The China Bubble Expands, A Sobering Chart, Fixing Medicare and More!

by Addison Wiggin & Ian Mathias

  • The bubble expands: China reports booming exports, oil imports and real estate prices
  • One chart offers a sobering perspective… what the “recovery” looks like ex-China
  • Alan Knuckman & Jim Nelson offer two investment trends gaining momentum
  • Plus, David Walker offers simple solutions for fixing Medicare

 

  Here in the States, they’d call it a bubble. On the other side of the world, it’s “robust growth,” as The New York Times wrote this morning. Check this out:

1) Chinese exports increased 46% over the last year, China’s government reported overnight. 46%! That’s the best rate of annual growth since 2007, before the global crisis began in earnest.

2) China also released annual crude oil imports ending in February — up 58% year over year, to a near record 4.8 million bpd.

3) Residential and commercial real estate prices in 70 Chinese cities rose 10.7% in February, year over year. In the Hainan province, new home prices suffered a nearly 50% annual rise. (It’s a lovely tropical island, but still… 50%?)

  What happens when the music stops? Bubble or boom, China is the strongest staple of the loosely bound “global recovery.” 

 

  “The Chinese are laying highways like nobody’s business,” notes Chris Mayer, picking up a piece of the construction boom illustrated above. “By the end of 2008, China had an estimated 60,000 km of highway. The U.S. has 75,000 km. Over the next few years, China plans to have 85,000 km of roads.

“This is having some amazing effects. For instance, China recently built a highway from Lhasa, Tibet, that runs all the way to the Nepali border. Along this road is the city of Shigatse, a formerly sleepy town where tourists may stop to gaze at ancient monasteries on their way to Mount Everest. But today, it is also a place where people get rich running freight services along the 515-mile highway…

“This allows an easy mixing of peoples and the freedom to pursue their own ends leads people to trade. Business expands. The quality of life rises. The roads are doing their work. The cars and trucks are coming. Where are the opportunities?

“I’m more interested in investment ideas that are a step removed from actually building the roads and cars that use them. All those cars will eat up a lot of metals of all kinds, for example. They will also burn a lot of fuel.

“Dig deeper and you’ll find China loves methanol as an alternative fuel to blend with gasoline to lower emissions. China blends more than a billion gallons of methanol in gasoline annually. And its appetite for methanol is growing more than 16% a year. Methanol, made from coal or natural gas, is China’s ethanol.”

  As China dependant as it might be, the great global bear market rally remains intact. Stocks did little yesterday, thus the S&P is still up 2% year to date, and 66% from its crisis low.

“The market momentum looks to carry stock prices to new post-recession highs,” speculates one of our traders, Alan Knuckman. “The S&P has blown through the 1,120 Nov/Dec triple-top resistance. Prices currently sit around 1,140 with the January highs at 1,148 soon to be tested.

”The market is littered with those who have questioned the legitimacy of this run-up, both economically and politically. Price momentum and trends are very powerful forces that are oft best to work with, not against. Eventually, stock prices will top out and fade, but the urge to be the first to pick that turn needs to be repressed for now…

 

“Stocks, gold and oil have assumed leadership positions at different times, but all have tended to move in the same directions. Until those relationships change, we plan to keep doing what we have been doing successfully.”

Alan’s Resource Trader Alert readers have found some remarkable success, indeed. With his trading advice, readers brought in 22 winning trades in 2009, with an average gain – including the losers – of 56%. That’s terrific. If you want to be on board for the rest of 2010, look here.

  Since stocks are little changed from yesterday, gold and oil are right about where we left them. Gold is a bit higher, at $1,125. Ditto with oil, at $81.

  For income investors, the real opportunities are abroad, says Jim Nelson. “One glance at your Lifetime Income Report portfolio will tell you how we feel about international investing. We think you’d be a fool to forget about the rest of the world when it comes to income. Just take a look at this…

“In the 1970s, the U.S. controlled a 70% share of the world’s financial markets. And according to Reuters, that number “could shrink to 30% by 2030.” Yet U.S. investors hold only about 5-10% of their investment wealth in foreign stocks and bonds. That’s a ridiculously low number, considering that soon, seven out of every 10 dollars will be made abroad.

“That’s not even the most enticing stat to switch to a broader international exposure… As income investors, it’s impossible to ignore the massive dividend yields foreign markets offer. The major indexes of many foreign markets are posting yields that are two, and even three, times larger than the S&P 500.

“That’s why we have spent the last year ramping up the Lifetime Income Report portfolio with solid foreign income plays. For tickers, look here.”

  Back in the U.S., the Treasury is expected to release another record-busting budget deficit today. Though not out until 2 p.m. EST, the Street expects around $220 billion in shortfall for February. That would bring the fiscal year total to over $650 billion — up 10% compared with the same period last year and on course to top last year’s record $1.4 trillion budget gap. Oy.

  “We need to recognize that what threatens this ship of state is the ice that’s below the water in the iceberg,” David Walker, the protagonist in our documentary I.O.U.S.A. , told NPR yesterday. “It’s not today’s $12.4 trillion in debt. It’s the $50 trillion in unfunded obligations for Medicare, Social Security, other commitments and contingencies that we don’t know how we’re going to keep…”

For example, “in Medicare, I think we have to recognize… that there are actually three Medicare programs. There’s Medicare Part A, which is hospital insurance, which is funded with a payroll tax, and there are B and D, which are physician and out-payment and prescription drugs, which are voluntary programs funded with a combination of premiums and general revenues and state contributions.

“The first thing we have to do is recognize that under Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D, billionaires receive subsidies for voluntarily signing up for those programs. That makes no sense… we should have more means-tested premiums than we do right now.

“We need to also be able to have more competitive bidding with regard to Medicare. We need to move away from the fee-for-service payment system. We need to move more towards evidence-based medicine. We need to do something with regard to malpractice. We need to move to electronic records, more integrated-care systems, a number of things that not only apply to Medicare, but also have to apply to our overall health care system.

“And last, but certainly not least, we need to learn the lessons of every major industrialized nation. We need a budget for how much taxpayer resources we’ll allocate for health care. We’re the only major industrialized nation that doesn’t do that. Every other country has recognized that it’ll bankrupt you if you don’t.“

If you like what David has to say, you should join us in Vancouver this year. He was one of the most popular guests at the 2008 event, and we suspect he’ll be a crowd favorite again. We’ve asked him to fill us in on what’s been happening since we finished filming I.O.U.S.A., the effort to get the deficit commission established and — of course — some dirt on all those closed-door bailout meetings to which he was privy. There’s only one way to hear what he has to say — be there

  “Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau,” a reader writes, “telling me that in a week the census form will be mailed to me. How much did we spend on mailing out the pre-Census letter. What a waste!”

  “I read with interest the note from your reader whose friend landed a modern-day WPA job with the Census Bureau,” another writes. “Perhaps providing temporary jobs is the only viable reason for doing the census. Of course, it does give politicians something to squabble over when it comes time to dole out the federal pork.

“But surely, with all the data and tools at hand in today’s federal government, it is no issue to estimate population size and location in this country… if that’s even important to do. If there were a good reason for doing the census, it likely would have been spelled out in a recent letter the bureau sent to all citizens. Instead, the letter essentially appealed to us to mail in our forms, or our local communities would not receive all the benefits (pork) to which they are entitled. Sounds like the feds already suspect us folks care squat about counting noses and need a little threat to solicit action. What a sad state of affairs.”

  “Before you get too smarmy about Census activities, you need to consider a few things,” our last reader writes. “I spent some time working with the Census Bureau as a consultant, helping them prepare for the 2000 Census. If you want a crappy, thankless job go run the Census Bureau. It’s a political and logistical nightmare.

“While my numbers may be a bit stale (the numbers would actually be larger now), it is interesting to note that the human resources ramp up for enumerators (home visitors) and others is second only in effort to ramping up for war. In 2000, approximately 250,000 people were needed. The success rate on interviewing was about 1 in 4. The people hired had to be people that could survive somewhat of a background check; were presentable; could speak intelligently with people to extract Census data out of them; and would not be afraid to go to rotten parts of town, where most of the follow-up had to occur. And oh yeah, would only want this job for three or four months, starting in April (leaves out most college students).

 

“You may find an undependable deadbeat to work for a nickel an hour. But given the "security" requirements of the job… finding a quarter million workers for a few months, who happen to be situated in the right location, is not an easy (or cheap) task.”

Thanks for reading,

Ian Mathias

The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. You have just one day left to take us up on a $1 Mayer’s Special Situations trial. Seriously — just one buck for full access to the MSS portfolio and one month of Chris’ high-end advice. We can’t make a deal much sweeter than that… take advantage here, before the offer expires tomorrow.

 

rspertzel

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