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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.

GO GOLD! Inflationary Tariffs Could Supercharge the Yellow Metal
June 4, 2018

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017

Ready for inflation?

Just days after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reassured markets that a trade war between the U.S. and China was “on hold,” the Trump administration announced that it would be moving forward with plans to impose 25 percent tariffs on as much as $50 billion worth of Chinese exports to the U.S. Beijing has already suggested that it will retaliate in kind.

The White House also reinstated tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU) after allowing earlier exemptions to expire. Again, there’s a big chance the U.S. will see some sort of tit-for-tat response.

Steel prices are already up 45 percent from a year ago. The annual change in the price of a new vehicle in the U.S. has been dropping steadily since last summer, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but with the cost of materials set to rise dramatically, we could see a price reversal sooner rather than later.

US midwest hot rolled steel price up 45 percent from last year
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Next up, the U.S. government could slap steep tariffs on imported automobiles—and possibly even ban German luxury vehicles outright, according to a report by German business news magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

These decisions, if fully implemented, will have a multitude of implications on the U.S. and world economies. What I can say with full confidence, though, is that prices will rise—for producers and consumers alike—which is good for gold but a headwind for continued economic growth.

You Can’t Suck and Blow at the Same Time

US midwest hot rolled steel price up 45 percent from last year

Let me explain. I’ve often said that middle class taxpayers elected Trump president by and large to take on entrenched bureaucrats, cut the red tape and streamline regulations. People are fed up. A study last year by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that government workers not only earn more on average than private-sector workers with similar educational backgrounds, they’re also guaranteed health, retirement and other benefits. Trump responded to these concerns by signing an executive order that eased the firing of federal workers.

He’s kept his word in other ways. Since being in office, he’s already eliminated five federal rules on average for every new rule created, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). He’s weakened Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, not to mention slashed corporate taxes.

In 2017, the number of pages in the Federal Register, the official list of administrative regulations, dropped to 61,950 from 97,069 the previous year. This is especially good news for productivity. Research firm Cornerstone Macro found that Americans were more productive when there were fewer rules, less productive when there were more rules. 

productivity decreased as the number of federal rules and regulations grew
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These are all positive developments that should help boost the economy. The problem is that they could be undermined by tariffs, which are essentially regulations. We believe government policy is a precursor to change, and history suggests that rising tariffs and regulations hurt the economy.

Consider automobiles. U.S. automakers are the second largest consumer of steel following construction. In March, the Wall Street Journal estimated that the tariffs could add at least $300 to each new vehicle sold in the U.S. And speaking to Bloomberg last week, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports will make cars more expensive. “These tariffs will result in an increase in the price of domestically produced steel—threatening the industry’s global competitiveness and raising vehicle costs for our customers,” Gloria Bergquist said.

Do tariffs on imported vehicles threaten united states auto sales
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Higher Inflation Has Historically Meant Higher Gold Prices

The good news in all this is that higher inflation has historically been supportive of the price of gold. In the years when inflation was 3 percent or higher, annual gold returns were 15 percent on average, according to the World Gold Council (WGC).

gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation
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When gold hit its all-time high of $1,900 an ounce in August 2011, consumer prices were up nearly 4 percent from the same time the previous year. The two-year Treasury yield, meanwhile, averaged only 0.21 percent, meaning the T-note was delivering a negative real yield and investors were paying the U.S. government to hang on to their money. This created a favorable climate for gold, as investors sought a safe haven asset that would at least beat inflation.

CIBC: Major Gold Firms to Generate Strong Free Cash Flow and ROIC

gold has historically rallied in periods of high inflation

Finally, I want to draw attention to an exciting research report released last week by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). I’m a huge admirer of the work CIBC does, especially that of Cosmos Chiu, director of precious metals equity research. Chiu and his team write that the “future looks brighter” for gold equities on improved free cash flow and return on invested capital (ROIC). Both factors are among our favorites. I recently shared with you a chart that shows that, over the past 30 years, ROIC outperformed other factors by as much as one and half times.

With gold trading near $1,300 an ounce, producers are currently posting positive margins, according to CIBC. As a result, every stock in the bank’s large-cap universe, with the exception of Kinross, is expected to generate positive free cash flow through 2019.

Go Gold! Royalty/Streaming Companies Deliver the Profits

The bank has even better news for royalty and streaming companies, particularly Franco-Nevada, Royal Gold and Wheaton Precious Metals. For one, the three big royalty names delivered combined shareholder returns of 6.2 percent between 2013 and 2017, outperforming both senior producers and physical gold.

Three largest royalty and streaming companies forecast to deliver strong return on invested capital
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Now, CIBC forecasts the royalty group will generate strong ROICs, “steadily inching higher over the next decade… to average between the 5 percent and 8 percent mark from 2018 – 2023.” ROIC measures how well a company can turn its invested capital into profits.  

Loyal readers already know we’ve long been fans of Franco-Nevada, Wheaton Precious Metals and other royalty/streaming names. 

 

All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. Some links above may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content.

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 (03/31/2018): Franco-Nevada Corp., Royal Gold Inc., Wheaton Precious Metals Corp.

Free cash flow is the cash a company produces through its operations, less the cost of expenditures on assets. In other words, free cash flow or FCF is the cash left over after a company pays for its operating expenses and capital expenditures or CAPEX.

Return on invested capital (ROIC) is a profitability ratio. It measures the return that an investment generates for those who have provided capital, i.e. bondholders and stockholders. ROIC tells us how good a company is at turning capital into profits.

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Building a Better U.S. Economy
May 29, 2018

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but public trust in the federal government is eroding. Sixty years ago, 75 percent of Americans expressed faith in the government to do the right thing “most of the time” or “just about always.” Seventy-five percent! You can’t get 75 percent of people to agree on anything now, as the recent “Laurel or Yanny” video proved.

Today, only one in five Americans, or 20 percent—a near-record low—believes our leaders make decisions in the country’s best interest. If you’re reading this, you might very well be in the camp that has some serious doubts.

United States public trust in federal government near historic lows
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The polling data, provided by the Pew Research Center, was shared by Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham, who spoke last week at an Investment Company Institute (ICI) meeting in Washington, D.C. Although no fan of the president, Meacham believes, as I do, that fed up, disillusioned voters turned to Donald Trump to take on the beltway party and career bureaucrats and roll back out-of-control regulations.

Government Policy Is a Precursor to Change

This anti-establishment discussion isn’t just happening here in the U.S., of course. Brexit in the U.K. was a populist backlash against excessive rules from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Last year, France nearly elected the far-right Marine Le Pen to the president’s mansion. And in Italy this week, tax-paying middle class, euroskeptic voices are getting louder following President Sergio Mattarella’s veto of their pick for economy minister.

Love him or hate him, Trump has so far stuck to his word, and he doesn’t seem to have any reservations about whose applecart he upsets. He’s an equal-opportunity disruptor, and for that he has opponents on all sides of the political spectrum, including the beltway.

It's little wonder, then, that “Trump” is likely the most spoken word in the English language right now, according to Meacham. Just don’t tell Trump that.

Presidential biographer and historian Jon Meacham

The presidential historian—who last month delivered the eulogy for former first lady Barbara Bush—also reminded the audience that, as bad as many people believe things are right now, they used to be much worse. Remember slavery? Remember Jim Crow?

Some people believe Trump is determined to weaken First Amendment protections, but he’s not the biggest threat to free speech this country has ever seen, Meacham said.

A little over 100 years ago, in preparation for America’s entry into World War I, Congress passed and President Woodrow Wilson signed the Espionage Act, which gave the U.S. government sweeping new authority to control and censor the press. Overnight, it became illegal to “convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies.” Hundreds of communist and pro-German newspapers and magazines were banned or otherwise forced to shut down.

It’s important to put things in perspective. Trump might regularly criticize what he perceives as “fake news,” but at least those outlets—the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and others—are allowed to continue operating.

 

 

Trump Maintains a One-In, Five-Out Pace for Regulations

Many attendees of the ICI meeting, all representing investment and wealth management firms,  weren’t so optimistic about their ability to communicate effectively with shareholders and potential clients. Some of them shared with me their observation that regulators are increasingly getting bolder about what financial firms can and cannot say, and the interpretation of rules keep piling up.

Within the past year, we were asked to add disclosure under a picture of Elvis Presley in many of our gold presentations, if you can believe it. And during the conference, a fund manager said he found it ridiculous that, in a company slideshow, he was asked to add disclosure beneath a picture of Aristotle to inform clients that the ancient Greek philosopher was not, in fact, affiliated with the fund in any way.

It raises the question: What reader would assume that Elvis and Aristotle—the former having been dead 40 years, the latter 2,000 years—are affiliated with an investment firm?

It’s common knowledge in the business that the number of investment advisors and brokers is shrinking day-by-day. You would think that the number of rules and regulations would likewise shrink, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. In such a climate, the only ones who manage to stay ahead are the Vanguards and BlackRocks of the investment world. (Similarly, the number of seats in Congress has not changed in over 100 years, and yet we’ve seen a growth in the power of unelected bureaucrats.)

This has created an unlevel playing field that favors the Vanguards and BlackRocks of the investment world.

I believed that this is one of the key reasons why many people voted for Trump—to cut the red tape and rein in rampant bureaucracy. Here again, he’s kept his word, having so far eliminated, on average, five federal rules for every new rule created, according to the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

Bye Bye, Dodd-Frank. Hello, Economic Growth?

Case in point: The week before last, he signed legislation that severely weakened the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The behemoth 2010 law, intended to prevent another financial crisis, is believed to be directly responsible for the failure of a number of small and regional banks, which small businesses and rural families depend on for loans and other financial services.

That’s why I named Dodd-Frank one of the five costliest financial regulations of the past 20 years. Barney Frank himself, the former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and one of Dodd-Frank’s chief architects, acknowledged he “sees areas where the law could be eased.”

With the most restrictive parts of Dodd-Frank gone or amended, annual economic growth in the U.S. might finally be able to break above 3 percent, a rate we haven’t seen since 2005.

In the meantime, asset management firm AllianceBernstein shows that, over the past 30 years, the best performing factor has been return on invested capital (ROIC). According to the firm, ROIC outperformed return on equity (ROE) by one and a half times, and gross profitability by nearly three times.

Trading return on invested capital has been most successful over much of the cycle
click to enlarge

Seeing this chart was particularly vindicating for us, as ROIC is among the most important factors we pay attention to when making our investment decisions.

Government Policy Right Now Favors Small-Cap Stocks

The Dodd-Frank rollback is just the latest move by the Trump administration that should benefit smaller businesses. Quarter-to-date, the small-cap Russell 2000 Index is up more than 6 percent, compared to the S&P 500 Index, which is up 2.8 percent. Meanwhile, small business optimism , as measured by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), remains near a historic high, posting 104.8 in April, up a hair from the previous month.

Small cap stocks continue to climb as business optimism strengthens
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I often say it’s not about which party is in power but rather the policies that matter. Whether the Republicans or the Democrats control Washington isn’t the point. There are ways for investors to make money in either case, and right now, government policy favors domestic small-cap stocks that have limited exposure to overseas markets. The trend is your friend, as they say, and with respect to small-caps, that certainly seems to be the case.

 

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 Russell 2000 Index is a U.S. equity index measuring the performance of the 2,000 smallest companies in the Russell 3000. The Russell 3000 Index consists of the 3,000 largest U.S. companies as determined by total market capitalization.

The small business optimism index is compiled from a survey that is conducted each month by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) of its members.

Return on invested capital (ROIC) is a performance and profitability ratio indicating how much investors in a business are earning on the capital.

Return on equity (ROE) is the amount of net income returned as a percentage of shareholders equity. 

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Blockchain Will Completely Revolutionize How We Mine Gold and Precious Metals
May 21, 2018

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017

Last week I had the pleasure to attend Consensus 2018 in New York, the premiere gathering for the who’s who in blockchain, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Attendance doubled from last year to an estimated 8,500 people, all of them packed in a Hilton built for only 3,000. Ticket sales alone pulled in a whopping $17 million, while event booths—the largest of which belonged to Microsoft and IBM—generated untold millions more.

The entire three-day conference, hosted by crypto news outlet CoinDesk, had the energy and flair of the world’s greatest carnival. Sleek lambos sat outside the hotel, attracting all sorts of gawkers. Passersby also stopped and stared at the “bankers against bitcoin” protest, conceived and funded by Genesis Mining, one of the largest bitcoin mining companies. (You can read my interview with Genesis cofounder and CEO Marco Streng here.)

Bankers agaisnt Bitcoin protest

The same money went to finance bitcoin awareness billboards outside the Omaha office of Warren Buffett, who recently bashed the cryptocurrency, calling it “rat poison squared.”

“Warren,” the billboards read, “you said you were wrong about Google and Amazon. Maybe you’re wrong about Bitcoin?”

Warren Buffet billboard Bitcoin Genesis Mining

Bringing #BitcoinAwareness to the Masses

That Buffett has a negative opinion of bitcoin shouldn’t surprise anyone. The “Oracle of Omaha” has famously been averse to emerging technology and tech stocks he doesn’t fully understand, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others. But he’s changed his mind in the past after he’s seen the value these companies provide.

I’m old enough to remember when Buffett was vehemently against airline stocks. The industry was a “death trap” for investors, he once said. Today, his company Berkshire Hathaway is one of the top holders of stock in the big four carriers—United Continental, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines. He even told CNBC he “wouldn’t rule out owning an entire airline.”

Obviously there’s a world of difference between airline stocks and bitcoin—although blockchain, the technology that bitcoin is built on top of, is already being used in aviation to increase transparency in aircraft manufacturing and maintenance. All I’m saying is I wouldn’t rule out bitcoin, or cryptocurrencies in general, just because Buffett isn’t a fan. He doesn’t like gold as an investment either, and that hasn’t stopped it from being one of the most liquid assets on the planet.

The Future of Gold Mining (And Investing)  

But back to Consensus. It wasn’t all fun and games, and there were some serious discussions on how governments might one day use cryptocurrencies; the future of bitcoin mining; and blockchain applications in finance, health care, insurance, energy and more. As I explain in last week’s Frank Talk Live, charitable giving is down because donors are increasingly concerned about fraud. Blockchain can help validate where your money is going.

I would include the mining industry to that list. Blockchain has the potential to revolutionize how gold and precious metals are manufactured and delivered. Consider the journey a gold nugget must take along its supply chain, from mine to end consumer—it cuts through several other industries and practices, including legal, regulatory, financial, manufacturing and retail, each of which might have its own ledger system.

These ledgers are vulnerable to hacking, fraud, errors and misinterpretations. They can be forged, for example, to conceal how the metal or mineral was sourced.

With blockchain technology, there’s no hiding anything. Decentralization guarantees complete transparency, meaning anyone along the supply chain can see how, when and where the metal was produced, and who was involved every step of the way.

This will give the industry a huge shot of trust, not to mention dramatically increase efficiency.

Many producers, tech firms and entire jurisdictions have already adopted, or plan to adopt, blockchain technology for these very reasons. IAMGOLD, a Toronto-based producer, announced last month that it partnered with Tradewind Markets, a fintech firm that uses blockchain technology to facilitate digital gold trading. IBM just helped launch a diamond and jewelry blockchain consortium, TrustChain, that will track and authenticate diamonds, metals and jewelry from all over the world. And sometime this year, the Democratic Republic of Congo will begin tracking cobalt supply from mines to ensure children were not involved.

With precious metals being used more widely in industrial applications, from smartphones to electric cars to Internet of Things (IoT) appliances, tracking metals across the supply chain has become increasingly more important to businesses and consumers. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), global sales of semiconductors—which contain various metals, including gold—crossed above $400 billion for the first time in 2017. Total sales were $412.2 billion, an increase of nearly 22 percent from the previous year.

That’s a lot of metal and other materials that blockchain tech can help authenticate.

Global sales of semiconductors crossed above 400 billion for fisrt time in 2017
click to enlarge

Before I get off this topic, I want to mention that blockchain is also bringing change to gold investment. Consider Royal Mint Gold (RMG), which aims to provide the “performance of the London Gold Market with the transparency of an exchange-traded security.” There’s also the Perth Mint’s InfiniGold, which issues digital certificates guaranteeing ownership of gold and silver in the mint’s vault. A number of other platforms exist to help facilitate gold trading.

Should even one of these become hugely popular, it “could be as big a change to the gold markets as the development of ETFs, but with the added advantage of appealing to younger generations,” according to the World Gold Council’s (WGC) chief strategist, John Reade.

Who Says Size Matters?

The small-cap Russell 2000 Index closed at its third straight record high on Friday after putting up bigger gains than the larger-cap S&P 500 Index and Dow Jones Industrial Average.   

the russel 2000 index hit a new all-time high
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As I’ve explained before, President Donald Trump’s protectionist policies and low corporate tax and regulatory environment strongly favor small-cap stocks. Investors hate uncertainty, which is precisely what the market is feeling with regard to tariffs and global trade. Because small-cap companies don’t rely as heavily on overseas markets as huge multinationals do, it’s little wonder why we’re seeing money flow into the Angie’s Lists and Yelps of the world right now.

 

The Russell 2000 Index is a small-cap stock market index of the bottom 2,000 stocks in the Russell 3000 Index. The index is maintained by FTSE Russell, a subsidiary of the London Stock Exchange Group. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price-weighted average of 30 blue chip stocks that are generally leaders in their industry.

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 (03/31/2018): IAMGOLD Corp., United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., American Airlines Group Inc.

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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Frank Talk Turns Eleven Years Old!
April 24, 2018

Eleven years ago, U.S. Global Investors launched the Frank Talk blog as a way to share my experiences traveling the world and the investment insights I pick up along the way. After thousands of blog posts, we continue to cover the latest market news and educate investors. We’re one of the few sources online today that strives to take a balanced approach on gold investing, emerging markets and a handful of other topics.

One of our values at U.S. Global is having a “curiosity to learn and improve” and I feel starting a blog was a great tool to help our shareholders understand the nuances of global investing. In fact, my CEO blog was one of the first produced by a mutual fund company. Since the first Frank Talk blog post was published in 2007, it’s now widely read around the world and regularly appears on a number of financial news outlets. Over the years the Frank Talk blog and our other educational content have won many STAR Awards from the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (MFEA).

In the eleventh year of Frank Talk, we decided to challenge ourselves and develop a supplemental video series for our readers. This video series, appropriately named Frank Talk Live, allows me to dig even deeper into the material I write about and connect with viewers on a personal level. In this digital age, we believe it’s important to educate our viewers using a variety of mediums, such as video.

In case you haven’t seen a Frank Talk Live yet, I’d like to share with you the most viewed ones so far:

  • Understated Inflation Could Be Good for Gold – At the beginning of the year I like to give my price forecast for gold, in addition to updating it throughout the rest of the year. In this video I talk about gold and its relationship with inflation.
  • Electric Car Demand Set to Drive Copper Sky High – My good friend Robert Friedland, founder and CEO of Ivanhoe Mines, visited the U.S. Global offices and I shared with viewers his insights on the copper market and how electric car demand might send copper prices soaring.
  • Chinese New Year and Gold’s Love Trade – I like to talk about Chinese New Year every year, since it’s a big contributor to gold’s seasonal trading patterns, which I call the Love Trade.

I invite you to subscribe to our YouTube page to receive notifications when a new Frank Talk Live is released.

Thank you to my loyal Frank Talk subscribers, and welcome to those of you who are new. If there is ever a topic you’re curious to learn more about, please drop a note to editor@usfunds.com.

Happy Investing!

 

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 links above, you may be directed to third-party websites. U.S. Global Investors does not endorse all information supplied by these websites and is not responsible for their content.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and 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 of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 3/31/2018: Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.

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Commodities Are Flashing a Once-in-a-Generation Buy Signal
April 23, 2018

Everything is bigger in Texas

Since the commodities supercycle began unwinding 10 years ago, many investors have been waiting for the right conditions to trigger mean reversion and lift prices. I believe those conditions are either firmly in place right now or, at the very least, in their early stages. Among them are factors I’ve discussed at length elsewhere—a weaker U.S. dollar, a steadily flattening yield curve, heightened market volatility, overvalued U.S. stocks, expectations of higher inflation, trade war jitters, geopolitical risks and more.

In addition, nearly 60 percent of money managers surveyed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch believe 2018 could be the peak year for stocks. A recent J.P. Morgan survey found that three-quarters of ultra-high net worth individuals forecast a U.S. recession in the next two years.

All of this makes the investment case for commodities, gold, and energy more compelling than at any other time in recent memory.

Exhibit A is the chart below, which I’ve shared before but recently updated with new data. Relative to equities, commodities are as cheap right now as they’ve been in decades. This is literally a once-in-a-generation opportunity that investors with a long-term view should seriously consider. For perspective, had you invested in a fund tracking the S&P GSCI or an equivalent commodities index in 2000, you would have seen a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 10 percent for the next 10 years, according to Bloomberg data.

Commodities at most undervalued level in decades
click to enlarge

We all know that past performance is no guarantee of future results, but it’s doubtful you’re going to get a clearer or resounding signal that now could be an ideal time to add to your commodities exposure. If you feel as if you’ve been stuck at a traffic light these past few years, just waiting to put your foot on the accelerator, you can breathe a sigh of relief because the light may have just turned green.

Goldman: Time to Overweight Commodities

us steel demand by industry

I'm not alone in my bullishness. In a note last week, analysts at Goldman Sachs wrote that “the strategic case for owning commodities has rarely been stronger.” The bank recommends an overweight position, estimating that commodities will yield at least 10 percent over the next 12 months, with most of the gains being made by crude oil and aluminum.

Whereas crude traders are responding primarily to concerns that output could be disrupted by intensifying conflict in the Middle East, specifically oil producer Syria, aluminum prices have skyrocketed following the imposition of fresh U.S. sanctions against a number of Russian firms. Among them is United Company RUSAL, the world’s second-largest aluminum company, responsible for producing as much as 6 percent of global supply.

WTI Testing $70 Resistance

Since its low of $26 per barrel in February 2016, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude has surged nearly fivefold and is currently at its highest level in more than three years. Last Wednesday, oil jumped nearly 3 percent on reports that U.S. inventories had fallen more than expected, suggesting the global glut continues to recede. And on Thursday, WTI tested resistance at $70, a level we haven’t seen since November 2014.

WTI crude surges to highest level since november 2014
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But prices retreated again Friday after President Donald Trump blasted OPEC on Twitter, proving once again how quants comb through social media at lightning speed and use sentiment analysis to inform their trades. “With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea, Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” the president said.

As I shared with you earlier this month, OPEC and Russia are planning to work more closely together to limit output for a number of years, possibly as many as 10 or 20. Such an agreement would help support oil prices—Saudi Arabia, in particular, seeks higher prices to take Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest energy company, public—but it’s likely American shale producers would ramp up production to fill the void. The U.S. is now the number two oil producer in the world, having overtaken Saudi Arabia late last year.

Will We See $3,000 Aluminum?

Aluminum is likewise enjoying a strong rally, jumping sharply more than 23 percent since the White House announced sanctions against select Russian firms and oligarchs in response to the Eastern European country’s alleged interference during the 2016 presidential election. In nine of the past 11 trading days through Thursday, the metal posted positive gains, surging nearly 6 percent on Wednesday alone.

Can aluminum hit 3,000 dollars
click to enlarge

Aluminum soared to $2,715 per metric ton in intraday trading Thursday, the highest we’ve seen since April 2011. The rally may have further to run, writes Goldman Sachs, which forecasts a price range of between $2,800 and $3,000 this year.

Australian-British multinational Rio Tinto and Melbourne-based BHP, two of the world’s top aluminum producers, were both upgraded to “BUY” this week by CLSA, partly in response to rising aluminum prices but also because they maintain strong balance sheets and are expected to generate favorable free cash flow (FCF) this year.

China’s One Belt, One Road Still Needs Biblical Amounts of Materials

Also bolstering the commodities investment story is China’s massive ongoing “Belt and Road” megaproject, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt. In a note last week, CLSA reminded us that the infrastructure initiative is still in its infancy, expected to be completed by 2049. It will cut through as many as 68 countries across Asia and Europe, affecting an estimated 62 percent of the world’s population. China has already spent approximately $180 billion to complete various projects, but many billions more will go toward building roads, ports, dams, high-speed rail, airports and more—all to “enhance regional connectivity,” as President Xi Jinping put it, and strengthen China’s economic clout.

To give you some scale as to how monumental and historic this undertaking truly is, the graphic below, courtesy of BHP, compares the development to the U.S. Marshall Plan, then one of the most expensive projects in human history. The Belt and Road initiative could eventually cost 12 times as much or more, with total spending estimates ranging between $4 trillion and $8 trillion.

Barrick gold reported lowest quarterly output in 16 years
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Estimates of how much energy and natural resources will be needed during the development phase vary wildly, but I think it’s fair to assume that demand will continue to be supported for some time.

Gold Supply Concerns Highlight It's Rarity

Gold ended last week down slightly, the first time in three weeks it’s done so. It looks as if gold investors took some profits late in the week after the yellow metal came close to breaching $1,360 on Wednesday.

I still believe gold could hit $1,500 an ounce this year on rising consumer and producer prices, which I think are understated. This is more than apparent when you compare the official U.S. consumer price index (CPI) and alternative measures such as the New York Fed’s Underlying Inflation Gauge (UIG). And as Dr. Ed Yardeni points out in a recent blog post, the word “inflation” appeared as many as 106 times during the latest Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, a sign that Fed members could be getting more and more concerned about mounting inflationary pressures.

Recent reports also suggest gold production is slowing, which could help support prices long-term. Exploration budgets have been declining pretty steadily since 2012 after the price of gold peaked, and fewer and fewer large-deposit mines are being discovered.

Last week the China Gold Association announced that the country, the largest producer of gold, produced 98 metric tons in the March quarter, down some 3 percent from the same period last year. This comes after total Chinese output in 2017 fell 6 percent year-over-year to 426 tons. Granted, miners have been pressured by Beijing to curtail production as part of the government’s enforcement of tougher environmental protection policies, but the decline in output is part of a downward trend we’re seeing across the board, especially among major producers.

Take a look at the declining quarterly output of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold miner. According to its preliminary results for the first quarter, Barrick produced a total of 1.05 million ounces from its 10 projects. That’s only a 2 percent decrease from the same quarter last year, but a far cry from where it was seven years ago.

Barrick gold reported lowest quarterly output in 16 years
click to enlarge

Since the news hit April 11, shares of Barrick are up about 3 percent, even after a Friday selloff.

While some investors might view the lower output as disappointing, others no doubt see it as a reminder that gold is a finite resource, one of the many reasons why it’s remained so highly valued for centuries. As I’ve written before, the low-hanging fruit has likely already been picked, making the task of mining the yellow metal more difficult as well as expensive. Supply isn’t growing nearly as fast as it once did.

And yet demand continues to climb. Not only do the peoples of India, China, Turkey and other countries have a strong cultural affinity to gold—an obsession that will only intensify as incomes rise—but the metal still plays a vital role as a portfolio diversifier in times of economic and political uncertainty.

Franco-Nevada IPO at 10

us steel demand by industry

On a final note, Franco-Nevada, one of our favorite players in the gold space, recently celebrated it's 10- year anniversary as a publically-traded company. As if to commemorate the occasion, the company reported record sales and profit in 2017, not to mention a record $167.9 million in dividends paid—all while staying debt-free.

“I am pleased that Franco-Nevada’s 10th full year since its IPO was its best year ever,” commented CEO David Harquail.      

I’d like to congratulate my good friends Seymour Schulich and Pierre Lassonde, who conceived of the gold royalty model and cofounded the company back in 1983. (As I’ve explained before, Franco-Nevada was the first IPO I worked on as a young analyst in Toronto.) Seymour and Pierre are true rock stars in the world of gold mining, and what they’ve managed to achieve is nothing short of legendary.

 

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The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is a useful measure of growth over multiple time periods. It can be thought of as the growth rate that gets you from the initial investment value to the ending investment value if you assume that the investment has been compounding over the time period.

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There is no guarantee that the issuers of any securities will declare dividends in the future or that, if declared, will remain at current levels or increase over time.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. The following securities mentioned in the article were held by one or more accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 3/31/2018: BHP Billiton Ltd., Barrick Gold Corp., Franco-Nevada Corp.

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Share “Commodities Are Flashing a Once-in-a-Generation Buy Signal”

Net Asset Value
as of 05/24/2019

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $4.31 0.05 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $6.53 0.04 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $2.51 0.01 China Region Fund USCOX $7.91 0.05 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.53 0.05 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $23.95 -0.02 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $16.43 0.14 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.21 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change