Investors and the media have been quick to establish opinions with just a veneer of truth, due in part to the globalization of the internet, which causes instant analysis instead of the slow due diligence of the past. As a result, analyses have become superficial. Whatever happened to innocent till proven guilty? To be sure the problems of Mr. Strauss-Kahn are an example of the instant analysis and judgements of today or there is the cannibalism of Rupert Murdoch's empire in just two weeks. And then again there is Muddy Waters' crushing of Sino-Forest which saw more than $4 billion of market cap disappear overnight despite that it will take three months and many millions of dollars to establish what is likely the truth all along - those trees are there. Take the belief that China is about to collapse or that the US will default on its debt and the world will end. To be sure, the market situation might be comparable to Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, but countries do and have defaulted in the past. Recent defaulting sovereigns such as Argentina and Russia have come back and the debt ceiling has actually been raised 102 times since 1917 - 7 times under Bush and 3 times under Obama.
Yet, these are dangerous times. Gold hit an all time high whilst the euro crisis deepened and America played debt roulette raising the prospect of a third round of quantitative easing. Political paralysis has caused a stalemate in Washington leaving any action to the Federal Reserve. Complacency and denial are rife. Nonetheless when the debt ceiling eventually is raised, there will be a relief rally for at least a few days. But any rally would be short lived by the realisation that America's debt position worsened and the debt to GDP ratio, a key measure of country risk, increased. And with the end of QEII together with the diminished appetite for what was once the world's safest paper, who will buy their debt? Left are the inflationary consequence of dollar debasement and the piling on of more debt. Any new package will promise little relief.
Easy credit of yesteryear spawned the financial crises of today. Even with interest rates at near zero and the end of QE II, the Fed is left with few options. Despite two rounds of quantitative easing (aka money printing) through the so-called purchases of $1 trillion of Treasuries, there is little to show for it. The Fed has given up on housing with prices heading for a double dip. America is simply over-housed and stretched financially. Deflation was avoided but prices are going up. Federal spending has increased from 20 percent to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in a record spending binge and now we are awash in red ink. Fortunately misguided policies such as the "cash for clunkers" scheme or the $1 trillion stimulus package are behind us. While the government can't afford another ill-fated subsidy scheme, there is talk of a QEIII with the buying of more government bonds. With what? This emperor has no clothes.
Olympian Size Debt
Still, the debt ceiling negotiations deteriorated into a game of chicken in part due to the shameless politicking, with both sides more interested in staking out their platforms in 2012, rather than coming to an agreement by August 2nd. America was once the safest place to invest. Sooner or later there will be an agreement to increase the ceiling but the damage has been done and markets are focused on haven buying such as gold, Swiss francs, or German bunds. The US national debt has jumped to 69 percent of GDP this year, up from 40 percent in 2008. The debt problems of today are a legacy of the debt binges of recent decades. The reality is even worse when entitlements are added to the federal debt. Today the government debt stands at $14.3 trillion or $46,000 per American due in large part to an increase during the Obama presidency. When Obama took office he inherited a national debt of $10.6 trillion, and that was before the Tea Party was in existence (the current scapegoat in bringing down the US economy). Mr Obama's 2012 budget is projected at $1.645 billion for the third trillion deficit in a row or a whopping 11 percent of GDP. Assuming Congress and the White House increases the debt ceiling, the national debt by this time next year will be $17 trillion, equivalent to 115 percent of GDP.
For much of this century, America was the world's safest risk. No longer is that true. The heart of the problem is that the United States is spending 25 percent of its GDP yet raises less than 15 percent in taxes. The US government must borrow 40 percent of the money it spends. Austerity Greek style won't work. Growth won't work. America's debt problem lies in its prolifigate deficit spending which has become closer to the European style and its reluctance or inability to reduce it in coming years. The Democrats feel the problem is simply not enough revenues, whilst the Republicans think there are not enough savings. The US political environment has become fractious. But it is more than tax cuts versus tax increases. It is all about the debt. While a deal is likely, the threat of a downgrade by Moody's and others together with the likelihood of a band-aid solution can only weaken the world's reserve currency. The global system is ballasted with a settlement system tied to the US dollar. With the full faith and confidence in the dollar weakened, the markets need an alternative.
Debt has Become Money
The world treats debt as a parallel currency with the central banks making good on sovereign indebtedness. First Lehman Brothers, now Greece. Debt has become money. Central bankers have taken Irish, Greek and Spanish debt on their balance sheets to settle obligations, monetising the debt without thinking of the consequences. Déjà vu. But this parallel currency has limitations, in that the indebtedness is paid through money printing. The sinking currencies reflect the diminishment of value. Gold's increase in value is because it is a hedge against declining currencies. It is not that gold has done so well, it is that fiat currencies have done so poorly.
There is another game of chicken and that is the tussle the European Central Bank is playing with its members, threatening the monetary union itself. The EU's dithering has spread contagion to Spain and Italy, sowing confusion in financial markets, pushing up the borrowing costs for every member. In an effort to refinance the sovereign debt obligations of some of its weakest members, more money ie debt must come from its strongest members. However, when the European Central Bank hinted that the private sector would also have to "burden share" its obligations, Germany pushed back to protect its banks which have a major exposure to Greece. A Greek bailout would also violate the constitution of the European Central Bank which has a very specific "no bailout" clause. Unfortunately, there is no magic trick to sovereign insolvency. Moody's, the US rating agency, downgraded Ireland to junk bond status, the third of Eurozone's seventeen members so far. Making matters worse is that the European Central Bank is loaded with Greek debt as well as other so-called assets swapped by the various member central banks during the last real estate debacle. However if Greece defaults, its sovereign debt would be worthless causing a run on those European banks who hold the bulk of the debt. As the Greek crisis worsens, short term fixes become amenable like those incremental austerity packages which are just short term solutions. The ultimate solution to the debt crisis however is dealing with the debt.
Default is Inevitable
In addition to the desperate attempts by the European Union to avoid a default, there are deep concerns about the credit default swap (CDS) market, comparable to the concerns over Lehman Brothers and AIG two years ago. Credit default swaps are a form of insurance against an issuer defaulting on its debt and are part of the huge $600 trillion derivative market. Credit default protection is like fire protection, you only need it if there is a fire. At issue, is the
definition of a default or credit event since a Greek default would trigger the need for a payout and legal disputes between the buyer and sellers of the CDS, undermining the sovereign CDS market. Buyers of swaps purchase the paper for protection, but if there is no protection or fears of a counterparty default then why have the protection? And, who is to pay the money owed to the CDS holder? A default or delinquency would raise the borrowing costs for all countries and a free-for-all would see creditors seizing assets and ask later. The final word lies with the ten "too big to fail" dealers who insure the outstanding contracts. Déjà vu. Not only is there the desire to obscure a credit event, there is growing concern about the counterparties' creditworthiness which brings us back to two years ago when AIG had to be bailed out by the Fed. The euro is backed by the good faith and credit of its collective members, yet Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor declared recently that each member is responsible for its own institutions and thus problems. Integration it seems is in name only.
China Worries About Its Biggest Debtor
After more than two decades of double digit growth, China has been transformed from an economic backwater to a power house and now ranks second to the US in number of billionaires. And for much of this time, the West has predicted that China's bubble is ready to burst. China's economic achievements have been impressive, particularly given the size of its population. However its emergence is not a threat, particularly since China's growth is based on infrastructure and investment rather than the ballyhooed consumption prescription followed in the West, which has left a legacy of too many homes, shopping centres, and SUVs. In addition the much maligned Chinese political system has clearly accommodated China's growth. China's banking system has financed this growth. Unlike the west, China has not had the Lehman Brothers, AIGs, or Enrons. No other country has managed to build such a huge economy in such a short period of time and rather than a threat, China is taking its place among the world as just another superpower.
However, Beijing is considering a $500 billion bailout for its debt laden local governments who have racked up spending on infrastructure projects, financed by the state-owned banks. However, Beijing's crackdown on spending and borrowing has resulted in a liquidity squeeze. Credit for a time was cheap, but the spigot has been turned off and the central government has tightened its control looking to privatize more state assets. While the Economist calculates China's debt to GDP ratio at only 19 percent of national GDP, reforms are likely, starting with its banking system and underground lending. A classic scheme is that China's traders can often get bank letters of credit to pay for commodities, which must be repaid within 90 days. This line of credit allows them to lend the proceeds to desperate companies or even state-owned companies with interest rates as high as 10 percent a month. Once repaid, the trader pockets the difference. However the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) has tightened the letters of credit, but the move may be too late since commodity stockpiles have already been financed.
China Is More Capitalistic Than America
Further muddying the waters, is the once a decade leadership change next year which will see Messrs. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao replaced. China's successor to President Hu Jintao will be Vice President Xi Jinping. The Communist Party, about to celebrate its 90th anniversary is in limbo as nothing is going to happen until the leadership changes next year. Privatization has been put on hold and major decisions deferred because of the struggles between outgoing leaders and their incoming generation. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are even at odds with each other. The growing uncertainty is driving capital out and stunting investment as political jockeying intensifies ahead of the selection of the next round of leaders for the next ten years. Mr. Bo Xilai, the party chief of Chongqing is in the thick of things. These are most uncertain times. Consequently, the lame duck environment where no big issues or positions are taken until the next set of leaders are in power, not dissimilar to the jockeying and juggling before the upcoming US presidential elections.
In addition, China's response to the flood of dollars has made them more cautious and directed them to look for alternatives. To be sure their asset price inflation is a consequence of US monetary and fiscal policies which are causing global imbalances. China does not wish to be sucked into the vortex of America's coming lost decade. Consequently China has raised rates five times in a row, in the wake of 6.4 percent inflation rate in June. As Europe and the US lick their fiscal wounds, the center of the global economic gravity has shifted east. China has become more capitalist than the West. China's high level of reserves already the world's largest at $3.2 trillion, is being used to invest across the globe and in turn China has become the biggest market in the world for investment.
Behind the Fed, China is the largest holder of US debt, however it has reduced its vast holdings of US Treasuries to$1.1 trillion, according to US data. In the first quarter, the Fed had purchased Treasuries totalling $1.3 trillion on a seasonally adjusted basis. In the past, foreigners provided a steady source of financing holding $4.5 trillion in Treasuries. But now the Fed must take up the slack, printing dollars to pay for them. Importantly, assuming an agreement on the debt ceiling, the Fed will have maturing securities totalling $230 billion by December yearend. Thus, the new spending together with the pent up spending and the refinancing of maturing debt, will swamp the capital markets. Again, it's not about the debt ceiling, it is about the debt. China is rapidly moving to internationalize the yuan, but still has a long way to go in building liquid markets. China is reluctant is put all its eggs in the dollar basket. China is the world's second largest economy with its exports accounting for about 50 percent of global growth, largely dollar based. China too has a sliver of gold as part of its $3.2 trillion of reserves. China is expected to diversify further, and could purchase as much as 8,000 tonnes of gold to increase its levels to other comparable industrialised countries.
Gold Is the World's Default Currency
For decades, the US dollar was the world's main reserve currency with over 85 percent of the foreign exchange transactions in dollars. At Bretton Woods the US severed the linkage to gold, replacing British sterling as the world's reserve currency. That reserve status allowed the US to finance its external requirements cheaply and live beyond it means. That has ended with the US looking like just another heavily indebted country. Without confidence in the dollar, the world has no reserve currency. Holders of dollars then simply face increasing losses in their purchasing power. Slowly, the world is drifting to a defacto gold standard as it becomes clear that the world is choking on too much debt and dollars. Despite the political theatrics, we believe the US is on an unsustainable path and the large twin deficits of trade and current account deficits are becoming too expensive. A combination of austerity, deficit reduction, a consumption tax, tort reform and changes to entitlements are needed. History shows that when we go through periods of huge amounts of liquidity in the system, eventually that liquidity takes hold and prices move up. But the US dollar must fall further to help the current account deficit and US exports. America's debt crisis has changed everything. Without a super currency or dollar there are few alternatives or safe havens except gold.
We believe the solution to the financial crisis and Europe's problems is a universal currency backed by gold. The dollar share of global foreign exchange reserves are declining while gold is going up. While today there is no consensus about a dollar replacement, we believe that the increasing price of gold is a reflection that some have already made their bet. Since gold is a benchmark and store of value during both inflationary and deflationary times and with the erosion of faith in currencies, gold has become the default currency. On a recent trip to Venice, we saw that gold Venetian ducatos was the stalwart currency during the Venetian republic which lasted centuries. As the twin pillars of the international monetary system falters, gold has simply reclaimed its ancient status as a safe currency haven to absorb the world's excess flows. We continue to believe gold will average $2011 in 2011.
Not All ETFs Are Alike
The scepticism over gold has also caused gold shares to lag gold's stellar performance. The entire market cap of the gold shares is less than $250 billion despite by the skyrocketing gold price. As percentage of global wealth, gold and gold stocks alone account for less than two percent. Today there is much interest in the gold ETFs which are now the fifth largest holders of gold. However, some ETFs have used derivatives to accumulate positions or even hedge their position. Others have used derivatives to replicate returns which carry systemic risks. Thus a counterparty problem or in fact, a black swan event could disrupt the physical market. All ETFs are not alike. In addition, many of the central banks have loaned their gold holdings to these counterparties and with a shortage of physical bullion, some central banks are requesting the return. Indeed, central banks have been buyers of gold last year for the first time in twenty years, reflecting that perhaps gold is a better asset than fiat dollars.
We believe that the lagging of performance of the gold stocks will end, because not only do they provide a cheaper and leveraged way to accumulate reserves in the ground, but supplies are diminished. South Africa once the world's largest producer, produced less gold again. In addition, there are fewer mega-deposits discoveries which we believe will go to a premium. Finally gold miners who are equally frustrated by the lack performance have boosted their dividends in order to attract investors. Some of the big cap names are even trading at 10 to 12 times next year's earnings and now could be considered "value" investments.
Heavyweight Barrick's $7.3 billion acquisition of Equinox Minerals caused a brief sell off in the gold index, but investor reassessment of the deal caused a rebound in the index. In the last quarter, here has also been a slew of merger and acquisition activity from Northgate making a $370 million acquisition to IAMGold's acquisition of Avnel's Kalana project in Mali to Rob McEwen's merger of US Gold and Minera Andes creating a mid-tier silver producer. We believe that the rising gold price will encourage more gold mining acquisitions as the industry continues to consolidates further in the quest for growth. However, the senior producers are stuck on a treadmill with difficulties replacing reserves. Ounces on Bay Street are cheaper than the drill bit. And with the capital cost of building a mine in excess of one billion dollars, buying development deals at $1,000 an ounce is not so risky anymore. Meanwhile, the big sovereign funds and hedge funds are in competition with the gold producers for the few remaining development plays. We remain convinced that Detour Gold, Guyana Gold Fields, Osisko, Continental Gold and silver players Excellon and MAG Silver are takeover candidates. Indeed, the Yukon is experiencing another gold rush and this summer's drill program should make a lot of news. Ryan Gold has a portfolio of more than eleven separate projects covering almost 300,000 hectares in the Yukon, making it one of the largest players. The Company completed a $50 million plus financing and prospector Sean Ryan vended his company into Ryan. We also expect the junior producers to have better upside partially due to exploration and growth in reserves and production. We like Aurizon, Centamin in Egypt, St. Andrew Goldfields, Newstrike and South American Silver prospects at current levels.
Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd.
Agnico will report at month end and should have better results due to a higher gold price, improved recoveries and grade from Kittila in Finland and Pinos Altos Mine in Mexico. Meadowbanks' problems have been solved and should be a contributor in the coming quarter. Agnico shares have been hard hit due to the usual teething problems, but we continue to recommend this senior producer for its growth opportunities in production and reserves. Agnico will produce between 1.1 million and 1.2 million ounces of gold this year.
Barrick Gold Corp.
Barrick will report a barn burning quarter due in part to a higher gold price and the expanded Cortez operation in Nevada which will produce more than a million ounces this year. Barrick is trading at only ten times cash flow and has an internal target to reach nine million ounces of production up from the 7.6 million to 8 million ounces of gold to be produced this year. Barrick expects to spend more than $3.5 billion at Pueblo Viejo in the Dominican Republic and Barrick's share should be about 650,000 ounces per year. Reserves are more than 24 million ounces and the refractory ore will be autoclaved. North America is Barrick's largest exposure and we expect Barrick's next acquisition will be gold related, preferably in Canada, where they only have the Hemlo operations. We like Barrick shares here.
We continue to like what we see at Continental Gold's flagship Buritica gold project in Columbia. Buritica is one of seven gold projects in Columbia and Continental has been expanding the footprint at Buritica. The deposit is a multiple high-grade vein system at Yaragua and Veta-Sur. Recent results have shown continuity and the deposit remains open at depth and along strike. This is a potentially big system and we think the project is an ideal development situation for the majors. Buritica could be a 300,000 ounce producer and there are nine rigs turning.
East Asia Minerals Corporation
We have followed East Asia Minerals for some time and are frankly disappointed with the Miwah NI-43 101 report in Sumatra, Indonesia. We are also disappointed with the lack of news or timely updates. Our understanding is that 10 holes have been drilled, toward Moon River but still no word. Still to come is drilling to the north (Sipopok). It appears management was more interested in expanding the resource instead of doing the necessary work of filling in holes to complete a mineable reserve. Based on 71 holes, East Asia's NI 43-101 resource estimate was 3.1 million ounces at a grade of 0.94 grams per tonne using a 0.2 gram cut-off, in sharp contrast to the euphoric expectations of 10-15 million ounces. The resource block of 1,300 metres by 600 metres and 300 metres thickness was as expected but the halving of grade was another surprise. Higher grade intersections were not included due to lack of confirmation drilling, which was a surprise. Nonetheless, the Miwah deposit remains open to the north and at depth. East Asia announced a $10 million bought deal which should allow them to expand the Miwah deposit. However, we believe management has mismanaged everything from the drill program to shareholder communication to analyst contacts and unduly hurt local relationships. East Asia has also spun out some of its assets in a misguided move when it should be developing the Miwah deposit. Nonetheless we believe that the Miwah asset is there despite the credibility challenges. At current levels we see minimal downside but instead would concentrate on other companies in the area like Centurion Minerals.
Excellon Resources Inc
Excellon is the highest grade producer in Mexico with a substantial land position. Excellon's high grade La Platosa property in Mexico has been generating cash allowing Excellon to acquire Lateegra Gold. Lateegra was a former gold producer in the prolific Timmins gold camp with three properties and mining infrastructure along the Destor/Porcupine fault. With gold prices reaching new highs, this former producer lacked drilling and cash. Excellon's cash flow will aggressively explore the DeSantis property. This area has seen the revival of gold mining and is close by Lake Shore Gold's Timmins West and Thunder Creek zones. Meantime Excellon has added substantially to the La Platosa high-grade mineral resource and the search for the source of the carbonate replacement deposits (CRD) continues with two rigs turning. We met Jeremy Wyeth who is a mining engineer by background with over 25 years international mining experience in Africa, Russia, Brazil and Canada. Mr Wyeth brings an experienced operating background and will work with Excellon's active Board of Directors. Jeremy's operating experience will be useful as La Platosa gears up to expand production. We continue to like the shares here.
Kinross' costs have been increasing but should produce about 2.7 million ounces this year. While there is much attention on Tasaist, there appears to be problems also at Fruta Del Norte where Kinross is slated to spend more than a billion dollars. Start-up was projected in 2014 but our understanding is that Kinross has yet to receive the go-ahead. Meanwhile much of Tasaist construction has been started with operations to start in 2014. Tasaist is on an ambitious schedule and there is not much room for disappointment. We would avoid the shares here because of execution concerns and the belief that Kinross has bitten off more than they can chew. Tasiast was a too expensive acquisition, possesses inherent political and operation risk as well as a somewhat different labour pool. We would use Kinross as a source of funds.
Mag Silver Corp.
MAG Silver continues to expand the Juanicipio Joint Venture in Fresnillo, Zacatecas State, Mexico. Indicated resources now stands at 110 .8 million ounces, 321,000 ounces of gold and 624 million pounds of lead and zinc. MAG owns 44 percent of the joint venture with Fresnillo, the world's largest silver producer, owning the balance. Fresnillo brought the big Saucito mine into production, next door to the Juanicipio Joint Venture. MAG has retained AMC Mining Consultants to undertake a development study and updated resource of the Valdecanas vein. Fresnillo has spent $300 million and plans a second stage $200 million project, producing an ambitious 10 million ounces of silver by 2014. Since the joint venture is close by we believe must be part of Fresnillo's second stage plans. Fresnillo unsuccessfully bid $4.54 in cash but MAG shares have more than doubled since. Logic dictates that Fresnillo will want to consolidate its interest and we expect cash rich Fresnillo to step up to the plate and make a bid for MAG's share of the Joint Venture.
US Gold Corp.
Rob McEwen will merge Minera Andes and US Gold, to give US Gold cash flow in order to expand the exciting El Gallo project in Mexico. The combined company will produce 2.5 million silver ounces this year with a target of 7.5 million ounces by 2014. As in all of Rob's companies, there is a strong balance sheet of $120 million in cash and no bank debt. Minera Andes produced 1.3 million ounces of silver in the second quarter form its 49 percent interest in the San Jose mine, in close proximity to Goldcorp's Cerro Negro project in Argentina. Of interest is Minera Andes ownership of 100 percent of the Los Azules copper deposit with an inferred resource of the 2.3 billion pounds of 0.52 percent copper and indicated resource of 2.2 billion pounds of 0.73 percent copper. After the companies are merge, Los Azules could be sold since there is an appetite for copper deposits. We like the merged company here, particularly for its large American following.
|Company Name||Trading Symbol||*Exchange||Disclosure code|
|Aurizon Mines Ltd||ARZ||T||1|
|Barrick Gold Corp||ABX||T||1|
|Centamin Egypt Ltd||CEE||T||1|
|East Asia Minerals Corp||EAS||V||1,8|
|Eldorado Gold Corp||ELD||T||1|
|Excellon Resources Inc.||EXN||T||1,6,8|