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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.

Muni Bonds Have Performed Well in Volatile Times
February 3, 2016

Like winter storm Jonas, strong volatility has swept through global markets

Like Winter Storm Jonas, which has disrupted life on the East Coast with up to 30 inches of snow in some cities, strong levels of volatility are sweeping through global markets, from the U.S. to China. The Shanghai Composite Index closed at a 13-month low on Tuesday, while the S&P 500 Index has lost over 7 percent year-to-date.

And with more storm clouds brewing on the horizon, many investors are looking for ways to help them batten down the hatches.

Many investors, sensing additional risk in stocks, have been able to find shelter in municipal bonds, which in the past have provided a certain level of stability in times of turmoil. It’s important to be aware, though, that interest rates and bond prices have an inverse relationship. When one rises, the other declines, and vice versa.

Bond Prices, maturity in years, Interest Rates seesaw

Munis also come equipped with attractive tax advantages, shielding investors from taxes at the federal level and often at the state and local levels too. That means they can help “Obamacare-proof” your interest from the 3.8 percent Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax on investment income (applicable to those who make more than $200,000 in taxable income per year).

In 2015, munis, as represented by the Barclays Municipal Bond Index, were actually the top fixed-income asset class, beating both Treasuries and corporate debt. But they also outperformed S&P 500 stocks, gaining more than double what equities delivered.

Muni Bonds Outperformed Other Major Bond Categories in 2015
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Our own Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) saw its 21st straight year of positive returns in 2015, a rare accomplishment that has been achieved by only 39 out of 31,306 equity and fund bonds—around 0.12 percent—according to Morningstar data.

In Various interest Rate Environments, NEARX Has Had 21 Straight Years of Positive Returns
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For more than two decades, we’ve continued to deliver this exceptional level of performance, whether rates were falling or, as is the case now, rising. NEARX invests in short-term municipal bonds, which are much less sensitive to these changes.

Demand Likely to Climb Higher

Billions of dollars fled domestic equity funds on a near-weekly basis in 2015 as investors anticipated a rate hike, which the Federal Reserve finally implemented in December. Meanwhile, muni fund inflows gained momentum in the second half of the year as global stock markets began to show signs of trouble.

Investors Piled into Muni Funds, Fled Domestic Equity Funds
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So far this year, investors are piling into the $3.7 trillion muni market at a rate of about $1 billion per week.

According to Kiplinger’s 2016 Outlook for Municipal Bonds, incremental rate hikes pose much less downside risk to municipal bonds than to Treasuries of equivalent maturities. In the past, Kiplinger says, the market value of munis has fallen between 50 and 60 percent less than the market value of Treasuries has fallen. Government bonds have typically been more sensitive to changes in U.S. interest rates, as they have a much higher proportion of foreign buyers and sellers from countries where local rates might be more stable or moving in the opposite direction. Supply and demand in the muni market, limited mostly to U.S. buyers, is much tighter.

Limiting Volatility

We’ve managed to provide investors with 21 straight years of positive growth in not only various interest rate environments but also in equity bull markets and bear markets.

If a hypothetical $100,000 had been invested in both NEARX and S&P 500 stocks at the end of 1999, it would have taken 13 years for the equities to climb ahead. (Figures include reinvestment of capital gains and dividends, but the performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus which, if applicable, would lower your total returns.)

Near-Term Tax Free Fund vs. S&P 500 Index
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Granted, the two major drops in value during this period—first when the tech bubble burst, then during the financial crisis—were among the worst the market has ever witnessed, investors shouldn’t expect NEARX to outperform at all times. Also, we just ended a phenomenal seven-year equity bull run. What the chart above shows is that the fund has historically demonstrated a greater likelihood of dodging the dramatic swings the equity market has experienced in times of uncommonly high volatility.

 

 

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.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Total Annualized Returns as of 12/31/2015
Fund One- Year Five-Year Ten-Year Gross
Expense
Ratio
Expense
Cap
Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) 1.45% 2.34% 3.03% 1.08% 0.45%
S&P 500 Index 1.38% 12.57% 7.31% N/A N/A

Expense ratio as stated in the most recent prospectus. The expense cap is a contractual limit through April 30, 2016, for the Near-Term Tax Free Fund, on total fund operating expenses (exclusive of acquired fund fees and expenses, extraordinary expenses, taxes, brokerage commissions and interest). Performance data quoted above is historical. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. For a portion of periods, the fund had expense limitations, without which returns would have been lower. Current performance may be higher or lower than the performance data quoted. The principal value and investment return of an investment will fluctuate so that your shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus, which, if applicable, would lower your total returns. Performance quoted for periods of one year or less is cumulative and not annualized. Obtain performance data current to the most recent month-end at www.usfunds.com or 1-800-US-FUNDS.

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.

Investors should be aware of risks involved in corporate bonds, such as default risk, credit risk, liquidity risk and economic risk. These risks increase with high-yield, or so-called “junk,” bonds. Although U.S. Treasury bonds are often referred to as risk-free, they do carry certain risks such as opportunity risk, interest rate fluctuations and rising prices. Stock markets can be volatile and share prices can fluctuate in response to sector-related and other risks.

The Barclays Municipal Bond Index is an unmanaged index representative of the tax-exempt bond market. The Shanghai Composite Index (SSE) is an index of all stocks that trade on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies.

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

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Recession on the Horizon? Look at the Big Picture
February 1, 2016

Central Banks Could be running out of tricks to stimulate their economies. U.S. Global Investors

Today the Bank of Japan (BoJ) rattled global markets on Friday by announcing its adoption of a negative interest rate policy intended to spur banks to lend and consumers to spend. The world’s third-largest economy, then, joins a handful of European countries who are experimenting with less-than-zero rates, among them Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden, which I’ve written about previously.

The BoJ’s move is just the latest to suggest that global central banks’ bag of tricks to stimulate growth is quickly running empty, and that the imbalance between monetary and fiscal policies continues to accelerate. Negative rates charge banks for parking excess cash and ultimately punish savers, yet make gold more attractive.

Already companies and individuals are more indebted than ever before.

Bloomberg reports that corporate leveraging around the world has reached an unprecedented, and arresting, $29 trillion. In 2015, debt reached three times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a 12-year record. An estimated one third of these companies, meanwhile, are unable to generate enough returns on investment to cover the cost of credit.

Global Corporate Debt-to-Earnings Ratio Is at a 12-Year High
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If this is a debt bubble, it only adds to speculation that we’re headed for a global recession. As I mentioned recently, several prominent voices, including George Soros and Marc Faber, believe recessionary forces are growing stronger, precipitated by struggling commodity prices and surging global debt.

It might be hard to remember after a nearly seven-year equity bull market, but we’ve been here before.

Credit Suisse looked at 14 recessionary pullbacks between 1929 and 2008 and found that the S&P 500 Index, after lasting an average 298 trading days, declined an average 33 percent. Some of these recessions, obviously, lasted longer and were more severe than others, such as the most recent one that lasted between 2007 and 2009.

Since 1929, the S&P 500 Index Has Averaged a 33% Decline During Recessionary Pullbacks
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But each of these pullbacks, Credit Suisse notes, provided ample buying opportunities in U.S. equities. Rebounds following the recessions averaged 62 percent—80 percent following the 2007 financial crisis.

How to Invest When Stocks Make You Worry

Whether or not a recession is imminent, I believe it’s a good idea for investors to be prepared by having a well-diversified portfolio, including assets such as gold and municipal bonds. Gold has tended to have a low correlation with stocks, meaning that even when stocks were tumbling, it’s managed to retain its value well. The same can be said for short-term, high-quality munis, which have been shown to offer a greater amount of stability than some other types of securities, even during market downturns.

In 2015, munis, as represented by the Barclays Municipal Bond Index, were actually the top fixed-income asset class, beating both Treasuries and corporate debt. They also outperformed S&P 500 Index stocks, returning more than double what equities delivered.

Muni Bonds Outperformed Other Major Bond Categories in 2015
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Muni fund inflows gained momentum in the second half of 2015 as global stock markets began to show signs of trouble, and so far this year, investors are piling into munis at a rate of about $1 billion per week.

The last couple of decades were among the most volatile, with the tech bubble and financial crisis challenging markets. Out of more than 31,000 equity and bond funds during this 21-year period, only 0.12 percent of the total number, made up almost completely of municipal and short-term bond funds, managed to delivered positive returns on a consistent basis. Learn more about the $3.7 trillion muni market!

Did Russia Just Blink?

Several forecasts last week suggest oil prices are unlikely to recover in 2016—and might fall even further.

Morgan Stanley says crude could reach $20 per barrel as the U.S. dollar continues to strengthen. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that we might not see supply and demand start to rebalance and prices recover until late 2017. And the World Bank lowered its 2016 forecast for crude oil prices, from $51 per barrel on average to $37 per barrel. The downward revision is based on a number of factors, including sooner-than-expected oil exports from Iran, a mild winter in the Northern Hemisphere and, most significantly, continued imbalance between global supply and demand. U.S. producers have been much more resilient than expected to lower oil prices.

But talk that meaningful production cuts are on the horizon led oil higher last week, helping it achieve its first three-day winning streak of the new year. In the global production staring contest, it appears as if Russia blinked first, as it just expressed an interest in reaching terms with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on output cuts.

Like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iraq and Venezuela, Russia greatly depends on oil exports, the revenue from which makes up about half of its government’s total revenue. The country averaged 10.5 million barrels a day in 2014, making it the world’s third-largest oil producer after the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Coupled with Western sanctions for its involvement in Ukraine, low prices have wreaked havoc on Russia’s economy, which contracted 3.7 percent in 2015 and is expected to fall another 1 percent this year. The ruble, which closely tracks the decline in Brent oil, has lost approximately half its value against the U.S. dollar in the last two years.

Russian Ruble Has Tracked Brent Oil's Decline
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Reaching a production cap deal with OPEC, whose members are collectively responsible for about 40 percent of the world’s output, would help rebalance supply and demand and firm up prices.

Oil has historically bottomed in the month of January, and it appears that we finally found a bottom. It remains under pressure, but we could see oil climb to between $38 and $40 per barrel over the next three months.

In the longer term, things look more constructive. Oil will continue to be the world’s most important source of energy for at least the next couple of decades, according to a new report from ExxonMobil. We should expect to see a 25 percent increase in energy demand by 2040, which is like adding another North and South America.

Looking at transportation fuels, natural gas demand is expected to grow the most—300 percent between 2014 and 2040. Jet fuel should climb 55 percent as air travel demand increases in emerging and developing markets.

Global Transportation Demand by Fuel Type on the Rise
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China Still a Long-Term Growth Story

Higher Incomes in China Spur Demand for Durable Goods

By 2040, the world population should surge to nine billion, with a greater percentage of people than ever before demanding affordable, reliable energy for their homes and businesses.

Even though its demand for materials and commodities has cooled in the last year, China should continue to see huge consumption growth in durable goods for many years to come as its GDP per capita expands.

Back in October, Credit Suisse reported that the size of China’s middle class had, for the first time, overtaken the size of the American middle class, 109 million adults compared to 92 million. As this group increases in number, so too rises the demand for durable goods, vehicles, energy and other things we expect to find in a middle class lifestyle.

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

In a report last week, McKinsey & Company’s Gordon Orr urges readers to focus on the absolute scale of China’s economy, not just slowing growth.

“No matter what rate the country grows at in 2016,” Orr writes, “its share of the global economy and of many specific sectors will be larger than ever.”

For forward-looking global investors, that’s optimistic news indeed. 

 

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

The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The Barclays Municipal Bond Index is an unmanaged index representative of the tax-exempt bond market.

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Comparisons to 2008 Spark Gold’s Fear Trade
January 25, 2016

Are we headed for another 2008? George Soros thinks so.Plunging oil prices, rising market volatility, surging global debt—it’s all beginning to remind some investors of 2008. Earlier this month, billionaire former hedge fund manager George Soros warned of an impending financial crisis similar to the last major one, which sent shockwaves throughout global markets.     

The comparisons to 2008 have triggered gold’s Fear Trade, with many investors scrambling into safe haven assets. Jeffrey Gundlach, the legendary “bond king,” recently made a call that amid further market turmoil, the metal could spike as much as 30 percent, to $1,400 an ounce.

Making such predictions is often a fool’s game, but there’s no denying that gold demand is on the rise, both in the U.S. and abroad. For the one-month period ended January 20, gold (and silver) outperformed, comfortably beating domestic equities as well as a basket of other commodities.

Precious Metals on Top in 2016
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I’ve already shared with you the fact that gold has historically had a low correlation with equities. This point is worth reiterating: When equities have zigged, gold has zagged. And with volatility high in global markets right now, many investors are choosing to rotate a portion of their portfolios into the precious metal.

Marc Faber suggests that it might be a good time to get back into gold.

This was the advice of my friend Marc Faber, who recently warned investors in his influential “Gloom, Boom & Doom Report” newsletter that global stocks could fall an additional 40 percent on mounting liquidity and debt problems. In the event such a crisis occurs, Marc says, investing in gold—which, again, has been shown to be inversely correlated with stocks—might be one way to protect one’s wealth.

I’ve always recommended a 10 percent weighting in gold: 5 percent in physical bullion, the other 5 percent in gold stocks or mutual funds. This applies in all market conditions, good or bad.

Something else I want to draw attention to in the chart above is the extreme divergence in performance between gold and oil, which is trading at levels we haven’t seen in a long while. Declines in oil have traditionally invited enormous selloffs in other commodities, making gold’s resilience at this time all the more impressive.

China Consumed Nearly All of Global Gold Output in 2015

Investors in China appear to recognize the importance of gold in times of market uncertainty. Since June 2015, the Shanghai Composite Index has dropped close to 45 percent, prompting scores of retail investors to pivot into safe haven assets such as gold. As you can see below, 2015 was a blowout year for the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE), which in the past has served as a good measure of wholesale demand in China.

Physical Gold Delivered from Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) vs. World Mining Output
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Not only did gold deliveries climb to a record number of tonnes in 2015, they also represented more than 90 percent of the total global output of the yellow metal for the year.

The SGE has made it incredibly easy for Chinese citizens to participate in gold investing. Recently it rolled out a smartphone app, making it more convenient than ever before to open an account and begin trading.

Gold Miners Are Winners of the Currency Wars

Gold priced in the strong U.S. dollar might have netted a loss in 2015, but in many other parts of the world, prices were either stable or even made gains. For buyers of gold in non-dollar economies, it’s the local price that matters most, not the dollar. In Russia, the third-largest producer, the metal rose 12 percent—and came close to an all-time high. In South Africa, the sixth-largest, it was well above the all-time high. Investors there saw returns of greater than 20 percent in 2015.

Gold Was Positive in Non-Dollar Currencies
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This has been beneficial to many mining companies based outside the U.S. Operations are paid for in local currencies—most of which have weakened in the last year—but companies sell their production in U.S. dollars. This has helped offset the decline in gold prices since they peaked in 2011.

Canadian-based companies such as Claude Resources, Richmont and Agnico Eagle Mines are performing well, even in the gold bear market and amid high volatility.

Canadian Gold Stock Performance
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For the last three years, gold miners all over the globe have been thoroughly beaten up. Today, they’re heavily discounted, and there are signs that conditions are stabilizing.

Managing Expectations

With the Fear Trade heating up, it’s important that we manage our expectations. The length and extent of the current bear market, which began in September 2011, might seem unprecedented to many investors. In actuality, it doesn’t veer very far from what we’ve seen in the past, according to data presented by the World Gold Council (WGC).

Current Gold Bear Market Not Far off the Mean
January 1970 – January 2016
Current Gold Bear Market Not Far off the Mean BULL MARKET Current Gold Bear Market Not Far off the Mean BEAR MARKET
Dates Length (months) Cumulative Return Dates Length (months) Cumulative Return
Jan 1970 -
Jan 1975 
61 451.4% Jan 1975 -
Sep 1976
20  -46.4%
Oct 1976 -
Feb 1980
41 721.3% Feb 1980 -
Mar 1985
61 -55.9%
Mar 1985 -
Dec 1987
33 75.8% Dec 1987 -
Mar 1993
63 -34.7%
Apr 1993 -
Feb 1996
35 27.2% Feb 1996 -
Sep 1999
43 -39.1%
Oct 1999 -
Sep 2011
144 649.6% Sep 2011 -
Present
52 -44.1%
Average 63 385.1% Average 47 -44.0%
Median 41 451.4% Median 52 -42.7%
Source: World Gold Council, U.S. Global Investors

Reaching back to 1970, the WGC identified five bull and bear markets, with bull markets defined as periods when gold prices rose for longer than two consecutive years, bear markets as the subsequent periods when they fell for a sustained length of time. Although these lengths vary, the cumulative loss in each bear market is relatively uniform, with median returns at negative 42.7 percent.

The present bear market, at negative 44.1 percent, falls easily within the realm of normalcy.

Further, the table suggests that a turnaround in gold prices is overdue.

This past Sunday I spoke at the Vancouver Resource Investor Conference. In the coming days, I’ll share with you what I saw and heard from fellow investors in the resources and commodities space. Stay tuned!

 

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 Thomson Reuters Core Commodity CRB Index, created in 1957, is an equal-weighted index of 19 commodities. The Shanghai Composite Index (SSE) is an index of all stocks that trade on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

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: Claude Resources Inc., Richmont Mines Inc., Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.

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How Airlines Are Spending Their Record Profits
January 21, 2016

Airplane fueling - lower fuel prices represented a huge windfall for the airline industry

How did you spend your $700?

That’s how much the average American driver saved at the pump in 2015, according to a report from J.P. Morgan Chase. The bank also found that the savings fueled consumer spending on non-gas related purchases, which, based on credit and debit card transactions, were higher than previously thought. For every dollar saved, Americans spent roughly $0.80 on other things—restaurant visits, appliances, new gadgets and more.

But everyday consumers weren’t the only ones who saved big in 2015. Lower fuel prices represented a huge windfall for the airline industry. Delta Air Lines alone netted $5.1 billion in savings. As a whole, U.S. carriers retained between 50 and 75 percent of fuel cost savings, says Credit Suisse, and with crude oil at 13-year lows, they can expect to hang on to a similar percentage this year.

Lower Oil Prices a Huge Windfall for Airlines in 2015
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As I mentioned in a previous Frank Talk, cheaper fuel helped the domestic airline industry soar to record profits in 2015. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines are collectively set to post an annual $33 billion in net profits, up from $17.4 billion in 2014, an increase of almost 90 percent.

Profits could touch $36 billion this year, the IATA says, resulting in record amounts of free cash flow.

Domestic Airlines are Forecasted to SEe Greatest Free Cash Flow in years
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So the question is: What are airlines doing with it all?

Generous Rewards, Attractive Valuations

Besides upgrading their fleets to include more fuel-efficient aircraft, airlines are putting the cash to work by improving balance sheets and rewarding shareholders.

In 2015, more than $10 billion—about 7 percent of U.S. airlines’ market cap—was returned to shareholders in the form of stock buybacks and dividends. That’s double the amount from 2014. Among the carriers expected to raise their dividends this year are Delta, American Airlines, Alaska Air Group and Southwest Airlines, according to a Barron’s article this week. Credit Suisse calls American’s $1.5 billion stock buyback program, more than 12 percent of its market cap in 2015, “a sign of management confidence of what’s to come in 2016.”

Investors are taking notice. Within the industrials sector, airlines are the least expensive, with network carriers (American, Delta, United Airlines, etc.) at 7.1 times earnings and low-cost carriers (Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, Allegiant Air, etc.) at 10.5 times earnings.

Airlines Remain the Least Expensive in Industrials Sector
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A concern some investors might have is rising labor costs, which have overtaken fuel as airlines’ top expense. (In its World Airline Profit Outlook 2016, the CAPA Centre for Aviation calculates that the industry’s fuel expenses came down from 30 percent of revenue in 2014 to 25 percent in 2015. This year, they could fall to as low as 19 percent.) There have been reports that pilots, flight attendants, ground crew and other personnel are seeking higher wages and salaries as company profits climb.

These additional costs, if approved, could be offset by not only lower-for-longer fuel prices but also growing ancillary revenue—non-ticket fees for checked-in baggage, priority seating, in-flight meals and the like—and more disciplined capex spending.

Don’t expect airfares to drop dramatically, however. As far as anyone can tell, they’re likely to stay where they currently are. In the second quarter, the average price for a seat fell a slight 2.8 percent year-over-year, from $396 to $385.

That’s a little less than the $700 you saved at the pump.

 

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

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 12/31/2015: JPMorgan Chase & Co., American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Allegiant Travel Co., JetBlue Airways Corp., Virgin America Inc., Alaska Air Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., Spirit Airlines Inc.

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One Weird Trick to Forecast Commodity Trends
January 19, 2016

GDP and PMI

If you want to know about the past, a good place to start is by looking at GDP. It tells you the dollar value of a country or region’s goods and services over a specific time period. But GDP’s like looking in the rearview mirror, in that it shows you where you’ve been and little more. It’s “blind” to what’s ahead of you.

For that you need another indicator, and if you’re a regular reader of the Investor Alert or Frank Talk, my CEO blog, you probably know which one I’m referring to: the purchasing managers’ index (PMI).

Unlike GDP, the PMI forecasts future manufacturing conditions and activity by assessing forward-looking factors such as production levels, new orders and supplier deliveries. PMI, then, is like the high beams that help guide you at night through the twists and turns of a mountain road.

Several times in the past, we’ve shown that there’s a high correlation between the global PMI reading and the performance of commodities and energy three months later. 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. Our research shows that between January 1998 and June 2015, copper had an 81 percent probability of rising 7 percent, while crude jumped the same amount three-quarters of the time.

Commodities and Commodity Stocks Historically Rose Three Months After PMI 'Cross-Above'
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But 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. And as I mentioned last week, the global PMI fell in December, from 51.2 in November to 50.9. The reading also crossed below the moving average.

Global Manufacturing Cools in December
click to enlarge

As you can see, the PMI has been in a relatively steady downtrend since midyear 2014, signaling the decline in commodities during the same period.

Below is our newly-released Periodic Table of Commodity Returns, which has consistently been one of our most popular research pieces year after year. Precious metals ended 2015 as the best-performing group, with palladium, gold and silver ranking among some of the more resilient commodities. A high-resolution copy of the table is available for download.

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns
click to view interactive

Time to Cut the Red Tape

One of the main contributors to the lower global PMI reading in December was weak American manufacturing activity, according to a recent report from Cornerstone Macro. The research group had expected an improvement, but the one-month U.S. PMI reading landed “with a thud” at 48.2, its lowest point since June 2009.

U.S. Manufacturing Eases Down in December
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China also contracted in December, dropping to 48.2. The reading also crossed below the three-month average.

China Manufacturing Still in Contraction Mode
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The Asian giant is responsible for consuming massive amounts of raw materials—60 percent of the world’s concrete, 54 percent of aluminum. So when the PMI falls in both China and the U.S., the two largest economies in the world, it’s not a good sign.

 

China Consumes Mind-Boggling Amounts of Raw Materials

Cornerstone cites the strong U.S. dollar, weaker exports, rising manufacturing inventory and the plunge in oil prices as factors that led to the downturn last month.

I agree that these factors played a huge role—oil slid below $30 per barrel this week—but I would also add more burdensome regulations to the list. Such rules have gunked up the gears of industry, and it’s essential that they be cleaned out to ignite synchronized global growth.

It’s hard to overemphasize just how important the American manufacturing sector is to the national (and world) economy. According to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), manufacturing has the highest multiplier effect and drives more innovation than any other sector. For every $1 spent on manufacturing, $1.40 is created and pumped back into the U.S. economy. The sector employs more than 12 million Americans, or roughly 9 percent of the workforce, and supports more than 18 million additional jobs.

If it were its own country, American manufacturing would be the ninth largest in the world.

And yet the cost of federal regulations falls disproportionately on manufacturers, who pay an average $19,500 per worker in compliance costs—about $10,000 more than what other industries must pay on average.

George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, a free market think tank, studied the effects of federal regulations on the productivity of various industries between 1997 and 2010. Unsurprisingly, the group found that the most regulated industries experience the least amount of growth. Whereas output per person for lightly regulated companies grew 63 percent during the period, output grew only 33 percent for those that carry heavier regulatory burdens.

More rules means less productivity and efficiency. As an analogy, imagine if professional basketball were played with more referees than players on the court, and with more rules than anyone can remember. No one would be able to score! This would have a huge multiplier effect: Viewers would drop off, ticket sales would plummet, advertising would dry up, and much more.

We must ensure that this doesn’t happen in manufacturing.

We must ensure that we don't put more reerees than basketball players on the court.

TPP to Unleash Global Trade

To achieve synchronized global growth, policymakers from the G20 countries must commit themselves to cutting red tape.

Look at how quickly energy and shipping companies shifted into gear after Congress lifted the 40-year-old oil export ban less than a month ago. Two tankers have already departed from Corpus Christi, Texas, to deliver crude to Europe. In anticipation of the policy change, infrastructure companies have poured billions into building new pipelines and oil storage facilities and expanding loading capacity at ports.

TPP Expected to Increase Member Countries' GDPs, Exports and Imports

That’s why I’m excited for Congress to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was finally settled upon in October by the 12 participating nations, the U.S. and Canada included. Since then, I’ve been writing and speaking extensively about the TPP, yet I can’t seem to emphasize enough how vital the passage of this landmark free-trade agreement is for global economic growth and job creation.

Once ratified, 18,000 tariffs are expected to be eliminated among the 12 TPP nations, which together account for 40 percent of global GDP and 20 percent of global trade. The World Bank estimates that individual GDPs will rise between 0.4 and 10 percent by 2030 as a direct result of the TPP.

Could 2016 Be Gold's Turnaround Year?

As the Periodic Table of Commodity Returns above indicates, gold has seen annual losses for the past three years. But there are already signs that 2016 could reverse the trend. With equities around the world weakening, more consumers have been turning to the precious metal as a safe haven.

In China, physical delivery from the Shanghai Gold Exchange reached a record 2,596 tonnes, or a whopping 80 percent of total global output for 2015.

Record Physical Delivery from the Shanghai Gold Exchange in 2015
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In addition, the People’s Bank of China reported adding 19 more tonnes in December, bringing the total amount to over 1,762 tonnes.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., demand is just as electric. On January 1, Americans gobbled up unprecedented amounts of gold and silver coins from the U.S. Mint, purchasing in one day a sizable percentage of total sales in the entire month a year ago.

Record Silver and Gold Coin Sales?
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“Should the epic demand for precious metals from the first day of sales persist,” writes Zero Hedge, “we are confident that the Mint will run out of gold and silver within a few days.”

We will continue to monitor the global PMI, and once the global, China and U.S. readings all cross above the 50 mark, it’ll be time to lock and load.

Later this week I’ll be speaking at the Vancouver Resource Investor Conference, the world’s largest investor conference for resource exploration. I hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it, I’ll be sure to share with you my thoughts and takeaways.

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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 ISM manufacturing composite index is a diffusion index calculated from five of the eight sub-components of a monthly survey of purchasing managers at roughly 300 manufacturing firms from 21 industries in all 50 states.

The S&P 500 Materials Index is a capitalization-weighted index that tracks the companies in the material sector as a subset of the S&P 500. The S&P 500 Energy Index is a capitalization-weighted index that tracks the companies in the energy sector as a subset of the S&P 500.

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Net Asset Value
as of 02/04/2016

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $4.50 0.06 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $5.52 0.23 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $4.00 0.14 China Region Fund USCOX $6.46 0.02 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $5.07 0.05 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $22.22 -0.05 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $16.70 -0.06 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.26 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.01 No Change