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WOULD YOU BUY STOCK IN U.S.A., INC. TODAY?

FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
By Gary D. Halbert
June 22, 2004

IN THIS ISSUE:

1.  Analyzing America As If It Were A Giant Corporation.

2.  USA, Inc. Continues To Surprise On The Upside.

3.  Will Shareholders Re-Elect CEO George W. Bush?

4.  How To Invest Now, In These Uncertain Times.

Introduction – Would You Buy Stock In America?

One year ago (June 17), I wrote an E-Letter which compared the United States to a giant corporation – USA, Inc.  In that E-Letter, I predicted that USA, Inc.’s economy would surprise on the upside over the next year, and it certainly has.  I also recommended that investors move back to a fully invested position in stocks at that time, if they had not already based on my advice earlier in the year.

When I wrote that E-Letter on USA, Inc. last year, most in the media were pessimistic on the outlook for the economy.  Unemployment was considered to be chronic, even though it was only slightly above 6%.  This week, we revisit USA, Inc. a year later to see what has happened, to see if my advice paid off and finally, what the prospects are for the next year or longer.

USA, Inc. – The Biggest Corporation In The World

In many ways, the US economy is like a giant corporation.  In this analogy, President Bush is the current Chief Executive Officer (CEO).  Congress is the Board of Directors.  Alan Greenspan is the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).  The population represents the shareholders.  The different sectors of the economy could represent separate operating divisions. 

Even though USA, Inc. is the strongest and most powerful corporation in the world, it has experienced some severe shocks in recent years, and its share price plummeted from record heights just a few years ago.  The first telltale shock came in March 2000 when the bubble in USA, Inc.’s high-flying Technology Division (Nasdaq) finally burst.  Not long after, the entire Corporate Division (Dow, S&P 500, etc.) rolled over into a major bear market that would see most share prices tumble by 40-60%.  Simultaneously, another shock occurred: a mild economic recession unfolded in the first three quarters of 2001.

Then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 that left thousands of innocent shareholders dead and the rest in a state of shock.  CEO George W. Bush announced that the corporation would launch a global War On Terror (WOT), which continues to this day.  The initial act in the WOT was the war in Afghanistan which ousted the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.  The second act was a hostile takeover of a foreign country (Iraq) that was believed to possess WMDs and assisted terrorists.  As discussed below, the war in Iraq did not go as expected and problems remain, but a ruthless dictator was removed from power and ultimately captured alive.

This string of major events over the last several years has affected the company’s performance (GDP) and bottom line (federal deficits), and shareholders have been understandably very nervous and skeptical (consumer confidence) about the outlook, at least until very recently.

In 2002, many high-profile analysts (Wall Street) who had traditionally always been very bullish on USA, Inc. turned surprisingly bearish on the company’s outlook.  For the most part, they recommended that investors sell their equity shares of USA, Inc. and move into the supposedly safer USA notes payable (Treasury bonds).  Investors did so in droves and this, along with unprecedented monetary stimulus from CFO Greenspan, drove yields (interest rates) to the lowest level in more than 40 years.

So, in just a few years, USA, Inc.’s outlook went from one of great optimism to a growing pessimism that the company was headed down the same path as Japan, Inc. had been on for the last decade – economic abyss, with a deflationary depression to follow.  The gloom-and-doom crowd was having a field day in 2002.

Yet USA, Inc. Surprised On The Upside Once Again

Yours truly cautioned often in 2002 and 2003 in these weekly E-Letters that USA, Inc. was not in as much trouble as the pessimists warned, and I suggested that the company would once again surprise on the upside.  In addition, I frequently quoted my very best forecaster of economic trends – The Bank Credit Analyst – who predicted that the economy would rebound strongly.

In late January, February and early March of last year, I wrote a series of three articles in these pages entitled, “The Mutual Fund Merry Go-Round,” all of which were designed to help investors know how to get back into the market.  You can go to my website [ CLICK HERE] and read those timely reports.

Also in March of last year, I specifically recommended that investors get back in the equity markets prior to the start of the war with Iraq.  In the March 4, 2003 issue of this E-Letter, I wrote:

“The equity markets are very oversold; consensus opinion is quite bearish now; and thus the markets are ripe for a turnaround.  As I have stated for weeks, I believe this will be the best buying opportunity of the year…”

USA’s share price bottomed in mid-March (March 12, specifically) last year.   The market bottom on March 12 came at roughly the same level (7,500 in the Dow) as the two previous lows in August and October of 2002.  In my March 18, 2003 E-Letter, I emphasized the significance of the “triple bottom” in the equity markets:

“The stock markets bottomed last week at almost the exact same spot as they bottomed last October and last August.  Assuming this rally continues, we have made what is known as a ‘triple-bottom.’  This is a strong technical signal… 

If the war goes well, consumer confidence should improve and if so, the economy should expand at least modestly in the remainder of the year.  How far stocks could rally is anyone’s guess, but don’t under-estimate the markets and the economy should the war be won quickly and decisively.”

As we know now, the war in Iraq was won decisively at least initially.  The Bush administration failed to anticipate the guerilla war that unfolded in the weeks and months after the initial invasion and occupation, as I will discuss below.  Yet even that did not slow down USA’s economy and the rise of its share price.

The Economy & Equities Boomed

USA, Inc.’s economy soared in the second half of 2003.  After rising at an annual rate of 2.0% in the 1Q and 3.1% in the 2Q, GDP swelled by 8.2% in the 3Q and 4.1% in the 4Q.  In late May, the Commerce Department reported that GDP rose by 4.4% in the 1Q of this year.  Most economists now expect that growth will be above 4% for all of 2004.

The long-awaited improvement in employment is also now well underway.   Over one million new jobs have been created this year.  Equally encouraging has been the significant increase in capital spending which has occurred in 2004.  Consumers are no longer the only significant engine driving USA, Inc.’s economy.

Short of another major terrorist attack on our soil, USA, Inc.’s economy should continue to grow at a healthy pace for another year or longer.

Equity prices surprised just about everyone following the bottom in March of last year.  From the low in March near 7,500, the Dow Jones rallied above the 10,000 mark, ending the year up over 28%.  Ditto for the S&P 500 Index.  The Nasdaq Index gained over 50% for 2003.  The equity markets continued to rise this year with the Dow managing to rise above 10,600 at the high point.

Uncertainties Stall The Bull Market

The recovery in the equity markets has stalled in recent months as several serious uncertainties have arisen.  Although much progress has occurred in Iraq, we continue to incur military casualties.  Even though the official handover of control is set to occur next week, USA, Inc. will have to maintain a significant military force in Iraq for some time to come – perhaps even permanently.  This reality is bothersome to USA, Inc.’s shareholders.

Another uncertainty that has hindered the advance in equity prices is in the area of interest rates.  It is widely believed that USA, Inc.’s CFO, Alan Greenspan, will begin to nudge short-term interest rates higher, perhaps as soon as next week’s FOMC meeting.  While this has been a worry in the equity markets, it will not come as a surprise.  In fact, the equity markets are already priced to reflect several small interest rate increases over the next year.

Another concern is rising inflation.  Just a couple of years ago, investors were worried about deflation, not inflation.  However, as I have written in the past, the Fed responded swiftly and decisively in slashing interest rates, both to stimulate the economy and to head off the deflationary threat.  Yet in cutting rates to 40-year lows and keeping them there for a sustained period, the Fed also planted the seeds for the next inflationary cycle.

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.6% in May, largely due to big increases in energy and food, and was 3.1% above May 2003.  The latest increase in inflation has been more bad news for the bond markets, but if you have followed my advice over the last year, you should be under-invested in (or out of) long-term bonds and Treasuries, which may go even lower in the months ahead.

Will Shareholders Reappoint CEO George Bush?

Perhaps the greatest uncertainty facing the investment markets now is whether or not USA, Inc.’s shareholders will re-elect CEO George Bush in November.  Or will they vote to oust the Bush team and bring in his challenger, John Kerry, the liberal senator from Massachusetts?  Bush promises he will fight to make his tax cuts permanent, while Kerry promises to raise taxes on those making $200,000 a year or more.

The race has been neck-and-neck so far based on the national polls, although in the individual state polls Bush has a modest lead in the electoral count.   Traditionally, the equity markets have performed better when the incumbent is in the lead and is re-elected.  Since it is far from clear if that will happen, the equity markets have been understandably jittery in recent weeks.  The equity markets do not like the prospects for higher taxes.

One of the key factors that will decide the outcome of this race is the Bush team’s ability to get the word out on the strong economy and jobs growth.   The Media Division of USA, Inc. has largely chosen to ignore the good economic news by not reporting it.  For example, we had great news in April and May when 346,000 and 248,000 new jobs were created.  In the last three months alone, almost one million new jobs have been added.

Yet the Media Division elected to focus on the prison scandal and other problems in Iraq.  The result: an Associated Press survey in early June revealed that 57% of Americans still believed the economy was losing jobs!  Americans are simply not hearing the good news.

Monday’s issue of Investor’s Business Daily had a telling chart on its front page.  The graph illustrated how many times per month the economy was mentioned on ABC’s evening news program.  In January, Peter Jennings mentioned the economy 120 times (mostly negative), but in May he mentioned it only 20 times.  This is how the Media Division ignores the good news on the economy.

What To Do Now

The economic boom is now no longer a subject of much debate.  USA, Inc. is on a roll, perhaps the biggest roll since 1984.  This boom is likely to continue for another year at least, barring some major negative surprises.

Yet despite the great economic news, many investors remain under-invested (or not invested at all) in equities.  Money market funds are still bulging with cash from folks who bailed out of the equity markets in 2002 near the bottom and have never gotten back in.  They missed the great year in 2003.

There are several reasons why so many investors are on the sidelines, despite the great economy.  As discussed above, many people are simply unaware that the economy is so strong.  Others believe they missed the boat in stocks last year, and the markets are too high to get in now.  That is a classic reason why so many people miss the big moves.

Some investors are worried that there will be another terrorist attack in the US prior to the election.  No one knows if there will be another major attack or not, certainly not me.  However, the intelligence sources I read seem to agree that a terrorist attack prior to the election would help President Bush, rather than hurt him.  In any event, I would not let the threat of terrorism keep you on the sidelines.

Let The Professionals Do It For You

As I regularly remind you, my advice for investing in today’s markets is to let successful professionals manage all or a good part of your portfolio.  There are plenty of professional money managers who are always fully invested, and they make or lose money just as the markets go up or down. 

Yet there are also professional money managers who use successful strategies that alert them to downtrends in the markets, and they can reduce their positions or move 100% to cash if their systems indicate that risks are too high.

Over the last couple of years, many of these tactical money managers have implemented “hedging” strategies to their systems.  There are several mutual funds that actually go UP in value when the stock market goes down.  The Rydex Ursa and Tempest funds and the Profunds Bear and UltraBear funds are just some examples of these so-called “short funds.”

Rather then sell their positions when they get a signal to reduce positions or get out of the market, more and more tactical managers are using these short funds to “hedge” their long positions.  In some cases, this can reduce transaction costs while protecting the long positions from a decline in the market.

All three of the professional money managers I have recommended in this E-Letter use “hedging” techniques such as those discussed just above.   They can use the short funds in case of a serious downturn in the markets.

Niemann, Potomac & Capital Management

Niemann Capital Management has a time-tested system for identifying hot sectors of the markets and then invests in those equity mutual funds where they expect the most growth.  They may invest in any of the hundreds of mutual funds on Fidelity’s fund platform, and they use short funds occasionally for hedging purposes.  The minimum investment is $100,000.

Potomac Fund Management utilizes a somewhat more conservative strategy for selecting mutual funds that deliver growth but also those that have not tended to fall as much as the overall market during down periods.  They also use short funds occasionally for hedging purposes.  The minimum investment is $25,000 for the time being.

Capital Management Group is unusual in that they invest in large, highly diversified high yield bond funds.  High yield bonds were the big winners last year when Treasuries and other high-grade bonds were hammered.  CMG will occasionally use short bond funds for hedging purposes.  The minimum investment is $25,000 for the time being.

All three of these money managers have outstanding performance records.  You can CLICK HERE to see their actual results in real accounts, net of all fees and expenses.  Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results.

These three money managers (along with others we recommend) share a portion of their management fee with my company for referring clients to them.  You can find these money managers on the Internet and go to them directly, but their management fee is the same either way. 

It might interest you to know that this fee sharing arrangement is quite common in the investment industry.  However, you should also know that we only recommend money managers who have met our strict “due diligence” requirements.  We not only verify their performance record, but we also conduct on-site visits to check out their operation, their systems, their personnel, etc., etc. 

You might also be interested to know that we reject over nine out of every ten managers we review.  Only a select few make the cut in our due diligence process.

By becoming one of my clients, you will not only learn about these three managers, but also the other investment programs and services we recommend.  You will also learn about the new managers and programs we find in the future.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, as one of my clients, you will always know if we change our mind about a manager.  There have been times in the past when we have withdrawn our recommendation of a manager, and we have moved our clients elsewhere.  When is the last time a money manager told you to close your account?  Probably never!

The most common reason for withdrawing our recommendation of a manager is deterioration in performance. As the common securities disclaimer goes, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.  There are times when a previously great manager goes cold, usually because their system or strategy has not adapted to changing market environments, or because they have changed their system in some material way.

The most important point is that we are on our clients’ side of the table.   We only recommend those money managers we consider suitable for you, in light of your financial situation.  Also, we will advise you immediately if we feel the manager is no longer suitable, or if we find a manager we believe is better for you.

If you are under-invested in equities and/or looking for an alternative to Treasury bonds, I strongly recommend that you consider these very successful money managers.  I think they will serve you well in these uncertain times.

If we can help you, please don’t hesitate to call us at 800-348-3601 or visit our website at www.profutures.com.

Wishing you profits,

Gary D. Halbert

P.S.  The last link in the SPECIAL ARTICLES below is an article which appeared today on the ultra-liberal “Slate” website.   Liberal Christopher Hitchens blasts ultra-liberal Michael Moore and his new movie, Fahrenheit 9/11.  I have never seen one liberal attack another like this!  It’s a long article but well worth a careful read.

SPECIAL ARTICLES

New York Times bashes Clinton’s new book.

Putin links Saddam to al Qaeda & terror attacks,
but the media ignores.
 

You’ve never heard one liberal blast another like this:
“Slate” website blasts Michael Moore & his new film.


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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