Eric Hommelberg: Hold That Gold!

TICKERS: EDR; EXK; EJD

Source: The Gold Report  (10/20/09)

Since the bull gold market began in 2001, Gold Drivers Report publisher and Bullion Store proprietor Eric Hommelberg argues that gold has significantly outperformed the Dow in terms of valuations, and as he sees it, the bull run will last at least until the middle of the next decade. In this exclusive Gold Report interview, Eric explains that while he prefers the precious metals in physical form, he recommends holding a select set of junior explorers, too—ones with trustworthy, savvy managements and promising drill results.


Companies Mentioned: Endeavour Silver

Since the bull gold market began in 2001, Gold Drivers Report publisher and Bullion Store proprietor Eric Hommelberg argues that gold has significantly outperformed the Dow in terms of valuations, and as he sees it, the bull run will last at least until the middle of the next decade. The rhythm of this market over the past eight years tells him that $1,000 gold is history, and we can expect the current climb to push the price past the $1,250 mark next spring. In this exclusive Gold Report interview, Eric tells readers why. He also explains that while he prefers the precious metals in physical form, he recommends holding a select set of junior explorers, too—ones with trustworthy, savvy managements and promising drill results.

The Gold Report:
The big jumps in the gold price lately have taken a lot of people by surprise. What's behind these jumps?

Eric Hommelberg: Investors were waiting for a sharp move, anticipating it for weeks, whether up or down. Giant speculative long positions have been taken on versus giant commercial short positions. Something had to give. It was time for a trigger.

Most of the analysts predicted a crash in the gold price due to the extreme commercial short position, arguing that commercial traders know what they are doing and always win. They're always right so they'll most probably be right again they say. But as weeks passed, it became clear that some big buyers were waiting just below the $1,000 mark

Again, investors were waiting for a trigger. When the news came out that the Gulf Arabs—along with China, Russia, Japan and France—plan to end dollar dealings for oil, all heck broke loose. The news made it very clear that a new basket of currencies will most likely include gold—as well as the yen, the yuan and the euro. Sure enough, it was very dollar-bearish—and therefore very gold-bullish news. This prompted, of course, a buying spree for gold, which overwhelmed the short players in the short term.

TGR: Not long ago, you aired a fictitious dialog between "GB" (a staunch gold bull and GATA supporter and "MI," a mainstream investor. Through their discussion, you brought up several themes that explained why the price of gold is increasing. One, argued by GATA (the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee), is the notion that governments have been suppressing the price of gold artificially and that practice has run its course. Another is that a bunch of commercial shorts are coming due. Other themes included the current recession, pending inflation, and the U.S. dollar devaluation. As you look forward, which of these themes do you expect to influence the price of gold the most?

EH: When you look at the big picture, the main driver for gold has always been the U.S. dollar. Look at the long-term charts for both the dollar and gold. You'll find a major bottom for gold at the same time you'll find a major top for the dollar around 2001-2002. In 2009, we find ourselves with record high gold prices and a major low for the dollar. So that's the big picture, dollar down, gold up.

Now the dollar will continue to sink so gold will continue to rise, it's as simple as that. As we all know, confidence in the U.S. dollar is waning by the day. That's why countries such as China, India and Russia are demanding a new world reserve currency. There will be a new world reserve currency. Whether it takes five years, 10 years from now, I don't know. But until something replaces the dollar as a world reserve currency, the dollar will keep going down and gold will keep going up.

TGR: But what about an economic recovery? Wouldn't that be good for the dollar?

EH: There is a lot of talk about recovery but the simple truth is you can't have a recovery without people getting back to work. Consumer spending accounts for 75% of GDP, and consumer spending is not going to increase on the back of record high unemployment figures month after month. Housing prices, which are still in decline, aren't a big help either. The recovery people talk about these days is simply the result of huge stimulus packages thrown at the economy. Sure enough, these stimulus programs are being paid with money the U.S. government doesn't have. Since they don't have the money they simply print it. By printing new money the U.S. government is adding more debt to its already exploding debt levels. In fact the U.S. tries to solve its debt problem by issuing even more debt, and this, of course, is not sustainable and drives down confidence. At one point confidence will reach such a critical low that no one wants to own the dollar anymore, the dollar will crash and then we're not talking about inflation anymore, but about hyperinflation.

TGR: You've been among those who say GATA is right about gold prices having been suppressed artificially. In that context, why shouldn't other governments, in essence, try to bulk up the confidence in the U.S. dollar by keeping a lid on the gold price, at least until the issue of an alternative reserve currency is resolved? It certainly doesn't help other countries around the world to have hyperinflation in the U.S.

EH: Of course, it's not in the interest of China or Russia to see the dollar crash because they have so many dollars. On the other hand, they don't want to go forward with a world reserve currency that no longer has any value. Something needs to be adjusted. They demand that the U.S. do something about its ballooning deficit and the U.S. promises to take care of it. The problem, however, is they can't. It's impossible. If you try to run a business with debt growing much faster than income, you know you're heading into bankruptcy. It's no different for a nation.

Regarding the manipulation you referenced, the U.S. has been very much involved in suppressing the gold price for more than 30 years. The reason is quite simple—in order to maintain the illusion of a strong dollar they had to keep a lid on the gold price. A sharp rising gold price would set off all kinds of alarm bells which would undermine the dollar's credibility as a world reserve currency.

Now GATA has done an outstanding job by exposing the gold manipulation scheme by western central banks. After more than 10 years of extensive research, GATA concludes that more than half of all central banks' gold, which is about 15,000 tons, has been leased/sold into the market. Sure enough, this gold was mobilized in order to stem the rise of gold. Even Alan Greenspan admitted this when he said in his testimony before the U.S. House Banking Committee in 1999 that central banks stand ready to lease gold in increasing quantities should the price rise. Now GATA demonstrates that about 15,000 tons of central bank gold has been mobilized over the years and sold into the market. The problem, however, is that it's impossible for these central banks to get their leased gold back without catapulting gold prices to new record highs. Are the central banks going to lease their remaining gold reserves in order to stem the rise of gold? Most likely the answer is no, since central banks became net buyers recently for the very first time since 1987. So central bank gold coming to the market is no longer an issue here, something GATA already predicted in 2001—that this would happen in seven to ten years. Without central bank gold hitting the market there's no way to prevent gold prices to rise in coming years.

TGR: Given the recent run-ups, would you expect a pullback before the price rises again?

EH: I don't expect a sharp pullback; nothing like the correction last year. That's not going to happen. Since gold breached the $1,000 mark for the first time in March 2008, the $1,000 area had been a resistance area. It took about five attempts to slash the $1,000 mark. A long-time resistance area becomes a support level once that level has been breached to the upside. That's exactly what happened a few of weeks ago, when we saw our first weekly close above the $1,000 mark in history. Furthermore we had our highest monthly close ever as well and this marks the beginning of a new up leg. The charts leave no doubt; they point to gold prices of $1250+ within the next six months. When you analyze the long-term charts you'll notice a pattern of long consolidation phases followed by sharp up moves. The consolidation phases last for about 18 months, the sharp up moves last for about six months, whereby gold can appreciate by 50% or more. We saw it in 2005 when gold just finished an 18-month consolidation period and then it shot up within six months from $430 to $730. That move started with a commercial signal failure, today with record high commercial shorts outstanding we could be on the verge of a commercial signal failure again.

TGR: So, how should investors play this market now?

EH: I wouldn't try to trade it at all. The risk is to be out of the market, not to be in. I would just sit tight and enjoy the move. When confidence in the dollar is going to collapse, anything can happen to the gold price. It's no use to predict gold prices of $1,500, $2,000 or $3,000. It's just a matter of how much the dollar will be devalued. As I pointed out, I think we're at the beginning of a sharp up move again and going to new record highs.

TGR: You obviously like the safety aspects of physical gold. Can you describe why you prefer that over investing in gold equities?

EH: Physical gold in your hand is the safest investment you could ever think of. Of course, you can go to the stock market and buy ETF gold. For example, you could buy SPDR Gold Trust (ETF) (NYSE:GLD) or other instruments that represent gold. But what happens when a major financial crisis hits, stock markets are closed, banking holidays or whatever? Then what? It will be impossible to withdraw your money. Besides that, there's a growing distrust against the gold ETFs—do they really own the gold they claim? How could it be that a gold ETF accumulates more than a 1,000 tons of gold without causing a tremendous spike in the gold price? Why is it that no independent audit can be done regarding their supposed gold holdings? Why should we just believe the custodians of the bullion EFTs that are coincidently also the biggest short players in those bullion markets? What happens with the silver ETF ( iShares Silver Trust (ETF) (NYSE:SLV) if JPMorgan goes bust? What happens with GLD if HSBC goes bust? Too many uncertainties here; that's exactly why more and more investors withdraw their gold ETF holdings and switch to the real metal. A good example, of course, is Greenlight Capital, a $6 billion hedge fund that switched $500 million of investment in GLD to physical gold recently.

TGR: With greater risk, of course, comes higher returns. And aren't the risks that you outline an extreme? Aren't there upsides along the way?

EG: Sure. I'm not saying you shouldn't invest in equities at all. I'm invested in equities myself. The only thing I'm advocating is you should own some physical gold just for the worst case. That's all.

When you look at gold equities, especially the mining shares, they could provide a good leverage to gold. If gold goes up by 5%, your gold mining shares could go up by 10% or 15%. There's definitely a leverage there. Especially when it comes to the junior sector, the leverage could be astronomical. So, yes, some of your money should be devoted to equities.

TGR: What percentage of physical gold should be in a portfolio?

EH: That's very personal. It depends on how much risk you're willing to take. If you come up to me and you say, "I'm not willing to take any risk at all, nothing. I want to have the safest bet." Then I would say you should invest 100% of your money into physical gold. But if people ask me what I am doing, I'd say half of my money is in the physical metals— about 30% in physical gold, 20% in physical silver. I just split the remaining 50% in half—25% in senior shares and 25% into junior shares. And I spread the juniors' share among at least 10 different companies.

TGR: So your portfolio is all in precious metals, either physical or equities?

EH: Yes, that's correct.

TGR: If you're looking at the juniors—taking more risks but potentially getting greater upside rewards— is this the time to start accumulating juniors?

EH: Let's go back a bit first. The gold bull market began in 2001; in early 2004, we had a small mania in the junior sector. Juniors that came out with good drilling results back then were rewarded tremendously. Four years later they moved to the exact opposite end of the spectrum to extreme undervaluation. Most of the juniors had been decimated to penny levels, levels not seen since the beginning of the gold bull market. We saw a junior sector so depressed that no one wanted to own junior shares anymore.

Now investing is quite a simple game. You buy equities when stocks are extremely undervalued. You sell when they are extremely overvalued. The pendulum is swinging back and forth all the time. We are now one year further from late 2008, and the junior sector certainly started to recover from its most depressed levels then. Finally the juniors started outperforming gold and we're seeing most juniors trading at multiples (100% to 500%) of levels seen last year.

So is it a time to get in junior shares? I think, yes, but you have to be careful to pick the high-quality ones because many juniors are not going to survive this dark winter. The problem is money. Most junior business models are simple. They raise money and drill it away, then they raise money again and drill it away again. If they're lucky, they make a discovery and the stock starts moving up. But generally it takes a lot of money to make a discovery if the junior makes a discovery at all.

TGR: So what do you look for in juniors then? What is important?

EH: First of all, I like to see juniors whose management demonstrates the capability of raising money even during the most difficult periods in our financial history. Furthermore, I would like to see juniors that are producing or on the verge of becoming a producer, because then they can generate their own cash flow and are less dependent on external financings. Last but not least, I would like to see juniors with promising properties, which increases the odds of a significant discovery. If you're lucky enough to be invested in a junior that makes a big discovery, the reward can be astronomical—which is why I think you should always own a few juniors in your portfolio. But I never have more than 2.5% of my entire portfolio in any one single junior company.

TGR: Could you give us an example of a junior that meets these criteria?

EH: Sure, I think a typical example of what a junior should be concerns Endeavour Silver Corp. (TSX:EDR) (NYSE.A:EXK). What they've done over the last five years is really phenomenal; four discoveries in just five years' time is amazing. In 2004 management turned Endeavour from an exploration company into a producing company overnight. Although they had no money to do it, they did it. They raised the money, became a producer and have reported record high silver production almost every single quarter since then. Besides that, they keep expanding their resource base year after year. Their growth profile is so aggressive that they will most likely become a mid-tier silver producer within the next two years, which will make it an attractive target for the major silver producers. What I like about Endeavour's management is their transparency. They simply do what they've said they would do; that's what you should demand from management from any junior company.

TGR: Absolutely. Keeping the promises they make. The upside potential would also be limited in companies in that are in politically shaky areas or have managements that aren't as savvy.

EH: Exactly. If you talk to management of a dozen companies, they will all tell you, "Oh, listen, we're on the verge of a big discovery." Anyone can tell you anything. They all say that.

And what we have seen in the last couple of years? Only a very few big discoveries. So it's a matter of faith in management. Even if you're a geologist yourself, it's difficult to see the real potential of a company. So in the end, they have to deliver. That's why I like to see companies go out and start the drilling programs; the results will tell me whether I should buy or not. Drill rigs are the real truth machines.

Many of the juniors that are priced at penny levels are telling shareholders they aren't going to raise money because they don't want to dilute their shares. I couldn't disagree more; an investor wants to see a company go forward. An investor wants to participate in new discoveries. To make new discoveries, you need to drill; in order to drill you need money. But if you aren't going to raise money to go out for exploration, nothing will happen. I don't buy into the argument of waiting for better times and higher share prices before raising money. I don't like it.

TGR: What do you think about new equities that represent a basket of seniors or juniors?

EH: I like the ETF GDX (Market Vectors Gold Miners (NYSE:GDX)), for example, which tracks the HUI (Gold BUGS Index) quite closely; it's a basket of senior mining companies. Why do I like it? If you're investing in single companies, you have to follow the company. You worry about management, about their cash position, about trustworthiness, about the political situation where they operate and many other things. But if you invest through an ETF, you're investing in many companies at the same time and you just know you're tracking an index. It saves a lot of headaches.

TGR: Any final thoughts you'd like to give our readers?

EH: Yes, most likely you'll be hearing bearish gold tunes in coming months from the traditional gold institutions, saying that gold's rise is not justified by its fundamentals and therefore bound to fall. They did so in 2003, they did so in 2005 and now they are at it again. The traditional gold institutions simply don't appreciate the fact that gold is money and how it has been manipulated over the years. Traditional gold institutions in 2005, with gold prices at $425, were saying that increased gold production would bring down gold prices; that certainly didn't boost their credibility. Still many analyst quote these very same institutions today for the very same argument— that increased gold production will bring down gold prices in the years ahead. GATA, on the other hand, said in 2001 that gold was going to $850 and that central bank selling wouldn't be an issue anymore within seven to ten years from then. We find ourselves right in the middle of that projection and gold is trading well above $850 and central bank sales have dried up completely. You are not going to hear these kind of predictions from the traditional gold institutions. No one has been right on the money more than GATA. It's therefore no wonder that GATA's credibility is rising fast. To give you an example here, the Chinese sovereign wealth fund ,which manages over $200 billion, has held already three teleconference calls with GATA—they wanted to know what GATA knows. We all know now that China has been accumulating gold for years; we all know now that China wants a new world reserve currency. This, of course, won't happen overnight, but it's quite obvious that the U.S. dollar as a world reserve currency is not going to survive. Gold will continue to rise until something new has been put in place on the monetary front and I think we are years away from that. So what I'd say is. "Stick to it and stay the course."

DISCLOSURE: Eric Hommelberg
I personally and/or my family own the following companies mentioned in this interview: Endeavour Silver.

Eric Hommelberg started writing about the gold market in 2002, and is the founder and chief editor of GoldDrivers.com a Caribbean-based gold company. His analyses and commentaries can be found all over the Internet on major gold sites such as The Gold Report (of course) as well as KITCO, Gold-Eagle, Goldseek, 24HGold and LeMetropolecafe. This past June, he signed an exclusive deal with Valcambi Suisse and launched his GoldDrivers Bullion Store—which is the first online retail seller for Valcambi gold that deals with Valcambi Suisse directly.

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