Bright Outlook For Gold
Gold retains a role as both an investment and defensive asset and analysts believe it will remain an important part of portfolios for both the private sector and central banks. Gold is a store of wealth in unstable times and such times prevail.
ANZ analysts expect increased political uncertainty in the US will support gold in the short term despite higher interest rates. Gold prices are forecast to push past US$1300/oz over the next 12 months and there are positive long-term prospects as well.
In the wake of the US Federal Reserve's recent increase to its Fed Funds rate, and if the three rate rises in the current cycle are anything to go by, Bell Potter also considers the outlook positive for gold. Typically, rising interest rates are considered negative for gold because of the increased opportunity cost of holding an asset with no yield. As the gold price is appreciating amid rising interest rates in the US this signals to the broker that both inflation and safe-haven trade are key themes in the gold market.
The ANZ analysts do not envisage rising US interest rates as a negative. Gold has rallied in all but one of the past seven rate-hike cycles since the 1970s. Gold has also outperformed when interest rates were increasing relatively slowly. Furthermore, the analysts believe, if the US political situation worsens this year, there is a possibility gold prices will breakthrough US$1300/oz. Safe-haven buying is a strong driver of investor demand and is usually sparked by macro shocks or political instability.
Emerging markets should drive demand for physical gold for some time and China and India are already the world's largest gold consumers. Demand in India and China has rebounded sharply in recent months and the analysts observe the issues around de-monetisation in India are abating, while there has been a sharp pick up in China's gold imports, which suggests previous constraints have eased.
Growth in salaries, automobile sales and passenger air travel in India is expected to support the country's gold market over the next year as India's gold demands tend to correlate with income growth. Gold holdings are also likely to increase at central banks and most of the future buying is expected from central banks in emerging markets as they move closer to developed world levels.
China is likely to dominate the recovery in the gold price as Asian financial centres open up and the ANZ analysts find no reason why Shanghai should not become a major centre for gold trading, provided the appropriate institution and legal reforms take place. Asia is expected to account for over half of the global economy by 2050.
On the supply side prices are supported by the fact that gold mines cannot expand rapidly. Gold production has risen by an average of just 0.9% since 1995, year-on-year. Mine supply remains the primary source of gold and the trend towards increasing use of scrap has reversed over the past five years. New gold in total supply rose to over 70% in 2016.
Those countries driving the growth in the primary source of gold are ones best place to do so in the future, the analysts assert. Gold reserves are concentrated, at around 70%, in just 10 countries and Australia and South Africa have the largest unmined reserves. Meanwhile, scrap supply is volatile and the extraction from recycled electronics costly, so scrap gold is heavily influenced by both the price of gold and economic cycles.
As the ASX gold index is now down -3% year-to-date, Bell Potter believes the best performances are being driven by company-specific catalysts among the single-mine producers and successful explorers. The broker observes, while the gold price has not cracked US$1300/oz yet, it has established a pattern of higher lows and higher highs.
With a relatively steady exchange rate the Australian-dollar gold price has followed a similar track. The broker also believes relative outperformance of equities versus gold bullion is an indicator of positive sentiment.
Meanwhile, the costs associated with gold mining have fallen globally by around 15% over the past three years. Most of the reductions have been made in operating or production costs. The biggest cost reductions have been experienced in Australia, the ANZ analysts observe, where total cash costs have declined an average -30% since 2012.
Two factors, exchange rates and oil prices, have helped drive costs down and the analysts estimate around 60% of gold mining costs are based in local currency terms and around 10-12% related to oil prices. Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and Canada appear to have been the biggest beneficiaries in this regard.
Divergence In Cash Costs
Citi has highlighted a divergence between the cash costs of US dollar-denominated and non-US dollar-denominated companies. South African gold producers, in particular, have sustained all-in cash cost hikes of 16% while those of US dollar-denominated companies declined by -2.7%. Citi expects that a strengthening South African rand will continue to put pressure on South African gold stocks as will rising capital and exploration expenditure.
The broker expects costs in the industry to rise this year as years of under-investment unwind, especially if a stable, or higher, gold price prevails. Citi believes consensus expectations do not appropriately reflect the rising costs and maintains a bearish view on the sector, particularly South African gold stocks.
Based on recent changes to the underlying MVIS Junior Gold Miners index and significant changes to the GDXJ methodology in the US, Macquarie expects the main impact will be on North America markets. Yet, key beneficiaries in the Australian context are Newcrest Mining ((NCM)), Evolution Mining ((EVN)), Northern Star ((NST)) and OceanaGold ((OCG)).
These stocks have been are seen returning to the index as the eligibility band is widened. Smaller stocks are expected to suffer as a result of the re-balance. Macquarie believes investors should keep buying quality in good jurisdictions where there are cornerstone assets.
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