Friday, August 22, 2008

Checking in With Jim Rogers Part II

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Here is the follow up to the Jim Rogers Part I piece - touches heavily on China.

First a continuation of Part I which we split into 2 since it was so lengthy

(Q): Throughout your career you’ve had a much-fabled ability to spot unique points in history – inflection points, if you will. Points when, as you put it, somebody puts money in the corner at which you then simply pick up.

Rogers: That’s the way to invest, as far as I’m concerned.

(Q): So conceivably, history would show that the highest returns go to those who invest when there’s blood in the streets, even if it’s their own.

Rogers: Right.

(Q): Is there a point in time or something you’re looking for that will signal that the U.S. economy has reached the inflection point in this crisis?

Rogers: Well, yeah, but it’s a long way away. In fact, it may not be in our lifetimes. Of course I covered my shorts – my financial shorts. Not all of them, but most of them last week.

So, if you’re talking about a temporary inflection point, we may have hit it.

If you look back at previous countries that have declined, you almost always see exchange controls – all sorts of controls – before failure. America is already doing some of that. America, for example, wouldn’t let the Chinese buy the oil company, wouldn’t let the [Dubai firm] buy the ports, et cetera.

But I’m really talking about full-fledged, all-out exchange controls. That would certainly be a sign, but usually exchange controls are not the end of the story. Historically, they’re somewhere during the decline. Then the politicians bring in exchange controls and then things get worse from there before they bottom.

Before World War II, Japan’s yen was two to the dollar. After they lost the war, the yen was 500 to the dollar. That’s a collapse. That was also a bottom.

These are not predictions for the U.S., but I’m just saying that things have to usually get pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty bad.

It was similar in the United Kingdom. In 1918, the U.K. was the richest, most powerful country in the world. It had just won the First World War, et cetera. By 1939, it had exchange controls and this is in just one generation. And strict exchange controls. They in fact made it an act of treason for people to use anything except the pound sterling in settling debts.

(Q): Treason? Wow, I didn’t know that.

Rogers: Yes…an act of treason. It used to be that people could use anything they wanted as money. Gold or other metals. Banks would issue their own currencies. Anything. You could even use other people’s currencies.

Things were so bad in the U.K. in the 1930s they made it an act of treason to use anything except sterling and then by ’39 they had full-exchange controls. And then, of course, they had the war and that disaster. It was a disaster before the war. The war just exacerbated the problems. And by the mid-70s, the U.K. was bankrupt. They could not sell long-term government bonds. Remember, this is a country that two generations or three generations before had been the richest most powerful country in the world.

Now the only thing that saved the U.K. was the North Sea oil fields, even though Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher likes to take credit, but Margaret Thatcher has good PR. Margaret Thatcher came into office in 1979 and North Sea oil started flowing. And the U.K. suddenly had a huge balance-of-payment surplus.

You know, even if Mother Teresa had come in [as prime minister] in ’79, or Joseph Stalin, or whomever had come in 1979 – you know, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, whomever – it still would’ve been great.

You give me the largest oil field in the world and I’ll show you a good time, too. That’s what happened.

(Q): What if Thatcher had never come to power?

Rogers: Who knows, because the U.K. was in such disastrous straits when she came in. And that’s why she came to power…because it was such a disaster. I’m sure she would’ve made things better, but short of all that oil, the situation would’ve continued to decline.

So it may not be in our lifetimes that we’ll see the bottom, just given the U.K.’s history, for instance.

(Q): That’s going to be terrifying for individual investors to think about.

Rogers: Yeah. But remember that America had such a magnificent and gigantic position of dominance that deterioration will take time. You know, you don’t just change that in a decade or two. It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of incompetent people to change the situation. The U.K. situation I just explained…that decline was over 40 or 50 years, but they had so much money they could have continued to spiral downward for a long time.

Even Zimbabwe, you know, took 10 or 15 years to really get going into it’s collapse, but Robert Mugabe came into power in 1980 and, as recently as 1995, things still looked good for Zimbabwe. But now, of course, it’s a major disaster.

That’s one of the advantages of Singapore. The place has an astonishing amount of wealth and only 4 million people. So even if it started squandering it in 2008, which they may be, it’s going to take them forever to do so.

(Q): Is there a specific signal that this is “over?”

Rogers: Sure…when our entire U.S. cabinet has Swiss bank accounts. Linked inside bank accounts. When that happens, we’ll know we’re getting close because they’ll do it even after it’s illegal – after America’s put in the exchange controls.

(Q): They’ll move their own money.

Rogers: Yeah, because you look at people like the Israelis and the Argentineans and people who have had exchange controls – the politicians usually figured it out and have taken care of themselves on the side.

(Q): We saw that in South Africa and other countries, for example, as people tried to get their money out.

Rogers: Everybody figures it out, eventually, including the politicians. They say: “You know, others can’t do this, but it’s alright for us.” Those days will come. I guess when all the congressmen have foreign bank accounts, we’ll be at the bottom.

But we’ve got a long way to go, yet.

Now onto part II which deals heavily with China

Despite its many problems, China remains such a strong long-term profit play that giving up on that country now would be like selling all your U.S. stocks at the start of the 1900s - before America created massive wealth by evolving into a world superpower, global investing guru Jim Rogers said in an exclusive interview with Money Morning.

“I have never sold any of my Chinese companies,” Rogers said. “You know, selling China in 2008 is like selling America in 1908. Sure, let’s say the market goes down another 40% - so what! You look back over 100 years, you look back from the beauty of 1928, or even 1938 [in the depths of the Great Depression], and there is somebody who bought shares in 1908. He was still a lot better off having not sold in 1908.”

Keith Fitz-Gerald (Q): There’s a lot of talk that the Chinese will use the Olympics to launch a new wave of nationalism and to move ahead. Are the Olympic Games as relevant as some people think?

Jim Rogers: They’ve already got tremendous nationalism. But the international reactions about Tibet and the Olympic torchbearers re-awakened it.

And the politicians, of course, need it because they’ve got their own problems with inflation and overheating and [pollution and] the rest of it. So, like politicians throughout history, they fan it - do their best to say: Hell, it’s not our problem. It’s the evil farmers. It’s the French. See that store over there: It’s their fault. It’s the Americans.”

So that is happening, anyway.

As far as the Olympics themselves, they’re irrelevant America had the Olympics in ‘96 and it had no effect on the American economy - before or after. Some people in Atlanta were affected before and after. And some people who were involved with the Olympics were affected before and after.

America at that time had 270 million people. China’s got five times as many people, and it’s a much bigger country geographically.

Sydney, Australia had the 2000 Olympics. It had virtually no effect on the Sydney, or on the Australian economy - even though Australia had 18 million people. It’s tiny … nothing. Yes, it had an effect on some people.

Greece, in 2004, had the Olympics. You haven’t heard stories of a major collapse or a major revival of Greece in 2005, because the fact is that the Games didn’t have much of an effect - not a noticeable effect, anyway. It had spot effects only, so I ignore the Olympics as far as the Chinese economy - and its stock market - is concerned.

(Q): Are you still bullish on China?

Rogers: Oh, yeah. I never sold anything in China. In fact, I bought more. I bought Chinese Airlines (PINK: CHAWF) last week. I flew one coming here. Maybe I made a mistake [with the investment], because it was emptier than I thought it would be.

(Q): Any thoughts why?

Rogers: One thing, you know, is that China’s made it extremely difficult to get a visa right now. In the past, it’s been hard to get a seat because Chinese airlines were so full. On this flight there were empty seats.

That brought home to me that they are cutting back enormously on visas right now. Discouraging travel, trying to clean the air, trying to protect against somebody blowing up the Forbidden City, et cetera. So the fact that planes are empty right now may be smarter than I thought.

Maybe I did get the bottom on the airlines, because if they are going to reissue the visas again, after all this, after September [after the Olympic Games have concluded], then the planes are going to fill up pretty quickly again. I would have picked the stock up at a bottom.

(Q): Yes.

Rogers: Anyway I’m still around China. I have never sold any of my Chinese companies. You know, selling China in 2008 is like selling America in 1908. Sure, let’s say the market goes down another 40% - so what! You look back over 100 years, you look back from the beauty of 1928, or even 1938 [in the depths of the Great Depression], and there is somebody who bought shares in 1908. He was still a lot better off having not sold in 1908.


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