Why the Recent Lift in Junior Miners Will Likely Continue
By Frank Holmes
CEO and Chief Investment Officer
U.S. Global Investors
Junior venture companies in Canada are finally seeing a significant lift.
In early January, the S&P/TSX Venture Composite Index rose above the 200-day moving average for the first time in three years. The index is also very close to experiencing a golden cross, which is when the shorter-term 50-day moving average crosses above the 200-day moving average. Historically, traders see this cross as extremely bullish.
You can see on the chart that there have been few occurrences of golden crosses over the past five years, with one in 2009 and another in 2011. Following these crosses, the index saw a spectacular increase.
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The Canadian venture index holds 372 micro-capitalization securities that trade on the S&P/TSX exchange. It’s a resources-heavy index, with more than 80 percent of the holdings in the energy and materials sector. Making up the top 10 by weight are energy companies including Africa Oil, Mart Resources, Americas PetroGas and Madalena Energy.
Materials stocks such as Atico Mining, Balmoral Resources, Chesapeake Gold, Energold Drilling, Gold Standard Ventures, Rye Patch Gold, and Santacruz Silver Mining are also constituents.
These stocks will be familiar to the shareholders of the World Precious Minerals Fund (UNWPX), as they are representative of the fund’s holdings. Historically, we’ve found that these junior mining companies outperformed their larger counterparts.
As resource investors, we’re particularly encouraged by this “golden cross,” but what makes us even more optimistic is further data supporting the cyclical areas of the market.
Cyclical companies in sectors such as information technology, industrial, materials, and consumer discretionary tend to sell goods and services beyond the basic needs. These are the goods and services businesses and consumers buy when times are good.
So consider the potentially major impact that increased investment spending might have on these companies. After curtailing capital expenditures following the Great Recession, businesses may be in the process of reversing that trend after a prolonged period of under-investing.
According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s newest fund manager survey, which involved 234 participants that manage nearly $700 billion in assets, participants are frustrated with companies that have been hoarding their cash. Comparing the latest results to survey data going back a full decade, a record 58 percent of participants said they wanted corporate cash to be spent on capital investment.
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Another record 67 percent say that “companies are ‘under-investing,’” says BofA-ML survey data.
This is the “most conviction since 2001,” which likely means that the boards of public companies will find it tough to “ignore the massive shift” in sentiment, says Brian Belski of BMO Capital Markets.
We’re pleased with this change of opinion, as capital investment helps propel the economy and boosts productivity and profits. Investors also see a potential boost: As companies begin spending their cash on things such as productivity-boosting software and capital equipment, businesses in technology and industrials sectors likely benefit.
Take a look at BMO’s chart below, which shows the average annual performance during these cyclical uptrends in capital expenditures. The data goes back to 1970, so it provides tremendous historical support. As you can see, information technology and industrials are among the sectors that benefited the most from capital expenditure growth. During these periods, these stocks climbed an average of about 16 percent.
In contrast, telecommunications and utilities have the weakest performance during the uptrends.
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What’s so appealing about this chart is that these cyclical areas of the market have also been tagged in our Holmes Macro Trends Fund (ACBGX) model as relatively strong sectors. And while information technology, industrials and consumer discretionary have already performed well, we’ve identified fundamentals that suggest these areas of the market will continue rising in value.
Belski lists individual stocks that he believes can benefit from the rising capital expenditures. Some of his picks that overlap with our fund’s holdings include Danaher, Flowserve, Wabash National and QUALCOMM.
We think that’s especially encouraging data for shareholders of the Holmes Macro Trends Fund.
If this increase in capital expenditures materializes, it could stress factories even further, as capacity utilization climbs toward its long-term average. Capacity utilization measures the extent that factories are in use, and currently, manufacturing companies are operating at 79.2 percent of full capacity. The average since 1980 has been 79.4 percent.
This rate is significantly different compared to June 2009, when the rate dropped to a record low 66.8 percent. It’s no surprise that manufacturing has been staging a huge comeback following the recession but the chart below illustrates the continuing rising trend since it hit bottom.
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With the potential uptrend in investment spending coupled with factories cranking out goods at a faster, busier pace, chances are good we’ll see continued growth from cyclical areas of the market, especially in tech and industrials.
And if the utilization rate keeps climbing higher, companies won’t be able to increase their output without incurring additional fixed costs to purchase new machinery or build new facilities. That’s bullish for metals and mining companies, such as many of the businesses held in the S&P/TSX Venture Composite Index.
- Major market indices finished sharply lower this week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 3.52 percent. The S&P 500 Stock Index dropped 2.63 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite declined 1.65 percent. The Russell 2000 small capitalization index moved lower by 2.08 percent this week.
- The Hang Seng Composite fell 2.81 percent; Taiwan gained 0.03 percent while the KOSPI declined 0.20 percent. The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell 10 basis points this week to 2.72 percent.
Domestic Equity Market
The S&P 500 Index ended the week sharply lower falling 2.63 percent. This is the worst weekly decline since June 2012. Earnings season has gotten off to a mixed start, but the real culprit this week was Markit’s Flash Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) data for China, which unexpectedly fell into contraction territory. This was quite a surprise and has negative implications for global growth, emerging markets and possibly even tapering.
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- Traditionally defensive sectors of the market were the best relative performers this week, with utilities and telecommunication services leading the way. It was a “risk off” week; bond yields fell sharply, and telecommunication and utilities were the relative beneficiaries.
- Natural gas prices rose above $5 this week and several natural gas related energy companies rose by more than 5 percent, including Southwestern Energy, Chesapeake Energy, and Cabot Oil & Gas.
- Netflix was the best performer in the S&P 500 this week, rising 16.98 percent. The company released quarterly earnings results which were well ahead of expectations. Both domestic and international subscriber growth was very strong in the fourth quarter, and expectations are for similar results in the first quarter.
- The materials sector was the worst performer this week as many companies within the sector could be affected by a slowdown in China. Iron and steel companies were particularly hard hit with both Cliffs Natural Resources (iron) and Allegheny Technologies (steel) experiencing double-digit losses.
- The industrials sector was also weak, as cyclical areas generally underperformed. Kansas City Southern was the worst performer falling by more than 14 percent. The company missed earnings estimates and operating rates came in below expectations.
- International Game Technologies was the worst performer in the S&P 500 this week, falling 15.36 percent. The company announced quarterly results with both earnings and revenue falling short of expectations due to declining revenue trends across the gaming industry.
- The current macro environment remains positive as economic data remains robust enough to give investors confidence in an economic recovery but not too strong as to force the Federal Reserve to aggressively change course in the near term.
- Money flows are likely to find their way into domestic U.S. equities and out of bonds and emerging markets.
- The improving economic situation could possibly drive equity prices well into 2014.
- This week could mark the beginning of a short-term market consolidation period after such strong performance over the past six months.
- Higher interest rates are a threat for the whole economy. The Fed must walk a fine line and the potential for policy error is large.
- A lot of potentially good news is priced into the market and the economy will need to deliver to maintain the positive momentum in the market.
The Economy and Bond Market
Treasury bond yields fell again this week and are now almost 30 basis points below the highs seen in late December. Economic data in the U.S. was light this week but China’s flash PMI data was negative and spooked global financial markets. The thought is that China is unexpectedly slowing which is bad for global growth prospects. Stocks sold off and bonds rallied on Thursday and Friday in response to this news. The Fed meets next week and is still expected to taper quantitative easing (QE) by another $10 billion, even in light of the poor foreign data.
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- The Conference Board Leading Economic Index rose again in December, which should bode well for immediate economic prospects.
- Mortgage applications jumped 4.7 percent last week after rising 12 percent the week before. Mortgage rates continue to fall, dropping another 9 basis points this week.
- Global oil demand rose by 135,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter, in what is likely a sign of improving economic conditions.
- Markit's Flash PMI for China unexpectedly fell into contraction territory at 49.6, hitting a six-month low.
- Weekly retail sales data for week ending January 18 continued a worrisome trend of poor results. The weather has likely played a negative role so far this year but shoppers don't appear willing to spend freely.
- The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Billings Index was down for the second month in a row since early 2012. This is a widely watched index for commercial real estate development activity.
- The Fed continues to remain committed to an overall accommodative policy and newly confirmed Fed Chairman Janet Yellen will not likely deviate from an accommodative path.
- Key global central bankers remain in easing mode such as the European Central Bank (ECB), Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. ECB President Mario Draghi vowed to take “decisive action” if needed to combat deflation. Speculation is building that the ECB may cut rates to 10 basis points, essentially matching the Fed.
- There are many moving parts to the taper decision and while the Fed began the process, it is very possible that tapering could be delayed.
- Inflation in some corners of the globe is getting the attention of policymakers and may be an early indicator for the rest of the world.
- Trade and/or currency “wars” cannot be ruled out which may cause unintended consequences and volatility in the financial markets.
- The recent bond market selloff may be a “shot across the bow” as the markets reassess the changing macro dynamics.
For the week, spot gold closed at $1,269.40, up $15.35 per ounce, or 1.22 percent. Gold stocks, as measured by the NYSE Arca Gold Miners Index, climbed 1.57 percent. The U.S. Trade-Weighted Dollar Index tumbled 0.94 percent for the week.
- Gold sales by Japan’s biggest bullion retailers surged 63 percent to a five-year high, as prices slumped during 2013. Sales of gold bars to local investors soared to 37.3 metric tonnes from 22.9 metric tonnes a year earlier. This surge in sales is attributable to the Abenomics policy of weakening the yen, as investors became very concerned about obtaining a hedge against inflation.
- In addition, due to softer platinum prices and an increasing interest in platinum jewelry from Chinese consumers, China’s platinum imports surged to a new record high of 3.16 million ounces in 2013, up 23.5 percent year-over-year. December imports soared 86.5 percent year-over-year to 369,500 ounces, the second-highest number on record.
- M-Partners initiated coverage of Atico Mining Corporation with a BUY rating and a one-year target price of $1.80 per share. Atico has earned a 90 percent interest in the El Roble mine, effectively evolving from an explorer to a producer overnight, while beginning to generate cash flow. With an estimated head grade of 3.4 percent copper and 2.4 grams per tonne gold, the strong earning potential helps to de-risk the project. Atico currently trades at 0.9x 2015 EBIDA, which compares to its producing peers at 4.7x.
- Analysts predict lower gold prices this year. According to a London Bullion Market Association survey, gold will average $1,219 an ounce in 2014. They further predict a high and low trading range of $1,379 to $1,067, respectively. In addition, Morgan Stanley cut its gold target price by 12 percent to $1,160 for 2014, while the 2015 price was also cut by 13 percent to $1,138. Morgan Stanley believes that gold will extend declines this year as gains in the equity market reduce the need for haven assets and an increase in regulations hurt risk appetite.
- Thomson Reuters GFMS survey says that the professional gold market is obsessed with the tapering issue. Despite the fact that tapering is largely fully discounted, there has been quite a dichotomy in the gold market over the past year. GFMS notes that professional investors continue to lose interest in gold, but “grass roots” buyers maintain their healthy appetite for the metal.
- As at least 70,000 workers prepared to begin a strike, South Africa deployed extra police across its platinum belt, which is the world’s richest deposit of the metal. The strike, initiated by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, will disturb operations accounting for about 70 percent of global output of the precious metal. Platinum’s ratio to gold rose to the highest level since June 2011 as the strike began.
- Eric Lemieux, a mining analyst with Laurentian Bank Securities in Quebec, keeps his top pick for the year as Virginia Mines. This company has an exceptionally well-managed team and a focused business model. CEO Andre Gaumond said that he wants to be at the beginning of the food chain with significant discoveries, and the end of the food chain with a royalty portfolio. Virginia’s Eleonore discovery should go into production in 2014 with Goldcorp as the operator. Additionally, a recent discovery of a new parallel zone sets the stage for the project to grow.
- Another pick for this year by Eric Lemieux is Balmoral Resources Ltd. He believes that Balmoral has done a very good job in amassing a strong portfolio of properties in the Detour Trend. It is a shining star right now in Quebec. The company was nominated as the prospector of the year in November 2013, a testament to the good work that CEO Drain Wagner and his team are doing. With about $8 million in cash and equivalents, a hot project, financial capacity, a good team and geological knowledge, it is very well positioned for 2014. Detour Gold is very much in need of higher grade ores to blend with its struggling newly-commissioned, low-grade Detour Lake Mine in order to improve its economics.
- Northern Star Resources in Australia has hit the jackpot with several of Barrick Gold’s recently announced divestitures. At the beginning of the month, Barrick Gold sold Northern Star its Plutonic mine for $22 million, which boosted production by 100 percent to 200,000 ounces per year. Northern Star’s share price surged 20 percent after the deal. This week Barrick announced the sale of its interest in the Knowna Bell and Kundana mine in Western Australia to Northern Star Resources for $75 million, bringing Northern Star’s annual gold production up to 350,000 ounces per year. Effectively, Barrick has transferred roughly $1 billion in mining resources to Northern Star for less than $100 million.
- AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., the world’s third-biggest gold producer, announced that it will make significant changes to its Obuasi mine in Ghana. The company’s problems at the mine include labor laws that make it difficult to fire workers, outdated work practices, along with illegal miners.
- Moody’s Investors Service ranks Newcrest Mining’s debt as one level above junk, and has negative outlooks on the credit. Standard & Poor’s also ranks Newcrest at the lowest investment grade with a stable outlook.
- The Ministry of Finance in Indonesia imposed a new duty on exporting minerals which includes copper concentrates. For Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Newmont Mining, this means an even larger tax burden going forward. Although both companies contend that the new Indonesian export tax is in breach of their Contracts of Work with the Indonesian government, Freeport officially stressed that it prefers to keep negotiating with the government, rather than seek international arbitration. Freeport further pointed out that it will be paying a very large amount of money to the government moving forward over the life of the contract.
Energy and Natural Resources Market
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- The Brent-WTI spread has narrowed to $10 – a level last seen in mid-December, as adverse weather, bullish demand and stocks International Energy Agency (IEA) data and the start of Transcanada’s Marketlink Pipeline took WTI prices higher this week
- The price of natural gas jumped nearly 20 percent this week, and breeched the $5 level for the first time since 2010 as demand soars and inventory levels fall below normal due to an arctic weather across much of the U.S.
- According to the IEA, U.S. oil demand is outperforming original forecasts as demand grew by 390,000 barrel per day last year. U.S. demand has been supported by the shale oil boom, which has cheapened the nation’s energy supplies. The demand comes on the back of a pickup in industrial activity and increased petrochemical production. The IEA is calling for a pickup in 2014 growth, with the Americas expected to grow by 95,000 barrels a day, and global growth expected to reach 1.4 million barrels a day.
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- Indonesia’ metal ore exports have come to a complete halt, signalling the turmoil in the mining sector following the ban on some ore exports and rise in export taxes, according to trade ministry official.
- The benchmark steel price declined for the second-straight week on falling raw material prices. The CRU weekly price assessment shows U.S. hot rolled coil (HRC) at $675 per short ton, down $2 for the week ending January 22.
- Iron ore prices declined to six-month low on lackluster steel demand and destocking by mills. The spot 62 percent Fe price fell to $123 per ton cost & freight (CFR) China on January 21, the lowest level since July 9, 2013. However, Vale’s CEO said the recent drop in iron ore prices is temporary and the fundamentals of Chinese economy remain solid.
- Hassan Rouhani, the first Iranian leader in a decade to visit Davos for the World Economic Forum, invited oil companies to invest in his country as a nuclear accord with world powers triggers the lifting of some sanctions. Rouhani said his country won’t impede progress toward a final nuclear accord. The interim agreement implemented this week brought Iran about $7 billion in sanctions relief, according to the U.S.
- Canada is increasingly looking to Asia as a key export market. “We’ve clearly identified Asia as a priority market,” Alberta’s Minister of International Relations Cal Dallas said. “We’ve projected they will continue to use more energy and will look to Alberta for that energy.”
- Total’s CEO urged the U.S. to approve the $5.4B Keystone XL pipeline to unplug a bottleneck that’s stalling the development of Canadian oil sands.
- Europe's high gas prices risk driving away a big share of its energy intensive industries such as cement and steel, unless countries boost shale gas output and trim green subsidies, the IEA’s chief economist said.
- China’s HSBC flash manufacturing PMI declined to 49.6 in January from 50.5 in December, the first monthly contraction in six months. Deutsch Bank believes that the PMI is hit by several ad hoc factors, including "emergency measures" of air pollution control and the government order to stop virtually all holiday-related consumption using public funds.
- China’s GDP expanded by 7.7 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter and for the full year 2013, slightly ahead of market expectations as well as the government target. The growth rate was realized upon a base more than 300 percent larger than a decade earlier.
- Hungary’s economic-sentiment index rose to the highest in more than 11 years in January as consumers became more optimistic. As the cheaper utility prices help subdue inflation, the central bank this week lowered the benchmark interest rate to a record 2.85 percent and signaled further easing to bolster expansion.
- German company C.A.T. Oil won a three-year, 281 million euro contract in Russia for sidetrack drilling services. The contract will utilize 70 percent of the company’s sidetrack drilling capacity.
- A preliminary reading of China’s flash PMI in January fell below 50 for the first time since May 2013, to 49.6 from 50.5 in December. This number reflects a tighter monetary environment, especially for smaller, private companies as well as collateral effects from ongoing anti-corruption and pollution control measures in the country.
- Croatia’s credit rating was cut one notch by Standard & Poor’s to B, two levels below investment grade. This is on signs that the government is failing to narrow the budget deficit. The Croatian economy faces a sixth-straight year of recession.
- Kazakh competition agency charged Kcell 10 billion tenge for “service without consent.” The case will be heard at the Almaty special administrative court, per the agency’s filing.
- Hungarian pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter, together with Forest Labs, is to submit additional documentation to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its cariprazine drug. The companies are confident the drug will receive FDA approval.
- Lukoil’s Caspian oil fields gained tax breaks to spur offshore development, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said in Davos. Offshore development had been previously limited to Russian state-owned companies only.
- Worsening pollution of air and water, along with increasingly unhealthy lifestyles, have made the aging Chinese population more susceptible to mortal diseases over time. In October, the State Council announced its goal to expand the size of China’s health care services industry to over RMB 8 trillion by 2020 from RMB 1.25 trillion in 2011, which implies a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent. Industry leaders with competitive product offerings and strong sales networks should benefit from favorable reform policies towards health care.
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- Recent market concerns over the potential default of a $496 million trust product, distributed by the largest state-owned bank in China, may weigh on investor sentiment in the near term. Specifically towards interest rate sensitive sectors such as financials and property.
- Gazprom and the European Union clashed over gas pricing in anti-trust talks this week. The contractual link to crude oil prices has Europeans paying Gazprom double North American gas prices.
- A potential surge in initial public offerings in the retail sector could lure away investors in the best-performing Russian retail stocks. Companies preparing to list include Detsky Mir, a children’s store chain, shoe-seller Obuv Rossii, and the Russian unit of Germany’s Metro AG.
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