Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We’re Ready to Profit in the Coming Correction....Are You?

By Laurynas Vegys, Research Analyst

Sometimes I see an important economic or geopolitical event in screaming headlines and think: “That’s bullish for gold.” Or: “That’s bad news for copper.” But then metals prices move in the opposite direction from the one I was expecting. Doug Casey always tells us not to worry about the short term fluctuations, but it’s still frustrating, and I find myself wondering why the price moved the way it did.


As investors we’re all affected by surges and sell offs in the investments that we own, so I want to understand. Take gold, for example. Oftentimes we find that it seems to tease us with a nice run up, only to give a big chunk of the gains back the next week. And so it goes, up and down…..

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The truth is, and it really is this simple, but so obvious that people forget, that there are always rallies and corrections. The timing is rarely predictable, but big market swings within the longer term megatrends we’re speculating on are normal in our sector.

Since 2001, the gold price had 20 surges of 12% or greater, including the one that kick-started 2014. Even with last year’s seemingly endless “devil’s decline,” we got one surge. If we were to lower the threshold to 8%, there’d be a dozen more and an average of three per year, including two this year.


Here at Casey Research, we actually look forward to corrections. Why? We know we’ll pay less for our purchases—they’re great for new subscribers who missed the ground floor opportunities years ago.

This confidence, of course, is the product of decades of cumulative experience and due diligence. We’re as certain as any investor can ever be that today’s data and the facts of history back our speculations on the likely outcomes of government actions, including the future direction of the gold price.

When you keep your eye firmly on the ball of the major trends that guide us, you can see rallies and corrections for what they are: roller-coaster rides that give us opportunities to buy and take profits. This volatility is the engine of “buy low, sell high.” Understanding this empowers the contrarian psychology necessary to buy when prices on valuable assets tank, and to sell when they soar.

There have been plenty of opportunities to buy during the corrections in the current secular gold bull market. The following chart shows every correction of 6% or more since 2001.


As you can see, there have been 28 such corrections over the past 13 years—two per year, on average. Note that the corrections only outnumber surges because we used a lower threshold (6%). At the 12% threshold we used for surges, there wouldn’t be enough to show the somewhat periodic pattern we can see above. It’s also worth noting that our recent corrections fall well short of the sharp sell off in the crash of 2008.

Of course, there are periods when the gold price is flat, but the point is that these kinds of surges and corrections are common.

Now the question becomes: what exactly drives these fluctuations (and the price of gold in general)?
In tackling this, we need to recognize the fact that not all “drivers” are created equal. Some transient events, such as military conflicts, political crises, quarterly GDP reports, etc., trigger short-lived upswings or downturns (like some of those illustrated in the charts above). Others relate to the underlying trends that determine the direction of prices long term. Hint: the latter are much more predictable and reliable. Major financial, economic, and political trends don’t occur in a vacuum, so when they seem to become apparent overnight, it’s the people watching the fundamentals who tend to be least surprised.

Here are some of the essential trends we are tracking…...

The Demise of the US Dollar

Gold is priced around the world in United States dollars, so a stronger US dollar tends to push gold lower and a weaker US dollar usually drives gold higher. With the Fed’s money-printing machine (“quantitative easing”) having been left on full throttle for years, a weaker dollar ahead is a virtual certainty.

At the same time, the U.S. dollar’s status as reserve currency of the world is being pushed ever closer to the brink by the likes of Russia and China. Both have been making moves that threaten to dethrone the already precarious USD. In fact, a yuan-ruble swap facility that excludes the greenback as well as a joint ratings agency have already been set up between China and Russia.

The end of the USD’s reign as reserve currency of the world won’t end overnight, but the process has been set in motion. Its days are all but numbered.

The consequences are not favorable for the US and those living there, but they can be mitigated, or even turned into opportunities to profit, for those who see what’s coming. Specifically, this big league trend is extremely bullish for real, tangible assets, especially gold.

Out-of-Control Government Debt and Deficits

Readers who’ve been with us for a while know that another major trend destined for some sort of cataclysmic endgame can be seen in government fiscal policy: profligate spending, debt crises, currency crises, and ultimately currency regime change. This covers more than the demise of the USD as reserve currency of the world (as mentioned above); it also covers a loss of viability of the euro, and hyperinflationary outcomes for smaller currencies around the world as well.

It’s worth noting that government debt was practically nonexistent, by modern standards, halfway through the 20th century. It has seen a dramatic increase with the expansion of government spending, worldwide. The U.S. government has never been as deep in debt as it is today, with the exception of the periods of World War II and its immediate aftermath, having recently surpassed a 100% debt to GDP ratio.

Such an unmanageable debt load has made deficits even worse. Interest payments on debt compound, so in time, interest rates will come to dominate government spending. Neither the dollar nor the economy can survive such a massive imbalance so something is bound to break long before the government gets to the point where interest gobbles up 80%+ of the budget.

Gold Flowing from West to East

The most powerful trend specifically in gold during the past few years has been the tidal shift in the flow of gold from West to East. China and India are the names of the game with the former having officially overtaken the latter as the world’s largest buyer of gold in 2013. Last year alone, China imported over 1,000 tonnes of gold through Hong Kong and mined some 430 tonnes more.

China hasn’t updated its government holdings of gold since it announced it had 1,054 tonnes in 2009, but it’s plain to see that by now there is far more gold than that, whether in central bank vaults or private hands. Just adding together the known sources, China should have over 4,000 tonnes of monetary gold, and that’s a very conservative estimate. That would put China in second place in the world rankings of official gold holdings, trailing only the United States. The Chinese government supports this accumulation of gold, so this can be seen as a step toward making the Chinese renminbi a world currency, which would have a lot more behind it than U.S. T-bills.

India presents just as strong a bullish case, if only slightly tainted with Indian government’s relentless crusade to rein in the country’s current account deficit by maintaining the outrageously high (i.e., 10%) import duty on gold and silver. Of course, this just means more gold smuggling, which casts official Indian stats into question, as more and more of the industry moves into the black and grey markets. World Gold Council research estimates that 75% of Indian households would either continue or increase their gold buying in 2014. Even without gold-friendly policies in place, this figure is extremely bullish for gold and in line with the big picture we’re betting on.

So What?

Nobody can predict when the next rally will occur nor the depth of the next sell-off. I can promise you this: as an investor you’ll be much happier about those surges if you stick to buying during the corrections. But it has to be for the right reasons, i.e., buying when prices drop below reasonable (if not objective) valuation, and selling when they rise above it. Focusing on the above fundamental trends and not worrying about short-term triggers can help.

Profiting from these trends is what we dedicate ourselves to here. Under current market conditions, that means speculating on the best mining stocks that offer leverage to the price of gold.

Here’s what I suggest: test drive the International Speculator for 3 months with a full money back guarantee, and if it’s not everything you expected, just cancel for a prompt, courteous refund of every penny you paid. Click Here to get Started Now.



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Monday, July 28, 2014

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The TRUTH about China’s Massive Gold Hoard

By Jeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst

I don’t want to say that mainstream analysts are stupid when it comes to China’s gold habits, but I did look up how to say that word in Chinese…..


One report claims, for example, that gold demand in China is down because the yuan has fallen and made the metal more expensive in the country. Sounds reasonable, and it has a grain of truth to it. But as you’ll see below, it completely misses the bigger picture, because it overlooks a major development with how the country now imports precious metals.

I’ve seen so many misleading headlines over the last couple months that I thought it time to correct some of the misconceptions. I’ll let you decide if mainstream North American analysts are stupid or not.

The basis for the misunderstanding starts with the fact that the Chinese think differently about gold. They view gold in the context of its role throughout history and dismiss the Western economist who arrogantly declares it an outdated relic. They buy in preparation for a new monetary order—not as a trade they hope earns them a profit.

Combine gold’s historical role with current events, and we would all do well to view our holdings in a slightly more “Chinese” light, one that will give us a more accurate indication of whether we have enough, of what purpose it will actually serve in our portfolio, and maybe even when we should sell (or not).

The horizon is full of flashing indicators that signal the Chinese view of gold is more prudent for what lies ahead. Gold will be less about “making money” and more about preparing for a new international monetary system that will come with historic consequences to our way of life.

With that context in mind, let’s contrast some recent Western headlines with what’s really happening on the ground in China. Consider the big picture message behind these developments and see how well your portfolio is geared for a “Chinese” future…

Gold Demand in China Is Falling

This headline comes from mainstream claims that China is buying less gold this year than last. The International Business Times cites a 30% drop in demand during the “Golden Week” holiday period in May. Many articles point to lower net imports through Hong Kong in the second quarter of the year. “The buying frenzy, triggered by a price slump last April, has not been repeated this year,” reports Kitco.

However, these articles overlook the fact that the Chinese government now accepts gold imports directly into Beijing.

In other words, some of the gold that normally went through Hong Kong is instead shipped to the capital. Bypassing the normal trade routes means these shipments are essentially done in secret. This makes the Western headline misleading at best, and at worst could lead investors to make incorrect decisions about gold’s future.

China may have made this move specifically so its import figures can’t be tracked. It allows Beijing to continue accumulating physical gold without the rest of us knowing the amounts. This move doesn’t imply demand is falling—just the opposite.

And don’t forget that China is already the largest gold producer in the world. It is now reported to have the second largest in-ground gold resource in the world. China does not export gold in any meaningful amount. So even if it were true that recorded imports are falling, it would not necessarily mean that Chinese demand has fallen, nor that China has stopped accumulating gold.

China Didn’t Announce an Increase in Reserves as Expected

A number of analysts (and gold bugs) expected China to announce an update on their gold reserves in April. That’s because it’s widely believed China reports every five years, and the last report was in April 2009. This is not only inaccurate, it misses a crucial point.

First, Beijing publicly reported their gold reserve amounts in the following years:
  • 500 tonnes at the end of 2001
  • 600 tonnes at the end of 2002
  • 1,054 tonnes in April 2009.
Prior to this, China didn’t report any change for over 20 years; it reported 395 tonnes from 1980 to 2001.
There is no five-year schedule. There is no schedule at all. They’ll report whenever they want, and—this is the crucial point—probably not until it is politically expedient to do so.

Depending on the amount, the news could be a major catalyst for the gold market. Why would the Chinese want to say anything that might drive gold prices upwards, if they are still buying?

Even with All Their Buying, China’s Gold Reserve Ratio Is Still Low

Almost every report you’ll read about gold reserves measures them in relation to their total reserves. The US, for example, has 73% of its reserves in gold, while China officially has just 1.3%. Even the World Gold Council reports it this way.

But this calculation is misleading. The U.S. has minimal foreign currency reserves—and China has over $4 trillion. The denominators are vastly different.

A more practical measure is to compare gold reserves to GDP. This would tell us how much gold would be available to support the economy in the event of a global currency crisis, a major reason for having foreign reserves in the first place and something Chinese leaders are clearly preparing for.

The following table shows the top six holders of gold in GDP terms. (Eurozone countries are combined into one.) Notice what happens to China’s gold to GDP ratio when their holdings move from the last reported 1,054-tonne figure to an estimated 4,500 tonnes (a reasonable figure based on import data).

Country Gold
(Tonnes)
Value US$ B
($1300 gold)
GDP US$ B
(2013)
Gold
Percent
of GDP
Eurozone* 10,786.3 $450.8 12,716.30 3.5%
US 8,133.5 $339.9 16,799.70 2.0%
China** 4,500.0 $188.1 9,181.38 2.0%
Russia 1,068.4 $44.7 2,118.01 2.1%
India 557.7 $23.3 1,870.65 1.2%
Japan 765.2 $32.0 4,901.53 0.7%
China 1,054.1 $44.1 9,181.38 0.5%
*including 503.2 tonnes held by ECB
**Projection
Sources: World Gold Council, IMF, Casey Research proprietary calculations


At 4,500 tonnes, the ratio shows China would be on par with the top gold holders in the world. In fact, they would hold more gold than every country except the U.S. (assuming the U.S. and EU have all the gold they say they have). This is probably a more realistic gauge of how they determine if they’re closing in on their goals.


This line of thinking assumes China’s leaders have a set goal for how much gold they want to accumulate, which may or may not be the case. My estimate of 4,500 tonnes of current gold reserves might be high, but it may also be much less than whatever may ultimately satisfy China’s ambitions. Sooner or later, though, they’ll tell us what they have, but as above, that will be when it works to China’s benefit.

The Gold Price Is Weak Because Chinese GDP Growth Is Slowing

Most mainstream analysts point to the slowing pace of China’s economic growth as one big reason the gold price hasn’t broken out of its trading range. China is the world’s largest gold consumer, so on the surface this would seem to make sense. But is there a direct connection between China’s GDP and the gold price?
Over the last six years, there has been a very slight inverse correlation (-0.07) between Chinese GDP and the gold price, meaning they act differently slightly more often than they act the same. Thus, the Western belief characterized above is inaccurate. The data signal that, if China’s economy were to slow, gold demand won’t necessarily decline.

The fact is that demand is projected to grow for reasons largely unrelated to whether their GDP ticks up or down. The World Gold Council estimates that China’s middle class is expected to grow by 200 million people, to 500 million, within six years. (The entire population of the U.S. is only 316 million.) They thus project that private sector demand for gold will increase 25% by 2017, due to rising incomes, bigger savings accounts, and continued rapid urbanization. (170 cities now have over one million inhabitants.) Throw in China’s deep seated cultural affinity for gold and a supportive government, and the overall trend for gold demand in China is up.

The Gold Price Is Determined at the Comex, Not in China

One lament from gold bugs is that the price of gold—regardless of how much people pay for physical metal around the world—is largely a function of what happens at the Comex in New York.

One reason this is true is that the West trades in gold derivatives, while the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) primarily trades in physical metal. The Comex can thus have an outsized impact on the price, compared to the amount of metal physically changing hands. Further, volume at the SGE is thin, compared to the Comex.
But a shift is underway…..

In May, China approached foreign bullion banks and gold producers to participate in a global gold exchange in Shanghai, because as one analyst put it, “The world’s top producer and importer of the metal seeks greater influence over pricing.”

The invited bullion banks include HSBC, Standard Bank, Standard Chartered, Bank of Nova Scotia, and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). They’ve also asked producing companies, foreign institutions, and private investors to participate.

The global trading platform was launched in the city’s “pilot free-trade zone,” which could eventually challenge the dominance of New York and London.

This is not a proposal; it is already underway.

Further, the enormous amount of bullion China continues to buy reduces trading volume in North America. The Chinese don’t sell, so that metal won’t come back into the market anytime soon, if ever. This concern has already been publicly voiced by some on Wall Street, which gives you an idea of how real this trend is.
There are other related events, but the point is that going forward, China will have increasing sway over the gold price (as will other countries: the Dubai Gold and Commodities Exchange is to begin a spot gold contract within three months).

And that’s a good thing, in our view.

Don’t Be Ridiculous; the US Dollar Isn’t Going to Collapse

In spite of all the warning signs, the US dollar is still the backbone of global trading. “It’s the go-to currency everywhere in the world,” say government economists. When a gold bug (or anyone else) claims the dollar is doomed, they laugh.

But who will get the last laugh?

You may have read about the historic energy deal recently made between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Over the next 30 years, about $400 billion of natural gas from Siberia will be exported to China. Roughly 25% of China’s energy needs will be met by 2018 from this one deal. The construction project will be one of the largest in the world. The contract allows for further increases, and it opens Russian access to other Asian countries as well. This is big.

The twist is that transactions will not be in US dollars, but in yuan and rubles. This is a serious blow to the petrodollar.

While this is a major geopolitical shift, it is part of a larger trend already in motion:
  • President Jinping proposed a brand-new security system at the recent Asian Cooperation Conference that is to include all of Asia, along with Russia and Iran, and exclude the US and EU.
  • Gazprom has signed agreements with consumers to switch from dollars to euros for payments. The head of the company said that nine of ten consumers have agreed to switch to euros.
  • Putin told foreign journalists at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that “China and Russia will consider further steps to shift to the use of national currencies in bilateral transactions.” In fact,a yuan-ruble swap facility that excludes the greenback has already been set up.
  • Beijing and Moscow have created a joint ratings agency and are now “ready for transactions… in rubles and yuan,” said the Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov. Many Russian companies have already switched contracts to yuan, partly to escape Western sanctions.
  • Beijing already has in place numerous agreements with major trading partners, such as Brazil and the Eurozone, that bypass the dollar.
  • Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (the BRICS countries) announced last week that they are “seeking alternatives to the existing world order.” The five countries unveiled a $100 billion fund to fight financial crises, their version of the IMF. They will also launch a World Bank alternative, a new bank that will make loans for infrastructure projects across the developing world.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see the future for the US dollar; the trend is clearly moving against it. An increasing amount of global trade will be done in other currencies, including the yuan, which will steadily weaken the demand for dollars.

The shift will be chaotic at times. Transitions this big come with complications, and not one of them will be good for the dollar. And there will be consequences for every dollar based investment. U.S. dollar holders can only hope this process will be gradual. If it happens suddenly, all U.S. dollar based assets will suffer catastrophic consequences. In his new book, The Death of Money, Jim Rickards says he believes this is exactly what will happen.

The clearest result for all U.S. citizens will be high inflation, perhaps at runaway levels—and much higher gold prices.

Gold Is More Important than a Profit Statement

Only a deflationary bust could keep the gold price from going higher at some point. That is still entirely possible, yet even in that scenario, gold could “win” as most other assets crash. Otherwise, I’m convinced a mid-four-figure price of gold is in the cards.

But remember: It’s not about the price. It’s about the role gold will serve protecting wealth during a major currency upheaval that will severely impact everyone’s finances, investments, and standard of living.
Most advisors who look out to the horizon and see the same future China sees believe you should hold 20% of your investable assets in physical gold bullion. I agree. Anything less will probably not provide the kind of asset and lifestyle protection you’ll need.

In the meantime, don’t worry about the gold price. China’s got your back.

You don’t have to worry about silver, either, which we think holds even greater potential for investors. In the July issue of my newsletter, BIG GOLD, we show why we’re so bullish on gold’s little cousin.

And we provide two silver bullion discounts exclusively for subscribers, and name our top silver pick of the year.

Of course, we also have all our best buys in the gold mining sector as well.

Click here to get it all with a 90 day risk free trial to our inexpensive BIG GOLD newsletter

The article The TRUTH about China’s Massive Gold Hoard was originally published at Casey Research


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Using Supply and Demand to Beat the Market: An Interview with Fund Manager Charles Biderman

By Dan Steinhart, Managing Editor, The Casey Report

It’s an investing strategy so simple, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it. Like any other market, the stock market obeys the laws of supply and demand. Reduce supply, and prices should rise. Therefore, companies that reduce their outstanding shares by buying back their own stock should outperform the market.

That’s the basic theory that Charles Biderman, who was recently featured in Forbes and is chairman and founder of TrimTabs Investment Research, follows to manage his ETF, TrimTabs Float Shrink (TTFS).
And it works. Since its inception in October 2011, TTFS has beaten the S&P 500 by 15 percentage points. That’s no small feat, especially during a bull market. Most hedge fund managers would sacrifice their firstborns for such stellar performance.

There are, of course, nuances to the strategy, which Charles explains in an interview with Casey Research’s managing editor Dan Steinhart below. For example, companies must use their own money to buy back shares. Borrowing for buybacks is a no no.

It’s also worth mentioning, you can meet and learn all about Charles’ strategy in person. He’ll be available at  Casey Research’s Summit: Thriving in a Crisis Economy in San Antonio, TX from September 19-21 where he’ll be working with attendees to teach them how to beat the market using supply and demand analysis.

And Charles is just one of many all stars on the faculty for this summit—click here to browse the others, which include Alex Jones, Jim Rickards, and, of course, Doug Casey.

Also, you can still sign up for this Summit and meet some of the world’s brightest financial minds and receive a special early bird discount. You’ll save $400 if you sign up by July 15th. Click here to register now.
Now for the complete Charles Biderman interview. Enjoy!


Using Supply and Demand to Beat the Market: An Interview with Fund Manager Charles Biderman

Dan: Thanks for joining us today, Charles. Could you start by telling us a little bit about your unique approach to stock market research?

Charles: Sure. I’ve been following the markets for 40 years. Everybody talks about earnings and interest rates and growth rates and what the government is doing. But here’s the thing: the stock market is made up of shares of stock. That’s it. There is nothing else in the stock market.

So my firm tracks the supply and demand of the stock market. The number of shares outstanding is the supply. Money is the demand. We discovered when more money chases fewer shares, the market goes up. Isn’t that shocking?

Dan: [Laughs] Not very, when you put it that way.

Charles: Whenever I talk with individual investors, I tell them that there’s only one reason for them to listen to me: that they think I can help them beat the market. I’ve spent 40 some years looking at markets in a different way than other people. I’ve found that the market is like a casino: it has a house and players. You know the house has an edge, because if it didn’t, the stock market wouldn’t exist.

Who is the house in the stock market? Not brokers, or even high frequency traders. Companies are the house. As investors, we’re playing with their shares, and the companies know more about them than we do.
I’ve discovered that companies buy back their own shares because they think the price is heading higher. So when a company buys back its own shares using its own money, you should buy that stock too. But only if the company uses its own money. Borrowing money to buy shares is a no-no.

Conversely, when companies are growing their shares outstanding by selling stock to raise money, they don’t like where their stock price is headed. If they don’t want to own their own stock, you shouldn’t either.
My basic philosophy is to follow supply and demand of stocks and money, and you can’t go wrong.

Dan: Your theory has worked very well in practice. Your TrimTabs Float Shrink ETF (TTFS) beat the S&P 500 by an impressive 12 percentage points in 2013. And that’s really saying something, considering how well the S&P 500 performed.

Charles: Yes, and we’ve outperformed the S&P 500 over the past year as well.

Dan: What specific investment strategies did you use to generate that return?

Charles: Our fund invests in 100 companies that are growing free cash flow—which is the money left over after taxes, R & D, capital expenditures, and dividends—and using it to buy back their own shares.
We modify our holdings every month because we’ve discovered that the positive effects of buybacks only last for a short time. So when a company stops shrinking its float, we kick it out. Our turnover is about 20 stocks per month.

Dan: The supply side of the equation seems pretty straightforward. What do you use to approximate demand? Money supply numbers?

Charles: Sort of. Institutions own around 80% of the shares of the Russell 1000, so we track the money that flows through them into and out of the stock market.

We also track wage and salary growth. We’re not interested in income generated by government actions, but rather by the wages of the 137 million Americans who have jobs subject to withholding. Money for investment comes from income. People can only invest the money they have left over after they cover expenses.

Income in the U.S. is currently around $7.5 trillion per year. That’s an increase of around $300 million over last year, or a little under 3% after inflation. That’s not sufficient to generate money for investment.

However, the Fed’s zero interest rate policy has showered companies with plenty of cash to improve their operations. As a result, many industries have record high profit margins. But at the same time, most management teams are still afraid to reinvest their profits into expanding their businesses because they don’t see final consumption demand growing. So these companies have been buying back their shares instead. The total number of shares in the market has declined pretty much consistently since 2010.

An investment institution typically targets a specific percentage of cash to hold, say 5%. So when a company buys back its own stock from these institutions, the institutions now have more money and fewer shares. To meet their cash allocation target, they have to go out and buy more shares. So the end result is more money chasing fewer shares.

This is why we’ve been experiencing a “melt-up” in the market. It has nothing to do with the economy—it’s solely due to supply and demand. And as buybacks continue, stock prices will continue to rise.

The caveat is that unless the economy recovers in earnest, the gap between stock prices and the real-world economy will continue to grow. At some point, it will get too wide, and we’ll get a bang moment similar to the housing crisis, when everyone realized that housing prices were too far above their underlying value in 2007.

Dan: Do you monitor macroeconomic issues as well?

Charles: Yes, but as I like to say, all macro issues manifest as supply and demand eventually. Supply and demand is what’s happening right now. All of those other inputs get us to “now.”

Dan: I understand. So you’re more concerned with the effects of supply and demand than the causes.

Charles: Right. Price is a function of the world as it exists right now. If you don’t have cash, it doesn’t matter how fantastic stock market fundamentals look. Without cash, you can’t buy, no matter how compelling the value.

Dan: Could you share a preview of what you’ll be talking about at the Casey Research Summit in San Antonio?

Charles: I’ll be giving specific advice to individual investors on how to beat the market. Outperforming the overall market is very difficult to do, and earnings analysis and graphic analysis has never been proven to do it over a long period. Supply and demand analysis has. So I will work with attendees and show them how to apply those strategies to beat the market going forward.

Dan: Great; I look forward to that. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Charles: The phrase “disruptive technology” is popular today. I think investing on the basis of supply and demand is a disruptive technology compared with other investing strategies, most of which have never really worked. Cheap, broad-based index funds are so popular because very few investing strategies offer any real edge. I believe supply and demand investing gives me an edge.

Dan: Thanks very much for sharing your insights today. I’m excited to hear what else you’ll have to say at our Thriving in a Crisis Economy Summit in San Antonio.

Charles: I’m looking forward to the Summit as well. I hope the aura of the San Antonio Spurs’ victory will rub off on all of us.

Dan: Me too. Thanks again.




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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Low VIX and What It Means to Your Trading....Our Next Free Webinar

You are invited to attend our next free webinar, presented by former CBOE floor trader Dan Passarelli on Tuesday July 15th at 4:30 EDT. Dan's focus for this webinar will be "Low VIX and What It Means to Your Trading".

Many traders are having a tough time making money in this market. Why? Low VIX. Professional traders use the VIX as a guide to gauge potential option profits. Attend this webinar with Dan and learn what the VIX is telling us about your trading this summer.

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Gold Option Trade – Will Gold Continue to Consolidate?

Until recently, the world has forgotten about gold and gold futures prices it would seem. A few years ago, all we heard about was gold and silver futures making new highs on the back of the Federal Reserve’s constant money printing schemes.

However, after a dramatic sell off the world of precious metals it became very quiet.


Gold prices have been in a giant basing or consolidation pattern for more than one year. As can clearly be seen below, gold futures prices have traded in a range between roughly 1,175 and 1,430 since June of 2013.


Chart1


The past few weeks we have heard more about gold prices as we have seen a five week rally since late May. I would also draw your attention to the fact that gold futures also made a slightly higher low which is typically a bullish signal.


At this point in time, it appears quite likely that a possible test of the upper end of the channel is possible in the next few weeks / months. If price can push above 1,430 on the spot gold futures price a breakout could transpire that could see $150 or more added to the spot gold price.


Clearly there are a variety of ways that a trader could consider higher prices in gold futures. However, a basic option strategy can pay handsome rewards that will profit from a continued consolidation. The trade strategy is profitable as long as price stays within a range for a specified period of time. Ultimately this type of trade strategy involves the use of options and capitalizes on the passage of time.


The strategy is called an Iron Condor Strategy, however in order to make this trade worth while we would consider widening out the strikes to increase our profitability while simultaneously increasing our overall risk per spread. Consider the chart of GLD below which has highlighted the price range that would be profitable to the August monthly option expiration on August 15th.


Chart2


As long as price stays in the range shown above, the GLD August Iron Condor Spread would be profitable. Clearly this strategy involves patience and the expectation that gold prices will continue to consolidate. This trade has the profit potential of $37 per spread, or a total potential return based on maximum possible risk of 13.62%. The probability based on today's implied volatility in GLD options for this spread to be profitable at expiration (August 15) is roughly 80%.


Our new option service specializes in identifying these types of consolidation setups and helps investors capitalize on consolidating chart patterns, volatility collapse, and profiting from the passage of time. And if you Advanced options trades are not your thing, we also provide Simple options where we buy either a call or put option based on the SP500 and VIX. The nice thing about buying calls and puts is that you can trade with an account as little as $2,500.


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See you in the markets!

Chris Vermeulen

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Friday, July 4, 2014

5 Simple Rules to Evolve Past the Hot Stock List

By Andrey Dashkov

If you’re a typical small time investor, chances are you prefer to let a team of analysts fuss about such irksome things as correlation and beta. Maybe you’ve bought a stock because your brother in law gave you a hot tip, maybe you heard something about it on a financial news show, or maybe you just loved the company’s product.


Friends often ask me for “hot stock tips”—which is like walking up to someone at the craps table and asking what number to bet on. An accomplished craps player will have position limits, stop losses, income targets, and an overall strategy that does not hinge on one roll of the dice. You need an overall strategy long before you put money down.

So, what do I tell those friends asking for hot stock tips? Well, that they can retire rich with a 50-20-30 portfolio:
  • Stocks. 50% in solid, diversified stocks providing healthy dividends and appreciation.
  • High Yield. 20% in high yield, dividend paying investments coupled with appropriate safety measures. These holdings are bought for yield; any appreciation is a nice bonus.
  • Stable Income. 30% in conservative, stable income vehicles.
Unless you’re starting entirely from scratch, you should review your current portfolio allocations, identify where you’re over or underallocated, and then look for investments to fill those holes. In our portfolio here at Miller's Money Forever, we separate our recommendations into StocksHigh Yield, and Stable Income to help you do just that.

The Art of the Pick

 

By the time an investment lands in our portfolio, we’ve already run it through our Five Point Balancing Test. When your boasting brother in law tempts you with a “can’t-miss opportunity” or some pundit touts a hot tech company on television, you can come back to these five points, again and again.
  1. Is it a solid company or investment vehicle? Investing your retirement money safely is a must. How do you know if a company is solid? Take the time to validate essential company information, particularly when the recommendation comes from a source with questionable motivation.
  2. Does it provide good income? A good stock combines a robust dividend and appreciation potential.
  3. Is there a good chance for appreciation? There are two types of appreciating stocks: those that rise because of general market conditions and those that rise further because of the way management runs the business. We want both.
  4. Does it protect against inflation? High inflation is one of the biggest enemies of a retirement portfolio.
  5. Is it easily reversible? Ask yourself, “Can I quickly and easily reverse this investment if something unexpected occurs?” The ability to liquidate inexpensively is critical to correcting errors.

Marking the Bull’s Eye So You Can Hit It

 

It’s worthwhile to write down your goal—including an income target and the price at which you’ll sell if things head south—with every investment. After all, if you can’t see the bull’s eye, how will you know if you’ve hit it? Buying any investment because a trusted adviser, newsletter, or pundit recommended it is not a good enough reason. Buying because your portfolio has a hole, you understand the company, the investment vehicle, the risks, and the potential is.

Remember, retiring rich means having enough money to enjoy your lifestyle without money worries. Do your homework on every investment and you’ll make that pleasant thought your life’s reality. Every week, the Miller’s Money team provides no nonsense, practical advice about the best ways to invest for your retirement in  Miller’s Money Weekly Sign up here to receive it every Thursday.

The article 5 Simple Rules to Evolve Past the Hot-Stock List was originally published at Millers Money


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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Minimum Wage, Maximum Stupidity

By Doug French, Contributing Editor

The minimum wage should be the easiest issue to understand for the economically savvy. If the government arbitrarily sets a floor for wages above that set by the market, jobs will be lost. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits that 500,000 jobs would be lost with a $10.10 federal minimum wage. Who knows how high the real number would be?

Yet here we go again with the “Raise the minimum wage” talk at a time when unemployment is still devastating much of the country. The number of Americans jobless for 27 weeks or more is still 3.37 million. And while that’s only half the 6.8 million that were long term unemployed in 2010, most of the other half didn’t find work. Four fifths of them just gave up.

So, good economics and better sense would say, “make employment cheaper.” More of anything is demanded if the price goes down. That would mean lowering the minimum wage and undoing a number of cumbersome employment regulations that drive up the cost of jobs.

But then as H.L. Mencken reminded us years ago, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Which means the illogical case made by Republican multimillionaire businessman Ron Unz is being taken seriously.

We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Entry Level Jobs

 

Unz says the minimum should be $12 and recognizes that 90% of the resistance is that it would kill jobs. So what’s his answer to that silver bullet to his argument? America doesn’t want those low paying jobs anyway. In his words, “Critics of a rise in the minimum wage argue that jobs would be destroyed, and in some cases they are probably correct. But many of those threatened jobs are exactly the ones that should have no place in an affluent, developed society like the United States, which should not attempt to compete with Mexico or India in low wage industries.”

He doesn’t think much of fast food jobs either. But he knows that employment can’t be shipped overseas, so Mr. Unz’s plan for those jobs is as follows:

So long as federal law requires all competing businesses to raise wages in unison, much of this cost could be covered by a small one time rise in prices. Since the working poor would see their annual incomes rise by 30 or 40 percent, they could easily afford to pay an extra dime for a McDonald’s hamburger, while such higher prices would be completely negligible to America’s more affluent elements.

The Number of Jobs Isn’t Fixed

 

He believes that if all jobs pay well enough, legal applicants will apply and take all the jobs. This is where Unz crosses paths with David Brat, the economics professor who recently unseated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Brat claims to be a free-market sympathizer and says plenty of good things. However, in his stump speeches and interviews, Brat says early and often, “An open border is both a national security threat and an economic threat that our country cannot ignore. … Adding millions of workers to the labor market will force wages to fall and jobs to be lost.”

That would make sense if there were a fixed number of jobs, but that’s not the case. An economics professor should know that humans have unlimited wants and limited means, which, as Nicholas Freiling explains in The Freeman, “renders the amount of needed labor virtually endless—constrained only by the economy’s productive capacity (which, coincidentally, only grows as the supply of labor increases).”

An influx of illegal immigrants may or may not drive down wages, but even if it does, that’s a good thing. Low wages allow employers to invest in other things. More efficient production lowers costs for everyone, producers and consumers, allowing for capital creation. In the long run, it is capital investment that creates jobs.

Employers Bid for Labor Like Anything Else

 

Mr. Unz claims that low-wage employers are being subsidized by the welfare state. “It’s a classic case of where businesses manage to privatize the benefits of their workers—they get the work—and socialize the costs. They’ve shifted the costs over to the taxpayer and the government,” writes Unz.

It makes one wonder how the businessman made millions in the first place. Wage rates aren’t determined by what the employee’s expenses are. “Labor is a scarce factor of production,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises. “As such it is sold and bought on the market. The price paid for labor is included in the price allowed for the product or the services if the performer of the work is the seller of the product or the services.”

Mises explained that a general rate of wages does not exist. “Labor is very different in quality,” Mises wrote, “and each kind of labor renders specific services. each is appraised as a complementary factor for turning out definite consumers’ goods and services.”

Not every job contributes $12 an hour in production benefits toward a finished good or service. And many unskilled laborers can’t generate $12 an hour worth of output. The Congress that created the minimum wage knew this and carved out the 14(c) permit provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, allowing an exemption from minimum wage requirements for businesses hiring the handicapped.

That Congress included in the act this language:

The Secretary, to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment, shall by regulation or order provide for the employment, under special certificates, of individuals ... whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury, at wages which are lower than the minimum wage.

Entrepreneurs must purchase all factors of production at the lowest prices possible. No offense to labor—that’s what customers demand. All cuts in wages pass through to customers. If a business pays more than the market wage rate, the business “would be soon removed from his entrepreneurial position.” Pay less than the market, and employees leave to work somewhere else.

Who Picks Up The Tab?

 

First, Unz says, “American businesses can certainly afford to provide better pay given that corporate profits have reached an all-time high while wages have fallen to their lowest share of national GDP in history.” So, instead of taxpayers supporting the poor, Unz wants business to pay. No, wait: later he writes that consumers will support the poor by paying higher prices.

“McDonald’s and fast food places would probably have to raise their prices by 8 or 9 percent, something like that. Agricultural products that are American-grown would go up by less than 2 percent on the grocery shelves. And those sorts of price increases are so small that they would be almost unnoticed in most cases by the consumer.” Walmart would cover a $12 minimum wage with a one time price increase of 1.1%, he says, with the average Walmart shopper paying just an extra $12.50 a year. So it’s consumers—who are also taxpayers—who get to be their brother’s keeper either which way with Unz’s plan.

Walmart Must Be Offering Enough

 

Fortune magazine writer Stephen Gandel appeared on Morning Joe this week, making the case that Walmart should give its employees a 50% raise (his article in Fortune on the subject appeared last November). According to him, the company is misallocating capital by not paying higher wages. He says investors are not giving the company credit for the lower pay in the stock price, so they should just do the right thing and pay their employees more.

But Walmart does pay more when it has to compete for employees. In oil rich Williston, North Dakota, the retail giant is offering to pay entry level workers as much as $17.40 per hour to attract employees.
Walmart isn’t alone. McDonald’s is paying $300 signing bonuses to attract workers. The night shift at gas stations in Williston pays $14 an hour.

By the way, whatever Walmart is paying, it must be enough, because it has plenty of applicants to choose from. In 2005, 11,000 people in the Bay Area applied for 400 positions at a new Oakland store. Three years later near Chicago, 25,000 people applied for 325 positions at a new store.

Last year a new Walmart opened in the DC area. Again, the response was overwhelming. Debbie Thomas told the Washington Post, “It’s hard to live in this city on $7.45 or $8.25 an hour. I’ve lived here all my life, and I want to stay here. In the end, I’m just glad Walmart’s here. I might get a job.”

Throughout history, people have had to relocate to find work. Today is no different.

In the long run, as the minimum wage increases, capital will be invested to replace labor. We’ve seen it for years. Machines don’t call in sick, sue for harassment, require health insurance, or show up late. Now patrons pour their own drinks. Shoppers scan their own groceries and pump their own gas. Soon we’ll be ordering from electronic tablets at our tables in sit down restaurants to cut down on wait staff, and the cooks will be replaced by automated burger makers.

Unz may well believe what he proposes would be doing good; however, it means kids and the unskilled go unemployed and in the end, are unemployable.

You read an excerpt from the Daily Dispatch, Casey Research’s wildly popular e-letter. Stay in the loop on big-picture trends, precious metals, energy, technology, and more. Sign up Here to receive the Daily Dispatch free of charge in your inbox.

The article Minimum Wage, Maximum Stupidity was originally published at Casey Research


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Monday, June 30, 2014

Thomas Edison’s Dream Smashed

By Adam J. Crawford, Analyst

The incandescent light bulb was invented in the very early 1800s, but at that time was a device too crude and impractical for mass adoption. Over the next 80 years, at least 20 inventors contributed to its improvement, until, in 1880, Thomas Edison developed and patented a bulb that would last a miraculous 1,200 hours. Edison’s product was the first to offer the levels of functionality, durability, and affordability necessary for widespread commercial appeal. That’s why he gets credit for inventing the light bulb, even though he was decades late to the party.


Some 130 years after Edison’s patent was approved, the incandescent light bulb has basically the same features… a filament inside a glass bulb with a screw base. And for all those years, it’s been doing yeoman-like work providing clean, quality lighting (compared to the candles and oil lanterns of the 19th century), in millions of homes and offices. Today, however, the incandescent light bulb is on its way out… and a multibillion-dollar industry will be forever changed.

Done In by Inefficiency

The incandescent bulb, though very effective, is notoriously inefficient. To understand why, one need only understand how it produces light. The filament (or wire) inside a bulb is heated by an electric current until it becomes so hot it glows.

The problem: only about 10% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is converted into light; the rest is dissipated as usually unwanted heat.

This is a problem, not just for the homes and businesses using these bulbs, but also upstream at the power plants that produce the required energy. In an era when producers are wondering how they’re going to keep up with the surging demand amidst rising fuel costs and concern about the environmental impact of energy production is running high, such inefficiencies are frowned on.

Governments, of course, have the ability to put muscle behind their frowns… and they’re doing just that. In 2013, it became illegal in the United States to manufacture or import 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs. 40 and 60 watt bulbs were added to the ban in January of this year. The U.S. isn’t the only government actively limiting the use of incandescent bulbs. The European Union, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and even China are among many that have phase out programs aimed at forcing users to convert to an alternative technology.

For household applications, that primarily means a switch to those twisty shaped compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), or the newest competition in town, light emitting diodes (LEDs).

A CFL’s spiral tube contains argon and mercury vapors, and they are far more efficient than the old Edison bulb. When an electrical current is passed through the vapors, invisible ultraviolet light is produced. The ultraviolet light is transformed into visible light when it strikes a fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube.. all at about one fourth the electrical cost for an equivalent amount of light from an incandescent lamp.

LEDs, in contrast, don’t use commonplace materials. Rather, they’re made from somewhat exotic semiconductor materials, like indium and gallium nitride. When an electrical current is passed through these semiconductors, energy is released in the form of particles called photons—the most basic units of light in physics, i.e., light’s equivalent of individual electrons. In the process, little is lost to heat and the materials take minimal wear, making for another very efficient light source, and one that lasts far longer than its competitors.

Comparing the Alternatives

Right now, LED bulbs are relatively expensive to produce. That’s because a bulb is not just a bulb when it comes to LEDs—it can’t be made brighter by just putting in a thicker filament or tube. Instead, each bulb is a complex web of up to dozens of small diodes, each roughly the size of a pinhead, wired together and to a ballast that regulates the electricity flowing through them.

When compared head to head with incandescent and CFL light bulbs, LEDs come out the clear winner in operating costs. But even with millions of these bulbs now shipping to Home Depot, they still fall down on initial cost:

60-WATT
Equivalent
Incandescent
CFL
LED
Lumen 880 800 800
Life (hours) 1,000 8,000 25,000
Initial cost $1.19 $5.00 $9.98
Yearly operating cost $7.23 $1.81 $1.45


However, when you add up those advantages over that 25,000 hour lifetime, then the advantages start to become clear:


60-WATT
Equivalent
Incandescent
CFL
LED
Yearly
operating cost
$7.23 $1.81 $1.45
Years 23 23 23
23-year
operating cost
$166.29 $41.63 $33.35
Initial cost $1.19 $5.00 $10.00
Replacement
cost
$28.56 $10.00 $0.00
Total cost $196.04 $56.63 $43.35

As you can see, to produce roughly the same lumens (a measure of the amount of visible light emitted by a source), both CFLs and LEDs are hands-down more economical than incandescent bulbs.

Of course, in a residential scenario where a bulb is run for maybe three hours a day, it would take about 23 years to realize that big a savings. But put them in place in a commercial or industrial setting like the hundreds of lights running 24 hours a day in the local Walmart, and the savings add up quickly.

Still, why are we so bullish on the prospects for LEDs if they barely edge out their CFL competitors over tens of thousands of hours?

The first difference is environmental. CFLs have the inherent disadvantage of containing mercury, a toxic metal that poses health and environmental risks. Break one of these bulbs and you have a biohazard on your hands. There’s a real cost to recycling these bulbs and containing the mess from those that are just tossed in the trash heap. It’s a cost that will certainly be shifted back to consumers of the bulbs if environmental legislation continues on its same path.

Further still, over its life, an LED bulb is already 25% more economical than a CFL. When compared to an incandescent bulb, either is a huge cost winner. But when it comes down to dollars and cents, the LED wins today. The only reason not go that route is the big upfront cost difference, which when buying tens of thousands of bulbs at a time (as many commercial companies do) can be a hard pill to swallow.

However, the cost of LEDs has been falling fast in recent years and will continue to do so. In 2011, a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb retailed for about $40. In 2012, the price fell below $20. Today, it’s less than $10.

As volumes increase and competition among manufacturers and retailers intensifies, prices will continue to fall. Some industry analysts see a $5 LED on the near horizon. We wouldn’t bet against it.

The price could go even lower if manufacturers can successfully implement a cost-reduction break through. Specifically, LED devices are built on expensive aluminum oxide substrates. But manufacturers are working on ways to build on substrates made of silicon, which would substantially reduce defects and thus costs. As prices drop, and if environmental law hits mercury laced CFLs next, LED’s cost advantage will start to widen significantly.

Inflection Point

This all means that the LED’s time has arrived. According to IHS, a global market and economic research firm, unit shipments of LED lighting devices will grow at a compounded annual rate of 40% between now and 2020.


In 2011, the size of the global lighting market was about $96 billion, and LED devices accounted for about 12% of that amount. By 2020, McKinsey & Company projects, the size of the market will be $136 billion, of which 63% will be attributable to LEDs.

With the LED bulb, we have a trend that’s been in the making for several years… and it’s now ready to surge. How should an investor play it? Certainly not with a blindfold and a dartboard, or a whole sector buy like an ETF, because not all participants in this market will prosper.

Some will not be a pure enough play to benefit, or will be cannibalizing their own incandescent and CFL business… like GE and Phillips. Others will find themselves producing a commodity with ever thinning margins… like Cree. And others still already have much of the anticipated growth priced into their shares.
However, we scanned the field and found a company that is well positioned to benefit from the growth of the LED market while, at the same time, actually improving its margins.

We believe this company’s stock is undervalued. That’s why we’re recommending it in the next issue of BIG TECH

For access to this recommendation and many more, simply sign up for a risk free trial of BIG TECH. 

If you decide to keep your subscription, it will only cost a mere $99, nothing compared to the profits just this one investment should bring. But, if for any reason you’re unsatisfied, simply cancel to receive a prompt, courteous, and complete refund of the entire subscription price. You have 3 full months to make up your mind.

The article Thomas Edison’s Dream Smashed was originally published at Casey Research




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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Four Horsemen of the Geopolitical Apocalypse

By John Mauldin


Ian Bremmer, NYU professor and head of the geopolitical consulting powerhouse Eurasia Group, consults at the highest levels with both governments and companies because he brings to the table robust geopolitical analysis and a compelling thesis: that we are witnessing “the creative destruction of the old geopolitical order.” We live, as his last book told us, in a “G-0” world. In today’s Outside the Box, Ian spells out what that creative destruction means in terms of events on the ground today. As Ian notes, the most prominent feature of the international landscape this year has been the expansion of geopolitical conflict. That expansion is gaining momentum, he says, creating larger-scale crises and sharpening market volatility. Hold on to the reins now as Ian take us for a ride with the “Four Horsemen of the Geopolitical Apocalypse.”

We’ll follow up Ian’s piece with an excellent short analysis of the Iraq situation from a Middle East expert at a large hedge fund I correspond with. Pretty straightforward take on the situation with regard to ISIS. This quagmire has real implications for the world oil supply. (It appears that the Sunni rebel forces are now in complete control of the key Baiji Refinery, which produces a third of Iraq’s output.)

Back in Dallas, it’s a little hard to focus on geopolitical events when seemingly all the news is about ongoing domestic crises. But the outrageous IRS loss of emails doesn’t really affect our portfolios all that much. What happens in Iraq or with China does. There’s just not the emotional impact.

One domestic humanitarian crisis that is brewing just south of me is the massive influx of very young children across the U.S.-Mexican border. When this was first brought to my attention a few weeks ago, I must admit that I questioned the credibility of the source. We have had young children walking across the Texas border for decades but always in rather small numbers. The first source I read said that 40,000 had already come over this year. I just found that to be non credible, but then with a little reasonable research it not only became believable but could be a bit low – it looks as many as 90,000 children will cross the border this year.

What in the name of the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on? First of all, how do you cover up something of this magnitude until it is a true crisis? When the administration and other authorities clearly knew about it last year? (The evidence is irrefutable. They knew.)

I am the father of five adopted children. In an earlier phase of my life, I was somewhat involved with Child Protective Services here in Texas. It was an emotionally difficult and heartrending experience. (One of my children came out of that system and three from outside of the United States). I have no idea how you care for 90,000 children who don’t speak the language and have no connection to their new locale. Forget the dollar cost, which could run into the tens of billions over time. These are children, and they are on our doorstep and our watch. You simply can’t ignore them and say, “They are not supposed to be here, so it’s not our responsibility.” They are children. Someone, and that means here in the U.S., is going to have to figure out how to take care of them, even if it is only to learn why they try to come and figure out where to send them back to. And frankly, trying to to send them back is going to be a logistical and legal nightmare, not to mention psychologically traumatic to the children.

Maybe someone thought that waiting until there was a crisis to let this information slip out (and we found out about it because of photos posted anonymously of children packed together in holding cells) would create momentum for immigration reform. And they may be right. But I’m not certain it’s going to result in the type of immigration reform they were hoping to get.

I have to admit that I’ve been rather tolerant of illegal immigrants over the course of my life. There are a dozen or so key issues that I think this country should focus on, but I’ve just never gotten that worked up about illegal immigration. The simple fact is that everyone here in the US is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. It may be, too, that I’ve hired a few undocumented workers here and there in my life. As an economist, I know that we should be trying to figure out how to get more capable immigrants here, not less. What you want are educated young people who are motivated to create and work, not children as young as four or five years old who are going to need housing, education, adult supervision, health care, and most of all a loving environment where they can grow up.

It is one thing for undocumented workers to come across the border looking for jobs or for families to come across together. It is a completely different matter when tens of thousands of preteen children come across the border without parents or supervision. They didn’t get across 1500 miles of desert without significant support and a great deal of planning. This couldn’t be happening without the awareness of authorities in Mexico and the Central American countries from which these children come, and if this is truly a surprise to Homeland Security, then there is a significant failure somewhere in the system.

And if it was not a surprise? That begs a whole different series of questions.

This is a major humanitarian crisis, and it is not in the Middle East or Africa. It is on our border, and we need to figure out what to do about it NOW!

I don’t care whether you think we need to build a 20 foot high wall across the southern border of the United States or give amnesty to anyone who wants to come in (or both), something has to be done with these children. It is a staggering problem of enormous logistical proportions, and we have a simple human responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

And on that note I will go ahead and hit the send button, and let’s focus on the critical geopolitical events happening around the globe. Iraq is a disaster. Ukraine is a crisis. What’s happening in the China Sea is troubling. It just seems to come at you from everywhere. Even on a beautiful summer day.

Your stunned by the magnitude of it all at analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box


(From Ian Bremmer)

Dear John,
We're halfway through 2014, and the single most notable feature of the international landscape has been the expansion of geopolitical conflict. why should we care? what's the impact; what does it mean for the global economy? how should we think about geopolitics? My thoughts on the topic, looking at the four key geopolitical pieces "in play"–in Eurasia, the middle east, Asia, and the transatlantic.

Geopolitics

 

I've written for several years about the root causes of the geopolitical instability the world is presently experiencing. a new, g-zero world where the united states is less interested in providing global leadership and nobody else is willing or able to step into that role. that primary leadership vacuum is set against a context of competing foreign policy priorities from increasingly powerful emerging markets (with very different political and economic systems) and a Germany-led Europe; challenges to the international system from a revisionist Russia in decline; and difficulties in coordination from a proliferation of relevant state and non state actors even when interests are aligned. all of this has stirred tensions in the aftermath of the financial crisis: instability across the middle east after a stillborn Arab spring; a three-year Syrian civil war; a failed Russia "reset"; rising conflict between china and japan; fraying American alliances with countries like Brazil, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.

And yet geopolitical concerns haven't particularly changed our views on global markets. each conflict has been small and self contained (or the spillover wasn't perceived to matter much). Geopolitics has been troubling on the margins but not worth more than a fret.

That's about to change. though perceived as discrete events, the rise of these geopolitical tensions are all directly linked to the creative destruction of the old geopolitical order. it's a process that's gaining momentum, creating in turn larger-scale crises and broader market volatility. we've now reached the point where near to mid-term outcomes of several geopolitical conflicts could become major drivers of the global economy. that's true of Russia/Ukraine, Iraq, the east and south china seas and U.S./Europe. in each, the status quo is unsustainable (though for very different reasons). and so, as it were, the four horsemen of the geopolitical apocalypse.

Russia/Ukraine

 

The prospect of losing Ukraine was the last straw for a Russian government that has been steadily losing geopolitical influence since the collapse of the soviet union over two decades ago. Moscow sees NATO enlargement, expanded European economic integration, energy diversification and the energy revolution as direct security threats that need to be countered. Ukraine is also an opportunity for the Kremlin...for president Putin to invigorate a flagging support base at home.

Putin intends to raise the economic and military pressure on Kiev until, at a minimum, southeast Ukraine is effectively under Russian control. the Ukrainian government's latest effort in response, a unilateral week long cease fire in the southeast, was greeted with lukewarm rhetoric by Putin and rejected by Russian separatists in the region, who escalated their attacks against the Ukrainian military. meanwhile, thousands of Russian troops recently pulled back from the Ukrainian border have now been redeployed there, bolstered by Putin ordering 65,000 Russian troops on combat alert in the region.

The choices for Kiev are thankless. if they press further, violence intensifies and Russian support expands, either routing the Ukrainian military, or taking serious losses and requiring direct "formal" intervention of Russian troops. if they back off, they lose the southeast, which is critical for their internal legitimacy from the Ukrainian population at large. all the while the Ukrainian economy teeters with much of their industrial base off line, compounded by Russian disruptions on customs, trade, and gas supply.

The growing conflict will lead to further deterioration of Russia's relationship with the united states and Europe: gas flow disruptions, expansion of defense spending and NATO coordination with Poland and the Baltic states, turbulence around Moldova and Georgia given their European association agreements this week...and "level 3" sectoral sanctions against Russia. that in turn means a serious economic downturn in Russia itself...and knock-on economic implications for Europe, which has far greater exposure to Russia than the united states does.

For the last several years, the major market concern for Europe was economic: the potential for collapse of the euro zone. that's no longer a worry. the primary risk to Europe is now clearly geopolitical, that expanded Russia/Ukraine conflict hurts Europe, in worst case pushing the continent back into recession.

Iraq

 

Like so much of the world's colonial legacy, many of the middle east's borders only "worked" because of the combination of secular authoritarian rule and international military and economic support. that was certainly true of Iraq–most recently under decades of control by the Baath party, beginning in 1963. Saddam Hussein's ouster forty years later by the united states and Great Britain, combined with the dismantling of nearly all of the military and political architecture that supported him (in dramatic contrast to, say, the ouster of Egypt's hosni Mubarak) undermined Iraq's territorial integrity. since then, Iraqi governance could still nominally function given significant American military presence and military and economic aid. once that was removed, there was little left to keep iraq functioning as a country.

Sectarianism is the primary form of allegiance in iraq today, both limiting the reach of prime minister nouri al maliki's majority shia government and creating closer ties between iraq's sunni, shia and kurdish populations and their brethren outside Iraq's borders. extremism within iraq has also grown dramatically as a consequence, particularly among the now disenfranchised sunni population--made worse by their heavy losses in the war against bashar assad across the largely undefended border with syria. the tipping point came with the broad attacks by the islamic state of iraq and syria (isis) over the past fortnight, speeding up a decade-long expansion of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing between iraq's Sunni and shia. the comparatively wealthy and politically stable Kurds have done their best to steer clear of the troubles, seizing a long sought opportunity for de facto independence.

The American response has been cautious. domestic support for military engagement in Iraq diminished greatly as the war in Iraq continued and the economic and human costs mounted. obama repeatedly promised an end to the occupation and considered full withdrawal a major achievement of his administration. there's little domestic upside for taking responsibility in the crisis. obama's position has accordingly been that any direct military involvement requires a change in governance from the Iraqis--initially sounding like a unity government and increasingly evolving into the replacement of prime minister maliki. the pressure on maliki has gained momentum with shia grand ayatollah ali al-sistani calling on the iraqi prime minister to broaden the government to include more kurds and sunnis.

But Maliki, having successfully fought constitutional crises and assassination attempts, to say nothing of decisively winning a democratic election, is unlikely to go. isis poses a threat to the unity of the iraqi state, but not to maliki's rule of iraq's majority shia population, which if anything now stands stronger than it did before the fighting. and maliki's key international sponsor, iran, has little interest in forcing maliki into compromise as long as there's no threat to baghdad: they see themselves in far better strategic standing with a maliki-led iraqi government where they exert overwhelming influence, than over a broader government where they're one of many competing international forces. further, even if maliki were prepared to truly share power with iraq's kurds and sunni (something made more likely by the informal "influence" of 300 us military advisors now arriving in baghdad), he's unlikely to see much enthusiasm responding to that offer. the kurds are better off sticking to nominal (and a clearer road to eventual formal) independence; and sunni leaders that publicly find common cause with maliki would better hope all their family members aren't anywhere isis can find them.
absent american (or anyone else's) significant military engagement, the iraqi government is unlikely to be able to remove isis from leadership and, accordingly, reassert control over the sunni and kurdish areas of the country. that will lead to a significant increase in extremist violence emanating from the islamic world, a trend that's already deteriorated significantly in recent years (and since obama administration officials announced that cyberattacks were the biggest national security threat to the united states--a claim president obama overturned during his west point speech last month). since 2010, the number of known jihadist fighters has more than doubled; attacks by Al Qaeda affiliates have tripled.

The combination of challenging economic conditions, sectarian leadership, and the communications revolution empowering individuals through narrowing political and ideological demographic lenses all make this much more likely to expand. that's a greater threat to stability in the poorer middle eastern markets, but also will morph back into a growing terrorist threat against western assets in the region and more broadly. that creates, in turn, demand for increased security spending and bigger concerns about fat tail terrorism in the developed world, particularly in southern and western europe (where large numbers of unintegrated and unemployed islamic populations will pose more of a direct threat).

The broader risk is that sunni/shia conflict metastasizes into a single broader war. isis declares an islamic state across sunni iraq and syria, becoming ground zero for terrorist funding and recruitment from across the region. the saudi government condemns the absence of international engagement in either conflict and directly opposes an increasingly heavy and public iranian hand in iraqi and syrian rule. the united states completes a comprehensive nuclear deal with iran and declares victory (but doesn't work meaningfully with teheran on iraq), steering clear of the growing divide between the middle east's two major powers. the gulf cooperation council starts to fragment as members see opportunity in economic engagements with Iran. Iranian "advisers" in Iraq morph into armed forces; Saudi Arabia publicly opposes isis, but Saudi money and weapons get into their hands and an abundance of informal links pop up. militarization grows between an emboldened Iran and a more isolated, defensive Saudi Arabia. that's when the geopolitical premium around energy prices becomes serious.

East/South China Sea

 

Ukraine and Iraq are the two major active geopolitical conflicts. but there are two more geopolitical points of tension involving major economies that are becoming significant.

In Asia, it's the consequences of (and reactions to) an increasingly powerful and assertive china. the growth of china's influence remains the world's most important geopolitical story by a long margin. but, at least to date, china's growth is mostly an opportunity for the rest of the world. for the middle east, it's the principal new source of energy demand as the united states becomes more energy independent. for Africa, it's the best opportunity to build out long-needed infrastructure across the continent. for Europe and even the united states, it's a critical source of credit propping up currency, and a core producer of inexpensive goods. that's not to argue that there aren't significant caveats in each of these stories (or that those caveats aren't growing--they are), but rather that overall, china has been primarily perceived as an opportunity rather than a threat for all of these actors, and so it remains today.

for asia, a rising china has been seen more clearly as a double-edged sword. the greater comparative importance of the chinese economy has translated into more political influence (formal and informal) for beijing, at the expense of other governments in the region. meanwhile, china's dramatic military buildup has fundamentally changed the balance of power in asia; it's had negligible interest elsewhere.
china's military assertiveness has also grown in its backyard. in other regions, china continues to promote itself as a poor country that needs to focus on its own development and stability. in east and southeast asia china has core interests that it defends, and it is increasingly willing to challenge the status quo as its influence becomes asymmetrically greater.

that's been most clear with vietnam, where china first sent one oil rig to drill in contested waters directly off vietnam's shore--accompanied by several hundred chinese fishing vessels. they announced last week that they are repositioning four more. unsurprisingly, the vietnamese response has been sharp--anti-chinese demonstrations, violence, increased naval presence in the region, and coordination with the philippines.
none of that creates significant political risk on its own: vietnam isn't an ally of the united states and so engenders less support and response from washington than the philippines or japan...which is precisely why beijing has decided that's the best place to start changing the regional security balance.

but tokyo feels differently. the japanese government understands that a rising china is longer term a much more existential threat to its own security position in asia, and it isn't prepared to wait to raise concern until its position weakens further. so prime minister shinzo abe has declared his security support for vietnam. for america's part, obama has jettisoned the official "pivot" to asia. but the administration continues to believe that america's core national security interests, now and in the future, are in asia; and if china significantly escalates tensions in the east and south china seas, the united states is not likely to sit as idly by as they have on syria or ukraine.

the good news here is that--unlike with the countries driving the tensions in eurasia and the middle east--china has solid political stability and isn't looking for international trouble. but the realities of chinese growth, coupled with strong leadership from japan and (over time) india, along with the persistence of a strong american footprint are contributing to a much more troublesome geopolitical environment in the region.
the principle danger to the markets is what happens if the chinese government no longer holds that perspective. president xi jinping's commitment to transformational economic reform has been strong over the first year of his rule, and he has gotten surprisingly little pushback from the country's entrenched elites. but the uncertainty around china's near- to medium-term trajectory is radically greater than that of any of the world's other major economies. should significant instability emerge in china, very plausible indeed, china's willingness to take on a far more assertive (and risk-acceptant) security strategy in the region, promoting nationalism in the way putin has built his support base of late, would become far more likely. and then, the east and south china seas move to the top of our list.

U.S.-Europe

 

finally, the transatlantic relationship. advanced industrial economies with consolidated institutions and political stability, there's none of the geopolitical conflict presently visible in the middle east, eurasia, or asia.

geopolitical tensions have long been absent from the transatlantic relationship, the great success of the nato alliance. for all the occasional disagreement in europe on us military and security policy both during the cold war and since (the war in iraq, israel/palestine, counterterrorism and the like), european states never considered the need for broader security ties as a counterbalance for nato membership.

but the changing nature of geopolitics is creating a rift between the united states and europe.
american global hegemony had security and economic components, and it was collective security that had been the core element holding together the transatlantic alliance. that's no longer the case--a consequence of changing priorities for the americans and europeans, and an evolving world order (russia/ukraine a major blip, but notwithstanding). the transatlantic relationship is much less closely aligned on economics.

it's not the conventional wisdom. most observers say that, after bush, american policy looks more european these days--less militarist, more multilateralist. but actually, us foreign policy isn't becoming more like europe, it's becoming more like china. it's less focused on the military, except on issues of core security concern (in which case the united states acts with little need to consult allies), while american economic policy tends to be unilateralist in supporting preferred american geopolitical outcomes--which is seen most directly in us sanctions behavior (over $15bn in fines now levied against more than 20 international banks--mostly european) and nsa surveillance policy (with no willingness of the us to cooperate in a germany requested "no spying" mutual agreement)

transatlantic economic dissonance is also in evidence in a number of more fundamental ways: america's "growth uber alles" approach to a downturn in the economy, compared to germany's fixation on fiscal accountability. europe's greater alignment between governments and corporations on industrial policy, as opposed to a more decentralized, private-sector led (and occasionally captured) american policy environment. a more economy-driven opportunistic european approach to china, russia and other developing markets; the us government looking focused more on us-led/"universalist" principles on industrial espionage, intellectual property, etc.

as the g-zero persists, we will see the united states looking to enforce more unilateral economic standards that the europeans resent and resist; while the europeans look to other countries more strategically as counterbalances to american economic hegemony (the german-china relationship is critical in this regard, but that's also true of europe's willingness to support american economic policies in russia and the middle east). all of this means a much less cooperative trans-atlantic relationship--less "universalism" (from the american perspective) and less "multilateralism" (from the european perspective). more zero-sumness in the transatlantic relationship is a big change in the geopolitical environment; a precursor to true multipolarity, but in the interim a more fragmented and much less efficient global marketplace.

* * *

so that's where i see geopolitics emerging as a key factor for the global markets--much more than at any time since the end of the cold war. there's some good news and bad news here.

the good news is none of these geopolitical risks are likely to have the sort of market implications that the macro economic risks did after the financial crisis. there are lots of reasons for that. a low interest rate environment and solid growth from the us and china--plus the eurozone out of recession--along with pent up demand for investment is leading to significant optimism that won't be easily cowed by geopolitics. the supply/demand energy story is largely bearish, so near-term geopolitical risks from the middle east won't create sustained high prices. and markets don't know how to price geopolitical risk well; they're not covered as clearly analytically, so investors don't pay as much attention (until/unless they have to).

the bad news...that very lack of pressure from the markets means political leaders won't feel as much need to address these crises even as they expand, particularly in the united states. this is another reason the world's geopolitical crises will persist beyond a level that a similar economic crisis would hit before serious measures start to be taken to mitigate them. these geopolitical factors are going to grow. now's the time to start paying attention to them.

* * *
every once in a while, it's good to take a step back and look at the big picture. hope you found that worthwhile. i'll surely get back in the weeds next monday.

meanwhile, it's looking like a decidedly lovely week in new york.
very best,
Ian

From intel sources:

Dislodging ISIS Will Be a Difficult Task

 

The ISIS advance toward Baghdad may be temporarily held off as the government rallies its remaining security forces and Shia militias organize for the upcoming Battle for Baghdad. There is a rather clear reason why the ISIS leader has renamed himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, meaning the Caliph of Baghdad . ISIS will at a minimum be able to take control of some Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad shortly and wreak havoc on the city with IEDs, ambushes, single suicide attacks, and suicide assaults that target civilians, the government, security forces, senior members of government, and foreign installations and embassies. Additionally, the brutal sectarian slaughter of Sunni and Shia alike that punctuated the violence in Baghdad from 2005 to 2007 is likely to return as Shia militias and ISIS fighters begin to assert control of neighborhoods and roam the streets.

Even if Iraqi forces are able to keep ISIS from fully taking Baghdad and areas south, it is unlikely the beleaguered military and police forces will be able to retake the areas under ISIS control in the north and west without significant external support, as well as the support of the Kurds.

ISIS and its allies are in a position today that closely resembles the position prior to the US surge back in early 2007. More than 130,000 US troops, partnered with the Sunni Awakening formations and Iraqi security forces numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were required to clear Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, Baghdad, and the "triangle of death." The concurrent operations took more than a year, and were supported by the US Air Force, US Army aviation brigades, and US special operations raids that targeted the jihadists’ command and control, training camps, and bases, as well as its IED and suicide bomb factories.

Today, the Iraqis have no US forces on the ground to support them, US air power is absent, the Awakening is scattered and disjointed, and the Iraqi military has been humiliated badly while surrendering or retreating in disarray during the lightning fast jihadists' campaign from Mosul to the outskirts of Baghdad. This campaign, by the way, has been remarkably and significantly faster than the U.S. armored campaign advance to Baghdad in 2003 . The US government has indicated that it will not deploy US soldiers in Iraq, either on the ground or at airbases to conduct air operations.  Meanwhile, significant amounts of US made advanced armaments, vehicles, ammunition, and diverse military equipment have fallen into ISIS jihadists’ hands .

ISIS is advancing boldly in the looming security vacuum left by the collapse of the Iraqi security forces and the West's refusal to recommit forces to stabilize Iraq. This has rendered the country vulnerable to further incursions by al Qaeda-linked jihadists as well as intervention by interested neighbors such as Iran. Overt Iranian intervention in Iraq would likely lead any Sunnis still loyal to the government to side with ISIS and its allies, and would ensure that Iraq would slide even closer to a full-blown civil war and de facto partition, and risk a wider war throughout the Middle East.

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