Gold: There's No Free Lunch
In his State of the Union address, George W. Bush warned that "America is addicted to oil". Mr. Bush then vowed to reduce America's reliance on Middle East oil by 75 percent despite importing 60 percent of its oil from Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia in that order. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reacted by warning that investment in Gulf production could be jeopardized.
In point of fact, America is not only addicted to oil but also to cheap financing. America's addiction to cheap oil helped cause the burgeoning US trade deficit to balloon to a record $805 billion in 2005 or almost 7 percent of GDP increasing US indebtedness to almost $9.5 trillion. America is in the difficult position of having to import $3 billion a day in foreign capital just to fund its deficits. Moreover, between 2004 and 2005, America's household savings declined from 2.5 percent to a negative savings rate. This decline allowed households to consume more but caused record levels of indebtedness.
Lured by low interest rates, consumers racked up mortgages of nearly $3 trillion from the end of 2000 to the end of 2004. It has been estimated that over the next two years, almost $2.5 trillion of mortgage debt must be refinanced at levels more than twice of what they were since interest rates have increased 14 times.
How things change. Today, the US government's desperation for cash caused it to reintroduce the 30 year bond and is applauded for incurring more debt. At one time, deficits were considered bad because governments had to borrow more which would raise interest rates. The bond vigilantes would demand lower prices and these investors were a form of discipline. However today, deficits and increased government borrowing are not feared, they don't seem to matter. Part of reason is that with the markets awash with liquidity, the bond vigilantes have been replaced by foreign investors seemingly unfazed by higher deficits and the prospect of increased government spending.
Higher Interest Rates Usher In a New World
President Bush unveiled a whopping budgetary deficit of $423 billion and is expected to issue almost $90 billion of new debt in this quarter alone. Heightened economic activity in Europe and Japan is also pushing up interest rates. In Europe, rates jumped a quarter percent following a similar rise in December. Rising interest rates overseas has narrowed the differential and reduced the "carry" trade which saw investors borrow funds in low yielding currencies investing in higher yielding securities such as condos, commodities, and treasuries. In Japan, monetary policy at long last has changed with the reversal of that country‘s deflationary spiral ending the five-year policy of "quantitative easing", the zero interest rate policy and the infamous yen "carry" trade.
Higher yields everywhere are thus in the cards with the greenback a casualty. Fresh fears over the unsustainability of America's structural deficits was the prime cause for the dollar's three year slide has once again led to another ratcheting up in yields and a lower dollar. The dollar must fall further as the competition for scarcer funds increases. Gold will be a good thing to have.
The Americans have not only become big debtors but President Bush has become its biggest spender. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) total spending rose between 2001 and 2005 by an average of 7 percent annually, double the pace of the previous five years and triple the average inflation rate. In fiscal 2005, the increase was 8 percent. For fiscal 2007, Mr. Bush has requested spending of $2.7 trillion, up nearly $1.8 trillion when he took office. While spending has increased, revenues have lagged. And, the interest bill on US debt is nearly 15 percent of spending. US debt has doubled in five years to more than 25 percent of GDP.
America's personal savings rate dipped into negative territory at -0.5 percent last year for the first time since the Great Depression. The savings rate has been negative only twice before, 1932 and 1933. In 1932 it was -0.9 percent and a record -1.5 percent in 1933. America is simply living beyond its means and its addiction to low interest rates and foreign debt is unsustainable. America cannot continue to spend more than it earns, consume at a rate faster than consumers' income growth nor depend upon foreign savings to fill its savings gap.
China Is The World's Fourth Largest Economy
Over a quarter of the US trade deficit is due to the bilateral deficit with China. America has imported $240 billion of goods from China but only exported $40 billion back. Wal-Mart is estimated to have imported roughly $20 billion worth of Chinese goods. But as the trade deficit grows, so do tensions with China.
By threatening China as a "currency manipulator", the Treasury will spark a proxy trade war that will not fix the trade shortfall but give the Chinese the excuse to bail out of their excess hoarded dollars. The deficits are a mirror image of Chinese surpluses. China's trade deficit is a "red herring" since roughly three fifths of China's exports are made by non-Chinese companies. China has already revalued the yuan but that alone will do little to affect international trade or capital flows.
China grew 9.9 percent last year, extending a 28 year growth record of 7 percent plus every year. China's economy has passed the fifth largest France, and is now the world's fourth largest after the US, Japan, and Germany. Asian reserves at $2.7 trillion continue to finance the massive US deficits. The passive reserves are invested largely in dollar assets like treasuries and recently Canadian dollars, euros and gold. China alone will hold reserves of $1 trillion by the end of this year surpassing Japan's stockpile of $685 billion. To date, Asian central bank purchases of US dollars helped prevent the dollar from falling. The resumption of the dollar's decline, will force them to reassess their willingness to suffer further losses of capital. Since 2002, the greenback has fallen 42 percent against the euro. Capital flows into the United States fell to $56.6 billion in December down significantly from $91.6 billion in November.
The Darker Side of Globalization
And under America's nose, China and Saudi Arabia have signed a wide-ranging agreement on energy cooperation. China, the world's second biggest consumer of oil has sought political partnerships, ranging from central Asia, Africa, Russia and Latin America. King Abdullah was the first ever visit of a Saudi ruler. President Putin has met President Hu for the fourth time in less than a year signing an energy agreement between Russia and China. But it is not only the simple supply and demand of oil that the Americans have to worry about. Hurricane Katrina revealed the vulnerabilities of the American "laissez-faire" energy infrastructure. And Russia's use of the energy weapon to cut off natural gas to the Ukraine demonstrates the unpredictable nature of supplies and geopolitics. America has competition for its energy security.
The growing scope of globalization and the structural tilt in the global playing field is making it harder for US policymakers. Like oil, globalization has evened the playing field with prices of everything from bonds to steel and even labour. More than six years ago, technological change was seen as the market's driver. Today, globalization and the emergence of "Chindia" have lowered costs, boosted jobs and global growth. There is no question that globalization has helped all economies, and the continued strength in China and the Far East has had a ripple effect boosting not only exports but providing low cost goods to Americans.
However, globalization has also caused a growing imbalance in world trade, reflected by the ever-widening US trade deficit and a dilemma for the United States which has outsourced most of its production of materials and parts to China. China in turn has taken these surplus profits and savings and recycled the dollars to help finance American consumption and its huge trade imbalance.
Globalization also has a dark side and that is the rising tide of protectionism. China bashing is on the increase. America's problem is not Beijing but Washington. The deficit has led Congress to introduce a dozen anti-trade bills and consider slapping more quotas on the Chinese which could raise import prices and of course inflation. Having flexed their muscle over DP World, Congress plans to erect even higher trade barriers. The politicization of the process has shaken the confidence of America's partners. Such moves would hurt both its international and economic interests.
A Port In The Storm
So what to do? Beneath all the rhetoric and posturing lies the serious question whether America's financial vulnerability has jeopardized its economic security. America could boost its savings. America must resist the temptation to spend its way to oblivion leaving them to depend upon foreigners to finance their profligacy. How much longer they will finance the Americans depend upon their patience. Already the Middle East has lost patience, when will the Far East lose theirs? Higher interest rates will be needed to compensate and attract foreign investors at a time when Americans savings are insufficient to finance their trade shortfall. Yet higher interest rates will also curtail the ability of the Americans to consume more by borrowing against their homes.
The DP World deal has ironically hoisted Mr. Bush on his own petard. Mr. Bush is simply reaping what he has sowed. Rather than blame the political fallout due to the consequences of globalization, the backlash in our view, is due to the politicization of economic policy since 9/11. In the 2004 election, Mr. Bush ratcheted up the rhetoric fueling paranoia over terrorism. Rather than welcome foreign investment, the Americans are erecting new walls or barriers. While the security of America's ports is important, lost on many is that the six particular ports were already owned by a foreign entity.
And that takes us to the essence of the problem. The Americans are simply drifting into a policy of isolation and xenophobia which will have long term negative consequences of a weaker dollar and even higher gold price.
The DP World takeover of six US ports provoked a considerable political storm. The last minute decision to sell the ports averted a political crisis but underscored Bush's weakness in controlling a Republican Congress. Bush's popularity has sunk to an all-time low of 37 percent. If Bush can't help a close ally like UAE, how will he allay frictions with China, who he needs to finance American indebtedness. The port uproar sparked not only misplaced security concerns but underlines America's xenophobia paranoia and, in our opinion its financial vulnerability.
The real crisis will not be who owns Unocal or six ports but America's financial security.
They Can't Have It Both Ways
Expanding trade in the nineties helped underpin America's longest period of unbroken economic expansion. Last year, raising the specter of a threat to national security, Congress caused CNOOC, the Chinese state owned oil exploration company to withdraw its bid for Unocal. Despite decades of American companies acquiring businesses in Europe, Canada and Asia, they are proposing new barriers. This spate of economic nationalism is proving to be a mistake and self defeating. Do Canadians suffer because Imperial Oil is owned by Exxon or its oldest merchandiser has fallen into American hands? No, all are subject to Canadian laws. Does anyone object to Nasdaq's bid for the London Stock Exchange? Of course not. The rising tide of protectionism because of so-called national security concerns restricts foreign investment. It is no different that any other nationalistic reasons the end result is the same.
Suffering from an empty piggy bank, America is increasingly dependent upon those surplus savings provided by the same nations that they are bashing in Congress. Yet faced with a shortfall of domestic savings, the Americans cannot pick or choose their banker. They can't say no to ownership of ports or oil wells and yes to yuan or yen. Nationalism has collided with globalization.
Economic power has shifted to the East. China and India have replaced the US as engines of world economic growth. Since 9/11, Arab investment in the United States has shrunk dramatically. Today, Arab investments make up less than 1 percent of total foreign investments.The United States can't say no to owning six ports and expect the Arab world to continue to send dollars and oil to feed America's addiction. Equally, this will hinder US firms too who want to do acquisitions abroad. A thirties style "tit for tat" is in the offing. If Canada, America's biggest trading partner cannot resolve a two-decade old dispute over softwood, what will they do with the Chinese, who many view in Congress as a threat.
Now here is where the Americans are vulnerable since the lack of savings means they require external funding of $700 billion per year to fund their deficit. Thanks to China, the greenback rallied for much of last year due to Chinese largesse and Homeland Security act. Should the Americans raise or slap a 27.5 percent tariff on Chinese imports, the Chinese may not be so anxious to write the next cheque. America is addicted to not only cheap oil but to cheap financing and they do not appear to know the price. After all, there's no free lunch. Gold will be a good thing to have.
When George W. Bush was inaugurated on January 22, 2001, the price of gold was $265.90 per ounce. Mr. Bush, as described earlier, has been among the biggest spenders and his "guns and butter" policies have caused a devaluation of the US dollar. Gold's rise then should come as no surprise. We continue to believe that gold will hit $700 this year and the historical peak at $850 will be surpassed. This bull is just getting started.
Gold and gold stocks have climbed the proverbial wall of worry. Despite a recent pullback, the underlying drivers remain intact an overvalued and declining dollar, chronic US twin deficits, rising interest rates, tight supply, increased protectionism, geopolitical tensions and the lack of faith in currencies. Gold is money, it cannot be created and is very expensive to mine; it cannot be printed like fiat currency. Gold, as we said the past, is the chicken little of the financial markets. Gold has been a better investment than equities and even cash last year. Gold's rise is due to its alternative to currencies. Recently Asian central banks and investors have been buying gold. The Chinese added fifty tonnes last year and now hold 650 tonnes, which is still less than 2 percent of their reserves. We expect that the Asian central banks will gradually increase their holdings as gold as an obvious solution to their excessive holdings of dollars which are declining in value. Simply gold is a hedge against further depreciation of the dollar.
The gold mining stocks have not been attracting as much interest as bullion itself. Gold stocks have still not exceeded their previous peaks, last seen more than a year ago. For some time, now we have said that the lack of performance was attributable to the fact that gold miners do not make much money with gold under $400 an ounce. Only in recent quarters have gold companies have been able to improve margins. The round of takeovers by Barrick, IAMGold, Goldcorp, Yamana, Glamis Gold and USGold is a reflection that it is cheaper to buy ounces on Bay Street than to spend money in the ground. Thus our expectation is that with an average price $600 this year, the remaining gold miners will at long last show performance. This consolidation trend will continue however.
We continue to emphasize the mid-cap producers that show growth earnings and production and reserves. Although mining companies are faced with increased costs, many of the junior producers such as Yamana Gold, Eldorado and Bema are bringing in mines over the next twenty-four months. While a rising tide will lift all boats, selectivity continues to be important. Cambior for example should be avoided.
At long last, companies have been able to allocate increased funds to exploration. The juniors are now able to fund both development and higher risk exploration programs. Moreover, companies with other metals such as copper or silver are no longer being penalized and are adding to revenues due to the increases in commodity prices.
With copper and silver trading at twenty year highs, some companies can produce gold for free (Agnico-Eagle, for example, has a zero cost when byproduct credits are taking into account). In the past, we have recommended and liked Agnico-Eagle, Meridian, and Kinross as suitable mid-cap candidates. Among the junior producers we like Eldorado, Bema Gold, Northgate and Aurizon. We continue to recommend this group, but we would also recommend the more junior exploration, development players on a package basis due to their blue-sky potential. St. Andrew Goldfields, USGold, Etruscan and Aurizon Mines look interesting at current levels.
Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd.
Agnico-Eagle successfully acquired the Pinos Altos project, located in the Sierra Madre gold belt in northern Mexico. Preliminary project assessment call for a 3,000 tonnes per day operation with a capex of $150 million. Agnico has calculated an indicated resource of over 2 million ounces, and a feasibility study is expected to be completed by the second quarter of 2006 following an aggressive exploration and work program. Pinos Altos will follow the recently acquired Suurikuusiikko project in northern Finland, and a bankable feasibility study is expected shortly (capex is estimated at a $170 million with current probable reserves at 2.3 million ounces of gold). Agnico-Eagle has also been expanding the LaRonde operation in Quebec. LaRonde processed 7,300 tonnes of ore in the fourth quarter and mine costs were $56 an ounce, due to byproduct credits of zinc and silver. Agnico improved results also allowed it to redeem its convertible debentures and the company issued 3.3 million shares. The balance sheet has no long term debt and excellent financial flexibility. We continue to recommend Agnico-Eagle shares particularly for its multi-mine growth strategy and the prospect of new mines near its main mine such as Goldex, approximately 50 km east of LaRonde and Lapa, which is approximately 10 km east of LaRonde. We recommend the shares here for its growth profile, balance sheet, non-hedging strategy and leverage to silver and zinc.
Barrick Gold Corporation
Barrick has completed the acquisition of Placer Dome, creating the world's largest gold producer. The combined company has more than 140 million ounces of proven and probable gold reserves and will produce 8.8 million ounces at a cash cost of $240 an ounce. Barrick will have twenty-six mines on four continents and an extensive pipeline of development project. The key asset is Cortez Hill in Nevada, which will complement Barrick's flagship Goldstrike mine. We expect that Barrick will be much more aggressive in developing Cortez. Barrick has advertised that it should be able to achieve synergies of $200 million annually. We believe this is achievable over our belief that Placer Dome was top heavy, in management and costs. Other synergies such as efficiencies in exploration cost and consolidating programs are likely since both companies operated in many of the same jurisdictions. While attention has been paid to Barrick's pipeline and projects, we expect Barrick to more efficiently operate Placer's assets. South Deep in South Africa remains a problem and we not only expect further reserve reductions but likely a new mine plan and eventually the disposal of that asset.
The other question mark is the combined hedge book which is in excess of 20 million ounces with a "mark to market" loss of over $4 billion. We expect that Barrick will aggressively deliver into Placer's positions and buy back ounces on pullbacks to reduce Placer's hedge book. Barrick will need to pare at least 2 million ounces this year. Barrick's shares have been lagging due in part to the unwinding of the arbitrage. With stronger cash flows and a higher gold price, we expect Barrick to perform in line with its peers. We expect the company will be forced to be more open about their hedges and their strategy to more aggressively reduce those hedges should also help share performance.
Cambior shares have been lagging due in part to its high cost profile and weak balance sheet. Cambior's cost per ounce is in excess of $300 per ounce with the Rosebel mine in Suriname providing over half of its production. Cambior will produce less gold this year due to the closure Omai gold mine last year. Cambior's balance sheet is so tight and with its hedges, we expect another round of financing. With a declining reserve profile, there are better situations elsewhere. Sell.
Crystallex International Corp.
Crystallex, as expected provided an upgrade in reserves for the world's largest undeveloped gold deposit, the Las Cristinas gold project in Bolivor state, Venezuela. Proven and probable reserves are now estimated at 13.6 million ounces with measured and indicated resource unchanged at 17.7 million ounces of gold. Engineering and procurement for the Las Cristinas project has been underway and the final permit to commence production is still to be released. Newly formed Ministry of Basic Industry and Mining (MIBAM) has issued a formal operating permit paving the way for the long awaited environmental permit which will be released by the Ministry of the Environment (MARN) shortly.
In the last quarter, Crystallex was granted a gravel permit which allowed them to extract gravel for the necessary roads (Under the 20,000 tonnes per day scenario, Crystallex will produce more than 300,000 ounces at a cash cost of $160 an ounce for total capital of $300 million in early 2008. Crystallex has hinted that they would likely ramp up to 40,000 tonnes per day and work to date suggests production of 500,000 ounces per year at a cash cost of $250 with only an incremental capital cost $153 million. To date almost $100 million has been spent for mining equipment, grinding mills and crushers. While there is much concern of investing in Venezuela, the Crystallex project has been noteworthy that there are not the associated question marks regarding technical or infrastructure. For example the first class project enjoys low power costs, low fuel costs, a main paved highway and onsite airstrip. And, the project enjoys local support. Consequently, we still recommend Crystallex, particularly since a fully permitted Las Cristinas would be an attractive tidbit for one of the majors.
Glamis Gold Corp.
Glamis Gold has finally taken advantage of its overpriced paper by making a whopping bid for Western Silver Corp. Western Silver has the Penasquito silver/gold/zinc property in Mexico that is estimated to cost $350 million to put it into production. The acquisition of Western Silver will tarnish Glamis' pure gold orientation (although Marlin and El Sauzal produces byproduct silver). But more significantly, the company is making a big bet and execution will be the question mark. At currently levels, we can see more downside than upside and thus we prefer other situations. Sell.
Meridian Gold Inc.
Meridian finally wrote down the non-cash carrying value of Esquel project in Argentina from $542.8 million to $2.5 million. Esquel is an excellent deal on paper, but the company could not get local support to develop Esquel. At El Penon, Meridian's crown jewel, results were excellent and reserves were replaced last year. However, Meridian for the most part, a one mine company, but it remains an attractive mine. Meridian will acquire a small Chilean producer for $100 million. We continue to recommend its shares because of the low cost nature of El Penon, excellent balance sheet and the ability to replace reserves. Meridian will likely be an acquisitor. Buy.
Newmont Mining Co.
Newmont replaced its reserves last year and with a balance sheet of $1.1 billion of cash, the company is well situated in its role as an acquisitor. The problem is that many of the logical candidates have been acquired. Newmont has not gotten into any ridiculous bidding wars and has a keen eye for assets. Rather we see Newmont taking advantage of its various mines and geographic position to be an active participant in swapping mines and assets. Newmont has operations on five continents producing more than 8 million ounces a year.
Improved production at Yanacocho due to higher grades offset production from Batu Hijau and Nevada. Newmont has more than 93 million ounces of proven and probable and the company is bringing on Phoenix in Nevada. We like Newmont for its balance sheet, merchant banking subsidiary and astute management. We continue to recommend the shares.
Rob McEwen raised $75 million in USGold and quickly consolidated his various holdings by making bids to acquire the balance of White Knight, Nevada Pacific, Tone Resources and Coral Gold for USGold paper. Rob put in place management in USGold and unveiled an ambitious $30 million exploration program with over 400,000 feet of drilling over the next two years. USGold will have an enviable land package sandwiched between Barrick's Cortez Hill and Newmont. We expect USGold will achieve a listing in Canada and USGold is expected to be Rob McEwen's prime vehicle. We recommend the shares for its exploration potential and Rob's track record.
|Company Name||Trading Symbol||*Exchange||Disclosure code|
|St. Andrew Goldfields||SAS||T||5|