How Battery Metals Have Helped Us Outperform During the Slump in Gold Price

Author: Frank Holmes
Date Posted: March 3, 2021 Read time: 15 min

Gold hasn't been getting much love from investors lately due to rising bond yields, and bullion-backed gold mutual funds and ETFs have seen significant outflows so far this year through the end of February.

How Battery Metals Have Helped Us Outperform During the Slump in Gold Price

Gold hasn’t been getting much love from investors lately due to rising bond yields, and bullion-backed gold mutual funds and ETFs have seen significant outflows so far this year through the end of February.

Before pulling your money out, though, I would advise investors double-check what’s in the fund. During this period, we’ve managed to outperform many of our peers thanks to a substantial rotation into metals and minerals that will increasingly be needed in advanced technology, including lithium-ion batteries. Besides lithium, we like copper, nickel, cobalt and graphite, and we see great upside potential in companies that not only produce these minerals but also develop the technology behind the batteries.

Further down, I’ll be sharing one of these companies with you and how it’s helped us outperform during the gold correction.  

Record-Setting Money Printing Increases the Attractiveness of Hard Assets

First, I think it’s important for me to say upfront that we still have strong conviction in gold and believe one of its most convincing long-term investment cases is the alarming growth in money supply in the U.S. There are different ways to define “money,” but let’s look at highly liquid M1, which includes cash outside the U.S. Treasury, money market deposit accounts and other forms of so-called “near money.”

As you can see, the amount of cash floating around the economy is up a head-spinning 355% compared to last year. This is a record rate, and it’s not even close. To combat the economic impact of the pandemic, policymakers flipped on the printing machines and never bothered to shut them off, flooding the U.S. with easy money.     

Record Money Printing in the U.S.
click to enlarge

The law of supply and demand may apply to currencies just as it does to any other asset. This extra liquidity has helped prop up the economy and lift stock prices, but an unintended consequence could very well be dollar depreciation—suggesting inflation may not be too far behind.

When and if that happens, I think investors with exposure to gold and gold mining would be in a much better position than those without. Historically in times of accelerating inflation, the yellow metal has improved portfolios’ risk-adjusted returns and delivered positive returns, according to the World Gold Council (WGC).

Is Inflation Already Here?

Inflation expectations over the next five years have risen to their highest level since 2011. Below you can see the five-year breakeven rate, which represents a measure of expected inflation derived from nominal five-year Treasury bonds and inflation-adjusted five-year bonds. In short, it tells you what market participants believe inflation will look like in the next five years. On Tuesday, March 2, the rate hit 2.4%, the highest reading since May 2011.

Inflation expectations over next five years are the highest since 2011
click to enlarge

A more immediate measure of real-world inflation is the ISM Prices Index, issued by the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) as part of its monthly “Report on Business” survey. A number of purchasing and supply executives reported higher prices for raw materials in February, the ninth straight month of observed inflation. The index registered a sky-high 86.0, the highest reading since July 2008.  (The greater the number is above 50.0, the faster the inflation.) All 18 industries surveyed reported higher prices from their suppliers, including primary and fabricated metals, appliances, chemical products, food and beverage and computers and electronics.

Raw material prices have risen for nine straight months, highest reading since July 2008
click to enlarge

Businesses are choosing to pass the extra costs on to consumers, or else are considering it.

This week, Michelin North America announced it would be raising prices by as much as 8% on tires for select passenger and delivery trucks due to “changing business dynamics and rising costs of raw materials.” On a mid-February earnings call, La-Z-Boy CEO Melinda Whittington said that because of escalating costs on materials and freight, “we continue to evaluate the need for further pricing actions.” General Mills, maker of Cheerios, Yoplait and Blue Buffalo pet food, is reportedly weighing price hikes on its products.

Gold and Gold Mining Stocks Undervalued Compared to Broader Market

Despite its strong investment case right now, gold has fallen out of favor with some investors due to rising bond yields and expectations of a strong economic recovery. The yellow metal is currently down 17% from its 52-week high.

I believe this represents a good time to buy on the dips as gold and gold mining stocks remain greatly undervalued compared to the broader market. Metal producers are on sale right now, having fallen more than 11% year-to-date through March 3, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index.

It’s also been an opportune time to get exposure to smaller precious mineral explorers and companies that source great quantities of them. This has been one of the investment strategies in our World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX), which gives investors additional access to junior and intermediate producers and explorers.

Meet Nano One Materials

One of our favorite stocks at the moment is Nano One Materials, a small-cap tech firm that specializes in developing high-performance cathode materials used in next-generation lithium-ion batteries for the still-emerging electric vehicle (EV) market.

Right now, most standard EV batteries contain polycrystalline cathode particles, which can fracture and break apart from the stress of repeated charging, reducing range and longevity. Nano One’s patented technology uses individually coated nanocrystal cathodes that resist fracturing, thereby boosting batteries’ durability and performance.

A cathode, by the way, is the positive electrode, often made from lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2), that “accepts” electrons during cell discharge. This is opposed to the anode, which is the negative electrode, made from graphite, that “donates” electrons.

Parts of a Lithium battery
click to enlarge

We like Nano’s leadership team, which has over 150 combined years of experience in advanced technology, battery metals (particularly lithium) and equity market finance. The British Columbia-based company employs six PhDs and currently has 16 patents, with 30 more pending, helping to protect its various breakthroughs.

Indeed, there’s no lack of breakthroughs. See Nano One’s performance chart below. The company has unveiled a number of advancements over the past 12 months alone, including longer-lasting cathodes and high-voltage batteries that do not require cobalt. Most recently, Nano One announced its M2CAM (metal-to-cathode active material) initiative, enabling cathode materials to be made directly from metal using nickel, manganese and cobalt metal powders, thereby reducing cost, waste and carbon footprint.

NanoOne's ground breaking year
click to enlarge

To be clear, Nano One is a speculative play and highly volatile, with a 52-week range between CAD$0.75 and $6.20. Trading on Canada’s Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) Venture Exchange, it currently has no revenue; instead, it receives its funding mostly from government assistance programs and its strategic partners, including Volkswagen’s research group, China’s Pulead Technology, France’s Saint-Gobin and an undisclosed North American auto manufacturer.

In late February, the company announced that it had been named to the TSX Venture’s 2021 Venture 50, an annual ranking of the top-performing Canadian companies based on 2020 share price appreciation, trading volume and market cap growth. Shares of Nano One soared 425% in 2020, while its daily trading volume exploded 10,801%, from as little as 2,400 shares at the end of 2019 to more than 260,000 shares by December 31, 2020.

Rotation into Battery Metals

Our conviction in Nano One and its future is such that it was the top holding in our World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX) as of December 31, 2020. Battery technology is big business, requiring incredible amounts of metals and minerals, and we plan to increasingly position UNWPX to play the trend.

To see the top 10 holdings in UNWPX, click here.

To give you an idea of the significant growth in battery metal demand, global battery capacity in all newly sold EVs combined jumped 93% in the second half of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, according to Adamas Intelligence. Battery-grade nickel usage rose 69% over the same period, battery-grade cobalt 85%, and lithium carbonate equivalent (“LCE”) 96%.

We believe the rotation into battery metals and technology was wisely made. UNWPX returned 70.60% in 2020, putting it in the very top percentile rank of funds in the Equity Precious Metals category for the year ended December 31, 2020, out of 68 funds, according to Morningstar data, based on total returns.  

A knockout year for the World Precious mETALS fUND UNWPX
click to enlarge

Had you invested $10,000 in UNWPX at the beginning of 2020, you would have ended the year up nearly $7,000, according to Morningstar data. Although you can’t invest in an index, had you made a similar hypothetical investment in the benchmark NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, you would have seen a return of around $2,300. For the S&P 500, the return would have been approximately $1,500.

To learn more about the World Precious Minerals Fund, click here.


Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Please consider carefully a fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. For this and other important information, obtain a fund prospectus by clicking here or by calling 1-800-US-FUNDS (1-800-873-8637). Read it carefully before investing. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, Distributor. U.S. Global Investors is the investment adviser.

Total Annualized Returns as of 12/31/2020:
Funds One-Year Five-Year Ten-Year Gross Expense Ratio
World Precious Minerals Fund 70.60% 19.11% -6.86% 1.56%
NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index 24.09% 22.76% -3.99% n/a

Performance data quoted above is historical. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Results reflect the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. For a portion of periods, the fund had expense limitations, without which returns would have been lower. Current performance may be higher or lower than the performance data quoted. The principal value and investment return of an investment will fluctuate so that your shares, when redeemed, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Performance does not include the effect of any direct fees described in the fund’s prospectus which, if applicable, would lower your total returns. Performance quoted for periods of one year or less is cumulative and not annualized. Obtain performance data current to the most recent month-end at or 1-800-US-FUNDS.

Foreside Fund Services, LLC, Distributor. U.S. Global Investors is the investment adviser. Mutual fund investing involves risk. Principal loss is possible. Gold, precious metals, and precious minerals funds may be susceptible to adverse economic, political or regulatory developments due to concentrating in a single theme. The prices of gold, precious metals, and precious minerals are subject to substantial price fluctuations over short periods of time and may be affected by unpredicted international monetary and political policies. We suggest investing no more than 5% to 10% of your portfolio in these sectors. The breakeven inflation rate represents a measure of expected inflation derived from 5-Year Treasury Constant Maturity Securities and 5-Year Treasury Inflation-Indexed Constant Maturity Securities. The latest value implies what market participants expect inflation to be in the next 5 years, on average. Beginning May 2020, M1 consists of (1) currency outside the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve Banks, and the vaults of depository institutions; (2) demand deposits at commercial banks (excluding those amounts held by depository institutions, the U.S. government, and foreign banks and official institutions) less cash items in the process of collection and Federal Reserve float; and (3) other liquid deposits, consisting of OCDs and savings deposits (including money market deposit accounts). The Venture 50 is an annual ranking of the top-performing companies from five industry sectors: Clean Technology and Life Sciences, Diversified Industries, Mining, Energy, and Technology. Nano One was recognized in the Clean Technology and Life Sciences category. The Venture 50 ranking is comprised of the strongest companies on the TSX Venture Exchange in 2020, selected based on the equally weighted criteria of share price appreciation, trading volume amount and market capitalization growth. The ISM Manufacturing Prices Index is one of the diffuse indicators, based on which the Supply Management Institute calculates the Manufacturing PMI. It reflects a change in prices paid by industry representatives for the products or services they receive. The NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index (GDM) is a rules-based index designed to measure the performance of highly capitalized companies in the Gold Mining industry. The S&P 500 Index is a market-capitalization-weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies. The S&P is a float-weighted index, meaning company market capitalizations are adjusted by the number of shares available for public trading. TSX Venture Exchange is a stock exchange in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that was originally called the Canadian Venture Exchange (CDNX). It resulted from a merger between the Vancouver and Alberta stock exchanges. TSX Venture Exchange also has offices in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Fund portfolios are actively managed, and holdings may change daily. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings are not a recommendation to buy or sell a security. Holdings are reported as of the most recent quarter-end. Holdings in the World Precious Minerals Fund as a percentage of net assets as of 12/31/2021: Compagnie Générale des Établissements Michelin 0.00%, General Mills Inc. 0.00%, La-Z-Boy Inc. 0.00%, Nano One Materials Corp. 12.73%, Volkswagen Group 0.00%, Compagnie de Saint-Gobain S.A. 0.00%. Morningstar Rankings represent a fund’s total-return rank relative to all funds that have the same Morningstar Category. The highest rank is 1 and the lowest is based on the total number of funds ranked in the category. It is based on Morningstar total return, which includes both income and capital gains or losses and is not adjusted for sales charges or redemption fees. Morningstar ranked UNWPX in the top 1%, 80% and 80% out of 68, 59, and 50 Equity Precious Metals funds for the one-, five- and ten-year periods ending 12/31/2020, respectively. All opinions expressed and data provided are subject to change without notice. Some of these opinions may not be appropriate to every investor.