Silver Takes the Gold: Commodities Halftime Report 2016

By Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, U.S. Global Investors

Silver Takes the Gold: Commodities Halftime Report 2016

Here we are at the halfway point of the year, less than two months away from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. As a group, commodities are the top performing asset class, comfortably beating domestic equities, the U.S. dollar and Treasuries.

Commodities, the Top Performer in First Half of 2016

Below is our ever-popular Periodic Table of Commodities Returns, updated to reflect the first half of 2016. Click to see an enlarged version.

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns
click to enlarge

Commodities’ performance is quite a reversal from the weakness we’ve seen lately, particularly last year, but we shouldn’t expect another 2004 or 2005, when global trade was humming. Conditions are still not ripe for a real takeoff, with manufacturing activity in China and the eurozone struggling to gain momentum.

But there’s hope. Many of the challenges standing in the way of growth were exposed when Britain voted last month to leave the European Union (EU), which I’ve been writing about for the past few weeks. Most recently, I highlighted some of the winners to emerge from Brexit, among them gold investors, U.S. homeowners and British luxury goods makers.

Hopefully we can add global trade to the list. Brexit has brought to light some of the corruption and economic strangulation by regulation that chokes the flow of capital. Last week I had the opportunity to speak with some EU citizens. Their frustration was palpable. The cronyism among the EU’s unelected officials is nothing new, but it’s only worsened over the past decade and a half, they said. The British referendum has encouraged a balanced, intercontinental discussion on the direction Brussels must take now that the corruption and depth of discontent have been exposed for the world to see.

Precious Metals Shine Brightly on Macroeconomic and Geopolitical Concerns

Silver demand had a phenomenal 2015, with retail investment and jewelry fabrication both reaching all-time highs. Led by consumers in the U.S. and India, coin and bar investment soared 24 percent from the previous year, while jewelers gobbled up a record 226.5 million ounces. According to the Silver Institute’s World Silver Survey 2016, metal demand for photovoltaic installation climbed 23 percent in 2015, offsetting some of the losses we continue to see in photographic applications.

Global Demand for Silver Bars Surged 24% in 2015
click to enlarge

Caused by worries of a summer interest rate hike and uptick in the U.S. dollar, gold and silver both stalled in May but have since rallied on the back of Brexit and with government bond yields in freefall. For the first time ever, Switzerland’s entire stock of bonds has fallen below zero, with the 50-year yield plummeting to negative 0.03 percent on July 5.

Switzerland 50-Year Bond Yield
click to enlarge

All-time low yields can also be found in the U.S.—where the 10-year Treasury yield fell nearly 38 percent in the first half—U.K., Canada, Germany, France, Australia, Japan and elsewhere. Roughly $10 trillion worth of global government debt, in fact, now carry low to subzero yields.

This has been highly constructive for gold and silver, as yields and precious metals tend to be inversely related.

What’s more, the rally doesn’t appear to be done, with UBS analysts making the case last week that we’re in the early stages of a new bull run. Credit Suisse sees gold testing the $1,500 an ounce mark as early as the beginning of 2017. As for silver, some forecasters place it at between $25 and $32 an ounce by year’s end.

The risk now is that higher prices are pushing away some potential investors. Today Bloomberg reported that gold imports in India plunged a sizable 52 percent in the first half of 2016, compared to the same period in 2015.

Supply and Demand Rebalancing?

Much of the price appreciation has been driven by a global rebalance in supply and demand. Dismal prices over the last couple of years compelled explorers and producers to cut activity and other capital expenditures, while demand continues to rise.

This dynamic certainly helped  zinc, the best performing industrial metal of 2016 so far. During the first four months of the year, mine production fell 8.1 percent from the same time a year earlier due to declines in Australia, India, Peru and Ireland, according to the International Lead and Zinc Study Group. In January, London-based Vedanta Resources made its last zinc shipment from its Lisheen Mine in Ireland, which for the last 17 years had produced an average 300,000 tonnes of zinc and 38,000 tonnes of lead concentrate per year.

Meanwhile, the demand for refined zinc, used primarily to galvanize steel, is expected to increase 3.5 percent this year. What might surprise you is that a large percentage of this growth can be attributed to China, which is still investing heavily in infrastructure, even as money supply growth has slowed.

This rebalancing has also bolstered crude oil prices, up 73 percent since its 2016 low in February. Unplanned production outages in Canada, Nigeria, Iraq and elsewhere removed a collective 3.6 million barrels per day off the market in May alone. Coupled with ongoing declines in the North American rig count—U.S. crude production is now at a two-year low—this helped nudge prices up to levels not seen since July 2015.

Month-over-month change in global oil supply disruptions
click to enlarge

At the same time, global consumption is expected to increase by 1.5 million barrels a day both this year and next, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), with North America and Asia, particularly China and India, responsible for much of the growth.

Record Automobile Sales Support Commodities

Crude consumption is also being supported by robust automobile sales, which set a six-month record in the U.S. following six straight years of growth. Between January and June, sales reached an all-time high of 8.65 million units, up 1.5 percent from the same period last year. In China, the world’s number one auto market, 10.7 million vehicles were sold in the first five months, an impressive year-over-year increase of 7 percent. Sales of light vehicles, especially motorcycles, have been strong in India.

As you might expect, this has likewise benefited demand for platinum and palladium, both used in the production of autocatalysts. The CPM Group anticipates palladium demand to reach an all-time high this year, up 3 percent from last year, on tightened emissions standards and the purchase of larger cars and trucks in the U.S. on lower fuel costs. (The larger the engine, the more palladium or platinum is needed to reduce emissions.)

Autocatalyst Production Driving Palladium Demand
click to enlarge

Since January, the platinum group metals (PGMs) have increased over a third in price, marking the end of an 18-month bear cycle, according to Metals Focus’ Platinum & Palladium Focus 2016. Fundamentals have improved since last year, when EU growth concerns and Volkswagen’s emissions scandal weighed heavily on investment prospects.

Like zinc, crude and other commodities, the PGMs were supported the last six months by lower output levels, as labor disputes in South Africa—the world’s largest platinum producer and number two largest palladium producing country—disrupted operations.

Advertisements

China – still the heavy metal, gold and silver rock star

By Frank Holmes, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, US Global Investors

FH1

I want to begin with a quote from a recent Cornerstone Macro report that succinctly summarizes the research firm’s view on growth prospects in emerging markets, China specifically. Emphasis is my own:

Our most out-of-consensus call this year is the belief that China, and by extension many emerging markets, will see a cyclical recovery in 2016. We understand the bearish case for emerging markets on a multiyear basis quite well, but we also recognize that in a given year, any stock, sector or region can have a cyclical rebound if the conditions are right. In fact, we’ve already seen leading indicators of economic activity and earnings perk up in 2016 as PMIs have rebounded in many areas of the world. That is all it takes for markets, from equities to CDS, to respond more favorably as overly pessimistic views get rerated. And like in most cyclical recoveries that take place in a regime of structural headwinds, we don’t expect it to last beyond a few quarters.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I’ll say upfront that Cornerstone’s analysis is directly in line with our own, especially where the purchasing managers’ index (PMI) is concerned. China’s March PMI reading, at 49.7, was not only at its highest since February 2015 but it also crossed above its three-month moving average—a clear bullish signal, as I explained in-depth in January.

I spend a lot of time talking about the PMI as a forward-looking indicator of commodity prices and economic activity. As money managers, we find it to be far superior to GDP in forecasting market conditions three and six months out. In the past I’ve likened it to the high beams on your car.

FH2

We were one of the earliest shops to make the connection between PMIs and future conditions, and we continue to be validated. Just last week, J.P.Morgan admitted in its morning note that “stocks are taking their cues from the monthly PMIs,” the manufacturing surveys in particular, as opposed to GDP.

We eagerly await China’s April PMI reading and are optimistic that this cyclical recovery has legs.

Cornerstone’s outlook is supported by a recent study conducted by CLSA, which found that 73 percent of “Mr. and Mrs. China” expect to be better off three years from now, while only 3 percent expect to be worse off:

Optimism is strongest among those in higher-tier cities, reflecting the disparity in economic vibrancy across tiers: as many as 80 percent of families in first-tier cities have optimistic outlook. The figure is lower, albeit still strong, at 68 percent among families in the third tier.

More than half of those surveyed said they expected to be driving a nicer car and living in a bigger home in the next few years, which is a boon for materials and metals such as platinum and palladium, used in catalytic converters.

As a reflection of growing demand for new homes, house prices in China are climbing right now in first-tier and, to a lesser extent, lower-tier cities, a sign that more and more citizens are seeking the “Chinese dream.”

FH3

China’s Insatiable Appetite for Metals

China’s appetite for metals—gold, silver, copper, iron ore and more—is growing, another sign that the Asian giant is in turnaround mode.

China is the world’s largest importer, consumer and producer of gold. Last year, physical delivery from the Shanghai Gold Exchange (SGE) reached a record number of tonnes, more than 90 percent of total global output for 2015. Meanwhile, the People’s Bank of China continues to add to its reserves nearly every month and is now the sixth largest holder of gold—the fifth largest if we don’t include the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As of this month, the bank holds 1,788 tonnes (63 million ounces) of the yellow metal, which amounts to only 2.2 percent of its total foreign reserves, according to calculations by the World Gold Council.

Now, in a move that’s sure to boost China’s financial clout in global financial markets even more, the country just introduced a new fix price for gold, one that is denominated in Chinese renminbi (also known as the yuan).

Gold is currently priced in U.S. dollars. That’s been the case for a century. But since gold demand has been shifting from West to East, China has desired a larger role in pricing the metal. The Shanghai fix price is designed with that goal in mind.

It’s unlikely that Shanghai will usurp New York and London prices any time soon, but over time it will allow China to exert greater control over the price of the commodity it consumes in vaster quantities than any other country.

China’s gold consumption isn’t the only thing turning heads. I shared with you last week that the country imported 39 percent more copper in March than in the same month last year. (Shipments also rose 18.7 percent in renminbi terms in March year-over-year.)

The heightened copper demand has fueled renewed optimisim in the red metal. Prices are up 6 percent month-to-date.

FH4

Caixin reports that China’s iron ore imports are surging on lower prices. In the first two months of 2016, the country purchased 86 percent more iron than it needs. What’s more, total imports were up 84 percent from the same time last year.

Steel production, which requires iron ore, is likewise ramping up.  Output is currently at 70.65 million tonnes, an increase of nearly 3 percent year-over-year.

FH5

For reasons unknown, China has also been growing its silver inventories pretty substantially for the past six months, according to an article shared on Zero Hedge. This month, as of April 19, the Shanghai Futures Exchange added a massive 1,706 tonnes, which is a 452 percent increase from the amount it added in April 2015. Shanghai silver inventories are now at their highest level ever.

FH6

Though unconfirmed, it’s possible this silver will eventually be used in the production of solar panels, every one of which uses between 15 and 20 grams of the white metal. China is already the world’s largest market for solar energy—it surpassed Germany at the end of last year—with 43.2 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. (By comparison, the U.S. currently has 27.8 GW.) But get this: It plans on adding an additional 143 GW by 2020, which will require a biblical amount of silver.

Not to be outdone, India also plans significant expansion to its solar capacity, with a goal of 100 GW by 2022, according to the Indian government.

Metals Still Have Room to Rock

We know that money supply growth can lead to a rise in commodity prices. Note that Chinese money supply peaked in 2010 and has since fallen, along with commodity prices.

FH7

New bank loans in China have spiked dramatically this year while money supply has grown more than 13 percent year-over-year, which is good for metals and manufacturing.

The increase in metals demand, not to mention the weakening of the U.S. dollar, has allowed silver to become the top performing commodity of 2016 after overtaking gold.

FH8

Despite the rally, gold doesn’t appear to be overbought at this point, based on an oscillator of the last 10 years. We use the 20-day oscillator to gauge an asset’s short-term sentiment. When the reading crosses above two standard deviations, it’s usually considered time to sell. Conversely, when it crosses below negative two standard deviations, it might be a good idea to buy.

Silver is currently sitting at 1.2 standard deviations, suggesting a minor correction at this point would be normal.

FH9

Time to Take Profits in Oil?

The same could be said about Brent oil, which has returned 61 percent since hitting a recent low of $27.88 per barrel in January. This has driven up the Russian ruble and energy stocks. (We’ve recently shown the correlation between world currenices and commodities.)

The rally has been so strong over the past three months that it’s signaling an opportunity to take profits or wait for a correction. Based on the 20-day oscillator, Brent’s up 1.3 standard deviations, which suggests a correction over the next three months.

FH10

Oil has historically bottomed in January/February. The rally this year has not disappointed. Further, it has helped many domestic banks that have been big lenders to the energy sector. High(er) oil prices translate into stronger cash flows for loans.