Investors Take Shelter as Greek Referendum Nears

Author: Frank Holmes
Date Posted: July 1, 2015 Read time: 10 min

American industrialist J. Paul Getty once said: “If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.” And when the amount is $1.73 billion, it’s everyone’s problem. Greece is officially in arrears for missing its scheduled payment Tuesday to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Expecting this, American stocks had their largest one-day drop of 2015 on Monday. Market volatility, as measured by the VIX, spiked sharply.

American industrialist J. Paul Getty once said: “If you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”

And when the amount is $1.73 billion, it’s everyone’s problem. Greece is officially in arrears for missing its scheduled payment Tuesday to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Expecting this, American stocks had their largest one-day drop of 2015 on Monday. Market volatility, as measured by the VIX, spiked sharply.

Volatility Spikes on Greek Fears
click to enlarge

Investors responded by seeking safe-haven investments such as Treasuries, gold and municipal bonds.

This Sunday, Greece plans to vote on whether to comply with their creditors’ present conditions or to reject the terms, a choice some think could lead to a so-called Grexit from the eurozone. Currently, there’s no such exit clause written into the legal fabric of the currency system other than leaving the entire European Union, an extreme “solution.” No matter how this particular act plays out, there are still more (and even larger) loan payments waiting in the wings, the next one owed to the European Central Bank (ECB) and totaling nearly $4 billion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the greatest total amount of Greek debt, officially refused to renegotiate the bailout terms until after the referendum.

Which Countries Would Suffer the Most If Greece Defaulted on Its Debt
click to enlarge

In many ways, the unfolding Greek drama is playing out like a sequel to the Cyprus banking crisis two years ago, which also had far-reaching ripple effects in world markets. But the present situation could potentially have much larger ramifications.

How Cyprus Prevented Capital Flight and Saved Its Economy

Cyprus has climbed most of the way out of its financial hole after making bad loans to—wouldn’t you know it?—Greece, following the 2008 crisis. One of the ways the Cypriot government managed to do this was by implementing capital controls. Cyprus imposed restrictions on how many euros could be withdrawn per day or taken out of the country, and ATMs rationed cash.

Can Greece hold up its economy?Similar capital controls are now in place in Greece. Banks are closed until at least next Monday—the day after the referendum—and no more than 60 euros may be withdrawn from ATMs per day, per account. Greeks traveling abroad also face restrictions. Even parents who have children studying abroad will need to apply for permission to send them money. These inconveniences are forcing citizens to realize the possible, and potentially very unpleasant, consequences of a no vote in the upcoming referendum.

One opinion poll right now shows that a slim majority of Greek respondents are in favor of working out a deal with the IMF and other lenders. Former Cypriot Minister of Finance Michael Sarris—who’s had plenty of experience with debt negotiations—agrees. He urges Greece to vote yes, stating that to do so “takes [them] back to the negotiating table with the chance of a better outcome.”

Among the Greek voters, of course, are pensioners and low-income Greeks who receive government benefits. Fed up with austerity, such voters seem much more likely to vote no. But this way of thinking is precisely what landed Greece in its current situation to begin with. For years the country has been financing its ever-expanding budget with loans from European banks and the IMF, with no plan in place on how to repay them. In fact, Greece has spent 90 of the last 192 years in one financial crisis or another, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Greece Has Spent 90 of the Past 192 Years in Financial Crisis
click to enlarge

For this reason and more, MSCI, global index provider, is seriously considering demoting Greece from the emerging market category to the solitary, windswept “standalone” category, which includes Venezuela, Ghana, Zimbabwe and other outliers.

Greek Stocks Trail Europe
click to enlarge

This past April, Cyprus lifted the last of its capital controls. Although it was a painful process, things are moving in a positive direction. Let’s hope the people of Greece make the right decision so that their country can likewise begin the recovery process.

Greece Unlikely to Leave the Eurozone

Obviously this topic is of interest to our investors, so I’ll be sure to update you on how our investment team is handling the situation. For now, it’s important to know that a Grexit is unlikely to happen. Such a move would be a huge, symbolic blow not only to Greece, one of the earliest members of the fledgling European Community, but also the monetary experiment known as the euro. Even Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admits that the cost to the EU for kicking Greece out of the eurozone would be too immense.

The uncertainty has sent shockwaves through world markets, prompting investors to seek safety in core investment assets, including municipal bonds.

Our Near-Term Tax Free Fund (NEARX) invests heavily in quality, short-term munis. Having provided investors with over 20 straight years of positive returns, NEARX holds five stars overall from Morningstar, among 185 Municipal National Short-Term funds as of 5/31/2015, based on risk-adjusted return.

Explore NEARX!


Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by visiting or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Distributed by U.S. Global Brokerage, Inc.

Total Annualized Returns as of 3/31/2015:
Fund One-Year Five-Year Ten-Year Gross Expense Ratio Expense Cap
Near-Term Tax Free Fund 2.38% 2.59% 3.10% 1.08% 0.45%

Expense ratio as stated in the most recent prospectus.The expense cap is a contractual limit through April 30, 2016, for the Near-Term Tax Free Fund, on total fund operating expenses (exclusive of acquired fund fees and expenses, extraordinary expenses, taxes, brokerage commissions and interest).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 or 1-800-US-FUNDS.

Morningstar Rating


Morningstar ratings based on risk-adjusted return and number of funds
Category: Municipal National Short-term funds
Through: 5/31/2015

Morningstar Ratings are based on risk-adjusted return. The Morningstar Rating for a fund is derived from a weighted-average of the performance figures associated with its three-, five- and ten-year Morningstar Rating metrics. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For each fund with at least a three-year history, Morningstar calculates a Morningstar Rating based on a Morningstar Risk-Adjusted Return measure that accounts for variation in a fund’s monthly performance (including the effects of sales charges, loads, and redemption fees), placing more emphasis on downward variations and rewarding consistent performance. The top 10% of funds in each category receive 5 stars, the next 22.5% receive 4 stars, the next 35% receive 3 stars, the next 22.5% receive 2 stars and the bottom 10% receive 1 star. (Each share class is counted as a fraction of one fund within this scale and rated separately, which may cause slight variations in the distribution percentages.)

Bond funds are subject to interest-rate risk; their value declines as interest rates rise. Though the Near-Term Tax Free Fund seeks minimal fluctuations in share price, it is subject to the risk that the credit quality of a portfolio holding could decline, as well as risk related to changes in the economic conditions of a state, region or issuer. These risks could cause the fund’s share price to decline. Tax-exempt income is federal income tax free. A portion of this income may be subject to state and local taxes and at times the alternative minimum tax. The Near-Term Tax Free Fund may invest up to 20% of its assets in securities that pay taxable interest. Income or fund distributions attributable to capital gains are usually subject to both state and federal income taxes.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index (VIX) shows the market’s expectation of 30-day volatility.

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

The EURO STOXX 50 Index provides a Blue-chip representation of supersector leaders in the eurozone. The index covers 50 stocks from 12 eurozone countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the Near-Term Tax Free Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 3/31/2015: Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF 0.00%.

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.