Eric Sprott on the Recent Volatility in Gold ~ market folly

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Eric Sprott on the Recent Volatility in Gold

Seeing how gold has seen volatility as of late and numerous top hedge funds hold physical gold, we thought it would be prudent to check in with one of the most outspoken gold advocates: Eric Sprott of Sprott Asset Management.

After all, gold is one of Dan Loeb's top holdings at Third Point.  David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital has long held physical gold as a top stake.  And we highlighted in April how John Burbank's Passport Capital had been buying gold.

So what do investors make of the latest volatility?  Eric Sprott and Shree Kargutkar put out an interesting note on the precious metal on June 8th:

Sprott on Gold

"There have been key devel­op­ments in the phys­i­cal gold mar­ket over the last few weeks which we feel are worth highlighting:

1) The Chi­nese gold imports from Hong Kong in April, 2012 surged almost 1300% on a YoY basis. Total gross imports for the month of April were 103.6 tonnes and the net imports were 66.3 tonnes1. It is not the data for April alone which has caught our eye. There has been a stun­ning increase of gold imports through Hong Kong for export into China over the past 2 years. Between May 2010 and April 2011, China imported a net 66 tonnes of phys­i­cal gold through Hong Kong. Between May 2011 and April 2012, that num­ber jumped to 489 tonnes. This rep­re­sents an increase of 640%. 

2) Cen­tral banks from around the world bought over 70 tonnes of gold in April, 2012. Data from the IMF showed devel­op­ing coun­tries such as the Philip­pines, Turkey, Mex­ico and Sri Lanka were sig­nif­i­cant buy­ers of gold as prices dipped.

3) Iran pur­chased $1.2B worth of gold in April, 2012 through Turkey. As the devel­oped nations con­tinue devalu­ing their cur­rency at the expense of devel­op­ing nations, coun­tries such as Iran, China and Mex­ico are forced to look at alter­na­tive stores of value.

4) After twenty years of lack­lus­ter returns and stag­nant bond yields, Japan­ese pen­sion funds have finally dis­cov­ered the value of invest­ing in gold. The $500M Okayama Metal and Machin­ery pen­sion fund placed 1.5% of its assets into gold bullion-backed ETFs in April in order to "escape sov­er­eign risk"4.

5) Bill Gross writes, "Soar­ing debt/GDP ratios in pre­vi­ously sacro­sanct AAA coun­tries have made low cost fund­ing increas­ingly a func­tion of cen­tral banks as opposed to pri­vate mar­ket investors. Both the lower qual­ity and lower yields of pre­vi­ously sacro­sanct debt there­fore rep­re­sent a poten­tial break­ing point in our now 40-year-old global mon­e­tary sys­tem. […] As they (investors) ques­tion the value of much of the $200 tril­lion which com­prises our cur­rent sys­tem, they move mar­gin­ally else­where — to real assets such as land, gold and tan­gi­ble things, or to cash and a fig­u­ra­tive mat­tress where at least their money is read­ily acces­si­ble". Is the bond king rec­om­mend­ing gold? YES, YES YES!

6) The Gold Min­ing ETF, GDX, has seen strong inflows in the past 3 months. The num­ber of units out­stand­ing have increased from 162.5M to roughly 187M between March 1, 2012 and May 31, 2012. This rep­re­sents an increase in assets of almost $1.2B in a span of 3 months. It is worth point­ing out that for a major­ity of this three months period, GDX, and by exten­sion the gold min­ing com­pa­nies were expe­ri­enc­ing sig­nif­i­cant declines in their mar­ket values.

We believe there has been a mate­r­ial change in the gold invest­ing land­scape. The HUI, which is the Gold Bugs Index, is now up over 20% from its lows since May 16th, 2012. The slide in gold equi­ties seems to be sub­sid­ing as a foun­da­tion for a strong move upwards is set. New buy­ers, rep­re­sented by the Chi­nese, cen­tral banks, Japan­ese pen­sion funds and the Ira­ni­ans, bought almost 140 tonnes of gold in April alone. To put this into per­spec­tive, the annual gold pro­duc­tion is approx­i­mately 2600 tonnes. China and Rus­sia pro­duce around 500 tonnes of gold annu­ally, which never makes it to the open mar­ket. This leaves about 2100 tonnes of gold pro­duc­tion annu­ally for the rest of the world.

When buy­ers rep­re­sent­ing 140 tonnes of new demand enter a mar­ket which only has 175 tonnes of monthly sup­ply, we are left won­der­ing about two things:

1) In a bal­anced mar­ket, where is the source of sup­ply to the new buy­ers going to come from?

2) How can a new buyer of size get into the gold mar­ket, which is already bal­anced, with­out sig­nif­i­cantly impact­ing the price of gold? The answer is fairly obvi­ous. When demand out­strips sup­ply, prices move higher. These sig­nif­i­cant macro changes in the sup­ply­de­mand dynamic of the gold mar­ket should pro­pel the price of gold to new highs."  

For more from this fund manager, we've also highlighted Sprott's previous commentary on how 2012 is the year of the central bank.

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