Look for End of Debt Supercycle: Thoughts from the U.S. Global Investors 2012 Forecast
Source: Streetwise Editors (1/9/12)
What do investors need to be watching out for in 2012? More Eurozone drama? Record gold highs? A hard landing in China? The U.S. Global Investors team addressed these questions with Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle author John Mauldin in a Jan. 5 Outlook 2012 webinar. The Streetwise Reports editors highlight some of the expert insights.
In most cases, political events don't change the economic world all that much. It'll probably annoy partisans on both sides, but if Clinton had lost to George Bush senior the first time, we would have still had a bull market. We were already in recovery. Yes, we would have had different Supreme Court Justices, but that's not the economic world. We were set on a path. If Gore had beaten Bush 2, economically I don't think much would have changed. We still would have had the end of a bull market and a recession in 2001. We would have had a housing bubble. Greenspan would have probably been reappointed either way. We would have had a credit crisis because we were in the process of building up debt that started in the '50s. Europe was building its debt up. Japan was building its debt up. That is the reality.
Now the private sector is deleveraging, but sovereign debt is in a bubble. The air is coming out. My view is that the wheels are going to fall off Europe this year. I have been researching the Mayan codes and I have determined that the ancient Mayans were not astrologers; they were economists. They weren't predicting the end of the world; they were simply predicting the end of Europe. That is a humorous way of saying this is the year Europe is going to have to make some very difficult choices. Greece gets to choose what kind of depression it wants, hard and fast or slow and long. It can't avoid depression completely. It has borrowed too much money. The government is too big. It has come to the end of the ability to raise money at low rates. Italy and Spain are well on that path along with the rest of Europe. So, they have to make a decision, a political decision that is going to have major economic consequences.
Does Europe want to be a political union that looks more like the United States, where the individual entities have to run balanced budgets and can't print their own money and have some kind of fiscal controls or they go back to a two-tiered Europe with multiple currencies. One way or another, this is the year that Europe is running out of road to kick the can.
Fortunately, in the U.S. we are not there yet. We have some room to make a decision. That decision is going to be made in 2012 because by 2013 we are going to have to decide how we deal with the deficits and debt. After 2014, the bond markets will start to raise rates. Total U.S. debt is continuing to grow because governments are growing debt faster than private citizens are decreasing debt. The bond markets are starting to rebel long before you would think they would for a country that's the world reserve currency. The key is whether debt is excessive relative to income. If you can make your debt service, people will still lend you money. When they don't think you can, they will stop. That's when you have a crisis. It's a debt super cycle. And, when you reach the end, you have to deal with the debt. You can pay it down. You can default on it. You can print the money, extend it out with lower rates or financial repression, which are all other ways to look at default. But, nonetheless, that debt is there.
The problem we are facing in the U.S. is that gross domestic product (GDP) is consumption plus investment plus government spending plus net exports. If we decrease government spending over time, we decrease GDP. That's the problem that Greece is going through right now. It has to decrease government spending by 4.5%, thus shrinking the economy. But it can't increase government spending without increasing debt or taking taxes away, which decreases consumption. Nothing the government does will make things better. The U.S. is on the same path. We can become Greece by continuing to borrow or be proactive and say we are going to get our deficits under control over a period of five or six years. The economy is still going to be slower than we would like and unemployment higher than we would like. That's just the rules. We're at the end game. We are at the end of the debt super cycle and that's what happens.
Printing money doesn't increase the GDP in actual real terms, but it makes everyone holding gold happy because the value of natural resources goes up. That is why I buy gold every month. I take those coins, I put them in a vault and I hope I never need them. I quite frankly hope gold goes back to $300/ounce (oz) because that means the economy is in wonderful shape. I'm actually afraid that gold is going to go up in value, which means we are not getting our act together.
That leads to questions about fault. Did the banks do things they shouldn't have? Yes. Were they the cause of it? No. Was Greenspan the cause of the bubble? No. He was part of the cause. I mean, we did a lot of things as a country that weren't good choices. Should we have allowed our banks to go to 30 and 40 to 1 leverage? No. Should we have repealed Glass-Steagall? No. The problem is that real median household income hasn't moved for 15 years because real private GDP hasn't changed. The only thing that has grown is government spending.
John Derrick: In 2011, the European financial crisis moved from the periphery to the core. Central bank policies were big drivers of the decline. The European Central Bank and China raised rates early in the year and again in July as fears of a China slowdown grew. That early tightening to fend off inflation had a big impact on the course of events throughout the year. The other big events were the U.S. credit downgrade in August and currency intervention, particularly in the Japanese yen.
Frank Holmes: There is a huge amount of borrowing around the world in Japanese yen because it is so inexpensive. That includes investing in commodities, resources and emerging markets. And, every time we see this huge signal move by the yen, you get this rippling effect that takes about six weeks to resolve itself with commodities being sold down. Therefore, a lot of fund managers borrowing in Japanese yen are long energy stocks, resource stocks and emerging markets, which leads to a lot of selling.
JD: The second half of last year was very volatile, but the market ended essentially flat. In fact, much of the volatility was concentrated in the last month, which made for a very difficult psychological environment, as the market has been somewhat schizophrenic with weekly rallies and selloffs.
Spikes in the yen caused market selloffs. This hit commodities especially hard. So the secret for 2012 is to use the volatility. Buy on the volatility spikes. Unfortunately, what most people do is just the opposite. Another thing to look for in 2012 is a positive fourth year of the presidential election cycle as the government tries to implement policies that will get them reelected.
Brian Hicks: There has been a lot of concern about money supply growth in the emerging markets, particularly in China, which reduced bank reserve requirements last year. A reacceleration of global money supply can be particularly constructive for commodities going forward as there has been a high correlation between money supply growth and commodities.
If you were to take all the global money and back that by gold, the price of gold could go to $10,000/oz. If you just use half of the global money supply, gold would trade at about $5,000/oz, up from approximately $1,600/oz right now. The more U.S. dollars in circulation, the higher the price of gold. This has been the main factor increasing the price of gold since 1998 and will continue to be the case in the years to come. Gold has a lot of running room to go.
Another driver for the price of gold has been federal deficits. Government spending is way above revenues. We hit a point in 2000 where spending as a percentage of GDP greatly exceeded taxes as a percentage of GDP. This could be a point of no return and could potentially drive the price of gold even higher. There has been a large bifurcation between the price of gold and gold equities, particularly in the last couple of years as risk aversion has prompted many investors to buy the bullion as opposed to gold equities. This is creating opportunity. We feel like there's going to be a catch up in gold equities, many of which are trading at very low multiples to cash flows and earnings. Stocks such as Newmont Mining Corp. (NEM:NYSE) look like value stocks now paying high dividend yields and trading at sub 10-times price to earnings ratios. This could really present an attractive opportunity in 2012.
JD: Just a comment on all the takeovers. We were seeing 6% premiums on takeovers in '06. Now we are talking 60+ premiums. That's another reflection of how undervalued the stocks are relative to commodities.
BH: That's a great point. We have seen tremendous value creation based on mergers and acquisitions.
Shifting gears a little bit, crude oil and refined product inventories ended the year at the lowest level on record (about 685 million barrels). That's 6% below the prior year. It's particularly interesting when you consider some of the geopolitical factors that have arisen with Iran talking about blocking off the Strait of Hormuz. This is a primary factor behind oil price supports despite the tenuous economic environment. Many investors don't realize that Russia is very important for non-OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) supply, a key factor in containing oil price spikes. Russia is increasing production while other non-OPEC production in Mexico or in the North Sea have been declining significantly, which has helped to bolster OPEC's market share. It has also limited the ability of oil markets to increase production out of the Middle East due to the inability to invest in those troubled areas. In fact, Russian production has been quite steady since 2006, increasing anywhere from 100 to 400,000 barrels per day (bpd), mid-single digit growth. But, forecasters predict in 2012 we will see flat production growth, which is troubling given the fact that we continue to see demand increase in other areas of the world, mainly out of China. This will be a driving factor going forward for crude oil prices.
Evan Smith: Oil supply threats include geopolitical problems at a time when oil supply and spare capacity at OPEC is rather low—a little over 2 million bpd. Nearly 40% of global supply is under autocratic rule. Iran has threatened to disrupt the supply of crude oil and products through the Strait of Hormuz where about a third of global oil supply passes. So, any disruption, even temporarily, would cause a severe spike in oil prices. We think oil prices could support $100/barrel. One of the things we like in 2012 is higher exposure to master limited partnerships partly because of their steady cash flows. They are becoming a growth business now. The capital expenditures here in the United States have grown from $3.5 billion (B) in 2005 to nearly $16B this year. This is partly because of the growth in many of the shale plays, which require increased infrastructure. We think this is an excellent investment opportunity. We also see a big opportunity for the global oil services. We can see that capital expenditures have been rising. We expect them to rise from about $500B to nearly $.5 trillion this year, an increase of 15%. So, we see tremendous opportunity for some of the oil services contractors and equipment providers. Another key driver is the impressive amount of money that has been invested in North America. Just over the last three years nearly $129B in mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures has occurred. Global companies are coming to North America to invest in these shale plays because the economics are so attractive due to improved technology. They want to learn that technology and take it home. So, we think there is continued opportunity for investors in the resource play here in North America.
Shifting gears, one of the base metals we will target is copper. It is our favorite base metal. The demand side is holding up relatively well compared to some of the other base metals. Even in China, which is the largest market for copper growth, the build out of the grid is really a key driver. That is holding up quite well. On the other side of the supply/demand equation, supply has been a problem. Through most of the boom in copper prices, mine output has lagged forecasts. Causes included weather, labor strikes and just poor grade. The bottom line is that supply has not kept up with demand. We have not solved that problem so we think 2012 should be a relatively good year for copper prices.
Another theme we like is the agricultural space. Global population continues to grow. The emerging middle class continues to consume more grains, principally through the production of more meat as people consume more protein in their diets. There has been a huge surge in the need for the production of grains, yet no more land is being created. One of the key ways we're seeing increased yields out of croplands is through higher applications of fertilizers. That has created a fairly tight situation for potash, specifically. But, other fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphate are also benefiting from this trend.
FH: I would just add that the world's population has doubled from the '70s when we had rising commodities. There's a very different factor and China and India have a global footprint that they didn't have.
Xian Liang: China remains the biggest driver of world demand for energy due to a rising middle class, but it is in a very early stage when it comes to discretionary spending. Take for example passenger cars. Despite a tremendous growth in auto consumption in the last decade, only 18% of Chinese households own a car. Car ownership in China is just one-tenth of U.S. levels or the same level it was in the U.S. in 1914. Air travel remains at the U.S. equivalent of the 1950s. This illustrates a great growth potential going forward. Urbanization is one of the most significant trends driving consumption. In 2011, the number of urban residents in China exceeded rural residents for the first time in Chinese history. But, China won't stop at this 50% urbanization rate if the historical trajectory of its richer neighbor, South Korea, is any guide. We could have another 30% of growth by the year 2013. South Korea outgrew its urbanization rates in a 40-year time span. And, if China continues to urbanize, there will be about 200 million new urban households in China, which creates enormous demand for consumer staples, durable goods and housing.
China's government policies signal the trend will continue. China raised reserve requirement ratios 12 times since January 2010. We view that as an early signal for the next easing cycle. The last time China eased reserve ratios in October 2008, that triggered a big market rally in Chinese stocks. This should bode well for stocks. We don't think the Chinese auto boom is over. Actually, in the last couple of days, officials in China hinted that new measures may be introduced to support auto and home appliance sales.
Outside of China, we see government policies remaining very positive in southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Thailand. The money supply in the past two years has not deteriorated in these two countries, in fact, it is growing at a healthy 16% year over year. This is part of the reason why we remain positive on southeast Asia. Indonesia is rich in natural resources, but it doesn't depend as much on exports. In fact two-thirds of its GDP is driven by domestic consumption, which is how it managed to escape a recession in 2008 and 2009. Favorable demographics is a factor. It is a very young country. More than 45% of the population is under 24 years old and 2 million people a year are joining the work force. Second, urbanization is creating new consumer demand. Just like China, Indonesia's household debt is low. Total mortgage loans outstanding account for only 3% of GDP. Consumer credit is still at a very early state. I see tremendous growth potential going forward.
FH: The money supply is growing very rapidly in the entire region. I think it's not just a China story. It's a whole emerging market. And, I like to characterize it as the American dream trade as all these countries want the American dream. They all want a house. They want a car. They want all the lifestyle that we have.
John Derrick joined U.S. Global Investors Inc. in January 1999 as an investment analyst for the U.S. Global Investors money market and tax free funds. In March 2004, he was promoted from portfolio manager to director of research and now manages the day-to-day operations of the investment team. Prior to joining U.S. Global Investors, Derrick worked at Fidelity Investments. He has appeared on CNBC and Bloomberg TV and has also been a guest on Marketwatch Radio and NPR. Derrick has been featured in stories for BusinessWeek, The New York Times, the Associated Press and USA Today. A graduate of The University of Texas at Arlington, Derrick earned a Bachelor of Arts in finance. He sits on the board of directors for the CFA Society of San Antonio.
Brian Hicks joined U.S. Global Investors Inc. in 2004 as a co-manager of the company's Global Resources Fund (PSPFX). He is responsible for portfolio allocation, stock selection and research coverage for the energy and basic materials sectors. Prior to joining U.S. Global Investors, Hicks was an associate oil and gas analyst for A.G. Edwards Inc. He also worked previously as an institutional equity/options trader and liaison to the foreign equity desk at Charles Schwab & Co., and at Invesco Funds Group, Inc. as an industry research and product development analyst. Hicks holds a Master of Science degree in finance, and a bachelor's in business administration from the University of Colorado.
Frank Holmes is CEO and chief investment officer at U.S. Global Investors Inc., which manages a diversified family of mutual funds and hedge funds specializing in natural resources, emerging markets and infrastructure. In 2006 Mining Journal, a leading publication for the global resources industry, chose him as mining fund manager of the year. Holmes coauthored The Goldwatcher: Demystifying Gold Investing (2008). A regular contributor to investor-education websites and speaker at investment conferences, he writes articles for investment-focused publications and appears on television as a business commentator.
Xian Liang is an Asia research analyst at U.S. Global Investors Inc. and a Shanghai native.
John Mauldin is the author of New York Times Best Sellers list four times. They include Bull's Eye Investing: Targeting Real Returns in a Smoke and Mirrors Market, Just One Thing: Twelve of the World's Best Investors Reveal the One Strategy You Can't Overlook and Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle and How it Changes Everything. He also edits the free weekly e-letter Outside the Box. Mauldin also offers The Mauldin Circle, a free service that connects accredited investors to an exclusive network of money managers and alternative investment opportunities. He is a frequent contributor to publications including The Financial Times and The Daily Reckoning, as well as a regular guest on CNBC, Yahoo Tech Ticker and Bloomberg TV. Mauldin is the President of Millennium Wave Advisors, an investment advisory firm registered with multiple states. He is also a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, a FINRA-registered broker-dealer.
Evan Smith joined U.S. Global Investors Inc. in 2004 as co-portfolio manager of the Global Resources Fund (PSPFX). Previously, he was a trader with Koch Capital Markets in Houston where he executed quantitative long-short equities strategies. He was also an equities research analyst with Sanders Morris Harris in Houston where he followed energy companies in the oil and gas, coal mining and pipeline sectors. In addition, he was with the Valuation Services Group of Arthur Andersen LLP. Smith holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas in Austin.
Read more about investing in MLPs and potash at The Energy Report.
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