Are We Headed for a Passive Index Meltdown?

Index funds have grown as a share of the fund market
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As for when passive investments will overtake the active market, Moody’s Investors Service estimates we’ll see this happen sometime between 2021 and 2024. Markets simply wouldn’t be able to function without active managers calling the shots—rewarding good corporate governance and punishing the bad—so Bogle’s what-if scenario of 100 percent indexing is, for now, purely hypothetical.

Nevertheless, the seismic shift into indexing has come with some unexpected consequences, including price distortion. New research, which I’ll get into below, shows that it has inflated share prices for a number of popular stocks. A lot of trading now is based not on fundamentals but on low fees. These ramifications have only intensified as active managers have increasingly been pushed to the side.

Watch Out for Rebalance Risk

This could

Without Googling, try to guess who said the following quote: “If everybody indexed, the only word you could use is chaos, catastrophe. The markets would fail.”

Give up?

The speaker, believe it or not, is John Bogle, founder of Vanguard, which has been at the forefront of indexing. Bogle made the comment last year at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, basically admitting that there’s a limit to the amount of passive investing the market can handle and still function efficiently.

The thing is, we’re testing that limit more and more every day as passive mutual funds and ETFs—those that seek not to “beat the market” but track an index—take up a larger slice of the pie. The share has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, rising from only 15 percent in 2007 to as much as 35 percent by the end of 2017.

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As for when passive investments will overtake the active market, Moody’s Investors Service estimates we’ll see this happen sometime between 2021 and 2024. Markets simply wouldn’t be able to function without active managers calling the shots—rewarding good corporate governance and punishing the bad—so Bogle’s what-if scenario of 100 percent indexing is, for now, purely hypothetical.

Nevertheless, the seismic shift into indexing has come with some unexpected consequences, including price distortion. New research, which I’ll get into below, shows that it has inflated share prices for a number of popular stocks. A lot of trading now is based not on fundamentals but on low fees. These ramifications have only intensified as active managers have increasingly been pushed to the side.

Watch Out for Rebalance Risk

This could end very badly for some investors, as I told CNBC Asia last week. It’s possible we could see a correction when it comes time for a number of multibillion-dollar funds to rebalance at year’s end. The same thing happened to the tech bubble in 2000, when everyone rebalanced after a phenomenal run-up in tech stocks.

And remember what happened to small-cap gold stocks last year when the massive VanEck Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ) was forced to restructure its portfolio? They were knocked down despite having incredible fundamentals.

Take a look at the following chart. Internet commerce stocks—Apple, Amazon and the like—are up nearly eight times since May 2010.

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This isn’t just the second largest bubble of the past four decades. E-commerce is also vastly overrepresented in equity indices, meaning extraordinary amounts of money are flowing into a very small number of stocks relative to the broader market. Apple alone is featured in almost 210 indices, according to Vincent Deluard, macro strategist at INTL FCStone.

If there’s a rush to the exit, in other words, the selloff would cut through a significant swath of index investors unawares. And just as Warren Buffett once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

A Huge Opportunity in Under-Indexed Stocks

Deluard’s research also suggests that passive index …read more

Is This Just the Calm Before the Storm?

Goldman Bull Bear indicator at highest level since 1969
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Goldman analysts point out, however, that the indicator could be read to mean not that a bear market is right around the corner, but that a period of lower returns could be expected.

One of the ways investors could batten down the hatches, so to speak, is with gold, which historically has performed very well in September as we approach Diwali and the Indian wedding season. Last week I had the privilege to join Liz Claman on FOX Business’ Countdown to the Closing Bell, and I told her that, under the circumstances,

Photo: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Florence, now a tropical depression, made landfall in North Carolina on Friday, bringing with it destruction and calamity, the cost of which could top $170 billion, according to analytics firm CoreLogic. If so, that would make it the costliest storm ever to hit the U.S. To date, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina holds the top spot, costing an estimated $160 billion, followed by last year’s Harvey ($125 billion) and Maria ($90 billion).

Not to minimize the impact Florence will have on millions of Americans’ lives, but storms, even of this size, have rarely triggered major equity selloffs. According to research firm CFRA, in the last 15 years, the S&P 500 Index declined an average 0.2 percent in the month after a hurricane, but was up an average 3.9 percent in the subsequent three months. Home improvement companies such as Home Depot and Lowe’s could be beneficiaries, while insurance companies might take a hit.

Markets are subdued right now, with the S&P 500 having gone more than 55 days without a 1 percent move in either direction. Trading volumes are also lower-than-average, suggesting Wall Street is in wait-and-see mode before making major adjustments.

Could this just be the calm before the storm?

Consumers and Small Business Owners Are Feeling Good

By David Shankbone – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Appropriately enough, Florence comes to us on the 10-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ collapse— the spark that set off the financial crisis—reminding us it’s never the wrong time to prepare for such a catastrophe. (I’ll have more to say on Lehman later.) That includes now, even as a raft of positive economic data was released last week. The University of Michigan consumer sentiment index climbed to 100.8 in September, against expectations of only 96.6. This was its second-highest reading since 2004.

What’s more, the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index soared to 108.8 in August, its highest level ever in the series’ 45-year history.

“As the tax and regulatory landscape changed, so did small business expectations and plans,” commented National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) president and CEO Juanita Duggan.

Against this background, Nobel laureate Robert Shiller told Bloomberg last Thursday that the market “could get a lot higher before it comes down… It’s highly priced, but it could get much more highly priced. It’s a risky market now.”

Time to Get Defensive?

Ray Dalio has a slightly different perspective. The billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, reminded investors last week that we’re in the “seventh inning” right now, and as such, investors should probably get “more defensive.” Recently I shared with you that the global purchasing manager’s index (PMI) is steadily slowing down, falling to a 21-month low of 52.5 in August.

Again, markets have been relatively tranquil for a while now, but just as people on the East Coast were urged to prepare …read more

Minute with the Trader: Meet Michael Matousek

Meet Michael Matousek – head trader at U.S. Global Investors. With almost 20 years’ worth of industry experience, Matousek is responsible for monitoring our investment portfolios and conducting day-to-day trading. In addition to advising the investment team on market behavior, he spends his day buying and selling based on technical metrics.

Matousek joined U.S. Global Investors in January 2008 and was promoted to head trader not long after. Before joining our team, he was director of institutional sales and trading for a broker-dealer, advising the firm’s hedge fund clients on trading strategy and implementation.

In this brief Q&A, Matousek recounts how he found his way to U.S. Global Investors and shares his take on what it means to be a trader.

Tell us about your journey to become a trader. What drew you to the investment business?

I always thought that I wanted to be a stockbroker. Junk bonds were big in the ‘80s when I was in high school. After graduating from college in the late ‘90s, I got a job as a stockbroker but I didn’t really fully understand the industry. It was very different from what I had expected it to be. While I was there, I started to speak with the traders that we’d send our orders to.

Then, a position on the sell side opened up at a firm in Chicago, where I worked for five or six years. After they were bought by a larger company, I did consulting work, similar to helping people trade.

One day, I saw an ad for U.S. Global Investors. Ralph Aldis, a portfolio manager at USGI, and I had met before and I thought it would be interesting to see what it’s like working on the buy side as a trader. One of my friends said, “You’ve got a chance to work with Frank Holmes! You’ve got to do that!”

What was the most memorable trip you’ve taken into the field?

The most memorable trip I’ve taken was going to Hong Kong for a CLSA conference in 2012 or 2013. We met a lot of diverse people and talked about so many different trading strategies. Seeing firsthand how their financial district was changing was very insightful. Their markets were really starting to ramp up.

Every night was a big party. Katy Perry played in concert. The last night was standing room only in a small venue with catered food. They did things like that every day of the conference. Mike Tyson was a speaker once.

During that trip, my wife and I went to mainland China for a day. Also, I had my first espresso there. I didn’t know what it was before then and probably had 20 of them.

ETFs have become increasingly popular in the last few years. What is your take on the shift from mutual funds to ETFs?

It’s funny. I was a proponent of ETFs even before I came on board at U.S. Global Investors. In fact, I started trading them back in 1998 and I used to have a newsletter focused on …read more

This Self-Made Billionaire Reminds Americans that Only Capitalism Creates Wealth

Mapping the belt and road initiatives progress

“Capitalism works” is how Ken Langone, billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, opens his new book, I Love Capitalism!: An American Story.

“Let me say it again: It works! And—I’m living proof—it can work for anybody and everybody…. Show me where the silver spoon was in my mouth. I’ve got to argue profoundly and passionately: I’m the American Dream.”

Last week, I had the privilege to attend the Cornerstone Macro Conference in New York. Langone’s presentation, moderated by Omega Advisers CEO Lee Cooperman, stood out as one of the highlights.

Growing up poor in Roslyn Heights, Long Island, the son of a plumber and a school cafeteria worker, Langone didn’t initially seem destined for greatness.

But like other self-made billionaires, Langone didn’t let his humble background stand in the way of his ambitions. Married with a toddler and another baby on the way, he quit a good-paying insurance position to try and make it on Wall Street—a “closed, Waspy world back in those bad old days,” as he describes it in I Love Capitalism!

He managed to get his first Wall Street job, in institutional sales at broker-dealer R.W. Pressprich, after offering to get paid a secretary’s salary. The rest, as they say, is history.

Since co-founding Home Depot—which employs upwards of 400,000 people and hit $100 billion in sales for the first time last year—Langone has become a prominent philanthropist.

Remember hearing recently that New York University (NYU) would now be tuition-free for all incoming med students? That was made possible not because of socialism, but because of donations from capitalists like Langone. He and his wife gave the school $100 million after learning that the U.S. could face a serious doctor shortage in the coming years.

As he explained at the conference, only capitalism creates wealth, which is then freely redistributed. Socialism creates little to no wealth and redistributes poverty. People in Venezuela, sadly, are learning this lesson firsthand, as inflation there is forecast to hit an unbelievable 1 million percent by the end of the year.

I believe this is a lesson many Americans need to be reminded of, especially now as faith in capitalism is waning and interest in socialism is getting stronger, according to a Gallup poll in August. Capitalism “is not perfect,” Langone said on FOX Business last month, “but it’s the best out there.”

Check out our latest slideshow on the world’s 10 youngest billionaires!

Global Risks May Bring the Polish to Gold

Keep your eyes on the price of gold because the Fear Trade is about to heat up. And I’m not just saying that because the U.S. trade war with China is about to intensify even further, with tariffs on $267 billion worth of Chinese goods announced on Friday.

It’s been 10 years now since the start of the global financial crisis, and emerging markets are signaling trouble that some investors fear could have a spillover effect into developed markets. Last week, the MSCI EM Index, which consists of 24 countries, entered bear market territory after falling more …read more

China's Belt and Road Initiative Opens Up Unprecedented Opportunities

Mapping the belt and road initiatives progress
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A tale of two world leaders, U.S. president Donald Trump and China president Xi Jinping—both of whose countries have among the world’s best economies right now. But whereas Xi is playing Santa Claus to the rest of the world, doling out loans to finance-starved countries, Trump is playing Scrooge, waging an economic war with Canada, the European Union, China and others.

Respected economist Art Laffer, whom I’ve

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A tale of two world leaders, U.S. president Donald Trump and China president Xi Jinping—both of whose countries have among the world’s best economies right now. But whereas Xi is playing Santa Claus to the rest of the world, doling out loans to finance-starved countries, Trump is playing Scrooge, waging an economic war with Canada, the European Union, China and others.

Respected economist Art Laffer, whom I’ve written about before, has always supported leaders who ignite global trade rather than close off its borders. A full-blown trade war, Laffer said recently, would be a “curse” on the U.S. economy.

Post-World War II, it was the U.S. that led global trade and infrastructure build-out—the Marshall Plan in Europe, the Interstate Highway System domestically. Both projects required massive amounts of commodities and raw materials, and employed hundreds of thousands of people.

Today, of the two leaders mentioned above, it’s Xi who has a clear foreign policy when it comes to trade and infrastructure.

U.S. Fund Flows Into Africa Are Slowing

Case in point: This week, Beijing will host the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). The summit, which takes place once every three years and is attended by representatives from 52 African countries, touches on areas as diverse as technology, trade, infrastructure, diplomacy, culture and agriculture.

During the last forum, in 2015, China pledged as much as $60 billion toward Africa’s development in interest-free loans. The Asian country, in fact, has increased its investments in the continent around 520 percent over the last 15 years, according to Global Trade Magazine.

As just one example, Kenya agreed to let China finance and build a standard gauge railway (SGR) connecting two major cities at a cost of $3.8 billion. Contracted by China Road and Bridge, the Mombasa-Nairobi SGR is Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since it declared independence from the U.K. in 1963.

Meanwhile, U.S. fund flows to Africa have been receding, and they’re expected to slow even more during Trump’s administration.

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Xi isn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart, of course. China, having been Africa’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years now, likely expects its investments to pay diplomatic and economic dividends for many decades to come.

Even Trump’s own commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, acknowledges that the U.S. must do more in Africa. “By pouring money into Africa,” Ross wrote on CNBC in August, “China has seen an opportunity to both gain political influence and to reap future rewards in a continent whose economies are predicted to boom in the coming decades,” due mainly to a younger demographic.

The Belt and Road Initiative Will Affect 60 Percent of the World’s Population

The most well-known among China’s projects is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the most ambitious undertakings in human history. The biblical-size trade and infrastructure endeavor—a sort of 21st century Silk Road—could cost 12 …read more

Early-Stage Investing with Adam Sharp (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)

For years, Adam Sharp has helped accredited and retail investors get in on the ground floor of some of the most promising early stage investment opportunities. These include not just venture capital but also equity crowdfunding and cryptocurrencies, which he added last year to his two research offerings, First Stage Investor and Crypto Asset Strategies.

I recently had the pleasure to speak one-on-one with Adam, whose deep knowledge of the rewards and challenges of early stage investing is bar none. Read on to get his unique insights into the future of bitcoin trading, the promise of cannabis stocks and what he looks for in a startup.

When did you first get involved with bitcoin?

I got into the financial newsletter industry in about 2008, doing marketing and search engine optimization (SEO), and I started reading people who come from the libertarian, Austrian school of economics—Bill Bonner, Porter Stansberry and some others. It was on one of these online message boards in 2011 that I first heard about bitcoin. It might have been trading for less than a dollar. I watched it for a while, and in 2013 I finally decided to pull the trigger because there was a reputable exchange at this point. I got in at $84 a coin, and I’ve held onto them ever since.

It’s been a wild ride, and the volatility we’re seeing right now is admittedly hard. It’s difficult to maintain a positive community during a correction like this, but I think the alt-coins that are able to survive the downturn are going to come out even stronger and be in a really good place in a couple of years.

Early on, did you experience any pushback from friends and colleagues?

I might have convinced a few people successfully to buy bitcoin, but not many. It wasn’t easy, trying to describe this new alternate financial system that had maybe 100,000 participants around the world. I think part of it is that, at the time, I didn’t fully know what was going to happen. Maybe it would be worth a lot of money some day?

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Now that I’ve been through a couple of cycles, I can see how the growth works, and I believe it’s sustainable over long periods. Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general have built up big enough communities and momentum that I think they can become a major monetary force in the world. What’s really going to drive this forward are currency crises around the world, not to mention growing distrust in banks and governments. It’s a slow process, and it won’t happen overnight.

So where are the institutional investors?

The institutional crypto boom we’ve been anticipating is real. The infrastructure is in place now to support big investors. Contrarians will likely lead the way. It might be as much as a year out, but eventually you’ll have a couple of guys move heavily into cryptocurrencies and start posting some attractive returns. And then I think you’re …read more

The 5 Dimensions of a Rich Life

GPD and PMI car anolog

Studies show that mindfulness and having an attitude for gratitude is important in all aspects of life. One way to increase gratitude is to regularly take stock of not only your finances, but the other dimensions of your life as well. This includes relationships with family and friends, personal and professional achievements, and ways in which you give back.

During my recent trip to the Oxford Club’s Private Wealth Seminar in Whistler, I was reminded of this very topic. I had the privilege of hearing from numerous inspiring and intelligent investment professionals during the event, including my good friends and chief strategists at the Oxford Club, Alex Green and Marc Lichtenfeld.

One of the presentations, however, really stood out to me. The topic included the five dimensions to living a rich and fulfilling life, a theme also covered in Alex Green’s book Beyond Wealth.

The key? Being “rich” isn’t all about money.

1. Monetary Gain and Financial Freedom

When you think of richness, you likely go straight to monetary wealth. Granted, this dimension of life is incredibly important, but what’s more important are the steps taken to achieve a sense of financial stability. Having the knowledge and skills to responsibly build wealth can bring a sense of strength, comfort and safety that is unmatched.

This is particularly true for those approaching retirement age, a time when families don’t want to rely on the government for assistance, but instead want a nest egg, and then some.

As demonstrated in one of my favorite books, The Millionaire Next Door, the average millionaire doesn’t make ostentatious displays of wealth, rather they under consume and live in average-to-middle class neighborhoods and focus on investing. Simple strategies like these can make a world of difference.

2. Extraordinary Experiences

Are you challenging yourself to stray from your everyday activities? Extraordinary experiences, such as traveling the world, bring a new perspective to life. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is the key to growth.

I often write about the importance of explicit and tacit knowledge, with tacit knowledge referring to real world experiences, or boots-on-the-ground research. I have always believed this type of knowledge is just as important as textbook knowledge. Having your driver’s license, for example, is simply a piece of paper. It means nothing until you put it to use, get out on the open road and explore.

I travel often for both business and leisure and it’s true that you have to see the sights, taste the food, meet the people and hear the music to experience the limitless delights that the world has to offer.

3. Personal Achievement

Everyone has different goals they set out to accomplish in their lifetime. Taking time to list out all of your personal achievements thus far, as well as the goals you’re still working toward, is one way to truly put things in perspective.

Continuing the pursuit of personal achievement keeps you active physically and mentally, and encourages you to keep learning. One personal achievement I am very proud of is my completion of numerous marathons …read more

Investing for the Long Term: A Conversation with Marc Lichtenfeld

the oxford club's marc lichtenfeld

One of Marc Lichtenfeld’s proudest moments was getting to ring announce a world title boxing fight promoted by Mr. “Only in America” himself, Don King.

“He was one of my main clients for many years,” Marc tells me, adding that the boxing impresario “is always the smartest guy in the room. He’s three steps ahead of everyone else.”

You could say the same thing about Marc. As the Oxford Club’s chief income strategist—his day job when he’s not announcing boxing matches—Marc has spent much of his career educating investors on how best to stay “three steps ahead” of the market.

That means, among other things, taking a long-term investment approach and focusing on what he calls “Perpetual Dividend Raisers”—high-quality companies that consistently raise their payouts, preferably by a significant amount.

“The longer you can stay invested the better, as your dividends will grow and so should your capital,” he writes in his most recent book, You Don’t Have to Drive an Uber in Retirement.

Staying disciplined and sticking to this strategy go a long way in helping investors roll with whatever punches the market might throw.

Read on for more highlights from my recent conversation with Marc Lichtenfeld.

What inspired you to get into the financial world?

When I was in college, I had no interest in the stock market or finance. I wanted to be a sportscaster. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I started to invest for myself, and I became kind of obsessed with it. This was before the internet, so I would spend Saturday afternoons in the library researching companies and learning everything I could.

I eventually decided to make my hobby my profession, but nobody was interested in hiring a 20-something kid with no relevant experience.

I decided to visit a trading firm right down the street from my house that I knew was looking for a trading assistant. When I walked in and handed them my resume, I got the impression that I wouldn’t be getting a call back. I could see, though, that they desperately needed help entering orders and balancing their books, so I made the guy an offer he couldn’t refuse. I told him I’d work for free for a week, and if he wasn’t happy with what he saw, he could tell me no thanks. But by the end of the week, he told me to come back on Monday and that he’d start paying me.

That was my entry into the world of finance. From there, I had a couple of other positions, including as a sell-side analyst at Avalon Research Group, and then in 2007 I joined the Oxford Club, where I’ve been ever since.

Tell us about your start with Oxford Club and how the group has contributed to your professional development.

One of the things I admire most about the Oxford Club is its emphasis on individual investors. It really tries to teach investors how to grow their wealth the right way by managing risk and investing in quality companies.

I began there by writing about …read more

It's Time for Contrarians to Get Bullish on Gold

Turkish lira down more than 45% for the year
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Turkey’s faith in gold was on full display this week as President Recep Erdogan urged his fellow Turks to convert their gold and hard currencies into lira in an effort to prop up the country’s hammered currency. The same strategy was

Gold can’t seem to catch a break. The yellow metal normally acts as a safe haven in times of political and economic strife, but in the face of Turkey’s lira meltdown, investors have taken cover instead in the U.S. dollar. On Monday, the stronger greenback pushed gold to end below $1,200 an ounce for the first time since January 2017.

The lira fell to its lowest level ever recorded against the dollar Monday, mainly in response to President Donald Trump’s call to sanction and double steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey. This sent gold priced in Turkey’s currency to all-time highs. If you recall, we saw the same thing happen recently in Venezuela, where inflation is expected to hit 1 million percent by the end of the year.

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Turkey’s faith in gold was on full display this week as President Recep Erdogan urged his fellow Turks to convert their gold and hard currencies into lira in an effort to prop up the country’s hammered currency. The same strategy was used in December 2016, a month after Trump’s election sent the lira tumbling against the dollar.

The Love Trade Is Strong in Turkey

As I’ve discussed before, Turkey has a long and rich history with gold. Home to the world’s very first gold coins more than 2,500 years ago, Turkey still stands as one of the largest buyers of the yellow metal. In the June quarter, the Eurasian country was the fourth largest consumer of gold jewelry, following India, China and the U.S. Twelve and a half metric tons were purchased in the three-month period, up 13 percent from the same time a year ago.

Along with Russia and Kazakhstan, Turkey also continues to add to its official gold holdings. Its central bank’s net purchases in the first half of the year totaled 38.1 metric tons, up 82 percent from the same six-month period in 2017, according to the World Gold Council (WGC). This made it the second highest buyer, after Russia.

Time to Get Contrarian

Gold investors might be discouraged by its performance this year, compounded by news that hedge funds are shorting the metal in record numbers. A lot of this has to do with the fact that, so far this year, gold has had a very high negative correlation to the U.S. dollar—more precisely, a negative 0.95 correlation coefficient, according to gold research firm Murenbeeld & Co. What this means is that gold prices have been moving in nearly the exact opposite direction as the greenback.

I think it’s important to point out that, despite a stronger dollar, gold is still up for the 36-month period—and climbing even higher over the long term. The dollar has only recently broken even, whereas gold has continued to hit higher lows since its phenomenal breakout in December 2015.

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The dollar could be ready to peak, with the potential for even …read more

The Pool of Publicly Traded Stocks Is Shrinking. Here's What Investors Can Do

The number of publicly listed U.S. firms has been falling steadily since 1997
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The U.S. Has 5,000 Fewer Listed Companies Than It Should

In 1976, there were about 23 listed companies per 1 million U.S. citizens. Today, it’s closer to 11 per million.

That’s according to a new

Elon Musk is no stranger to making controversial and outlandish comments, and his tweet last week is no exception. As you probably know by now, the perennial entrepreneur announced to his more than 22 million Twitter followers that he is “considering taking Tesla private at $420.”

Despite the Herculean challenge—such a move would be the largest leveraged buyout in history—and despite Musk’s history of being a provocateur, Wall Street seemed to take his comment seriously. Tesla stock rose close to 11 percent last Tuesday to end at $379, a few bucks shy of its all-time high of $385, set in September 2017.

There are many reasons why investors should take note. For one, Musk and Tesla are now likely to face heightened scrutiny from securities regulators.

My reason for bringing it up is that, should Musk follow through and take the electric carmaker private, the already shrinking universe of investable U.S. stocks will lose yet another name.

This is a trend that cannot continue indefinitely.

As I wrote in May 2017, the number of publicly listed companies in the U.S. has fallen steadily since 1997. More companies have delisted, in fact, than gone public in every year of the past 20 years except one, 2013.

Put another way, the pool is getting smaller even while the population and economy are expanding.

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The U.S. Has 5,000 Fewer Listed Companies Than It Should

In 1976, there were about 23 listed companies per 1 million U.S. citizens. Today, it’s closer to 11 per million.

That’s according to a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) report by respected financial economist René Stulz, who adds that the U.S. has roughly 5,000 fewer companies listed on exchanges than you would normally expect, given the country’s size, population, economic and financial development and respect for shareholder rights.

Are we seeing the same phenomenon in other countries, developed or otherwise?

“There are other countries that have lost listings since 1997, but few have experienced a greater percentage decrease in listings,” Stulz writes. “Further, the U.S. is in bad company in terms of the percentage decrease in listings—just ahead of Venezuela.”

Given that Venezuela’s economy is in freefall, with inflation forecast to hit 1 million percent this year, I would call it bad company indeed.

So why is this happening?

A Record $2.5 Trillion in M&A Activity

One of the main causes of fewer listings is the explosion in mergers and acquisitions (M&As). When one company acquires another, or when two companies merge, that lowers the number of traded stocks—assuming they were available to be traded to begin with. So far this year, worldwide M&A activity has been very robust, with a record $2.5 trillion in deals announced in the first six months alone. That puts 2018 on track to surpass $5 trillion, which would be the most ever recorded.

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What also makes 2018 different from past years is the high …read more

Wait Until You See the Price of Gold in Venezuela Right Now

Paper Money eventually returns to its intrinsic value zero

Last month in Venezuela’s capital city of Caracas, a cup of coffee would have set you back 2 million bolivars. That’s up from only 2,300 bolivars 12 months ago, meaning the price of a cup of joe has jumped nearly 87,000 percent, according to Bloomberg’s Café Con Leche Index. And you thought Starbucks was expensive.

But that was July. Prices in Venezuela are doubling roughly every 18 days. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now projects inflation to hit an astronomical 1 million percent by the end of this year. This puts the beleaguered Latin American country on the same slippery path as Zimbabwe a decade ago and Germany in the 1920s, when a wheelbarrow full of marks was barely enough to get you a loaf of bread.

Venezuela’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro—who only this past weekend survived an assassination attempt involving several explosive-laden drones—announced recently that the country plans to rein in hyperinflation by lopping off five zeroes from its currency. If you recall, Zimbabwe similarly tried to combat soaring prices of its own by issuing a cartoonish $100 trillion banknote—which in 2009 was still not enough to buy a bus ticket in the capital of Harare.

Without structural governmental reforms, a new bolivar is just as unlikely to steady Venezuela’s skyrocketing inflation or remedy its crumbling economy.

Gold Could Save Your Life

So where does this put gold? At some point, hyperinflation gets so ludicrously out of control that discussing exchange rates becomes pointless. But as of July 30, an ounce of the yellow metal would have gone for 211 million bolivars—an increase of more than 3.1 million percent from just the beginning of the year.

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My point in bringing this up is to reinforce the importance of gold’s Fear Trade, which says that demand for the yellow metal rises when inflation threatens to destroy a nation’s currency—as it’s doing right now in Venezuela. A Venezuelan family that had the prudence to store some of its wealth in gold would be in a much better position today to survive or escape President Maduro’s corrupt, far-left regime.

In extreme cases like this, gold could literally help save lives.

Such was the case following the fall of Saigon in 1975. If not for gold, many South Vietnamese families might not have managed to escape the country. A seat on one of the thousands of fleeing boats reportedly went for eight or 10 taels of gold per adult, four or five taels per child. (A tael is slightly more than an ounce.) Gold was their passport. Thanks to the precious metal, tens of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people,” as they’re now known, were able to start new lives in the U.S., Canada, Australia and other developed countries.

Venezuela’s Once Prosperous Economy Destroyed by Corruption and Mismanagement

But back to Venezuela. Amid the corruption and mismanagement, the only thing helping the country pay its bills right now is gold. Two years ago, it had the world’s …read more

What Does It Take to Be in the Top 1 Percent? Not As Much As You Think

top 1 percent income level varies greatly by location 10 most populous US cities ranked by annual income required to be in top 1 percent
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Earning enough income to be in the top 1, 10 or even 20 percent is no small accomplishment, but chances are good that many people you know, and may not think of as wealthy, fall into the top 1, 10 or 20 percent.

Is the Top 1 Percent Paying Their Fair Share?

Contrast the above income statistics with the picture often painted in the media that the wealthiest Americans aren’t paying their fair share. According to the

When you think of the top 1 percent of all income earners in American households, how much do you think this group rakes in? Millions? Tens of millions? What about the top 10 percent?

On the contrary, to be considered in the top 1 percent of taxpayers nationally, you’d need an annual income of $480,930. The top 10 percent of taxpayers make at least $138,031. These figures are based on 2015 income tax data, the most recent year available.

This income level varies widely by both state and city. In San Jose, California, the top 1 percent income threshold is close to $1.2 million, almost double the level for Los Angeles. As seen in the chart below, the spread is fairly wide between the top 10 most populous cities in the U.S. In San Antonio, Texas – home to U.S. Global Investors – you’d need to make $416,614 annually to be considered in the top 1 percent, slightly below the national threshold of top 1 percenters.

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Earning enough income to be in the top 1, 10 or even 20 percent is no small accomplishment, but chances are good that many people you know, and may not think of as wealthy, fall into the top 1, 10 or 20 percent.

Is the Top 1 Percent Paying Their Fair Share?

Contrast the above income statistics with the picture often painted in the media that the wealthiest Americans aren’t paying their fair share. According to the Tax Foundation, the top 1 percent of households collectively pay more in taxes than all of the tax-paying households in the bottom 90 percent.

Take a look at how much this has changed over the past few decades. In 1980, the bottom 90 percent of taxpayers paid about half of the taxes. The top 1 percent contributed about 20 percent.
Now, the top 1 percent pays more than the bottom 90 percent. Perhaps this is more than their fair share?

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Below is the line chart from the Tax Foundation showing how the income tax share for each category has changed since 1980. For the majority of years, the share of the bottom 90 percent fell while the share of the top 1 percent rose.

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Individual Tax Rate Cuts Take Effect in 2018

Taxpayers in the highest bracket should see a noticeable change when filing for the 2018 tax year since the top rate fell from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. President Donald Trump’s administration passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in late 2017, which included small reductions to income tax rates for most individual brackets plus changes to exemptions, deductions and more. The average top 1 percent taxpayer will get a tax break of over $50,000 in 2019, according to estimates.

The new tax bill, however, eliminates the ability of taxpayers to deduct more than $10,000 in state and local taxes from their federal tax …read more