Photo: China Photos/Getty Images
Years ago, Jim Rogers started the Quantum Fund with George Soros. Now, the commodities guru works in Singapore, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.Rogers spoke with Business Insider to discuss commodities, the global economy, his legendary career, and his life in Singapore.
What follows is the complete transcript of our interview with Jim Rogers.
Inflation, commodities and the consumer
What is feeding into oil prices at the moment?
Iran obviously, is one thing, but another is in the U.S. it’s the infrastructure problem. We have oil but it’s in the wrong places. On the east coast, they use imported oil, and imported oil is higher because of Iran. And it comes from Europe. North Sea production is in decline. There are supply-demand reasons that oil prices are high in many parts of the world. And known reserves of oil are in decline worldwide. And the IEA is going around telling people that known reserves are in a steady decline and we’re going to have a huge problem in a decade or two, a gigantic problem, unless somebody finds a lot of oil very quickly. So underneath the supply-demand, shorter term it’s infrastructure and Iran probably.
At what level do you think oil prices will break the back of the American recovery?
We are going to have a slowdown. Such is the staggering debt that America has, it has caused more and more of a drag on our economy. I would also point out to you that every four to six years we’ve had an economic slowdown in the U.S., since the beginning of time, so by 2012, 2013, 2014, we are well overdue for an economic slowdown for whatever reason. Whether it’s caused by high oil or what, we’re going to have a slowdown in the foreseeable future.
How do you see oil prices impacting consumers in emerging markets, especially in Asia, when many of them are struggling to rein in inflation and drive growth?
Everybody is paying higher prices for oil and that obviously impacts consumption everywhere and it’s not just oil, it’s food and everything else that’s going up. There’s inflation everywhere, the U.S. lies about it, I mean the U.S. government lies about inflation but there’s inflation everywhere. I mean I don’t know if you go shopping, but if you do, you know prices are up. The government says they’re not, I don’t know where they shop. Everybody else’s prices are up.
If you could own / invest in just one commodity which would it be?
I guess it would have to be one of the agricultural commodities, it would depend on which is down the most but it would be agriculture I can tell you that.
Photo: Giorgio Monteforti / Flickr
You said earlier this year that if gold moved towards $1,600 you would be interested in buying more. Are you looking at gold now?I’m certainly watching, if it goes below $1,600 I’m sure I’ll buy more. If it goes to $1,200 I hope I’m smart enough to buy a lot more. Gold has been up 11 years in a row now, which is extremely unusual for any asset. So it would not surprise me if gold doesn’t … continue to have a nice correction in 2012. If it does, if it does, I hope I’m smart enough to buy a lot more. I’m not selling. I’m not selling. I have not sold and will not sell until the bubble comes. There will be a bubble in gold some day but that’s 10 years, I don’t know, several years from now. I hope I’m smart enough to sell when the bubble comes.
China and the emerging markets
You’re a China bull. Could you tell me the one thing that you think China bears have got wrong?
Not quite sure. If you mean the people who say China is going to explode. Those guys have been saying that for three years. I guess someday they’ll be right. So far they’ve been dead wrong, for years. There will be setbacks in China along the way. In America in the 19th century we had 15 depressions with a capital “D,” we had no human rights, we had not much rule of law, (and we) had a horrible civil war, yet we became the most successful country in the 20th century.
China is going to have plenty of setbacks but what these guys are mainly missing is China has been in decline for three or four hundred years but started turning it around in 1978. And there’s a long history of entrepreneurship, capitalism, they have the brains, they have the know-how, there are many overseas Chinese who will bring back money and management ability. And the Chinese have a very, very high savings rate. They save over 35 per cent of their income and so even if they start going off, they’ve got something to fall back on, as opposed to America and the rest of the world.
There was a housing bubble in urban, coastal real estate, which the government has popped purposely, I mean they knew what they were doing. But as far as, I mean Jim Chanos, says it’s going to be a thousand times worse than Dubai. Well that shows he doesn’t understand Dubai, and he doesn’t understand China. Now I’ve told him this to his face though, so I’m not talking behind his back. China is vastly different from Dubai, vastly.
Photo: AP Images
Could you explain how Dubai and China’s real estate property problems differ?Dubai was building its plan. Its economic plan was to build an economy based on real estate speculation. It didn’t have anything else. It didn’t have oil, natural resources, it had a small population etc. and there was gigantic real estate speculation in construction. China has huge amounts of stuff. It has a growing population. It has vast natural resources. Not enough, but it’s got some. And then all those natural resources in Siberia which they can tap. And they’ve got huge financial reserves. Dubai does not. Dubai has a rich big brother, but that’s all Dubai has and China has it all: resources, cheap labour, discipline, educated labour, and vast markets.
China lowered their growth rate, wage inflation is worrying and it’s the year of leadership change. Do you think China is in control in terms of their property prices and economic growth?
I doubt the government planned to have a bubble. They got a bubble. I mean they’ve been trying to cool it off and they’ve done so. As far as the lower growth rates, I don’t pay attention to government growth figures because they’re all phony. Nobody knows how much China is growing, including China. I don’t pay attention to all of these figures. They’re not important to me. They’re irrelevant. China is certainly doing better than most countries and it will continue to do so. It will have setbacks. There’s nothing that says China should not have a recession. But China has a lot of money saved for a rainy day and when it rains they’re going to spend. America doesn’t have any money saved for a rainy day. And when it rains we’re going to try to borrow it or print it, neither of which is good for America or for the world.
Photo: AP Images
You have said previously that India is a great place to travel but not a great place for investors. What is the one thing that you do think makes a good investment opportunity in India?Tourism. Tourism in India, partly because the Chinese can now travel and are travelling, and they’re very close and India is cheap. Indian tourism is going to be a wonderful, wonderful growth area in the next decade, or two, or three.
You have previously said those that invest in Myanmar could be rich in the next 20 – 40 years. Myanmar is beginning its process of reforms and is beginning to end its economic isolation from the West – what are your thoughts on Myanmar now?
China made the decision to open up in late ’78 but it took a while to put things in place. Myanmar has made the decision, they don’t even have their currency sorted out yet, so it’s going to take a while, but no, every day that goes by, I get more excited. Unfortunately I’m a citizen of the land of the free and we from the land of the free are not allowed to invest in Myanmar, it’s illegal. You could invest there, but I cannot.
Life in Singapore and career advice
What’s the one thing you miss the most about the U.S.? Conversely what’s the one thing Singapore has that the U.S. doesn’t?
Well I don’t really miss … I mean I go to the U.S., I was just there last week. My main complaint about Singapore is not a serious complaint but it’s not very bicycle friendly. The U.S. is much more bicycle friendly. I guess I wish Singapore were as bicycle friendly as parts of the U.S.
What’s your typical day like in Singapore?
I take my daughters to school. We wake up at six because they have to get to school early. I take them on the bicycle, I come back, I exercise I have interviews while I’m exercising. I collect my daughters. I have lunch with them. Then in the afternoons I’ll have meetings, go on the computer or whatever. At night I’ll have dinner with my family unless we’re going out and then my wife and I will go out and do whatever the dinner is. And then I’ll go the disco. That’s a joke.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
Buy low and sell high. When I went to wall street. Actually all the old guys used to say ‘figure out the money and you’ll figure out what’s going on.’ And so I don’t know of any specific individual but that’s advice I got a lot of times.
What’s the worst job you have ever had?
Worst job? I don’t remember. Maybe the U.S. army, but even that, I don’t ever remember having a bad job. I was a grocery store boy when I was a teenager but even that, I learned, I don’t remember being unhappy in any job I’ve ever had. In the army, I would have liked to have done other things with those two years but even those two years were not totally wasted.