Martin Weiss: Like Buying China in 1990

By Travis Johnson, Stock Gumshoe, September 11, 2007

OK, so I’m departing from my typical sleuthing ways on this one a little bit. I spent a little time at an investing conference a few days ago, and many of the newsletter folks that you’ve all heard of were there, making their spiels or just lecturing.

One of them that I happened to hear a talk from was Martin Weiss, and I thought I’d share some of his thoughts with you, since I don’t see email teasers from him … either I”m on the wrong lists, or he’s advertising himself in some other way. He runs a shop that has several different kinds of newsletters, not unlike most of the other folks you get email teasers from every day.

But in this talk he was talking about what he believed would be “The Next China” — and the safe strategies for investing right now.

I think if you talked to Robert Hsu, he’d probably tell you that the next China is going to be … well, China.

And he might be right, but Weiss said that he believes China’s a bit frothy now (not his words), and he’s got a different pick.

Now, he does agree that the US is the wrong place to be right now — he started his talk by essentially telling everyone that they should be completely out of both real estate and financials, and that if you can’t sell those sectors off completely you should be using the PowerShares bear index ETFs for those sectors to protect you on the downside (those indexes use derivatives to return twice the loss of their sector — so if financials go down 10%, the ETF goes up 20%). The tickers are SRS for the REIT bear fund, and SKF for the financials bear fund. In my experience, these are pretty expensive and somewhat risky, but they are certainly viable hedges if you want to play both ends of those sectors or get some downside protection.

He was fairly harsh on our current political and fiscal leadership — saying essentially that both Bush and Bernanke are new at this and they have no idea what to do in the current economic crisis. So he sees the US market remaining near the bottom of the list of international markets, in terms of performance, and he thinks the dollar will fall more and that emerging currencies will continue to surge.

So, lots of gloom to begin, then he gave the two step solution for protecting your portfolio, (which I explained in part above):

1) Sell anything vulnerable. Get out of anything having to do with Real Estate or Financials, and use the bear funds to hedge if you can’t get out for some reason (like , say, stubbornness or an aversion to paying capital gains taxes).

2) Get your money as far away from the United States as you can.

He did note that there’s not necessarily a reason to rush on step 2 — once you’ve gotten rid of your vulnerable assets, you might wait a bit, because he expects that the emerging markets are going to fall in sympathy with the US for a little while.

And then, he got to the more positive part of his talk ….

He said, and this is a quote, that “buying Brazil now is like buying China in 1990.”

Of course, 1990 was probably awfully early to buy China … you would have had a few bleak years there, but you would certainly have gotten some shares on the cheap if you were patient and held through today.

Weiss, who has a second home in Brazil and spent much of his childhood there, and speaks Portuguese (though he didn’t brag about his “boots on the ground” expertise as much as I would have expected), said that before the last couple years he loved Brazil, but didn’t trust the country enough to invest there.

His major concerns were resolved in 2002 — Lula and his government made fundamental changes to the economy, paid off foreign debt, and restored some credibility to the Brazilian currency.

And in 2007, the strongest currency in the world is the Real (I have no idea whether or not that’s actually true, but it certainly has been strong).

Why is this? He credits a few of the Brazilian success stories you’ve probably heard of.

Ethanol — by now, everyone knows about the Brazilian ethanol boom — it had some trouble in the 1990s when oil prices were low, but now the relatively efficient sugar cane ethanol in Brazil is the envy of the world … so much so that the big ethanol and energy companies are dying to do acquisitions there, though they’ve so far mostly been thwarted by the old farming familes and cooperative mills.

Iron ore. Certainly this is partly a China effect, too, at least of late, but Brazil is the largest iron ore producer in the world.

Aircraft — Weiss noted Embraer (and actually pronounced it correctly, something you thankfully can’t hear me attempt … this is why the Gumshoe does not podcast), which is among the leading midsize airplane manufacturers in the world.

But, interestingly enough for a newsletter tout, he didn’t talk about INVESTING in any of those sectors in Brazil, or about ways that he might leverage his expertise in the Brazilian market to pick out the finest Brazilian stocks for you.

No, he sent everyone off to buy shares of EWZ, the Brazilian market ETF.

Boring, huh? But, maybe not a bad idea if you just believe that Brazil is growing so rapidly and emerging as such an economic power that all of the big companies will be successes. Can’t really argue with it, though personally I’ve chosen to do my Brazil investing through individual companies (FYI, that’s Sadia (SDA), the food producer, and Gol (GOL), the airline. SDA has been a huge performer for me, GOL has been brought down by systemic problems with Brazilian air traffic control, but I”m being patient). I did write something along those lines on my other blog back in January, essentially saying that Brazil has been a great investment even while their overall economy was quite stagnant, and that if they actually get economic growth moving, especially if it gets to be anything like the growth in the other BRIC countries of Russia, India and China, the story might get phenomenal.

Weiss, for those interested in following his ideas, also suggested investing in Japan as the next emerging economy — though emerging in a different way, coming out of the doldrums rather than coming out of the third world. That’s not a terribly shocking pick, there have been folks trying to pick the turnaround point of the Japanese economy and stock market for a couple years now, with limited success so far, but perhaps this will really be the time it starts to work. The Japan ETF is EWJ, by the way.

So, no real teasers, no secret, just an opinion from one advisor who spoke at a conference … I have notes from a few other sessions as well, so I’ll try to throw then in now and again to shake things up a bit. I don’t know anything about Martin Weiss or what the record of his perfomance has been — I do know he’s neither the best or the worst advisor out there, so like most I expect he falls somewhere in between, making some good calls and some bad.

Food for thought, anyway. Happy investing.

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8 Comments on "Martin Weiss: Like Buying China in 1990"

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Thanks for this interesting post. I have a question and an observation/question. The first is whether these sort of investment conferences are worthwhile. I saw one called the New Orleans Investment Conference focusing on gold and precious metals and wondered if it was worth attending. The second observation, followed by question, is that there is a Claymore ETF that focuses on BRIC: Brazil, Russia, India and China. (The largest holding is China Mobile.) So that if you think China might be too pricey, you could get some diversification. Any opinion on this ETF, as opposed to just a China or… Read more »
One Guy
I find them to be sometimes worthwhile, though it’s always useful to think of it as just another way to learn a bit more about some advisers and their work.It’s very easy to get caught up in the closed conference environment and believe that the things the various speakers say are true and brilliant, and I always see some folks rush out of the room to place a call to their broker. Not unlike the emotional manipulation they can do through a good email teaser, I suppose.They usually have great exhibitor halls, too, and if it’s not a really busy… Read more »

I am amazed how one can be taken into the investment game by ” speakers and creative writers”. Its like falling in love. a state of temporary insanity. As hucksters, could it possibly be their trying to make money based on their word use and not true market knowledge? While there is no absolute way to eliminte risk, research minimizes risk.GI


Apparently, anonymous did not read your post since it is obvious that Weiss wouldn’t make a dime off his recommendation of EWZ. (I wish I bought that one a few years ago when it first caught my attention.)

i get the promos from weiss all the time. most recently one titled “commercial real estate woes smashing US banks” which, once you ante up $2500 for a year, will give you some good “recos” for put options to capitalize on the situation. i guess “reco” is a term the newsletter folks use somewhat cynically among themselves over a beer, and it must say something about the state of the industry when they start using the term in promos to the customer. to his credit, tho, weiss has been bearish on the financial stocks for quite some time, also pushing… Read more »

Thanks for the input, my impression over several years of reading the free Weiss newsletters and subscrining to one (REAL WEALTH), is that they are one of the more honest (straightforward) newsletter groups out there which may not be saying much. A firend of mine subcribed to one of their $5000. services, made out like gang busters one year and lost $30,000. the next!Like all of them there is a lot of hype and you need to do your due diligence but on the whole I find them to be one of the priciest for what you get. THINKER

Roger Neumann
I attended the Agora Wealth Conference in New Orleans in November 2006. I found it very interesting to associate with other investors and pick up on their thinking. I met Jim Rogers and got a signed copy of his book “Adventure Capitalist”. Listening to the various speakers and learning about the political powers which may affect investment decisions reveals much about the problems in the USA today. The main comment from a speaker was “there is always more money to be made advising people how to invest their money than by actually investing it!” The high priced teaser newsletters are… Read more »