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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.

“Mother of All Bubbles” Keeps Gold in Focus
July 24, 2017

global debt bubble

Today I want to discuss reports that global debt levels are at all-time highs, and what this means for your investment decisions going forward.

But first, a few comments about last week. I recently returned from the Oxford Club’s Private Wealth Seminar, held at the historic Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. The hotel, which some of you might remember as the setting for the 1980 film “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, took a mere 93 days to build in the 1880s—impossible by today’s standards, especially when you consider that it boasts the world’s largest front porch at 660 feet.

While there, I had the privilege of catching up with some old friends and contacts, including Alex Green, the Oxford Club’s chief investment strategist. You might have read some of his wonderful work for Investment U, the group’s educational arm.

Alex reminded me over lunch that the difference between Democrats and Republicans, in his view, is that Democrats are for personal freedom and some economic restrictions, while Republicans are for economic freedom and some personal restrictions.

I prefer to focus on policies instead of partisan politics, but Alex has a point. I’m convinced that Donald Trump, a Republican, won the presidential election because his pledge to reform the tax code and deregulate resonated with both white-collar and blue-collar Americans who felt as if the U.S. economy was no longer working for them. U.S. corporate taxes are among the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), spurring large multinationals to move operations overseas, and out-of-control regulations threaten to strangle business growth.

But just as Green insinuated, the Trump administration has enacted, or has hinted at enacting, policies that rankle Americans of all political stripes, precisely because they could be used to encroach upon personal liberties.

Take Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to strengthen the government’s ability to seize private property from suspected criminals. (The operative word here is “suspected.”) Many now are arguing this directive could be abused by police and other officials. It could, in fact, violate the Fourth Amendment, which of course protects Americans against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

This is just one among numerous policy-making decisions that have members of both political parties, as well as independents, scratching their heads. Trump was elected to reform taxes, slash regulations and generally make business and capital formation run more smoothly. It’s unclear how private-asset seizures fit into that picture.

If this administration resolved to stay on message and on course, and worked to bring fiscal relief to everyday Americans, it might receive greater support from those who voted for Trump—and perhaps even from those who didn’t.

U.S. Dollar in Bear Market, a Boon for Gold

Since the start of the year, the five-year Treasury yield, adjusted for inflation, has risen about 150 percent. Normally this would put remarkable pressure on the price of gold—higher yields raise the opportunity cost of buying gold—but over the same period, the U.S. dollar has steadily weakened and is now officially in a bear market. Because gold is priced in dollars, this has been supportive for prices. Year-to-date, the yellow metal is up more than 8 percent.

crosscurents impacting gold treasury yeild up dollar down
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As I said, the greenback’s been on the decline for most of the year so far, but it slumped to a 13-month low against the euro last week following European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi’s remark that “monetary accommodation” would continue in the European Union (EU) until at least the end of the year.

draghi ending ecb stimulus not there yet

“We need to be persistent and patient and prudent, because we’re not there yet,” Draghi said, referring to the fact that EU inflation and wage growth have been disappointingly slow, despite the bloc’s economic recovery since the financial crisis. (Indeed, the June purchasing manager’s indexes for emerging European markets were all above the key 50 mark for the first time in recent memory.)

UBS: We’re Still Constructive on Gold

That gold is still holding at its current level—despite rising rates, despite a stock market that continues to rally—is “encouraging.”

That’s one of the key takeaways from a UBS note last week, in which the Swiss financial services firm maintains its constructive view of the yellow metal. Investor demand this year has been slower than expected, but UBS analyst Joni Teves makes the case that expectations of a good monsoon season in India this summer could help push consumption in the world’s second-largest importer of gold to a new record high by the end of the year. With India having imported a phenomenal 525 metric tons in the first half of 2017 alone, Teves writes that “we expect gold demand in India this year to be around historic averages,” which would be very supportive for prices.

ETPs Attracted a Record $245 Billion in the First Half of 2017

Like gold in India, exchange-traded products (ETPs) also had a knockout first half. As Deutsche Bank reports, ETPs attracted a record $245 billion in the first six months of 2017, in what has historically been the weaker half of the year. To put into perspective just how impressive this figure is, $245 billion would be the second-largest full-year record amount following 2016’s $283 billion. We could see ETP inflows climb as high as $500 billion by the end of this year, Deutsche estimates.

exchange traded porducts etps see record 245 billion in inflows in first half of year
click to enlarge

Of course, runaway demand for ETPs and other risk assets has contributed to muted interest in gold.

Having said that, though, BullionVault—the world’s number one online precious metals market—reported recently that private gold holdings among its users leaped to a record 38 metric tons, as of the beginning of July. That’s enough gold to make more than 10 million 18-carat wedding rings, BullionVault says, or to supply the microchips for 1.5 billion iPhones. The site points out that investor demand has lately been driven by lower prices, following three months of “light liquidation.”

Global Debt on Alert

All of what I’ve said so far pertains to the near-term. Gold’s medium- to long-term investment case, I believe, looks even brighter. Many unsettling risks loom on the horizon—not least of which is a record amount of global debt—that could potentially spell trouble for the investor who hasn’t adequately prepared with some allocation in a “safe haven.”

According to the highly-respected Institute of International Finance (IIF), global debt levels reached an astronomical $217 trillion in the first quarter of 2017—that’s 327 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP). Notice that before the financial crisis, global debt was “only” around $150 trillion, meaning we’ve added close to $120 trillion in as little as a decade. Much of the leveraging occurred in emerging markets, specifically China, which is spending big on international infrastructure projects.

total global debt stands at all time high
click to enlarge

It goes without saying that this is a huge risk. Some are calling this mountain of debt “the mother of all bubbles,” and we all remember how the last two bubbles ended, in 2000 (the tech or dotcom bubble) and 2007 (the housing bubble).

Paying down this debt will not be easy. As Scotiabank mentioned in a note last week: “Higher interest rates are going to make the burden of refinancing the debt considerably heavier, and as more money goes into servicing the debt, it means less money is available to spend on other things, which could lead to less infrastructure spending and increased austerity.”

Add to this the fact that global pension levels are also sharply on the rise, with people living longer and population growth—and therefore workforce growth—slowing in many advanced economies. In May, the World Economic Forum (WEF) estimated that by 2050, the size of the retirement savings gap—unfunded pensions, in other words—could be as much as $400 trillion, an unimaginably large number.

The U.S. alone adds about $3 trillion every year to the pension deficit. I shared with you earlier in the month that the State of Illinois’s unfunded pensions could be as high as $250 billion, putting each Illinoisan on the hook for $56,000.

Central banks’ efforts to promote economic growth through monetary easing haven’t exactly been a raging success, nor can they continue forever. Plus, near-zero interest rates are precisely what encouraged such inflated levels of borrowing in the first place.

You can probably tell where I’m headed with all of this. Another crisis could be in the works. Savvy investors and savers might very well see this as a sign to allocate a part of their portfolios in “safe haven” assets that have historically held their value in times of economic contraction.

Gold is one such asset that’s been a good store of value in such times, and gold stocks have tended to outperform the yellow metal as production costs have fallen, according to Seabridge Gold. I always recommend a 10 percent weighting in gold—5 percent in bars and coins; 5 percent in gold stocks, mutual funds or ETFs.

 

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.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the commentary were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 6/30/2017: Seabridge Gold.

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How to Get a Better Bargain on Your Investment with Emerging Europe
July 20, 2017

Prague Czech Republic

American equities have been a good place to invest during the current bull market, now in its eighth year. Since the November election, the S&P 500 Index has surged close to 16 percent. But this means that valuations continue to creep up, and political risk threatens to derail further gains as President Donald Trump’s high-growth agenda stumbles on even more roadblocks.

Investors might therefore be looking for an alternative. I believe one of the most attractive destinations for your investment dollars right now is emerging European countries. Below you can see a valuation comparison between U.S. and emerging European equities. Trading at 9.2 times earnings, the latter are offering quite a bargain for investors seeking a “better bang for the buck.”

Emerging Europe Offers investors attractive bargains
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More than that, though, “core” Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries—including Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary—are currently among the fastest growing in the world. In a recent series on the region, the Financial Times put it succinctly: “The former communist countries that have joined the European Union (EU) since 2004 offer superior growth to western Europe and many other emerging markets, combined with the benefits and protections of EU membership.”

Expectations for economic growth in CEE countries have changed rapidly and positively. The consensus forecast is now 2.5 percent growth this year, 0.3 percent points higher than expectations near the beginning of the year.

Next year could be even brighter, with analysts expecting 2.6 percent growth, 0.1 percentage point higher than earlier forecasts. Stronger-than-expected external demand in Western Europe, a tighter labor market, an attractive environment for foreign investment, government stimulus measures, easy financing conditions and the revival of EU structural funds are all supporting stronger growth in the region.

Manufacturing Continues to Strengthen

Loyal readers of Frank Talk know that we closely follow the purchasing manager’s index (PMI), which measures the strength of a country’s manufacturing industry. We’ve found it to be not only a handy gauge of future commodities demand but also a country’s or region’s economic growth potential.  

For the first time in recent memory, most emerging European economies’ PMIs are above the key 50 mark that separates growth from contraction. Greece rose from 49.6 in May to 50.5 in June, the first time its manufacturing sector was in expansion mode in nearly a year.

Emerging Europe economies PMIs all above 50 in June
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Russia grew at a much slower pace in June, however, with its PMI falling to 50.3, just above the threshold. But as I shared with you this week, Capital Economics analysts believe Russian growth in the coming quarters “will be stronger than most anticipate,” with the Central Bank of Russia loosening monetary policy even further.

The fact that all CEE countries are above 50 points to synchronized growth. It also suggests that the worst of the region’s economic woes following the global recession might finally be in the rearview mirror.

Poland the Next “Economic Powerhouse”?

Writing recently for the New York Times’ opinions section, Ruchier Sharma, Morgan Stanley Investment Management’s chief global strategist, singled out Poland as the world’s likeliest next advanced economy, following South Korea’s entry into the high-income club 20 years ago.

I have to agree. As Sharma points out, Poland has seen average annual growth of 4 percent since 1991, the year it transitioned from communism to democracy. During that period, it hasn’t had a single down year, amazingly enough.

The Polish economy continued to grow at an annual rate of nearly 4 percent in the second quarter, as suggested by the May retail sales and industrial output data. According to mBank analysts, fiscal-year growth will slightly exceed 4 percent, driven by public investments recovery and persistently strong consumption. The real retail sales growth in the second quarter held close to the prior-quarter level, which means that consumption growth should remain at around 5 percent, mBank estimates.

Poland’s impressive ascent should only help strengthen other CEE countries, both economically and politically. Its president, Andrzej Duda, seems fully aware of this and has taken several important strides to improve not just Poland’s economy but the region’s as well. The Three Seas Initiative, spearheaded last year by Duda and Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi?, seeks to connect the economies and infrastructure of 12 CEE countries between the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas. A number of EU officials see the Initiative as a threat to the EU bloc’s unity, which might be partially why President Trump agreed to meet with Initiative members when he visited Poland last month.

nations that signed the three seas initiative

Stocks on the Rise

Also contributing to CEE growth right now is the steadily weakening U.S. dollar, as Reuters reports. Prague stocks rose to a seven-week high this week, while Hungary’s Budapest Stock Exchange Index (BUX) continues to hit new all-time highs.

Budapest stock exchange index (BUX) continues to hit new highs
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Speaking of Hungary, its government is considering whether to lower personal income taxes to 10 percent from the current 15 percent. This would be a major boost to Hungarians’ disposable income, which is already rising at a breathtaking pace. Wage growth in April was an amazing 14.6 percent.

Again, the CEE region looks more and more like a good place to invest, not least of which because of its attractive discount to American equities.

 

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.

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

The MSCI Emerging Markets Europe Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance in the emerging markets countries of Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Russia, and Turkey).

The Budapest Stock Exchange Index is a capitalization-weightedindex adjusted for free float. The index tracks the daily price only performance of large, actively traded shares on the Budapest Stock Exchange.

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Russia Collusion Story: A Big “Nothing Burger” or a Case for Gold?
July 17, 2017

Russia Collusion Story: A Big “Nothing Burger” or a Case for Gold?

Gold got a boost Friday on weaker-than-expected inflation and retail sales figures, casting doubt on the Federal Reserve’s ability to continue normalizing interest rates this year.

Consumer prices rose slightly in June, at their slowest pace so far this year. The consumer price index (CPI), released on Friday, showed the cost of living in America rising only 1.6 percent compared to the same month last year, significantly down from the most recent high of 2.8 percent in February and below the Fed’s target of 2 percent. Much of the decline was due to energy prices, which fell 1.6 percent from May.

consumer prices continued to expand in june yet at a slower pace
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As I’ve explained elsewhere, CPI is an important economic indicator for gold investors to track. The yellow metal has historically responded positively when inflation rises—and especially when it pushes the yield on a government bond into negative territory. Why lock your money up in a 2-year or 5-year Treasury that’s guaranteed to give you a negative yield?

portfolio manager samuel paleaz poses near equipment in macraes the largest gold mine in new zealand

But right now the gold Fear Trade is being supported by what some are calling turmoil in the Trump administration. Last week the Russia collusion story took a new twist, with emails surfacing showing that Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and now-senior advisor; and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort all agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer last summer under the pretext that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Whether or not this meeting is “collusion” is not for me to say, but the optics of it certainly look bad, and it threatens to undermine the president’s agenda even more. For the first time last week, an article of impeachment was formally introduced on the House floor that accuses Trump of obstructing justice. The article is unlikely to go very far in the Republican-controlled House, but it adds further uncertainty to Trump’s ability to achieve some of his goals, including tax reform and infrastructure spending. I’ll have more to say on this later

A Contrarian View of China

A new report from CLSA shows that Asian markets and Europe were the top performers during the first six months of the year. Korea took the top spot, surging more than 25 percent, followed closely by China.

asia and europe are the top market drivers so far this year
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Despite persistent negative “news” about China in the mainstream media, conditions in the world’s second-largest economy are improving. Consumption is up and household income remains strong. The number of high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in China—those with at least 10 million renminbi ($1.5 million) in investable income—rose to 1.6 million last year, about nine times the number only 10 years ago. It’s estimated we could see as many as 1.87 million Chinese HNWIs by the end of 2017.

According to CLSA, global trade is robust, with emerging markets, and particularly China, driving most of the acceleration this year. In the first three months of 2017, global trade grew 4 percent compared to the same period last year, its fastest pace since 2011.

“Indeed the early months of 2017 have seen China become easily the biggest single country driver of Asian trade growth,” writes Eric Fishwick, head of economic research at CLSA.

A lot of this growth can be attributed to Beijing’s monumental One Belt, One Road infrastructure project, which I’ve highlighted many times before. But according to Alexious Lee, CLSA’s head of China industrial research, a “more nationalist America” in the first six months of the year has likely given China more leverage to assume “a larger global, and especially regional, leadership role.”

This comports with what I said back in January, in a Frank Talk titled “China Sets the Stage to Replace the U.S. as Global Trade Leader.” With President Donald Trump having already withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and promising to renegotiate or tear up other trade agreements—he recently tweeted that the U.S. has “made some of the worst Trade Deals in world history”—China has emerged, amazingly, as a champion of free trade, a position of power it will likely continue to capitalize on.

The country’s overseas construction orders have continued to expand, with agreements signed since 2013 valued at more than $600 billion.

business is booming for china
click to enlarge

 

Emerging Europe Expected to Remain Strong

Another recent report, this one from Capital Economics, shows that the investment case for emerging Europe remains strong in 2017. Russia is expected to strengthen over the next 12 months, while Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are likely to remain attractive.

“Russia’s economy has pulled out of recession and growth in the coming quarters will be stronger than most anticipate,” the research firm writes, adding that its central bank’s loosening of monetary policy should support the recovery even further.

To be sure, the region faces strong headwinds, including a rapidly aging population and the loss of an estimated 20 million skilled workers to foreign markets over the past 25 years, according to a July 11 presentation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But I believe that as conditions in central emerging Europe countries continue to improve, many of those workers will be returning home. Life in the region is not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago, when good jobs might have been scarce. Firms are now growing at a healthy rate and hiring more workers. As you can see below, unemployment rates in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been falling steadily since at least 2012 and are now lower than the broader European Union.    

emerging europe countries hard at work
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This strength is reflected in emerging Europe’s capital markets. For the 12-month period as of July 12, Hungary’s Budapest Stock Exchange is up 38 percent. Poland’s WIG20 is up more than 43 percent. Meanwhile, the STOXX Europe 600 Index—which includes some of the largest Western European companies—has made gains of only 17 percent over the same period.

 

Markets Still Believe in Trump

As we all know, the mainstream media’s criticism and ire aren’t reserved for China alone. Ninety-nine percent of the media right now is against President Trump, for a number of reasons—some of them deserved, some of them not.

Markets, however, seem not to care what the media or polls have to say. The Dow Jones Industrial Average continues to hit new all-time highs. Even though it’s stalled a few times, the “Trump rally” appears to be in full-speed-ahead mode, more than eight months after the election.

Back in November, I wrote about one of my favorite books, James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, which argues that large groups of people will nearly always be smarter and better at making predictions than an “elite” few. Surowiecki’s ideas were vindicated last year when investors accurately predicted Trump’s election, with markets turning negative between July 31 and October 31.

For the same reason, I think it’s important we pay close attention to what markets are forecasting today.

The White House is under siege on multiple fronts, which, as I said, has been positive for gold’s Fear Trade. But equity investors also seem to like the direction Trump is taking, whether it’s pushing for tax reform and deregulation or shaking up the “beltway party,” composed of deeply entrenched D.C. lobbyists and career bureaucrats. Just last week, the president made waves for firing a number of bureaucrats at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), long plagued by scandal and controversy. Since he took office in January, Trump has told more than 500 VA workers “You’re fired!”   

The Fundamentals of “Quantamental”

Of course, we look at so much more than government policy when making investment decisions. We take a blended approach of not only assessing fundamentals such as market share and returns on capital but also conducting quantitative analysis.

It’s this combination that some in the industry are calling “quantamental” investing. At first glance, “quantamental” might sound like nothing more than cute wordplay—not unlike “labsky,” “bullmation” and other clever names we give mixed-breed dogs—but it’s rapidly replacing traditional investment strategies at the institutional level.

Business Insider puts it in simple terms: “Quantamental managers combine the bottom-up stock-picking skills of fundamental investors with the use of computing power and big-data sets to test their hypotheses.”

See my Vancouver Investment Conference presentation, “What’s Driving Gold: The Invasion of the Quants,” to learn more about how we use quantitative analysis, machine learning and data mining.

Wall Street: The Birthplace of American Capitalism and Government

moments after closing bell june 29

The concept of quantamentals helps explain our entry into smart-factor ETFs. As most of you already know, members of my team and I visited the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) three weeks ago to mark the launch of our latest ETF.

While there, Doug Yones, head of exchange-traded products at the NYSE, gave us a short history lesson about the exchange and surrounding area.

Most investors are aware that the NYSE, which is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year, is the epicenter of capitalism—not just in the U.S. but also globally.

moments after closing bell june 29

What many people might not realize is that on the site where the exchange now stands, Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. treasury secretary, floated bonds to replace the debt the nascent country had incurred during the Revolutionary War.

Right next door to the NYSE is Federal Hall, where George Washington took his first oath of office in April 1789. The building today serves as a museum and memorial to the first U.S. president, whose statue now looks out over Wall Street and its passersby.

In this one single block of Wall Street, therefore, American capitalism and government were born. Here you can find the essential DNA of the American experiment, which, over the many years, has fostered our entrepreneurial spirit to form capital and to create new businesses and jobs. Growth, innovation and competition run through our veins, and that’s largely because of the events that unfolded centuries ago at the NYSE and Federal Hall.

For more insight and commentary like this, subscribe to my award-winning 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. 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 Budapest Stock Exchange Index is a capitalization-weighted index adjusted for free float. The index tracks the daily price-only performance of large, actively traded shares on the Budapest Stock Exchange. The WIG20 Index is a modified capitalization-weighted index of 20 Polish stocks which are listed on the main market. The STOXX Europe 600 Index is derived from the STOXX Europe Total Market Index (TMI) and is a subset of the STOXX Global 1800 Index. With a fixed number of 600 components, the STOXX Europe 600 Index represents large, mid and small capitalization companies across 18 countries of the European region: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry.

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Commodities Halftime Report: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
July 10, 2017

amber waves of grain wheat is the best performing commodity of 2017

Of the 14 commodities we track closely at U.S. Global Investors, wheat rose to take the top spot for the first half of 2017, returning more than 25 percent. The grain was followed closely by palladium—used primarily in the production of catalytic converters—which gained 24 percent.

seperating the wheat from the chaff
click to enlarge

To view our ever-popular, interactive Periodic Table of Commodity Returns, click here.

Between the start of the year and June 30, the Bloomberg Commodity Index contracted 4.03 percent, with energy weighing down on the mostly strong performances of precious and industrial metals and agriculturals.

Contributing to metals’ gains was U.S. dollar weakness. During the first six months, the greenback lost 7.54 percent, responding partially to President Donald Trump’s comment in April that the dollar was “getting too strong.”

More recently, the president tweeted his thoughts on gas prices, which he pointed out were “the lowest in the U.S. in over ten years” for the July Fourth holiday. “I would like to see them go even lower,” he added.

Trump Goes to Warsaw

Speaking of Trump, I feel as if he has represented the U.S. and its values admirably during his visit to Europe last week. His speech in Warsaw sought to strengthen ties between America and Poland, which the New York Times just named the “next economic powerhouse.”

ahead of the g20 meeting this week, Presidend Trump and First Lady Melania arrived in Poland, greeted by Polish President Adrezej Duda and wife Agata.

Trump drew attention to a danger that’s “invisible” yet every bit as dangerous as terrorism and extremism—namely, “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.”

The U.S. and Poland “became great not because of paperwork and regulations,” the president said, “but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”

This is the Trump I believe voters elected last November. If he were only able to stay on message and give his Twitter account a rest, he might more easily help engender and inspire an environment that better reflects the vision he described to his Polish audience.

I’m also encouraged by his first one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. From what I’ve read, it sounds as if the two leaders managed to make some progress on Syria, with both sides agreeing to cooperate in maintaining “safe zones.”

Oil Embroiled

Regarding lower gas prices, Trump just might get his wish. Having fallen 14.30 percent in the first six months, oil is currently underperforming its price action of the past four years.

2017 oil underperforming the past four years
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Much of the thanks for oil’s slump goes to U.S. shale producers, which were quick to reactivate dormant rigs following the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) December announcement that it would be cutting production. As a result, the market is awash in black gold. In May, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that domestic output should average 9.3 million barrels a day this year and nearly 10 million in 2018, a level unseen in the U.S. since 1970.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) popped above $47 a barrel last week, however, on news that oil and gas inventories in the U.S. dropped sharply the previous week. What’s more, the number of active North American oil rigs fell by two in the week ended June 30, from 758 to 756 rigs, the first such contraction since January, according to the Baker Hughes Rig Count.

Although constructive, there’s still quite a bit of terrain to cover before oil reaches the low- to mid-$50s we saw at the start of the year.

Where’s the Wheat?

As I told you back in May, the U.S. reclaimed its longstanding title as the world’s number one wheat exporter this year, displacing Russia, whose weak currency gave the Eastern European country a competitive advantage.

We might soon slip to second place yet again, for two primary reasons: 1) low U.S. wheat plantings and 2) severe droughts and unexpectedly hot weather conditions in the Northern Plains.

According to a March report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), American farmers just aren’t planting wheat like they used to. Not only are we seeing shrinkage in the acreage devoted to the amber grain—more and more farmers are switching to soybeans—but wheat seedings are down for a second straight year. The USDA, in fact, estimates them to be at their lowest level ever since records began nearly 100 years ago in 1919.

As to the second point, severe to extreme hot and dry weather conditions in the Northern Plains—specifically in areas of Montana and the Dakotas—are putting wheat (and corn) on the defensive. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of Montana just experienced their driest May and June in 99 years and the driest January through June since 1983. Last week alone, temperatures in the region surged into the 90s and 100s, about 15 to 20 degrees above the norm. These conditions are expected to persist for several more weeks.

drought in the northern plains has impacted spring wheat conditions
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Supply constraints have pushed the grain up 25 percent so far this year to a nearly two-year high. A bushel now costs a little over $5, but some analysts see it rising above $6 and $7.

Precious Metals Continue to Shine

Also benefiting from limited supply is silver, which climbed nearly 4.5 percent as of June 30. The Silver Institute reported in May that global silver mine production in 2016 declined for the first time in 14 years on lower-than-expected output from lead, zinc and gold projects. World supply decreased 0.6 percent year-over-year, or about 32.6 million ounces.

Meanwhile, silver’s use in solar photovoltaic (PV) cells hit a new record high last year, further boosting demand. As I shared with you in May, solar ranked as the number one source of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2016, followed by natural gas and wind.

In the first half of 2017, palladium, the silvery-white metal used in the production of catalytic converters, has surged to a 16-year high on speculative demand.

palladium price closing in on 16 year high
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At first blush, this trade might seem counterintuitive. After all, gas-powered vehicles, which use catalytic converters to control emissions, are expected to be surpassed in sales by electric vehicles, which do not require palladium, as early as 2040. Volvo just announced that it would completely phase out gas-only vehicles by 2019. Meanwhile, Tesla’s first mass-market battery electric vehicle (BEV) finally hit production last week.

Driving palladium’s rally this year, though, are bets that European car buyers will soon be switching from diesel-burning to gas-burning cars because of emissions concerns.

portfolio manager samuel paleaz poses near equipment in macraes the largest gold mine in new zealand

Palladium—one of the rarest elements on earth and mined almost exclusively in Russia and South Africa—is the smallest precious metals market, making its prices particularly vulnerable to such speculative trading. It’s achieved near-price parity with its sister metal, platinum, for the first time in two decades.  

On the other end of the spectrum is gold, whose market is larger than many major global stock and bond markets. Those include U.K. gilts, German bunds, the FTSE 100 Index, the Hang Seng Index and others.

Up 7.75 percent in the first six months, gold was supported largely by strong demand in India as consumers made their purchases ahead of the government’s Goods and Services Tax (GST), in effect since July 1, which levies a 3 percent tax on gold.

The impact of the country’s demonetization in December is also still being felt, with Indians’ confidence in fiat currencies tested. I believe Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheme to combat black money and public corruption, while admirable, has only reinforced Indians’ faith in the yellow metal as a store of value.

With consumer prices in the U.S. possibly set to begin rising on President Trump’s more protectionist policies—once he can get them enacted—gold priced in dollars could also be headed higher.

The Road Ahead

There’s a lot we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the second half of the year. For one, look to India’s upcoming Diwali holiday and fourth-quarter wedding season, during which gold gift-giving is considered auspicious.

Earlier in the year, I was excited about Trump’s ambitious infrastructure agenda, which would have greatly boosted domestic demand for base metals and energy. But with the Senate still locked in negotiations over what to do about Obamacare, an infrastructure deal looks as if it’s months if not years away.

Finally, I think with Tesla firing up its Nevada-based Gigafactory, investors would be prudent to keep their eyes on aluminum, cobalt, nickel and especially copper, as electric vehicles use around three times as much of the red metal as conventional vehicles. Lithium, which I featured back in March, is also expected to be a beneficiary of the move to BEVs.

 

 

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 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.
The FTSE 100 Index is an index of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization.

The Hang Seng Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 33 companies that represent approximately 70 percent of the total market capitalization of The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong.

The Baker Hughes North American rig count is released weekly at noon central time on the last day of the work week. 

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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Investor Beware! What Does the Illinois Budget Crisis Mean for Your Bond Fund?
July 6, 2017

L-Train Tracks, Pilsen Neighborhood Chicago Illinois

A recent Capital Economics (CE) report shines an unforgiving light on Illinois’ ongoing budget woes—and what it finds isn’t pretty. The crisis, which has affected every level of government in the state, is a cautionary tale for not only public spending run amok but also independent investors taking too large of a risk by seeking high yields.

The Land of Lincoln’s credit is already the lowest-rated in the union and, until recently, its debt came precariously close to being downgraded to “junk.” Were this to happen, it would become the first state ever to receive such an ignoble rating.

The state’s 10-year bond yield has soared in recent months, which might attract certain unwary speculators. It’s our belief, however, that such debt should generally be avoided, as the risks are especially high.

Illinois 10-Year Bond Yield Soared as State Flirted with "Junk" Status
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As I write this, a state budget could possibly be successfully negotiated, making it the first time in over two years that Illinois has operated with a budget. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner already vetoed the first bill that reached his desk, which includes tax hikes, but the veto was immediately overridden by the State Senate and is now headed for the House.

No matter the outcome, the point here is that political dysfunction is unfavorable—to put it lightly—and muni investors should remain cautious.

Illinois isn’t the only state facing problems. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are all (or were) mired in similar budgetary impasses. New Jersey public beaches reopened just in time for July 4 celebrations after a high-profile government shutdown closed them down.

For many muni investors, navigating around these numerous pitfalls might seem overwhelming. That’s why I believe an actively-managed municipal bond fund such as our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) could be the solution.

More than 95 percent of NEARX is invested in munis that hold between an A and AAA investment-grade rating as of March 31. What this means is we’ve historically avoided exposure to debt issued by poorly-managed municipalities.

We also like to stay on the short end of the yield curve, especially now that the Federal Reserve has begun a new interest rate cycle. When rates rise, bond prices fall, and short- and intermediate-term munis are less sensitive to rate increases than longer-term munis whose maturities are further out.

To learn more about how rates affect municipal bonds, read our whitepaper.

On the Brink of Bankruptcy

Illinois’ total debt currently stands at about $60 billion, according to Capital Economics, which is above Detroit’s $20 billion bankruptcy in 2013 and just below Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt. The state’s unfunded pensions—for teachers, professors, state employees, judges, emergency personnel and more—could be as high as $250 billion. That puts each Illinoisan on the hook for an estimated $56,000.

Political dysfunction and mismanagement are bad enough, but the state’s adverse demographics make matters even worse.

Illinois is one of only four states whose populations shrank over the past five years, the others being Connecticut, Vermont and West Virginia. CE estimates that over the next decade, the state’s population could grow only 2.2 percent, far below the national average. The number of retirees, meanwhile, could surge 34 percent.

Bottom 10 State Percent Changes in U.S. Population, 2010-2016
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That means fewer working-age Illinoisans are expected to be counted on to support retirees in the coming years, driving up the amount of unfunded pensions even higher.

So even if the Illinois government can resolve its budget soon, we see this as only a short-term fix. The state has even larger obstacles emerging on the horizon.

Our Solution

Again, this is why I think an actively-managed muni fund like NEARX is an attractive solution. Whereas other muni funds might accumulate Illinois debt based on its high yield, regardless of risk, we generally have stuck to investment-grade munis.

It must be said that if you look at NEARX’s holdings today, you’ll see that Illinois is one of its top issuers. The bonds were purchased at an earlier time, before the state’s budgetary problems really began to worsen. We haven’t accumulated any more since it became clear to us that the risks were too great.

We continue to hold the debt because we’re confident the state’s government can successfully unravel the political gridlock and arrive at a short-term resolution. It’s the state’s long-term demographic risks that investors should especially worry about. Our longest Illinois bonds mature in 2021, and as long as the state doesn’t default in the next four years—which, in our opinion, is highly unlikely—we should get a good return on the bonds based on their yield when they were purchased.

 

 

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.

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.

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

The Near-Term Tax Free Fund invests at least 80 percent of its net assets in investment-grade municipal securities. At the time of purchase for the fund's portfolio, the ratings on the bonds must be one of the four highest ratings by Moody's Investors Services (Aaa, Aa, A, Baa) or Standard & Poor's Corporation (AAA, AA, A, BBB). Credit quality designations range from high (AAA to AA) to medium (A to BBB) to low (BB, B, CCC, CC to C). In the event a bond is rated by more than one of the ratings organizations, the highest rating is shown.

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Net Asset Value
as of 07/26/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.70 0.03 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.20 0.13 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $6.52 0.15 China Region Fund USCOX $10.09 -0.06 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.68 0.08 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.60 -0.04 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $20.10 -0.12 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.23 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change