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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.

No One Ever Said Brexit Was Going to Be Easy
December 11, 2018

The Yield Curve Just Inverted for the First Time in Years. Time to Reconsider Risk?

If you followed some of my posts from two years ago, you might recall that I was in favor of Brexit. I still am. One of British voters’ main grievances was the heavy burden of European Union (EU) regulations, many of which are decided by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. Altogether, these regulations cost U.K. businesses an estimated 33.3 billion pounds every year. Voters should have the right to decide whether to abide by these rules, which hamper business, or choose a different path.

At the same time, I was realistic about the huge, unprecedented challenges this divorce presented—to the United Kingdom, but also to the EU and its main trading partners. “Global growth is unstable, especially in the EU, and Brexit will only add to the instability,” I wrote. “This will likely continue to be the case in the short and intermediate terms as markets digest the implications of the U.K.’s historic exit.”

No one said it was going to be easy.

Today was supposed to be the day when U.K. Members of Parliament (MPs) voted on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal with the EU, capping off two and a half years since Britons elected to leave the 28-member bloc.

Yesterday, however, May postponed the vote in the face of certain defeat, thanks largely to disagreement over how best to deal with the border between Northern Ireland (part of the U.K.) and the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU).

The British pound sterling promptly lost as much as 1.25 percent against the U.S. dollar, falling to its lowest level in more than a year and a half as foreign investors halted nearly all trading of the currency, according to the Financial Times.

British stocks, as measured by the FTSE 100 Index, extended losses for the fourth time out of the past five trading days. Telescoping their uncertainty of May’s deal, investors sent London-listed stocks plummeting 3.15 percent last Thursday in the worst session since the day after the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

British pound and stocks slipped after delay of Brexit vote
click to enlarge

The question on everyone’s mind is: What happens now? 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I see it, there are three main options: 1) leave the EU without a deal (the “hard” Brexit); 2) halt the entire Brexit process, leaving open the possibility of another referendum; and 3) go back to the drawing board and renegotiate.

By any measure, a hard Brexit would be disastrous. Thomas Verbraken, executive director of risk management research at MSCI, estimates that U.K. stocks could fall as much as 25 percent, European stocks at least 10 percent, if either Parliament rejects the deal or a “disorderly Brexit” is triggered. In such a scenario, according to Morningstar’s Alex Morozov, the British auto industry would fare the worst since its entire supply chain is highly integrated with the EU, including parts manufacturing and vehicle production. U.K. and EU aerospace and defense companies such as Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Meggitt are also highly exposed to Brexit risks.

As for the second option, May has already nixed the idea of bringing a halt to Brexit, even though the European Court of Justice (ECJ) just ruled that the U.K. can “unilaterally withdraw its notification to leave the European Union without the permission of other EU countries,” according to Politico.

May’s job may be in peril because of her handling of Brexit—Jeremy Corbyn, leader of U.K.’s Labour Party, could push for a vote of no confidence at some point—but here I think she made the right decision. The people of the United Kingdom spoke. Even though Britons’ approval of EU leadership has improved since the 2016 referendum, disapproval is still above 50 percent.  

More than half of britons still disapprove of european union leadership
click to enlarge

That brings us to option number three. The problem here is that the nearly-600-page agreement already required a year’s worth of back-and-forth. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made clear today that Brussels will not reopen negotiations. “The deal we have achieved is the best deal possible—it’s the only deal possible,” Juncker said. “So there is no room whatsoever for renegotiation.”

What there is room for, according to Juncker, is clarification and reinterpretation of the deal.

So Where Does This Leave Things?

I don’t believe anyone knows the answer to this question. As of now, the U.K. is scheduled to leave the 28-member bloc on March 29 of next year. I hope that before that time, MPs can be convinced that the package May has delivered is the best possible solution to an impossible situation.

I urge investors to be cautious. Brexit isn’t the only geopolitical risk to stocks right now. Here in the U.S., Democrats will take control of the House in about a month, and although talk of impeaching President Donald Trump is premature, it’s certain we’ll see innumerable new investigations into this administration.

With a new year about to begin, it might be a good time to rebalance your portfolio and make sure you have a 10 percent weighting in gold, with 5 percent in bullion and jewelry, the other 5 percent in high-quality gold mining stocks, mutual funds and ETFs. I also recommend short-term, tax-free municipal bonds, as they’ve performed well even in times of economic pullbacks and bear markets.

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

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 9/30/2018.

 

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Minute with the Analyst: Meet Joanna Sawicka
October 3, 2018

Meet Joanna Sawicka – an emerging Europe research analyst at U.S. Global Investors. Prior to joining our team in 2007, Joanna was part of Soros Fund Management in New York and JP Morgan in San Antonio. Since 2015, she has worked on the Investment team and currently is primarily responsible for analyzing companies in emerging European countries.

In this brief Q&A, I invite you to learn more about Joanna’s path to becoming an emerging Europe analyst and read what she sees on the horizon for this region as we head into year end.

What made you want to become an investment analyst?

I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in finance. However, I didn’t know which section of the industry would suit me best until I visited the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for one of my classes at Baruch College. During this visit, we went to the floor of the exchange and toured a huge vault full of gold. Watching the trading and experiencing the atmosphere firsthand left a huge impression on me. It was after this trip that I moved steadily over to investments.

While working on my investment specialization in school, I especially enjoyed my simulation class. In it, we were given half a million dollars to grow. If I remember correctly, I invested in oil futures and bought Disney stock. I actually made a lot of money!

What was the most memorable trip you’ve taken for your job?

While I have traveled to many fascinating places, like the Warsaw Stock Exchange, to me, the most interesting trip was to the Wood & Company CEE Investor Days Conference in New York earlier this year. I was very surprised by how many people at the conference wanted to learn more about eastern Europe. The number of attendees speaking Polish also caught me off guard, though it makes sense since Wood & Company has a big presence in Poland.

You took a trip to Poland this summer. Did you notice any changes in the country since your last time there?

For the past three years, I have made an annual trip to Poland. Being there so frequently makes it a bit harder to see changes. Having said that, I did notice quite a bit of construction, in particular highway construction. Two years ago, when my flight landed in Warsaw, it took three or four hours to drive to my hometown, Bialystock, because the highway was not complete. This year, the drive only took two hours. There is still a lot of construction, especially on the east side, but the improvements are very apparent.

Many new businesses, small and large, began to appear starting 10 years ago, resulting in new construction projects like shopping centers. People are actually spending a lot of money. That is the most notable change to me in the last decade or so.  

Poland was recently upgraded to a developed market by FTSE Russell. What is on the horizon for Poland? Do you believe its growth is sustainable?

The upgrade to a developed market is very positive for Poland. The next step would be updating the country on the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. It’s my understanding that Poland is only missing one factor – gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. That isn’t quite strong enough yet. Once that happens, there will be more inflows into Polish equities.

Joanna Sawicka emerging europe research analyst U.S. Global Investors

It is important to mention that Poland is very strong in central emerging Europe and has the largest stock markets. There are more than 350 stocks trading on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, compared to only a handful in other central emerging European markets. Most of the stocks in other geographically similar markets, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, are not very liquid. The large equity market in Poland makes it much more accessible for larger investors.

Additionally, Poland is growing at around 5 percent, has stable inflation, low unemployment and solid consumer spending. Given these facts, I believe Poland’s growth is sustainable.

Do you see growing nationalism as a risk?

In central emerging Europe, nationalism has always had a presence, such as the Law and Justice in Poland (PiS) and Fidesz in Hungary. However, this trend is not specific to the region. In fact, it has spread into Western Europe. A far right government came into power in Austria last year. The elections in Italy, Germany and Sweden saw similar movements. I do not currently believe this is a threat, but we will have to see how it develops.

The recent emerging market sell-off has captured a lot of headlines. What is your outlook on emerging markets for the rest of 2018?

Emerging markets peaked around mid-January this year and, since then, stocks are down about 20 percent. Emerging markets were suppressed by dramatic currency depreciation in Turkey and Argentina.  At one point, we saw the lira drop about 25 percent in a couple days. Argentina experienced a huge drop as well, though the central bank of Argentina was a little more supportive with its rate hikes.

I think we are at a turning point now and emerging Europe will rebound. The Turkish bank just recently hiked rates by 625 basis points, which is very supportive of the lira. Additionally, when the price crosses above the 50-day moving average, we expect inflows. I noticed a cross in emerging markets and emerging Europe, so I think this uptrend will continue towards the end of the year.

With oil on the rise, Turkey looks even more vulnerable. Should investors be concerned?

Brent moving higher is certainly negative for Turkey, since it’s a major importer of crude oil, but a bigger concern is the weakening lira. Year-to-date, the lira has depreciated around 40 percent. So there is more to it than just higher oil prices, especially considering Turkey’s geopolitical situation.

U.S. sanctions are weighing heavily on Russia’s economy. What is Russia doing to counteract the slowdown?

U.S. sanctions have a significant impact, not only on Russia’s economy, but all of Europe’s growth, as these countries’ economies are interrelated. The latest set of sanctions was the most severe, disallowing American investors to own certain Russian equities which resulted in a sharp sell-off. There may be additional sanctions on the horizon, though no one is sure yet.

In the interim, Russia is taking measures to protect its economy. For example, the government is essentially supporting the ruble by hiking rates and discontinuing weekly forex buying. In March, Vladimir Putin won another presidential term and announced infrastructure reform, which may be supportive for the economy.

Russia is also trying to develop a better relationship with Asia. There is discussion about potentially building a pipeline through North Korea since the situation there has improved somewhat. Acquiring new “friends” could be positive for the Russian economy. 

Want to learn more about emerging Europe? Subscribe to the award-winning Investor Alert newsletter for a weekly recap of the biggest market-moving events.

 

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

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).

The MSCI Emerging Markets Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure equity market performance in the global emerging markets.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period, though GDP is usually calculated on an annual basis. It includes all of private and public consumption, government outlays, investments and exports less imports that occur within a defined territory.

None of the U.S. Global Investors funds held any of the securities mentioned in this article as of 6/30/18.

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Two Big Reasons Why I Believe China Looks Attractive Right Now
September 25, 2018

emerging markets look like a buy after decoupling from the U.S. market

Emerging markets continue to decouple from the U.S. market, making them look attractive as a value play—particularly distressed Chinese equities. Below I’ll share with you two big reasons why I think China is well-positioned to outperform over the long term.

So far this year, the MSCI Emerging Markets Index has given up about 10 percent, mostly on currency weakness and global trade fears. The S&P 500 Index, meanwhile, has advanced roughly 9 percent as a flood of passive index buying pushes valuations up and companies buy back their own stock at a record pace.

emerging markets look like a buy after decoupling from the U.S. market
click to enlarge

S&P Dow Jones Indices reported this week that buybacks in the second quarter increased almost 60 percent from the same three months a year ago to a record $190.6 billion. For the 12 months ended June 30, S&P 500 companies, flush with cash thanks to corporate tax reform, spent an unprecedented $645.8 billion shrinking their float. In the first half of 2018, in fact, companies spent more on buybacks than they did on capital expenditures.

As I told CNBC recently, this, combined with fewer stocks available for fundamental investing, could contribute toward a massive selloff when it comes time for multibillion-dollar index funds to rebalance at year’s end.

But let’s get back to emerging markets.

The Selloff Is Overdone, According to Experts

Again, China in particular looks like a buying opportunity with stocks down near a four-year low. Speaking with CNBC last week, chief executive of J.P. Morgan Chase’s China business, Mark Leung, said that the emerging market selloff is largely overdone. “If you look at the positioning and also the fundamentals side, we think there are reasons to start going into emerging markets for the medium and long term,” Leung said, adding, “China is a big piece.”

This view was echoed by Catherine Cai, chairman of UBS’s Greater China investment banking arm, who told CNBC that she believes “among all the emerging markets, China’s still representing the most attractive market.”

The U.S. just imposed tariffs on as much as $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, which will have the effect of raising consumer prices. Among the retailers and brands that have already announced they will be passing costs on to consumers are Walmart, General Motors, Toyota, Coca-Cola and MillerCoors. China plans to retaliate with tariffs of its own on $60 billion in U.S. exports. 

Despite this, the tariffs’ impact on the Chinese economy will be “very small,” Cai said, as the country’s government is now “prepared” to handle the additional pressure.

The Power of 600 Million Millennials

The two reasons I find China so compelling right now are 1) promising demographics, and 2) financial reform.

As for the first reason, there’s really no arguing against the sheer math of Asia’s exploding population. You’ve heard the expression “There is strength in numbers,” and nowhere is that more apparent than in China and India, affectionately known as “Chindia,” where 40 percent of all humans live.

But there’s more. According to a recent report from CLSA, the entire continent of Asia is now home to nearly one billion millennials, or people aged 20 to 34. China and India alone contribute more than 600 million millennials, the youngest of whom will “start to hit their ‘peak’ earning capacity” over the next 10 years, says CLSA.

Asian millennials are changing global consumption
click to enlarge

“Millennials are more affluent, better educated with difference perspectives and priorities than their parents’ generation, which tends to sacrifice present consumption for the future,” CLSA writes. “Millennials care less about saving.”

This translates into not only the largest consumer class the world has ever seen, but also the most eager to spend their money on goods and services their parents and grandparents could never have imagined.

Consumption, in fact, now accounts for nearly 80 percent of China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth, helping the country become less dependent on capital input and foreign trade.

China’s Capital Markets Continue to Mature

chinese premiere li keqiang: the pool is full of water and the challenge is to unblock the channels. As for my second reason, financial reform, Premier Li Keqiang recently pledged to give equal treatment to foreign investors in capital markets, all in the name of bolstering confidence among investors who may have been rattled lately by the U.S.-China trade dispute.

“The pool is full of water,” Li said, “and the challenge is to unblock the channels.”

China A-shares, those traded in the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges, were once available only to Chinese citizens living on the mainland. But as a sign of the financial market’s maturation, last week marked the first time that foreign investors living in mainland China, as well as employees of listed Chinese firms living overseas, could freely trade A-shares.

Many A-shares have already been added to indexes provided by MSCI, and FTSE Russell said it will decide soon whether to do the same.

As we’ve seen in the U.S. market and elsewhere, a stock’s inclusion in a major index has meant, for better or worse, that it automatically gets an infusion of investors’ money, regardless of fundamentals.

That Premier Li plans to open China’s market up even further is exciting, and makes its investment case even stronger.

To learn more about investment opportunities in China and the surrounding region, watch our short video 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 MSCI Emerging Markets Index captures large and mid-cap representation across 24 Emerging Markets (EM) countries. The S&P 500 index is a basket of 500 of the largest U.S. stocks, weighted by market capitalization. 

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.

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 6/30/2018: Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated.

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Top 10 Countries with Largest Gold Reserves
July 5, 2018

Beginning in 2010, central banks around the world turned from being net sellers of gold to net buyers of gold. Last year official sector activity rose 36 percent to 366 tonnes – a substantial increase from 2016.

top 10 central banks ranked by largest gold holdings as of june 2018

The top 10 central banks with the largest gold reserves have remained mostly unchanged for the last few years. The United States holds the number one spot with over 8,000 tonnes of gold in its vaults – nearly as much as the next three countries combined. For six consecutive years the Russian Central Bank has been the largest purchaser of gold, increasing its holdings by 224 tonnes in 2017 and overtaking China to hold the fifth spot, according to the GFMS Gold Survey.

Not every central bank is a net buyer. For the second year in a row, Venezuela has been the largest seller of gold, with 25 tonnes sold last year to help pay off debt. However, gross official sector sales declined by 55 percent last year, to the lowest since 2014, indicating that central banks are happy to keep their reserves in gold, historically viewed as a safe-haven asset.

Central Banks Continue Gobbling Up Gold central bank purchases from 1997 to 2017
click to enlarge

2018 could be another strong year for central bank gold demand. According to the World Gold Council (WGC), demand in the first quarter was up 42 percent year-over-year, with purchases totaling 116.5 tonnes for the highest first quarter total since 2014. As global debt continues to skyrocket, central banks and individual investors alike might want to keep gold in their pockets, as it historically has performed well during times of economic downturn and geopolitical uncertainty.

Below are the top 10 countries with the largest gold holdings, beginning with India.

 

10. India

Tonnes: 560.3

Percent of foreign reserves: 5.5 percent

It’s no surprise that the Bank of India has one of the largest stores of gold in the world. The South Asian country, home to 1.25 billion people, is the second largest consumer of the precious metal, and is one of the most reliable drivers of global demand. India’s festival and wedding season, which runs from October to December, has historically been a huge boon to gold’s Love Trade.

Construction on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, concluded in 1604

9. Netherlands

Tonnes: 612.5

Percent of foreign reserves: 68.2 percent

The Dutch Central Bank announced that it will be moving its gold vaults from Amsterdam to Camp New Amsterdam, about an hour outside the city, citing burdensome security measures of its current location. As many others have pointed out, this seems odd, given that the bank fairly recently repatriated a large amount of its gold from the U.S.

The Gold Souk building in Beverwijk, The Netherlands, houses a marketplace for gold dealers and goldsmiths

8. Japan

Tonnes: 765.2

Percent of foreign reserves: 2.5 percent

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is also the eighth largest hoarder of the yellow metal. Its central bank has been one of the most aggressive practitioners of quantitative easing—in January 2016, it lowered interest rates below zero—which has helped fuel demand for gold around the world.

The Gold Pavilion in Kyoto, japan, features beautiful gold-leaf coating

7. Switzerland

Tonnes: 1,040.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 5.3 percent

In seventh place is Switzerland, which actually has the world’s largest reserves of gold per capita. During World War II, the neutral country became the center of the gold trade in Europe, making transactions with both the Allies and Axis powers. Today, much of its gold trading is done with Hong Kong and China.

Credit Suisse gold bars and coins

6. China

Tonnes: 1,842.6

Percent of foreign reserves: 2.4 percent

In the summer of 2015, the People’s Bank of China began sharing its gold purchasing activity on a monthly basis for the first time since 2009. Although China comes in sixth for most gold held, the  yellow metal accounts for only a small percentage of its overall reserves – a mere 2.4 percent – the lowest of the top 10 central banks with the most gold. However, this figure is up slightly from 2.2 percent of holdings in 2016.

China is also the number one gold producing nation. What other countries are top gold producers? Find out here!

Over 2,000 ancient Buddha statues have been excavated in China

5. Russia

Tonnes: 1,909.8

Percent of foreign reserves: 17.6 percent

The Russian Central Bank has been the largest buyer of gold for the past six years and earlier this year overtook China to have the fifth largest reserves. In 2017 Russia bought 224 tonnes of bullion in an effort to diversify away from the U.S. dollar, as its relationship with the West has grown chilly since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in mid-2014. To raise the cash for these purchases, Russia sold a huge percentage of its U.S. Treasuries.

Gilded domes of the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow, Russia

4. France

Tonnes: 2,436.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 63.9 percent

France’s central bank has sold little of its gold over the past several years, and there are calls to halt it altogether. Marine Le Pen, president of the country’s far-right National Front party, has led the charge not only to put a freeze on selling the nation’s gold but also to repatriate the entire amount from foreign vaults.

Anne of Brittany's wedding crown

3. Italy

Tonnes: 2,451.8

Percent of foreign reserves: 67.9 percent

Italy has likewise maintained the size of its reserves over the years, and it has support from European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi. The former Bank of Italy governor, when asked by a reporter in 2013 what role gold plays in a central bank’s portfolio, answered that the metal was “a reserve of safety,” adding, “it gives you a fairly good protection against fluctuations against the dollar.”

Detail of a gold lion in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy

2. Germany

Tonnes: 3,371.0

Percent of foreign reserves: 70.6 percent

Last year Germany completed a four-year repatriation operation to move a total of 674 tonnes of gold from the Banque de France and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York back to its own vaults. First announced in 2013, the move was expected to take until 2020 to complete. Although gold demand fell last year after hitting an all-time high in 2016, this European country has seen gold investing steadily rise since the global financial crisis.

A variety of Germman coins

1. United States

Tonnes: 8,133.5

Percent of foreign reserves: 75.2 percent

With the largest official holdings in the world, the U.S. lays claim to nearly as much gold as the next three countries combined. It also has the highest gold allocation as a percentage of its foreign reserves at over 75 percent. From what we know, the majority of U.S. gold is held at Fort Knox in Kentucky, with the remainder held at the Philadelphia Mint, Denver Mint, San Francisco Assay Office and West Point Bullion Depository. Which state loves gold the most? Well, the state of Texas went so far as to create its very own Texas Bullion Depository to safeguard investors’ gold.

The US holds most of its gold at the US Bullion Reservatory at Fort Knox

Can't get enough of gold? Learn all about the yellow metal's seasonal trading patterns by downloading our free whitepaper, Gold's Love Trade, today!

 

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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Russia Is Defying Expectations
June 25, 2018

Russian president Vladimir Putin holding the FIFA world cup trophy at a pre tournament ceremony in Moscover in September 2017

 

Before being defeated today by Uruguay at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia surprised experts and fans alike. Expectations were low at best. Because of recent setbacks, including a disastrous performance at the 2016 UEFA European Championship and injuries sustained by key players, the federation ranked a dismal 66th place among Fédération Internationale de Football Association teams—its lowest position ever. The only reason it didn’t have to qualify to compete was because Russia is the host nation. (This is the first time in its 88-year history, by the way, that the World Cup has been held in Eastern Europe.)

And yet Russia has defied predictions that the federation would be eliminated right out of the gate.

It’s managed to advance to the knockout stage, but that’s likely as far as it will get when it goes up against either Spain or Portugal on July 1. As for which team might win the Cup, sophisticated predictive models using portfolio theory and the historical performance of players are pointing to France beating Spain in the final.

Russian Airports Could Be Biggest Beneficiaries of Hosting World Cup

This is the second time in the past five years that Russia has hosted a major international sports tournament, and questions have surfaced about what economic benefits, if any, doing so affords.

As I shared with you back in February, the Eastern European country spent as much as $50 billion, a record-breaking sum, to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It seems insurmountable, but Fitch Ratings concluded that the debt was “manageable,” citing the reduction of interest rates to 0.5 percent and noting that the cost is less than 2.5 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

There’s also evidence that the investment had been well made. Four years later, Sochi is still full of tourists, and locals even have a nickname for the old Olympic Park, now a resort town: “Sochifornia.”

Hosting the World Cup has set Russia back an estimated $14 billion—again, a record amount for the competition. And like the Olympics, the Cup could produce some modest net economic benefits—in the short-term, at least—according to experts.

Back in April, tournament organizers predicted that, as a result of increased tourism and large-scale spending on infrastructure, the competition would add nearly $31 billion to Russia’s economy in the 10 years between 2013 and 2023. (FIFA selected Russia as the host nation in 2010.)

Russian airports such as Moscow Domodedovo Airport are among the biggest long-term beneficiaries of World Cup-related capital spending.
"Moscou" by OliBac Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). https://flic.kr/p/ovkQad

Analysts with Moody’s Investors Service were slightly less upbeat, writing that they see “very limited economic impact at the national level.” Among the beneficiaries are food retailers, hotels, telecommunications firms and transportation, as “better public infrastructure will likely generate additional tax revenue and reduce capital spending needs for the hosting regions in the coming years.” But the greatest long-term beneficiary, Moody’s says, are Moscow-based international airports, since “upgraded facilities will support higher passenger flow, even after the event.”

Russia’s Recovery Gathering Pace

Besides its soccer prowess, Russia is defying expectations in other ways—and equity investors should be taking notice.

Having emerged last year from a two-year recession that was triggered by the collapse in oil prices and imposition of sanctions following its annexation of Crimea, the country is now in full-on recovery mode. In a note to investors last week, Capital Economics senior emerging markets economist William Jackson says that GDP growth in May picked up to more than 2 percent year-over-year, up from 1.3 percent in the first quarter. Most of the changes, according to Jackson, came in manufacturing, which he estimates to be growing by more than 5 percent year-over-year, compared with only 1 percent previously.

“This all supports the point we’ve been making for some time,” he writes, “that Russia’s recovery was likely to resume and gather pace this year.”

Once almost entirely reliant on oil exports, the government of the world’s leading oil producer has lowered the structure of exports from 70 percent energy in 2013 to 59 percent last year, according to the World Bank. Today, the budget is back in surplus, and government debt stands at a remarkable 33 percent of GDP, the lowest among G20 nations.

Key inflation is currently running at a record low of 2.4 percent year-over-year, well below the Central Bank of Russia’s (CBR) target of 4 percent. Food inflation, in particular, is near zero percent.

russian inflation is at a record low level below central banks target
click to enlarge

Unemployment continues to decline. In May it fell to 4.7 percent, a record low since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

unemployment in Russia fell to a record low in May
click to enlarge

Because of low inflation and a near-full employment jobs market, real wages are expanding healthily across all sectors. This is helping to drive stronger private consumption and investment. In May, retail sales grew 2.4 percent compared to the same month last year.

real wages in Russia are growing across all sectors
click to enlarge

Government Policy Supportive of Future Growth

The Russian government is currently enacting or considering policy that should help sustain the economy’s recovery. For one, it recently moved to raise the retirement age to reduce the cost to the state budget on an aging population, the Financial Times reports. (The median age in Russia is nearly 40, compared to around 30 for the entire world.) The pension age for men will increase from 60 years to 65 years in 2028, while for women it will increase from 55 years to 63 years in 2034.

The reform could help the government save an estimated $27.3 billion a year, according to a Russian think tank.

The government is also reportedly working on a plan to invest more in infrastructure and reduce “unnecessary regulation that is holding back private investment.” That’s according to Morgan Stanley’s Clemens Grafe, who adds that plans for “national projects” will be drawn up by October “that should help Russia to become one of the five largest economies in the world.”

Time to Consider Investing in Moscow?

Some might consider that fanciful thinking, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Russia is an attractive place to invest right now, especially compared to the U.S. market.

Besides an economy in recovery, consider the following: Whereas the S&P 500 Index is up a little more than 13 percent for the 12-month period, the MOEX Russia Index has seen gains closer to 22 percent. That comes with an appealing 6.46 percent dividend yield, compared to 1.94 percent for U.S. stocks.

The price is right too. Russia trades at an inexpensive 6.39 times earnings, the U.S. at 21.08 times earnings, according to Bloomberg data.

Interested in learning more about emerging Europe? Watch this brief video featuring U.S. Global research analyst Joanna Sawicka as she describes her favorite three countries in this fast-growing region.

 

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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 S&P 500 is a stock market index that tracks the stocks of 500 large-cap U.S. companies. The MOEX Russia Index  is the main ruble-denominated benchmark of the Russian stock market.

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.

Share “Russia Is Defying Expectations”

Net Asset Value
as of 12/12/2018

Global Resources Fund PSPFX $4.59 0.03 Gold and Precious Metals Fund USERX $6.46 -0.01 World Precious Minerals Fund UNWPX $3.03 -0.02 China Region Fund USCOX $7.97 0.06 Emerging Europe Fund EUROX $6.18 -0.01 All American Equity Fund GBTFX $24.18 0.06 Holmes Macro Trends Fund MEGAX $18.17 0.13 Near-Term Tax Free Fund NEARX $2.19 No Change U.S. Government Securities Ultra-Short Bond Fund UGSDX $2.00 No Change