Gold

MetalMiner’s Global Precious Metals MMI dropped two points this month to 79, from 81 in November; a 2.5% decrease. But that’s less the story than what happened within this precious metals sub-index.

The PGM Story

As we said last month, longer-term structural concerns remain for the platinum-group metals (PGMs), especially platinum and palladium. However, in the short term, one of those two precious metals that are instrumental in automotive catalytic converters kept the Global Precious MMI from falling even further for December.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_December-2016_FNL

Indeed, with gold and silver falling across all four geographic markets (see below), our U.S palladium bar price jumped to an 18-month high, rising a whopping 24% month-over-month. Japanese palladium also rose appreciably.

The platinum bar price, however, did the reverse. Our U.S. platinum bar price hit a 10-month low, dropping 7% since Nov. 1.

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Crossing like ships in the night, one heading north, one heading south, what should buyers make of the platinum/palladium divergence?

According to HSBC senior analyst James Steel, talking to Platts, “the platinum-palladium spread has narrowed substantially, from $375/ounce before the U.S. election. This reflects clearly tighter underlying fundamentals for palladium.”

With car sales in the U.S. and China continuing to be robust, and with Johnson Matthey predicting another supply deficit in 2017, palladium could continue its buoyancy for the near future.

The Dollar –> Infrastructure –> Gold

Raul de Frutos gave MetalMiner readers this helpful rundown in late November:

A rising dollar depresses commodity prices, especially precious metals. It does have less of an effect on more economically-sensitive groups like energy and industrial metals. Indeed, industrial metals are on the rise despite a strong dollar. This is because the dollar is rising on expectations of higher rates down the road but, at the same time, metal prices are getting an additional boost because of Trump’s plans to spend big on the nation’s infrastructure. However, gold’s demand won’t be affected by infrastructure spending. As a result, investors are left without reasons to buy gold at this moment.

That still appears to be the case here in early December, as the US gold price on our MetalMiner IndX hit its lowest point in 10 months, falling to $1,173/oz on Dec. 1 — just over an 8% drop from Nov. 1.

(Silver prices followed suit across 4 markets globally, all dropping from November to December.)

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Last night, Republican nominee and developer Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States.

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Gold jumped nearly 5% to $1,337.40 an ounce early Wednesday to its highest in six weeks as investors snapped up safe havens. This was gold’s biggest single-day gain since June 24 when it rose as much as 8% when Britain decided to leave the European Union. It closed up 4.8% that day. However, prices almost immediately began to retreat this morning. It’s back below to $1,281.50/ounce as of this writing (10:45 AM Central), near its closing yesterday of $1,275.80/ounce.

A Trump win, which many believe leads to economic and global uncertainty, may also push the  Federal Reserve to hold off from raising interest rates next month.

MetalMiner’s Global Precious MMI dropped 5.8% to a value of 81 for November, the sub-index’s lowest level since June.

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In the midst of worries over the U.S. presidential election and the Federal Reserve‘s interest rate moves, precious metal prices have been on the rise over the past week.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_November-2016_FNL

Many investors are girding for a Brexit-like jump if Republican contender Donald Trump wins; the U.S. palladium price, for example, coming off $700/ounce-level highs from early October to just around $600/oz at the start of November, jumped back up to $630 mid-last week.

Focus on Palladium Prices

While some more short-term spikes are undoubtedly coming, longer-term structural concerns continue to swirl around the PGM markets in particular.

In just last month’s analysis of another MetalMiner monthly sub-index (the Automotive MMI), my colleague Jeff Yoders brought up excellent points about the state of the platinum group metals:

“The increasing cost of PGMs was keeping the Automotive MMI in positive territory for most of the first three quarters of 2015. The pullback in precious metals prices could pull the rug out from under automotive, too. The catalyst metals never took off for investors the way that gold did and that’s bad news for their prices as supply was never really in much doubt without more investor interest.”

Now, it looks as though that’s coming true.

Bloomberg reports that palladium futures “tumbled to the lowest in more than three months amid signs of weakening investment and physical demand for the metal used in auto pollution control devices.”

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Phil Streible, a senior market strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago, told Bloomberg that “demand is really starting to fall.”

“You’re going to see that as interest rates go up in the U.S., auto loan rates will rise and you’re probably going to see automobile sales decline,” according to Streible.

The Rest of the Precious Metals

Platinum, silver and gold prices fell across the board from October to November, across geographies including the U.S., China and India.

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Many believe gold will again reach $1,300 an ounce next year and China now imports more crude oil than the U.S.

Gold Above $1,300/Ounce? Next Year, Poll Says

Gold is likely to recover to above $1,300 an ounce next year as a pickup in physical demand counters more potential U.S. rate increases, a Reuters poll at an industry event showed.

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The precious metal had lost nearly 9% from July’s two-year highs to trade around $1,255 an ounce on Tuesday, hit by expectations the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates in December for the second time in a year.

China Overtakes U.S. as Top Crude Oil Importer

China imported record volumes of crude oil last month, eclipsing the U.S. as the world’s top buyer of foreign oil as Beijing’s state reserves shipped in cheap crude to fill new storage tanks.

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September’s crude imports rose 18% from a year earlier to 33.06 million metric tons or 8.04 million barrels per day (bpd) on a daily basis, customs data showed.

This week we saw precious metals, particularly gold, fall as the Federal Reserve board looked increasingly hawkish about finally raising interest rates significantly by December. They really mean business this time!

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The strong dollar has been causing metal prices to fall for the last two months, but this week it hit a seven-month high. If the dollar was Nickelback, precious metals would be Bon Jovi. When investors put their money into the metal, itself, it directly affects the value of the dollar, a commodity that’s merely a certified paper version of the valuable metal and, in this case, vice versa. Why is the dollar riding so high? The rally is based, partially, on those hawkish Fed governor comments. But there’s another reason…

The U.K. and E.U. Can’t Stop Their Brexit Bickering

Yes, the nation that brought you “Fawlty Towers” and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” is punking its soon-to-be-former European Union partners by drawing up lists of what it gets in the divorce and generally demanding access to the Europe’s single market when it finally leaves.

Other European leaders are rattling the sabre right back and threatening punitive sanctions and zero access to the U.K. once it leaves. French President Francois Hollande seems to be leading the charge but, honestly, most French people would gladly give the U.K. anything it wants if they’d simply promise to take Hollande off their hands. He’s seriously the most disapproved of president in French history.

This has to do with metals because the back-and-forth finally resulted in a flash crash in the pound’s value and that dragged the Euro down against the dollar, too. Here in the U.S. our presidential election has turned childish bickering into somewhat of an art form. Nice that the Europeans have taken notice and are trying the same. It’s helping to boost the dollar.

Alcoa’s Last Stand (Kind of)… As One Company

Meanwhile, Alcoa, Inc., will be splitting itself in two next month. The company reported disappointing earnings in its last earnings season kickoff report as a unified group. A spin-off will take its aerospace and automotive metals business into a new direction while leaving its money-losing primary aluminum smelting business gets to… still smelt.

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Anyway, the company posted a higher third-quarter profit, but revenue fell and that discouraged investors who punished the company’s stock. I bet the titanium and nickel-alloy business unit members of Alcoa thought to themselves, “not my problem anymore.”

According to SIMA data, steel imports fell in September and gold is seeing a bounce back as bargain hunters take advantage of its low price.

Steel Imports Fall

Based on the Commerce Department’s most recent Steel Import Monitoring and Analysis (SIMA) data, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) reported today that steel import permit applications for the month of September totaled 2,846,000 net tons.

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This was a 7% decrease from the 3,066,000 permit tons recorded in August and a 5% decrease from the August preliminary imports total of 2,989,000 nt. Import permit tonnage for finished steel in September was 2,090,000 nt, down 9% from the preliminary imports total of 2,307,000 nt in August.

For the first nine months of 2016 (including September SIMA permits and August preliminary data), total and finished steel imports were 24,808,000 nt and 19,691,000 nt, down 20% and 22%, respectively, from the same period in 2015. The estimated finished steel import market share in September was 25% and is 25% year-to-date.

Bargain Hunters Buy Up Physical Gold

Physical gold demand in London jumped after this week’s big price drop, dealers said yesterday.

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Bargain hunters came to the market because of the metal’s technically-driven slide. Online gold trading platform BullionVault.com saw its heaviest trading day on Tuesday since its all-time record on June 24, the day of the U.K. referendum result on European Union membership.

Our Global Precious MMI was up a point this month, climbing to 86 from 85 last month, an increase of 1.2%, but this may be the last increase we see for awhile as gold experienced its biggest single-day post-Brexit drop yesterday. It closed at $1,268.40 an ounce, a slide of 3%, down from $1,311.20 on Monday. It’s around $1,275 as of this writing.

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The yellow metal was dragged to its lowest point since the Brexit vote in June which was driven mainly by a bounce in the U.S. dollar after upbeat data triggered a break of key support at $1,300 an ounce. As speculation grows that the Federal Reserve may finally raise interest rates in December, the dollar has been given a boost and a selloff in gold has ensued. Losses in silver and platinum group metals have followed, although none fell as dramatically as gold this week.

Global-Precious-Metals_Chart_Ocotber-2016_FNL

We warned, earlier this month, that the first half investment appeal of precious metals was waning. The relatively tepid increase in September was a sign that the metals, as a group, simply could not keep the momentum of the first half. Most are blaming this pullback on the dollar, and that certainly has a lot to do with it, but the fact that economic fears about the U.S. economy have been quelled might be the real culprit.

U.S. manufacturing rebounded in September after contracting in August. New orders and production at factories increased, although employment fell. The Institute for Supply Management said Monday that its manufacturing index rose to 51.5 in September from 49.4 in August. Any score above 50 is a net expansion in manufacturing activity.

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While gold is the most for-investment metal of the group, the others are experiencing similar effects as gold and their supply/demand fundamentals aren’t much better. Silver is more industrial, but acts as a safe haven, too, a veritable poor man’s gold. Platinum and palladium are more tied to the automotive and other catalyst markets. Still, they are moving largely in lock-step right now and have been doing so since the dollar bottomed out in May. Platinum is receiving a particularly cold shoulder from investors. The metal is well-supplied even if investment demand increases.

What Does This Mean for Precious Buyers?

A stronger dollar and better economic data about the U.S. economy is bad for the investment appeal of precious metals. More data will come out in the days leading up to the presidential election but precious metals’ gains of the first half are likely a thing of the past.

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The IMF has downgraded its U.S. growth outlook and Canada’s Goldcorp has been forced to shut down one of its largest mines in Mexico.

IMF Downgrades U.S.

The International Monetary Fund is downgrading its forecast for the U.S. economy this year and warns that political discontent threatens global growth.

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The IMF on Tuesday cut its estimate for U.S. economic growth in 2016 to 1.6% from the 2.2% it had predicted in July. The American economy grew 2.6% in 2015. The fund’s dimmer outlook for the U.S. occurs even as the Federal Reserve is thought to be preparing to raise interest rates in December.

The global economy will expand 3.1% this year, it said — the same as forecast in July.

The IMF described worldwide growth as “subpar,” with a slowdown in the U.S. and other advanced economies being offset by slightly stronger output in developing and emerging nations.

Goldcorp Shuts Down Blockaded Mexican Mine

Goldcorp Inc. said on Monday it was temporarily shutting down its Peñasquito gold mine in Mexico as it was unable to safely continue operations due to a week-long blockade by a trucking contractor, sending its shares down nearly 5%.

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The world’s No. 3 gold miner by market value said it was unable to bring in food, water and fuel for the 750 people on the site, which has been blockaded by a contractor concerned about losing business due to efficiency improvements at the mine.

A couple of developments made precious metals soar in the first half of the year.

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A falling dollar was the first development that helped gold, silver and platinum group metals soar. Second, the U.K.’s Brexit referendum. Since their January’s lows, gold, silver, platinum, and palladium rose 30%, 50%, 44%, and 50% respectively.

Yes, supply/demand fundamentals differ from one metal to another. Gold has a big role in jewelry and investments. Silver has more of an industrial role, while automotive catalyst demand makes up about 40% and 75% of platinum and palladium demand. These distinct elements can cause these metals to behave differently from time to time but, overall, there are more two more critical drivers to pay attention to. The dollar and economic fears:

Gold (in yellow) vs Platinum (in Blue). Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

Gold (in yellow) vs platinum (in Blue). Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data.

  • Back in December the U.S. dollar peaked. Weakness in the currency lasted until May and boosted the price of precious metals.
  • In May, the dollar bottomed out and started to climb, having a depressing effect on precious metals. But the effect didn’t last too long as toward the end of June, the U.K.’s Brexit referendum took place. The economic uncertainty pushed safe haven assets higher.
  • Finally, during the third quarter, the U.S. Dollar has been pretty neutral as investors wait for the Federal Reserve to take steps on raising rates at the same time as economic fears ease. The result? Investors lack reasons to push prices higher and consequently prices are retracting.

What This Mean For Metal Buyers

Unless the upcoming monetary policies cause the dollar to weaken, or new economic fears bring back the appeal for these safe haven assets, it might take a little while until we see precious metals rising like we saw in the first half.

Welcome back to the MetalMiner week-in-review! This week we’ve got in-depth reporting on China and market economy status, India getting tough on aluminum imports and Canada… well, you’ll see what happened in Canada.

We Know Gold Prices Have Gone Up… Butt This is Ridiculous

The theft of about $140,000 worth of gold ($180,000 in Canadian dollars) from the Royal Canadian Mint, was supposedly an inside job… in more ways than one.

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After a trial that concluded in Ottawa on Tuesday, Leston Lawrence, a 35-year-old employee of the government mint in Ottawa, stood accused of foiling the facility’s high security and smuggling out 18 7.4-ounce pucks — this is Canada, after all — worth about $6,800 each. He sold most of the pucks, cooled into the size of a purity testing dipper used at the mint, to an Ottawa Gold Sellers retail store at a nearby mall. The accused criminal mastermind also had four more of the pucks in a safe deposit box.

AdobeStock_John_Takai_security_gold

“Go ahead, scan me with the wand. Nothing to see here.” Source: Adobe Stock/John Takai.

The question the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or the Mint, couldn’t figure out is how he got past the state-of-the-art security that featured full-body metal detectors and secondary screenings with a wand for anyone that tripped the first scan?

Before Lawrence was fired from the Mint and arrested in 2015, investigators also found a tub of Vaseline in his locker. While the wand scanners can pick up even small pieces of metal in a person’s clothes, security officials from the Mint said they probably would not detect dipper-sized gold pucks that were forced between someone’s buttocks using the vaseline.

Ewww, Canada. Read more