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Get ready, gold bulls: The precious metal could be close to finding a bottom.

The price of gold fell back below $1,200 an ounce again this week as the U.S. dollar advanced following another federal funds rate hike. It’s now set to log its sixth straight month of declines, its longest losing streak since 1989.

That gold’s not trading below $1,150 is, I believe, remarkable. There’s a lot motivating the bears right now. Besides a stronger dollar and higher interest rate, stocks are still going strong, buoyed by record buybacks and massive inflows into passive investment products. In the week ended September 20, investors poured as much as $34.3 billion into ETFs, taking year-to-date inflows to nearly $215 billion, according to FactSet data.

This makes gold mining stocks look especially attractive by comparison. Relative to U.S. blue chips, the FTSE Gold Mines Index is now at its most discounted level in over 20 years.

gold stocks at their most discounted level in over 20 years, relative to the market
click to enlarge

Gold Industry Ready for Consolidation?

There are other signs that a bottom is near.

For one, Vanguard just restructured its precious metals mutual fund, slashing its exposure to the industry from 80 percent to only 25 percent. This means the world’s largest fund company will no longer offer its investors a way to participate in a potential rally in metals and mining stocks.

The last time Vanguard made a change like this, it coincided with a huge run-up in metal prices. In 2001, gold was just as unloved as it is now, prompting Vanguard to drop the word “Gold” from what was then the Gold and Precious Metals Fund.

Bad move—the precious metal went from under $300 an ounce to as high as $1,900 in September 2011.

This week, mining giants Barrick Gold and Randgold Resources announced an $18 billion merger that, once complete, will create the world’s largest gold producer. An “industry champion for long-term value creation,” according to BMO Capital Markets, the resultant company will “operate five of the 10 ‘tier one’ gold mines on a total cash cost basis and possess numerous projects with potential to” deliver sustainable profitability.

the barrick-randgold merger will create the world's largest gold miner, valued at $18 billion

Historically, a telltale sign that an industry has found a bottom is consolidation—just look at the wave of mergers and takeovers in the then-struggling airline industry following the financial crisis.

Other financial firms and analysts also find the Barrick-Randgold news positive—for the two senior producers as well as metals and mining as a whole. Scotiabank believes the merger “improves [Barrick’s] overall asset quality, balance sheet, free cash flow profile, technical expertise and management team, with no takeout premium paid.” The deal, says the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), “could spur a pick-up in M&As, which in our view could result in a turnaround in mining equity performance.”

Good news indeed as inflation continues to ramp up. The price of Brent oil, the international benchmark, closed above $80 a barrel this week for the first time since November 2014. That’s an incredible threefold increase from its recent low of $27 a barrel, set in January 2016.