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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.

This Natural Gas Opportunity Is Years in the Making
February 27, 2017

Last week I was in beautiful Argentina with a diverse team of investors and mining executives, including my good friend Frank Giustra; Ian Telfer, founder of Silver Wheaton and current Chairman of the Board of Goldcorp, which has sizeable investments in Argentina; and Serafino Iacono, Chairman of the Board of Pacific Exploration and Production (formerly Pacific Rubiales), which is active throughout South America. Together we toured various natural gas and crude oil mining projects in Tierra del Fuego, Mendoza and Santa Cruz, where we had the opportunity to speak with Governor Alicia Kirchner, elder sister to former Argentinian president Néstor Kirchner.

meeting with santa cruz governor alicia kirchner

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting with current president Mauricio Macri in Buenos Aires. Macri, as you might know, was elected in late 2015 on his credentials as a businessman and former mayor of Buenos Aires. His administration ends more than a decade of socialist rule by Kirchner and his wife Cristina Fernández, who was indicted this past December on corruption charges.

Even with Macri at the helm, corruption remains a problem in Argentina. The South American country currently ranks 95th in Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.

But economic conditions are improving. After contracting 1 percent in 2016, country GDP is expected to grow as much as 2.8 percent this year. Macri’s mission to make Argentina great again has already led him to abolish currency controls, return to world credit markets, attract foreign investors and set in motion a plan to reduce the fiscal deficit. After that, he hopes to get around to tax reform. In the meantime, there’s the energy sector.

A Plan to End Natural Gas Imports by 2022

Since 2008, Argentina has been a net importer of hydrocarbons, mainly natural gas, which represents more than half of the country’s energy matrix. Prices are low right now, so the economic impact is not detrimental. Should prices begin to rise substantially, however, it could destroy the economy. As such, my friends and colleagues were invited to help develop the fields and prevent further overreliance on imports. The government, in fact, wants to end them altogether by 2022.

Argentina Import Natural Gas Meet Demand
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Production declined mainly because of underinvestment during the two Kirchner administrations. Stringent regulations forced companies to sell product in the domestic market at a discount to international prices. Capital dried up to reinvest in the fields, and the natural decline of well production drove the overall output down. Making matters worse, companies lacked access to capital markets due to the Argentina sovereign debt default in 2001.

Goldcorp Chairman Ian Telfer me

As I said, the country is fabulously rich in hydrocarbons such as natural gas and petroleum. It’s estimated to have the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves and, according to the independent research Wilson Center, it “could possibly be the country with the most promising shale prospects outside of the United States.” Its most promising formation is Vaca Muerta (“Dead Cow”), located in the Neuquén basin, which has been compared to Texas’ prolific Eagle Ford play in terms of depth and thickness.

YPF, the government’s oil company, has already done exceptional exploration work, so there are numerous areas ready to be developed. This is the opportunity for us.

Having seen the projects firsthand and spoken to policymakers, I’m confident Macri can help open up Argentina’s energy sector and streamline production. Upon taking office, one of the president’s first acts was to slash the previous administration’s energy subsidies, which cost the government more than $51 billion over the past 13 years. Electricity bills in Buenos Aires rose a reported 500 percent as a result, but the move allowed the government to save a much-needed $4 billion in 2016 alone.

End Government Energy Argentinas Inflation Soaring
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Policy Change in the U.S. Has Also Had Amazing Consequences

As for the U.S. energy sector, crude exports have never been stronger. After Congress lifted the U.S. oil export ban in December 2015, exporters didn’t hesitate to turn on the spigots. Now, for the second week as of February 17, the U.S. sent more than 1 million barrels of crude onto world markets, filling the gap created by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in December when it agreed to trim production.


US Now Petroleum Exporting Country
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Producers are also ramping up activity. In the week ended February 17, companies pumped more than 9 million barrels a day for the first time since April 2016. The recent weekly record of 9.6 million barrels a day, set in July 2015, could be tested if producers continue their upward trend.

Daily US Oil Production 9 Million Barrels
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Even with increased output, prices continue to creep up. From its low of just over $30 a barrel last February, Brent crude has climbed 88 percent.

Brent Oil Above Mid Long Term Moving Averages
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Happy investing!

 

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 Corruption Perception Index was created in 1995 by Transparency International. It ranks almost 200 countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 10 indicating low levels. Developed countries typically rank higher than developing nations due to stronger regulations.

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 12/31/2016: Silver Wheaton Corp.

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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5 Charts That Show 2017 Could Be a Banner Year for Retailers
February 23, 2017

Thursday morning, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC that we could expect “significant” tax reform by August, including tax cuts for middle-income Americans and corporations. Like clockwork, the major stock indices rallied to all-time highs in intraday trading. As of yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has closed at record highs for the past nine days, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this gets stretched out to 10 days—or longer.

Era of Good Feelings: Dow Jones closes at all-time high for nine straight days
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Investors aren’t the only ones jumping on the couch with joy, however. American consumers are expressing levels of confidence we haven’t seen in years, suggesting 2017 could be a banner year for retailers, who already saw a phenomenal year-over-year sales increase of 5.6 percent in January. This, of course, bodes well for the U.S. economy going forward, as consumer spending makes up an estimated 70 percent of the country’s economic activity.

Beside a host of positive economic data—low unemployment, strong household income growth—recent consumer polls and surveys show Americans feel confident about their financial prospects in the coming year and are ready to start splurging.

Consumer Exuberance at 13-Year High

The closely watched University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index raced up to a 13-year high in January, posting a final reading of 98.5. There’s little doubt that much of this exuberance stemmed from President Donald Trump’s pledges to cut and simplify taxes and deregulate businesses. Although the index cooled to 95.7 in February, this still bodes very well for retailers.

Consumer Confidence Rose to a 13-Year High in January
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On Surer Financial Footing

According to McKinsey & Company’s recent Consumer Sentiment Survey, conducted online in September, more American consumers expressed feelings of stronger financial security than at any time in the past eight years. When asked if they were living paycheck to paycheck, for instance, less than a quarter said yes, compared to more than half of respondents who answered in the affirmative in 2009. In addition, fewer U.S. consumers said they were using money-saving strategies such as using coupons and loyalty cards or waiting for a sale before making a big-ticket purchase.  

Consumer Confidence Rose to a 13-Year High in January
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U.S. Among the Most Confident Countries

In the fourth quarter of 2016, American consumers were the world’s third-most confident consumers, according to Nielsen’s just-released Consumer Confidence Report. The country moved up an amazing 17 points during the three-month period, the most of any country in the 63-country survey. It was also one of only two countries representing Europe or the Americas to appear in the top 10, the other being Demark at number nine. By all measures, Americans were optimistic about the coming year. Six in 10 said now was a good time to buy the things they wanted, and intentions to spend on vacations rose 11 percent. Meanwhile, recessionary fears dropped dramatically.

Top 10 Most Optimistic Countries in Global Consumer Confidence Survey
Q4 2016
Score Country Change from Previous Quarter
136 India +3
132 Philippines 0
123 United States +17
120 Indonesia -2
112 Vietnam +5
110 Thailand +2
108 United Arab Emirates 0
108 China +2
107 Denmark 0
106 Pakistan +5

Before moving on, I must say that it’s incredible to see India retain the number one spot for the eighth consecutive quarter, despite the effects of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization scheme in November.

Strong Retail Sales Expected… With a Caveat

All of this renewed optimism will translate, hopefully, into stronger retail sales. The National Retail Federation (NRF) projected 2017 sales, excluding automobiles, fuel and restaurants, to grow between 3.7 percent and 4.2 percent from 2016. This would put growth above the 10-year average of 2.9 percent and make it the best year since 2012.

Consumer Confidence Rose to a 13-Year High in January
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The NRF tempered this enthusiasm, however, by pointing out the risks of Trump’s protectionist agenda, writing that “lawmakers should take note and stand firm against any policies, rules or regulations that would increase the cost of everyday goods for American consumers.”

This attitude was echoed by Walmart CFO Brett Biggs, who told reporters this week that he was most concerned about Trump and House Republicans’ plan for a border adjustment tax.

“Clearly anything that would potentially raise prices for our customers in the U.S. is a concern for us,” Biggs said, according to Business Insider.  

This week, Trump met with eight retail CEOs, whose companies represent a combined $270 billion in sales in 2016. Two of these CEOs in particular, Target’s Brian Cornell and Best Buy’s Hubert Joly, voiced their strong opposition to a border tax, as it could significantly raise prices and dampen consumers’ feel-good mood.

With that said, I hope President Trump will make the right decision for American businesses and consumers, with respect to trade. Enthusiasm right now seems to be riding predominantly on tax reform and deregulation, and it’s at risk of being derailed by higher taxes at the border.

 

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 Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry.

The University of Michigan Confidence Index is a survey of consumer confidence conducted by the University of Michigan.  The report, released on the tenth of each month, gives a snapshot of whether or not consumers are willing to spend money.

The online Consumer Sentiment Survey was in the field from September 3 to 27, 2015, and garnered responses from at least 1,000 consumers in each of 21 countries, plus another 1,000 consumers across the Middle East and 250 consumers in Taiwan. Because the survey was administered online, the sample largely reflects the characteristics of the typical online population—younger, urban, and more affluent.

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Survey is an online survey of more than 30,000 respondents across countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America. It uses age and gender quotas to ensure the results are representative of Internet users. Scores above 100 indicate optimism.

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

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Gold Gets a Shot in the Arm from Inflation and China
February 21, 2017

buffett buys more airlines

Inflation just got another jolt, rising as much as 2.5 percent year-over-year in January, the highest such rate since March 2012. Led by higher gasoline, rent and health care costs, consumer prices have now advanced for the sixth straight month. In addition, January is the second straight month for rates to be above the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent.

Air fares are also climbing, and speaking of air fares, billionaire investor Warren Buffett added to his domestic airline holdings, we learned last week. Buffett’s holding company, Berkshire Hathaway, is now the second-largest holder of American Airlines, with an 8.79 percent share of the company. It also increased its holdings in Delta Air Lines by over 800 percent, to 60 million shares. The company now owns 43.2 million shares of Southwest Airlines, and it increased its stake in United Continental to about 28 million shares.

What else is driving the airline industry?

 

A March rate hike now looks all but imminent. Many economists—including the Goldman Sachs economists I had the pleasure to hear speak this week—expect to see at least three such hikes this year alone.

US Inflation Zooms up 5 Year High
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Gold responded accordingly, closing above $1,240 for the first time since soon after the November election. Below you can see the gold price charted against the inflation-adjusted 10-year Treasury yield, which is now in subzero territory.


US Inflation Zooms up 5 Year High
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The question I have is: Why would an investor deliberately choose to lose money? But that’s precisely what’s happening now with inflation where it is.

  2-Year 3-Year 10-Year
Treasury Yield 1.22% 1.95% 2.45%
Consumer Price Index 2.50% 2.50% 2.50%
Real Yield -1.28% -0.55% -0.05%
As of February 16
Source: Federal Reserve, U.S. Global Investors

These were among some of the topics addressed by former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, who spoke with the World Gold Council (WGC) for the winter edition of its “Gold Investor.”

Gold primary global currency

"Significant increases in inflation will ultimately increase the price of gold,” Greenspan said. “Investment in gold now is insurance. It’s not for short-term gain, but for long-term protection.”

He also reiterated his view, which I share, that gold is much more than just a metal but a currency:

I view gold as the primary global currency. It is the only currency, along with silver, that does not require a counterparty signature. Gold, however, has always been far more valuable per ounce than silver. No one refuses gold as payment to discharge an obligation. Credit instruments and fiat currency depend on the credit worthiness of a counterparty. Gold, along with silver, is one of the only currencies that has an intrinsic value. It has always been that way. No one questions its value, and it has always been a valuable commodity, first coined in Asia Minor in 600 BC.

Although major stock indices continue to hit fresh all-time highs on hopes of tax reform and fiscal stimulus, it’s important to temper the exuberance with a little prudence. The bull market, currently in its eighth year, is facing some significant geopolitical and macroeconomic uncertainty, and we could be getting late in the economic cycle. This makes gold’s investment case even more attractive. For the 10-year period, the yellow metal has shown an inverse correlation to risk assets such as stocks and high-yield bonds. It might be time to ensure that your portfolio has the recommended 10 percent in gold—that includes 5 percent in gold coins and jewelry, the other 5 percent in quality gold equities and mutual funds.

China and India to Lead World Economy by 2050

The long-term investment case for gold looks just as compelling following bullish reports last week from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Morgan Stanley. China and India are the world’s top two consumers of gold, and both countries are expected to make huge economic gains in the next few decades. This is likely to boost gold demand even more, which has a high correlation with discretionary income growth.

China alone consumed approximately 2,000 metric tons in 2016, or roughly 60 percent of all the new gold that was mined during the year, according to veteran mining commentator Lawrie Williams, who based his estimates on calculations made by BullionStar’s Koos Jansen. The 2,000 metric tons is a much higher figure than what analysts and the media have been telling us, but I’ve always suspected China’s annual consumption to run higher than “official” numbers. 

According to PwC’s models, China and India should become the world’s number one and number two largest economies by 2050 based on purchasing power parity (PPP). China, of course, is already the largest economy by that measure, but PwC sees the Asian giant surpassing the U.S. economy on an absolute basis by as early as 2030.


Top 10 Economies Dominated Emerging Markets 2050
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As for India, it “currently comprises 7 percent of world GDP at PPP, which we project to rise steadily to over 15 percent by 2050,” PwC writes. “This is a remarkable increase of 8 percentage points, gaining the most ground of any of the countries we modeled.”

I think it’s also worth highlighting Indonesia, which is expected to replace Japan as the fourth-largest economy by midcentury. E7 economies, in fact, could end up dominating the top 10, with Mexico moving up to number seven and France dropping off. You can see the full list on PwC’s site.

China Set to Become High Income by 2027

Then there’s Morgan Stanley’s 118-page report, “Why we are bullish on China.” The investment bank sees a number of dramatic changes over the coming years, the most significant being China’s transition from a middle-income nation to a prosperous, high-income nation sometime between 2024 and 2027. (The high-income threshold is a gross national income (GNI) of around $12,500 per capita.) This would make China one of only three countries with populations over 20 million that have managed to accomplish this feat in the past 30 years, the other two being South Korea and Poland.


Top 10 Economies Dominated Emerging Markets 2050
click to enlarge

This trajectory is supported by a number of expectations, including, most importantly, Morgan Stanley’s confidence that China will manage to avoid a debt-related financial crisis, as some investors might now believe is forthcoming. The bank’s view is that the Chinese government will successfully provide “adequate policy buffers and deft management of the policy cycle” to ensure the growth of per capita incomes.

Other key transitions will additionally need to take place for the country to reach high-income status by 2027, including transitioning from a high investment economic model to high consumption and implementing meaningful state-owned enterprise reform. Although China is currently transitioning from a manufacturing economy to one that’s focused on consumption and services, the country will also need to emphasize high value-added manufacturing.

chineseshoppers

   In addition, since President Donald Trump has officially withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), China could very well use this as an opportunity to take the lead in global trade, Morgan Stanley writes. This view aligns with comments I’ve previously made. China is already reportedly weighing its options with two alternative free-trade agreements (FTAs), one that includes the U.S. (the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific) and one that does not (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). It’s probably safe to say, however, that given Trump’s opposition to FTAs, trade negotiations involving the U.S. are unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Investors Underweight China

Taken together, this is all good news for gold. Again, when incomes rise in China and India, gold demand has historically benefited.

But it also makes China a compelling place to invest in. And yet investors have tended to be shy, underweighting the country for at least a decade in relation to the broader emerging markets universe.     

Time Reverse Course China Stocks 2050
click to enlarge

This, despite the fact that China has largely outperformed emerging markets for the last 15 years. According to Morgan Stanley, the MSCI China Index has delivered a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 percent for the 15-year period, versus the MSCI Emerging Markets Index’s CAGR of 10 percent over the same period.

 

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 MSCI China Index captures large and mid-cap representation across China H shares, B shares, Red chips, P chips and foreign listings (e.g. ADRs). With 150 constituents, the index covers about 85% of this China equity universe. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 23 Emerging Markets (EM) countries. With 832 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country.

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 12/31/2016: American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Southwest Airlines Co.

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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
click to enlarge

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
click to enlarge

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
click to enlarge

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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Investors Brace for a Storm of Uncertainty with Gold
February 13, 2017

As Winter Storm Niko blanketed the Northeast in snow last week, disrupting scores of flights in the U.S., airline executives convened in Washington to talk shop with President Donald Trump.

Back in November, I wrote that domestic carriers are likely to see the new president—himself the former owner of the now-defunct Trump Airlines—as a strong partner in several key areas. Although a couple of airline CEOs have recently expressed strong opposition to some of Trump’s protectionist immigration policies, Thursday ’s meeting appeared to be constructive, with the president telling the group he would soon be announcing something “phenomenal in terms of tax and developing our aviation infrastructure.”

Details of the tax plan, he said, would likely be announced sometime in the next two or three weeks. This rejuvenated some of the spirit that swept through the market soon after his election, reassuring investors that reform would come sooner than expected.

Among other topics discussed at the meeting were the need for airport infrastructure improvements, industry deregulation, air traffic  control and U.S. carriers’ competitive disadvantage to heavily-subsidized Persian Gulf carriers. Three state-owned Gulf carriers in particular have received as much as $50 billion in subsidies from Middle Eastern governments since 2004, which allow them “to operate without concern for turning a profit,” according to a letter addressed to Rex Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, and signed by three U.S. airline CEOs, including Doug Parker of American Airlines, Edward Bastian of Delta Air Lines and Oscar Munoz of United Airlines. U.S. airlines, obviously, do not have the same privilege, putting them at a competitive disadvantage in the international market. Encouraging the Gulf states to end subsidization, as the CEOs hope, would be a huge win for domestic carriers and their workers.

The market seemed to like what it heard, as the NYSE Arca Airline Index rallied close to 2.3 percent Thursday. This was the biggest one-day move for the group in about a month, during which Trump’s executive immigration ban grounded airline stocks.

Immigration Policy Grounded International Carriers
click to enlarge

The selloff following the executive order was overdone, I think, but it gave airline investors such as Warren Buffett an attractive buying opportunity.

Speaking of which, we learned last week that Buffett was convinced to bet big on the industry, reversing his famously negative opinion of the group, after being in attendance at one of Doug Parker’s investor presentations last March. Parker told attendees that consolidation had fundamentally transformed the industry, making it efficient and focused on demand.  

What else is driving the airline industry?

 

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Airlines got another boost last week after a federal appeals court, in a unanimous decision, struck down Trump’s travel ban. This prompted the president to tweet “SEE YOU IN COURT,” presumably meaning the Supreme Court.

With respect to Trump, I’m reminded of a statement former president George W. Bush made back in 2010, less than a year after leaving office. “Here’s what you learn,” he said. “You realize you’re not it. You’re part of something bigger than yourself.” The buck might stop with the president, but the office is so much greater than one man.

George W. Bush speaking on the Office of the President October 2010

Trump, the art of the deal

This point was made by David Gergen, former advisor and senior official to a number of presidents, including Nixon, Ford and Reagan. He’s now a CNN political analyst, and it was my pleasure to hear him speak at Harvard recently. Trump is learning the hard way, Gergen said, that the Office of the President cannot be run like the Trump Organization, or any other private company. In public office, there are checks and balances, and there’s blindingly harsh transparency—all of which the billionaire president, aged 70, has never had to deal with.

Trump ran largely on his dealmaking expertise, and I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he can negotiate good deals for the U.S. But it’s important to remember that successful deals, in business and in government, often can’t occur without a judicious amount of compromise. If he truly believes in the value and necessity of imposing a temporary immigration ban on seven mostly-Muslim countries, his administration will need to go about it in a way that pleases the courts.

But then, none of us should be surprised if he insists on the ban in its current form. “My style of dealmaking is quite simple and straightforward,” he wrote 30 years ago in Art of the Deal. “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

Hedge Fund Managers Sound Off

Meanwhile, the president’s unpredictability and Twitter outbursts have inevitably engendered quite a lot of market uncertainty, which, as you know, investors don’t like. This has prompted several big-name hedge fund managers to weigh in.

One such manager is value investor Seth Klarman, who oversees $30 billion as head of Boston-based Baupost Group. He tends to be media-shy, but Klarman is no slouch. In the last 34 years, he’s lost money in only three. He’s one of the very few money managers to receive open praise from Buffett himself.

Anyway, in his annual letter to investors, Klarman raised concerns that Trump’s protectionist policies and deep tax cuts could seriously hamper economic growth, both domestically and abroad, by isolating the U.S. from global trade and adding significantly to the already-bloated national debt.    

“Exuberant investors have focused on the potential benefits of stimulative tax cuts, while mostly ignoring the risks from America-first protectionism and the erection of new trade barriers,” he wrote. You can read more of Klarman’s letter over at Andrew Ross Sorkin’s DealBook.

Managers at hedge fund firm Carlson Capital, which controls over $8 billion, share many of the same concerns, telling investors recently that Trump’s trade policies could “cause a global depression and a major equity market decline.”

Even for some money managers who were initially excited by Trump—Ray Dalio and Jeff Gundlach among them—reality is beginning to set in.

Gold Gains on Uncertainty

Trump, the art of the deal

Last year, central bank policy and negative real interest rates drove the gold rally. This year, it seems to be uncertainty over Trump and other antiestablishment leaders, which is convincing the smart money to make wagers on the yellow metal, often seen as a safe haven during shaky times. So far in 2017, it’s up close to 7 percent, compared to the S&P 500’s 2.6 percent. In fact, if you compare this year’s price action to last year’s, they look remarkably the same, with a dip in December before the Federal Reserve raised rates. Although past performance is no guarantee of future results, gold could gain another $100 an ounce this year if it continues to follow the same trajectory.

Gold Continues to Mirror Price Action from Last Year
click to enlarge

Among those who are bullish on the yellow metal is Stanley Druckenmiller, the legendary hedge fund manager who dumped his gold the same day he learned Trump had been elected. Before that, it was the number one holding in his family office account. Now he’s back, telling Bloomberg he “wanted to own some currency and no country wants its currency to strengthen. Gold was down a lot, so I bought it.”

Higher demand has been good for both junior and senior gold miners, which recently crossed above their 200-day moving averages.

Junior and Senior Gold Miners Above Their 200-Day Moving Averages
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The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index was up for an incredible seven straight days ended Monday, while the MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners has made positive gains in eight of the nine previous days.

Germany Brings Home More of Its Gold

Hedge fund managers aren’t the only ones whose demand for gold is strong. For the sixth straight year, central banks continued to be net importers of the metal in 2016, with China, Russia and Kazakhstan leading world consumption.

Germany repatriated 216 metric tons of gold in 2016

Although it might not have purchased any gold in 2016, the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, ramped up its repatriation program, bringing home some 216 metric tons from vaults in New York, according to the Wall Street Journal. In 2011, former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said central banks held gold simply because it’s tradition. I think the reason goes much deeper than that. Gold is money—it has been ever since the first gold currency appeared in China more than 3,000 years ago—and Germany’s efforts are proof of that.    

 

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

The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is a modified market capitalization weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold and silver.  The index benchmark value was 500.0 at the close of trading on December 20, 2002. The MVIS Global Junior Gold Miners Index includes companies that generate at least 50% of their revenues from (or, in certain circumstances, have at least 50% of their assets related to) gold mining and/or silver mining or have mining projects with the potential to generate at least 50% of their revenues from gold and/or silver when developed. Such companies may include micro- and small-capitalization companies and foreign issuers.

The NYSE Arca Airline Index (XAL) is an equal dollar weighted index designed to measure the performance of highly capitalized companies in the airline industry. The XAL Index tracks the price performance of major U.S. and overseas airlines.

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 12/31/2016: Delta Air Lines Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc.

Share “Investors Brace for a Storm of Uncertainty with Gold”

Net Asset Value
as of 03/29/2017

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.47 0.03 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.63 0.04 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $6.63 0.06 China Region Fund USCOX $8.49 -0.07 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.18 0.01 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.45 -0.02 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $18.99 0.01 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.22 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change