One week after RealVision brought us the latest Jeff Gundlach interview, in which the DoubleLine bond king explained why he is now “100% net short”, on Friday Grant Williams interviewed Jim Rogers, in which George Soros’ former partner (the two co-founded the Quantum Fund in 1973), is about as gloomy, warning “the next time the world comes to an end, it’s going to be a bigger shock than we expect.”
Nonetheless, since an interview talking about canned foods, radioactive fallout shelter and guns would be relatively brief, Rogers presents several non-traditional ideas, most notably as relates to various frontier markets he is looking at currently, as well as Russia, a market where he has notoriously been invested since the start of 2015 when he went long Russian stocks, and which recently – and very much under the radar – hit all time highs. So Rogers takes a well-deserved victory lap.
The investing legend, who doesn’t belong to any economic school of thought, also touches on China and reminds RealVision subscribers that “Beijing has said we’re going to let people go bankrupt, which I hope they do.” He then emphasized, “they don’t do that in the West. The communist Chinese are going to let people go bankrupt, because they’re good capitalists.” China has amassed debt and will not be able to help countries as they did the last time the world fell apart in 2008. “The next time the world comes to an end it’s going to be a bigger shock than we expect,” says Rogers. Still, while China will face problems, Rogers assures it “will be the most important country in the 21st century.”
Throughout the interview, Rogers describes unconventional investments including government bonds in Russia, where he proclaims, “the yields are astonishing.”
My three shareholdings are all making all-time highs. I own shares of Aeroflot, going through the roof. Moscow Stock Exchange, going through the roof. PhosAgro, big fertilizer. I’m a director. Big fertilizer. Making all-time highs. I mean, how can this be? A country which is a disaster, which everybody hates.
I own Russian government bonds in rubles. The yields are astonishing. And as long as the ruble doesn’t collapse or disappear, which it’s not doing, at least not at the moment. The yields are beyond comprehension. If I could just have those yields for the rest of my life, I’d be in hog heaven.
To be sure, Rogers’ extreme investing is not for the faint hearted, as he predicts a bear market and bankruptcy for the US, waxes lyrical on the decline in Western Europe and forecasts more pains for China, which is still his greatest hope for global growth.
For profitable investing, Rogers is advocating Russia and the astonishing yields he’s getting there, while opening the debate on putting money to work in North Korea, which now has 15 free trade zones. With Rwanda, also up for discussion – which resources wise could be the Singapore of Africa in time – and even Zimbabwe considered, there are trading ideas here you won’t see anywhere else.
Some of the bigger picture highlights from the interview:
First, on Rogers’ current take on China, he does not see a simple solution to China’s debt problem, as the country will have to let companies go bankrupt, and a shock will be the ultimate outcome.
China is going to have problems too. It’s just the way the world works. In 2008, when the world fell apart, China had a lot money saved for a rainy day, and they started spending it when it started raining. This time, China has a lot of debt themselves. It’s amazing how much debt has built up in China in just a few years. And so this time, while China’s in better shape, or less bad shape than most of us, China’s got a lot of debt, and they’re not going to be able to help us like they did before.
Beijing has said we’re going to let people go bankrupt, which I hope they do. They don’t do that in the West. The red Chinese, the communist Chinese are going to let people go bankrupt, because they’re good capitalists. Americans won’t let anybody– and the Europeans won’t let anybody go bankrupt so they can save the world.
But China has said they will let people go bankrupt. It’ll be a shock for the people who go bankrupt. It’ll be a shock for the world. But it will certainly be good for China, and for the world, if they do let mistakes get cleaned up. But it will mean that they will not be able to save us as much as they did before. So the next time the world comes to an end, it’s going to be a bigger shock than we expect.
While explaining his view on the fate of currencies, Rogers thinks “safe haven” FX such as the US dollar, the Japanese yen and the Swiss Franc, will continue rising as most other currencies fall:
the US dollar is strong and will continue to be strong, because everybody’s panicked about the world. And when there’s panic, people look for a safe haven… [People] think the US dollar is a safe haven. It’s not. It is certainly not. I own a lot of US dollars, though. Not because it’s a safe haven, but because people think it’s a safe haven. And when the world falls apart, people will put their money into the dollar. That’s going to mean the dollar’s going to go up, so that means a lot of currencies will go down, including the Chinese currency, including the European currency, the British currency. Many other currencies will go down. The dollar is going to get overpriced, and the dollar might even turn into a bubble, depending on how bad the turmoil is. If there’s no place to go– at the moment, people are also going into the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen.
On the dollar and gold rising together:
There have been times in the past when the dollar and gold have gone up together. So it can happen and it will happen. People looking for a safe haven. They think the US dollar’s a safe haven. They don’t know what else. They think gold is a safe haven. Therefore neither are a safe– nothing is a safe haven. But that’s what’s going on. I’m not the only person who knows there’s turmoil coming. And people are looking for ways to protect themselves. I am not buying gold at the moment. I’m not buying dollars, either, but I own plenty of both.
On which other investors he follows and what he thinks of others agreeing with him:
Q. You’re one of the early guys talking about this. But we’ve had Stan Druckenmiller come out recently and say get out of stocks. We’ve heard Jeff Gundlach come out and say sell everything. A lot of people watch for what you say about these things. Are there any guys that you watch for, that you think are good?
Rogers: I wouldn’t even watch me, much less somebody else. No, I certainly read the same press you do. I see when people, lots of people are thinking like I do. I usually don’t like it when I see other people thinking like I do, even if they’re smart people. But no, I see it.
On how bear markets emerge:
The way bear markets work is something happens. It’s a shock. People get over it. Then something else, and you know. In 2007, Iceland went bankrupt. Iceland? Who’s Iceland? What do you– who cares? Then Ireland went bankrupt and the next thing you know, Lehman’s going bankrupt. But that’s the way these things always work. They start on an outlier, a marginal company, marginal country, and then it leads, and then everybody says, oh, well, we knew that. We knew it was a bear market coming. Well, they usually don’t. They shake it off until it’s too late.
Why very few are concerned about the approaching bear market:
Given that this bear market is approaching, and I think a lot of people now can see it, but they’re still hoping that they can make a little bit more, because yields and returns are so low, they kind of want to stay in the game a little bit longer just to squeeze a little bit extra out of it. How are you preparing for this bear market? What steps you taking time to get yourself ready for what you see coming?
On the Russian market, whose rebound he famously called nearly two years ago:
My three shareholdings are all making all-time highs. I own shares of Aeroflot, going through the roof. Moscow Stock Exchange, going through the roof. PhosAgro, big fertilizer. I’m a director. Big fertilizer. Making all-time highs. I mean, how can this be? A country which is a disaster, which everybody hates. I own Russian government bonds in rubles. The yields are astonishing. And as long as the ruble doesn’t collapse or disappear, which it’s not doing, at least not at the moment. The yields are beyond comprehension. If I could just have those yields for the rest of my life, I’d be in hog heaven.
Some even more extreme frontier market
I opened an account in Nigeria, but I haven’t done anything, which I’ve never, ever, ever in my whole life thought about investing in Nigeria. I’ve opened an account in Kazakhstan. I’m trying to open an account in Rwanda…. Rwanda wants to be the Singapore of Africa, and it could well be. It could even be better than the Singapore of Africa down the road. I don’t know why. I finally, after thinking about Rwanda for many years, two weeks ago I said let’s get the account open. I’m not sure what clicked, except something clicked.
On trading versus investing, Rogers says he is a hopeless trader, is early at most things, and so he “holds”:
I’m a hopeless trader, fortunately, I’m not going to worry about margin calls, because I’m not rushing out and buying a lot of sugar on 5% margin or something. There was a time in my life when I did that, but that was a long, long time ago. Now I’m doing other things. The fundamentals continue to get worse, but as I think you and I spoke about last time, I’m the single worst market timer in the world. I’m the worst trader. I know that about myself. I’ve learned it over the years that when I say, now’s the time, I should wait another year or two. The problem is I do. I wait another year or two and I should wait another year or two, because I’m so hopeless and so early at most things. But fortunately, as I say, I’m not so leveraged or in such margin that I have to worry about most things.
Unlike Gundlach, Rogers does not seems to be a fan of Trump’s proposed economic policies:
If Mr. Trump does what he says– I’m just saying what he says– if he does, it means bankruptcy and war. I mean, trade wars. He is determined, he says, to have lots of trade wars. If he does that, that’s always, always led to bankruptcy. One of the, I guess, the main lesson of history is that nobody knows the lessons of history.
However, that does not mean he is a fan of Hillary either:
Now, if Mrs. Clinton wins, same thing, it just takes longer. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing, absolutely, no clue what she’s doing. And she’ll bank– she’ll tax us all and bankruptcy us all, sooner or later, sooner probably. Maybe a little later than if Mr. Trump wins. But either way, there’s a bear market in your future. And the two people on the horizon, which apparently one of will win– it’s as I said before, these things start slowly, a marginal country, marginal companies, and the next thing you know we’re in the midst of a bear market.
So “you have to be short”
You have to be short and most markets are already down. There are very few markets that aren’t down already in the world, except the averages in New York. Now, you can certainly short Europe, because it’s going to get worse. You can certainly short the UK, because it’s going to get worse. But the things that are still high, I’m sure your parents taught you to buy low and sell high. Well, the things that are high still happen to be the US, more than anything else…. You should be short the US. That’s the market that’s still the highest. It hasn’t gone down yet. One can have shorts in any place you want, but the Japanese market is down 70%, 75% from its all-time. The Russian market – who wants to short Russia? I’m long Russia. I mean, where are you going to short? Everything’s collapsed. I’m not buying India. There was a recent remarkable development in India, but it’s not enough to make me buy India.
On the lessons of investing and history:
I’ve learned over my career, not just my career, but reading about the world, the stranger it sounds, the more you should say, wait a minute. That sounds really strange. Let me look at it. Let me hear what’s going on. Because I have certainly learned that over my life, not just my life. You read history. You read anything. As I said before, the lesson of history is that most people don’t learn the lesson of history. They ignore the lesson of history. Now, we all know that if we’d invested in China 1981, we’d be the richest people in the room right now. And yet, in 1981, including me, we would have said what’s wrong with you? Don’t you know about Mao Zedong? Doesn’t he know about the Great Leap Forward? Doesn’t he know about all this stuff, what “Chinese” is?
Or Japan: Don’t you know about the disaster of what this country was? If you’d said Japan, don’t you know about Hiroshima? The atomic bomb? You don’t know about the dictator, the emperor? How could you invest there? They’re little, bitty yellow people who must be dishonest and cruel. But those are the lessons of history.
Finally, on the cyclicality of history, how in 15 years everything we know has changed:
The lessons of history are very, very, very clear. Pick any year in history, whatever we think is true, that year, 1900, 15 years later, it’s a whole entirely different world. And we all know in 1900 how the world is, and we should be saying to ourselves, find me a weird guy. Find me a strange guy to tell me how this is going to change. 1950, 15 years later, everything we knew, everything we knew was totally wrong.
So I, at least, have learned that, that lesson of history. And perhaps that’s why I’m more– not interested, more I’m excited when I start looking at the way the world is today and what we all know. Because I know what we all know is not going to be true in 15 years, no matter what it is. And my problem is how do I figure it out. How do I figure it out? Whatever we know today, no matter what it is is not going to be true in 15 years.
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Selected excerpts from the interview:
Watch the full 50 minute interview with Jim Rogers exclusively on Real Vision TV.
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Editor’s note: Investors looking to follow Rogers into a short position on U.S. equities can consider the ProShares Short S&P500 ETF (NYSE:SH). SH has fallen 8.5% year-to-date, as it is tied to inverse positions on the S&P 500, which has gained about 7% in the same period.