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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where Next? With gold well into record territory, investor enthusiasm is boiling over.

There is a wide range of opinions on the outlook for metals, reflecting the uncertainty in nearly all of the variables that impact metal prices.

The sovereign debt and worries and fears of a double dip recession still cloud the outlook for some investors. Another round of quantitative easing will inject another $600 billion into the global money supply. The announcement of QE2 built confidence that the American economy will remain in positive territory. It also re-ignited inflation concerns, pushing gold to a further record high.

Investors were already buying gold for its safe-haven status. The gold market enjoyed a further boost as investors seek cover from looming inflation (read “currency devaluation”).

The high price of bullion has attracted a significant amount of media attention and drawn in a great many investors who might not otherwise be investing in gold. Many gold companies have followed gold higher: certainly, the big producers and the better-known among the developers and explorers have enjoyed big gains.

As the present gold rush is driven largely by investors seeking safety, the majors and the mid-tier producers trade at premium prices. An inordinately large discount is applied to the next level down. A development-stage gold company clearly carries more risk than an established producer. The flip side is that the developers and advanced explorers offer a great deal more upside. The higher potential rewards arise in part from the higher leverage to the gold price offered by the smaller companies. A second benefit is that select companies will appreciate in value as their projects evolve toward production.

Gold is capturing the headlines, but other aspects of the mining industry deserve a share of the attention. North American and European investors continue to shun the base metal juniors for fear of further economic slowdowns. Those investors seem to have missed copper’s stealth march toward its previous record highs. Tin is now at an all-time record high. Other metals have also moved higher. That strength in the base metal markets is being propelled by demand from the developing world. The Asian mining companies are scouring the planet in search of metal deposits on which to develop new mines. The takeover activity is set to accelerate and to become far more visible.

The United States government continues its efforts to push down the value of the dollar. On one level, a cheaper dollar would benefit American exporters. Secondly, devaluing the currency reduces the real value of the multi-trillion dollar debt owing to foreigners. Of course, downward pressure on the dollar is quickly matched by other nations seeking to keep their export industries competitive.

On any given day, pundits could put together a string of headlines to support a case for any direction for any of the metals. Instead of simply speculating on metal prices, investors can instead put their money into companies that are adding value for shareholders. The gains from successfully executing mineral development projects far exceed any realistic outlook for moves in metal prices.

Lawrence Roulston

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