Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Making Money . . . Farming, In America?

Well, so says Jim Rogers. See for yourself (from the India Times):
Jim Rogers is a legend in the investment world.

He co-founded the Quantum fund in 1970, a global investment partnership which made a gain of 4200% in 10 years after launch, while the S&P rose less than 50% in the same period.

He made some calls on the commodities bull market almost a decade ago, and also identified China’s potential before anybody else. Perhaps, nobody commands as much respect as he does when it comes to the investment call on commodities than Rogers.

He was in town on Friday and spoke about commodities, government bailouts and why everyone should quit their jobs to take up farming.

Walking around in his trademark suspenders and bow-tie, he answered all the questions put to him in the frank manner that he is famous for. The following are some topics that he spoke on with his characteristic candour.

Corrections in gold and oil temporary
The secular bull market still has years to go. You won’t find anything that goes up day after day and week after week or even month after month. At some point a correction has to set in. That’s the way markets work. There has been a bull run in oil that has been going on since 1999.

On the way there have been two or three occasions where the price has corrected by 40%. But they did not end the bull run. Gold, too has been correcting but most gold mines are in decline and no new mines have come up in some time. So in the absence of supply, gold has to go higher. In the absence of an influx on the supply side, there is so much demand that these commodities cannot help but go up in price.

No rice at any price with government controls
Politicians think that they are doing the world a favour by imposing controls. But ultimately by holding down the price of commodities such as say, rice; you are going to land up in a situation where the farmer has no incentive to grow it. You and I and everyone else will want to buy the rice if it is offered at to us at Rs 5, but then you have farmers not finding it viable to sell it at the price. So he stops growing it. In the quest to make sure everyone can buy the rice they will eventually ensure that there is no rice at any price.

On shorting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Yeah, I sold them short. There was phony accounting and appointments made as political favours. It was a system run by bureaucrats. You had a situation where people owned four or five house with no way to repay the loans they took for them. Some people with loans didn’t even have jobs. Then they thought it was such a good idea that it should be done with credit card and car loans as well. So now we are in a situation where the government has to bail us out.

Band aids and bailouts
Bailouts are not good. When Japan tried it in the 1990s or the US Central banks in the 1970s it did not help. They are trying to use band aids when it is better for the system as whole to let the rot out. It took us two hundred years to build up a debt that we doubled over the weekend.

India versus China
India was doing fantastic in 1947. Even as recently as 1980 India was ahead of China. But now you have China running circles around India. India is not the single most exciting place to do business. India has been doing a lot better now, but you have politicians who say something and then turn around and do something entirely different. China is a country I am more bullish on.

Pumping water and erecting statues
Everybody knows that India has huge water problems as does China. So anything that is focused on water, agriculture and tourism are companies that should be watched. But not companies that own water. If you are pumping it or cleaning it they’ll put up a statue of you in the centre of town. If you own it, they’ll make you sell at subsidised prices.

Dumping the dollar
The dollar is a terribly flawed currency and I am pessimistic on it. I am not the only one, the Opec is trying to delink from it and Iran is already not accepting payment in dollars. A hundred years ago everybody was trading in sterling, which they eventually delinked from. This is something that will probably happen to the dollar as well. I plan to get out of whatever dollars I have.

What is he investing in?
I am the single-worst short-term trader in the world. But if I were to say, then airline stocks, Swiss Francs and the Japanese yen.

Stock brokers, farmers and Maseratis
I would rather buy agriculture than anything else. We have some of the lowest inventories in some time. Sugar, coffee and cotton. You see a lot of 29-year-old stock brokers driving Maseratis. Ten years from now, you’ll see the farmers driving Maseratis at 29, while stock brokers look for work driving a tractor.

Farming. Agrarianism. Localism. Regionalism. The way forward?

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