With the housing market cratering, consumer confidence sagging, and catalysts for real economic growth nowhere to be found, many investors have quietly become pessimistic over the outlook for the U.S. economy. And then there’s the camp that has been much more vocal with forecasts of doom and gloom, a group that includes the always entertaining Peter Schiff.
A former economic advisor to Ron Paul and former U.S. Senate candidate, Schiff is firmly anti-deficit and anti-stimulus. “We are going to be in a depression,” said Schiff recently in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “It is going to be an inflationary depression, and our standard of living is going to fall dramatically in this country.” After being laughed out of the room at the height of the most recent bubble, Schiff now has the ear of investors around the world after his predictions of the collapse of the housing market turned out to be spot-on.
Even with economic optimism in short supply, few investors match the ultra-bear outlook for the U.S. financial markets maintained by “Dr. Doom.” But for those who subscribe to his economic school of thought, the not-so-distant future is a scary place. “While outside the norm, his views have made him popular with tea-party activists, who see him as something of a financial fortune teller,” writes Meena Thiruvengadam.
Below, we outline seven ETFs that aren’t necessarily among Schiff’s personal holdings or those of his clients, but that seem to line up with his overall macroeconomic perspective:
ETFS Physical Swiss Gold Shares (NYSEARCA:SGOL)
Exposure to gold bullion is a pillar of Schiff’s investment strategy, representing an asset that he believes will thrive as chaos spreads throughout the U.S. “There’s no limit to how high gold prices will go,” Schiff recently said in an interview. “They will rise many times from here –thousands and thousands of dollars per ounce higher. People will be shocked.”
Most investors looking for exposure to the precious metal gravitate towards GLD or IAU, but we selected this fund from ETF Securities because of a subtle but potentially important difference relative to the more popular physically-backed gold ETFs: SGOL’s bullion is stored in secure vaults in Switzerland. “Things could get very bad in this country, and people might want to leave, and when they do, it might be illegal to leave with your gold or your money,” said Schiff to The Wall Street Journal. “Who knows, you may have to pay your share of the national debt.”
Most view a repeat of Executive Order 6102 as unlikely, but it seems to be within Schiff’s realm of possibility.
ProShares UltraShort Barclays 20+ Year Treasury (NYSEARCA:TBT)
In a recent CNBC appearance, Schiff described what he views as a massive problem brewing in the Treasury market. “The bond market is the mother of all bubbles right now and I think when it bursts the losses will dwarf the combined losses of the stock market bubble and the real estate bubble,” said Schiff. “This decade will be the worst decade for bonds in U.S. history.”
Schiff’s bearish outlook on this asset class is based on his prediction that the U.S. government will be unable to repay its debt burden without imposing a massive tax hike, a scenario that isn’t politically feasible. As risk aversion has washed over markets, Treasuries have staged a remarkable rally; some long-term Treasury ETFs are up as much as 20% on the year. Schiff thinks it’s only a matter of time before those trends reverse.
TBT offers investors a tool for betting on a collapse in the Treasury market; this leveraged ETF offers 200% inverse exposure to the Barclays Capital 20+ Year Treasury Index. Because TBT resets exposure on a daily basis, its performance over multiple trading sessions will depend on both the change in and direction of this benchmark.
iShares MSCI Switzerland Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EWL)
Most bearish investors predict a tough stretch ahead for global financial markets, while Schiff’s mistrust seems to be limited primarily to the U.S. “If you want to own Treasuries, own them in Switzerland…own them in some other country where the government is not as reckless as this government,” said Schiff during a recent TV appearance.
EWL doesn’t offer exposure to Treasuries issued by the government of Switzerland, investing instead in Swiss equities. For investors looking for an ex-U.S. alternative for equity exposure, Switzerland seems like a market Schiff may be able to stomach. The country has been a bright spot on an otherwise gloomy continent, boasting an unemployment rate well below the rest of the developed world. Even more impressive, however, is the Swiss budget deficit–or lack thereof. Switzerland now expects a 600 million franc budget surplus this year. For a staunch anti-deficit investor, that’s a rather appealing indicator of economic health.
IQ Small Cap Canada ETF (NYSEARCA:CNDA)
The U.S. and Canada may share a border, but Schiff sees a tremendous gap between the economies of the two countries. “Invest in natural resources economies like Australia, Norway, and Canada,” responded Schiff when asked how investors could preserve their wealth in the current environment. “I invest in commodities and precious metals. Just get out of dollars.”
There are currently a few ETFs offering exposure to the Canadian economy–EWC is the most popular–but this small cap-focused fund seems to be a better fit with Schiff’s investment thesis. EWC’s largest sector allocation is to financials, while CNDA’s biggest weightings are to industrial materials (54%) and energy (17%). For investors looking to tap into the resource-related corner of the Canadian economy, CNDA is an interesting option.
IQ Small Cap Australia ETF (NYSEARCA:KROO)
Australia is another resource rich economy Schiff mentioned as a potential option in the current environment, and again there are multiple equity ETFs offering exposure to this market. Again, it’s the small cap ETF that maintains more significant exposure to the commodity-intensive corner of the market; the MSCI Australia Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EWA) maintains its biggest allocation to financials, while KROO is heavy in industrial materials and energy.
Emerging Markets Metals & Mining Index Fund (NYSEARCA:EMT)
Along with resource-rich developed economies like Canada and Australia, Schiff has a preference for emerging markets. “Don’t own Treasuries or bonds,” said Schiff recently. “Invest in the economies that are doing it right. Invest in emerging markets–Southeast Asia, China.”
EMT offers an opportunity where emerging markets and commodity-intensive firms overlap; this ETF invests in the largest publicly-traded mining companies involved in industrial and precious metals exploration, extraction and production within the emerging world.
WisdomTree Dreyfus Emerging Currency Fund (NYSEARCA:CEW)
Schiff’s forecast for the U.S. dollar is clearly very grim, and this fund offers a way to bet on a decline in the greenback’s value relative to a basket of emerging market currencies. CEW seeks to achieve total returns reflective of both money market rates in selected emerging market countries available to foreign investors and changes to the value of these currencies relative to the U.S. dollar.
CEW is an actively-managed ETF; a basket of eight to twelve currencies is selected on an annual basis. If Treasuries are indeed in a bubble, CEW could be set up to soar.
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.
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