Gold Market Update

November 26, 2002

Since our last update, and indeed since early June, gold has been in a holding pattern, moving sideways within the $310 to $325 range. Likewise, the trade-weighted U.S. dollar has drifted sideways, and the equity markets have stemmed the relentless declines that began in March and ended in July. News on the economy has been weak at best, as shown by industrial production, consumer confidence, auto sales, unemployment, and other statistics. Despite the weak numbers, hopes of near-term prosperity endure and it looks as though the markets will need some sort of jolt to give them direction in one way or the other. Our bet is the other way, as most of the jolting candidates are negative in nature, from war to economic collapse from Iraq to Japan, from Israel to Brazil. And from the Federal Reserve to the White House, low interest rates and ballooning budget deficits have policy makers in a bind. Gold has enjoyed some newfound popularity since breaking above $300 in the first quarter. I have been asked to write an article on why gold might be a good investment idea for next year. Looking to kill two birds with one article, I thought this to be as good a topic as any for the Gold Market Update.

From a very broad perspective, the global economy is now suffering through an historic period of post-bubble economic weakness. During the nineties, speculative excess infected nearly every aspect of investing by individuals and corporations. Expectations of a perpetual rise in the stock market and a seemingly unending supply of capital caused individuals to pay inflated prices for stocks and businesses to over-build. Much of this investing was financed with debt, causing households and businesses to become more leveraged than at any time in history. Excessive speculation and spending creates imbalances in the economy that can take a very long time to correct. The following chart compares three post-bubble markets:

The chart shows how past post-bubble markets have under-performed over long periods. As one of the few asset classes that historically has little or no correlation to either general equities or bonds, gold and gold shares may outperform during such periods of general market malaise. Over the past ten years, the correlation coefficient between gold and the S&P 500 is a negative 0.11, and with U.S. bonds a negative 0.01.

The Federal Reserve recognized the negative ramifications of an economic slowdown brought on by the historic stock market collapse. Shattered investor confidence, excess manufacturing capacity and foreign competition has created a potentially deflationary environment. An economy where business and household debt totals a staggering 145% of GDP (as of June) cannot afford an environment of falling prices (and falling profits). In order to avoid the fate of Japan since 1990 or the U.S. in the 1930s, the Fed undertook unprecedented cuts in the Federal Funds rate in 2001, while increasing the money supply at rates not seen since the inflationary era of the 1970s. No government in history has been able to avert a painful post-bubble economic collapse, and it is by no means certain whether the current government will be the first.

It is likely that the U.S. government will continue its aggressive easing to reflate the economy. This attempt to avoid a deflation could be inadvertently sowing the seeds for onerous levels of inflation in the future. While it is not clear how the economy will ultimately respond to government policy, it is clear that we are currently in a rare and unusual period of monetary and economic instability. Such periods have been marked by excessive deflation, as in the '30s, or excessive inflation, as in the '70s. The following chart shows when gold has outperformed the general market during such periods (a falling chart indicates when gold is outperforming the Dow):

Despite modern rhetoric to the contrary, gold retains its role as a fundamental form of international currency and store of wealth. Gold has historically had a strong negative correlation to the trade-weighted value of the dominant reserve currency, which is currently the U.S. dollar. The strength in the gold price over the past year has been accompanied by a weakened dollar. As of Friday's close, the Trade-weighted U.S. Dollar Index was down 9.2% for the year, while gold has gained 15.1%. Despite the decline in the dollar, the U.S. current account deficit has reached an unprecedented 5% of GDP, as imports are still relatively cheap. This indicates that the dollar is still over-valued. Any continuance of dollar weakness could be good for the gold market.

The geo-political situation that the world has come to know since 9/11 has inflicted costs and threatened our sense of security in ways not experienced since the cold war. Acts of war typically have a short-lived impact on the gold price; however, a lasting conflict can take its toll on the economy and place stress on government budgets. This, along with low returns on interest-bearing accounts and stock market losses have combined to cause investment psychology to change. Rather than chasing stock market returns, investors have turned to alternative strategies that include hedge funds, real estate, and gold. While no one knows how long such trends will continue, the recent Fed rate cut indicates that interest rates will remain low in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has made it clear that the war on terrorism is a long-term commitment. Under such circumstances, rather than a return to the investment attitudes of the '90s, investors are likely to continue the trend towards capital preservation and investment alternatives.

In addition to a macro-economic and political environment that is favorable towards gold, fundamentals within the gold mining industry are also supportive of the gold price. Gold Fields Mineral Services Ltd. estimates that newly mined gold production will decline in 2002. Many analysts agree that this is the start of a trend that will last through the decade if gold prices remain in the low-$300s. Companies cut back on exploration during the late '90s as gold sank to 20-year lows. The current gold price is not high enough to begin a new cycle of exploration and discovery and there is not enough new production coming on-line to replace the mines that have entered their declining years. Also, many gold companies are reducing their gold hedge books, which results in gold production being returned to central bank vaults, rather than sold into the market. Both production declines and de-hedging will restrict the supply of gold in the near-term.

The industry has also come to realize that it must actively market gold to increase market share. A new, dynamic management within the industry-sponsored World Gold Council has begun an exciting program to market gold both as jewelry and as an alternative financial asset.

Gold is still being mined and refined at the rate of almost 2,600 tonnes per year.