Introduction: Jim Rogers was a co-founder of the Quantum Fund, and is creator of the Rogers International Commodities Index (RICI). A native of Demopolis, Alabama, Jim Rogers was entrepreneurial from a young age. His first business venture at age five involved selling peanuts. He attended Yale University where he received a degree in history, and then also Oxford University, where he focused on philosophy, politics and economics. In 1970, Jim Rogers co-founded the Quantum Fund, possibly the most famous and successful fund of its type. Despite his success, he still makes media and television appearances, focused on the free-market principles he believes in and investments in all vehicles, long and short worldwide, that he espouses. He has issued many warnings about the West's debt-making profligacy and has concluded that China will likely constitute tomorrow's most powerful nation-state, in large part because of the energy and discipline of its billion-plus citizens. He is author of many well-received books including the best-selling Investment Biker, a free-market oriented meditation on life and investing.
Daily Bell: We've interviewed you before. Thanks for spending some time with us once again. Let's jump right in. What do you think of the Chinese economy these days?
Jim Rogers: There is some overheating and inflation, which they are wisely trying to cool – especially in urban, coastal real estate. They have huge reserves so will suffer less than others in any coming downturn.
Daily Bell: Is price inflation more or less of a problem?
Jim Rogers: More. At least they acknowledge inflation and are attacking it. Some countries still try denying there is inflation worldwide. The US is even pouring gasoline on these inflationary trends with more money printing instead of trying to extinguish the problem.
Daily Bell: Is China headed for a setback as you suggested last time we spoke?
Jim Rogers: Did I say a setback or a setback in real estate speculation? I think you will find it was the latter. Yes, the setback in urban, coastal real estate is under way.
Daily Bell: They are allowing the yuan to float upward. Good move?
Jim Rogers: Yes, but I would make it freely convertible faster than they are.
Daily Bell: Will that squeeze price inflation?
Jim Rogers: It will help.
Daily Bell: Why so many empty cities and malls in China? Does the government have plans to move rural folk into cities en masse?
Jim Rogers: That is a bit exaggerated. China has been overbuilding ever since I have been visiting. There is at least eventual demand for much of it, but that does not preclude some bankruptcies in the future.
Daily Bell: Is such centralized planning good for the economy?
Jim Rogers: No. Centralized planning is rarely, if ever, good for the economy. But the kind of construction you are describing is at the provincial level – not the national level.
Daily Bell: The Chinese government is worried about unrest given what is occurring in the Middle East. Should they be?
Jim Rogers: We all should be. There is going to be more social unrest worldwide including the US. More governments will fall. More countries will fail.
Daily Bell: Are they still on track to be the world's biggest economy over the next decade?
Jim Rogers: Perhaps not that soon, but eventually.
Daily Bell: Any thoughts on Japan? Why haven't they been able to get the economy moving after 30 years? Will the earthquake finally jump-start the economy or is that an erroneous application of the broken-windows fallacy?
Jim Rogers: It has been 20 years. They refused to let people fail and go bankrupt. They constantly propped up zombie companies. The earthquake will help some sectors for a while, but there are serious demographic and debt problems down the road.
Daily Bell: The Japanese were going to buy PIGS bonds. What will happen now? Does that only leave China?
Jim Rogers: Obviously the Japanese have other things on their mind right now. I think we are getting closer and closer to the point where someone in Europe is going to have to take some losses, whether it's the banks or the countries, but somebody has to acknowledge that they are bankrupt. The thing that the world needs is for somebody to acknowledge reality and start taking haircuts.
Daily Bell: Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the EU these days? Last time you told us the world needed the euro – a big market with breadth and depth. But you weren't sure it was going to last. Any new insights?
Jim Rogers: I didn't say that the world needed the euro, I said it would be good for the world; we need something to compete with the US dollar. On paper the euro would be a great competitor. However, as I have said before, it is a political currency rather than an economical currency, and I would suspect that this pushes the euro closer to a moment of truth.
The Germans are now in control and they will be able to make everybody toe the line. The Germans expect to hold the euro together during this period of pain, and I hope they can. As I have said before, the world needs something to complete with the US dollar. I would expect the euro will survive this particular round of problems, and this will be good for the world and the euro in the long run.
Daily Bell: Is Germany taking the proper – hardline – stance toward Greece and Ireland? Is austerity the only solution or should bank bondholders finally have to take the haircut you mentioned?
Jim Rogers: Either way, if people start having to acknowledge their losses then that's going to lead to more austerity. And I don't think you are going to see people rushing in to invest or lend to the Greeks if they have just lost lots of money on their bonds or their bank stocks or whatever it happens to be. It will certainly cause problems. I don't think anyone will pull out of the euro this time around, but some might be thrown out. Merkel seems to think she can hold the euro together but that's going to require some stern German discipline and losses. If that is her plan the euro could emerge as a real competitor to the dollar and have a great future. I am a bit skeptical of that last statement, but I do own the euro still.
Daily Bell: Any more thoughts on the American Tea Party, which just scored some political gains? As we recall you were critical. Any further insights for us on the American political situation?
Jim Rogers: Well it appears that America does seem to understand, at least on paper, that there are staggering problems. We still haven't seen much action. I haven't seen anybody cut any spending in a serious way. We are still bankrupt and the situation is getting worse, not better. Now, usually when you have this kind of situation it usually leads to social unrest and more political backlash, I suspect it will this time too.
Daily Bell: What about the wars America is prosecuting and its military stance generally? Affordable? Supportable?
Jim Rogers: Well it is certainly not affordable. America has got troops in over 100 countries and it is just making enemies and not helping America's standing in the world. As for supportable of course not! How can anybody justify America now getting involved in Libya? I mean if America is going to support opposition to everybody in the world we don't like, America is soon going to be totally bankrupt, even more bankrupt. Why are we supporting the guy in Yemen and not the guy in Libya? I can see absolutely no intellectual, philosophical, or even political justification for what we are doing.
Daily Bell: Can the US sustain the war in Afghanistan for another three years? Will it have success in Westernizing that country?
Jim Rogers: No, look at the size of Afghanistan; I don't think the guys in Washington have a clue how big it is. Sure, we can stay there for three years and spend huge amounts of money, human lives, and we are making our situation worse not better. So we can stay there, but it is only driving us further and further into problems.
Daily Bell: Is Pakistan being destabilized as a result?
Jim Rogers: It's been destabilized. We are making more and more enemies in Pakistan every day and this is giving more psychological support to the enemies. They have someone else to rail against, more reasons to rail against the US. Pakistan seems to be more and more unstable. They have nuclear weapons; they have a lot of people who don't like the US, and they have a lot of people who don't like India. Pakistan is one of the ten largest countries in the world population wise, and it's in a very strategic area, I hope it's not going to happen; I hope they're not going to destabilize further, but this is how big wars start. People aren't worried, and then all of a sudden, everybody's in over their head.
Daily Bell: Some say the US is trying to surround China. Is there more military tension between the US and China these days? Is that a bad thing?
Jim Rogers: I don't know there's more military tension between China and the US these days. The US is in Pakistan, but the Pakistanis have been allies of the Chinese for a long time. If Pakistan is becoming more destabilized, then they are not going to be an ally of the US against China I assure you. No one in Pakistan is going to say, let's support the US against China.
Everybody knows the US is becoming weaker and weaker geo-politically and militarily. If Venezuela and Colombia went to war tomorrow, there's nothing the US could do. We're over-extended in every way. I think our real position is even weaker than it appears. We may be talking a good game, but China is developing on it's own, and since I don't see that they are doing anything that threatens the US militarily, I am perplexed with this question.
Politicians may be railing more and more about China, but that's a verbal encirclement of China, not a military one. China is the richest country in the world now and we are the largest debtors in the world. That accounts for verbal attacks. Pressuring China militarily won't change the equation.
Daily Bell: Where is gold headed? Silver?
Jim Rogers: Everything I have told the world about gold and silver is going to continue to happen. Eventually gold will be a couple of thousand dollars an ounce, and probably much higher, as currencies become more debased, who knows how high. Silver will definitely reach new highs. As I have said, the US dollar is in serious trouble, and will be debased a great deal in the future, and eventually will be problematical itself. So gold and silver will be measured by the US dollar but I hope there will still be some sound currencies no matter what happens.
Daily Bell: What are some of the best little known investments these days?
Jim Rogers: I am still optimistic about the future of agriculture, but I don't know about how little known that forecast is at this point.
Daily Bell: Do you still believe commodity price inflation generally is a big trend?
Jim Rogers: I don't believe in "belief." I only like to invest in things that I think I know. People who fall in love with their investments or believe in them, usually have problems. I think commodity prices are going to continue to go much, much higher. In several years, we are going to continue to see shortages of things to develop and there continues to be very little investment in productive capacity of anything. Agriculture is continuing to turn into a disaster and I continue to encourage people to understand that those shortages are going to get worse, and that there is going to be more social unrest around the world, and that more governments are going to fall around the world.
People don't go into the streets if the price of copper makes new highs but when the price of rice and wheat and sugar go through the roof, everybody knows it instantly at the same time and everybody is unhappy instantly, and at the same time. So that's where you have serious problems developing and shortages, and that's why agriculture is a great place to invest. There are plenty of ways to invest in agriculture. There are going to be shortages of food and this will continue. As I said before, my portfolio is in commodities and currencies on the long side.
Daily Bell: What about oil? Give us your take on Peak Oil. Is it real? Does it exist?
Jim Rogers: I don't know if there is Peak Oil or not. I do know that known reserves of oil are in decline. That is a very simple statement. Is there a staggering amount of oil out there in the world? We don't seem to know where it is, though we hope we find it soon and that it is accessible. The price of oil and all energy is also going much higher.
Daily Bell: Any comment on water shortages? Is potable water the next big investment?
Jim Rogers: I don't know if we discussed water last time but I have discussed it many times. There are huge shortages of water developing. We have wars developing east of the Red Sea over oil, and we are going to have wars west of the Red Sea over water. Northern India has a staggering water problem and so does northern China. Southwestern part of the US has big water problems. If you can find a way to invest in water, you are going to be extremely successful and rich.
You shouldn't own water, though, because if you own water the politicians are going to snarl and sneer and say you are capitalizing on God's-given-right to water, you filthy capitalist. If you are lucky, they will hang you in the public square. If you are unlucky, it will be worse. But if you can transfer water or clean water or provide water, they will build a monument to you in the public square, and you will be extremely rich.
Daily Bell: Will the IMF have success in replacing the dollar with the SDR, as it wishes to? How long will it take?
Jim Rogers: I can see if something dramatic happened tomorrow or if people are desperate, but I don't see SDRs working at all. It's an unofficial creation of bureaucrats and those types of things rarely work. Currency unions have never worked in history, and this could be the potential problem with the euro, it's a currency union, so I don't see something as artificial as SDRs working on a temporary basis or in the short term.
Daily Bell: What trends are you emphasizing in your public speaking these days?
Jim Rogers: I'm speaking but I am not sure people are listening. They haven't been listening to the rise of China or the problems with the US dollar and more and more currency turmoil. People don't listen about how inflation and commodity prices are going to continue to skyrocket. The things I have been talking about for several years are right and they continue to be right. I talk about more and more social unrest and there is going to be more social unrest. Look what is happening in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. I talk about these things, and they turn out to be right, but people do not want to accept them, so unfortunately you have opportunities from this but once everybody thinks the same way, there's no opportunities left. I still see what has been happening, will continue to happen. Eventually everybody will know how to spell commodities. Eventually everybody will know how to find China on a map or even the Pacific Ocean on a map, but in the meantime, that is still years away.
Daily Bell: What do you think of these color revolutions taking place? We think that there is considerable interference by the West and especially America. Comments?
Jim Rogers: Well, as I have said, there is going to be more social unrest and I have been saying this for several years now. You can call it a "color revolution" or whatever you want, but basically when the price of rice and sugar and wheat goes up, people get unhappy. People will put up with a lot of things but eventually they go into the streets and especially when they have had their expectations aroused. The people that revolt are the people that have been led to think that things are going to get better and then their expectations are not met, and that's when they go to the streets. So you are going to see more governments fall, more countries fall.
Daily Bell: You told us last time that the West was not handling the economic crisis (which began in 2008) very well. Are you more or less optimistic now?
Jim Rogers: The situation continues to be bleak, in the US especially. The politicians continue to dole out staggering amounts of money and the people who receive that money think they're better off. But the overall situation is worse. America's debt continues to skyrocket; the money train continues at a high rate, leading to more inflation and higher prices, and to eventually to more currency turmoil and eventually higher interest rates.
Somebody is going to have to take some losses, just as in Europe. The idea that the solution for too much debt and consumption is more debt and more consumption is ludicrous. It's embarrassing. Maybe the Europeans are starting to understand it and maybe they are going to do something about it, or be forced to do something about it, which is more likely.
In Portugal they are saying, they are not going to cut spending, well eventually somebody is going to have to face reality. In China, they realize they have an inflation problem and they are trying to do something about it; let's hope they do. They still have a blocked currency, which in my view, is part of the problem. But to their credit, they do continue to open the currency more and more, every month, every quarter, and they know they have to.
There are serious problems developing in India with their central bank and numerous other countries. Thailand, Australia, Korea, South Korea are all victims of the US central bank and the UK central bank easy-money policies. Staggering amounts of money are flooding into these countries, and there is no way in their power that they can stop this inflation or the subsequent price inflation. The situation continues to get worse for them.
Daily Bell: Bernanke and the Fed – and other central banks – have apparently issued into the world's economy something like US$20 to US$50 TRILLION in loans, pump-priming etc. What happens when the velocity of money increases and all that money starts to circulate?
Jim Rogers: It's already happening; prices are going higher. Now the blame game starts and the government will blame it on draught or crop failure or whatever. Politicians will do and say anything to avoid explaining that inflation is a monetary problem. Their reactions are always the same and it's always astonishing to me. As President Ford said, "there is no problem" – and even if there is, it's not his problem. Well there are always people who are in denial; then the problem gets worse not better.
Daily Bell: Bernanke recently went on the record as saying he was 100 percent certain that he would know when and how to withdraw excess dollars from the world's economy – so that it didn't cause price inflation. Do you believe him?
Jim Rogers: Again, I don't believe in belief, and you can never be 100% sure of anything, but I will go on record as saying, I'm a 100% sure in saying Mr. Bernanke is wrong again.
Daily Bell: Is the stress getting to Bernanke? Is he becoming unbalanced?
Jim Rogers: I don't know that he was ever balanced in the first place. He's never been right about anything. If you go back to the people who have been doing research on Mr. Bernanke's projections and statements, they'll tell you he has never been right about anything. He's always been unbalanced, if you ask me. You might find a time or two when he was right about something, but generally he doesn't have a clue.
Daily Bell: Is Bernanke actually trying to ruin the dollar so that the IMF can usher in a world currency?
Jim Rogers: No, he's not that smart. The IMF is not that smart. They are not smart enough. That's a conspiracy theory that assumes these people could work together. No, he actually believes in what he is doing and he believes he's going to save us all.
Daily Bell: We asked you this before. What will the world look like in 10 years?
Jim Rogers: There will be many different governments and many different political parties and unfortunately more destruction from civil wars and outright wars. The world will still be in a state of turmoil and perhaps it will be much worse. I could be wrong but you should at least examine the possibility that I might be right. What I would encourage everybody to do is to figure out ways to protect themselves. Most people have insurance policies, like fire insurance, car insurance, health insurance and you hope you never have to use them. But I would hope that everybody takes out some kind of insurance policy for their money, in case I might be right and hope that I am dead wrong and then it's unused money. But if I am right, at least it's some protection.
Daily Bell: Any new books or articles in the works?
Jim Rogers: No, I have been interviewed periodically, probably too much. My agent would like me to do an autobiography, but I cannot imagine that the world wants an autobiography of Jim Rogers. I am resisting if nothing else. I am not that interested in doing this, so if I'm not interested I doubt anybody else would be either.
Daily Bell: We'd be interested in such a biography! Any final thoughts?
Jim Rogers: I have a new index, with CITIC, a huge Chinese company, in partnership with BBVA, a huge European bank. The three of us are in it together. It's called, RGREI, Rogers Global Resources Equity Index. It offers diversity of choice for the people wanting to invest in natural resources.
Daily Bell: We'll be sure to check into it. On behalf of all of our readers we thank you for sharing your views with us – and for your important work and great books.
Jim Rogers: Thank you
Jim Rogers is in fine form in this interview. We believe it is easily the best interview we've done with him in the sense that he was unusually frank and forthcoming and made some points that we have never read anywhere else, especially about water and how to invest in it. One can gain a good sense of where he stands on numerous issues and why.
There are several places where he corrects us regarding the phraseology of a question: Once regarding the euro, anyway, and several times regarding questions that he "believed" something. He points out quite rightly that he doesn't "believe" when it comes to investments. He approaches them analytically and "belief" implies emotion, and emotion has no place in his business.
The remonstrations show something specific about the man and his character. Jim Rogers is someone who will patiently sit through interview after interview (he says he's been giving too many of them) and express informed opinions on any one of a number of topics. This generosity can fool you into thinking you are speaking to an amiable, even low-key gent, and not one of the sharpest most successful investors alive today.
We could, perhaps, have removed or softened these interactions somewhat, but we like to carry interviews in an unvarnished form whenever possible. In this case, we think such "pushback" reveals his character and the rigorousness of his thought process. He may appear to be sharing off-the-cuff opinions, but what he is providing is the result of careful consideration and rigorous analysis – and his language is notably precise.
We pointed out last week in an interview with Hans-Hermann Hoppe that what came across strongly to us was the discipline-of-thought that we could sense behind the great libertarian philosopher's answers. We think that same sort of discipline comes across in this interview with Jim Rogers, and more strongly in this interview than before. Notice how he remembers the details of conversations he had with us months ago. The Jim Rogers of this interview is the real Jim Rogers; he doesn't necessarily suffer fools gladly and his comments, visionary as they may be, are the product of diligent analysis and precise language.
There are very few investors of Jim's level of accomplishment who would bother to answer questions regularly from the media, let alone the alternative media. Yet Rogers tirelessly shares his viewpoints, puts up with dumb questions and even when he expresses some reservations about phraseology, continues to make his points, informing us all. He is as kind as he is precise.
We enjoyed not only the results of the interview but the interaction as well. Rogers has a first-rate investment mind; more than that, he is one of a handful of great investors of the late 20th century and in this interview, more even than some others, we think we can see why. We may disagree with some of his analysis and perspectives but it is impossible not to notice the insights and hard thinking that went into them. You can't ask any more from someone in an interview format like this. Thanks, Mr. Rogers!