Have silver prices finally hit the turning point?

The pop in silver prices on Thursday felt different to me, and I went long silver for the first time in months. Here are four reasons why I think silver prices could be due for a sharp upturn.

Since topping out around $35.50 an ounce late in February, the price of silver has done little except fall. Sentiment in the precious metals market seems to be hovering at multi-year lows with investors shunning the metal for riskier assets. That is until late last week.

The pop in silver prices on Thursday felt different to me, and I went long silver for the first time in months (buying shares in ProShares Ultra Silver ETF – NYSE:AGQ). Why? Here are four reasons why I think silver prices could be due for a sharp upturn:

1) QE3. We thought Operation Twist buried our chance to see further monetary easing out of the Federal Reserve. Don’t give up hope just yet. The metals bounced hard on Thursday after meeting minutes from the latest Federal Open Market Committee gathering held hints that further quantitative easing is still a potential option if the U.S. economy remains sluggish. Another round of QE would likely ignite a surge in commodities across the board.

2) Too far, too fast. Silver prices have crumbled more than 11 percent in the past three weeks. The drop last Wednesday was extreme with the metal shedding $1 an ounce in a single day of trading. A plunge that large feels like concession selling. And we all know when we see concession selling: right before the start of a recovery.

3) The bull market in precious metals is still intact. While we don’t always like to admit it, silver prices generally follow gold’s lead. Sometimes, it can feel like it’s the other way around since the silver market is so much smaller than the gold market, but we’d be kidding ourselves to say that silver prices aren’t extremely dependent on what the price of gold is doing.

And gold’s been flirting with important psychological levels lately. For one thing: last week’s lows (hit on Wednesday) coincided with a 20 percent drop from last year’s highs (per Forbes). That key technical level seemed to awaken a lot of the sleeping bulls who promptly piled back into the metal. After all, a 20 percent drop is considered the cut-off for the transition from a bull market to a bear market. Had gold continued dropping (and particularly if it would have fallen below $1,500 an ounce), you could have taken it as a sign to sell your metals and head for the hills. Until we get that confirmation, though, I’m leaning to the bullish side for gold (and therefore silver, too).

4) The Grecian plot thickens. The primary reason I think last week’s low in silver prices was a turning point is this: fears that Greece would leave or get booted from the Eurozone were still at a fever pitch. For the past month or so, problems in Greece have been amplifying, and I think that’s a big reason the price of precious metals have fallen.

Investors didn’t want a “safe haven”, they wanted cold, hard, highly-liquid cash. Indeed, some €700 billion reportedly left Greek banks in a single day last week. Last Thursday and Friday marked the first two days gold and silver prices have climbed in the face of the fears of a default in Greece. That could be a sign investors are betting the EU will announce new stimulus or that they’ve accepted the fact that a collapse in Greece is unavoidable. Either way, the rise in precious metals – despite the bad news out of Greece – was enough to turn me bullish on precious metals (at least for now).

Three reasons $6,000 gold makes sense

If we look at gold from the perspective of an offensive buyer, their predictions of $6,000 gold start to make some sense. Here are three reasons why $6,000 gold just might come about.

Despite accusations that it’s a worthless chunk of metal, gold prices have risen for the past 12 years. That’s more than a decade of net buying, and those buyers must have a good reason to keep pushing up gold’s price.

In general, I break gold buyers into two camps: defensive buyers and offensive buyers. Defensive buyers are temporarily trying to protect their wealth from effects of inflation. Offensive buyers are the so-called “gold bugs” – the investors who believe that we’re in the midst of a financial crisis that can only be resolved in one way: a string of sovereign defaults. Those offensive buyers don’t plan on selling until we have some new, multi-national gold-backed monetary system.

If we look at gold from the perspective of an offensive buyer, their predictions of $6,000 gold start to make some sense. Here are three reasons why $6,000 gold just might come about:

1) A solid track record. $6,000 sounds like an awful lot of money, but that’s actually just 4 times higher than gold’s current price around $1,590 an ounce. During the 1970s, gold went up 24 times. If we look at gold’s starting point 12 years ago around $250 an ounce and multiply that by 24, we end up at $6,000 an ounce. Gold went up that radically in the past, so it can surely happen in the future.

2) The Dow/gold ratio. Historically, the Dow/gold ratio tends to revert to 2:1. At the time of this writing, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stands at 12,835 and gold’s selling for $1,591. That’s a Dow/gold ratio north of 8. If the Dow were to stay at its current levels (floundering sideways in the years to come), and the Dow/gold ratio were to return to historical means, we’d be looking at gold at $6,000 an ounce.

3) Sovereign defaults seem imminent. It’s hard to believe there are countries with debt that rivals our own, but Greece is under the magnifying glass. The Eurozone “is on a path that leads to eventual dismantling,” Peter Tchir of TF Market Advisors wrote in a note to clients on Monday (per IB Times), and Greece looks like it’s poised to be the first domino that falls. Sunday’s election in the country is still yet to yield a coalition government. That’s prompted warnings from the EU “that Greece would get no more payments from the $170 billion deal approved in March if it did not enact roughly $15 billion in cuts by June” (per USAToday).

If Greece stops getting bailout cash, the country would slide into default within weeks. That might not happen in June, but it seems imminent, and it would certainly raise doubts about the future of the Euro.

If people start doubting the future of a currency, gold will get a shot of adrenaline that’ll push it up rapidly. Throw a few currency defaults into the mix and there are few places besides gold to stash your cash. Viewed in that light, $6,000 gold seems more and more likely.


Will mushrooming supply crush gold and silver prices in the years to come?

One of the most common arguments bears levy against gold and silver is the fact that record prices mean more gold and silver mines. With those mines, they argue, comes a glut of supply.

One of the most common arguments bears levy against gold and silver is the fact that record prices mean more gold and silver mines. With those mines, they argue, comes a glut of supply that could crush the precious metals markets.

One of the leading voices in this debate is Dr. Paul Walker of precious metals consultancy GFMS Thomson Reuters. At a conference last week in Dubai, Dr. Walker pointed out that it takes some $120-$150 billion of investment demand every year just to keep gold prices flat – not to mention see prices climb higher (per Resource Investor).

That a lot of cash to maintain a baseline, and I would argue that bodes well for silver prices.

“The amount of silver that’s available for investment each year is 450 million ounces and the amount of gold that’s available for purchase is about 70 million ounces, which means you have a ratio of about six-and-a-half to one is amount of silver you can buy versus gold,” Eric Sprott said in a recent interview (per ETFDailyNews).

At current prices, that means investment demand needs to grow by $13.5 billion to keep silver prices where they are. That’s far less than the $120 billion gold prices will need to stay afloat.

Still, silver prices tend to follow gold prices as both metals act as stores of value during periods of inflation. The main indicator for whether or not gold and silver prices can keep up with supply then is the expectation of inflation, and expectations are a fickle thing.

As Dr. Walker pointed out last week, it’s probably not supply that gold and silver investors should be concerned about, but rather the possibility that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates in an attempt to begin strengthening the dollar. That, he argues, could be the true “Black Swan” event we’ve all been worried about.

We’re not there yet, though. In fact, we just might see all-time record high gold and silver prices again before we ever see the interest rates rise. Check out our posts Silver prices setting up for 30-year high? and Why Eric Sprott believes silver prices will triple to $100 an ounce in 2012 for more.



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Five reasons Ben Bernanke hates the gold standard

From the Great Depression to the Great Inflation, here are five reasons why Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hates the idea of moving the U.S. off its fiat currency.

Here are five reasons why Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke hates the idea of moving the U.S. off its fiat currency:

1) The gold standard helped create the Great Depression. Pegging the dollar to gold led to financial panics during the Great Depression Bernanke argued during a recent speech at George Washington University (per Politico).

“The gold standard would not be feasible for both practical reasons and policy reasons,” he said. “I understand the impulse, but I think if you look at actual history the gold standard didn’t work well.”

I disagree as much of the world operated on some form of precious metals-based monetary standards between the late 1700s and the 1970s. Financial panics occur when the public loses faith in a government’s ability to meet it debt obligations (and it doesn’t matter if that country’s operating with a gold standard or a fiat currency). Rather than a history of failed gold standards, I think it’s more likely that the world will look back on fiat currencies as something that “didn’t work well.”

2) There’s not enough gold to go around. Bernanke claims this is one of the biggest problems with a return to the gold standard. In fact, the move would just require valuing gold at a much higher level. The often-quoted figure is $10,000 per ounce.

3) Less control over the economy. It’s no secret that the Fed uses the dollar as way to manipulate the economy. It gooses a tough economy with easy cash or it caps off a good economy with higher interest rates when it shows signs of overheating. If the U.S. returned to a gold standard, the Fed would no longer have that control.

4) Fiscal discipline would be imposed. Washington’s putting lots of pressure on the Fed to ensure the country can continue offering touch-point social programs: things like Medicare and Social Security. So long as Washington is unwilling to make cuts to those programs, the Fed will have little choice but to keep printing money to pay for them.

5) Gold standards benefit creditors. Gold standards inject price stability into an economy. That means governments can’t “inflate” their way out of debt by printing more “cheap” cash to pay off long-standing bills. Putting the U.S. on a gold standard with a national debt north of $15 trillion would be a form of financial suicide. Bernanke knows that, and the rest of Washington does, too. That’s why they’re publicly lobbying against a gold standard. If another country moves to it first, though, we may not have any choice but to follow.


The pros and cons of going back to the gold standard in the U.S.

While I do think there needs to be a return to fiscal responsibility, I’m not sure a single sovereign government can do it alone. What I see as more likely is a federation…

In the wake of the news that Utah has officially made gold and silver into currencies, Bloomberg TV hosted some heavy hitters on to ask them point blank: what’s the case for bringing back the gold standard in the U.S.?

[Check out our post It’s law: Gold and silver approved as currency in Utah for more on the gold standard.]

“It’s the ultimate currency,” Rob McEwen, CEO of McEwen Mining, says in the interview. “It can’t be replicated quickly, and it’s a store of value that’s crossed the millenium. Right now, we’re seeing the purchasing power decrease, and they’re taking away from everybody that puts money in the bank.”

“The horse is already out of the barn,” Michael Crofton, CEO of Philadelphia Trust, retorts. “I don’t think (a gold standard) could ever work given the amount of financing we have to do; both deficit financing and just operational financing.”

If there’s enough will for a new economic model, though, politicians could make it happen. It just wouldn’t come for free. There are a number of pros and cons to a gold standard. We’ve outlined several of the biggest here based on the interview with McEwen and Crofton and our own research.

Pros of bringing back the gold standard in the U.S.

  • Reducing the likelihood of another black swan event (hyperinflation, the collapse of financial institutions, etc.) that could cripple the global economy
  • Bringing back fiscal discipline in Washington – forcing politicians to clean up programs like Medicare and social security
  • It can be done. There’s precedent for it, with many nations – including the U.S. – operating with gold-backed currency for more than 100 years
  • Price stability
  • A reduction in the number of economic booms and busts
  • A system that rewards savers rather than debtors

Cons of bringing back the gold standard in the U.S.

  • Switching to a gold standard would shift the power from debtor nations (like the U.S. and Europe) to creditor nations (like China).
  • The gold standard would eliminate the need for a reserve currency – stripping yet more power away from the U.S.
  • Limits would be imposed on how much governments can borrow during crises/li>
  • Gold prices would need to be set by governments, and that could potentially give governments the power to manipulate currencies
  • Less ability for governments to stimulate growth in their economies

A different approach to the gold standard

While I do think there needs to be a return to fiscal responsibility, I’m not sure a single sovereign government could make the transition alone. A more likely solution? A federation of countries or global financial institutions that align to back a fee-based debit card system that lets buyers and sellers convert credits into physical gold or silver.

This electronic system could take deposits in any number of currencies. That cash could then be spent like cash in a normal debit account or redeemed for metal.

Individuals could use the system to protect themselves from inflation or as a shelter during tough economic times. The global binge on cheap credit has to come to an end at some point, and the solution just might be a mix of fiat and gold-backed money.


Why Commerzbank believes gold will hit an ‘all-time high’ by end of 2012

Even though gold prices are up 6.8 percent since the start of 2012, momentum for the metals seems to have waned. Commerzbank believes that’s temporary. Here’s why.

With gold prices up 6.8 percent since the start of 2012, it’s tough to say it’s been a bad year for gold, but momentum for the metals seems to have waned.

“Right now, the disappointment of the gold bulls, you can actually feel it,” Eugen Weinberg, head of commodities research at Commerzbank AG, told Bloomberg during an interview early in April. While Weinberg believes this will present a buying opportunity “in the coming months,” it probably won’t happen soon. Even in early April, he was predicting gold would dip through June or July – perhaps below $1,600 an ounce.

The malaise in the gold market is probably due in part to seasonal trends, and in part to a need for the metal to cool after an unprecedented, two-year surge during which investors saw prices climb from $900 to $1,900 an ounce.

It’s been tough for gold bulls to stomach, though, as prices in other commodities have outperformed gold. Brent crude, for instance has nearly doubled gold’s performance year to date, with the commodity up 12.5 percent. Gasoline prices are up 12.19 percent, and soybean prices are up 12.35 percent year-to-date (per Index Mundi).

Weinberg argues that gold doesn’t behave like commodities such as oil and grains because it’s not. In his words, it’s a currency, and there are a lot of factors that are colluding to drive down gold as a currency. Specifically, Weinberg cites three things:

  • The Fed is signaling QE3 is less and less likely
  • The global economy is showing early signs of a recovery
  • The dollar is strengthening as other economies pump more cash into their systems

Still, Weinberg remains “structurally bullish” on gold.

“I’m staying bullish on the longer-term and believe that the negative real interest rates, the inflation fears, and longer-term concerns about the economy are likely to keep the prices, the long-term trend intact and the prices are likely to reach another all-time high by year-end.”

The market’s overly optimistic on the state of the economy, Weinberg argues. But we’re not out of the woods yet, and that fact should start hitting home come mid-summer. When it does, gold prices will once again power higher.


Warning: Gold and silver prices have further to fall before their summer lows

Gold’s going through a much-needed consolidation period that probably has a few more months to play out. Here’s why and how long we think it will last.

Gold and silver have officially entered the pre-summer doldrums. And that’s got some investors wondering if the decade-long bull market in precious metals is coming to a close. In fact, it looks like the metal’s going through a much-needed consolidation period that probably has a few more months to play out. Here’s why:

1) The consolidation could last 15 months. Gold’s run from $900 to $1,900 an ounce was a largely uninterrupted 25-month sprint, and that means we should expect a consolidation. In fact, this current consolidation hasn’t been long enough based on gold price corrections in the past, according to Jordan Roy-Byrne, the proprietor of Trendsman Research.

“This 25-month advance has been followed by an 8-month correction,” Roy-Byrne writes. “Using Fibonacci retracements implies a ‘time’ correction of 9.5 months, 12.5 months or 15.5 months. This indicates that Gold should correct (in terms of time) for at least few more months.”

2) Gold speculators are on holiday. “Open interest (for COMEX gold) stands at 1,284.9 tonnes – a new 12-month low,” Standard Bank wrote in its Commodities Daily report on April 23, 2012. “ETFs are still net sellers of gold, with 2.2 tonnes sold over the past week. However, the modest nature of the selling is once again a sign that ETFs do not have a particularly bearish view either.”

It’s almost as if gold investors aren’t bullish or bearish. They’re just plain apathetic right now. And that will probably continue until we get a catalyst for a big move up or down (see our post Say hello to the catalysts that could push gold prices up overnight for more).

3) Fears of recession linger. The disappointing GDP numbers released last week didn’t make investors want to run out and buy precious metals. In fact, the general consensus is that things are going to get worse before they get better. If that’s the case, commodities (including oil, precious metals and base metals) will likely suffer in the short-term, then rocket higher before the recession starts to lift or Bernanke announces a new round of quantitative easing.

“Virtually all commodities made a sharp correction in the 2008 selloff,” writes Robert Hallberg at Seeking Alpha. “Oil and silver were hit the worst and even gold made a sharp downturn. But by the time we were out of the recession gold had already made new highs and silver [was] back to where it started while oil was still down.”

4) Gold aiming for $1,500s? The current gold price correction is “shaking out every weak-handed holder possible,” Paul Schatz, president of Heritage Capital, tells Money News. “But I think it’s going to bottom some time this quarter.”

Schatz sees prices dipping into the $1,500s, before starting a fresh climb – one that could see gold prices break $2,000 an ounce. If that’s the case, look for more pain before we start seeing profits in gold.


How realistic is $5,000 gold?

The way I view it, there are two scenarios that could push gold prices up to $5,000 an ounce: 1) A slow and steady upward rise in metal prices as governments continue devaluing their currencies; or 2) a…

The way I view it, there are two scenarios that could push gold prices up to $5,000 an ounce: 1) A slow and steady upward rise in metal prices as governments continue devaluing their currencies; or 2) a panic-fueled scramble out of just about every asset class outside of precious metals and tangible assets.

The first option is looking increasingly unlikely. “From what we know about commodity cycles going back into the 1700s, the average bull cycle lasts about 17 years,” John E. LaForge (who heads up Ned Davis Research’s Commodity Team) said in a recent interview with Mineweb. “This commodity cycle has now gone 11 years. Typically the first 10 years of those cycles is when a lot of that easy money is made. That’s when things like gold go up seven times from $250/oz to $1,700/oz. If gold increased seven times from $1,600-1,700/oz, that would equate to $10,000/oz. To get another seven-fold increase from here would be tough.”

Indeed, major investment firms have started paring back their 2012 and 2013 forecasts on gold prices. Citigroup, for instance, forecasts the metal hitting $1,718 an ounce in 2012 and $1,835 an ounce in 2013 – that’s 4 percent less than their last 2013 forecast per Marketwatch.

By 2014, analysts are expecting the Federal Reserve to start closing the spigot on the easy money we’ve been enjoying. Once interest rates start climbing, the dollar should rise and gold prices would likely taper off. Silver will be hit even harder in that scenario, Citi says (see our post: Why Citi says investors should stay away from silver).

As a slow and steady rise toward $5,000 an ounce gold looks increasingly unlikely, that leaves just one other scenario that could push us there: a black swan – some unexpected Lehman Brothers-style collapse or sovereign default that sucker-punches the global economy and leaves investors running for the hills.

There are plenty of candidates that could lead to an investor panic:

  • A breakup or re-organization of the Eurozone
  • A sovereign default in Europe, Asia or elsewhere
  • A sudden spike in bond yields in the U.S. – meaning investors start losing confidence in the U.S. government’s ability to pay back its debt
  • The collapse of a major international bank

“As more and more of this money is printed everywhere, not just in the U.S. but also in the Eurozone, Japan, China and elsewhere, there’s going to be a realization sometime in the next three to five years that maybe the $20 sitting in a pocket isn’t worth what it used to be,” LaForge says. “How do I protect myself? People are going to start looking more toward hard assets. Gold is one of those. Land could be another one. But gold is clearly something you can pick up and move.”

No one wants to see an economic collapse, but pretending warning signs (i.e. the threat of default in Italy, Spain or Greece) aren’t out there is exactly how we could end up with one. If the U.S. government and other governments around the world can restrain spending, $5,000 gold will probably remain one of those mythical, pie-in-the-sky numbers that we never see.

The problem is, governments have trouble reigning in their spending when there’s absolutely nothing backing up their currencies. That makes me think an economic calamity is possible in the coming years. I don’t necessarily see it leading to $5,000 gold (although $2,500 gold definitely looks possible). I do, however, expect to see the emergence of a global, gold-backed currency – one that holds governments and banks alike accountable for their spending.


Say hello to the catalysts that could push gold prices up overnight

From Euro woes to India taxes, here are three triggers that could push gold up in a hurry.

Gold prices have fallen slowly and steadily since the end of February, and that’s got some commentators arguing that it could be the beginning of the end for the yellow metal (see our post 3 signs investors are fleeing gold for more). That said, the price of gold is anything if not volatile.

Gold prices are so volatile, in fact, Barclays Capital’s Maneesh Deshpande is telling investors to trade volatility in gold prices rather than the metal itself (per Barron’s). In spite of that, Deshpande and several co-authors of a recent research report from Barclays have identified what they call catalysts for a rapid upswing in gold prices. Among them:

1) A Euro hangover. Should another wave of panic sweep across the Euro-zone, look for investors to pour into gold. The authors of the report do point out that the correlation between problems with the Euro and higher gold prices is tenuous at best. If a country were to be forced out of the Euro-zone or were to go into default, though, we suspect that gold prices could spike significantly.

2) A thumbs up from the Indian government. One of the less visible reasons we’ve seen languishing gold prices is India’s recent tax increase on gold imports. The government doubled import dues from 2 percent to 4 percent. That’s putting strain on the the Indian gold market, and India remains the world’s largest consumer of gold jewelry. Should the government change its mind on the new tax, gold prices could catapult higher. While Barclays feels a repeal of the tax hike is unlikely, they do point out that India’s parliament could consider modifying import rules (via its finance bill) on May 7. Whatever the outcome, gold prices could get volatile in the run-up to the decision.

3) Economic changes in the U.S. Should the economic picture in the U.S. grow cloudy, or worries over inflation crop up again, gold prices would be the biggest beneficiary. The presidential election in the fall could catalyze the Federal Reserve to take action via monetary easing if the economy shows signs of weakness. Monetary easing (or even the expectation of it) generally leads to higher gold prices as expectations of inflation grow.

Some commentators believe a new round of quantitative easing is imminent. “Bernanke will do everything in his power to make Obama look good to get re-elected,” says Chris Marchese, a contributor to The Morgan Report. Marchese is so confident this will happen, he’s predicted silver prices could spike as high as $70 an ounce this fall (nearly double where it’s at today). If silver prices do that, you can bet gold prices won’t be sitting still either.


Undervalued Gold Mining Stocks: Petaquilla Minerals Ltd.

At least one writer pegs Petaquilla Minerals’ price target above $3 a share. Here’s why.

It’s not often that you find a promising junior gold mining stock trading at a P/E of 2.1. Petaquilla Minerals Ltd. (OTC:PTQMF, TSX:PTQ) is doing just that, though, even as it expects to rapidly ramp up gold production at it’s growing deposits in Panama.

You can blame the stock’s poor performance (shares are down 30 percent YTD) on overall weakness in gold mining shares, but if interest in the sector returns, I expect Petaquilla to outperform. Here’s why:

1) Promising production. Cash flow is the lifeblood of a small mining company, and Petaquilla’s cash flow from its Molejon gold mine in Panama is growing along with production targets.

“For the current fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, the Company is forecasting gold poured within the range of 18,000 to 21,000 ounces, and revenues within the range of $27 to $31.5 million,” Petaquilla wrote in its most recent earnings report.

All told, Petaquilla expects to mine more than 100,000 ounces of gold in 2012, up to 145,000 ounces in 2013 and perhaps as many as 250,000 ounces by 2015. Promising exploration is also ongoing at the Lomero-Poyatos project in the wake of Petaquilla’s 2011 acquisition of Iberian Resources Corp. in Spain. Exploration there should kick off within two months (per reports).

2) Big backers. One of the more promising signs Petaquilla’s committed to growth is the fact that management owns more than 12 percent of the company. Other big shareholders include Sprott Asset Management, U.S. Global Investors and Libra Advisors, according to Morgan Report contributor Chris Marchese. Nasdaq.com lists Account Management LLC as the single biggest holder in Petaquilla with 122,780 shares.

3) Fair cash costs. Petaquilla’s cash costs for fiscal 2012 are expected to fall between $550-$600 per ounce of gold sold. Compare that with a company like Alexis Minerals that recently reported cash costs north of $2,000 an ounce.

Those low costs prompted Chris Marchese to put peg Petaquilla Minerals’ price target above $3 a share.

“I’ve modeled a net asset value on a fully diluted basis of over $3/share [using $1,600/oz. gold and $2.50 copper – discounted at 15 percent], significantly higher than the current $0.42/share market price,” he said in an interview with The Gold Report. “It has been completely overlooked by the market even though it has one of the best production growth profiles out there, courtesy of its recent acquisition of Iberian Resources Corp. in August 2011.”

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