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India is almost on the cusp of this year’s festival and wedding season, but the domestic bullion market remains subdued, contrary to historical norms.

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The reason? Gold prices in India have rallied 20% this year based on several internal and external factors, Livemint reported.

Over the past week, spot prices touched a high of U.S. $558.45 (Rs 40,000) per 10 grams. The futures market showed a similar trend, though prices later dropped. Gold futures had hit a record high of U.S. $543.44 per 10 grams (Rs 38,666).

The Livemint report said the spread between MCX and international prices narrowed on Tuesday from near $51/ounce to about $42/ounce, sparking some buying interest in the physical market. But even then, the higher domestic price and higher taxes continued to dampen demand.

Bullion experts forward many reasons for the highest-ever spurt in gold prices, including: a hike in import duty, the weaker rupee versus the U.S. dollar, the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, the U.K.’s impending Brexit and buying by global central banks.

India’s gold imports this July fell by 55% from a year ago, down to a three-year low, Yahoo Finance reported.

The gold scene in most of Asia is equally depressing.

News agency Reuters reported steep prices prompted Asian consumers to sell back physical gold for profit this week.

Some amount of buying, even at the current price range, did happen because of gold’s appeal as an instrument to hedge against risk.

In China, the biggest gold consumer in the world, premiums eased slightly to $6-$9 per ounce over the benchmark, down from $9-$10 last week.

The Reuters report quoted Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong, as saying interest was mostly from the investment side.

In India, dealer discounts of up to U.S. $33 an ounce over official domestic price saw some amount of buying activity. Most dealers, however, were not in the mood to place new orders, preferring to wait and let the situation unfold, according to the Economic Times.

Almost everyone is waiting for a price correction, which is a far cry from the positive situation at the start of 2019.

Demand grew 9% from January-June this year, sparking hopes that consumption towards the latter half of the year would go up.

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But experts are of the opinion that if things do not improve soon, consumption could slump to a low of over 650 tons (comparable to the 2016 low).

It looks as though the winter is just heating up for the Global Precious Monthly Metals Index (MMI).

The sub-index tracking a basket of gold, silver, platinum and palladium prices from four different geographies rose three points to hit 90 for the January reading — a 3.4% increase — driven by a still-hot palladium price.

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The U.S. palladium bar price broke the 1,200-per-ounce barrier to start the month, ending at $1,252 per ounce to begin 2019. That represents a three-month uptrend. Meanwhile, the gold price reclaimed its premium over palladium, settling at $1,282 per ounce to begin the month.

U.S. silver also rose, while platinum dropped in the U.S. and Japan.

Palladium Outlook Looking Even Better With Hybrid Vehicle Demand

As we wrote last month, while supply from major producers including Russia and South Africa is not growing, global automotive palladium demand is expected to achieve a new record high in 2018 of around 8.5 million ounces, according to precious metals consultancy Metals Focus as reported by Reuters.

That conspires for the high price bubble of the formerly junior PGM of late. However, that may not last.

“This increases the potential for correction,” Commerzbank is quoted as stating in a recent outlook report. “We expect a price correction [for palladium] to begin in the course of the first quarter of 2019.”

After correcting, the bank expects the price should to “resume its upswing,” forecasting a price of $1,100 per troy ounce by the end of 2019, it is quoted as saying.

Other analysts agree with that general take, but that doesn’t mean that the longer-term demand outlook isn’t still strong.

According to Anton Berlin, head of analysis and market development at Norilsk Nickel PJSC, as quoted by Bloomberg, “combined palladium use in hybrid and plug-in hybrid — or rechargeable — vehicles next year will be nearly triple that of 2016.”

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Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. agree. “Hybrids are forecast to grow from just 3 percent of global market share in 2016 to 23 percent of sales by 2025,” stated a late-2018 report by the bank, according to Bloomberg.

Here’s What Happened

  • All quiet on the precious-metals front this month, as our Global Precious Metals MMI held pat from May to June at a reading of 84.
  • Since we tend to keep a closer eye on the platinum group metals (PGMs) due to their automotive applications, the U.S. platinum price tracked by the MetalMiner IndX posted only a negligible gain, while the U.S. palladium price suffered only a negligible loss…reflected directly in the wash that was the sub-index’s June performance.
  • Interestingly, gold has been getting hot as of late. More on that below.

What’s Going On in the Background?

  • Although the Global Precious Metals MMI did not reflect it in the May-to-June time period, the U.S. gold price increase after June 1 has gotten some heads turning. As my colleague and new MetalMiner Editor Fouad Egbaria reported earlier this week, “gold neared its year-to-date high on Tuesday,” according to Reuters. “The rise comes in a climate of political uncertainty, with an election in the United Kingdom, former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday and a European Central Bank meeting this week,” Egbaria noted.
  • Back to platinum. As a reflection of the metal’s dawdling short-term pricing, South African producer Lonmin has been struggling, so much so that Reuters reported earlier this week that the company is “pulling every lever to try to restore confidence in its ailing business, including reopening a major shaft and expanding its biggest operation,” according to Lonmin’s CEO. Low prices and skyrocketing costs have reportedly conspired to present the company with a cash problem over the past near-decade.

What Metal Buyers Should Look Out For

  • Platinum specifically has had a low-price problem this year — but that’s obviously less of a problem if you’re purchasing metal. While we’re unsure of when prices will swing back up, mainly because output cuts in South Africa and elsewhere have seemingly not helped, it may be hard to discount current windows for smaller spot buys.

Exact Prices of the Key Movers and Shakers

 

This morning in metals news, the strike at Freeport McRoRan’s Grasberg copper mine was extended for a second month, oil prices rose in expectation of supply cuts, and silver prices reached a three-week high.

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Freeport Indonesia Strike Extended

This past Saturday, the union representing thousands of workers at Freeport’s Grasberg copper mine in Papua, Indonesia announced that the ongoing strike will be extended beyond May 30, Reuters reported. As union industrial relations officer Tri Puspital told Reuters, “We will extend the strike for 30 more days.” Approximately 9,000 workers are participating in the strike.

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The reason for the strike revolves around employment. Last month, Freeport laid off about 10% of its 32,000 workers to cut costs, which accrued to the tune of millions thanks to an ongoing dispute with the Indonesian government over rights to the Grasberg mine. “With this problematic combination of protests from workers and tensions with the Indonesian government,” wrote MetalMiner analyst Raul de Frutos earlier this month, “it’s no wonder that investors are concerned about further supply disruptions this year.” It looks like supply disruptions will continue.

A Key Week for Oil

One hopes that this will be the only time when news source after news source mentions Saudi Arabia and glowing orbs in the same headline. In more important news, Bloomberg reported yesterday that Saudi Arabia has received Iraq’s support to extend oil output cuts for nine months, after Saudi Minister of Energy Khalid Al-Falih flew to Baghdad to talk to Jabar al-Luaibi, his Iraqi counterpart. Read more

Our Global Precious Metals MMI inched up a point in April. However, this year the index seems to be struggling near 84 points. Let’s take a look at gold and palladium, two of the precious metals integrated in this index, to better understand the ongoing trend in precious metals.

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Gold

Some analysts are saying that gold is up this year on its safe haven appeal due to rising geopolitical instability. But that’s simply not true. Otherwise, we would see it reflected in stock market indexes, which are trading at record highs. Not only the U.S. but also Europe, China and other emerging markets are seeing their stock markets hit multi-year highs. Investors are confident about the prospects for the global economy, and until something proves them wrong, gold is lacking any appeal as a safe haven.

Gold CME contract. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com

If you held gold this year, don’t thank rising political tensions; simply thank a weaker dollar and some dip buying. This year’s rally in gold follows a 18% price slump in Q4 of last year. But prices are back to their average and just 8% below $1,380/oz, a level that has been a ceiling to gold prices for four consecutive years. This means that investors will have to find good reasons to chase prices higher. Given the ongoing strength across global stock markets and the rather neutral picture of the dollar, we wouldn’t expect gold investors to get a good return on their money for the balance of the year.

Palladium

As I’ve written earlier on MetalMiner, “palladium prices rose to a two-year high in April, making it the biggest gainer among precious metals. Last month we outlined some of the factors contributing to the palladium price rise: a growing auto sector; a strong South African currency; a falling dollar; and bullish sentiment across industrial metals. However, as prices continue to climb, it’s time to question how high prices can go. Despite a still solid outlook, there are some reasons to believe palladium prices could be nearing their peak.”

One of them is a potential slowdown in demand for cars. U.S. car sales declined in April, following a disappointing month of March. Markets suspect that the car industry boom that has run since 2010 has now come to an end.

Meanwhile in China, car sales are still going strong, but the pace is not the same as last year. As I wrote before, “weaker sales tax incentives have put pressure on demand this year and are expected to slow down demand even more next year. Buyers of cars with engines up to 1.6 liters paid a 5% purchase tax last year, but they are now paying a 7.5% rate. Buyers are still finding incentives to rush on buying cars this year since the rate will increase to 10% in 2018.”

Palladium nears long-term resistance levels. Source: MetalMiner analysis of stockcharts.com data

Finally, as with the case of gold, palladium might need the stronger fundamentals to lure investors to chase prices higher. Historically, palladium has peaked in the range of $850-$900. Prices closed in April at $827.

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What This Means For Metal Buyers

Precious metals gained this year, but gains won’t come easily from now onwards. The opportunity to buy or invest in precious metals might have passed by.

Read more

Gold bears have had quite a ride since the start of this year. The price spiked to $1,286 per ounce last week, a rise of 11% since the end of last year as this chart courtesy of the Financial Times shows.

Gold in 2017

Source: Financial Times

Despite a gradually improving global economic picture, geopolitical tensions have increased in recent months first with Syria and more recently with President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was prepared to take military action in North Korea.

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In Europe, investors looking to protect themselves against the political risk associated with the first round of the French presidential elections where the fear of a shock victory by the far right leader Marine Le Pen was considered a distinct possibility. During this same period, the U.S. dollar has weakened somewhat in value and with gold inversely correlated to the currency, as the dollar falls gold, and other commodity prices, rise.

Well, what a difference a week makes. North Korea has shown itself to be less capable and in the face of a tougher stance from America, less belligerent than during previous bouts of posturing.

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In the French elections, the least bad option, Emmanuel Macron, has emerged victorious from the first round over Marine Le Pen with nearly all observers expecting he will win through in the second round of voting on May 7. Later this week we should hear President Trump’s tax policies which are widely expected to include substantial reductions in personal and corporate tax rates. On the back of solid U.S. and global economic growth, such inflationary fiscal stimulus will only hasten further U.S. Federal Reserve rate increases. Not surprisingly, Goldman Sachs is not alone in predicting further weakness in the gold price, which weakened promptly on the news of the French elections and is targeted by Goldman to fall to $1,200 per ounce this summer. While not a universal truth, Goldman Sachs predictions do tend do have an element of being self-fulfilling simply because so many investors take their advice into consideration when making investment decisions.

Gold Bears

These gold bears haven’t had as big a run as their metals brethren. Source: Haribo

Of course, there remain counter arguments as to why the gold price may yet rise. Trump’s presidential decrees are easier to make than getting legislature onto the statute book. Proclamations this week over the tax reduction will likely meet a more favorable Republican response than there was the case with healthcare but, even so, may be much delayed or watered-down before having any impact on the economy.

Likewise, U.S. growth could slow reducing the impetus for the Fed to deliver on its three expected rate increases this year. The Fed has frequently undershot rate rise expectations over recent years. Finally, our friend in Pyongyang has the ability, and no doubt inclination, to still do something stupid despite pressure being brought to bear to back down by his Chinese bankers. On balance, though, gold bears have probably had as good run this year as they are likely to get and profit-taking is now inevitable for all but long-term holders of the yellow metal.

The World Platinum Investment Council‘s bullishness on platinum as a key investment and industrial asset, which we reported on last fall in an interview with the Council’s Director of Research Trevor Raymond, seems to be bearing fruit as we approach the end of Q1.

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Platinum bar prices and a couple other precious price points led MetalMiner’s Global Precious Metals MMI to rise 2.4% for March 2017, landing at a value of 84.

Global Precious MMIIndeed, the U.S. platinum bar price, up by nearly 3% this month, has been on an upward trajectory for the past three months, starting the month out above the $1,000-per-ounce level for the first time since October 2016.

A Focus on Platinum

Worries over supply shortages of the namesake of platinum group metals (PGMs) are still behind the investment opportunities that the WPIC foresees — so much so that the Council is pushing new initiatives on two separate global fronts.

Although holdings of platinum-backed exchange-traded funds (ETFs) fell to their lowest since mid-2013 last October, Reuters reported that WPIC “plans to launch an ETF in China, the world’s biggest consumer of the precious metal, and a coin-based fund in Europe in 2017,” according to an executive of the council.

“We are working on two deals in China for investment products. (An) ETF and retail platinum bars with a big state-run enterprise,” Marcus Grubb, director of market development at WPIC, told Reuters. The ETF itself was formed by leading platinum producers to develop investor demand for the metal, according to the news service.

Grubb told Reuters that India’s platinum jewelry sales are rising by 25-30% a year. The PGM’s star has been rising on the subcontinent, with some questioning whether it will overtake gold as the go-to in jewelry demand in India (which is the world’s second-biggest gold consumer, so not likely anytime soon…but still).

The council will also launch a $50 million coin-based platinum fund in Europe, he told Reuters.

Auto Market Fine…For Now

It helps that car sales still appear to be cruising along, even if at, well, only cruising speeds. Even though U.S. car sales dropped 1.1% in February over the same month last year, total vehicle sales in China, including trucks and buses, came in 0.2% higher year-on-year to 2.5 million units.

But, as my colleague Jeff Yoders reported, China is also entering the planned final year of a major government automotive purchase rebate which could affect sales as the incentive winds down. What this will mean for platinum use in vehicles remains to be seen.

The Supply Game: Latest Producer Moves

Back to the supply side. Shortage concerns have recently caused companies such as South Africa’s Northam Platinum Ltd. to buy up more platinum assets including mines, in this case from Glencore, Reuters reports.

Glencore’s Eland mine, containing some 21.3 million ounces of the metal, play into the Northam’s long-term production strategy — which, of course, banks on continued demand and higher platinum pricing.

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However, Northam said that the global economic outlook and low-dollar metal prices “remain a concern for them, at a time when it faces increasing power and labor costs,” according to Reuters. As of this writing, $1 = 13.08 rand, worse than last month.

 

Gold prices have gained 9% this year, recouping a healthy amount post-U.S. presidential election.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

A stronger dollar and expectations for economic growth drove investors out of the safe-haven asset. What’s now sending investors back into gold? and, is this gold rally the beginning of gold’s revival or just a dead cat bounce?

Buying The Dip

Gold rises in 2017. Source:MetalMIner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Although a 9% increase might look impressive, it really isn’t. Gold previously lost $180 per ounce in less than two months. After such a big slump it’s normal see a price rebound since many investors will see the significant dip as an opportunity to buy gold at a discount.

To me, this doesn’t mean that gold’s underlying fundamentals have improved. Prices still have yet to test stiff resistance near $1,300 per ounce. This rally could lose steam in March.

The US Dollar

The US Dollar Index since March 2016. Source: MetalMiner analysis of @stockcharts.com data.

Perhaps, the single factor contributing most to this year’s gold rally is a weaker dollar. Weakness in the dollar also comes because the currency rose very fast in the last quarter of 2016. In addition, President DonaldTrump made comments that he desires a weaker dollar and that has also weighed down the currency.

Last week, Federal Reserve officials said they plan to raise rates “fairly soon,” but “they left investors doubting that the central bank will act at its March meeting,” according to a piece on Dow Jones newswires. “The Fed raised interest rates in December and cited plans to raise rates as many as three times in 2017,” according to that story. Gold usually suffers under higher rates, since the precious metal becomes less “less attractive compared with yield-bearing assets when borrowing costs rise,” according to Dow Jones.

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This month the dollar seems to be finding some support. We’ll have to wait and see if the currency can resume its bull market run, which would be quite bearish for gold prices.

Stock Markets

The S&P 500 hits all-time highs. Source: @Stockcharts.com.

As a CNBC.com article puts it, “Trump has frequently told U.S. citizens he remains committed on both tax reform and regulatory cuts since entering the White House, which has created optimism among investors.” We already presented the case for a bull stock market back in January.

A Trump administration for the next four years might be just what the doctor prescribed to keep this aging bull stock market going, even with seven-plus years of gains behind its back. At least that’s what it looks like thus far. U.S. stock indexes are trading at all-time highs, which is not helping gold as a safe haven.

What This Means For Metal Buyers

The recent strength in gold prices is something to keep an eye on. However, keep in mind that this rally might just be a dead cat bounce. A rising stock market, a healthy U.S. dollar and gold prices meeting resistance are factors that could keep a lid on gold’s rally.

We warned last month that the mostly small losses the prices our MetalMiner IndX experienced were caused by investors taking profits.

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Our suspicions were confirmed when almost all of our sub-indexes had big price rebounds this month. The Automotive MMI jumped 12.2% Raw Steels 8% and Aluminum 6%. Even our Stainless Steel MMI only dropped 1.7% and has taken off since February 1 as nickel supply is even more in question now with both the Philippines and Indonesia’s raw ore exports in question.

The bull market is on for the entire industrial metals complex. Last month’s pause was necessary for markets to digest gains but the strong positive sentiment for both manufacturing and construction shows no signs of ebbing in the U.S. and Chinese markets.

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.