Casey Research – Gold Silver & World Views
Scrolling feed from Casey Research Daily Dispatch – news views and insights from one of the industry’s best.
- Thu, 10 Jul 2014 14:35:00 +0000: Paging Dr. Robot: Please Make Your Way to the OR - Casey Research - Research & Analysis
They say a picture is worth a thousand words; this one could have been worth nearly $800,000.
This “picture” is a chart of Intuitive Surgical’s stock price from February 28, 2003 to May 1, 2012. Over this 9.17-year period, ISRG’s share price rose from $7.52 to $588.28, a gain of more than 7,700%. If you had invested just $10,000 in ISRG at the beginning of this period, you would have been sitting on more than $780,000 at the end. For comparison, a $10,000 investment in the S&P 500 over the same time frame would have netted only $16,700.
While the kinds of returns that ISRG provided in such relatively short order are extremely rare, the space in which the company operates still has the potential to offer savvy investors life-changing gains in the years ahead.
Here’s the story.
Human beings have been performing surgery on each other for thousands of years. Archaeologists have dug up countless trephinated human skulls—which have had a hole cut out of them while the person was still alive—at sites all over the world. In France, archaeologists uncovered 40 such skulls, dating to around 6500 BCE. While the 1:3 ratio of trephinated skulls discovered at this site was fairly high, what’s perhaps more interesting is that many of them show signs of healing. That indicates the “patient” lived for years after the trephination. Extrapolating from the frequency of healed bones encountered worldwide, anthropologist Yilmaz Erdal of Hacettepe University in Turkey has proposed that by the Bronze Age perhaps half of all recipients survived the procedure.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the mid-19th century. By then, surgeons had more refined tools and anesthesia to work with, giving them the freedom to go deeper into the body. They could try to cure things that they’d never been able to touch before. But there was still a big problem: survival rates from surgery proved to be no better than they were during the Bronze Age. About half the patients “treated” ended up dying from an infection.
Then along came Joseph Lister, a Scottish surgeon who believed that invisible microorganisms were the cause of the infections that killed many of his patients post-surgery. He knew that carbolic acid (phenol) had been used to treat sewage and vanquish a cattle parasite, so he applied the same principle to people. He cleaned his patients’ wounds with phenol and soaked their dressings in it as well. It worked. In 1865 and 1866, the death rate for Lister’s surgical patients was about 46%. From 1867-1870, after he introduced his new antiseptic treatment, it fell to 15%.
Lister’s work revolutionized medicine. With anesthesia and a sterile operating field, doctors could start doing surgery on everything. Even transplantation became possible. Surgeons became gods. But there were further complications.
As Dr. Catherine Mohr, a mechanical engineer and medical doctor, said:
The era of the “big surgeon, big incision” had arrived, but at quite a cost, because they are saving lives, but not necessarily quality of life, because healthy people don’t usually need surgery, and unhealthy people have a very hard time recovering from a cut like that. The question had to be asked, “Well, can we do these same surgeries but through little incisions?”
Enter laparoscopic or “minimally invasive” surgery, which uses long instruments through small incisions—as opposed to the big incisions of yesterday—in an effort to reduce trauma.
It works like this: Each small incision is called a “port,” and at each port a tubular instrument called a “trocar” is inserted. Specialized elongated scissors and graspers, along with a camera called a laparoscope, are passed through the trocars during the procedure. The camera transmits images to a video monitor, and the surgeon manipulates his tools while watching the results on a monitor.
The first laparoscopic cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) was performed in 1987, and since then laparoscopic surgery has experienced exponential growth. By 1999, virtually all gallbladder surgeries used the laparoscopic approach. Today there are a total of approximately two million laparoscopic procedures performed each year in the US.
The reasons for this rapid growth are simple. Compared to traditional surgery, patients typically experience less pain, a shorter recovery period, less scarring, and have a reduced risk of infection.
But once again, the benefits come at a cost. The techniques are extremely difficult for a surgeon to perfect, and during that learning curve the rate of complications increases. Other related difficulties of laparoscopic surgery include the rigid instruments (which have restricted degrees of motion and essentially take away a surgeon’s wrists). They must be held in place for long periods and amplify inaccurate small movements. And the tool endpoints move in the opposite direction to the surgeon’s hands due to the pivot point, which can compromise natural eye-hand coordination (called the Fulcrum effect).
Not to worry, though. Dr. Robot is here to fix all that.
The history of robotic-assisted surgery actually developed in the same time frame as laparoscopy. In 1985, the PUMA 560 robot arm was used to place a needle for a brain biopsy using computerized tomography guidance. But it wasn’t until Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgery System was approved for laparoscopic surgical procedures in 2000 that the idea of robotic-assisted surgery really started to take off.
According to the website All About Robotic Surgery:
The da Vinci is intended to assist in the control of several endoscopic instruments, including rigid endoscopes, blunt and sharp dissectors, scissors, scalpels, and forceps. The system is cleared by the FDA to manipulate tissue by grasping, cutting, dissecting and suturing.
The da Vinci system consists of three components: the vision system, the patient-side cart, and the surgeon console.
- The vision system includes the endoscope, the cameras, and other equipment to produce a 3D image of the operating field.
- The patient-side cart has three robotic arms and an optional fourth arm. One arm holds the endoscope, while the other arms hold interchangeable surgical instruments.
- The Surgeon Console is where the surgeon sits— several feet away from the operating table—and manipulates the robot’s surgical instruments.
The system basically solves the problems associated with normal laparoscopic surgery. The robotic arms are more precise and steady and have no problems holding the instruments in place for long periods. Meanwhile, dexterity is restored thanks to the robotic arm’s flexible wrist; and the fulcrum effect does not come into play because the surgeon’s motions correspond directly to the motion of the instruments. That means reduced training times with superior outcomes.
Today, the system is FDA cleared for a number of surgical categories, and there are about 3,000 da Vinci systems installed in hospitals throughout the world. They performed about 450,000 procedures in 2012.
Not everybody is excited about the proliferation of Dr. Robot, however. Intuitive Surgical faces a number of lawsuits filed by patients who experienced unexplained burns and tissue damage during surgery. Plaintiffs claim that the electrical current used to cut and cauterize tissue arced outside the surgical field, causing damage to surrounding tissue. Though the number of injuries compared to the number of procedures is low, that’s no consolation for the people who have them.
Still, even if Intuitive Surgical ends up paying out huge sums for these suits, they will hardly be a bump in the road for the robotic-assisted surgery industry as a whole. The market is just too big and still relatively untapped.
By our conservative calculations, less than 25% of the laparoscopic procedures in the US today are robotically assisted, and that penetration rate is much lower in the rest of the world. Thus the medical robotic-systems market is expected to grow from $1.78 billion in 2013 to $3.76 billion by 2018, a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) north of 16%.
What’s more, existing applications of robotic surgery only scratch the surface. We’re already seeing a rapid expansion of procedures. For example, a robotic system called the “neuroArm” made history in May 2008 after successfully assisting doctors perform brain surgery to remove an egg-sized tumor from a patient. And there’s much, much more to come.
The opportunities in robotic-assisted surgery are exciting for investors because a number of small (mostly yet unknown) public companies that operate in the space are busy innovating and coming up with new tech to either take down the giant that is Intuitive Surgical or to expand the market by going in another direction entirely. We’ve uncovered the one such company that we think has the most game-changing potential. Sign up today for a risk-free trial of Casey Extraordinary Technology and in our next issue due out in one week, you’ll be able to read all about this undiscovered gem.
- Wed, 09 Jul 2014 06:11:00 +0000: Junior Resource Shares: Ready for Liftoff - Casey Research - Research & Analysis
Investing in the junior resource sector is not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet. Great thinkers have pointed out the risks for years. Mark Twain, once a miner himself, wrote “A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar on top.”
Investing legend Rick Rule, as clever a wordsmith as Twain, often points out that if you pooled all of the juniors together into one giant “Jr. Explorer Co., Inc.”, the company would lose $2-8 billion a year.
As an investor in this sector for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that miners and explorers are best at finding money in investors’ pockets and mining it to pay salaries.
“Most of the walking dead juniors, the zombies, are a bunch of liabilities disguised as public companies,” Rule told an audience of investors recently. “Their assets are liabilities; their financials are liabilities; mostly their managements are liabilities.”
Investing in the sector without knowledge or a guide is riskier than betting on the spin of a Las Vegas roulette wheel. Rule learned the math at university. “About 1 in 3,000 mineralized anomalies became a mine. So the typical Howe Street or Bay Street investment proposition is that you take a 1 in 3,000 chance for a 10 to 1 return.” Ouch.
Those are daunting odds, but the rewards can be spectacular when shares are purchased in a sour market. Shares of selective juniors have jumped in price this spring, but investor sentiment is far from bullish.
For instance, the owner of a gold mine in Canada’s historic Yukon gold belt wants to sell the property for $2 million worth of bitcoin. The Junior Gold Miners ETF (GDXJ) is trading at just 3% of the gold price. That ratio was four times higher (12) in December of 2010, when gold was trading $100 higher than what it is now.
Summer is normally a great time to go shopping for junior shares. Adam Hamilton writes, “In general, gold stocks just drift sideways through the summer doldrums of June, July, and August.”
For today’s article, Steve Todoruk, an investment executive with Rick Rule’s Sprott Global Resource Investments, tells us about the liftoff of a few juniors this year while the yellow metal hasn’t moved much, illustrating the leverage juniors provide to the metal price.
Todoruk is not just any old broker (full disclosure: I’m one of Mr. Todoruk’s clients). He’s a geologist and was the president of two Canadian-based junior mining companies. Believe me, he separates the liars from those who, as he likes to say, “have the goods.”
Read on and remember Todoruk is on the front lines of junior resource investing. He might just convince you that the debilitating bear market of the last three years is nearing an end and it’s time to take the plunge—selectively.
Doug French, Contributing Editor
Top Juniors Take Off with Slight Move in Metals Prices
By Steve Todoruk, Investment Executive, Sprott Global Resource Investments Ltd.
In the past few weeks, several of the “top” junior exploration stocks have seen a pronounced move upwards, many beating gold and silver bullion by a wide margin.
After hitting a low of $1,180 per ounce this past December, gold moved up to a high of $1,392 by mid-March, 2014.
Outperforming gold by a wide margin…
Many of the junior mining stocks were swept along, and even outperformed gold substantially. For instance, Detour Gold Corp., a junior that I would consider “top tier,” was at around $4.10 on January 1. By mid-March, the stock stood at $12.15, a 196% move. That is nearly 20 times the returns from gold, which rose less than 10% over that timeframe.
Silver had a similar story. In late December, an ounce of silver cost around $19.40. It then rose to around $21.40 by March 14—a 10% increase. Meanwhile, Mag Silver Corp. rose from around $5.15 per share to over $9.50 in the same timeframe—an 80% move.
But gold and silver subsided from Mid-march to late May. Gold fell back down to $1,250, and silver retreated back under $19 again. Many juniors gave up some of their gains as well.
Stocks boom in June…
In June, we saw yet another rally in the gold price, aided in part by the crisis in Iraq and recent hawkish remarks from Fed Chairman Janet Yellen.
Detour Gold moved from $9.80 to its current $14.51 level (up 48%), trouncing gold’s move of only 6%. Mag Silver’s share price has surged upward over 54%, from $6.55 to $10.11. Silver is up only 12% in the same timeframe.
Gold is still $70 cheaper per ounce and silver is $1.00 cheaper than their respective March highs, yet companies like Detour Gold and Mag Silver’s share prices are already making new highs for the year.
Quite a few other mining companies—big and small—are seeing the same thing: a sharp and rapid upswing in share price. A partial list of the well-known companies that are seeing share price appreciation includes Franco Nevada, Royal Gold, New Gold, Semafo, Asanko Gold, Premier Gold Mines, Tahoe Resources, Roxgold, and Agnico Eagle Gold Mines.
What is happening? Why now? Remember that there is a common belief that buyers should “go away in May and come back after Labor Day Weekend,” when investors return from vacation. Doesn’t this rally fly in the face of conventional wisdom about market timing?
That quality miners continue to advance despite “sell in May” headwinds suggests that investors are becoming more confident that the lows are behind us. Gold investors are no longer fearfully awaiting the next drop in share prices. Instead, they are slowly but surely moving back into some precious metal companies, positioning themselves for higher stock prices.
In my opinion, these early-in investors do not necessarily believe that gold prices will rise dramatically. Rather, they have a degree of confidence that a gradual recovery in metals prices will generate better returns in quality mining or exploration stocks. I believe that if gold continues to rise slowly, high-quality names among small exploration and mining stocks stand to outperform considerably going forward.
Majors looking healthier…
One of the first signs of improvement in the miners came in mid-January, when Goldcorp Inc. announced a $2.6 billion hostile takeover offer for Osisko Mining Corp. Goldcorp management would not have made that takeover bid if they weren’t feeling confident. But others were confident, too.
A bidding war for Osisko soon erupted between Goldcorp, Yamana Gold Inc., and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. Yamana and Agnico Eagle emerged victorious, outbidding Goldcorp with a takeover offer of $3.6 billion to gain control of Osisko and its large, highly prized gold mine in eastern Canada.
This move demonstrated that Yamana and Agnico Eagle felt that their corporate houses were in order, and were ready to go out shopping. It also suggested that they thought Osisko was relatively cheap and ripe for acquisition. Acquiring Osisko allows both companies to grow their companies’ annual gold production.
Merger activity has picked up elsewhere, too. It looks like many companies feel that the bottom is behind us and that deposit valuations are still low enough to be attractive target acquisitions.
Four weeks ago, mid-tier miner B2 Gold Corp. announced a friendly takeover offer to acquire one of the largest and highest-grade gold deposits near surface (which means it could be mineable as an open pit) available, in a deal with Papillon Resources Ltd.
Just the next day after that, Mandalay Resources Corp. announced it was acquiring smaller gold miner Elgin Mining Inc.
Three weeks ago, large copper miner First Quantum Minerals Ltd. announced a friendly takeover offer for Lumina Copper Corp and its large copper deposit.
And most recently, Augusta Resource Corp. has agreed to a friendly takeover offer from larger copper miner Hudbay Minerals Inc.
After dramatic belt-tightening during the last few years, we are seeing companies pick up the pace on spending, too. Gold heavyweight Barrick Gold Corp. has already announced that it is prepared to start spending again on its giant Pascua-Lama gold-silver deposit that straddles the Chile-Argentina border. This mine construction project has seen costs spiral out of control since construction began. Initially pegged at $3.0 billion to build, it has so far cost $8.5 billion and is still ongoing. Barrick recently put the brakes on the project to stop the bleeding, but it’s back to building this significant mine.
These recent developments tell us that the precious metals and copper mining space is starting to turn for the better. Consolidation like this is a good sign. It tells us that the miners are getting healthier again.
Another good sign for the juniors…
The trend is very clear. In my view, you should own shares of the “best in class” junior mining companies available, which larger companies may look to acquire for their portfolios. My definition of a “top” junior is a company that has recently made a high-quality (by which I mostly mean high-grade) mineral discovery.
Today, that is a very short list. Most well-informed speculators would probably include Mag Silver Corp., Pretium Resources Corp., Fission Uranium Corp., Reservoir Minerals Corp., Roxgold Corp., Continental Gold Corp., and Rubicon Minerals Corp. on the list for “top juniors.” Papillion Resources Inc. would be one of these as well, had it not been taken over by B2 Gold Corp. three weeks ago.
In a depressed market environment like we’re in today—and have been for some time—it’s actually much easier to identify the top-quality companies. The list of quality names is short, and knowledgeable speculators in the sector can quickly point to them.
The sector is starting to offer a little more promise than we have seen in a while, so start getting positioned wisely. If you’re willing and able to travel this summer, consider joining me at our upcoming Sprott Vancouver Natural Resource Symposium, from July 22-25, 2014. Click here to find out more, or click here to register now.
Steve Todoruk worked as a field geologist for major and junior mining exploration companies after he graduated with a B.Sc. in geology from the University of British Columbia in 1985. Steve joined Sprott Global Resource Investments Ltd. in 2003 as a senior investment executive. To contact Steve, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 1-800-477-7853.
- Tue, 08 Jul 2014 06:35:00 +0000: President Obama’s Personal Investment Portfolio - Casey Research - Research & Analysis
Yes, President Obama is a multimillionaire.
Being the president of the United States has done well for his portfolio, as you will see below. But that was expected when he was elected president.
It’s easy to assume that the leader of the most powerful country in the world has at his disposal the best money managers in the business.
So let’s see where the president invests his money, and why it’s important to you, the investor.
Today, I will share with all my readers the specifics of the US president’s personal portfolio.
In 2013, President Obama earned a presidential salary of $400,000, plus a $50,000 annual expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment.
Those amounts are exact and have been fixed since 2001 for all presidents.
US federal financial disclosure forms don’t give the exact amounts; instead they give a range, but my longtime readers know my background is complex mathematics, and this is the type of research I do for fun, so I’ll break it down for you.
Before I jump into the details, here’s why I’m doing this. I was recently invited to a lunch with Presidents Bush and Clinton that’s going to take place in the fall, and I wondered what I may have in common with them—in case casual conversation occurred. I was told President Obama might be a last-minute addition.
Well, like Bush, I like oil and uranium. Like Clinton, I’m a vegan. But Obama… that was a tough one—as I have nothing in common with the man.
So, rather than having an unpleasant experience talking about the government’s failed foreign policy if by chance I do speak with him, I thought it would be more productive to do some research on the president’s portfolio—so if he asked, I’d be informed enough to talk about it.
So just before checking out of my wonderful hotel in Barcelona (on a side note, if you ever have the chance to visit Barcelona, make the effort to visit the Basilica de la Sagrada Família, built by famous architect Antoni Gaudí—regardless of your religious beliefs, it’s an architectural wonder), I downloaded the most recent Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report and during my nine-hour flight back home, I went painstakingly through each Excel cell of the president’s portfolio—and I’m sure you’ll be happy I did.
President Obama’s investment portfolio is worth up to $7,145,000. As I said earlier, the exact number is not given, but I worked out the range.
In 2013, the president earned up to $334,010 from dividends from his investments and royalties from his book deals. Just to put things in perspective, that amount is up to 83.5% of his annual presidential salary.
In 2013, he earned somewhere between 2.35% and 2.5% overall in dividends from his investment portfolio. (That means President Obama is not a subscriber to the Casey Energy Report, as our portfolio is beating his portfolio’s performance by over 600% year to date.
But let’s get into the juicy details—such as, who manages the president’s money?
The average American (AKA Obama voter) may believe Obama fights for them against the big banks. Think again.
JPMorgan, the biggest bank of all, manages some of the president’s money, as does Vanguard. Both can easily be classified as too big to fail, and that could be why President Obama has his money with them.
Where does he put most of his net worth?
US Treasury notes, where he has up to $5 million, and US Treasury bills, where he has up to $500,000. Well, those yield less than 1%.
This is a perfect segue into why President Obama clearly has no comprehension of basic finance and a truly poor economic understanding.
Obama has a mortgage on his residence in Illinois. Again, the specific number isn’t stated, but the mortgage is somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million, at an interest rate of 5.625%. The incurred date of the mortgage was 2005.
Let’s think about this for a second: President Obama is paying 5.625% on his mortgage annually.
He could easily pay off that mortgage, but he would rather pay a 5.625% mortgage rate to the banks and collect less than 1% on his Treasury bills. Awful.
A supporter of Obama would say that there must be a reason, and I agree. But the real reason is not a tax advantage or portfolio planning—it’s that President Obama doesn’t understand basic mathematics.
Now, if the Treasuries were paying him much more than his mortgage, I would understand the logic behind his decision, but that is obviously not the case.
Basic financial prudence dictates that you should always pay off your debts when you can, especially when the debts are costing you more than what you’re earning on your core investments. But it’s clear to me that President Obama runs his personal finances as poorly as he does the nation’s.
However, as I said before, he has done well for himself by being president. In 2013, he earned up to $165,000 from royalties from his books (I wonder if he actually wrote them, but that is another subject entirely).
Well, at least we know he won’t be writing any financial-planning books anytime soon.
The Casey Energy team routinely follows all the investments of the state and federal politicians in the US and Canada to keep our eyes on where the people making the policies have their money. Trust me, it’s important to know where the politicians put their own money.
If you, once in your life, want to feel what it's like to hit the “big score,” just sign up for a risk-free, three-month trial to the Casey Energy Report. If you find, after three months, that you haven’t made any money (or aren’t 100% satisfied for whatever reason), just take us up on our guarantee and cancel for a full refund.
But time is short. Click here to start your risk-free trial now.
- Mon, 07 Jul 2014 13:28:00 +0000: Q&A with the Casey Metals Team - Casey Research - Research & Analysis
I’ll be in Mexico when this dispatch goes to press, and on my way to Colombia after that—kicking rocks on precious metals projects, in both cases. Our market has rebounded, and that has me busier than ever this month, carrying on my mission of due diligence on behalf of metals investors. I’ll have to confine stock picks to our paid subscription services, of course, but if I discover any new trends or other important factors in our market sector, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Meanwhile, in today’s issue, Jeff Clark has a collection of questions from readers, with answers from your Casey Metals Team for you. I hope you find them useful and valuable.
Before I go, I want to remind readers that most of the Casey Brain Trust will be at the new Sprott Natural Resource Symposium, to be held in Vancouver, BC, July 22-25, 2014. If you have questions we didn’t cover below, this is your earliest opportunity to ask us in person. And, of course, if you’d like to spend more time with us and converse in greater depth, you should attend our only Casey Summit this year to be held in San Antonio, Texas, September 19-21.
Senior Metals Investment Strategist
Rock & Stock StatsLastOne Month AgoOne Year Ago Gold 1,320.92 1,244.30 1,251.90 Silver 21.15 18.79 19.70 Copper 3.28 3.09 3.17 Oil 104.06 102.64 101.24 Gold Producers (GDX) 26.50 22.28 24.18 Gold Junior Stocks (GDXJ) 42.90 33.53 36.19 Silver Stocks (SIL) 14.39 11.36 11.77 TSX (Toronto Stock Exchange) 15,214.96 14,796.79 12,166.66 TSX Venture 1,037.76 982.42 885.62
Q&A with the Casey Metals TeamJeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst
As you might surmise, we get a lot of questions about the precious metals market. Given the popularity of our recent article ‘What Casey Research Staff Are Buying This Summer,’ we decided to address a few recent queries…
Q: Should I be worried about the silver fix disappearing? Could this happen to gold?
Jeff Clark: The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) decided to do away with the 117-year-old silver fix process after allegations of manipulation and Deutsche Bank’s subsequent withdrawal as one of the constituents. That left only two banks on the panel, an insufficient number if they wanted to continue the tradition. A process is thus underway to determine a new daily benchmark price, which is important since many entities need an agreed-upon price for large transactions.
There are a number of entities jostling to be the provider of this valuable service, which is supposed to be decided this month. However, it shouldn’t impact the silver price itself, and in fact will probably be good for the industry. The process should be more transparent and efficient, and it will probably be electronic instead of by phone.
A potential glitch would be if there was a delay implementing the new program. The final fix in its current form is scheduled for August 14, and the industry will want to see a viable, state-of-the-art system in place well before that date. Some analysts think there will be a scramble to meet that deadline.
One factor in determining the likelihood of gold going this route could depend on the success of the new silver fix program. Gold has two “fixing” prices per day, so it would need to be equipped to handle twice the activity. But a more modern and automated system wouldn’t be a bad thing. It could also remove some of the doubt surrounding manipulation of the price.
Whatever the new system might be for silver, and whether or not gold goes a similar route, has no bearing on the reasons to invest in precious metals or our long-term bullish outlook. Gold and silver are money and a store of value, regardless of the process used to determine a daily benchmark price. So, no, we’re not worried about this.
Q: How does the recent revelation of Chinese loans being backed by nonexistent gold collateral impact the gold market?
Kevin Brekke, Managing Editor, World Money Analyst: Some gold bullion was used as collateral for multiple loans, whereas other bullion collateral has gone missing or never existed. The former will not likely have any impact on gold demand. The latter, however, could lead to gold purchases if the gold is needed to meet fabrication or other obligations.
Yet, as China is the world’s largest gold producer, and domestic production is not exported, any bullion purchases will likely be filled within the country and have no impact on the global stocks of the metal or supply/demand dynamics.
The bigger issue here is that of stewardship and the critical importance of the custodian. All gold-backed ETFs rely on a custodian for the safekeeping of the bullion. As the Casey Metals Team has consistently advised, knowing who acts as custodian, and understanding its history and reputation, is vital before investing in these products. Caveat emptor is the name of the game.
Q: If the stock market crashes, will gold crash too? What about gold stocks?
Jeff Clark: Some gold investors worry that if the stock market falls, so will gold. It’s understandable; in a major market crash, everything gets hit, at least for a time. When the market crashed in October 2008, gold dropped by a third—before rebounding and ending the year up.
We’ve measured every decline of 10% or greater in the S&P since 1975—the year gold again became legal to own in the US—and tracked the performance of both gold and gold stocks during those declines (we used the broader S&P 500 Index rather than the narrow, 30-stock Dow Jones Index). The data might surprise you…
Periods of Decline S&P 500 Gold Gold Stocks* Jul 15, 1975 - Sep 16, 1975 -14.1% -10.8% -26.1% Sep 21, 1976 - Mar 6, 1978 -19.4% 53.8% 31.3% Sep 12, 1978 - Nov 14, 1978 -13.6% 1.4% -10.1% Oct 5, 1979 - Nov 7, 1979 -10.2% 2.6% -10.6% Feb 13, 1980 - Mar 27, 1980 -17.1% -30.4% -27.6% Nov 28, 1980 - Aug 12, 1982 -27.1% -46.0% -65.2% Oct 10, 1983 - Jul 24, 1984 -14.4% -15.6% -17.6% Aug 25, 1987 - Dec 4, 1987 -33.5% 6.2% -21.3% Jul 16, 1990 - Oct 11, 1990 -19.9% 6.8% -17.3% Jul 17, 1998 - Aug 31, 1998 -19.3% -5.0% -32.9% Jul 16, 1999 - Oct 15, 1999 -12.1% 23.5% 38.7% Mar 27, 2000 - Oct 9, 2002 -49.0% 12.4% 67.7% Nov 27, 2002 - Mar 11, 2003 -14.7% 9.7% 0.6% Oct 9, 2007 - Mar 9, 2009 -56.8% 25.5% -30.8% Apr 23, 2010 - Jul 2, 2010 -16.0% 5.4% 2.4% May 10, 2011 - Oct 3, 2011 -19.0% 9.4% -3.9% *Barron’s Gold Mining Index used through 1990; HUI 1998 to present
The results show that big declines in the broader stock market do not always see gold drop as well. In fact, gold fell in only five of the S&P’s 16 declines of 10% or more, four of which occurred either during an existing bear market in precious metals or after the blow-off top in 1980. Gold rose in the 11 other episodes.
This outcome makes sense. A big drop in the stock market usually reflects trouble in some part of the economy or the world, which is good for gold, as a “safe haven” asset. This suggests that a decline in the stock market is not necessarily something to fear.
Gold stocks are a different story; they tend to follow steep downtrends in the equity markets. Of the 16 declines in the S&P, gold stocks tagged along in 11 of them. However, in smaller declines or flat markets, gold stocks were more likely to follow gold.
Many metals investors believe that bad economic news going forward will be negative for the stock market. If that turns out to be the case, history says gold should do well. But if the market surprises us and goes higher, that could mean the economy has improved—which would lead to higher inflation. I think you know what gold would do in a rising inflationary environment. And gold stocks would explode higher in that scenario. Could be a win-win for us.
Another factor to keep in mind is the time. Even if Doug Casey is right, and there is a major stock market crash on the way, it may or may not happen this year, or even the next. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of money to be made—money we can’t make sitting on the sidelines.
Fundamentally, though, we don’t base our buy and sell decisions for gold on what we think the stock market might do. Gold is an alternative currency, a hard-money hedge against the massive currency abuse that still continues five years after the financial crisis hit in 2008. And the money that has been printed has yet to filter its way through our economy. That makes gold a must-own asset right now, regardless of your outlook for the stock market.
Q: You guys don’t talk much about manipulation of precious metals. Why?
Louis James: It’s not because we don’t think it’s an important topic, but, to whatever degree it exists today, it is a marginal, not fundamental, driver in the gold market.
Consider that the most famous gold price manipulation in history was the Roman debasement of its coinage. Yet even with their supreme power over life and death, Roman emperors could not suspend the laws of economics, nor command the market to value what it did not.
Also, smart minds don’t always agree on this topic. We view this as an advantage for the reader: they can listen to different viewpoints and make their own decisions on the subject. That said, I think it’s fair to say that most of us agree gold is manipulated to some degree (the disagreement begins as to whether it’s done at the behest of a government agency). The gold market is small enough that deep-pocketed traders can easily push prices around as they wish, and it seems pretty clear that this does happen often.
Bottom line: When the people finally see that the US dollar has no clothes, neither lies nor laws will save it, and gold will be revealed (again) for what it truly is: the best form of money ever invented. This makes any negative distortions created by manipulators buying opportunities—for those with patience and discipline.
Q: Speculation has surfaced that “secret” Swiss vaults have held down the platinum price. Any truth to this?
Kevin Brekke: In the post-UBS tax scandal world, Switzerland has become a convenient scapegoat for “answers.” And a recent report played the Swiss card with its speculation about the price of platinum. The report claimed that “secret Swiss vaults” were the source of platinum being released into the market to suppress the metal’s possible price rise during the recent South Africa mine strikes that dramatically curtailed production.
A specific “vault” was targeted, but it is far from secretive. The facility is a bonded warehouse in the free zone near the Zurich Airport. Goods can be stored as “in-transit” merchandise, meaning they are not considered as imported into Switzerland. And although amounts held in transit and ownership data might be difficult to obtain or be unavailable, this is a legitimate and legal practice used in scores of other countries around the world.
Switzerland is one of the (if not the) world’s top locations for high-value metal storage, and it’s self-evident that platinum would be stored there. As such, it seems more than reasonable and plausible that certain players could be filling the platinum supply gap from private stocks. It should not be a surprise that the metal would be stockpiled ahead of an anticipated strike. And because the locations and/or owners of the metal supposedly being tapped cannot be identified does not translate to clandestine activity. No cloaks, no daggers.
Q: Why do you recommend the Hard Assets Alliance over other accumulation programs like SilverSaver?
Jeff Clark: There really aren’t that many quality accumulation plans for the precious metals sector, and these are definitely the two best. The attraction is that you can buy gold and/or silver automatically every month (or even weekly with SilverSaver), which is very convenient for those paid on a regular schedule. And denominating a portion of your savings in hard assets is a must in the current monetary environment.
I have an account at SilverSaver and so do others at Casey Research, as it has many attractive features. But the MetalStream program at HAA has one distinct advantage: international storage. This allows you to kill two birds with one stone: buy metal within your budget and diversify internationally. SilverSaver stores in Delaware (only), while MetalStream offers facilities in Salt Lake City and Singapore. If you don’t have any assets stored outside the US or Canada, this is an easy and inexpensive way to do it. (Existing subscribers can see our detailed comparison of the two programs here.)
Q: I’m new to precious metals. If gold and silver prices are controlled by the government, then why do I want to buy them?
Bud Conrad, Casey Research Chief Economist: I’ve wondered about the potential for important authorities to affect gold’s price for a while. Unfortunately, this important question does not have a clear, easy answer. I agree with Doug Casey that whatever manipulation there is won’t overcome the fundamentals in the long run. Gold itself can’t be manipulated, as it is just an element of the earth’s crust; what is manipulated is the price, and that is partly from manipulating the dollar and paper gold markets.
We need to separate the different kinds of manipulation, as each of them individually has limits and won’t overcome the eventual destruction of the dollar (not gold). Forward mine sales (hedging) as facilitated by bullion banks are in decline. Futures markets are still dominated by big banks that can deliver gold, but their position is less than it was because JPM and Deutsche Bank involvement has lessened.
Central banks tried to effectively contain the gold price by adding fear as well as adding gold to the market in the late 1990s, but that has stopped. Central bank gold leasing seems to be no longer increasing as they may have leased all they can, and some central banks are buying while others are trying to get their gold back from storage with the Fed.
One speculation is that the GLD ETF doesn’t have its gold and has been used as a vehicle to collect gold for eventual shipment to China. This would be hard to prove, but the reported decline in inventory has stopped. The big gyrations with huge orders at the COMEX seem to continue, but their actions should be more closely scrutinized as high-frequency trading and other scams are being discussed.
The most important incentives for manipulation have to come from the central bankers because they don’t want their paper currencies to look weak—but they aren’t going to tell what they are doing behind the scenes, which may include lax regulation, as in huge trades that exceed limits.
Keeping my eye on the prize of long-term prospects for any fiat currency vs. physical assets like gold keeps me invested, even as the schemes of the paper manipulators are revealed and added together. I am confident of the end point, if not all the steps in between.
Q: Do the companies you recommend pay for the coverage?
Louis James: No. Our recommendations are not for sale at any price. There are a few banner ads and similar advertisements on our website, but these are available regardless of Casey coverage. Conference sponsorship is by invitation only, and invitations are extended only to companies we already cover, usually months or years after we initiate coverage (and many companies we cover have never sponsored one of our conferences). There have even been times when a company sponsoring a table at a conference was sold from our portfolio, regardless of their sponsorship, because selling was the right thing for our readers to do.
Q: How many more junior miners do you think will go bankrupt before the market sees a real revival? And how many will be left at the end?
Louis James: In my view, it’d be a good thing if there were a massive wave of bankruptcies in the junior mining/exploration sector; it would clear the deck of a lot of junk, and make our jobs easier as investors. Alas, despite the drastic reduction of liquidity available to juniors over the last three years, there have been very few actual bankruptcies. How do they keep the lights on? Many don’t; the company becomes a CEP, CFO, COO, and dishwasher all in one person, working from home.
What we’ve seen more of, however, is juniors merging to combine assets and cash, in a hope to keep the ball moving forward. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it beats bankruptcy for existing shareholders. However, one must watch out for companies with new names and the same old projects and serially unsuccessful management.
In short, despite the grinder we’ve been through the last couple years, due diligence is as important as ever, with People being the first “P” of Doug Casey’s famous 8Ps of Resource Stock Evaluation.
We have more “answers” in the recently released issue of BIG GOLD. Our July issue focuses solely on silver, and includes two discounts on bullion, along with the only silver producer we think qualifies as a current Best Buy. Check out what your silver portfolio could be worth from bullion purchased at today’s prices. This issue alone can pay for your subscription.
Gold and Silver HEADLINES
Gold holdings in the biggest exchange-traded funds had days when they climbed at the fastest pace since 2011. Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) increased 1.4% to 796.39 tonnes (25.6 million ounces) in the two sessions through last Tuesday, accounting for its biggest two-day gain since November 2011.
Demand for the yellow metal is expectedly strong in Asia, with China and India accounting for the majority of the demand. “Market fundamentals in Asia remains intact and is getting stronger,” said Albert Cheng, managing director for the Far East at the World Gold Council.
The World Gold Council chart in the article shows that gold jewelry demand in most markets was above, or in line with, its 5-year quarterly average. China showed the strongest growth, while the US was a clear exception.
After many conjectures, the Indian government is expected to cut import duty on gold by 2%, from the current 10%, early next month when announcing the budget. With local jewelers running out of inventory and rising problems of gold jewelry exports, it has been expected that Indian authorities would be forced to ease gold import restrictions.
Decreasing the duty by two percentage points would be a definite improvement, but it won’t necessarily open the floodgates. There would still be shortages of inventory and the large volume from the black market would likely continue.
3-D Printer Can Now Turn Molten Gold to Jewelry (Israeli Diamond Industry)
Shapeways, a 3D-printing marketplace and community that emerged from a tech incubator of the Dutch electronics giant Philips, has added precious metals to its options. Now 3D-Printer can “print” platinum, 18-karat gold, 14-karat rose gold, and 14-karat white gold products. As with most metal items manufactured this way, jewelry 3D printing uses a wax casting process.
Delivery typically takes only about two weeks once a print order has been placed.
Recent News in International Speculator and BIG GOLD—Key Updates for Subscribers
- One of our Best Buys recently announced some particularly intriguing drill results, the importance of which the market has not realized, giving us a clear opportunity.
- This company’s recent resource estimate looks alarming, with a lost million ounces of gold and 40% lower grade. But there’s also some “secret” good news: the higher-grade sections are underrepresented due to insufficient drilling—a shortcoming the company is now working to fix.
- We changed our recommendation on this company since Tuesday’s BIG GOLD—we view it as a “must own” stock, in spite of its recent run-up.
- With an acquisition in the works, this gold producer will have one of the strongest growth trajectories in the industry. The stock is worth a lot more than where it’s currently trading.
- Thu, 03 Jul 2014 03:57:00 +0000: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love High-Frequency Trading - Casey Research - Research & Analysis
Are you frightened of high-frequency trading (HFT)? Are you concerned about what it might do to your stock portfolio?
If so, you may have been exposed to Michael Lewis over the past few months. It’s been hard not to be, especially if you watch financial shows on TV or read the financial press. He’s been everywhere, giving interviews and promoting his blockbuster new book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.
But is he right?
Lewis’ premise: the advent of HFT means that stock markets are now “rigged for the benefit of insiders,” as the book’s jacket flap notes inform us. And if that’s not frightening enough, it goes on to state, “The light that Lewis shines into the darkest corners of the financial world may not be good for your blood pressure, because if you have any contact with the market, even a retirement account, this story is happening to you.”
That’s great copy, isn’t it? Any good publisher understands that the easiest way to get people’s attention is to scare the crap out of them. Notions of shadowy conspiracies also work. And who wouldn’t want to know what’s going on in those darkest corners of the financial world?
Problem is, we’re already aware of what’s been happening in Wall Street’s figurative back rooms. We’ve been exposed to many of the big banks’ secrets, such as that many of them profited enormously from the crash of ‘08 by making huge bets against the very junk mortgage securities they were simultaneously promoting to their clients. Compared to that level of darkness, high-frequency trading is a sunny day in June.
But Michael Lewis delves into some important issues. Central among them is a pair of questions. Are the markets “rigged?” And if so, should we be concerned? I would answer yes and yes, but not for the reasons Lewis advances in his book.
The New Normal
Maybe someone without access to media of any kind might still believe that markets aren’t rigged, but the rest of us know that they are. The interest rate market, for example, is completely rigged by definition, since our central bank manipulates the cost of money at its whim.
With gold, the market is small enough that traders with sufficiently deep pockets, like the biggest banks, can push prices up or down to their hearts’ content.
With stocks, prices are sometimes rigged openly, such as when Washington prohibited short sales during the meltdown… and sometimes more subtly, as when the Fed buoys prices by pushing trillions in funny money into the system. The giant investment banks employ any number of shady tricks, such as arranging large transactions inside their “dark pools”—where buyers and sellers can connect directly and not affect the public stock price by going through an exchange. And there are always the market makers. As middlemen, their job is to provide liquidity, which they do by rigging the bid/ask spread (in such a way as to ensure profits for themselves, of course). They’ve been known to widen those spreads unjustifiably, and no one ever says, “Hey, wait a minute…”.
These are all concerns, sure, but they aren’t what Lewis writes about. His focus is on high-frequency traders, what they do, and why it’s so evil.
One of the bothersome things about the book is that Lewis presents his research with a “Wow, look at this mind-boggling secret I just uncovered” approach. And TV’s talking heads have largely gone along with him, expressing their shock. But we’ve known all about HFT for a long time. In fact, I wrote an article for Casey Extraordinary Technology that explained it 2.5 years ago, and since then both Alex Daley and I have expanded on the subject in this space.
Let’s be clear: no one completely understands what HFT is doing to the markets. While a human high-frequency trader may have a general idea of what his algorithm is up to—though even that is in question as advanced forms of artificial intelligence (AI) are now used to let the computer dynamically make up new rules regarding how to trade—that doesn’t mean he knows the net effect of its actions. With thousands of systems battling against each other, making millions of trades, it quickly becomes obvious that people are on the outside looking in—pretty ignorant of what these arrays of supercomputers are cooking up on their own at any given moment.
When HFT comprises the bulk of all market trading—as it does today, as shown by the image above—this introduces an element of risk that wasn’t there before, true enough. It could blow up in some utterly unpredictable way. But for the most part, HFT simply does what market participants have always done, albeit way faster—and in a manner that hovers over the border of illegality. It may even cross that line.
The health of the stock market depends on the maintenance of liquidity and the promise that when anyone wants to buy or sell an equity, he or she will be able to, at around a price that’s been publicly quoted and is reasonably close to the one the broker provides or that appears on the computer monitor. (For some basics on how this works, the SEC has provided a brief primer.)
The actual final price depends on what the bid/ask spread is at the moment of execution.
What’s in a Ping?
Many HFT algorithms seek to control bid/ask spreads by “pinging.” This means using an algorithm to scour the entire market, placing huge numbers of orders at light speed and immediately withdrawing them. This continues until the algo gets a hit that lets it buy and quickly sell a stock over the course of a few milliseconds, skimming a tiny profit off the transaction, typically a penny per share or even less. An insignificant amount for that one deal, but when they accrete over the course of a day in which millions of such trades might be made, it adds up. And each trader’s profitability has zero correlation with how any stock or the overall market performed. All that matters is that their algos were better than the next guy’s.
Thus HFT traders are not, strictly speaking, traders at all. Their pings are not real orders, but rather a way of divining information about the intentions of real investors in the next 20 microseconds. At the end of the day, the HFT guys own no shares whatsoever—they just count their money.
Also strictly speaking, pinging is illegal. No one is supposed to place buy or sell orders that they have no intention of honoring, reasonably enough. Prior to HFT, this wasn’t a problem, because it was difficult to withdraw an electronic order before it was executed. Now it’s easy if you have the right tools. And it’s impossible for regulators to effectively police activities that happen countless millions of times every trading day without the rules they enforce being changed from the top.
Market participants are also supposed to be protected by the SEC’s National Best Bid and Offer regulation (NBBO), which states that a broker must secure for his client the best available ask price when buying securities, and the best available bid price when selling them. But the HFT’s superfast market connections allow him to step in front of the retail customer and pilfer the best bids or asks before that customer can get to them.
They do it through another potentially illegal practice: front-running. Technically, the government forbids anyone from having access to information that isn’t simultaneously available to everyone. If, for example, I were the only trader who knew that you were about to sell 100 shares of XYZ at a given offer price and I knew that before all of my competitors, it would give me an advantage in finding a buyer and setting a price favorable to me. That’s called front-running; it’s deemed by the authorities to be unfair; and in an attempt to control it, the government requires any changes in a stock’s price to be universally posted immediately (outside of dark pool transactions, but that’s another story).
Yet front-running is precisely what HF traders routinely do. And because of latencies within the system—measured in microseconds but nevertheless exploitable—it can’t be prevented.
The prime example of this is something dubbed “slow market arbitrage.” It generates more profit for HF traders than all of their many other strategies combined. Slow market arbitrage takes advantage of the proliferation of exchanges that has happened in recent years. Gone are the days when the stock market consisted of the NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX. Now, there are a slew of new ones, such as BATS and Direct Edge.
Most were created more or less just to service HFT, and thus they handle enormous numbers of “transactions,” more than 99% of which are never executed. And to accommodate their HFT friends, they will sometimes route large incoming orders to favored customers microseconds ahead of the rest of the pack. In addition, they invented a bunch of new order types that go way beyond market and limit orders—with peculiar, uninformative names like Post-Only and Hide Not Slide. These are so exotic that most ordinary brokers don’t even understand them, much less have the ability to execute them. But what they have in common is that they aren’t truly vehicles for trading. They exist only to help HFT participants secure a fleeting market advantage.
Among the orders that are consummated, however, are the slow market arbitrages. It works like this: a high frequency trader’s computers can see a price change on one exchange, and in the few microseconds it takes for that change to be reflected everywhere, they’re able to pick off shares on another exchange that hasn’t yet reacted, profiting from the difference.
These are just a few examples of what makes HFT tick. The actual market is far more complex. Yet in a way, it’s also more simple: HFT is now the price-discovery mechanism in US equity markets. That’s just reality. In fact, it can be argued (and is, by proponents) that HFT has birthed the fairest, most efficient, and smoothest-running market in history. The cost we incur to get that system is the penny a share collected at the HFT tollbooth.
So, Is It Rigged?
Whether this is a creative use of technology or merely a form of market rigging is not debatable to Michael Lewis. “The stock market at bottom was rigged,” he asserts. “The icon of global capitalism was a fraud.”
But before jumping to that conclusion, here are some key questions worth asking: How is what HFT does fundamentally different from the commissions taken by market makers—or retail brokers, for that matter? Because it’s “cheating”? And should government barge in and drop the hammer on HFT, as it seems likely to do at some point? How much havoc will that cause?
The thing that probably bothers people most about HFT is that it’s opaque. You not only don’t know what’s going on in there, you can’t know. Only the artificial intelligence knows for sure, and it’s talking too fast for a human to follow. Moreover, when you have these thousands of supercomputers interacting with each other without operator guidance, then of course there’s always the possibility that one of them will make a particular move that sets off a cascade of automated events. With potentially catastrophic consequences.
But what are the chances of that? Well, consider this: Market disasters generally result from risk that exceeds supportable levels. The collapse of ‘08 was triggered by the trading and re-trading of mortgage-backed securities that couldn’t be accurately valued. With each trade, the risk was magnified some more, until it finally overwhelmed the system. Or take the dot-com crash, which came about because the price of revenue-free startup companies was bid so high that the risk of continuing to hold them blew way past the probability of selling to the next sucker in line.
HFT, on the other hand, is about the exact opposite—mitigating risk. It captures profit by engineering trades that depend on zero volatility. In order to be successful, it must ensure that a stock price doesn’t stray beyond the limits it sets. Most HF trades don’t move the posted ticker price of an equity at all; everything happens within a bid/ask spread that changes so fast it’s imperceptible to anything or anyone outside of the host computers.
As a market stabilizer, proponents say, HFT has become indispensable. They point to the infamous Flash Crash of ‘10, which took the Dow down nearly 1,000 points in 20 minutes.
The trigger for that was a simple human error. HFT quickly re-priced securities and stair-stepped them back up to their proper levels, it is argued, thereby reversing the crash before it could spin entirely out of control.
Michael Lewis is very focused on the dark side of HFT, and he stirs that pot for all he’s worth (he wants to sell books, after all). But when he reaches the conclusion of his story and confronts why HFT is bad, he finds he doesn’t have much to say. First he cites instability, but doesn’t give the counterargument any space. Then he goes off on a goofy rant about how these people are wasting their lives. And finally, he gives us this: The money collected by HF traders is “a tax on investment, paid for by the economy; and the more that productive enterprise must pay for capital, the less productive enterprise there will be.”
Do you know what that even means? I’m not sure I do.
But I think it’s wrong. When a company first sells its shares to the market to raise capital, it sets a price with buyers offline. HF traders only step in when those buyers want to resell their shares and get out—and in that case, like any other, those buyers are probably happy to have 300% more liquidity because of HF traders occupying most of the market. That’s what allows those stocks to trade in seconds instead of minutes or hours.
HFT and Your Bank Account
The more personal issue is how HFT affects the individual investor. Does it matter? Should you care about it?
My answer is: don’t bother. If someone is skimming a penny from each share you trade, you’re not even going to notice. Besides, if you know roughly what you want to buy or sell your shares for, you can protect yourself from any of these intermediaries just by placing a limit order that locks in your maximum buy or minimum sell price. It’s the only kind I ever use.
Simple as that, enemy neutralized. Is any adversary so easily thwarted really worth worrying about to begin with?
The truth is that we at Casey Extraordinary Technology are not so very different from HFT. No, this is not what our Vermont HQ looks like:
We don’t have any tech more powerful than an off-the-shelf Apple or PC computer. But just as HFT’s algos search for anomalies, so do we. We merely call them by a different name—undiscovered opportunities—and we find them the old-fashioned way. Through tough, exhaustive and impartial research. Our profit window also differs; it’s measured in months, not microseconds. We’re pretty good at this. Check out our track record, and if you like what you see, take us for a risk-free 3-month spin.