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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.

Want to Find the Opportunities? Follow the Sentiment
February 15, 2017

more and more, quants are using sentiment analysis tools

On Monday I had the opportunity to attend a conference at Goldman Sachs’ Dallas office. Among the dozens of money managers and investors who attended, a combined $1 trillion in assets was represented. The speakers were numerous, from famed economist Jan Hatzius, Goldman’s head of global economics, to Jeff Currie, global head of commodities research. Everyone was exceedingly smart and articulate, and I left the conference feeling recharged with much to think about.

One of the most fascinating takeaways was Goldman’s increased use of sentiment analysis tools. Basically what this means is sophisticated software trawls the internet in real time for public attitudes and opinions on companies, products, sectors, industries, countries—you name it. Sources can include press releases, news stories, earnings calls, blogs, social media and more. All of this data is gathered and analyzed, giving quants and other highly sophisticated investors a better idea of where tomorrow’s opportunities lie.

We have experience gauging sentiment using platforms designed by Meltwater and ScribbleLive, and I was pleased to see our efforts validated.

Goldman’s preferred system is Stanford’s CoreNLP, which is able to break down and analyze sentences in a number of different ways (and different languages to boot). Below is just a sampling of what the process looks like.   

CoreNLP

This strategy has been working well, Goldman said, and investors and managers plan to continue practicing it.

As I said, we take sentiment very seriously. In last week’s Investor Alert, we made note of the fact that the media’s use of the word “uncertainty” has soared to a record high since the November election. This is in line with recent movements in the Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, which is also now at all-time highs following Donald Trump’s election and Brexit in the U.K.   

Uncertainty is Soaring
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Goldman Bullish on Commodities

At the same time, small business optimism in the U.S., as measured by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), soared to a 12-year high on the back of Trump’s election. At 105.8, its December reading was up a phenomenal five standard deviations. Much of this optimism was driven by Trump’s pledge to roll back regulations and lower corporate taxes, a point I’ve made several times already. Goldman echoed this thought, arguing the U.S. is behind the curve on cutting corporate taxes, compared to the average rate of the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The U.S. has lagged in cutting corporate tax rates
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Using its sentiment analysis tools, however, Goldman managed to come to these conclusions as early as November—which is the same month the investment bank turned bullish on commodities for the first time in four years.

Goldman’s line of reasoning? When business optimism goes up, capital expenditure (capex) also goes up, and when capex goes up, commodities tend to follow. I should add that the bank has historically been neutral on commodities, recommending an overweight position only four times in the last 20 years. So when it does become bullish, investors should pay attention.

 

Look at the Timing

But there’s more to the commodity investment case than sentiment. The timing looks ideal as well.

Below, take a look at the output gap, which measures the difference between an economy’s actual manufacturing output and its potential output. When the gap is positive, that means demand is high and output is at more than full capacity. When it’s negative, that means demand has shrunk and output is less than what an economy should be capable of producing.

Output Gap Suggests We are transitioning into the third stage of business cycle
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You can see that the output gap in the U.S. is finally turning positive, therefore entering the third stage of the business cycle, the best for real assets. The third stage is expansionary, characterized as having high output and fast growth—not to mention traditionally higher returns. We all know that past performance is no guarantee of future results. But similar periods in the past—shaded in gray—were associated with commodity super-cycles, the most recent one being the 2000s commodities boom driven by emerging markets, particularly China.   

So far this year, the Bloomberg Commodities Index has risen 1.7 percent, compared to a negative 3.4 percent for the same number of trading days last year. If you remember, commodities ended positively in 2016 for the first time in six years, so there should be further room to run.

 

The Global Economic Policy Uncertainty (EPU) Index is calculated as the GDP-weighted average of monthly EPU index values for the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile, the U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Russia, India, China, South Korea, Japan, Ireland and Australia, using GDP data from the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook Database.

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.

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.

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Trump’s Tax Plan Could Cost You. Here’s What to Do About It
February 7, 2017

Top earners have traditionally been attracted to municipal bonds for their tax-exempt status at the federal and often state and local levels. In the wake of President Donald Trump’s stunning upset victory, however, muni investors were forced to readjust their expectations of fiscal policy going forward. Because Trump had campaigned on deep cuts to corporate and personal income taxes, equities soared while munis sold off, ending a near-record 54 weeks of net inflows.

This appears to have been premature, for a couple of reasons.

Tax Reform Unlikely to Happen Anytime Soon

House Speaker Ryan: We'll tackle Obamacare and infrastructure before tax reform As I explained to you this week, Trump and congressional Republicans are currently butting heads on how best to handle tax reform, with many lawmakers saying it’s unlikely they’ll get around to it during the new president’s first 100 days, and possibly his first 200 days.

According to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Congress will focus instead on replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and funding Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending package before it worries about taxes. With an estimated 30 million Americans enrolled on Obamacare exchanges, finding a suitable replacement is of high importance and might take some time. The same goes with negotiating a costly infrastructure deal, which several fiscally conservative lawmakers are hesitant to support.

Besides, we all know how fast Congress operates, even on a good day. Former President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, and even with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, his signature health care law didn’t reach his desk until March the following year.

All of this is to say that it might be premature to start dumping your munis, or withhold an investment in munis, purely on the notion that income taxes are about to get a haircut. We’re probably looking at many more months of Obama-era tax rates, including the 3.8 percent Obamacare surcharge on investment income.

Other investors have realized this as well, which is why we’re seeing positive net inflows back into muni bond funds.

OIl Historically Rallied in the Two Years Following OPEC's Agreement to Cut Production
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Plus, You Could End Up Paying More in Taxes

If enacted as conceived, Trump’s tax reform plan would indeed be the most significant in decades, simplifying the number of tax brackets from seven to three, lowering the top rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent and eliminating personal exemptions and filing status options.

Trump's tax proposals could end up costing some americans.

One of the unintended consequences of this is that income taxes could actually go up for certain middle-income filers. According to an analysis of Trump’s proposal by the independent Tax Policy Center, as many as 8 million American families, including a majority of single-parent households and large families, could end up paying more than they do now (emphasis mine):   

Increasing the standard deduction would significantly reduce the number of filers who itemize. We estimate that 27 million (60 percent) of the 45 million filers who would otherwise itemize in 2017 would opt for the standard deduction. Repealing personal exemptions and the head of household filing status, however, would cause many large families and single parents to face tax increases.

What this means is that tax-exempt muni bonds could still play a valuable role in your portfolio.

But What About Rising Interest Rates?

In December, the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates for only the second time in nearly a decade, and many expect to see up to three additional increases this year.

It’s important to be aware that when rates rise, bond prices fall because if newly issued bonds carry a higher yield, the value of existing bonds with lower rates declines.

This is why I believe investors should take advantage of short- and intermediate-term munis, which are less sensitive to rate increases than longer-term bonds, whose maturities are further out. 

Our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) invests primarily in short-term municipal debt issued by quality, fiscally responsible jurisdictions. As of December 31, the fund is rated four stars overall by Morningstar among 172 funds in the Muni National Short category.

Morningstar Rating

Overall/172
3-Year/172
5-Year/147
10-Year/94

Morningstar ratings based on risk-adjusted return and number of funds
Category: Muni National Short
Through: December 31, 2016

 

To learn more, check out

 

Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by visiting www.usfunds.com or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, Distributor. U.S. Global Investors is the investment adviser.

Morningstar Ratings are based on risk-adjusted return. The Morningstar Rating for a fund is derived from a weighted-average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five- and ten-year (if applicable) Morningstar Rating metrics. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For each fund with at least a three-year history, Morningstar calculates a Morningstar Ratingä based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a fund’s monthly performance (including the effects of sales charges, loads, and redemption fees), placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of funds in each category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. (Each share class is counted as a fraction of one fund within this scale and rated separately, which may cause slight variations in the distribution percentages.)

Bond funds are subject to interest-rate risk; their value declines as interest rates rise. Though the Near-Term Tax Free Fund seeks minimal fluctuations in share price, it is subject to the risk that the credit quality of a portfolio holding could decline, as well as risk related to changes in the economic conditions of a state, region or issuer. These risks could cause the fund’s share price to decline. Tax-exempt income is federal income tax free. A portion of this income may be subject to state and local taxes and at times the alternative minimum tax. The Near-Term Tax Free Fund may invest up to 20% of its assets in securities that pay taxable interest. Income or fund distributions attributable to capital gains are usually subject to both state and federal income taxes.

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

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What These Four Global Leaders Have in Common with Trump
February 2, 2017

President Donald J. Trump was elected on promises to “Make America Great Again,” and since January 20 he’s already signed a number of executive orders to tighten border security and ease regulations. Whether you approve of his actions or not, no one can deny that many of Trump’s policies are a sharp departure from American politics of the last 70 years, which has emphasized globalism and interventionism.

It isn’t until we look at the bigger picture, though, that we realize Trump’s ascent is in line with a nationalistic wave that’s spreading across the globe, from Asia to Europe and beyond. As investors, it’s important that we familiarize ourselves with these global policymakers, thought leaders, mavericks and disruptors. Government policy, after all, is a precursor to change.

Below are four such leaders who have more in common with Trump than you might realize.  

1. Narendra Modi – India

Narendra Modi’s 2014 campaign slogan, “Good times ahead,” is in many ways cut from the same idealistic cloth as “Make America Great Again.” Indeed, the similarities between Modi and Trump are numerous. Both men have made it their top goals to strengthen economic growth by deregulating key industries and taking a protectionist approach to manufacturing, reflected in their respective “Make in India” and “America First” policies. A former tea merchant, Modi has often been described as a Hindu nationalist, with alleged goals to replace secularism with Hinduism as the guiding principle of Indian government and society. Like Trump, he’s interested in “draining the swamp” of public corruption. To that end, Modi took an extreme measure in November, eliminating all 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes—90 percent of the nation’s currency—one of the effects of which was a sharp decline in December’s gold demand.   

Modi's Demonetization Scheme Impacted India's Gold Imports in December 2016
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2. Xi Jinping – China

Upon taking leadership of the People’s Republic of China in 2013, Xi Jinping made it his mission to crack down on corrupt “flies” (rank-and-file party officials) and “tigers” (senior officials) who were suspected of lining their pockets with black money. Since Xi began to “drain the swamp,” courts have prosecuted more than 200,000 officials on corruption-related charges and disciplined hundreds of thousands more. His campaign, which has been wildly popular with the masses, hit Asian gaming capital Macau particularly hard. Before the crackdown, Macau, a special administrative region of China, was adding the equivalent of a Las Vegas Strip every year in revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal. More recently, Xi instructed senior officials to lead by example, warning them there were “no forbidden areas in intra-party supervision, and no exceptions.”

Macau's Gaming Revenue Took a Hit from Chinese Anti-Corruption Measures
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3. Mauricio Macri – Argentina

It might be hard to believe now, but Argentina once ranked among the top 10 wealthiest nations in the world, following the U.K., U.S. and Australia. Following years of rule by the far-left Justicialist Party, however, the South American country languished in corruption and stagnation. In November 2015, voters said “no, gracias” to further leftist rule by electing businessman and two-term Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Marci as president. It was an upset victory for the people of Argentina, who have seen their once-prosperous nation deteriorate under decades of Marxist policies. Since being sworn in, Macri has made business growth and the economy a number one priority, loosening regulations in the telecommunications sector, easing currency controls, cutting energy subsidies and eliminating tariffs.

Can Mauricio Macri Make
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4. Nigel Farage – United Kingdom

Not all disruptors need to be presidents or prime ministers. As founder and once-leader of the populist, right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage has already made a lasting impact on the United Kingdom. The former commodities trader was instrumental in the campaign to leave the European Union (EU), and following the referendum’s passage, Farage invoked the 1996 sci-fi action film “Independence Day” by declaring June 23 “our independence day” from failed socialist rules, regulations and immigration policies. Reportedly close to Trump, Farage was the first British politician to meet with the then-president-elect after the November election and has since come out in full support of his more controversial policies, including the “extreme vetting” of refugees.   

Brexit Pounded the POund
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Honorable Mention, Looking Ahead

These five global mavericks, Trump included, are certainly not the only ones in power right now, and we can expect to see more in the months and years ahead. Emboldened by Brexit and Trump, other nationalistic candidates are rising in European polls, with several major elections coming up this year in France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Among the candidates with a reasonable chance to gain control is Marine Le Pen, president of France’s Front National Party, which takes a hard Euroskeptic stance. (She is, in fact, daughter of its founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen.) If elected president of France in May, Le Pen pledges many dramatic changes, including withdrawing from  the Schengen Area, which eliminates border controls and passports among 26 European countries; giving priority to French citizens with regard to jobs and housing; reintroducing the death penalty and boosting spending on prisons; and issuing a “Frexit” referendum to quit the EU.

 

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

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Hope for the New Year
January 3, 2017

Happy New Year 2017 from your friends at U.S. Global Investors

In the early decades of the 19th century, a new cultural and philosophical movement emerged that embodies all that makes America great. Led chiefly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, American transcendentalism praises the purity of the individual and stresses the importance of self-reliance.

“The great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude,” Emerson wrote.

I recognized these uniquely American values early on when I made the move from Canada to Texas. Individualism, non-linear thinking, a rebellious streak—without them, the U.S. might not have been the birthplace of world-changing innovations such as the locomotive, automobile, airplane and microprocessor.

Today we have these same values to thank for the creation of Facebook, Amazon, Google and other tech giants, without which we can hardly imagine our lives now.

They’ve also helped make many people fabulously wealthy. Of the 400 Americans on Forbes’ wealthiest list, about two thirds can be labeled as self-made, including Jan Koum, a Ukrainian immigrant raised on food stamps who became an overnight billionaire when he sold his instant messaging app, WhatsApp, to Facebook in 2014.

Other countries have little choice but to emulate America’s economic and cultural biosphere that allows such innovations to flourish. In an effort to become a leader in autonomous driving, Germany-based Volkswagen is currently in the process of recruiting as many as 1,000 experts in artificial intelligence, virtual reality and big data—many of whom hail from Silicon Valley and other American tech hubs. According to Volkswagen Chief Information Officer Dr. Martin Hoffman, research teams in Berlin and Munich “work the Silicon Valley way. We have brought the Valley to Volkswagen… with over 20 experts from San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado.”

Volkswagen is in the process of hiring 1,000 IT experts, many of them from Silicon Valley

As I’ve pointed out many times before, the reason Silicon Valley must be imported from the U.S.—instead of built in-house—is largely because the European Union’s crushing regulations and policies of envy stand in the way of ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Their best brains, therefore, end up in the U.S., the land of opportunity.

“If anybody believes Europeans will create a better business environment than Americans, they’re completely dreaming,” Mark Tluszvz, CEO of a Luxembourg-based venture capitalist firm, told the Financial Times in 2015. “We don’t have this in our culture."

It’s essential we don’t lose it in our culture, either. Many U.S. lawmakers and bureaucrats, however, seem intent on significantly weakening our ability to innovate and stay competitive. The more rules and layers of regulations that businesses must contend with, the more the U.S. will resemble Brussels.

We can’t allow that to happen.

“Any fool can make a rule, and every fool will mind it,” Thoreau sagely wrote nearly 200 years ago.

Although “fool” might not be the word I would use, it must be recognized that the U.S. became the innovative powerhouse it is today not because of rules but because of the values of individualism espoused by the transcendentalists all those years ago.

Trump Pushing Back on New Rules

I’m convinced this is one of the key reasons why U.S. voters elected Donald Trump, despite his rough edges. Trump has pledged to streamline or altogether eliminate many financial regulations that have stymied the creation of capital over the years, from Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). We add can to this list the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new Fiduciary Rule.

Signed by President George W. Bush, SOX seeks to prevent massive corporate fraud such as we saw from Enron and WorldCom in the early 2000s. Although a noble mission, SOX has had the unintended consequence of barring small to medium public companies from getting ahead. It’s also prevented retail investors from getting in on the ground floor. Because the requisite internal control procedures are so costly and cumbersome—necessitating additional compliance and accounting positions, not to mention hundreds of hours spent on compliance-driven tasks—smaller firms are inevitably at a disadvantage.

As a result, many small to mid-sized companies are delaying going public, or avoiding it altogether, to escape the regulatory burden. Before SOX, there were an average 528 IPOs a year. Since it was enacted, that number has fallen to 135, a decline of nearly 75 percent.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act Has Contributed to Fewer IPOs
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As for Dodd-Frank, signed by President Barack Obama, market experts ranging from Warren Buffett to Alan Greenspan support its repeal, with Buffett saying the legislation “has taken away the Federal Reserve’s ability to act in a crisis.” Many banks have done away with free checking, giving lower-income customers fewer and fewer banking options.

Joining the chorus in calling for deregulation is billionaire CEO of Koch Industries, Charles Koch. Speaking to ABC’s “This Week” back in April, he called our political and economic system rigged “in favor of [multibillion-dollar] companies like ours,” and criticized “corporate welfare that benefits established companies and makes it difficult for somebody to get started.”

Charles Koch: The system is rigged in favor of big corporations.

Protecting the Little Guy?

These rulings, among others, have been detrimental to the formation of capital, especially for the little guy, whom they purport to be protecting. But it doesn’t exactly help or protect the little guy if his investment, banking and business options are dramatically limited. See this chart I shared with you back in July, which shows how retail investors have been locked out of participating in the best-performing asset classes.

Or consider the DOL’s new Fiduciary Rule. When it goes into effect in April 2017, it will inevitably limit the number of investment products available to retail investors. The ruling states that all retirement planners, advisors and broker-dealers must now “act in the best interests of clients” and charge only “reasonable” fees. This all sounds fine, but what’s naturally going to happen is financial professionals—in an effort to remain compliant with the rule—will recommend only the least expensive products, regardless of whether they’re a good fit. Many mutual funds—which might be better performing but have higher expenses than other investment vehicles—will fall off of brokerage firms’ platforms.

It would be like the DOL telling consumers they can only shop at Walmart and buy their coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts because anything more expensive—Target or Starbucks, say—is “riskier,” even though they’re of higher quality.

This type of anti-capitalist mindset is expected in the EU, not the U.S. Trump’s win certainly puts a target on the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule, which he has pledged to repeal, but like Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank, we’ll have to wait and see.

And Yet, Business Owners Are Optimistic

Whether Trump can succeed at reversing some of these rules remains to be seen. If you remember, Obama failed to roll back—and, in fact, he extended—Bush-era legislation he strongly campaigned against, such as the Patriot Act and Bush tax cuts. The same might very well happen under Trump. Even Carl Icahn—whom Trump named as his special advisor on deregulation—has commented that Dodd-Frank is needed.

But Trump is a pragmatist, as Obama himself described him. “He is coming into this office with fewer set-hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than other presidents,” Obama said.

Indeed, Trump isn’t guided by ideology from the religious right, as Bush was, or the socialist left, as Obama was. Remember, he long identified himself as a Democrat and has supported Democratic candidates (including Hillary Clinton). So I think that, after 16 years of Bush and Obama, the pendulum is finally swinging back to the center. The question is: Can Trump make it work?

Many small to mid-sized business owners seem to believe he can. In a Business Journals survey taken the day after the election, 82 percent of businesses said they felt confident their prospects would improve over the next 12 months. That’s the highest reading in nearly a decade.

Small to Mid-Sized Business Owners Most Optimistic in Nearly a Decade
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How Markets Are Betting

As I’ve pointed out before, investors seem to be betting that, despite the uphill battle ahead, Trump can deliver on financial deregulation. Below, the chart shows sector performance before Trump’s election compared with performance since the election. As you can see, financials jumped seven places to become the top-performing sector. What’s more, health care turned positive, suggesting investors are confident Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress can dismantle Obamacare.

S&P 500 Sectors Before and After U.S. Election
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Small-cap stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000 Index, are also way up on bets that Trump’s protectionist policies will benefit domestics with limited exposure to foreign markets, more so than multinational blue-chip stocks.

Investors Bet on Domestic Small Caps Following Trump's Win
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It might be too soon to tell, but I expect these trends to carry on into 2017. 

Rising Rates Ahead in 2017

With economic conditions and expectations improving, especially since the election, it’s very likely the Federal Reserve will continue to tighten throughout 2017. Rate hikes will be limited, but 3 percent mortgage rates are probably a thing of the past.

Lenders are already slashing their refinance-volume expectations for 2017 and beyond, according to a mortgage lender sentiment survey conducted in December by Fannie Mae.

In addition, Kroll Bond Rating Agency (KBRA) believes we’ve likely seen peak lending: “While 2016 has been an excellent year for the U.S. mortgage industry, with almost $2 trillion in new loan originations, we believe that this year is also likely to be the peak in terms of lending volumes for years to come.”

Declining Mortgage Lending Volumes Ahead?
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As I’ve pointed out several times before, when interest rates are on the rise, short-term municipal bonds are the place to be, since they’re less sensitive to rate increases than longer-term bonds, whose maturities are further out.

I want to wish all of my loyal readers, investors and shareholders a most Happy New Year! As we begin a new American chapter in 2017, complete with a new series of challenges both big and small, remember to hold fast to H.O.P.E.—Have Only Positive Expectations!

 

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.

The Russell 2000 Index is a U.S. equity index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000. The Russell 3000 Index consists of the 3,000 largest U.S. companies as determined by total market capitalization. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 9/30/2016.

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Holiday Edition: Here Are the Top 6 Frank Talk Posts of 2016
December 27, 2016

Good Tidings we bring to you and yours

This year has been one for the history books. Donald Trump was elected as the 45th president of the United States, gold had its best quarter in a generation, Warren Buffett decided he likes airlines again and voters in the United Kingdom elected to leave the European Union. Loyal readers of the Investor Alert newsletter and my CEO blog Frank Talk know that we covered it all, too.

As we head into the New Year, I want to share with you the six most popular Frank Talk posts of 2016. Before I do that, however, I think it’s important to note one recurring theme I write about that continues to help our investment team and shareholders better understand the movement in commodities and energy: the purchasing managers’ index (PMI).

Using PMI as a Guide

As I explain in this January Frank Talk, our research has shown that PMI performance is strongly correlated with the movement in commodities and energy three and six months out. PMI forecasts future manufacturing conditions and activity by assessing forward-looking factors such as new orders and production levels.

When a PMI “cross-above” occurs—that is, when the monthly reading crosses above the three-month moving average—it has historically signaled a possible uptrend in crude oil, copper and other commodities. The reverse is also true. When the monthly reading crosses below the three-month moving average, the same commodities and materials have in the past retreated three months later.

In the three months following a “cross-above,” oil rose about 7 percent, 75 percent of the time, based on 10 years’ worth of data. Copper, meanwhile, rose more than 9 percent most of the time.

Commodities and Commodity Stocks Historically Rose Three Months After PMI 'Cross-Above'
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In November, the JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI reading clocked in at 52.1, a 27-month high. This shows that sector expansion has extended for a sixth straight month, which is very encouraging news. Following OPEC's recent production cut, we believe the decision is constructive for energy in the near-term, while a rising PMI is good news for the long term.

JPMorgan Global Manufacturing PMI Continues Upward Momentum
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We are finally seeing major media outlets and other Wall Street thought leaders recognize the importance of PMI as well.

2016 In Review: The Top 6 Posts

Every year I have the opportunity to engage and educate curious investors through my Frank Talk blog, and I am grateful to all of my subscribers who continue to stay engaged with the stories I share. Below are the top six Frank Talk posts of 2016 based on what you found most fascinating. I hope you enjoy this brief recap.

1. Gold Had Its Best Quarter in a Generation. So Where Are the Investors?

In April we were pleased to report that gold was having its best quarter in 30 years—rising 16.5 percent year-to-date at the time. During the first quarter, the yellow metal had its best three-month performance since 1986, mostly on fears of negative interest rates and other global central bank policies.

What we noticed, however, was an anomaly in terms of investor interest. Retail investors were very bullish on bullion but remained bearish on gold stocks.

This was a missed opportunity. Even though gold stocks have retreated since the summer, the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is still up 40 percent for the 12-month period. Over the same period, the S&P 500 Index is up only 10 percent, with the Trump rally driving most of it.

As you can see in the oscillator below, gold is currently down more than two standard deviations. In the past, this was a good time to accumulate, as mean reversion soon followed.

Gold vs. 2-Year Treasury Yield Percent Change Oscillator
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The 2-year Treasury yield, meanwhile, is looking overbought and set to correct, based on our model. The math suggests a nearly 90 percent probability that mean reversion will occur over the next three months, with yields falling and the gold price rising back to its mean.

What’s more, ICBC Standard Bank recently highlighted the growing costs of higher yields, which are being overlooked. Net interest payments on the nearly $14 trillion of U.S. debt will amount to around $250 billion this year—or 1.4 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. “If we apply an 80 basis point increase to the net interest forecasts,” the bank writes, “then by 2026 the Treasury would be paying an additional $185 billion in interest annually, and interest will have increased to 3.3 percent of GDP.” This could strengthen the investment case of gold.

2. What Brexit Is All About: Taxation (and Regulation) Without Representation

Just three days before U.K. voters went to the polls, I shared my thoughts on why those betting on the “stay” campaign might be surprised to find Eurosceptical Brits prevailing in the Brexit referendum. British citizens voted to exit the EU on June 23, a move that many were not expecting. One of the main grievances of voters was the heavy burden of EU regulations, which are decided by unelected officials in Brussels with little to no cost-benefit analysis.

According to Open Europe, a nonpartisan European policy think tank, the top 100 most expensive EU regulations set the U.K. back an annual 33.3 billion pounds, equivalent to $49 billion.

33.3 Billion Annual Cost of teh EU's Top 100 Regulations on U.K. Businesses

3. 11 Reasons Why Everyone Wants to Move to Texas

As a “Tex-Can”—born in Canada, living in Texas for the past 26 years—I am so blessed to call Texas my home. Although we are global investors, often focusing on macro-economic issues and government policies, I enjoyed writing this piece highlighting 11 reasons why Texas is truly a remarkable place to live. Did you know if Texas were its own nation, its economy would be about the same size as Canada’s?

The Global Scale of America's Economy
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4. Did OPEC Just Cry Uncle?

Back in October, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) tentatively agreed to a production cut at its meeting in Algiers. Officials announced a “plan” to limit daily production, but I warned investors not to get too excited over OPEC’s decision at the time, since nothing was set in stone. Some OPEC members were already wavering, with Iraq questioning output numbers and Nigeria moving to boost production.

Fast forward to December. For the first time since 2008, OPEC has agreed to a crude oil production cut, renewing hope among producers and investors that prices can begin to recover in earnest after a protracted two-year slump.

5. Use This Tax Strategy Like the Top 1 Percent

Many people might have the impression that the top 1 percent of society—those making over $521,411—deal mainly in exotic investments such as derivatives, fine art and rare French wines. The truth is actually a lot less exciting—they invest in munis. Muni bond income, after all, is entirely exempt from federal and often state and local taxes—a feature that should appeal not just to money-saving, high-net worth individuals but to all investors.

 

 

 

Wealthiest U.S. Households Own an Increasing Share of Municipal Debt
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6. Romania Did This, And Now It's Among the Fastest Growers in Europe

In July I wrote a piece highlighting a country I don’t always discuss—Romania. At the end of last year, and after years of tepid growth, Romania’s government moved to revise its tax code. The country reduced the value added tax (VAT) rate from 24 percent to 20 percent, lowered the income withholding tax rate, nixed a controversial “special construction” tax, simplified deductibles and exempted certain dividends from corporate income tax.

The changes have worked much faster than expected. In the first quarter of 2016, Romania grew 4.3 percent year-over-year, beating the 3.9 percent analysts had expected, and up 1.6 percent from the fourth quarter of 2015.

Keep Calm and Invest On

I want to end on one final point. Trump recently responded to the Berlin Christmas Market massacre—the perpetrator of which was just shot dead by police in Italy last week—saying the event validates his past support of banning Muslims from entering the country and creating a Muslim registry for those already in the U.S.

I’ve said before that people too often take President-elect Trump literally but not seriously, and I think this is one of those cases. I don’t believe he will literally ban all 1.6 billion Muslims from coming into the country, nor does he literally mean it. More likely such a ban would resemble President Jimmy Carter’s temporary cancellation of Iranian visas in response to the hostage crisis, but that’s mere speculation. The issue of Shia-Sunni relations alone is far too complex, with the schism as deep and nuanced as when Protestants broke from the Catholic Church in the 16th century.   

But let’s say for a moment that Trump somehow succeeds in implementing a complete ban and creating a registry. These plans would not come cheap. One team of researchers estimated a ban would cost the U.S. economy at least $71 billion a year in lost spending on tourism, education and more. As for a registry, the similar National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)—created in response to 9/11 and dissolved this month by President Barack Obama—cost taxpayers about $10 million a year.

New rules, laws and regulations associated with a ban and registry would also add to our already bloated list of rules, laws and regulations. Trump has said he is committed to axing regulations. I’m all for limiting the regulatory burden, but I wonder what Trump (and incoming Homeland Security secretary John Kelly) would need to cut and streamline to offset the additional rules and costs.

This is the very definition of the law of unexpected consequences, and it’s important to be cognizant of “the negatives of Trump’s anti-globalization ideas,” in the words of billionaire money manager Bill Gross. It’s for this reason that investors should remain diversified, in gold, equities and tax-free municipal bonds.

To all of our readers around the world, I wish you robust health, buckets of wealth and tons of happiness in the New Year!

 

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

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.

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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.

A basis point, or bp, is a common unit of measure for interest rates and other percentages in finance. One basis point is equal to 1/100th of 1%, or 0.01% (0.0001).

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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