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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.

Gold, World War II and Operation Fish
June 5, 2018

Darkest Hour I recently had the opportunity to see the excellent 2017 film Darkest Hour, about British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s struggle to keep the United Kingdom in the fight against the Nazis, even as members of his own government pressured him to capitulate. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of the tough-as-nails leader is at turns tender and rousing—and very well deserving of the Best Actor Oscar.

I’d recommend the film to anyone, whether they’re a student of World War II or not.

It got me thinking, though, about the important role gold played in how the war was financed, as well as the U.K.’s daring efforts to prevent its gold holdings from falling into Adolf Hitler’s hands, should Nazi forces successfully invade the island and ransack its central bank. After all, Germany had done as much in a number of Central European countries before threatening the U.K.

Although not directly addressed in Darkest Hour, the U.K. ended up evacuating billions of dollars’ worth of gold bullion and other assets across the Atlantic, all to be kept safely in Canada. The mission, codenamed “Operation Fish,” is still the largest movement of physical wealth in history.

Germany’s Economic Straits

So why was Hitler so interested in acquiring gold?

To answer that, we really need to go back to the 1920s. At the time, Germany was in serious economic straits. It faced unprecedented hyperinflation, among the very worst such incidents in world history.

This was clearly a problem for Hitler, who, soon after being appointed Reich Chancellor in 1933, set in motion the remilitarization of Germany, in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Because the Western European country is not particularly resource-rich—the one exception is coal—everything from aluminum to zinc would have to be imported to manufacture the guns, tanks, ships, and warplanes needed to wage an extended conflict in the age of advanced machines.

But this was the Great Depression, which had suffocated the German economy as much as it had the United States’. Unemployment climbed to as high as 30 percent. In his inaugural address via radio, Hitler vowed to “achieve the great task of reorganizing our nation’s economy” through “a concerted and all-embarking attack against unemployment.”

Much like Roosevelt’s New Deal in the U.S., Hitler’s government tackled unemployment by dipping into deficit spending. It financed great public works projects such as the autobahn, railroad, housing and more.

The plan worked. Within four years, just as promised, unemployment was virtually thwarted. It’s been said that, had Hitler stopped in 1936 or 1937, he might today be remembered as one of the 20th century’s most admired leaders.

However, Hitler assumed a much more aggressive stance toward national rearmament in an effort to reclaim lost dignity—the Treaty of Versailles be damned. What stood in his way was not only his country’s lack of natural resources but also the fact that many supplier nations would not accept Germany’s worthless currency. They insisted instead to be paid in their own currency; some other international, convertible currency such as Swiss francs or U.S. dollars; or hard currency.    

How then would Germany pay for Sweden’s iron ore? Romania’s oil? Turkey’s chromium? Portugal’s tungsten and Spain’s manganese?

Enter gold.

In Gold We Trust

Before we continue, I want to make it clear that Hitler had no respect for the yellow metal, any more than he had for human life. Gold as a currency is built on trust, of which Hitler had none. He hated the metal and all it stands for—but he needed it to push forward his rearmament strategy.

during world war II, Germany's suppliers preferred gold to the reichsmark

Walther Funk, the Reich’s minister of economics and president of the country’s central Reichsbank, echoed this resentfulness at having to rely on gold:

“As far as currency is concerned, gold is unimportant to us,” Funk said in 1940. “We don’t need it as backing for a currency—which is being managed by price, volume, and wage control—but only to pay clearing balances.” 

In other words: We have absolutely no need for gold—until we need it.

But here another problem emerged: Just as it had few natural resources of its own, Germany laid claim to a relatively small gold reserve. In 1933, the Reich’s official holdings stood at only $109 million—not nearly enough to finance the kind of force Hitler envisioned.

The Greatest Gold Heist in History

So began the Reich’s looting of Europe’s gold reserves, beginning with Austria’s in 1938. At the time, Germany’s coffers were nearly empty. The infusion of Austria’s 90 to 100 metric tons of hard currency gave Hitler the boost he needed to continue his plundering.

Today we remember the Nazi’s gold heist as “one of the greatest thefts by a government in history,” in the words of Ambassador and Undersecretary of Commerce Stuart E. Eizenstat, spoken during his 1997 hearing on the status of Holocaust assets. Although estimates vary, and although the gold price fluctuates over time, it’s believed that as much as $600 million—now valued in the billions—were seized from the central banks and vaults of neighboring, occupied countries, including Austria, Poland, Belgium, Holland and the Netherlands. Millions more in silver, platinum, diamonds, artwork and other assets were stolen as well.

Operation Fish

Not every country’s hoard was pilfered, however. Once it was clear what the Nazis were up to, many outlying European countries had the prudence and foresight to secure their own reserves and keep them falling into Hitler’s hands.

And this is where we catch up with the timeline in Darkest Hour. In July 1940, as fears of a Nazi invasion intensified by the day, the U.K. shipped as much as 1,500 metric tons in gold—worth a mind-boggling $160 billion in 2017 dollars—across the Atlantic to be stored in Canada’s central bank in Ottawa.

one of the gold-bearing ships, the HMS enterprise

Codenamed “Operation Fish,” the evacuation was one of the greatest gambles ever. Writes Ottawa-based historian James Powell:

The only way to transport the tons of gold and securities was by ship across the U-boat infested North Atlantic, where 100 Allied and neutral merchant ships had been sunk in May 1940 alone. History was also not reassuring. During World War I, the SS Laurentic, carrying 43 tons of gold from Liverpool to Halifax, had been sunk in 1917 by a German U-boat off of Ireland. The loss of even one treasure ship would have major negative consequences. To buy weapons and other war materiel that it sorely needed from neutral United States, Britain had to pay in gold or U.S. dollars; no credit was permitted under the strict Neutrality Act in effect in the United States at that time.

Britain’s gamble paid off. Every last ingot made it safely across the Atlantic and was prevented from being used by the Nazis to extend their reign of terror a single day longer.

Germany Today a Gold Powerhouse

Although Hitler’s goals were despicable, his absolute need for gold reflects the precious metal’s centuries-long role as a widely accepted and trusted currency.

It’s a lesson Germany hasn’t forgotten, even today.

The country’s official gold holdings stand at 3,372 metric tons, more than any other except the U.S. Gold represents a whopping 70 percent of its foreign reserves—again, second only to the U.S. This has helped Germany become one of the most powerful and stable economies in the world.

More recently, Germany has emerged as the world’s largest gold investor. Although China and India still outpace the European country in total amount of gold consumed, Germans are ploughing more money into gold coins, bars and exchange-traded commodities (ETCs).

Interested in reading more about the history of gold? Check out some of my other posts below!

 

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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Spinning Italy's Distressed Debt into Gold
May 30, 2018

Spinning Italy’s Distressed Debt into Gold

Serious gold investors know that May has historically been a weak month for the price of the yellow metal. For the 10-year and 30-year periods, the month delivered negative returns. The general decline in enthusiasm comes before the late summer rally in anticipation of Diwali and the Indian wedding season, when gifts of gold are considered auspicious. In the past, the fifth month has provided an attractive buying opportunity.

This particular May, the price of gold also had to contend with a stronger U.S. dollar, which appreciated against the euro as political strife in Italy spread throughout the entire continent. Priced in euros, then, gold is performing well, having closed at a nearly one-year high of 1,125 euros on May 29.

gold priced in euros at one-year high on political uncertainty in Italy
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Italian government bond yields surged dramatically following President Sergio Mattarella’s decision to block the opposition parties’ pick for economic minister, a euroskeptic who supports Italy’s exit from the eurozone. The two-year bond in particular plunged the most since the creation of the bloc’s common currency in 1999.

italian government borrowing costs surge
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With no working government at the moment, it appears likely that Italy will hold another election soon, raising the odds that either the Five-Star Movement or the League—both populist, anti-establishment parties—could take control. Although at opposite ends of the political spectrum, the two parties have expressed interest in at least opening an earnest discussion on the idea of ditching the euro.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Italy’s appetite for change fits into what I see as a global trend right now. Based on what I’ve heard during my travels, middle class taxpayers, in the U.S. and elsewhere, are increasingly fed up with special interests and entrenched bureaucrats. As a result, the U.K. elected to end its complicity with failed socialist rules and regulations from Brussels. Donald Trump, an outsider and disruptor, was recognized by American voters as the right candidate to take on the beltway party.

Similarly, it’s possible that Italy could end up being next to say addio to further European Union (EU) control and take back its own economic and political destiny.

That said, the fear of another government debt crisis, similar to Greece’s, has naturally rattled markets. Because Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy, already has the highest debt-to-GDP in the bloc after Greece, and because Five-Star and the League both support ending austerity and challenging Brussels’ limits on government borrowing and spending, financials were the worst performing sector in the U.S. market, falling close to 4.5 percent for the week ended May 29. The Euro Stoxx Banks Index was down 5 percent for the same period. Italian banks fared even worse, collapsing nearly 25 percent since their high in late April.

italian banks get crushed
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Gold Seeing a Boost on Safe Haven Demand

Gold is trading above $1,300 an ounce again, but there could be bigger upside the more investors realize the full and global implications of Italy’s political turmoil.

The country’s public debt currently stands at 132 percent of GDP, and ratings agencies are reviewing a possible downgrade of its credit rating. Should it default on its billions of dollars in loans, a chain reaction could quickly spread to financial markets all over the world.

This is a worst-case scenario, but it’s for these reasons I think it’s prudent to have a 10 percent weighting in gold, with 5 percent in physical gold and the other 5 percent in high-quality gold stocks, mutual funds and ETFs.

Curious to see how some are gaining exposure to gold and precious metals? Click here!

 

The EURO STOXX Banks Index is a free float market capitalization index which covers 30 stocks of banks market sector leaders mainly from 12 eurozone countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The FTSE Italia All-Share Banks Index is a free float market capitalization index of Italian banks.

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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Which Has the Bigger Economy: Texas or Russia?
April 16, 2018

Everything is bigger in Texas

You’ve no doubt heard that everything’s bigger in Texas. That’s more than just a trite expression, and I’m not just saying that because Texas is home to U.S. Global Investors.

Want to know how big Texas really is? Let’s compare its economy with that of Russia, the world’s largest country by area. As you probably know, Russia’s been in the news a lot lately, so the timing of this comparison makes sense. The U.S. just levied fresh sanctions against the Eastern European country for its alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election, and early last week President Donald Trump warned Russia that the U.S. military could soon strike its ally Syria in response to its use of chemical weapons—a promise he kept Friday evening.

The Russian ruble traded sharply down following the news, decoupling from Brent crude oil, the country’s number one export.

Russian ruble decoupled from Brent crude following US snactions
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But back to the comparison. Even though Russia has nearly five times as many residents as Texas, the Lone Star State's economy is more than $400 billion larger. Texans, therefore, enjoy a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of around $58,000, whereas Russians have one closer to $8,700.

Texas Is So Much More than Oil Country

The Russian Federation is the largest single producer of crude in the world, pumping out 10.95 million barrels per day (bpd) in January, according to the country’s energy minister. Texas is no slouch, though, as its output came close to 4 million bpd in January. That’s the most ever for a January since at least 1981. And from December 2017 to February 2018, its oil and gas industry accounted for nearly 30 percent of the state’s employment growth, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

But whereas Russia’s economy is highly dependent on exports of oil and petroleum products, the Texas economy is broadly diversified. The state ranks first in the U.S. for not only oil production but also wind energy. It has a robust agricultural sector, and it’s a leading hub for advanced technology and manufacturing, aeronautics, biotechnology and life sciences. Austin, the state capital, is steadily emerging as the most dynamic U.S. filmmaking city outside of Hollywood.

Texas exports

All of this has helped contribute to Texas being among the fastest growing states in the U.S. In 2017, it grew by more than 1,000 new residents per day.

Meanwhile, Russia’s population is slowly shrinking because of low birth rates and low immigration. Its population peaked at 148 million in the early 1990s—right around when the Soviet Union fell—and by 2050, it’s estimated to sink to 111 million. 

Can Russia Root Out Its Corruption?

One area where Russia trumps Texas is in corruption. If you think Texas—or any other state—has a corruption problem, Russia takes it to a whole new level.

But Russia takes it to a whole new level. Last year, it ranked 135 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released in February. Among Eastern European countries, only Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan ranked lower. Watchdog group Freedom House was similarly critical in its most recent analysis, giving the country an overall democracy score of 6.61 out of 7, with 7 being “least democratic.”

So notorious and widespread is Russia’s mafia that a number of movies have been made about it. One of the best among them is David Cronenberg’s excellent Eastern Promises (2007).

Having said all that, I believe it’s prudent for investors to underweight Russian stocks for the time being and overweight Western Europe. Because of U.S. sanctions, Americans have until May 7 to divest completely from a number of Russian names, including Rusal, En+ Group and GAZ (Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod), all of which saw serious outflows last past week. The MSCI Russia Index, which covers about 85 percent of Russian equities’ total market cap, plunged below its 200-day moving average, but last Thursday it jumped more than 4 percent, its best one-day move in two years.

Click here to learn more about underweighting Russian stocks.

Weaker Greenback and $1 Trillion Deficit Helps Gold Glitter

Gold is rallying right now, but as I told Daniela Cambone in last week’s “Gold Game Film,” it has little to do with Russian geopolitics, or even trade war fears, which have subsided somewhat in the past couple of weeks. Instead, the price of gold is responding primarily to a weaker U.S. dollar. For the 30-day period, the greenback has dipped close to 20 basis points—for the year, more than 11 percent.

I think what’s also driving the yellow metal right now are concerns over the U.S. budget deficit and ballooning government debt. This week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said it estimated the deficit to surge over $1 trillion this year and average $1.2 trillion each subsequent year between 2019 and 2028, for a total of $12.4 trillion. By the end of the next decade, then, debt held by the public is expected to approach 100 percent of U.S. GDP.   

US deficits projected to be larger than previously estimated
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According to the U.S. National Debt Clock, government debt now stands at over $21 trillion—or, put another way, $174,000 per taxpayer. Imagine what the interest payments on that must be.

The CBO, in fact, commented on this. Believe it or not, the government’s annual payments on interest alone, made even more burdensome by rising rates, are expected to exceed what it spends on the military by 2023. And remember, defense is one of the country’s top expenditures, alongside Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs.

US government is expected to start spending more on interest than defense in 2023
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There was even more news last week on debt and the deficit, as Congress tried, and failed, once again to amend the Constitution by requiring a balanced budget. The amendment could not get the two-thirds support it needed.

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

Gold is one such asset that’s been a good store of value in such times. As I’ve shown before, gold has tracked U.S. government debt up since 1971, when President Richard Nixon ended the gold standard. I always recommend a 10 percent weighting in gold—5 percent in bars and coins; 5 percent in high-quality gold stocks, mutual funds or ETFs.

Asset Allocation Works

On a final note, I think it’s important that investors remember to stay diversified, especially now with volatility hitting stocks and geopolitical uncertainty on the rise. I’ve discussed Roger Gibson’s thoughts on asset allocation with you before, and I believe his strategy still holds up well today to capture favorable risk-adjusted returns.

Asset allocation works
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In the chart above, based on Gibson’s research, you can see that a portfolio composed of U.S. stocks, international stocks, real estate securities and commodity securities gave investors an attractive risk-reward profile between 1972 and 2015. This diversified portfolio, represented above by the orange circle, delivered good returns with a digestible amount of volatility, compared to portfolios that contained only one, two or three asset classes. Concentrating in only one or two asset classes could possibly give you higher returns, but you’d also likely see much greater risk, which many investors aren’t willing to accept.

I believe adding fixed-income—specifically short-term, tax-free municipal bonds—could improve these results. Munis with a shorter duration, as I’ve explained in the past, have a history of being steady growers not just in times of rising rates but also during market downturns. In the past 20 years, the stock market has undergone two massive declines, and in both cases, short-term, investment-grade munis—those carrying an A rating or higher—helped investors stanch the losses.

Learn more about the $3.8 trillion municipal bond market by clicking here!

 

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 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) scores countries on how corrupt their governments are believed to be. A country's score can range from zero to 100, with zero indicating high levels of corruption and 100 indicating low levels.

The MSCI Russia Index is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid-cap segments of the Russian market. With 22 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in Russia.

The MSCI EAFE Index is an equity index which captures large and mid-cap representation across Developed Markets countries around the world, excluding the US and Canada. With 927 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market.

The FTSE Nareit All Equity REITs Index is a free-float adjusted, market capitalization-weighted index of U.S. equity REITs. Constituents of the index include all tax-qualified REITs with more than 50 percent of total assets in qualifying real estate assets other than mortgages secured by real property.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index, formerly the DJ-UBS Commodity Index, is a broadly diversified index that tracks the commodities markets through commodity futures contracts. Since its launch in 1998, it has emerged as a leading benchmark of commodity markets.

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

Diversification does not protect an investor from market risks and does not assure a profit.

Holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. None of the securities mentioned in the article were held by any accounts managed by U.S. Global Investors as of 3/31/2018.

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The 6 Fastest Growing Countries in Emerging Europe
April 3, 2018

american energy dominance

With volatility returning to domestic equities, it might be time for investors to consider increasing their exposure to foreign markets, specifically emerging Europe. As I shared with you in January, emerging Europe countries, as measured by the MSCI EM Europe 10/40 Index, finished last year up more than 20 percent, and so far in 2018, they’ve returned 1.17 percent, compared to the S&P 500 Index, which is down more than 3 percent.

One of our favorite ways to measure growth, whether on a macro scale or in individual markets, is by using the manufacturing purchasing manager’s index (PMI). Whereas gross domestic product (GDP) is backward-looking, PMI is a forward-looking economic indicator. We’ve found that it can forecast productivity and manufacturing activity three and six months out with a satisfactory level of accuracy.

With that in mind, I’d like to share with you the top six fastest-growing countries in emerging Europe, based on their just-released manufacturing PMIs for the month of March. Each market’s reading is currently above 50, indicating expansion, which is very good news indeed for the group as a whole. The higher the number, the faster the expansion.

We’ll start with the country with the lowest PMI in the group and work our way up.

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#6 Russia 50.6 50.2 0.8%

 

US net energy imports in 2017 fell to lowest levels since 1982
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Russia’s manufacturing sector improved a shade better in March compared to February, when it came close to giving up all momentum for the first time since August 2016. Geopolitical headwinds now threaten continued expansion, including additional international sanctions and rising tensions between the country and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ally nations. At the same time, BCA Research recently took a positive view of Russia, saying the country’s conservative fiscal policy has allowed expenditures to grow only slightly since the oil crash in 2014. Overall spending has fallen considerably, improving the deficit.

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#5 Turkey 51.8 55.6 -6.8%

 

US now the number two oil producer expected to overtake russia by 2019
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Turkey isn’t just one of the fastest growing economies in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE)—it’s among the fastest in the world. Last year it defied skeptics by growing its GDP an estimated 7.3 percent year-over-year, more than China and India, thanks to a surge in household and government spending. Although the country’s March PMI came in lower than expected, its rate of growth is still above the historical trend, supported by greater volumes of new orders and rising output.

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#4 Poland 53.7 53.7 0%

 

big oil is generating as much profit at 60 dollar oil as it was at 100 dollar
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Poland is one of the world economy’s great success stories right now. A communist nation as recently as 1989, Poland has since transformed itself into one of the fastest growing free-market economies in the euro area. This September, in fact, the Eastern European country will officially be upgraded from the “advanced emerging” category to “developed” by FTSE Russell, placing it in the same company as other high-income nations such as the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, and others. In March, Poland’s PMI came in at a healthy 53.7, unchanged from its February reading. The manufacturing sector has now expanded for 42 straight months, a record since the series began in June 1998.

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#3 Greece 55 56.1 -1.9%

 

chinese huan has a long way to go as a reserve currency
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After nearly a decade of debt woes and government mismanagement, it finally looks as though Greece is catching a break, thanks in large part to massive amounts of foreign investment. Unemployment is falling rapidly, GDP growth has been positive for the past four quarters and its manufacturing sector is in expansion mode. The PMI for the Mediterranean country posted an incredible 55 in March, with business confidence and employment growth both hitting record series highs.

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#2 Hungary 57 57.4 -0.7%

 

chinese huan has a long way to go as a reserve currency
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Believe it or not, Hungary’s economy could be the crown jewel among CEE nations in 2018. According to Italian investment bank UniCredit, Hungary could potentially grow its GDP 4.5 percent this year on fast net wage growth and deleveraging, which is expected to support consumption and private investment. As for its manufacturing sector, the PMI reading for March came in at 57, down a hair from its February reading of 57.4. That leads us to the fastest growing CEE nation…

Rank Country March PMI February PMI Percent Change
#1 Czech Republic 57.3 58.8 -2.5%

 

chinese huan has a long way to go as a reserve currency
click to enlarge

Having posted a 57.3 PMI reading in March, the Czech Republic is currently the fastest growing nation in Central and Eastern Europe. Although the overall PMI slipped from 58.8 in February, the country is benefiting from sharp improvements in operating conditions across the value chain, including new orders and output. What’s more, growth is projected to improve even more over the next 12 months. In his monthly commentary, IHS Markit economist Sian Jones says that Czech business owners are “largely optimistic in regard to the year-ahead outlook, with over half of survey respondents expecting a rise in output.”

Interested in learning more? Watch this brief video on how you can take advantage of investment opportunities in emerging Europe!

 

The MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) Europe 10/40 Index is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid-cap representation across 6 Emerging Markets (EM) countries in Europe. The MSCI 10/40 equity indexes are designed and maintained on a daily basis to take into consideration the 10% and 40% concentration constraints on funds subject to the UCITS III Directive. With 86 constituents, the index covers approximately 85% of the free float-adjusted market capitalization in each country. The S&P 500 Index is a diverse index that includes 500 American companies that represent over 70% of the total market capitalization of the U.S. stock market.

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

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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2018 Could be Another Knockout Year for Emerging Europe
January 9, 2018

A market square in Warsaw Poland

Domestic stocks were a great place to invest in 2017, but hopefully you didn’t overlook opportunities overseas. Emerging markets had a gangbusters year, surging more than 37.5 percent with dividends reinvested, as measured by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. A combination of rising PMIs—or the purchasing manager’s index I talk so often about—and a steadily declining U.S. dollar helped emerging economies in Asia, Latin America, Europe and elsewhere eke out their best year since 2010.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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This was a boon for our Emerging Europe Fund (EUROX), which crushed its benchmark in 2017.

EUROX, which invests in companies domiciled in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) economies, beat its benchmark, the MSCI EM Europe 10/40 Index, by 2.4 percent and outperformed its main competitor, the T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe Fund (TREMX), by 4.7 percent. Throughout 2017, the fund traded consistently above its 200-day moving averages and ended the year at a three-year high.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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I’m optimistic this upswing can be sustained this year, supported by low unemployment, low inflation and record manufacturing growth. The European Central Bank (ECB) has indicated that it will continue its accommodative monetary policy by keeping rates low and expanding its balance sheet some 270 billion euros ($326 billion) through the first three quarters of 2018.

EUROX Outperformed, Thanks Largely to Active Management

I can’t stress enough the role active management played here. Using financial indicators such as cash flow return on invested capital (CFROIC) and low debt-to-equity, we managed to outperform the fund’s benchmark and its main competitor.  

Two positive contributors to fund performance last year were an overweight in Turkish stocks and underweight in Russian stocks. When screening for CFROIC, our model pointed to Turkey as having the most attractive companies on a relative basis. Our allocation was well-made, as Turkey far outperformed its CEE peers. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index ended the year up close to 48 percent in local currency, followed by Poland’s  WIG20, which advanced more than 26 percent.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
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Again, we underweighted Russia based on our model and after factoring in overall negative investor sentiment, which really began in earnest in 2014 after the country annexed Crimea, inviting international sanctions. The ill will only intensified during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and today, we see Russian stocks, as measured by the MOEX Russia Index, decoupling from Brent crude oil prices.

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
click to enlarge

Historically, Russian stocks have closely tracked Brent prices, which accounted for nearly 50 percent of the federation’s exports in 2016. But it seems now as if a selloff is underway as new details continue to emerge from the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election. It appears markets have mostly soured on Vladimir Putin, with the MOEC ending the year down 5.5 percent.

A good illustration of our attentive stock selection in Russian equities was our exit out of Magnit, the country’s largest retailer. We dumped the stock in April after it had lost around 9 percent for the year. By the end of 2017, it had fallen a further 25 percent.

Meanwhile, we remained long Sberbank, the number one holding in EUROX. In the third quarter of 2017, the Russian bank posted a record 224.1 billion rubles (approximately $4 billion) in net profit, an amazing 64 percent increase from the same three-month period in 2016. Sberbank ended the year up more than 46 percent.

A European Manufacturing Boom Could Be Constructive in 2018

Besides a weak U.S. dollar, the real catalyst for growth in emerging European markets last year was a reenergized manufacturing sector. Take a look at the PMIs in the CEE area. All of the major economies that EUROX invests in saw manufacturing expand strongly throughout most of 2017—and that includes debt-ridden Greece, which had been a laggard in this area until recently. In December, the Mediterranean country’s manufacturing sector rose the fastest since 2008. (Anything above 50 indicates expansion; anything below, deterioration.)

Will there be a fed rally in 2018
click to enlarge

The PMI, unlike gross domestic product (GDP), is a forward-looking indicator. That all CEE countries are in expansion mode is good news, I believe, for the next six months at least, if not the rest of 2018.

The eurozone as a whole knocked it out of the park in December, posting a 60.6, the highest PMI reading ever in the series’ two-decade history. Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Ireland all ended the year at record-high levels, while Italy and France had their best showing since 2000.

As I’ve shared with you before, CEE countries have tended to benefit greatly from strong economic growth in its western neighbors, and last year was no exception. The Czech Republic and Hungary were standouts, their manufacturing sectors growing at the fastest rates on improved output, new orders and job creation. Brexit has also been a windfall for the CEE regions, as companies have moved high-quality jobs out of the United Kingdom and into Poland and other central and eastern European Union nations.

Poland Now a “Developed Economy”

On a final note, Poland was recently upgraded from the “advanced emerging” category to “developed” by FTSE Russell, effective September of this year. This will place Poland in the same company as, among others, the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany and Singapore. The country is the first in the CEE region to receive “developed” status, and I believe the news will attract even more inflows from foreign investors.

Among the decisive factors behind the upgrade were the country’s advanced infrastructure, secure trading and a high gross national income (GNI) per capita. The World Bank forecasts its economy in 2018 to grow 3.3 percent, up significantly from 2.7 percent in 2016, on the back of a strong labor market, improved consumption and the child benefit program Family 500+.

Economists aren’t the only ones noticing the improvement. Young Polish expats who had formerly sought work in the U.K. and elsewhere are now returning home in large numbers to participate in the booming economy. Banks and other companies, including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, are similarly considering opening branches in Poland and hiring local talent.

This represents quite an about-face for a country that, as recently as 1990, was languishing under communist rule.

 

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.

 

Total Annualized Returns as of 9/30/2017:
Fund One-Year Five-year Ten-Year Gross Expense Ratio
Emerging Europe Fund (EUROX) 26.83% -3.85% -6.96% 2.33%
MSCI EM Europe 10/40 Index 25.42% -11.03% -34.91% n/a
T. Rowe Price Emerging Europe Fund 22.59% -2.21% -6.00% 1.75%

Expense ratio as stated in the most recent prospectus. 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.

Foreign and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and less public disclosure, as well as economic and political risk. By investing in a specific geographic region, a regional fund’s returns and share price may be more volatile than those of a less concentrated portfolio. The Emerging Europe Fund invests more than 25% of its investments in companies principally engaged in the oil & gas or banking industries.  The risk of concentrating investments in this group of industries will make the fund more susceptible to risk in these industries than funds which do not concentrate their investments in an industry and may make the fund’s performance more volatile.

The Standard & Poor's 500, often abbreviated as the S&P 500, or just the S&P, is an American stock market index based on the market capitalizations of 500large companies having common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. The S&P 500 index components and their weightings are determined by S&P Dow Jones Indices. The MSCI Emerging Markets (EM) Europe 10/40 Index is designed to measure the performance of the large and mid-cap representation across 6 Emerging Markets (EM) countries in Europe. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is an index created by Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) designed to measure equity market performance in global emerging markets. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index is a capitalization-weighted index composed of National Market companies except investment trusts. The WIG20 is a capitalization-weighted stock market index of the twenty largest companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange. The Athens Stock Exchange General Index is a capitalization-weighted index of Greek stocks listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. The index was developed with a base value of 100 as of December 31, 1980. The Budapest Stock Exchange Index is a capitalization-weighted index adjusted for free float. The index tracks the daily price only performance of large, actively traded shares on the Budapest Stock Exchange. The index has a base value of 1000 points as of January 2, 1991 and is a Total Return index. The PX index is the official price index of the Prague Stock Exchange. It is a free float weighted price index made up of the most liquid stocks and it is calculated in real time. The MOEX Russia Index (formerly MICEX Index) is the main ruble-denominated benchmark of the Russian stock market. 

The Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector. The PMI is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment.

Cash flow return on invested capital (CFROIC) is a calculation used to assess a company’s efficiency at allocating the capital under its control to profitable investments.

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.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the Emerging Europe Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 9/30/2017: Magnit 0.00%, Sberbank of Russia PJSC 10.71%. Holdings by region in the Emerging Europe Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 9/30/2017: Russian Federation 34.55%, Turkey 15.37%, Poland 14.5%, Greece 6.98%, Austria 4.6%, Hungary 3.3%, Germany 2.7%, Cyprus 2.25%, Czech Republic 1.38%, Canada 1.25%.

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

Share “2018 Could be Another Knockout Year for Emerging Europe”

Net Asset Value
as of 06/18/2018

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $5.82 -0.01 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $7.59 -0.02 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $3.86 -0.03 China Region Fund USCOX $11.75 -0.05 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.64 -0.08 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $25.97 No Change Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $20.15 -0.07 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.20 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change