Gold

The 2010 Dodd-Frank law explicitly gives the President of the United States authority to order the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily suspend or revise the Conflict Minerals rule included in the Dodd-Frank banking reform law for two years if it is “in the national security interest of the U.S.”

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Last week we reported that the Trump administration was working on a draft executive order to, indeed, suspend the rule which requires reporting of supply chains to enforce a ban on tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s backed by human-rights groups but many businesses say the rule, as is, requires a swath of industries to investigate whether their products contain the metals far down their supply chains. Compliance has already been hit or miss for the rule. Last year, 65% of companies said they still could not make determinations about their full supply chains.

Reuters reported that the leaked draft memo, which its reporters saw, said that the Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury were tasked with proposing a plan for addressing human rights violations and the funding of armed groups in the Congo and were also required toreport back within 180 days.

The memo also lays out a justification for suspending the rule, saying that while it has helped discourage some American companies from purchasing materials in the region, it has also led to “some job loss.”

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Of course, this is only a draft and it could significantly change before any actual executive order is drafted. The one thing that is sure, however, is that thanks to the wording of the Dodd-Frank law, President Donal Trump (R.-N.Y) does, indeed, have the power to suspend the rule for up to two years.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering an executive order that would suspend the conflict minerals rule of the Dodd-Frank banking regulation bill.

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The conflict mineral rule requires reporting of supply chains to enforce a ban on tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s backed by human-rights groups but many businesses say the rule, as is, requires a swath of industries to investigate whether their products contain metals that could have been sold by armed groups so far down their supply chains that it’s impossible to tell where it came from. Reporting has been spotty even under the current rules.

The proposed executive action, drafted last week and reviewed Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal, would suspend the conflict-minerals rule for two years. Business groups have fought the rule in court, saying its requirements are costly and burdensome.

US Sells Crude Oil From Strategic Reserve

10 million barrels of crude from the U.S.’s strategic reserve are scheduled to be sold later this month, the Department of Energy said.

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The shipment is part of a total 25 million barrels, to be sold over a period of three years, as per the 21st Century Cures Act, signed in December last year.

India is the world’s second-largest importer of gold after China.

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India’s gold import bill was up 12% in 2015 reaching $35 billion. 2016 final numbers are expected to come in at about the same rate, although a sharp drop in demand during December — said to be due to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s move to scrap 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes as a “demonetization” crackdown on corruption and tax evasion — is said to have hit the largely cash-facilitated gold jewellery market hard in the short term.

Even so, Gold imports are a considerable burden on India’s balance of payments coming second only to oil in the demand it puts on India’s foreign exchange reserves. India imports 900 to 1,000 metric tons per year, but local gold output is just 2 to 3 mt per year. In the same way that the Indian government has encouraged onshore and offshore oil exploration, you would expect indigenous gold mining would be an industry the government actively encourages.

Although India has mines that go back more than 120 years, its annual gold production is miniscule. According to an article in the Hindu times that could be about to change. The Kolar gold field was forced to close in 2001 due to mounting losses at operator Bharat Gold. The state-owned company had been mining the Kolar reserves since independence in 1947 but the mines are deep — down to 3 kilometers — and Bharat was operating with outmoded technology and a large, unproductive legacy workforce. But Mineral Exploration Corp. estimates show reserves to be worth $1.17 billion in the mines, with another $880.28 million in gold-bearing deposits estimated to be left over in residual dumps from previous mining operations.

How Can India Mine More Domestic Gold?

It is debatable whether state-owned Bharat gold has the expertise to economically exploit such deep and relatively low-grade reserves, but established global miners such as Vedanta may hold more potential. In February 2016, the firm became the first private company to successfully bid for a gold mine in India — the Baghmara gold mine in Chhattisgarh — a mine with potential gold reserves of 2.7 mt of contained metal. Sure, that’s a fraction of Kolar’s 35-mt potential but a good start for a firm of Vedanta’s standing to start in India’s gold mining sector.

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India is never likely to rival South Africa, Canada or Australia as a gold miner, but that’s not the point. Any contribution to the domestic market will lessen the impact gold imports have on the country’s balance of payments. With domestic reserves estimated at over 100 mt there appears to be scope, with the right state and government backing, for miners to reduce some of those imports and create domestic employment.

Well, perhaps these rebounds are not quite worthy of The Worm — but our Global Precious Metals MMI has hit its highest level since October 2016, climbing 7.9% to 82 for the February reading.

PGMs Lead the Way

Two of the biggest movers on MetalMiner’s precious metal sub-index were U.S. prices of platinum and palladium, rising 10.2% and 10.9%, respectively.

That palladium increase nearly got the price to the 18-month December 2016 high.

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Here’s the deal with palladium in a nutshell, from MoneyWeek:

“Both U.S. and Chinese car sales have been solid of late, with the latter rising at their fastest pace in three years (in 2016) and the former potentially set for another boost thanks to President Trump’s fiscal stimulus. China’s pollution problem is forcing it to tighten car emission standards, adds Chen Lin on Equities.com, which implies a steady rise in demand for palladium over the next few years.

“On the supply side, South Africa, the world’s top supplier, is not expected to increase mined output much. Analysts reckon that dwindling sales from Russia’s stockpiles means they are probably nearly depleted. TD Securities thinks the market deficit could double this year.”

What a Gold Mine!

Our intrepid editor at large, Stuart Burns — you might remember him from world-class macroeconomic coverage as it pertains to industrial metals, or (our) voice of James Bond’s Q — recently explored the wilds of India, and with him, he brought back gold.

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Or, to be more accurate, some gold coverage.
Soon we’ll publish Stuart’s take on the gold import situation in India. Here’s a taste:

“Although India has mines that go back more than 120 years, its annual gold production is miniscule. According to an article in the Hindu Times, that could be about to change. The Kolar gold field was forced to close in 2001 due to mounting losses at operator Bharat Gold. The state-owned company had been mining the Kolar reserves since independence in 1947 but the mines are deep, down to 3 kilometers, and Bharat was operating with outmoded technology and a large unproductive legacy workforce. But Mineral Exploration Corp. estimates show reserves to be worth $1.17 billion in the mines, with another $880.28 million in gold-bearing deposits estimated to be left over in residual dumps from previous mining operations.

India is never likely to rival South Africa, Canada or Australia as a gold miner, but that’s not the point — any contribution will lessen the impact gold imports have on the country’s balance of payments. With domestic reserves estimated at over 100 metric tons, there appears to be scope — with the right state and government backing — for miners to reduce some of those imports and create domestic employment.”

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Gold prices since 2013

Gold prices since 2013. Source:MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Gold is the only commodity wherein physical annual demand is only a tiny fraction of total supply available and shortages of gold caused by physical demand never happen.

Therefore, China’s demand growth for metals or the potential boost in U.S. infrastructure spending are factors that aren’t really helping push gold prices higher unlike industrial commodities.

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What’s causing gold prices fall dramatically? The U.S. dollar.

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green)

Gold (in dark) vs the dollar index (in green). Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com.

Since mid-August the dollar started a bull run that is still in play. Three main factors are propelling the dollar’s bull run:

Markets expected the Federal Reserve to raise rates by the end of the year. In December the Fed raised interest rates by a quarter point, as expected, but policymakers signaled a likelihood of three increases in 2017, up from prior expectations for two moves. While interest rates outside the U.S. stay near zero or even in negative territory, it’s no wonder yield-seeking investors are going after the greenback.

The ongoing political tensions in Europe are causing the dollar to appreciate against the euro. The ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Brexit, terrorist attacks and political instability are some of the events causing investors to lose their appetite for the European currency this year.

Finally, the victory of Donald Trump has added fuel to the dollar’s bull market. The new president-elect has proposed new tax policies that will potentially make multinational companies bring their foreign profits back to U.S., increasing the demand for dollars. In addition, the dollar is perceived as a stronger currency since investors expect growth in US to get a boost.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

As long as the dollar continues to rise, there is little hope for gold investors to make returns. Gold buyers should wait closely for weakness in the dollar before buying gold. For now, sentiment on the dollar continues to be quite bullish.

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.”