May 22, 2009

Global Market Comments
May 22, 2009

Featured Trades: (GOLD), (ABX), ($XEU), (YEN), (NZD), (TO), (POT), (MON), (AFRICA), (W), (DBC)

1) I can't think of a better reason to keep a core long term position in gold than the prospect of the US losing its triple 'A' rating. The chatter about this yesterday took the barbaric relic up to a two month high of $958, a mere $50 from an all time high. Quite honestly, I never understood why the American rating has stayed this high for this long. If any other entity had increased their debt from $5 trillion to $11 trillion over the last eight years, then boosted it to $13 trillion over the last three months, their rating would have been slashed ages ago. Like to the level of Zimbabwe. Is it any surprise that gold demand soared by 38% in Q1, according to the World Gold Council? And now the Russian Central Bank is allowing other banks there to pledge gold as collateral. Keep your gold position so you don't miss the inevitable gaps up, as well as miners, like Barrick Gold (ABX).

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2) When things slow down and there is nothing to do, like now, I do deep research for the unfound investment opportunity. Feel like investing in a state sponsor of terrorism? How about a country whose leaders have stolen $400 billion in the last decade and have seen 300 foreign workers kidnapped? Another country lost four wars in the last 40 years. Still interested? How about a country that suffers one of the world's highest AIDs rates, endures regular insurrections where all of the westerners are massacred, and racked up 5 million dead in a continuous civil war? Then Africa is the place for you, the world's largest source of gold, diamonds, chocolate, and cobalt! The countries above are Libya, Nigeria, Egypt, and the Congo. Below the radar of the investment community since the colonial days, the Dark Continent has recently been attracting the attention of large hedge funds and private equity firms. Goldman Sachs has set up Emerging Capital Partners, which has invested $1.6 billion there. China sees the writing on the wall, and has launched a latter day colonization, taking a 20% equity stake in South Africa's Standard Bank, the largest on the continent. In fact, foreign direct investment has jumped from $53 billion to $61 billion, while cross border M & A leapt from $10.2 billion to $26.3 billion. The angle here is that all of the headlines above are in the price, that price is very low, and the perceived risk is much greater than actual risk. Price earnings multiples are low single digits, cash flows are huge, and returns of capital within two years are not unheard of. The reality is that Africa's 900 million have unlimited demand for almost everything, and there is scant supply, with many firms enjoying local monopolies. The big plays are your classic early emerging market targets, like banking, telecommunications, electric power, and other infrastructure. For example, in the last decade, the number of telephones has soared from 350,000 to 10 million. It reminds me of the early days of investing in China in the seventies, when the adventurous only played when they could double their money in two years because the stakes were so high. This is definitely not for day traders. If you are willing to give up a lot of short term liquidity for a high long term return, then look at the Market Vectors Africa Index ETF (AFK), which has risen 59% since March, and the SPDR S&P Emerging Middle east & Africa ETF (GAF).

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3) I don't normally rely on National Geographic magazine for investment advice, but in the June issue the screaming long term bull case for the soft commodities is there in all its glory. During the sixties, new dwarf varieties, irrigation, fertilizer, and heavy duty pesticides tripled crop yields, unleashing a green revolution. But guess what? The world population has doubled from 3.5 to 7 billion since then, eating up surpluses, and is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. Now we are running out of water in key areas like the American West and Northern India, droughts are hitting Africa and China, soil is exhausted, and global warming is shriveling yields.  Water supplies are so polluted with toxic pesticide residues that rural cancer rates are soaring. Food reserves are now at 20 year lows. Rising emerging market standards of living are consuming more and better food, with Chinese pork production rising 45% from 1993 to 2005. The problem is that meat is an incredibly inefficient calorie transmission mechanism, creating demand for five times more grain than just eating the grain alone. I won't even mention the strain the politically inspired ethanol and biofuel programs have placed on the system. It is possible that genetic engineering, sustainable farming, and smart irrigation could lead to a second green revolution, but the burden is on scientists to deliver. The net net of all of this is that food prices are going up, a lot. Entertain core long positions in corn, wheat, and soybeans on the next dip, as well as the second derivative plays like Agrium (AGU), Potash (POT) and Monsanto (MON). You might also look at DB Commodities Tracking Index Fund (DBC). These will all surpass last year's stratospheric highs at some point.

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4) The prospective US rating cut is also cutting the legs out from the US dollar, which is hitting fresh 2009 lows against everything. It turns out that if the world is not going to zero, you don't need a safe haven like the dollar any more. And safe havens with a zero yield were not that great anyway. The New Zealand dollar has rocketed 30%, and the Euro has gapped through to a new yearly of $1.40.   A lower dollar is one of the few certainties of life. The only question is how far, how fast. This further underlines my arguments to buy emerging markets and commodity producing countries.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

'People in uniform are more cautious about using force than people in suits,' said Richard Haas, a former Bush era diplomat.

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