Gold is finding support because we are in crisis mode. Beyond that, the Dollar looks fated to fall...
IN THIS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with The Gold Report, geologist Joseph M. Foster – portfolio manager at Van Eck Associates, and head of its International Investors Gold Fund – says he sees only good news for gold in the coming months and years.
Not holding his breath for a mania to set in, he instead sees a declining dollar, increasing inflation and an improving economy fill the combustion chamber until Gold Prices start firing on all cylinders.
The Gold Report: We appreciate the opportunity to talk with you fresh from site visits in Mexico and the BMO Global Metals & Mining Conference in Florida. What do you see for Gold in 2009 and beyond?
Joe Foster: Our outlook is quite favorable. We’re into a new phase of this bull market that’s been going on since 2001. The credit crisis, everything that’s happening to the global economy and the reaction of the governments and the monetary authorities set up a very, very positive environment for gold, not only in the near term, but going out many, many years.
TGR: What launched this the new phase?
Joe Foster: Earlier in the cycle, it was more an inverse Dollar play. We’ve had a bull market in Gold Investment. The Dollar had embarked on a bear market and gold reacted to the inverse of that. What’s changed is that the level of risk to the financial system has elevated dramatically and we’ve come into an environment where even if we have a strong dollar, we can also have a strong gold price. Investors are genuinely frightened and it’s brought a whole new dynamic to the gold market.
TGR: Where do you see this taking gold?
Joe Foster: I’d have to split it into a near-term and a longer-term outlook. First of all, looking at the near term, gold is finding support now because we are in crisis mode. The financial system has not been fixed yet. The economy is in decline. In that environment, investors are seeking gold as a safe haven. They’re also seeking out the US Dollar as a safe haven. So that’s creating investment demand for the metal.
Jewelry demand, however, has fallen off a cliff - it’s almost non-existent right now and a lot of scrap is coming into the market. Two dynamics in the gold market are pulling against each other: strong investment demand and very weak jewelry demand.
I would see gold somewhat range-bound as long as we’re in crisis mode, being pulled by these two factors. We test $1,000, we pulled back, we’re sitting here around $940 an ounce. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it range-bound between $800 and $1,100 an ounce for the next six months or so until we see some sort of resolution to the situation.
As we look further out, you have to wonder if everything the government is doing will work and whether the laws of unintended consequences play out down the road. Will all this stimulus create inflationary pressure looking out into 2010 and beyond as the economy starts to get back on track? I happen to think it will. At some point, it will come time for the government to withdraw the liquidity they’ve put in the system. However, I think we’ll be in a slow-growth environment that will make that very, very difficult.
We won’t have the access to credit that we had in the past. Credit creation fueled a lot of the growth over the last decade. That will be missing in the next growth phase, so I think we’ll be faced with a low-growth environment that will make it difficult for the Fed to raise rates and rein in liquidity. As the velocity of money begins to pick up when the economy starts to grow a bit, I think we will see some serious inflationary pressures. That will give Gold Bullion the next leg to stand on and lift it to the next level, which I think will be much higher than what we’ve seen so far.
TGR: In essence, aren’t we going back to an inverse play based on the US Dollar? That was the first phase. Now we’re in this crisis phase. As we move into an inflationary era, aren’t we just hedging against the Dollar at that point?
Joe Foster: Yes, that’s another aspect of what I’m talking about, too. How does the Dollar play out in this scenario? As long as we’re in crisis mode, people think of the Dollar as a safe haven. As soon as we see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, equities and other investments will begin to attract investment dollars. At that point, I think money flows out of the Dollar. So the Dollar could resume its downward trend with a better economic outlook and that would be positive for the gold market.
TGR: So we’d go back to Dollar going down, gold going up.
Joe Foster: Yes, back to that situation. And then when you layer some inflationary expectations on that, you get gold firing on all cylinders.
TGR: Is that when we begin to see mania or is that the next phase?
Joe Foster: As markets go, there probably will be a mania in the gold market as well, but I would guess that’s a number of years off. Who knows? But at least several years off.
TGR: What will trigger the mania? If we’ve made it through the banking and financial and economic crises, and are looking for money to fly back into equities and devalue the dollar, why is mania several years off? Why wouldn’t it be happening as these other shifts begin to occur?
Joe Foster: The economy needs to be doing better. Money is too tight. I just don’t think there’s enough liquidity, frankly, to support a mania in the current environment. We need a more positive economic environment to get a true mania going and pull everybody from mom and pop up to the high net worth investors to the institutions, everybody jumping in with both feet. I don’t think there’s enough liquidity in the system at this point, or perhaps it’s all on the sidelines.
TGR: How interesting. So maybe fear won’t spark the mania. You’re almost saying the mania will start when there’s a little bit more optimism.
Joe Foster: That’s right, if it happens it will probably occur with more optimism and more entrenched inflationary expectations.
TGR: When you talk about gold, are you talking about Gold Bullion or Gold Mining stocks?
Joe Foster: I’m talking about both, definitely. There’s a different dynamic playing out with the gold stocks because we have to look at earnings and operating risk and political risk and all these other things, but historically there’s been a very high correlation between gold and the gold shares, and I expect that to continue throughout this market.
TGR: Will we see more of that in inflation or in crisis mode?
Joe Foster: As far as gold shares go, their crisis was the second half of 2008. They got caught up in the downdraft of the credit crisis and the equities collapse. The stocks have roughly doubled since they bottomed in October of 2008. Gold is up roughly 25% to 30% and we’re seeing money come into the gold sector. A lot of equity financing amongst the gold companies lately tells you there are investment dollars available to the sector. So I think the gold market and gold equities are out of crisis mode. They’re being recognized as an alternative, as a safe-haven hedge.
TGR: And an inflation play, I imagine.
Joe Foster: Yes, the inflation play, or at least a flavor of it, will be with us. People see the Fed printing money to support the financial system, which creates a level of inflationary fear already—and it’s very, very early days. Then the next phase will be if and when we get evidence that inflation is actually taking place, when we see various economic measures telling us that inflation is starting to pick up. Those fears will intensify then. Even though we’re in a deflationary environment at the moment, the seeds of inflation it are already there.
TGR: How do you see silver reacting relative to gold?
Joe Foster: Looking at its performance over the last three or four months, I think it’s shown itself to be a currency hedge and a currency alternative like gold. Silver had a tough time last year. It tumbled with the base metals. But again, since October, the performance has been good and we’re seeing high demand for the silver ETF, a shortage of coins and bars. So it’s acting as a currency alternative just like gold now.
TGR: What do you make of the shortage of the coins and the premiums to the spot price?
Joe Foster: It’s a small but growing corner of the market, so to me it’s an indicator of investor sentiment. It’s not that big a demand driver. When you look at the tonnage, it’s modest. But it tells me that the sentiment among investors, especially individuals, is very positive. From what I hear, it’s mainly high net worth individuals who are buying the stuff up with a long-term view. It’s quite a leap to go out and invest in physical gold. If a few are actually doing it, then many, many more are probably considering it.
TGR: Would you like to talk about some companies you currently own and think other investors should be considering?
Joe Foster: There’s a range of companies in the gold space. We have 60 companies in the International Investors Gold Fund. We invest across the spectrum from the junior small-cap companies all the way up to the largest companies and try to put together a portfolio of those that we think will outperform.
TGR: Does the “international” there imply worldwide coverage? Or does the fund focus on North America?
Joe Foster: I guess the term’s an artifact that goes back to how the fund originated. It was the first US gold fund. John van Eck started it back in the late ’50s as an international equity fund. In 1968, he converted the mandate to a gold fund, so it kept the “international” in the name and that was the start of International Investors Gold Fund. It’s been a gold fund ever since. And yes, we still invest globally.
TGR: Does your website list the stocks you’re invested in?
Joe Foster: We publish the full portfolio twice a year with our semi-annual and annual reporting, so for the most recent you’d have to pull up our December 2008 report. Also, our website publishes our top 10 every month.