spoken with recently, have lamented on the financial burden of excessive regulation and the indirect taxation that comes along with this rise in rules on steroids. Regulations are fueled with good intentions; however, the unexpected consequences like slow global growth need to be adjusted.

In Brazil, the government promotes short-term government bonds to fund its bloated government workforce. The anti-capitalist nature of Brazil’s government extends to extreme limitations on public markets, where new companies can only go public by offering shares at $1,000. And I’ve shared with you before how Colombia’s citizens are taxed at every turn.

Meanwhile, central bankers around the world captured headlines last week, and it looks as if easy money is here to stay for the time being, as well as high taxes and regulations. The prevailing message was that global economic conditions have not improved well enough to support any significant changes to monetary policy, which now has interest rates around the globe at near-zero or, in some cases, subzero levels.

Janet YellenThe week before last, the European Central Bank (ECB) came out with deeper cuts to already-negative rates and steeper purchases of bonds, from 60 billion euros to 80 billion euros. This was followed on Tuesday by the Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) decision to leave negative rates unchanged as it assesses the impact of its controversial policy, which shocked global markets when it was unveiled in January. Likewise, the Bank of England decided on Thursday to keep interest rates at the historic low of 0.5 percent.

As I (and many others) expected, the Federal Reserve also put rates on hold, even as the U.S. economy is showing signs of improvement in employment, housing and inflation. According to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, a soft global economy made a rate hike too risky.

Be that as it may, our emphasis on central bank actions is way overdone and in many ways a distraction from what’s really important: balanced fiscal policy. Today, many investors expect central banks to jumpstart the global economy, and indeed their decisions can have huge consequences. But they can’t do it alone. What we need is a commitment to streamline regulation and relax taxes, with prudent spending on economy-boosting infrastructure, manufacturing and construction. Until that happens, it doesn’t matter how low policymakers drop rates or how much debt they purchase.

Tailwinds to Global Growth

I’ve written before about how we use the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) as a forward-looking indicator. It’s like using the high beams on your car, to see where the economy is headed three or six months from now. In the latest PMI update from February, the reading trended downward to 50.

Industrial production data came out last week down 0.5 percent in February. As I’ve discussed numerous times, industrial production is a subset of GDP, both of which indicate where the markets have been.

U.S. Industrial Production Heads Lower
click to enlarge

Regulations and high taxes are headwinds to global growth. Whether we are looking ahead or looking back, the data are showing slowdown in the global economy. We need a fiscal policy intervention to be the tailwind that pushes the economy in the right direction. We hope that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be signed soon, eliminating many tariffs and restrictions to trade, but it is currently held up by protests from unions. Once passed, we are optimistic the TPP will facilitate and accelerate global trade.

Gold is Smiling

The most welcome news was that the core consumer price index (CPI)—which excludes food and energy—rose 2.3 percent year-over-year in February, representing the fourth straight month of inflation and the highest rate since October 2008.

Good for Gold: Core Inflamation Heats Up
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As I’ve pointed out many times before, gold has tended to respond well when inflationary pressure pushes real interest rates below zero. To get the real rate, you subtract the headline CPI from the U.S. Treasury yield. When it’s negative, as it is now, gold becomes more attractive to investors seeking preservation of their capital. The yellow metal has risen more than 18 percent so far this year.

Other precious metals have also been strong performers in 2016, with silver up 13 percent, platinum 11 percent, and palladium 8 percent.

Good Ol’ American Ingenuity from Silicon Valley to U.S. Energy Fields

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last week that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, now accounts for a little more than half of current U.S. crude oil production. In 2000, fracking wells produced only 2 percent of the national total. Today, they make up over 50 percent of oil output—a figure that will likely continue to climb as technology improves.

Fracking Now Half of U.S. Crude Oil Production
click to enlarge

But since the end of 2015, overall oil production in the U.S. has begun to taper down. Last week I shared with you the fact that December’s year-over-year change in output turned negative for the first time in five years, a sign that U.S. producers are finally responding to low prices.

This decline in production is reflected in the chart below, which also shows that Iraq’s share of the global oil market has grown comparatively more than Saudi Arabia and Russia’s.

Incremental Oil Production since January 2014
click to enlarge

The anticipated production freeze between those two countries, therefore, probably won’t have as significant an impact on oil prices as markets are hoping for. It will only ensure that the two-million-barrels-per-day global surplus won’t get any worse.

Plus, there’s no guarantee such a freeze would stick, let alone could be agreed upon. Iran has already called the proposal “ridiculous” and plans not to reign in production until it reaches pre-sanction output levels, and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to let its chief political adversary in the region gain the upper hand.

As I’ve said before, short of geopolitics, the likeliest path to oil recovery is to coordinate a production cap on a global scale. The chances of that happening, however, are slim to none.

Tax-Free, Stress-Free Income with Calm Investing

No matter what happens with the Fed’s interest rate decisions, be sure to register for our webcast on March 30. Learn about the power of municipal bonds in uncertain rate environments.

 

 

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

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

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Net Asset Value
as of 09/25/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.78 -0.04 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $8.02 0.06 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $6.69 0.06 China Region Fund USCOX $10.96 -0.46 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.94 -0.06 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.34 0.10 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $19.99 0.03 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.23 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change