- February 28, 2013
- Terry Savage Tells Washington to Stop Scaring America!
Investors are facing a political March Madness that will likely end in a disappointing deadlock if Congress doesn’t “start talking about a serious deal that includes the entire budget,” writes my friend Terry Savage in a recent email. The U.S. government is continually at an impasse over a spending cut of only $85 billion. Few would doubt that the figure is enormous, however, it is “just 2 percent of our $3.6 trillion in annual Federal spending. Every American family with a job has just taken a 2 percent cut—as payroll taxes rose in January. We survived—and Congress can too,” she writes.
Terry and I have known each other for years. She is financially savvy, dynamic, and incredibly versant on personal finance, the markets and the economy. She is also the author of The Savage Truth on Money, which was named one of the ten best money books of the year on Amazon.
According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, trust in government has sunk to a historic low: Over the last seven years, only 3 out of 10 Americans said they trust Washington to do the right thing always or most of the time.
The opinion holds across partisan lines, although more Democrats than Republicans say they trust government most of the time. Historically, the party in control of the White House receives a stronger conviction from its supporters, yet “partisan differences in trust in government have been much wider during the Bush and Obama administrations than during previous administrations,” says Pew Research.
This sense of distrust doesn’t appear to be getting through to Washington. “As reality sets in that there might be some limits to our ability to borrow and spend, Washington is insulting the American people with stories of impending collapse of government services because they need to cut 2 percent from their increased spending,” says Terry.
As Americans, you can voice your opinion by sending a message to your representative; as investors, you can manage your expectations and anticipate the volatility that will likely occur as politicians keep up their “March Madness.”
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- February 25, 2013
- A Test of Strength for Gold
When investing in gold, I often say diverse opinions promote critical thinking and a healthy market. I believe elevated groups of buyers and sellers create a competitive tug-of-war in the bid and ask price of the precious metal.
Last week, we saw the gold bears growling louder and gaining strength, as the world’s largest gold-backed ETF, the SPDR Gold Trust, experienced its largest one-day outflows since August 2011. The Fear Trade fled the sector following the Federal Reserve’s meeting that revealed a growing dissension among some of its members over the central bank’s bond-buying program.
Despite the discord, the Fed is continuing its course to purchase $85 billion of bonds every month and keep interest rates near zero. Ben Bernanke’s plan bloating the balance sheet to more than $3 trillion has been keeping the Fear Trade coming back for more metal.
For good reason, too, as the correlation between the Fed’s balance sheet and the price of gold has historically been very high, at 0.93, according to Macquarie Research. The firm found that for every $300 billion expansion in the balance sheet of the U.S. government, there was a $100 an ounce increase in the price of gold. When you factor in the Fed’s current bond purchases totaling $85 billion per month for the next nine months, the central bank will be adding $765 billion in new assets. “Using the previous ratio, this would compute to a $255 an ounce increase in the gold price,” says Macquarie. By this measure alone, gold would rise approximately 16 percent over the next several months.
On Bloomberg’s Taking Stock with Pimm Fox last Friday, I said that Bernanke will likely keep liquidity high for quite some time, in his effort to meet his goal of lowering the unemployment rate. If the Fed did take its foot off the bond-buying pedal sooner than planned, such a move is apt to shake the resolve of some gold buyers. It’s easy to be confident in gold in times of extreme fear; when the economy improves, one may no longer feel that gold stands on solid ground.
Take another period characterized by extreme volatility and fear, when there was conflict in the Middle East, oil-related inflation shocks, declining value in the U.S. dollar, rising U.S. unemployment and a strong resolve from the Fed to act aggressively. This was four decades ago, after President Richard Nixon removed the gold standard, and the yellow metal climbed to a peak of $850 by January 1980.
Back then, India and China had little financial footing in global markets; gold demand from these areas of the world was about 15 percent of total demand.
Since then, we’ve seen a rapid increase in GDP and incomes, resulting in a dramatic rise in gold demand. According to the World Gold Council (WGC), there’s now an “increasing relevance of emerging markets in the gold market, particularly over the past 12 years.” In 2011, you can see that emerging markets accounted for 74 percent of total bar and coin, jewelry and ETFs gold demand. India and China alone make up 50 percent, and together with Turkey, Vietnam, and Southeast Asia, these countries’ residents clearly “have a cultural affinity to gold,” says the WGC.
To help investors analyze whether gold continues to be a wise investment, I like to refer to the book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. There are four factors to consider whether a crowd is suffering from groupthink or is making wise decisions:
- Is there a diversity of opinion?
- Are investors independently acting on their best interests?
- Is there a decentralization of gold believers?
- Is there aggregation?
Read Evaluating the Wisdom of Buying Gold to see a summary of each factor for your reference. I believe you’ll find these factors continue to be valid for gold.
Ultimately, the key to gold is moderation. As I said in my book, The Goldwatcher, and often reiterate to investors when I speak at conferences, gold is a volatile asset class and the daily price can be more dramatic than blue-chip stocks. We have always advocated that investors hold a modest 5 to 10 percent weighting in gold and gold stocks. In other words, we feel strongly that an investor should not try to get rich from the metal.
Marc Faber expressed a similar idea in this month’s Gloom Boom and Doom Market Commentary. Instead of selling his gold when the price is falling and buying it back at a lower price, he says he doesn’t stray from his asset allocation approach. He holds a 25 percent allocation to gold, which is much higher than we recommend, and believes that if the price of gold declined, it is likely that his financial assets would increase.
In his closing, Faber reminds readers of the English Proverb: “When we have gold, we are in fear; When we have none, we are in danger.” If the proverb were written today, it might be revised to say, “When we have gold, we are in love.”
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. The following security mentioned was held by one or more of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 12/31/12: SPDR Gold Trust ETF.
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- February 19, 2013
- When It Comes to Gold, Stick to the Facts
Gold dipped below $1,600 last week, falling to a six-month low, much to the chagrin of gold investors. I find the timing of the correction peculiar, given the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting taking place over the weekend. There’s been a growing debate over Japan’s move to devalue its currency to stimulate growth, with reaction from the G-7 leaders stating that “domestic economic policies must not be used to target currencies,” reports Reuters.
While the G-7 tried to legitimize the currency debasement with this statement, in reality, investors seem to be able to see through to the real motivations.
The main reason the mainstream media gave for the correction in the yellow metal is hedge funds’ selling of gold late last year. According to quarterly filings, Hedge Fund Manager George Soros sold half of his holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD) in the fourth quarter of 2012. Bloomberg attributed the sell as a move that may “bolster speculation that gold’s 12-year bull-run is coming to the end.” However, Soros may have liquidated his gold holdings because he identified a significant short-term opportunity in the currency markets.
I have said many times that government policies are precursors to change, and late last year, Japan’s new leader, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, openly indicated his intention to drive down the currency to make the economy more competitive and increase inflation. As a result of Japan’s policy changes, the yen weakened, driving up the price of gold in Japan’s local currency.
In other words, a gold investor in Japan was likely ecstatic with his gold trade over the past few months.
Take a look at the comparison of gold’s return in different currencies. The chart below compares the percentage change of gold in the Japanese yen to the metal’s percentage change in U.S. dollar terms over the last six months. From the middle of August 2012 until about November, gold prices in both currencies closely followed each other.
However, as a result of changes in government policies, over the six-month period, gold rose nearly 19 percent in yen, while only increasing less than one percent in U.S. dollar terms.
George Soros seemed to anticipate the effect that Japan’s government policies would likely have on the velocity of money. This turned out to be a brilliant move, as “wagering against the yen has emerged as the hottest trade on Wall Street over the past three months,” says the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper reported that Soros gained “almost $1 billion on the trade since November,” during a time the yen declined nearly 20 percent in four months.
I admire Soros for his ability to identify significant effects that government policies have on markets as easily as recognizing when ice turns to water. More importantly, he quickly acts on these emerging events.
This isn’t his first big win in foreign markets. In 1992, based on British government policy changes, Soros shorted British pounds and bought German marks, earning $1.8 billion for his fund.
Just like recognizing how new equilibriums can alter the dynamics of an environment, government policies can significantly change the velocity of money. Global investors watch for these trends to know where to invest in commodities and markets, find new opportunities and adjust for risk.
I discussed the potential motivation behind Soros’ trade with CNBC’s Simon Hobbs on Friday. I explained how gold’s correction was reaching an extreme, indicating a potential buying opportunity. You can see on our oscillator model how gold has dropped nearly 2 standard deviations on a year-over-year basis. An event like this has happened only about 2 percent of the time over the last 10 years. Following these extreme lows, gold has historically increased as much as 15 percent over the next year.
Back in June 2012, I told CNBC the same thing: Gold had reached an extreme low, and only a few months later, the metal climbed nearly 10 percent.
During short-term gold corrections, it’s much more important to focus on the facts, including the fact that gold is increasingly viewed as a currency. Rather than buying real estate, lumber or diamonds, central banks around the world are buying gold. According to the World Gold Council (WGC), over 2012, central bank demand totaled 534 tons, a level we have not seen in nearly 50 years.
Emerging market central banks have been adding gold to their reserves, including Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea and Russia. Over the past decade, Russia has accumulated a total of 958 tons of gold, making its gold reserves the eighth largest of all central banks, says the WGC.
Another fact about gold is the persistence of the Love Trade. As you can see below, jewelry demand declined slightly, about 3 percent in 2012, and more than half of this demand came from India and China, the countries with a cultural affinity toward gold. India’s gold purchases declined 12 percent due to an import tax and a weak rupee. However, even though the gold price experienced a significant increase in local currency, India’s demand is “all the more remarkable and serves to emphasise the importance of gold to Indian consumers,” says the WGC.
Notably, India had a better-than-expected fourth quarter, and retained its rank as the largest gold market in the world.
In China, there was a slowdown in GDP in the first half of the year, which weighed on gold purchases. For the year, the WGC indicated that there was only a slight increase in demand over the previous year.
In 2013, the WGC expects both markets to remain strong, forecasting growth rates of about 10 to 15 percent. I believe as GDPs in Chindia rise, so will their gold demand. And as long as the precious metal is attractive to both the fear trade and the love trade, hold tight to gold, with a 5 to 10 percent weighting in gold and gold stocks, and rebalancing annually.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility. The following security mentioned was held by one or more of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 12/31/12: SPDR Gold Trust ETF.
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- February 15, 2013
- 9 “Early Adopter” Ideas For Investing in Emerging Markets
Do you know the seasonal pattern to China’s equities during the Chinese New Year? Going back 10 years, based on median returns, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 3.46 percent, while the China H-Shares climbed 4.32 percent in the month following the week-long holiday.
Successful investors seek to be early adopters. They tend to quickly recognize trends and historical patterns in the macroeconomic environment in an effort to seize potential opportunities. The seasonal effect around the Chinese New Year is just one trend investors can take advantage of. Here are a few others for you to ponder:
- World Trade. In 2012, the country became the largest trading nation in terms of imports and exports of goods, beating the U.S. by $50 billion. According to Bloomberg, goods coming in and leaving the U.S. totaled $3.82 trillion, while China’s trade in goods rose to $3.87 trillion. China is increasingly becoming an important trade partner in the world.
- Oil. Urbanization is having a tremendous affect on energy demand. By 2030, China could be a leading energy importer, replacing the U.S. as the world’s largest oil importing country by 2017, says BP.
- Shale Gas. Outside North America, China is expected to be the most successful in the development of shale gas. By 2030, shale gas may be 20 percent of total gas production in China, says BP in its Energy Outlook 2030. To gain access to the technology and best practices, Chinese oil companies have joined forces with major international oil companies as its shale-gas industry ramps up.
- Urbanization. By 2020, China is anticipated to have 850 million people living in cities, which is about 60 percent of the total population, according to the Urban China Initiative. Growing urbanization should drive higher incomes and an increase in domestic consumption.
- Consumer Goods. While 97 percent of Chinese households had a television in 2011, only three-fourths of households had refrigerators and washing machines. However, the penetration rate of many durables is happening at an incredibly sharp pace, with Deutsche Bank anticipating that China will reach the levels of developed country by 2020.
- Gold. Imports of the yellow metal into China from Hong Kong reached an all-time high in 2012. The country imported more than 834.5 metric tons of gold, according to Bloomberg. The World Gold Council expects purchases of gold jewelry and investment will go on rising at a steady clip in the Asian nation.
- Growing Consumption of Gold. The country remains the second-largest gold consumer in the world, but growth in gold consumption should be higher than the world’s largest consumer, India, says the World Gold Council.
- Luxury Goods. By 2017, China is set to be the second-largest luxury market, surpassing Japan, Italy and France. While the U.S. is still projected to remain the top country in luxury-goods sales, China’s maturing retail markets means that there’s a growing love for luxury in the country.
- Tourism. The Chinese are not only buying luxury items when they’re at home. As one example of the tremendous thirst for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry, Chinese tourists traveling through London’s Heathrow buy about 25 percent of luxury goods at the airport, even though China’s tourists only make up 1 percent of passenger volume.
Are you an early adopter of emerging market trends?
None of U.S. Global Investors Funds held any of the securities mentioned as of 12/31/12.
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- February 15, 2013
- In the Year of the Snake, Where Will Copper Head?
Copper has had a tough few years: In 2012, the red metal only rose 4 percent, although this was an improvement over 2011’s decline of 21 percent. Back then, I discussed how negative economic news and concern over global growth weighed on the price of copper, yet supply was also lower than expected due to weather delays, poor deposit grades, worker strikes and mill problems.
With an improving global economy and China’s new leadership ramping up projects, will base metals, such as copper, head higher?
China has been the largest consumer of copper for more than a decade now, so we look to the country’s imports of copper to determine where the red metal may be headed. As you can see below, the year-over-year imports into the Asian giant have recently fallen to a new low, until a recent bounce. In January, copper imports rose 3 percent over the previous month.
The recent bounce may mean things are looking up for the metal. A measure that has “proved to be a reliable leading indicator” of copper’s continuing strength is the material inventory sub-index within the Purchasing Managers’ Index, according to Macquarie Research. The sub-index tracks the inventory of raw material inputs to manufacturing and rose above the expansionary threshold of 50 for the first time since April 2011. This suggests that “stocks are now being built up,” says Macquarie.
China’s not the only reason copper prices may improve. Emerging markets account for about 30 percent of base metals demand, and as the largest economies recover, so should the prices of these metals, according to BCA Research. But of the base metals, the ones that have the most potential upside are nickel and copper, says BCA. “Both benefit significantly from infrastructure spending, rebounding construction and rising white goods demand in China,” according to the research firm.
On the supply side, copper looks favorable in the shorter term because of its tight market and low inventory, says BMO Capital Markets. “The copper market appears to be heading for a deficit position again this year,” as mine supply is forecasted to grow only 5 percent. In addition, BMO indicates that miners are estimating growth may be lower than that. There’s only a minor deficit in the copper market currently, but challenges such as water or labor shortages, ore depletion and environmental regulations limit the supply growth, says BCA Research.
The Global Resources Fund seeks to take advantage of the potential strength in copper by investing in companies that mine the metal, such as BHP Billiton and Southern Copper. As of December 31, 2012, the fund had a 12 percent weighting in base and industrial metals stocks. See the fund’s other weightings.
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. Distributed by U.S. Global Brokerage, Inc.
Foreign and emerging market investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and less public disclosure, as well as economic and political risk. Because the Global Resources Fund concentrates its investments in a specific industry, the fund may be subject to greater risks and fluctuations than a portfolio representing a broader range of industries.
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. Holdings in the Global Resources Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 12/31/12: BHP Billiton 2.43%, Southern Copper, 1.99%
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