- August 16, 2012
- Evaluating the Wisdom of Buying Gold
At the end of January 2008, I posted a discussion about how the book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki could explain gold’s price climb. The book’s premise was basically that “large groups of people are smarter than an elite few.”
Even before the height of the global crisis, there was a “wise crowd” of institutional and individual investors who had been buying gold as a safe haven from currency risks and the trillions of dollars invested in derivatives, and as a way to recycle petrodollars.
It’s amazing to see the rise of gold since that initial post. On the day of the initial post, the metal was $925; now it’s a little over $1,600. This means that a hypothetical $10,000 investment in gold bullion at the beginning of 2008 in gold would have grown to $17,500 today.
Are the gold buyers still “wise” according to Surowiecki’s book—or have they become “groupthinkers”? Below are excerpts from the original post that helps distinguish between the two:
Crowd wisdom is not to be confused with “groupthink,” in which members of a group prize consensus and to get it, they suppress any contrary viewpoints to avoid conflict. Groupthink often leads to ill-considered decisions.
European central bankers selling so much of their gold at low prices is an example of groupthink, as is the media’s reluctance to accept gold as an asset class. When I’m asked to talk about gold on TV, the questions usually come from the perspective that gold has gone up and now it’s time for it to fall.
Back in the 1800s, Charles Mackay wrote a book called “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” in which he discusses Europe’s famous tulip frenzy in the 1600s (one bulb sold in Holland for 40 times the country’s average family income) and other irrational market behavior that creates speculative bubbles.
Despite the assertions of some, today’s gold is not the tulip of 400 years ago. While there are many who believe in gold, not everyone is believing and buying. What we’re seeing in the market is not a bubble-blowing frenzy fueled by crowd madness. Below is Kitco’s chart of gold in 1980—in January of that year, the price went up 40 percent in seven trading days to its peak and over the next five days nearly all of that gain was lost. Now that was a bubble.
Back to The Wisdom of Crowds, the following are the four interlocking factors that create the “wise crowd,” as identified by the book.
Diversity of opinion: There are many plausible ways to explain why gold is an attractive investment in the current environment: gold’s positive correlation to the price of oil, its inverse relationship to the dollar, rising wealth and demand in emerging markets, the unknown depth of the escalating derivative crisis, prospects of a U.S. recession, and more. Then there’s the question of whether to buy bullion, gold stocks, gold funds and gold ETFs. With so many variables, investors can believe in gold and still have differences of opinion on the “why” and the “how.”
Independence: Believing in gold does not derive from a fixed formula and it is not a managed process. Investors acting in their own best interests take in what they see as relevant information from a variety of sources and analyze it to arrive at an individual viewpoint that they can act on. This independence minimizes the chances of crowd madness.
Decentralization: One doesn’t have to show up at a designated place to get information about gold or to buy it. Gold believers are scattered around the world, and along with the readily available information in print and online, they can make local observations that add to their knowledge base. Someone in Nevada can note that a local gold mine is hiring more workers, while someone else in Mumbai can see if more people are patronizing the local gold jewelry shops.
Aggregation: Once information is gathered and analyzed by a wide range of self-interested investors located across the continents, global markets present a venue for both believers and non-believers to act. So do local gold-coin shops and jewelers.
Four years ago the activity in gold fit well with these factors. I believe they remain true today.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility.
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- August 13, 2012
- Which Way Will the Pendulum Swing for Gold?
One of the most fascinating aspects when watching a sporting event like the Olympics is the historical statistics highlighting the tremendous advances in athleticism over the years. In the spirit of the events this summer, BTN Research compared gold’s advancement from the beginning of the games in Beijing to the London Olympics.
On the day of China’s auspicious opening ceremonies on August 8, 2008, gold was $857.80 an ounce. By the time the world watched the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, the precious metal had climbed to $1,617.90 an ounce. This represents a remarkable increase of 89 percent in four years.
Athletes are often asked if they can keep improving their outstanding performance; I’m asked if gold can continue climbing. As I like to remind investors, gold isn’t always on an upward path. When looking at the average monthly returns over the past decade, you can see that short-term setbacks are normal throughout the year. The yellow metal has historically declined in value in March and June; gold stocks see much greater fluctuations from month-to-month.
So while gold has its monthly ups and downs, you can see that, on a historical basis, we have arrived at gold’s peak performance period of the year. Based on 10 years of data, gold bullion has historically increased 2 percent in August and 4 percent in September.
Gold stocks, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold BUGS Index (HUI), have historically performed even better in these two months. Over the past 10 years, gold companies have climbed 8 percent and almost 3 percent in August and September, respectively.
Since the beginning of August, gold and gold stocks are already following their historical pattern, as we’ve seen just a hint of an increase in the price of gold, but a significant bounce in gold companies.
Spot gold has only climbed 0.4 percent, compared to the HUI, which has increased about 5 percent since August 1. This boost in gold stocks helps to close the gap between gold companies and their underlying commodity, as I discussed last week. I indicated that the disparities meant that the cheapest resources are not found in the ground—they’re listed.
Since then, it was announced that Endeavor Mining would purchase Canada’s Avion Gold Corporation in an effort to consolidate the West African gold space. This acquisition represented a 56.4 percent premium to the trading day prior to the announcement and illustrates how extremely undervalued gold companies have been.
Beaten-down gold stocks are an incredible fundamental bargain,” says Adam Hamilton from Zeal Intelligence. His research indicates that gold companies are “super-cheap” relative to not only the price of gold, but also on a price-to-earnings basis. When he weighted the price-to-earnings ratios of the stocks in the HUI by market capitalization, he found that gold stocks are at the lowest levels than they have been during gold’s entire bull market. Gold companies are also cheaper than the overall stock market, as “a dollar of gold-stock profits costs investors $12, but the same dollar is going for $18 in the general markets,” according to Zeal’s research.
Hamilton says, “Like the rest of the markets, sentiment flows and ebbs in the gold stocks. Sometimes investors love them and bid them up to dizzying heights as greed reigns. But then the great sentiment pendulum starts swinging towards the opposite extreme of fear. And gold stocks are crushed to ridiculous unsustainable lows like we saw last month. Realize neither excessive greed nor excessive fear can persist for long.”
There is a caveat for gold stock investors in the short-term, though. As Investor Alert readers know, I frequently look at presidential cycle trends to determine where stocks may be heading. From 1984 through 2008, the performance of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange Gold and Silver Index (XAU) has historically been weak during the year of a presidential election. The silver lining is that the year following the election, the XAU has historically bounced back.
So which way will the pendulum swing this fall for gold and gold stocks? The market may wait to see the policy actions by the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank. Credit Suisse thinks it will likely “be critical in determining the path of the U.S. dollar and equities, and by association, gold.”
If the market sees progress on structural and fiscal reforms from Europe and additional easing from the Fed, these actions would have the “potential to be powerfully bullish for equities” and might “drive renewed investor enthusiasm for gold that could see the metal trade up to and beyond the $1,700 mark,” says Credit Suisse.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. The following securities mentioned were held by one or more of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 6/30/12: Endeavor Mining Corp., Avion Gold Corp.
The NYSE Arca Gold BUGS (Basket of Unhedged Gold Stocks) Index (HUI) is a modified equal dollar weighted index of companies involved in gold mining. The HUI Index was designed to provide significant exposure to near term movements in gold prices by including companies that do not hedge their gold production beyond 1.5 years. The Philadelphia Stock Exchange Gold and Silver Index (XAU) is a capitalization-weighted index that includes the leading companies involved in the mining of gold and silver.
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- August 6, 2012
- The Race for Resources
The world watched in awe as American swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time. I’ve read he’s been training in the pool for an average of 6 hours a day, 6 days per week, which equates to about 30,000 hours since age 13 and about 10,000 calories burned during a training day. It’s inspiring to see the incredible results of his tremendous sacrifice and commitment.
Investing in global markets requires the same sort of stamina, especially at times like this week, when the month’s reading on the manufacturing industry was not encouraging. The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI of 48.4 for July was the lowest since June 2009.
However, I believe there are encouraging pockets of strength to energize and inspire investors.
For example, we’re coming up on the anniversary of the first stimulus move that kicked off the global easing cycle. On August 31, 2011, Brazil unexpectedly cut rates by 50 basis points, and since then, ISI says 228 stimulative monetary and fiscal policy moves have been initiated across several countries, including the Philippines, China, France, and Colombia.
In June and July alone, there were nearly 70 moves—the most since the world began this massive easing.
Generally, by the time central banks make a fiscal or monetary easing move, economic deterioration has already occurred. Even with these moves, it still takes several months for the stimulative measures to take effect and work their way through.
But while the world wades in the shallow end of the pool waiting for the economy to warm up, Asia has taken a deep dive into the energy space as they’ve recently announced acquisitions of Canadian resources companies.
In my presentations, I’ve discussed how resources companies have significantly underperformed their underlying commodities. During 2009 and most of 2010, the performance between oil and the S&P 500 Oil & Gas Exploration and Production Index was closely correlated. By the middle of 2011, oil and oil stocks started to separate, with crude continuing to rise while stocks deteriorated. Even with the recent drop in oil prices, oil stocks have continued to lag.
I’ve also discussed the strikingly similar trend occurring between gold and gold stocks. There’s been a spectacular pop in gold stocks recently, but it hasn’t been enough to catch up to gold’s performance.
The disparities mean that the cheapest resources are not found in the ground—they’re listed, and it’s been confirmed by recent energy company acquisitions.
Chinese oil company CNOOC put in a bid of $15 billion to purchase Canada’s Nexen. This was at a 61 percent premium to Nexen’s share price on July 20, according to Bloomberg. As you can see below, not only did the takeout announcement close the gap, now the company is outperforming the price of oil.
If CNOOC’s deal is approved, the state-run oil giant gets even bigger, gaining access to significant energy stores in several areas of the world, including Canada, the Gulf of Mexico, Colombia and West Africa, as shown below.
With a rapidly growing middle class and rising urbanization, Chinese leaders know they need to fill their country’s tremendous energy demands and are continually finding innovative ways to keep their country powered. CNOOC’s acquisition is one way China continues to acquire not only the resources needed to power the country, but also the technological innovations that come from countries with free markets and lower barriers to entry. According to The New York Times, China “has been garnering advanced production technologies to better draw oil and gas from nontraditional areas like deepwater fields and hardened rock formations.”
The other announcement came from Malaysia’s state-owned and natural-gas giant Petronas, which will purchase Canada’s Progress Energy Resources Corp. Petronas is one of the largest producers and shippers of supercooled LNG fuel in the world. According to the Vancouver Sun, the company is “anxious to increase its market share in Asia, where analysts expect demand to surge 75 percent by the end of the decade.”
After Petronas’ original bid was announced, Progress increased 74 percent—a record gain for the company, says Bloomberg. As shown below, Progress now dramatically outperforms the underlying commodity.
Ready to be a Buyer like Asia?
If you’re contrarian investor, there may be an additional reason to jump into the market today. According to research from J.P. Morgan, institutional investors have become extremely negative, as hedge funds “essentially short the market,” meaning that their expectation is that stocks will fall.
J.P. Morgan looked at the rolling 21-day beta of macro fund returns compared to the S&P 500 Index returns and found that the ratio is at an extreme level of -0.26. Research shows that the last two times the ratio fell this low—in September 2010 and February 2012—stocks rallied. In 2010, the S&P 500 climbed 26 percent in five months; in 2012, stocks rose 8 percent in two months.
These signs the market is sending out make it an especially attractive time to “mine” for investment opportunity. In July, we began to see energy stocks and oil get recharged, as the energy sector in the S&P 500 was the second best performer, increasing 4.17 percent and crude oil rose 3.68 percent. Unlike the start of an Olympic race, in investing, there isn’t a signal sounded to let you know when to dive off the starting block into the markets. Just make sure your portfolio is poised to participate in the race for resources.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.
The J.P. Morgan Global Purchasing Manager’s Index is an indicator of the economic health of the global manufacturing sector. The PMI index is based on five major indicators: new orders, inventory levels, production, supplier deliveries and the employment environment. The S&P 500 Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Index is a capitalization-weighted Index. The index is comprised of six stocks whose primary function is exploring for natural gas and oil resources on land or at sea. The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index is a modified market capitalization weighted index comprised of publicly traded companies involved primarily in the mining for gold and silver. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies.
The following securities mentioned were held by one or more of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 6/30/12: CNOOC, Progress Energy.
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- July 30, 2012
- Challenging the Paradigms of Investing
It was an exciting and educational week. I was in Vancouver at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium speaking to hundreds of investors who are eager to learn how to grow and protect their wealth. This year’s theme, “Innovate or Die,” fit well with my presentation, as the conference challenged attendees to adapt their investment strategies just as empires and enterprises adjust to changing circumstances.
When I wasn’t behind the podium, I sat with the audience, soaking up new ideas from speakers, including Gloom Boom & Doom Editor Marc Faber, historian Niall Ferguson and Editor of Outstanding Investments Byron King, who surprised me and challenged my current way of thinking.
Back at the office, our analysts and portfolio managers continue their daily meetings as always to discuss and digest the mountains of research that cross our desks each day. We question what we read, analyze statistics and hypothesize on what we see happening across the global economy. As much as emotions and biases take a role in investing, our goal is to make decisions not based on groupthink that discourages creativity, but founded on a collective wisdom that encourages critical evaluation of the economy and markets.
Global investors constantly need to be watchful of individual biases, impaired thinking and emotional reactions that can have an adverse effect on a portfolio. That’s why we created this weekly Investor Alert which thousands of readers have come to rely on. One of our values at U.S. Global Investors is to always be curious to learn and improve, and the Investor Alert was borne from a belief that shareholders want to understand the very subtle nuances of biases and misconceptions.
My presentation attempted to address a few cognitive dissonances I see in the markets these days and I was pleased to have several attendees approach me afterward, remarking how they thought differently after seeing the slides.
As much as I’d love to share all of the visuals here, in the interest of space, I selected only a few that I believe challenge the paradigms of investing.
1. For all the hype over recent tech initial public offerings, did you know that investors have lost more money in Groupon and Facebook than the entire assets in all of the gold funds? With the endless coverage leading up to Groupon and Facebook’s IPO, the stocks appeared to be positioned to the public as a mainstream investment. However, I believe people were unaware of the risks involved when they purchased shares.
As you can see below, since its price peak on November 4 through July 26, Groupon has lost $15 billion in market capitalization. Facebook has lost even more in dollar value in a shorter amount of time: From its intraday high on May 18 through July 26, the market cap of the company has dropped $34 billion. These losses pale in comparison to all the money invested in gold funds in the U.S. combined.
2. Did you know that the overall market has historically been more volatile than gold? Take a look at the rolling 1-, 3- and 12-month volatility for the S&P 500 Index, Bank of America stock, gold bullion and gold equities. As with any investment, price action over the short term can rise and fall, but what surprises many investors is that gold has had less rolling volatility than the overall market, gold stocks and a big bank stock like Bank of America (BAC). In fact, looking over the past five years, BAC has seen more volatility than gold, the overall market and gold stocks!
Volatility Based on the Past Five Years Rolling
Bank of America (BAC) 19.83% 37.98% 59.02% S&P 500 Index (SPX) 5.98% 10.40% 21.97% Gold Bullion (GOLDS) 5.76% 8.70% 14.16% Gold Stocks (GDX) 11.81% 18.41% 33.40% Source: Bloomberg and U.S. Global Investors, as of 7/26/12
3. While Warren Buffett bashed gold, did you know that Berkshire Hathaway has underperformed the metal over the last 10 years? Gold has been on an incredible bull run over the past decade, and while Berkshire Hathaway kept pace for the first six years, it has struggled to maintain gold’s rise since 2006. In his last shareholder letter, Buffett dismissed gold, comparing the rise of the yellow metal to the tulip mania in the 1600s and claiming that gold only “enjoys maximum popularity at peaks of fear.”
As long as I’ve been in this business, there have been naysayers who question the inclusion of gold in portfolios. However, because the precious metal typically is not highly correlated with other financial assets, holding a small allocation—5 to 10 percent—in a traditional portfolio of stocks and bonds has historically added diversification and reduced volatility.
4. In today’s low yield environment, did you know that inflation causes investors of Treasuries to lose money? Treasuries are seen as a “safe haven” investment, but as of the middle of July, the 10-Year Treasury had fallen to less than 1.5 percent. Yet inflation burns off at a rate of 1.7 percent. This leaves investors with a loss of about 0.2 percent. I believe better opportunities exist.
As I’ve discussed recently, there are plenty of dividend-paying resources stocks with yields much higher than the 10-year Treasury, as well as municipal bond funds that have a higher 30-day SEC yield on a tax-equivalent basis than long-term Treasuries.
Always Be Surprised
Among the millions of people around the world who will watch London’s Olympics, many will stay glued to their flat screens to see firsthand the element of surprise. We want to see the rising star who was considered the underdog, the athlete who takes a record number of gold medals or the team that pulls off an unexpected win. These are memorable moments in the making, like track and field star Jesse Owens, who changed history when he overcame adversity and infuriated the Nazis when he won four gold medals during the 1936 Games. Just like the Olympics, I encourage investors to always stay curious and watchful because you never know where the market’s opportunities will be.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor. The S&P 500 Stock Index is a widely recognized capitalization-weighted index of 500 common stock prices in U.S. companies. Standard deviation is a measure of the dispersion of a set of data from its mean. The more spread apart the data, the higher the deviation. Standard deviation is also known as historical volatility.
The following securities mentioned were held by one or more of U.S. Global Investors Funds as of 6/30/12: Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF.
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- June 26, 2012
- An Ending Made For Gold
Over the past several months, the markets have tested investors’ conviction to gold. Since February, the price of the yellow metal has steadily stepped lower, rallying somewhat in May before falling again when Ben Bernanke disappointed by not providing the U.S. with more stimulus. Meanwhile, the dollar gained ground as global investors fled the euro.
In the ongoing eurocrisis, we won’t know the details of how Europe will clean up its debt mess for a while, but we’re pretty confident the story ends well for gold.
In one possible outcome presented by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, austerity is “not the answer on its own” when it comes to restoring confidence in fiscal policies. Take a look at the levels of household and bank debt in the U.S. compared to Europe. Over the past few years, debt in the U.S. has decreased as the private sector has delevered.
In the eurozone, though, you’ll see that banks and households have maintained status quo when it comes to their levels of debt. On all three measures, loan/deposit, household debt/disposable income and debt/income, ratios have remained around the same level, according to BofA.
BofA’s economics team says that even though the long-term refinancing operation (LTRO) has helped in Europe, about 1.7 trillion euros are required to deleverage all the banks in the region. That means there’s more work to be done for Europe via a major deleveraging process, which will undoubtedly weigh on economic growth. To keep the eurozone’s head above water, more money will likely be needed, requiring the European Central Bank to start up its printing presses similar to what we saw in the U.S. over the past few years.
As gold bugs know, when central banks increase the supply of money, currencies become devalued and investors seek a better store of value. The excess liquidity in the market has historically found its way to riskier assets, benefiting gold.
This currency devaluation is what we believe will eventually bring Indians back to gold. Take a look at what gold costs in rupees. India has seen ongoing weakness in its currency as its economy has slowed. This has kept gold near record highs, causing the Love Trade in India to stumble.
All’s Well that Ends Well for Gold
The global easing binge from central banks around the world over recent months should have translated to higher commodity prices. This has not occurred: Not only has gold declined, but the price of oil has also decreased considerably, falling from a high of $110 to $78. Jefferies’ David Zervos asked, “Shouldn’t all this accommodative policy by the Fed, ECB, SNB, BoE and BOJ be sending commodities to the moon?”
He believes the answer is straightforward: Lower commodity prices should be a signal to central banks that they are not doing enough. “There is a hefty disinflation trend developing and given the amount of debt in the system—and the weakness of global aggregate demand—any signs of significant disinflation should be cause for grave concern. We cannot mix a lot of debt with a lot of deflation—that will be the end of us!” exclaims Zervos.
Zervos is betting that central bankers will choose to stimulate the economy. I agree: As I’ve said before, when push comes to shove, central banks, especially in Europe, will forgo austerity in favor of the printing presses.
In the meantime, hold tight to your convictions, gold investors. Review your allocation to gold and gold stocks to make sure it remains around 5 to 10 percent of your portfolio. That way the precious metal can act as a shock absorber to help protect from any unexpected bumps in the financial system.
All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.
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