Q. Governor Raghuram Rajan has been criticized for being stubborn on interest rates.
Jim: Central bankers are supposed to be criticized for things like that. Central bankers are supposed to maintain currencies and low inflation. If you want to do something about the economy, you should call out Modi or Parliament and not the central bank. Central banks that cut interest rates because of politicians—such countries usually have economic problems, currency problems, and all sorts of other problems. In my view your central banker is doing the right thing—he understands what banking is all about, he understands what currencies are all about and he understands the economy. The more criticism he gets, the better—that means he is doing what the central bank is supposed to do.
Q. What is your take on what is happening in China right now? The reality is that foreigners hold very few China shares.
Jim: China is pure noise and hype and it is exciting to talk about the Chinese market that has moved a lot. Virtually no foreigners own shares in China. The press is talking about short-selling, but there is hardly any short-selling in China. The Chinese market has done better this year than the American stock market. So you in the press should be talking about the American stock market—but for you that may not be exciting enough as compared with China. I bought Chinese shares during the two-three days when its market collapsed—on the really serious down days, I bought more. I like to buy low, and I found that in history, usually when you buy during panic, things will turn out to be okay two-three years down the road.
I would rather be in China than in most parts of the world, because its stock market is still somewhat depressed. The Chinese stock market is still below 50% of its all-time high. The American stock market is near its all-time high. The situation is that for the first time ever, we have had six years of huge money print across the world. The world is floating on a huge artificial ocean of liquidity and that is going to end sooner or later—it is looking to be sooner. Many markets are going to suffer in the future as this happens. I would expect that this year or next year, we will begin to see a lot of problems worldwide. In 2008, China had a lot of money saved for a rainy day, and when it started raining, they began spending their money. This time around, China is facing debt—historically China has not had much debt—so China, is not going to be so insulated the next time around. I bought Chinese shares in the panic, and some of them are more down now because the Chinese markets went down again after I had bought. I feel that I should own something and China and Russia are the couple of markets that are depressed, where they are changes, and that is why I own these shares.
Q. Is this the best time to buy gold?
Jim: Not for me. I own gold and I expect another opportunity to buy gold within the next year or two. I suspect this will happen. Interest rates are going to go higher, which will make the US dollar go higher. When there is turmoil, many people seek a safe haven, and the first thing they go to is the US dollar. Nearly everyone thinks the US dollar is safe—it is not! But people are not going to buy the yen or euro and you can’t buy the Renminbi, so a lot of money will go into the US dollar, and the dollar will go higher. When the dollar goes higher, commodities will not do so well. So gold will suffer. What I suspect will happen is that the dollar will turn into a bubble in the next year or two as everyone is buying into it. Gold will be down and if I get it right, and if the dollar turns into a bubble, I will sell the dollar and put it into gold.
Q. What do you think the Fed will do?
Jim: I would expect the Fed to raise interest rates. The Fed always follows the market. People think the Fed sets the market, but if you go back historically, you will see interest rates usually move ahead of the Fed, and the Fed follows along. Interest rates will go higher, and when that happens, at some point it will affect markets around the world, including the US. At this point, everyone is going to call the Fed, asking them to save us. The Fed is run by bureaucrats and academics, and they will then come riding to the rescue—markets will heave a sigh of relief, go higher, and that will probably be the last big move upwards for stock markets around the world. After that, we all come to the realization that central banks are not as powerful as we thought, and there is only so much they can do. That is how we see the world developing over the next couple of years.
Q. Is the bull run in the commodities market over for good?
Jim: It is certainly down. In the scenario that I outlined, it is hard for anything to go up, if we are having financial turmoil around the world. If what I had mentioned takes place—where I sell my US dollar and buy gold—then gold will have its comeback. Then gold could turn into a bubble three-five years from now. I don’t know if this will happen or not. I hope it does not. Other commodity prices may also go up in the future, because supply has not kept pace with demand. Things like iron ore, oil—there are no new supply streams coming. The reserves of all major oil companies are down, and we are not really finding new oil except for fracking. But frackers cannot make money at current crude prices. So fracking is being slowed or curtailed. In the meantime, oil reserves everywhere are doing down. The supplies for most commodities are not strong enough or large enough to keep prices down for ever.
Q. Why don’t you invest in start-ups? Be it India, China or Southeast Asia, the start-up ecosystem is booming.
Jim: I do not invest in private companies. I feel more comfortable investing in companies where I think I can sell, if and when I want to. I don’t have the interest or the time these days to get deep into and understand these start-up companies. I do not understand technology well enough to get into such start-ups. Today, there are 100's of unicorns with billion-dollar valuations—this sounds like 1999 in the US. In 1999, the bubble was in a couple of small pockets in the US. Now, this bubble is all over the world–China, India… Now there are hundreds of entrepreneurs in their garages who think they are worth millions and billions of dollars. They are worth that right now, but will they be worth so much when the next turmoil comes? Probably not. There are spectacular opportunities for start-ups—there are hundreds of them, but most of them will fail. Most of the companies that were on everybody’s lips in 1999 don’t exist today—most have fallen apart and disappeared. Some of today’s start-ups will make it—they will become huge. Alibaba and Tencent look like they will make it big. Write down the list of companies today, put it away, and look at it 10 years later. Then you will say, ‘wow that was a bubble’!
Jim Rogers is a smart investor who co-founded the Quantum Fund with George Soros in 1973. By 1983 the fund gained more than 4000 percent.