Jan van Eck is the CEO of VanEck, a $50 billion asset manager (as of 2019).
Last month, Jan’s team became concerned about the global markets.
COVID-19 was (and still is) causing economic uncertainty…and the markets hate uncertainty.
- The current state of the global financial markets
- His base case for clarity around COVID-19
- What’s needed for this market to recover
- Investing in China and Emerging Markets
- How to think about investing in gold
If you’re interested in a simple explanation of the technical details around current market events, today’s episode is for you.
How to Listen to Today’s Episode
Episode Links & Resources:
- 👉 Get Your One-Time Retirement Plan
- Jan van Eck
Navigating the Global Financial Markets With Jan van Eck
Jan van Eck: Through this mid-April time period. Remember there's going to be uncertainty in the markets. Maybe tomorrow, suddenly some therapy comes out for the coronavirus and the party starts all over again. But I just don't think that the implementation, even if that were to occur, would be that simple.
Taylor Schulte: Welcome to the Stay Wealthy podcast. I'm your host Taylor Schulte, and today I'm joined by the CEO of VanEck, an ETF and mutual fund manager that as of last year, managed around $50 billion for investors around the world.
As most of you know, we don't get into the technical weeds very often on this show, but given recent events I wanted to bring on a successful and experienced market strategist to talk us through the current landscape and how large asset managers are thinking about things right now.
Fun fact, Jan's father, the founder of the firm, Jan van Eck, launched one of the first international equity funds in 1955 and launched the nation's very first gold stock fund in 1968. For all the links and resources mentioned today, head over to youstaywealthy.com/68.
Jan van Eck: I guess the VanEck perspective on the world, every money manager has to have like a growth bias or a value bias or whatever it's, and over our 60 or history, our bias has been basically look at what's happening in the world and then that will impact the financial markets.
Don't think that the financial markets have all the clues and this is a perfect instance where you had a health crisis that came out of nowhere, no one predicted it obviously, and it's massively impacted the financial markets and people can look at the history of the financial markets and try to find clues, but we've really never experienced anything like this.
And so that's really what I meant by exciting. It's just different and I think we have to bring the perspective of the world in thinking about how this will impact our investments and when things might turn around.
Taylor Schulte: You made a comment that you started to get concerned about the markets a couple of weeks ago. Can you talk to me a little bit more about that and then maybe expand on where you see things going from here? When do you think the markets will actually recover? Have we hit a bottom? Yeah, just talk to me a little bit more about that.
Jan van Eck: Sure. I mean, first I should say, you know, my overviews are tend to be quarterly and I speak as the CEO of an asset management company. I'm not a portfolio manager and I'm not a market strategist. And all I try to do is bring together all the knowledge that I kind of see around me and share that with our clients because I think they might be missing something sometimes and maybe it's good news, maybe it's bad news, but there's a lot of commentary out there and I kind of just wanna add my 2 cents.
So having said that, I don’t know exactly what's going to happen in the future, obviously. But the reason we became concerned is because obviously the impact of the virus was hitting the developed markets, Europe and the United States. And the one thing I know and markets hate uncertainty, and we just knew that there was going to be a situation of uncertainty here for a period of time.
So what I was saying to investors is realize that this is not gonna be a fun ride. And then I said, the other thing you’ve got to think about is when is this ride gonna end? Because it's not going to last forever.
I kind of said, listen, based on the Chinese experience where after their complete lockdown, new cases started to come down after two weeks, if we're implementing that in a sloppier way, I'll call it give us two to four weeks by mid-April we should know.
Now the question is what happens to economic recovery after that? But markets are very forward-looking. So I'm, I'm basically saying, hey listen, now is the time to start thinking about taking advantage of this situation.
Taylor Schulte: I'm personally curious how much of this, what we're dealing with right now reminds you of 2008, 2009, or is this just totally different in your opinion?
Jan van Eck: Well, you never know what's going to happen, but what's interesting does remind me of that time period is not just that stocks have sold off sharper than ever in US history, which is kind of an amazing thing to say since I saw you in January, that's what's happened.
But also the credit markets basically completely collapsed. And in that sense it's sort of like 2008, 2009. Now what's weird is that half of the lending goes through the banking system, right? And half of the lending in America goes through the informal banking system. And the formal banking system is fine.
Right now banks are fully capitalized, but what really shut down was the functioning of the bonds markets which are less visible to individual investors. And you saw that manifested in discounts for fixed income ETFs and just a lot of lack of, a lot of selling of mutual funds and ETFs and almost no one taking the other side.
And so over the last week, the Federal Reserve has come in, it's funny, in 08, 09, they kind of had to be the lender of last resort to help the formal banking system. The banks this time they kind of bailed out, the banks are fine, but they bailed out the kind of bond markets and the non-bank part of the lending markets.
High yield spreads have blown out basically higher than the financial crisis almost as high. And all the other indicators just suggest how stress that the markets were at that's already come back because of fed intervention. So they've normalized a little bit.
Taylor Schulte: I try to really keep things simple on this podcast. Sometimes we can all get a little too technical. Can you just explain a little bit more what you mean about high-yield spreads? What are high-yield spreads and what did you mean by that comment?
Jan van Eck: Sure, sorry. There's basically investment grade bonds which are highly rated, whether they be municipal bonds or corporate bonds, and they almost never default oversimplifying.
Then over the course, early in my career, some creative people in New York said, hey, and in California, actually I should say said, hey listen, we can issue bonds for riskier companies and we know that some of them will default, but on average you're going to make more money because they're going to pay you a higher interest rate as an investors.
So if you buy a basket of them, there's actually a good proposition for you. So I'm really talking about that riskier part, the high-yield part of the bond markets. And there's always a default rate that's associated with high-yield. It's not like investment grade. So how you measure the riskiness of a bond is effectively the interest rate that they have to pay higher than government debt.
There's indices that measure all that. And the spread or that higher interest rate premium that high yield borrowers had to pay was pretty low about six months ago, three months ago. It goes up a lot. It goes up to basically eight or 9% over government debt on an annualized basis of course.
And that's what happens. And whenever you have spikes like that, it's sort of like a chart. If you just, it spikes let's say every five or 10 years, it almost always comes back down pretty fast. So it's just a moment, it's a way of describing a moment of panic in the debt markets and it's sort of like the volatility, it's just a little bit harder for people to see and understand.
Taylor Schulte: Great, thank you. I appreciate that. And then really quick before we go any further, I would love for you just to share a little bit about VanEck. Who are you guys, what do you do? How long have you been involved? A little bit of your backstory there and then we can keep moving.
Jan van Eck: Sure. I mean the history of the firm, it was founded by my father and he basically became, he did two things. He started investing in international stocks in 1955. Americans weren't that interested in that, so it didn't go anywhere.
But then in 1968, actually he's getting a PhD at night and he studied it under an economist and said, inflation is gonna be a big problem in the us. And so what he actually did is took that mutual fund, sold 80% of it and bought gold mining shares and defacto became the first gold fund in the us.
It took a couple of years, but then inflation became a big thing in the 1970s and gold, which had been pegged to the US dollar for the entirety of our almost 200 years of history at $35 an ounce at that point, basically delinked and went up to over $800 now.
So that's kind of the history of the firm and that's why I like to say we kind of look at what's happening in the world because the financial markets weren't pricing that in. Then look at what's happening in the world and then make sure your portfolio is roughly position to take advantage of it.
Today we about assets are down about a 44 billion manager that's 80% issuer ETFs and not actively funds. So I would say our mission is to provide interesting exposures that are different from what you would get from a basic benchmark. That's what we call smart beta.
Taylor Schulte: Great. And we'll be sure to link to everything in the show notes if you want to go and learn more about VanEck and their products and solutions and everything they have. And I do want to circle back in a little bit to gold. I do have some questions around that, but let's go back to our conversation about the bond market.
The last episode I did on this podcast last week, I talked about we're big believers in in owning government bonds to reduce risk in a portfolio. And I was highlighting the giant difference in performance between government bonds and corporate bonds year to date.
I'm curious if you have any thoughts on that, why that's happening? And then maybe you can also make some comments on the muni bond market that you touched on on our phone call earlier.
Jan van Eck: Yeah, sure. So it's basically an extension of what we were just talking about. So when spreads go up, when riskier companies have to pay more for their debt, then the prices of their bonds go down. That's just the math.
And so that's the reason corporate debt has fallen so much. I think it's fallen even further, Taylor because there's this panic in the markets. So I guess my general view is that we're going to go through a global recession, which would probably never happened in our life, but it's definitely going to be a sharp recession.
The whole world is kind of shutting down at the same time and then we'll recover. And the question is, has prices fallen too much? And I kind of feel like they have. Now, what's interesting is you, as you pointed out, is that municipal bonds have also been really affected by that.
And that is a mystery to me sitting here right now. We have a large part of our offering as municipal bonds, both investment grade and high yield through ETFs. And it is to be expected that the federal government will help in municipalities that are faced with short-term funding problems.
This is not like a Puerto Rico that we're just gonna let go bankrupt. So it's just really hard for me to imagine why muni bonds would be so stressed other than everyone and their mother is trying to sell them. And I still am trying to figure out who is selling them, but if the overall message of this time to me is don't sell, keep your portfolio strategy intact.
There are some times opportunities when you have panicked markets like that. And I think when you saw ETFs trading at these discounts to net asset value, that was a signal. Wow, that's a nice time to be buying that type. Now a lot of that has closed over the last week since the Fed intervened, but that was one of the things on sale that I would say.
Taylor Schulte: Since you mentioned it, maybe you can just talk personally investments that you're maybe making or considering making. We talk about buying when there's blood in the streets, right? Like when everybody else is scared, now's the time to buy. Are there opportunities out there right now? Are there things that people can buy or asset classes or industries they may consider given the current situation?
Jan van Eck: Yeah, I think there are two ways to look at. I said, first of all, I say through this mid-April time period, remember there's going to be uncertainty in the markets. Maybe tomorrow suddenly some therapy comes out for the coronavirus and the party starts all over again.
But I just don't think that the implementation, even if that were to occur, would be that simple or clean. So just realize that time period has not ended for us. But having said that, I think there are things that are longer-term opportunities and number one, I would just be buying more equities right now if you think this is a recession and not a depression, the market just often does not sell off 50% and it's sold off 30%.
So you're getting an opportunity by a lot of high quality companies at prices that were unimaginable three months ago. So I would start again, understanding it's gonna be a period of time I would start buying equities generally.
And then the question is, and this is sort of a much smaller part of my answer, is are the things that are just so cheap now that you just know at some point they'll be worth more? And I think there are, I think when those muni bonds were selling at discounts was one thing that I was pointing to.
Number two, bank stocks at tangible book value. I mean Bank of America below $20 a share, it's just sure you had that in a financial crisis. And sure you can say, okay, bank of America is gonna have to be doing a lending and maybe not all the loans will be repaid or whatever. But wow, that time, that was sort of like when Citibank was a dollar a share during the financial crisis, just kind of like, you know, yeah, they'll survive.
So that's another thing I like to point to. Oil prices at 25 or 30 a barrel, that's just not sustainable. And I know that we're moving towards using less fossil fuels, but even the most aggressive forecast things that fossil fuel or oil demand will be going up for the next 10 years globally. So that's again, if you want to do more of a tactical trade.
Taylor Schulte: Let's pivot a little bit and talk about kind of just the way you approach the markets and the economy and investing. You shared a little bit about your travels to China. Can you just talk to the audience and share a little bit more about China, your visits there and just yeah, how that helps you kind of view the world.
Jan van Eck: Yeah, I think the world is a really different place than it was 20 years ago and that has affected people's portfolios as well. So China is 20% of the world economy and if you look at the global growth over the last 10 years, it's really been driven by two pistons. It's the US and China.
So I'd like to oversimplify Taylor, you don’t know me that well. I really love to oversimplify except ignore the of the world. You have to understand what's going on in China and the US and I think one of the things is it's really hard to understand what's going on in China. It's a different system we hear there's a lot of political noise.
So we publish a blog where we just focus on what we think are the core essential things. It's kind of China and two charts which I update monthly. And one is looking at PMI, which is just purchasing managers index.
And it basically says, look, how is the services part of China's economy doing this the new of China and how's the manufacturing part of their economy going? Because if you look at the manufacturing, it actually does go into contraction mode from time to time. It did. So in 2015 it did so in 2018.
So just understand if you're trying to see how the world economy is doing, we know how we're doing, how's China doing? So that's kind of my overall perspective and I think to this crisis, they're pulling out of it. I mean almost all of their new coronavirus cases are coming from people from outside of China visiting China who they're quarantining.
If you look at their back-to-work statistics, they're getting up towards 90% of electricity consumption with a real trajectory towards going to the way things were before the crisis. And so during this period of uncertainty, we are getting some certainty outta China.
And what my colleagues tell me is that even if you say that 90% of, let's call it like Nike stores are open in China, sales are still down, we're still looking at revenue off of 15 to 20%.
So when people say, oh, we're going to have this rapid recovery in the US I'm like, well, you know, China went to zero cases and they're still a month and a half after their kind of peak crisis ended. They're still at not a hundred percent of capacity. So that's the trajectory.
Taylor Schulte: As you know, a lot of people aren't very thrilled with China, specifically their government and leaders. How might investors or how do you kind of separate investing and the economy of China from the government and the politics?
Jan van Eck: Let me state an extreme, you don't need to own China at all. But what you do need to understand is what's going on in their economy because they're 20% of the world economy. And if China’s ever to have a massive recession and you know what happened just over this time period, it would affect all asset classes.
So I look at 2015 for example, when old China, if you really will was contracting, they were saying, listen, we want to shift to a services economy. We're going to shut down a lot of capacity in our infrastructure, concrete building, aluminum, all that kind of demand went down. What happened, commodities crashed, oil went down to $25 a barrel during that time period, copper went down.
Okay. You may say, well that didn't really affect me. Well, it certainly did if you're in Texas because that oil price, lower oil price rippled through not just commodity prices but also through other asset classes.
So high-yield, we were talking about riskier companies, a lot of energy companies were high-yield issuers. So high-yield investments got hurt, it sort of rippled through other asset classes. So I guess that's my weakest case for paying attention to what's going on in China because if they slow down it really matters.
Now whether and to how much you invest there, that's probably a certain extent. It's becoming a values-based decision like we were talking about. I kind of feel like you wanna diversify globally and not worry too much about politics and deal with political issues separately.
But that's, there are really no solutions in our industry right now for avoiding sort of selected China exposure. And the last thing I do want to point out is that China and Asia are becoming 80% of an emerging markets benchmark. So if you own emerging markets, realize how weighted towards Asia that is right now.
Taylor Schulte: Yeah, maybe you can just expand on that a little bit more. I've touched on it on the podcast in the past, but maybe just explain a little bit more what you mean by Asia and China taking over some of these traditional emerging market funds.
How would investors go about looking under the hood of a fund that they own to see how much China they really own? And maybe second to that, if they find out, wow, this fund that I own, 80% of it's in China and Asia, what do they do about that? Do they just reduce their allocation to that fund or are there alternative solutions they might consider?
Jan van Eck: Again, a little bit of the, the VanEck theme is weird things happen in the world, right? So realize how they're affecting your portfolio. And the precedent for very odd country weightings in global portfolios was when Japan's stock market went basically through a bubble. And international equity industries at the time very heavily weighted towards Japan.
And Japan still hasn't reached its highs of that bubble. So China's certainly not in bubble land right now. So what I mean by that is I don't see a huge credit explosion. They really have gotten ahead of that problem.
So that's not, that's not today's issue. But I just want to point out that the country weighting issue has existed in portfolios before. I think when emerging markets started as a concept of investing about 15 or 20 years ago, it was a global phenomenon because you had free markets coming into South America, into Russia, Brazil, India and China all at the same time.
And it was a global story. But now because of these indices tend to be weighted by the value of their stock markets, China directly and now that China stocks listed in China have been included in these indices especially you have those stocks, you have Hong Kong stocks and then you have countries that do a lot of trading with China like Korea, Singapore, etc.
So collectively, if you add up that regional waiting in an emerging markets index, what 15 years ago used to be globally diversified is now very much a China play. If you wanna reduce your China weight, yes you can just reduce your emerging markets fund. There are not unfortunately a lot of solutions for being kind of elective about China. I think it's easier to add China exposure by buying a China fund than it is to kind of selectively reduce it right now.
Taylor Schulte: Got it. Alright. I'd like to switch gears a little bit again. I know you mentioned that your father started the firm and that he had the very first gold fund. And I know you have some thoughts around gold and I'd love to hear you expand on some of this. I've never touched on this topic ever on the podcast before.
There's a lot of people out there that just don't believe in owning gold. That should be a piece of the portfolio. But I know you feel strongly about that. Maybe the first thing I'll ask is VanEck has an ETF out there that's very well known. The ticker is GDX, it's the gold miners fund. Can you talk about the difference between investing in gold directly, maybe even investing in like a GLD versus GDX, which owns actual gold miners?
Jan van Eck: Maybe I can first answer why would you ever own gold?
Taylor Schulte: There you go. That's probably a good question.
Jan van Eck: And I think I had a discussion, what about a year ago with the extreme skeptic and there were a lot of skeptics like Warren Buffet and let's say the same thing about Bitcoin because they don't produce income, right? Golding and vault doesn't produce income. Why would you ever own it?
And I think the, here's my strong counter paper, money has never survived throughout history. So governments always overspend and the value of currencies always trends towards zero. Now you might say, Jan, that's not going to be in my lifetime for the US dollar and I'll say, or the US is very special and it will never happen.
But all I'm saying is we would be the one exception that is proven throughout history and we did go through a big period of inflation and dollar devaluation in the 1900s so it can certainly happen again.
The case for gold today is a, is a kind of version of that, which is that central banks are using all kinds of tools to keep the economic growth going. And at some point investors may lose confidence in central banks. Now you may say, yeah, I'm never going to lose in the Fed, I love the Fed.
Okay then don't buy gold. But if you think there is a risk that we've been spending too much money as a country and central banks can't stimulate forever and they're stimulating like crazy now, then you wanna own gold. So that's the why gold.
To answer your question about do I wanna own gold bullion or gold shares? Gold bullion is less volatile it, they tend to perform the same historically gold shares have done better in bull markets. And if you think about it, the reason is that if their costs of producing an ounce of gold is $800 an ounce, if gold keeps going up, every dollar of increase is an extra dollar of profit to the mining company.
So that's the theory. Now, the theory has both worked and not worked in my career. And the 1970s it worked for gold and other commodities because the cost of production did not go up just the price. You could get a lot of oil at $3 a barrel.
It's just that the price of oil went way up. Same for gold in this last decade of the aught, I like to say the prior decade that from 2000, 2010, that did not happen for commodities companies because their cost of production went up a lot.
So GDX, I'll call disappointed investors who are expecting much higher performance than the appreciation of GLD would've suggested. The question today is, all right, a lot of those gold companies cut their costs and have become more disciplined financially, will they start performing better?
And that's an unknowable question. So I like to say buy a mix of both. So that's the long-winded answer to your question.
Taylor Schulte: That was great. I appreciate that. Some investors purchase gold or add gold to their portfolio as a hedge against stocks. The current situation we're looking at right now with global stocks down 30%, gold hasn't really done much better than that. It's down pretty significantly as well.
So how do you view using gold as a hedge when it's not really doing that right now? Is this uncharacteristic of gold? Is this what you would expect? Talk to us about how you would use gold as a hedge in a portfolio or maybe we shouldn't be looking at it that way.
Jan van Eck: It's not directly a hedge against the stock market collapse, it's more of a hedge against towards central bank and financial instability I would call it, and lack of faith in central banks.
But I certainly say over this time period, in a way their performance has been disappointing to investors because it didn't go up every day. The stock market went down. But if you go back to when we started becoming more bullish last summer when gold broke out, both GLD and GDX are up over that time period.
And the analogy that our strategist Joe Foster likes to talk about is look at 08, 09. Both gold and gold mining shares fell during the crisis, but they rebounded and they rebounded faster than the overall market afterwards.
So it's a little bit, when you're getting a margin call, an investor needs to raise cash, they sell everything and they do sell gold as well. So I understand why that's disappointing to people, but if they just broaden their from the last month to the last year, they won't be as disappointed. And you know, there's been a little bit of a strong rally over the last week, so we'll see if that lasts or not through the crisis.
Taylor Schulte: I know you recently gave a webinar that discussed your market outlook. You touched on a lot of things that we've already touched on right now. Is there anything else in that presentation that you gave that you want to bring to the surface and talk about or just kind of any closing thoughts as we continue to battle through these difficult times?
Jan van Eck: I would just remind people to keep an eye on what's happening in China as well as what's in our news, which is our experience with the virus in, in Europe and in the United States. China is different than it was 10 years ago. Only 20% of its less than 20% of its GDP comes from exports.
So if you think, oh, China can't do well if the US economy is in a recession, that's a lot less true than it used to be. And so I think as long as they keep recovering, that's something that seems to be out of the headlines. I would just encourage people to kind of find their own source of China information because like it or not, as I said before, it's a large part of the economy. Otherwise, no, I think that's really the point. I like to stress.
Maybe I have too much of a China focus. I just think it's what's left out to the conversations a lot. And as I said, I do think that when this period of uncertainty ends, we'll have viewed this as a pretty good buying opportunity.
Taylor Schulte: This is a total guess and you don't have to answer it if you don't want to or you can't. If you had to guess, does the stock market, the US stock market end the year positive or negative in 2020?
Jan van Eck: I can't guess. I would say the chances are it's higher at 12 months than it's now. How much it recovers? It depends on facts obviously. I don’t know.
Taylor Schulte: Okay. Maybe my last question then is, you talked about watching what's going on in China and some of these different indicators and kind of metrics and things. Do you guys have any resources that listeners might be able to lean on?
Where would they go to find that stuff? Is there a newsletter? Is there a particular blog post? You said that you update something every week. Can you share a little bit more about that and where they can find that?
Jan van Eck: Sure. Well, what I said investors should look at to see whether the world is coming out of this economic crisis is you can look at the price of oil and you can look at the price of copper, Dr. Copper, because we all consume that in the world, and they will indicate as they bottom whether economic growth is starting to pick up.
So those are available on Yahoo Finance. The indicators of China, PMI are available on our website, vaneck.com, and you can subscribe to our news and views. We update those at the end of every month.
If you sign up for the subscription, you'll get a note. When we've updated those statistics, you'll see them in the press, but I just don't feel that they're really well explained. And if you go to that blog, it's only like a page and a half blog. It'll explain why we think those indicators are important. Great. So we can give you a link afterwards.
Taylor Schulte: Yeah, please do. And I'll link to everything in the show notes if you guys wanna follow along. Jan, I really appreciate you doing this at the very last minute here and jumping on. I hope you, your family, your friends, are all staying safe. Thank you again for joining us today.
Jan van Eck: Well, Taylor, you know I'm a big fan. I've listened to, I think a majority of your podcasts, so it's really nice to talk live.
Taylor Schulte: Thanks so much. We'll talk soon, Jan.
Jan van Eck: Bye-Bye.
Taylor Schulte: Hey, it's me again. I just wanted to say thank you one more time for listening and remind you to please, please, please leave a quick review. If you're on an iPhone, leave a quick review on iTunes if you're enjoying the show.
I'm getting great feedback from listeners just like you. And I really want to keep the momentum going. So if you have a chance on your iPhone, leave a quick review on the Apple Podcast app. And thank you so much in advance for all of your help and support.
Episode Disclaimer:This podcast is for informational and entertainment purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. This podcast is not engaged in rendering legal, financial, or other professional services.