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David Hargreaves on precious metals, Week 1 2012



David Hargreaves

David Hargreaves

We warned in the 10/12/2011 issue, but three weeks ago, that the precious metals might retreat. They have. We blamed it on the fear factor receding and it has, so let’s not be surprised if we see more on the downside. The world lost an unpredictable dictator in North Korea’s Kim Jong Il last week and the young replacement in the expensive overcoat will take time to learn the ropes. Iran is muttering about blockading the Straits of Hormuz and thus 20% of the world’s traded oil. This need not worry China, 50% dependant, or Japan 75% reliant on that seaway for their oil imports, because it is where the US 5th Fleet sits. That toy factory has enough fire power to turn Tehran into a moon of Saturn, so no fears there, eh? Anglo American might win its spat with Chile’s Codelco over 49% of a juicy copper mine. Britain has warned Argentina that if it gets ambitious about the Falklands again, the nuclear sub patrol will be put on high alert. This is big boy time. Venezuela has most of its gold back home and worth a lot less than when it called for it. Only one dictator to go (hi Bob!) and his threat to embargo platinum exports can only cheer the South Africans. The fear factor has switched from fisticuffs to financial. The further we lever ourselves into recession, the cheaper goods will become and that includes the precious.


The price run up in H2 owed much to the Euro crisis whilst the spike which saw it momentarily top $1900/oz mirrored fears of a sovereign debt failure. That gold has now subsided to beneath $1550 on the downside does not indicate that problem has been solved. It has been digested. The world would survive a Euro break up and $1500 would still be its highest ever pre Q2 2011 level. We may be still a long drop from a floor in the next few months of which the US dollar, which exerts an opposite pull, continues to remind us.

Investment demand remains the driver. The other two, jewellery and industrial, have been relatively constant since Q2 2010 whilst much has been made of changes in Central Bank holdings. They are relatively small.

The close of 2010 saw a gold price of $1408/oz, registering the 10th successive annual rise. This continued to the short lived peak of $1900 in mid 2011 until the sobering pull back to $1500 on Dec. 30th. The major structural changes have been in private investment demand, particularly in China, India and other developing countries. Central Bank buying has been noted by developing countries but not the expected surge by China. The significance of such holdings is measured not only in their total tonnage, but as a percentage of total foreign assets. By mid 2011 they showed:

World official gold holdings 2011

Of perhaps greater significance are total above ground stocks of gold, broadly estimated at 163,000 tonnes. Of these, c.84,000 tonnes is held as jewellery. In December a report by MacQuarie Bank suggested India alone accounted for 17,000 tonnes of this. The Chinese and Indians are displaying similar personal buying tendencies.


The pattern of mined supply remained similar to the previous five years, with the continuing decline of South Africa but increases from West Africa and Eurasia. The major producing countries remained China (13%), USA (11%), Australia (10%), RSA (8%), Russia (7%) and Peru (6%).

Outlook 2012

Gold. Any return to a major upside for gold will be driven by fear factors, not economic ones. The Middle East basin remains highly unstable and a knee-jerk oil price rise would pull gold along. Iran is clearly itching to put on a show, but unless fear becomes reality we do not see gold challenging its highs again, indeed the reverse. For supply it means South Africa may put on hold its plans to revamp the deep basin deposits and for marginal ventures worldwide to struggle with funding. The majors sit on healthy balance sheets, but cannot expect a market rerating. Of the larger ones:

Gold mining companies price performance 2011

The final day flip in gold (up $45 to $1578/oz) should not be confused with a rally. Only an ungovernable geological or political event is liable to drive it skywards. The world economy will stabilise and we should remember that as recently as 2008, gold was at $700/oz.


This was the year the industry got it wrong. If ever a commodity was ripe for cartel action, in theory it is platinum. A single country, South Africa, supplies 75% of all newly mined metal and with Russia does 85% of all the platinum and palladium combined. Only four companies dominate and just two end uses, autocatalysts and jewellery, account for 70% of demand. Yet there is no cartel. London – based free market, daily fixing pricing dominates. That price has fallen progressively in 2011 from an opening $1745/oz to a closing $1407/oz, a fall of 19%. A weak economy, increased output and more intensive recycling, particularly of spent catalysts, were the culprits. Another feature – of longer term significance – was a round of overgenerous wage settlements, which have saddled the South African industry with untenable costs. This is an industry at a crossroads. A small surplus of c. 200,000 oz is calculated for 2011 from a mined supply of 6,400,000 oz and a total demand of 8,100,000 oz. The balance of supply is made up of recycling. Industrial demand is c. 2,000,000 oz and investment c. 500,000 oz.

The shares had a miserable run:

The shares had a miserable run

There is nothing to suggest a short term rally, rather further weakness.


Silver owes its classification ‘precious’ more to its chemical characteristics than its scarcity. It is mined at an annual rate of c. 23,500 tonnes, or ten times that of gold. Yet its price ratio is far higher. Were it in relation to its production, the price of silver would be c. $160/oz, not $30. Its 2010-2011 open and closing levels of $30/oz and $28/oz disguise a run up in Q3 to over $50, prompting some analysts to call for $200.

This is not going to happen. Why?

  • The total volume of silver on surface is vastly greater than its production ratio to gold. It has been mined in large quantities for much longer and was for centuries the world’s currency backing.
  • Almost 50% is used industrially which, combined with other fabrication and jewellery accounts for c. 85% of all arisings.
  • Ten countries combine to produce 80% of newly mined output and vast quantities are available for dishoarding at the right price.
  • Most silver is recovered as a by-product of base metal mining, the few pure silver producers including Fresnillo (5.2% market share), Pan American (3.3%), Hochschild (2.4%) and Coeur D’ Alene (2.3%). We believe silver will continue to track gold at a price ratio of 50:1 – 60:1 with a narrowing in a bull market.


About David Hargreaves

David Hargreaves is a mining engineer with over forty years of senior experience in the industry. After qualifying in coal mining he worked in the iron ore mines of Quebec and Northwest Ontario before diversifying into other bulk minerals including bauxite. He was Head of Research for stockbrokers James Capel in London from 1974 to 1977 and voted Mining Analyst of the year on three successive occasions.

Since forming his own metals broking and research company in 1977, he has successfully promoted and been a director of several public companies. He currently writes “The Week in Mining”, an incisive review of world mining events, for stockbrokers WH Ireland. David’s research pays particular attention to steel via the iron ore and coal supply industries. He is a Chartered Mining Engineer, Fellow of the Geological Society and the Institute of Mining, Minerals and Materials, and a Member of the Royal Institution. His textbook, “The World Index of Resources and Population” accurately predicted the exponential rise in demand for steel industry products.

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Sockerpriset når sin högsta nivå på 11 år




Sockerpriset har nått sin högsta nivå på 11 år. Det globala utbudet är mycket begränsat, till stor del beroende på att den stora exportören Indien har minskat sin export. Exporten förväntas halveras till 6 miljoner ton under året som slutar i september och den kan sjunka så lågt som till 4 miljoner ton under nästa säsong.

Graf över sockerpriset
Terminspriset på socker i London i USD.

Det är två faktorer som minskar exporten från Indien. Den första är väderrelaterad, kraftiga regn har skadat odlingarna. Den andra faktorn är att den indiska staten mycket kraftfullt har satsat på biobränsle som etanol, vilket gör att sockerrörsskördarna går till att producera etanol i stället för att exporteras som socker.

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Goldman Sachs tror på högre oljepriser i juni



Olja pumpas upp

Goldman Sachs förväntar sig högre oljepriser under de kommande tolv månaderna, sade analytiker från investmentbanken i en analysuppdatering. Goldman Sachs skriver att banken tror på en prognostiserad efterfrågeökning i Kina till mer än 16 miljoner fat per dag under perioden.

Banken är positivt inställd till alla råvaror. Förra veckan sa dess råvaruchef, Jeffrey Currie, att utflödet av kapital från energiindustrin kommer att resultera i brister som kommer att visa sig senare i år.

”Historiskt sett, när du har den här typen av kapitalutflöden, tar det månader att få tillbaka kapitalet. Vi kommer fortfarande att få ett underskott av olja i juni och det kommer att driva upp oljepriserna”, sa Currie vid Financial Times Commodities Global Summit.

Currie är inte den enda branschobservatören som förutspår ett högre oljepris. Även denna vecka sa hedgefondförvaltaren Pierre Andurand att oljan kommer att återhämta sig och stiga till 140 dollar per fat i slutet av året. Han anser att den nuvarande nedgången varit spekulativ och beror från banksektorn.

Mycket av haussen kring oljepriserna har att göra med Kina. Den kinesiska energiimporten var väldigt låg under de första två månaderna av 2023. Den kinesiska oljeimporten förväntas ta fart senare i år med potentiellt rekordhöga råoljeinköp, även om Peking har satt sitt lägsta årliga ekonomiska tillväxtmål på decennier.

Den genomsnittliga oljeimporten under de två första månader 2023 var lägre än för samma period förra året. Skillnaden var emellertid endast marginell, 1,3 procent. Oljeimporten under januari och februari 2023 tenderar att vara svagare i Kina på grund av nyårshelgerna.
Ändå förväntar sig i stort sett alla analytiker att den kinesiska efterfrågan på olja kommer att växa under de kommande månaderna med sikte på den tillväxttakt på 5 procent som fastställts av regeringen. Dessutom kommer en del ny raffineringskapacitet att startas i år, vilket borde garantera en starkare efterfrågan och stödja priserna.

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Kakaopriserna stiger på minskade leveranser från Elfenbenskusten




En svagare dollar i torsdags ledde till att flera spekulanter som tagit position för fallande pris valde att täcka sina korta positioner i kakaoterminer. Efter att regeringsdata visade att utbudet av kakao från Elfenbenskusten ser ut att minska så har kakaopriset stärks. Kursuppgången begränsades emellertid av att de europeiska kakaolagren stigit till 139 060 MT, den högsta siffran på sex månader.

Måndagens regeringsdata visade att Elfenbenskustens bönder skickade 1,73 MMT kakao till landets hamnar för regleringsåret 2022/2023 från 1 oktober till 12 mars. Siffran är en minskning med 3,4 procent på årsbasis. Elfenbenskusten är den största kakaoproducenten i världen. 

Nigeria ser en nedgång i sin kakaoexport

En nedgång i kakaoexporten från Nigeria är gynnsam för priserna. Cocoa Association of Nigeria rapporterade i måndags att landets kakaoexport för januari 2023 sjönk med 5,9 procent på årsbasis till 43 405 MT. Nigeria är världens femte största producent av kakaobönor.

Oron för utbudet på vissa västafrikanska kakaogrödor har begränsat eventuella nedgångar i kakaopriserna. Kakaobönder fortsätter att kämpa med bristen på gödningsmedel och bekämpningsmedel eftersom Rysslands krig i Ukraina har begränsat den ryska exporten av kaliumklorid och andra gödningsmedel över hela världen.

Tidigare den här månaden steg kakao i New York till en högsta nivå på två år, och kakao i London nådde en högsta nivå på 13 veckor, efter att International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) förutspådde att de globala kakaolagren 2022/2023 skulle falla 3,5 % år/år till 1,653 MMT. 

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