Sunday, May 20

Week 359 - Gold Can Be Useful To Own When Markets Are In Turmoil

Situation: On April 2, 2018, a new downtrend began for the US stock market according to Dow Theory. This officially ends the Bull Market that began on March 9, 2009. Gold now becomes one of the go-to destinations for traders, along with other “safe haven” investments like Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, US dollars, and US Treasury Bonds. When traders stop moving new money into stocks and instead resort to a safe haven, they often move some into SPDR Gold Shares (GLD at Line 15 in the Table). 

Why has the US stock market embarked on a primary downtrend? Because the risk of a Trade War has increased. But it’s a perfect storm because the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the US Treasury has also put the US stock and bond markets at risk by steadily increasing short-term interest rates. Normally when the economy falters, bonds are a good alternative to stocks. The exception happens when the FOMC raises short-term interest rates to ward off inflation: Long-term rates also rise, giving their new investors an asset that is falling in value.

An option to buying gold bullion (GLD) is to buy stock in mining companies. Gold miners are emerging from difficult times, given that the 2014-2016 commodities crash caught them competing on the basis of growth in production, which they had funded with ever-increasing debt. Now they are paying down that debt and instead competing on the basis of free cash flow, in order to reward investors (i.e., buy back stock and increase dividends).

Mission: Run our Standard Spreadsheet to analyze gold-linked investments, as well as short-term bonds. Include manufacturers of mining equipment, and other enablers like railroads and banks.

Execution: see Table.

Administration: Some advisors suggest that gold should represent 3-5% of your retirement savings. However, gold has marked price volatility but remains at approximately the same price it had 30 years ago. If you plan to hold it long-term, you’d best think of it as one of your Rainy Day Fund holdings (see Week 291).

What actions are reasonable to take when Dow Theory declares that stocks are entering a new downtrend? Gold is one of the 5 places to consider routing new money instead of stocks, the others being US dollars, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, and US Treasury Bonds. We’ve shown that US Treasury Bonds are not a suitable choice in a rising interest rate environment. For US investors, that leaves gold and US dollars as safe haven investments. The most inflation-resistant way to invest in US dollars is to dollar-average into 2-Yr US Treasury Notes or Inflation-protected US Savings Bonds at no cost through the government website. But for traders who are willing to pay transaction costs, the 1-3 Year Treasury Note ETF (SHY at Line 15 in the Table) is more convenient.

How best to invest in gold? Let’s start with the old lesson about how to profit from gold mining, learned during the California gold rush of 1949: Gold miners don’t make much money but their enablers do. Those are the bankers who loan them money, and the owners of companies that provide them with equipment, consumables and transportation. Go to any open-pit gold mine and the first thing you’ll notice is the massive yellow-painted trucks carrying ore. Those are made by Caterpillar (CAT at Line 6 in the Table). 

Now look at the top of the Table. The second company listed is Union Pacific (UNP). This highlights the fact that ores recovered at any mine have to be transported to smelters. The fourth company, Royal Gold (RGLD), is a Financial Services company. This highlights the fact that bankers can profit greatly from loaning money to gold miners, provided they do it in an unusual way, which is issuing loans that don’t have to be repaid in dollars but instead can be repaid by the grant of either a royalty or a specified fraction (“stream”) of gold produced over the lifetime of the mine. Royal Gold (GLD) prefers royalty contracts. The other two Financial Services companies that service gold miners prefer streaming contracts: Franco-Nevada (FNV) and Wheaton Precious Metals (WPM). 

Bottom Line: SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) will be in demand until Dow Theory declares that the downtrend in US stocks has been reversed. 2-Yr US Treasury Notes (SHY) will be in demand until the FOMC stops raising short-term interest rates. 

Risk Rating: 10 (where 10-Yr US Treasury Notes = 1, S&P 500 Index = 5, gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I dollar-average into CAT, UNP and 2-Yr US Treasury Notes, and also own shares of WPM.

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