One of the most compelling and engaging presenters at the Precious Metals Summit in London last month was Ronald-Peter Stöferle, a managing partner at Liechtenstein-based asset management company Incrementum. Incrementum, as you may know, is responsible for publishing the annually-updated, widely-read “In Gold We Trust” report, which I’ve cited a number of times before.
During his presentation, Stöferle shared the fact that his wife prefers to do her Christmas decoration shopping in January. When he asked her why she did this—Christmas should be the last thing on anyone’s mind in January—she explained that everything is half-off. A bargain’s a bargain, after all.
This is very smart. Here we are several days before Christmas, and demand for ornaments, lights and other decorations is red-hot, so be prepared to pay premium prices if you’re doing your shopping now. But mere hours after the Christmas presents have been unwrapped and Uncle Hank has fallen asleep on the couch with a glass of boozy eggnog, stores will begin slashing prices to get rid of inventory.
Gold bullion and mining stocks are currently in the “January” phase, so to speak, according to Stöferle. The Barron’s Gold Mining Index, which goes all the way back to 1938, recently underwent its longest bear market ever, between April 2011 and January 2016. And as I already shared with you, the World Gold Council (WGC) reported last month that gold demand fell to an eight-year low in the third quarter.
“Most people get interested in stocks when everyone else is,” Warren Buffett famously said. “The time to get interested is when no one else is.”
The same logic applies to Christmas decorations, gold and mining stocks.
Gold on track for its best year since 2010
As of my writing this, gold is trading around $1,280, up 11 percent in 2017. That’s off 5 percent from its 52-week high of $1,351 set in September. If it stays at its present level until the end of the year, the metal will end up logging its best year since 2010, when it returned 30 percent.
But back to gold. Considering it’s faced a number of strong headwinds this year—a phenomenal equities bull run that’s drawn investors’ attention away from “safe haven” assets, lukewarm inflation and anticipation of additional rate hikes, among others—I would describe its performance in 2017 as highly respectable. Gold traded up on Friday as the U.S. dollar weakened following news that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian officials last December during the presidential transition. It’s possible that the details Flynn might provide as part of a plea bargain could help special prosecutor Robert Mueller advance his investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
And yet if you listen to the mainstream financial news media, gold is “boring” and “flat.” Speaking to CNBC last week, Vertical Research partner Michael Dudas called the gold market “eerily quiet.”
Dudas was specifically describing gold’s volatility, but even here the facts tell a slightly different story. In the table to the right, you can see the 10-day standard deviation for a variety of assets, using data from the past 12 months. Gold traded with higher volatility than domestic equities, the U.S. dollar and global emerging markets. Of those measured, only oil and bitcoin showed higher volatility.
Based on volatility alone, it’s stocks that look pretty “boring” and “quiet” this year, but you’re not likely to hear a pundit or analyst describe them that way.
And with good reason. The S&P 500 hasn’t fallen more than 3 percent from a previous high for more than 388 days now, the longest stretch ever for the index. And for the first time in its 120-year history, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has reached four 1,000-point milestones in a single year—with a whole month left to go. It’s possible that excitement over the Senate’s tax bill will be enough to push the Dow above 25,000 sometime before the ball drops in Times Square. The drama involving Flynn, however, could threaten to derail those chances.
What this means is that, compared to domestic equities, gold is highly undervalued right now. The gold-to-S&P 500 ratio, a time-tested trading indicator, is near 50-year lows. I see this as a strong buy signal, especially now as we await the Federal Reserve’s decision to lift rates this month. If you recall, gold broke out strongly following the December rate hikes in 2015 and 2016.
Source: U.S. Global Investors