Frank Holmes China Holds the Keys to the Gold Market
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China Holds the Keys to the Gold Market
By Frank Holmes
CEO and Chief Investment Officer
U.S. Global Investors
At this year's annual Robin Hood conference, which was held virtually, the founder of the world's largest hedge fund, Ray Dalio, talked about asset bubbles and how investors could detect as well as deal with bubbles in the marketplace. Q1 2021 hedge fund letters, conferences and more Dalio believes that by studying past market cycles Read More
Last year China’s private-sector demand for gold reached a record level of 1,132 tonnes, and according to the World Gold Council (WGC), the Asian nation could easily dominate the gold market once again, as they predict demand growing 20 percent by 2017.
This updated projection from the WGC confirms what I’ve written about previously: China’s love for the precious metal remains robust. We are witnessing this country transform into an economic powerhouse, and now, the world’s largest gold market! I think it’s important for investors to recognize the main drivers behind this tremendous growth.
1. A new middle class has more money to spend.
Despite all the grandiose numbers we see in China’s gold market, the Asian nation hasn’t always been the “golden goose” of the game. The WGC points out in its recent report, China’s Gold Market: Progress and Prospects, that only in the last several years has China seen an emerging middle class supported by higher incomes. Until around 2006 for example, Shenzhen, where 70 percent of the country’s jewelry is fabricated, only had 330,000 residents. This means that 30 years ago, China’s jewelry market and consumer demand for gold, was minimal at best.
Over the last 10 years however, a new middle class has emerged and consumers have been enjoying their new wealth. As GDP began to rise, people started buying more gold jewelry and coins. In addition to increased spending on these items, the investment demand for the yellow metal progressed as the population sought a hedge against inflation.
2. Jewelry is still the top demand driver.
The WGC report also reaffirms the ongoing power of the Love Trade. The Love Trade, one of the two main drivers of gold along with the Fear Trade, relates to the cultural affinity for the precious metal particularly in Asia, India and the Middle East. Consumers continue to purchase gold jewelry and coins year-after-year, and demand rises in synch with gift giving for religious holidays and celebrations.
As you can see in the chart below, since 2004 the volume of gold jewelry consumed in China has tripled. What’s more, China surpassed India as the world’s largest consumer and manufacturer of jewelry in 2013. According to a recent Reuters’ article, gold jewelry sales in India slowed by 10 percent since import restrictions were imposed on the country last year – a likely factor placing China in the top spot.
3. Industrial demand is increasingly important.
Though not nearly as strong as the gold jewelry demand in China, the country’s rise in GDP has also increased industrial demand for gold. The WGC says that electronics are the dominant source of this industrial demand. Gold is used in cellphones, computers, circuit boards and recently the automobile industry has seen an increased demand for the metal.
Gold may seem like an expensive option to choose from to build cellphone parts or airbag connectors in vehicles, but as the report states, “Although manufacturers are always trying to reduce the cost of components and substitute gold with lower cost alternatives, this cannot be done where optimum performance and, especially, safety concerns are to the fore.”
In our slideshow, The Many Uses of Gold, we explain other ways gold is used; not only for industrial needs, but for medical and technological advances as well.
4. China is diversifying away from the U.S. dollar.
When it comes to foreign exchange reserves, China’s totalled $3.8 trillion U.S. dollars in 2013, a sharp increase from the mid-90s as you can see in the chart below. There are several challenges facing the Asian nation’s monetary system too; the multi-currency system which includes the renminbi, yuan and the dollar is no easy task to manage.
But how are China’s foreign exchange reserves and monetary troubles a driver for gold demand?
For starters, according to the WGC, the majority of growth in China’s reserves (implied specifically by the country’s current account surplus) has been in U.S. dollars. China used the dollar to buy American debt securities, but upon the global financial crisis and the start of quantitative easing (QE), China has been pulling away from exposure to the dollar.
In a recent article from Casey Research, Chief Economist Bud Conrad even comments on the decline of the dollar’s reserve status in foreign countries such as China. He says, “In 2000, the dollar accounted for 55 percent of all foreign exchange reserves. In 14 short years, that number has dropped to 33 percent. By 2020, I project, it will drop to 20 percent. At that point, other large economies of the world won’t need dollars nearly as much for international trade.”
I believe that government policy is a precursor to change, so as fiscal and geopolitical challenges rise between the two countries, it’s no wonder China wants to back away from the dollar and thus, diversify to gold. Gold is a hard asset, making it a prime currency choice for China. In regards to gold, the WGC report even states that, “It cannot be created out of thin air at the whim of central banks. Nor can it be manipulated for the benefit of its issuer.”
So what is China up to now?
So perhaps the People’s Bank of China is amping up its gold reserves to diversify away from the U.S., but one question remains. Exactly how much gold does China have?
As Mineweb reported this week, China deemed Beijing as an additional import city for gold, a clear indicator even more of the precious metal will find its way into the country. China does not release any official numbers about its gold imports, so Beijing will be another source of unpublished data. Rather than reporting its own gold traffic, other countries report their gold export data to China. Hong Kong provides insight into China’s gold holdings and in February I wrote how Switzerland released its gold trade data this year for the first time since 1980. Only through these alternate reports can we infer the amount of gold China truly holds.
It’s important to follow the money, or in this case the gold, to see how people around the world react to this rare commodity. Looking forward, stay curious as an investor and you’ll see if China can keep the key to the gold market.No matter the exact amount of gold that China has, this country is a good example that the demand drivers for gold remained the same. People around the world react with concern over government policies that can devalue currencies, thus making gold attractive. Similarly, as economies flourish and people have money, they will spend it on gold. The Love Trade will also continue; consumers will purchase gold as gifts as long as cultural celebrations and religious traditions carry on.
- Major market indices finished lower this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.29 percent. The S&P 500 Stock Index fell 0.08 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite declined 0.49 percent. The Russell 2000 small capitalization index dropped 1.31 percent this week.
- The Hang Seng Composite fell 2.08 percent; Taiwan lost 1.90 percent while the KOSPI declined 1.02 percent.
- The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell 6 basis points to finish the week at 2.67 percent.
Domestic Equity Market
The S&P 500 Index fell 0.81 percent on further concern over Russia/Ukraine tensions and generally uninspiring earnings reports during the week. However, the utilities, health care and energy sectors managed to post positive returns for the week.
- The utility sector was the top performer this week as investors sought lower volatility and higher dividend paying stocks amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine. First Energy Corp, American Electric and NRG Energy led the way with gains of two percent or more.
- The energy sector continued to advance this week, maintaining its leadership among the top sectors in the S&P 500 Index. Strong individual performers included Diamond Offshore, Cabot Oil & Gas and Peabody Energy.
- Allergan Inc. was the best performer in the S&P 500 rising 25 percent this week on the heels of the takeover offer from Valeant Pharmaceuticals and Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square hedge fund.
- The telecom sector was the worst performer this week, and was led lower by AT&T. Despite reporting better-than-expected first quarter results, analysts raised concern over profit margin deterioration in 2014.
- Basic materials posted the second worst returns during the week, due in part to profit taking. The materials sector had been an outperformer previously.
- Intuitive Surgical was the worst performer in the S&P 500 for the third week in a row, falling 11 percent. The company announced that sales of its robotic surgery systems fell sharply in the first quarter, coming up well short of expectations. Once again, this week’s move appears to be continued fallout from that news.
- The current macro environment remains positive as economic data remains robust enough to give investors confidence in an economic recovery but not too strong as to force the Fed to aggressively change course in the near term.
- The selloff in high quality companies offers an opportunity to pick up companies with robust fundamentals at attractive prices.
- Quarterly earnings reports were generally well received by the market this week, which is good news considering expectations had lowered considerably going into earnings season.
- A short-term market consolidation period after such strong performance cannot be ruled out.
- Higher interest rates are a threat for the whole economy. The Fed must walk a fine line and the potential for policy error is potentially large.
The Economy and Bond Market
Treasury bond yields declined this week, pushing the benchmark 10-year yield towards established support levels near 2.6 percent, as unrest between Russia and Ukraine led investors to safer government securities.
- The University of Michigan consumer confidence index jumped to 84.1 in April from 80.0 in March. This was the highest reading since July 2013.
- Orders for durable goods increased 2.6 percent in March, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was the second consecutive month of growth, after declines in December and January. Factory orders for long-lasting goods last month rose by the highest amount since last fall, signaling a brightening outlook for manufacturing and the U.S. economy.
- The initial or “flash” Markit PMI for the U.S. fell slightly to 55.4 in April from 55.5 in March. However, readings over 50 in the purchasing managers’ index indicate growth. Also, readings for new orders and exports improved, and production in April rose to its fastest pace since March 2011.
- Existing-home sales fell 0.2 percent from February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, the National Association of Realtors said Tuesday. Sales were down 7.5 percent in March from a year earlier and were at their slowest pace since July 2012.
- The Commerce Department said on Wednesday new U.S. single-family home sales dropped 14.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000 units, declining for a second consecutive month and the lowest level in eight months.
- Initial U.S. jobless claims rose 7.9 percent to 329,000 for the week ending April 19, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday. The gain likely reflected temporary layoffs in the week before Easter.
- The Fed has reiterated its intention to not raise interest rates before economic data supports that decision, not based on a timeline.
- The President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, suggested the ECB may ease monetary policy in response to the strong euro.
- There are many moving parts to the taper decision and while the Fed began the process, it is very possible that tapering could be delayed if the economy stumbles.
- In addition to the inherent difficulties in exiting the QE program and the potential for a misstep, there is also the potential for miscommunication from the Fed with the recent change in Fed leadership.
- Trade and/or currency “wars” cannot be ruled out which may cause unintended consequences and volatility in the financial markets.
- China remains a wildcard for economic recovery and the economy has shown some cracks in recent months. This is similar to how last year started and China found its footing, something similar needs to happen this time around.
For the week, spot gold closed at $1,302.54, up $7.01 per ounce, or 0.54 percent. Gold stocks, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, rose 3.26 percent. The U.S. Trade-Weighted Dollar Index fell 0.08 percent for the week.
- Gold rebounded towards the end of the week to $1,302.54 per ounce, as conflicts in Ukraine continue and traders bet that prices will rise amid quickening inflation. Gold sales in Japan more than doubled in the first quarter, ahead of the consumption tax hike that is expected to fuel inflation. Platinum also posted strong performance this week as companies and labor unions in South Africa failed to reach a deal that would end a 13-week-long strike.
- Signs that inflation has likely bottomed are now showing up everywhere and should stoke inflation expectations in support of gold. The Federal Reserve’s M2 money supply growth is running at an annualized rate of 8 percent, a multiple of gold’s long-term supply growth of around 2 percent, annually. Similarly, U.S. bank loans have accelerated to levels not seen since 2007, with commercial and industrial loans rising at a 16.1 percent rate over the past 18 weeks. Similarly, average hourly earnings for American workers now run consistently above a 2 percent annual growth rate.
- Canaccord Genuity reports an insider trading trend that is predominantly positive for junior gold mining stocks this year. This type of trading underpins confidence that the companies are undervalued. Two noteworthy companies with insider buying are Pilot Gold and Klondex Mines. This week, Pilot Gold reported additional high-grade mineralization intercepts at its Kinsley Mountain project. Klondex announced its entry into a toll milling agreement with a California-based producer, expecting to bring in additional cash flow as well as optimization to its Midas mill utilization. Klondex is also expected to release its Fire Creek Preliminary Economic Assessment shortly, which M-Partners’ analysts expect will show very robust economics and begin to close the company’s valuation gap to its peers.
- Gold ETF investors have been sellers in April, as monthly outflows reach 516,000 ounces. Outflow days have outnumbered inflow days by a 2:1 ratio. According to UBS, this trading action contrasts with buying during February and March of 261,000 and 463,000 ounces, respectively. On the positive side, April selling is just shy of the inflows recorded in the prior two months, leading UBS analysts to believe the bulk of the selling is now done.
- Bloomberg reports that at least 40 unlawful prospectors have died in South Africa this year due to mines collapsing, workers dealing with poisonous gases, and gangs waging turf wars underground. The South African government estimates 14,000 people are now involved in illegal mining, which has aided the creation of a complex criminal industry. Legal operators are also falling victim to these illegal operators who steal equipment and mine on their prospective land.
- Turkey and Russia both cut gold holdings in March after increases during the previous month, according to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Bullion holdings by central banks are closely watched since the group became net buyers in 2010, after two decades as net sellers. This selling highlights gold’s role as a backstop in times of crisis, with Russia likely swapping gold for foreign currency amid the threat of western sanctions.
- Newmont Mining and Barrick Gold reportedly held advanced-stage merger talks to bring together the world’s two largest gold miners. The negotiations called for a newly-merged company chaired by Thornton of Barrick Gold to hold the combined Nevada assets, along with other American assets. Additionally the negotiations called for a spin-off company (Spinco) to hold African and Pacific assets and chaired by Newmont’s Calarco. Interestingly, the proposed Spinco would hold nearly one third of the combined company’s production, making it the fifth-largest gold producer. Although negotiations have reportedly been halted, the transaction could add much needed dynamism to the gold sector by helping boost the merger and acquisition (M&A) space, along with refocusing the strategies of the global producers. On that note, Goldcorp has rescinded its Osisko offer in favor of the combined Agnico-Yamana bid, leaving it in a healthy position to pursue other M&A transactions this year. Potential acquisition candidates include Pretium Resources and Detour Gold.
- A study of gold forward rates and the investment cycle, signals that gold is at a major multi-year low, according to Ian Williams, CEO of Charteris Treasury Portfolio Managers. Williams asserts that inventories are falling rapidly at a time when replacement cost is $1,500 an ounce. In such an environment, it is clearly not possible for gold to trade below replacement cost for very long. Not surprisingly, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority is considering adding bullion to its list of eligible investments for investors saving up for retirement. This move could give a boost to institutional and retail gold demand.
- RBC analysts upgraded Agnico Eagle to “outperform” following the pullback from the combined bid offer for Osisko. The analysts argue that in addition to the overall transaction being accretive to Agnico, the company deserves a premium over its peers. They note its strong 13-percent annual growth profile, its highly diversified and high-quality asset portfolio, along with its ability to generate substantial free cash flow at current prices. On a related note, Solitario Exploration and Royalty engaged SRK to complete a Technical Resource Report on its Bongara Zinc project in Peru. The Bongara deposit is undergoing an advanced technical evaluation by Votorantim, the Brazilian conglomerate, which will carry Solitario to production upon a positive Feasibility Study.
- China added Beijing as its third mainland gold import point, in a move that would help keep purchases secret if China (the world’s top buyer) opted to boost its official reserves. China does not release its gold trade data, leaving Hong Kong’s net export data to Shenzhen as the only reliable indicator of Chinese gold imports. The new import channel will aid China in increasing its gold purchases in a discreet manner, but may also relieve some of the pressure seen in Hong Kong as it funneled gold to satisfy China’s strong consumer demand.
- Gold fell to a 10-week low before recovering mid-week, as markets were concerned that a weaker Chinese yuan may force supply out of China. The weakness in the Asian currency mounted concerns that investors would be forced to unwind the 1,000 tonnes of the metal allegedly pledged as collateral for loans. However, the assumption that 1,000 tonnes are at risk of liquidation is likely overstated. A large portion likely ended up in the vaults of the central bank, with many more tonnes locked in commercial bank’s balance sheets under consumer gold-accumulation plans.
- The Chilean mining sector has raised concerns over the government’s proposed abolition of the DL600 tax provision that allowed firms with projects over $50 million to receive a negotiated, 10-year fixed corporate tax rate. According to Sonami, the private sector mining society, foreign miners have invested over $50 billion into the country over the past 30 years, largely incentivized by the DL600 provision. The abolition will make it increasingly difficult for miners to justify investments in the country at a time when production costs are challenging, and the permitting landscape is not clear.
Energy and Natural Resources Market
- According to Citigroup, Inc., commodities outperformed equities and bonds in the first quarter, taking the pole position among major asset classes for the first time since the first half of 2008.
- Copper hit a seven-week high on firm demand from China. The London Metals Exchange (LME) three-month copper contract rose to $6,753 per metric tonne ($3.06/lb) on April 24, the highest level sinceMarch 7.
- Nickel continued to outperform the rest of the base metals complex as the Indonesia ban started to lower stockpiles in China. The price of nickel on the LME exchange made another 52-week high to approximately $8.35 a pound ($18,400/metric tonne).
- Wheat rose for a fourth day this week on further concern over escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, which could disrupt supplies from the Black Sea region.
- China’s stock markets weakened this week after a survey showed manufacturing activity in the world’s second-biggest economy was still contracting in April, while the Australian dollar tumbled to a two-week low after data showed surprisingly low inflation.
- The price of West Texas Crude oil declined this week, ending its prior three-week winning streak, partially due to rising U.S. inventories.
- Natural gas futures declined late in the week following a larger-than-expected U.S. stockpile increase, and forecasts for mild weather that would soften demand.
- China will soon start construction on a series of major energy projects, including nuclear and hydropower plants, Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday, highlighting an infrastructure build-out that could help bolster the slowing economy.
- The government of Niger, the world’s fourth-largest uranium producer, is on the verge of renewing an agreement with French state-controlled nuclear group Areva. France obtains 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, and Niger accounts for more than a third of Areva’s uranium production.
- China’s state stockpiler has bought at least 200,000 tonnes of imported copper stored in bonded warehouses after global copper prices dived to multi-year lows in March, said four sources with knowledge of the matter. Further purchases by China’s State Reserves Bureau (SRB) could help absorb the small surplus forecast to weigh on the global refined copper market this year and help support prices that have already dropped nearly 10 percent so far this year.
- China will raise its natural gas supply to as much as 420 billion cubic meters per year by 2020 amid rising demand due to urbanization, a government statement said on Wednesday. The supply increase is also driven by the nation’s efforts to mitigate air pollution stemming from an over-reliance on coal, the statement said.
- Violence, riots and human rights abuses could increase globally as soaring food price rises weigh on the developing world, according to the latest predictions. Warning of further unrest, experts at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) said food prices climbed by 3.4 percent in the first three months of this year, compared with the previous quarter, and the global price of grains, sugar and other farm commodities rose at their fastest rates in 18 months. Irene Mia, the EIU’s regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, said, “Recent history and many studies tell us lack of food, linked to spiraling food prices, is correlated with a rise in communal violence, riots, human rights abuses and civil conflicts in low-income countries, together with a substantial deterioration of democratic institutions.”
- A report by Erste Group shows European Union (EU) membership has had an overall positive impact on the development and wealth of Eastern European economies; incomes have increased substantially, converging towards their Western peers. The evidence shows that GDP per capita (in euro terms) has more than doubled in Slovakia and Poland since EU membership. In the Czech Republic, the increase has been about 70 percent, but is significantly lower in Hungary at only about 36 percent. Regardless, this growth is still high enough to outpace the old EU, 15-member block, which grew 20 percent over the same period.
- Business activity in the Eurozone has seen growth accelerating in April, with composite flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbing to a 35-month high of 54 from 53.1 in March. Manufacturing PMI increased to 53.3 from 53 and services to 53.1 from 52.2. The eurozone PMI has now been above the 50, no-change level for 10-consecutive months, signaling a continuous expansion of business activity since last July.
- Singapore’s industrial production grew by a much faster-than-expected 12.1 percent year-over-year in March, driven by a 16.4 percent rise in biomedical output and 29.4 percent surge in marine transport and engineering output.
- China’s Flash HSBC Manufacturing PMI came right in line with market expectations at 48.3 in April. Despite a slight improvement from March’s 48 reading, trends in both new export orders and employment deteriorated.
- Greece’s current account deficit widened to 709 million euros in February from a year ago, attributable mainly to an increase in the income account deficit, and more specifically to higher net interest payments on the EFSF and IMF loans. The merchandise trade deficit also widened, which was offset by a widening surplus in the services trade.
- The Hungarian forint capped the biggest weekly drop in three months, after the central bank said it will turn its benchmark two-week bill into a deposit facility. This would be open only to Hungary-based investors to encourage the purchases of more government securities and help cut Hungary’s reliance on external funding. The move highlights a negative aspect of currency weakness, as it threatens the country’s ability to raise financing.
- Although Chinese outbound travel rose a compounded 16 percent per annum from 1994 to 2012, the number of Chinese traveling overseas represents a mere 6 percent of the country’s total population. The 6 percent is versus 15 percent in Japan, 28 percent in South Korea, and 45 percent in Taiwan. Significant growth potential of Chinese tourists overseas should be a favorable long-term driver for casino operators in neighboring Macau and South Korea.
- A potential exclusion of Russia from the MSCI Emerging Europe Index would likely boost Poland and Turkey’s weighting. A study performed by Wood & Co. shows Poland’s weighting would more than double to 39.1 percent, and Turkey’s would rise to 37.2 percent from 17.6 percent. The implications for the two countries are important, since passive MSCI tracking funds will likely buy stocks in these two markets to reflect the new weightings.
- The staff of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) endorsed a $17 billion loan to Ukraine to help the government pay its debts amid a projected economic contraction of 5 percent this year. The IMF loan is expected to clear the way for additional aid from the EU, the U.S. and other donors at a time of escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
- Tensions between the West and Russia are no longer de-escalating. A BCA Research report argues that the Geneva accord concluded April 17 was a strategic error by the U.S. and Kiev. It put Kiev into an undesirable situation of having to guarantee the disarming of nationalist militias in the West and of relying on Russia to do the same with the separatists in the East.
- Russia’s central bank surprisingly raised its benchmark interest rate after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s debt for the first time in six years. The rate hike and downgrade could not have come at a worse time; Finance Minister Anton Siluanov’s commented that GDP may not grow at all this year, despite the anemic 1.3 percent growth in 2013, the slowest pace in four years. Similarly, policy makers said in the statement that the probability of inflation exceeding the 5 percent target at the end of 2014 has increased substantially.
- Volatility in Hong Kong-traded Chinese equities may increase going forward because of the overhang associated with potentially rising debt defaults, with the maturity schedule for wealth management products peaking in the second half of this year and no consistent government policy solutions in sight.
Leaders and Laggards
The tables show the weekly, monthly and quarterly performance statistics of major equity and commodity market benchmarks of our family of funds.
|S&P Basic Materials||297.27||-2.23||-0.74%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,085.91||-65.48||-2.08%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,971.66||-20.39||-1.02%|
|S&P/TSX Canadian Gold Index||187.26||+7.11||+3.95%|
|Natural Gas Futures||4.64||-0.10||-2.11%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||2.67||-0.06||-2.09%|
|S&P Basic Materials||297.27||-1.26||-0.42%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,085.91||-332.01||-14.83%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,971.66||+30.41||+1.57%|
|S&P/TSX Canadian Gold Index||187.26||-2.86||-1.50%|
|Natural Gas Futures||4.64||+0.23||+5.21%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||2.67||-0.08||-3.06%|
|S&P Basic Materials||297.27||+20.53||+7.42%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,085.91||-44.24||-1.41%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,971.66||+31.10||+1.60%|
|S&P/TSX Canadian Gold Index||187.26||+4.78||+2.62%|
|Natural Gas Futures||4.64||-0.54||-10.44%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||2.67||-0.05||-1.88%|