Could Apple Buy a Third of the World’s Gold? by Frank Holmes
Is there anything Apple can’t do?
First it revolutionized the personal computing business. Then, with the launch of the iPod in 2001, it forced the music industry to change its tune. Against initial market reservations, the company succeeded at making Star Trek-like tablets hip when it released the iPad in 2010. And in Q1 2015, a record 75 million units of its now-ubiquitous iPhone were sold around the globe. The smartphone’s operating system, iOS, currently controls a jaw-dropping 89-percent share of all systems worldwide, pushing the second-place OS, Google’s Android, down to 11 percent from 30 percent just a year ago.
As you might already know, the company that Steve Jobs built—which we own in our All American Equity Fund (GBTFX) and Holmes Macro Trends Fund (MEGAX)—is history’s largest by net capitalization. In its last quarterly report, Apple posted a record $75 billion in revenue and is now sitting pretty on a mind-boggling $180 billionin cash. Many analysts believe the company will reach a jaw-dropping $1 trillion in market cap.
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So what’s Apple’s next trick?
How about moving the world’s gold market?
This April, Apple will be venturing into the latest wearable gadget market, the smartwatch, joining competitors such as Samsung, Garmin and Sony. All of the models in Apple’s stable of watches look sleek and beautifully designed—just what you’d expect from Apple—and will no doubt be capable of performing all sorts of high-tech functions such as receiving text messages, monitoring the wearer’s vitals and, of course, telling time.
But the real story here is that the company’s high-end luxury model, referred to simply as the Apple Watch Edition, will come encased in 18-karat gold.
What should make this news even more exciting to gold investors is that the company expects to produce 1 million units of this particular model per month in the second quarter of 2015 alone, according to the Wall Street Journal.
That’s a lot of gold, if true. It also proves that the Love Trade is alive and well. Apple chose to use gold in its most expensive new model because the metal is revered for its beauty and rarity.
To produce such a great quantity of units, how much of the yellow metal might be needed?
For a ballpark estimate, I turn to Apple news forum TidBITS, which begins with the assumption that each Apple Watch Edition contains two troy ounces of gold. From there:
If Apple makes 1 million Apple Watch Edition units every month, that equals 24 million troy ounces of gold used per year, or roughly 746 metric tons [or tonnes].
That’s enough gold to make even a Bond villain blush, but just how much is it? About 2,500 metric tons of gold are mined per year. If Apple uses 746 metric tons every year, we’re talking about 30 percent of the world’s annual gold production.
To put things in perspective, the Sripuram Golden Temple in India, the world’s largest golden structure, is made from “only” 1.4 million tonnes of the metal.
TidBITS acknowledges that the amount of gold is speculative at this point. But even if each luxury watch contains only one troy ounce, it’s still an unfathomable—perhaps even unprecedented—amount of gold for a single company, even one so large as Apple, to consume.
Ralph Aldis, portfolio manager of our Gold and Precious Metals Fund (USERX) and World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX), likens the idea of Apple buying a third of the world’s gold to China’s voracious consumption of the metal. As I mentioned last week, China is buying more gold right now than the total amount mined worldwide.
“If the estimates of how much gold each watch contains are close to reality, and if Apple’s able to sell as many units as it claims, it really ought to help gold prices move higher,” Ralph says.
But Can Expectations Be Met?
Here’s where this whole discussion could unravel. Although we don’t yet know what the Apple Watch Edition will retail at, it’s safe to predict that it will fall somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000, placing it in the same company as a low-end Rolex.
With that in mind, are Apple’s sales expectations too optimistic?
Possibly. But remember, this is Apple we’re talking about here. Over the years, it has sufficiently proven itself as a company that more-than-delivers on the “if you build it, they will come” philosophy. Steve Jobs aggressively cultivated a business environment that not only encourages but insists on “thinking different”—to use the company’s old slogan—risk-taking and developing must-have gadgets.
“Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted,” says current Apple CEO Tim Cook. “And then once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.”
A perfect case study is the iPhone. When it launched in June 2007, the cell phone market was decidedly crowded. Consumers seemed content with the choices that were already available. Why did we need another phone?
Yet here we are more than eight years later, and as I pointed out earlier, 75 million iPhones were sold in the last quarter alone.
So it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility for Apple to move 1 million $10,000 Apple Watch Editions per month.
Early in January I shared the following chart, which shows various analysts’ Apple Watch shipment forecasts for 2015, ranging from 10 million to 60 million units. Of course, all models are included here, not just the luxury model.
Looking at it now, many of the predictions seem a little understated. After all, Apple hasn’t released a dud product in at least two decades (remember the Newton?). Come April, we’ll see for sure what the demand really is—for the Apple Watch as well as gold.
Global Metals & Mining Conference
Last weekend I attended the BMO Metals & Mining Conference in Hollywood, Florida, along with Ralph, Brian Hicks, a portfolio manager of our Global Resources Fund (PSPFX), and junior analyst Alex Blow.
“Generally speaking, companies have streamlined operations and are focused on shareholder returns,” Brian said.
Alex came away from the conference with renewed conviction that the global climate is conducive for gold, citing central bank easing policies and increasing volatility in world currencies, both of which support the yellow metal’s performance.
“It looks as though gold has technical support and that a bottom has been reached,” he said. “If the eurozone really picks up, gold demand should rise, which would also benefit China since its primary gold export destination is the eurozone.”
Mark Your iCalendar
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- The major market indices finished mixed this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.04 percent. The S&P 500 Stock Index fell 0.27 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite moved higher by 0.15 percent. The Russell 2000 small capitalization index rose 0.12 percent this week.
- The Hang Seng Composite rose 0.28 percent; Taiwan advanced 0.97 percent this week and the Korean KOSPI gained 1.24 percent.
- The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell 12 basis points to 1.99 percent.
Domestic Equity Market
The S&P 500 took a small step back this week as cyclical areas of the market took a breather after a good run in recent weeks. Telecommunication services and consumer staples led the market this week, while energy lagged.
- The telecommunication services sector was the best performer this week, rising almost 1 percent. AT&T and Verizon were the leaders on the back of the contentious net-neutrality ruling. Net neutrality requires internet service providers to act as neutral gateways, very similar to how telecommunication service providers operate.
- The consumer staples sector was also strong as airlines and aircraft-related areas outperformed. Monster Beverage rose by more than 16 percent as the company beat analysts’ estimates. The company is seeing success in rolling out new products and expanding its distribution partnership with Coca-Cola, which also had a good week.
- First Solar was the best performer in the S&P 500 this week, rising by 21.88 percent. The company announced earnings this week, but the real driver was the announced partnership with SunPower to form a “YieldCo” joint venture. This partnership would likely spinout steady cash flow producing parts of the business that would garner a higher valuation than if consolidated within the existing companies.
- The energy sector was the worst performer for the second week in a row as oil prices declined as oil inventories continued to build. The natural gas producers and offshore-related companies were among the worst performers.
- The utilities sector was also a poor performer this week even as weather and bond yields have been moving in the right direction for it. The sector had a very strong run from October through January and is likely just consolidating some of those gains.
- Chesapeake Energy was the worst performing company in the S&P 500 this week, falling 17.83 percent. The company disclosed that its exploration and development budget would outspend cash flow by roughly $2.5 billion over the next two years. This relatively aggressive spending plan raises the risk profile of the company.
- Cyclicals outperformed in February as improving global growth prospects provide a lift. If China and Europe continue to improve, the trend is likely to persist.
- A strong dollar continues to benefit domestic consumers, maintaining an advantage for certain U.S.-focused retailers and consumer products.
- With both ISM manufacturing and employment data out next week, strong results would likely reinforce the recent trend of a self-sustaining economy and would be supportive of market valuations.
- Consumer sentiment indicators were mixed this week and it is a little surprising that the low oil price gasoline “tax cut” is not having a bigger impact on consumer spending patterns.
- An improving global economy and U.S. economic data that supports an improving job market may very well be enough to allow the Fed to raise rates as soon as June.
- Defensive plays should be monitored closely now that yields have turned the corner and investor sentiment is more positive.
The Economy and Bond Market
Intermediate and long-term U.S. Treasury bond yields moved lower this week, while shorter-term treasuries were little changed. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was in front of Congress this week and while the market initially viewed her comments as neutral, other Fed members painted a picture of a more hawkish stance than the market, raising the likelihood of an interest rate increase in the early fall. This is all very interesting, especially given the fact that year-over-year inflation measures went into negative territory in January, which historically is an unusual event. European economic data is improving, even though you may not have guessed that if you listen to the news channels, and China continues to suggest that more easing is on the way. The Fed probably believes that these two things provide a window of opportunity to begin the process to “normalize” interest rates.
- China’s flash purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to a four-month high and crossed back into expansion territory. This is significant for the global growth outlook as China’s economy appears to be improving at the same time Europe is picking up.
- Both eurozone and U.S. inflation are in deflation, and under almost any historical scenario, the Fed would not raise interest rates in such an environment, but we are in uncharted territory.
- European economic data positively surprised again this week; for example, Germany’s Ifo index business confidence survey made a six-month high. Other measures of economic activity have also improved across the continent.
- TJ Maxx announced that it would match Wal-Mart’s pay raises that were announced recently. The Fed likely is closely monitoring wage pressure as a trigger for labor market tightness. This could be one of the reasons for its recent confidence that higher rates are warranted.
- Both new and existing home sales were lackluster in January, which is inconsistent with an improving labor market.
- In an interesting twist, the long end of the yield curve rallied this week even as the consensus interpretation of the Fed was more hawkish. This also occurred in January and it appears that the market believes if the Fed follows through with rate increases, the economy will suffer and increases will be short lived.
- Europe appears to be rapidly improving and may positively surprise in 2015.
- China’s inflation recently hit a five-year low. The central bank recently lowered the reserve requirement for banks (easing policy) and is expected to do more in the near future as inflation remains muted.
- Yields in the U.S. remain the highest in the developed world and funds will likely continue to flow into U.S. fixed income.
- One of the themes from the recent earnings season was that the strong U.S. dollar has negatively impacted companies’ bottom lines and that will likely be the case for the first quarter as well.
- The employment report will be released next Friday. A strong report will reinforce the Fed’s view that the economy is strong enough to handle normalization of interest rates.
- Fed speakers were very active this week in pushing the idea that the Fed would raise interest rates in 2015.
For the week, spot gold closed at $1,212.90 up $10.95 per ounce, or 0.91 percent. Gold stocks, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, gained 3.72 percent. The U.S. Trade-Weighted Dollar Index gained 1.07 percent for the week.
|Feb-24||Europe CPI Core YoY||0.60%||0.60%||0.60%|
|Feb-24||U.S. Consumer Confidence Index||99.5||96.4||102.9|
|Feb-24||HSBC China Manufacturing PMI||49.5||50.1||49.7|
|Feb-25||U.S. New Home Sales||470K||481K||481K|
|Feb-26||Hong Kong Exports YoY||1.30%||2.80%||0.60%|
|Feb-26||U.S. CPI YoY||-0.10%||-0.10%||0.80%|
|Feb-26||U.S. Durable Goods Orders||1.60%||2.80%||-3.40%|
|Feb-26||U.S. Initial Jobless Claims||290K||313K||283K|
|Feb-27||German CPI YoY||-0.30%||0.10%||-0.40%|
|Feb-27||U.S. GDP Annualized QoQ||2.00%||2.20%||2.60%|
|Mar-1||HSBC China Manufacturing PMI||50.1||—||50.1|
|Mar-2||Europe CPI Core YoY||0.60%||—||0.60%|
|Mar-2||U.S. ISM Manufacturing||53||—||53.5|
|Mar-4||U.S. ADP Employment Change||218K||—||213K|
|Mar-5||ECB Main Refinancing Rate||0.05%||—||0.05%|
|Mar-5||U.S. Initial Jobless Claims||295K||—||313K|
|Mar-6||U.S. Change in Nonfarm Payrolls||235K||—||257K|
- Gold rebounded from the lowest level in seven weeks following Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s comments signaling that an interest rate increase isn’t imminent. Analysts are now coalescing around September for an initial rate hike.
- Gold climbed to the highest in a week after Chinese buyers returned from holidays and investors speculated the Fed will continue to keep rates low. Volumes for the Shanghai Gold Exchange’s benchmark spot contract more than doubled on Wednesday as investors in China returned from the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.
- Gold futures bounced back after a government report showed that the U.S. economy expanded at a slower pace than previously estimated in the fourth quarter. The U.S. grew at a 2.2 percent annualized rate, lower than the initial 2.6 percent estimate.
- Gold could be heading for its biggest monthly drop since September. This comes amid concern that U.S. borrowing costs will rise along with the bailout deal reached for Greece curtailing demand for the safe-haven metal.
- The gold and silver fixes, along with other commodity benchmarks, have come under increased scrutiny by regulators in both Europe and the U.S. since a London Interbank Offered Rate manipulation case in 2012. Furthermore, Switzerland’s competition commission WEKO is probing possible manipulation of price fixing in the precious metals market.
- Barclays, HSBC and Deutsche Bank are among at least 10 international banks being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged rigging of the precious metals market. The Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee is claiming that precious metals prices are being heavily manipulated by the big commercial banks in collusion with the U.S. Fed and other central banks.
- Nick Barisheff, CEO of Bullion Management Group, claims that between 2000 and 2015 the U.S. debt and the gold price have had a positive correlation of 93.7 percent. However, since 2012 the relationship has decoupled. To get back to the correlated relationship, the gold price would have to return to around $1,800, implying that gold is undervalued at current levels.
- Orex Minerals announced it has entered into a joint venture with Agnico-Eagle Mines for the development of Orex’s Barsele gold project in Sweden. The proposed joint venture would see Agnico-Eagle earn 55 percent of the project through the payment of $10 million and would also see the company commit to spend $7 million on the project over the next three years. What is interesting is that Orex Minerals has a $30 million market cap, so the $10 million put up by Agnico-Eagle represents about one-third of Orex’s market value. Orex also has three other projects, one which is already in a joint-venture agreement with Fresnillo. The management team at Orex has again proven that it is adept at structuring deals as it had previously arranged for Orko Silver to be sold to First Majestic, only to be outbid by Coeur Mining.
- The recently published 2014 Fraser Institute Survey ranks Finland, Saskatchewan, Nevada, Manitoba, Western Australia, Quebec, Wyoming, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon and Alaska as the top 10 jurisdictions for mining investment.
- That same survey mentioned above also ranked Malaysia, Hungary, Kenya, Honduras, Solomon Islands, Egypt, Guatemala, Bulgaria, Nigeria and Sudan as the least attractive jurisdictions for mining investment.
- The central banks of Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark are now imposing negative interest rates on bank deposits. Analysts at Commonwealth Bank of Australia claim that almost a quarter of worldwide central bank reserves now carry a negative yield. The risk is that negative rates backfire and could result in even lower demand. Additionally, Citigroup said in a report last month that “there are no serious arguments against creating a financial system where nominal rates can be set with equal ease at negative 5 percent as at 5 percent.”
- AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold Mining have been trying unsuccessfully for at least a decade to link pay increases to efficiency gains. They will try again by lobbying for this in the wage negotiations with employees, set to begin in April.
Energy and Natural Resources Market
- Diversified metals and mining companies outperformed this week as global growth prospects continue to improve. The S&P/TSX Capped Diversified Metals and Mining Index rose for the sixth straight week, closing up 4.86 percent.
- Precious metals stocks broke free from their losing streak this week. The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index and the Global X Silver ETF rose 3.73 percent and 2.97 percent, respectively.
- Refining stocks continued their six-week winning streak as the spread between WTI and Brent crude oil continues to aid the companies’ margins. The S&P Supercomposite Oil & Gas Refining & Marketing Index rose 1.53 percent this week.
- Oil and gas drilling stocks fell alongside WTI crude this week. The S&P Supercomposite Oil & Gas Drilling Index fell 8.83 percent.
- Tanker stocks retreated for the second straight week, giving back some of the large gains witnessed at beginning of the month. The Bloomberg News Tanker Index fell 2.66 percent this week.
- Master limited partnership (MLP) stocks fell this week as yields stabilize and grind higher in the U.S. The Alerian MLP Infrastructure Index fell 1.25 percent this week.
- We are witnessing copper supply disruptions in the market. Less than two months into 2015, annualized losses are already at 530,000 metric tonnes, which implies that expected mine-supply growth could be limited to 1.3 percent. Increasing supply problems should be highly supportive of copper prices in the second half of the year, possibly causing the commodity to reach levels of $7,000 per tonne before year end.
- World crude-steel capacity could rise 9 percent to around 2.4 billion tonnes through 2017, while steel consumption growth could remain moderate, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD). In 2013 world steel use was 1.6 billion tonnes, 0.5 billion tonnes below capacity, and implying that excess capacity could widen in coming years. OECD has urged governments to eliminate market-distorting practices like subsidies and other support measures in order to tackle excess capacity.
- New construction starts in the U.S. increased 9.2 percent from the prior month to a seasonally-adjusted $621 billion in January. A rise in non-building construction starts (up 87 percent month-over-month) partially offset declines in the residential (down 10 percent) and non-residential sectors (down 17 percent), according to Market Bulletin.
- The Australian Bureau of Statistics capex expectations survey was released on Thursday. As expected, the survey shows that a 20-percent decline in mining investment looks likely for both this year and next. The net result will be a further slowdown in long-term metals and bulk commodity-supply growth rates.
- A recovery for commodities is entirely dependent on the revival of growth in Europe. It remains to be seen if the recently-announced bond purchasing program will achieve this goal.
- Chinese equities outperformed this week as Premier Li Keqiang called for further fiscal stimulus. Similarly, one central bank publication highlighted the need for further monetary stimulus in the country. The main driver behind China’s recent outperformance relates to speculation surrounding growth that is optimistically centered on the theme of further easing. The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index rose 1.95 percent this week.
- Hungarian stocks have continued to rally tremendously since the official announcement of quantitative easing (QE) by the European Central Bank (ECB) in mid-January. The Budapest Stock Exchange Index rose 1.10 percent this week.
- Greece was able to secure an extension of bailout funds this week, breaking a four-week standoff with German lawmakers. The extension gives Greece’s newly elected government until June to produce an acceptable plan to move forward. The Athens Stock Exchange General Index rose 3.08 percent this week.
- Ukraine’s currency had a tumultuous week after the government implemented various capital controls to prevent severe depreciation. The contracting economy is still awaiting an official injection of liquidity from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has insisted Ukraine devalue its currency, among other reforms. The hyrvnia currency has lost over 40 percent of its value so far this year.
- Russian equities contracted for the second week in a row as Moody’s Investors Service joined Standard & Poor’s in downgrading the country’s debt to junk status. The Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) Index fell 1.88 percent this week.
- Turkish stocks slid this week despite the government cutting all three benchmark interest rates. Investors are primarily concerned over the feud between the central bank and President Erdogan, which is causing many to speculate that the bank will lose autonomy. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index fell 1.57 percent this week.
- Mexico became the first non-European nation to issue debt in the euro currency since the ECB announced its bond purchasing program. Mexico is taking advantage of record low borrowing costs, as its economy recently expanded 2.6 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2014. This is the fastest pace since 2012. Investors are bullish on Mexico due to its strong connection to the U.S. economy, which receives roughly 80 percent of its exports.
- Lower mortgage rates, recovering buyer sentiment and a seasonal pickup in March activity bode well for Chinese property developers. These property developers are still trading at historically distressed valuations, which suggest limited downside. Rising market chatter this week about further policy relaxation on second-home down payments is consistent with authorities’ recent pragmatism towards managing short-term growth risk while promoting long-term structural reform.
- Massive economic stimulus in the eurozone and Japan, as well as additional easing in developed and developing markets, has set the stage for a breakout in global growth. Investors are increasingly more bullish, particularly with respect to India, South Korea, and Indonesia, which have received a combined $14.4 billion in local currency debt.
- Janet Yellen’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee retained the typical “patience language” that investors have witnessed since late last year. However, many are maintaining that the Federal Reserve chairwoman is still open to a summer rate hike, which could be harmful to global growth if enacted too suddenly or severely.
- Brazil’s economy is in dismal shape with companies receiving 27 rating downgrades since the start of 2015. Just this week Petroleo Brasileiro SA was cut to junk status by Moody’s Investors Service, fueling further fear over the state of Brazilian markets.
- Macau gaming revenue trends during the week-long Chinese New Year holidays were unexpectedly weak. This news along with press reports of potentially tighter visa restrictions against mainland Chinese could reduce the probability of any positive catalysts in the near term for the city’s casino operators, thereby weighing on their performance.
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/TSX Canadian Gold Index||182.09||+6.29||+3.58%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,985.80||+24.35||+1.24%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,394.72||+9.54||+0.28%|
|S&P Basic Materials||322.61||-3.18||-0.98%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||1.99||-0.12||-5.68%|
|Natural Gas Futures||2.71||-0.24||-8.03%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||1.99||+0.27||+15.74%|
|S&P Basic Materials||322.61||+26.02||+8.77%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,985.80||+24.22||+1.23%|
|S&P/TSX Canadian Gold Index||182.09||-5.97||-3.17%|
|Natural Gas Futures||2.71||-0.15||-5.30%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,394.72||-332.01||-14.83%|
|S&P/TSX Canadian Gold Index||182.09||+38.73||+27.02%|
|S&P Basic Materials||322.61||+14.58||+4.73%|
|Hang Seng Composite Index||3,394.72||+85.48||+2.58%|
|Korean KOSPI Index||1,985.80||+5.02||+0.25%|
|10-Yr Treasury Bond||1.99||-0.17||-7.94%|
|Natural Gas Futures||2.71||-1.37||-33.61%|
Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by visiting www.usfunds.com or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Distributed by U.S. Global Brokerage, Inc.