Peter Grandich, creator and producer of The Grandich Letter for a quarter century, allied himself with AGORACOM in October, bringing his well-known and oft-quoted commentaries to a far wider audience than his subscriber base and financial media such as The Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, CNN, GlobeInvestor, Financial Post and BNN. Breaking away briefly from his recent blogging, the veteran Wall Street watcher and investment advisor tells The Gold Report readers what he likes looking forward—gold (up to $1,000) and oil (between $35 and $40). Also high on his list: uranium (for the nuclear renaissance), junior miners (a select few), and Canadian banks (pretty much all of them).
The Gold Report: Judging from opinions you’ve expressed in recent newsletters and blogs, you clearly believe we will be testing the November lows during the first quarter this year. What is some of the logic behind why you think that will happen?
Peter Grandich: My belief has been that if and when the U.S. stock market bottoms, along with the economy it will be an L-shaped bottom, not the V that so many on Wall Street keep talking about. The problems that brought us here persist. In fact, they’ve gotten worse over time, which gives me even more reason to believe that we’re going to bottom eventually but not go far off that bottom once we do. The logical viewpoint for us to take at this point is to look for a market to make at least a double bottom, if you don’t believe it’s a V bottom. Obviously, if it’s a V, you only have one time you’re at that low.
The November lows are, I suspect—as I’ve said recently—are not a question of “if” but “when.” A strong bounce is likely to come off that because the remaining bulls who aren’t totally bloodied would look and hope for that to be an opportunity to get more long if they’re not already 100% long.
The view we’ll have to take after that is watch the bounce, see what type of volume and breadth it has. The problem with rallies we’ve had all through this decline is that neither their volume nor breadth has been half as strong as in the declines; that is always an earmark that the bear market is continuing and that rally is a countertrend. So that’s another thing to look for when and if we catch those lows.
TGR: You mentioned that maybe we should be looking for a double bottom. If we go back and re-test the November lows, is that our double bottom? Or would you expect to go through the November low?
PG: I still suspect we’re going to go through it, but we have to be able to change our views as the markets change. The only way bouncing off that bottom and then turning up past 9000 on the Dow—that would be the only technical factor that would suggest to me that the bear market was over. My feeling is that even if we do hold that November low, we are going to have a very long trading range on the Dow of somewhere between 7500 and the 9000 that we rallied to twice the last year but have failed to go through.
Rather than trying to catch a falling sword and usually getting their hands sliced by it, quite frankly I think what’s best for investors would be to be certain or fairly certain that a bottom is put in and miss the first 10% or 20% to the upside. I think if and when we do break out above those numbers, we’ll also be hearing things on the economic side getting better.
Now, that’s not my bet right now, but I think you always have to have a plan to possibly change your view and be set for it if certain things happen. My most likely scenario continues to be that this economy will be very weak throughout 2009, and not just the first half that the bulls keep talking about. And we don’t have any real hope of a sustained equity bull market at least until 2010 at the earliest.
TGR: Your writing is bullish on oil, though.
PG: Yes. We suggest that people contain any oil purchases between $35 and $40—not above $40 at this point. Oil longer term is far more likely to be higher than that level than equities looking out the same timeframe. If people are still willing to look out three to five years versus three to five days, I think oil is a better risk-reward at this point than the U.S. equity market.
TGR: Are you talking about buying oil as a commodity or purchasing oil equities?
PG: Both. What I do like especially about Exchange Traded Funds now is the ability to have a bunch of oil stocks within them. No-load funds are still a good way to go with equities for those who are very long-term oriented. But ETFs are a better vehicle for investors because you can buy and sell as many times as you want during the day, not just get the end-of-the-day price when you sell your mutual fund. Both are useful. But either way, I think you need to track the actual commodity as well as oil stocks.
TGR: Your blogging suggests that you think precious metals sector also will do well, even in 2009?
PG: Yes, I continue to believe that; in fact, I believe the best investment right now is gold. Not because I think the world’s coming to an end; quite frankly it won’t matter if you have gold if there’s truly an end-of-the-world scenario. And I am not a gold bug; I’ve been bearish on it at times.
Nevertheless, thanks to the credit crisis, which is taking place in all four corners of the world, I do believe people around the globe are realizing that paper money may not be the best safe-haven investment. And although gold did not go up in 2008, it did serve its purpose by being an insurance hedge. Whether they’re professionals or just individual investors, no one I know would mind having been even for 2008 versus the heavy losses they took. So, gold did its job; those who put money in gold didn’t see the losses that everybody else suffered.
But I believe now that we’re going to see capital gains opportunities in gold for 2009 and into the foreseeable future. The market has all the fundamentals that one would want right now. There’s a declining supply, which will decline even further because those who normally look for gold, the junior resource stocks, have been so hammered that we’re not going to see a lot of new exploration for some time.
The few companies that will be going into production will be a premium. The excess supply that used to come into the market, particularly from central banks, has dried up. We’re also seeing tremendous physical demand; in fact, throughout 2008, it was very difficult for people to acquire physical gold. Coins and bars that used to be readily available were in such demand that there became a shortage. In fact, if you wanted to purchase physical bullion, you were paying 10% or more above the spot price. People say that should have caused a dramatic rise in the gold price. The paper market is still driven by the COMEX, where the futures trade. Unfortunately, some people claim, that market has been manipulated. I can simply say that the paper market has not mirrored the physical market. I believe the physical demand eventually will overrun what is not happening in the paper market. Once that occurs and once we’re above a $1,000 and stay there for more than a week or a month, I think we’re going to see a lot more money pour into gold. I don’t know about $2,000 an ounce for gold, but once that money starts to pour in I still think $1,200 gold and $1,400 gold— even $1,500—is a very variable, useful and likely target.
TGR: For 2009?
PG: More likely in 2010. The only way I see it happening in 2009 is if we really see worse economic conditions and financial Armageddon. Right now thanks to this historical presidential election in the U. S., there is a mild—if misplaced—hopefulness that somehow the new administration can magically do something in a week or a month or a couple of months that the group before couldn’t do in several months, if not years. Once this hopefulness wears off and people realize they face the same difficulties in fixing a horrendous problem, we could see even more pressure in the credit market and in the equity market. If that’s the case, money has to go somewhere.
What’s been most interesting, a couple of weeks back, the Treasury market—where most people ran to in the last downturn—actually started selling off, especially on the longer end. I think part of that money is going to find the gold market.
TGR: Are you looking at gold as a precious metals purchase as in physical gold or ETFs? Or in this case do you see plays to be made in equity shares?
PG: There are equity plays to be made. I think first you want to have some physical bullion. One of the things I learned as a hard lesson—and as many other people did in 2008—sometimes mining shares, particularly the juniors, don’t track gold. During a large-scale liquidity crisis, people sell everything they own, including juniors. Even so, I think we’ve seen the industry destroyed as much as it possibly can be. The companies that have managed to stay around, particularly those that are going into production soon or are already in production, will have a big bounce back. Unfortunately, many of the pure exploration companies that haven’t come close to identifying a mine may not survive—but those failures actually enhance the prospects of the survivors. Money will flow into them long before it flows into the small exploration companies.
TGR: Do you have any favorites as you’re looking at these near-producing or producing companies?
PG: Sure. In fact, we’ve just been engaged by Hawthorne Gold Corp. (TSX.V:HGC) to help with corporate development services. I have to point out that I have a prejudice there simply because I’ve been aware of the management team for years. When I was a fund manager and a hedge fund manager, I purchased and did very well with the companies they were involved with. I am speaking of El Dorado Gold Corporation (ELD.TO) (AMEX:EGO) and Bema Gold. Both principals at Hawthorne Gold were founders of those previous companies and helped develop mines. Hawthorne Gold has made a series of acquisitions and is going into production, apparently in 2009. As I said earlier, those are the types of companies that I think are going to be attractive first and are likely to see a big rebound, even though they have suffered in seeing their share price decline.
And Hawthorne has the management team, has the finances, and is mining in an area of the world where they don’t have to worry about political problems. British Columbia, most of Canada, and even the U.S. are probably the safest places to explore and mine right now. And, of course, that’s where they’re concentrated on. So they seem to have all the ducks in order and have the ability to prosper at the expense of some others who are not in the position that they are.
TGR: A big focus now for people who are investing now in equities are the balance sheets, specifically cash in the bank and how long a company can survive without going to the capital markets. Can you speak a bit about that regarding these companies?
PG: There’s no question that financing has all dried up in every sector, and the junior market is no different. The good news is that El Dorado has been able to raise enough capital to see themselves through production. Once production starts, obviously cash flow becomes important. I believe we’ll see a lessening of that tightness in those companies that are looking particularly for gold or precious metals as their main focus because of the expectation that the gold price is going to rise and attract people’s eyes while everything else is seemingly not moving in the world.
So, I think if we look into the second half of 2009 and 2010 when companies like Hawthorne may need to come back to the market, I think the market will be more conducive to raising money than it has been or is now.
TGR: How was El Dorado able to raise money to go through production?
PG: Both Mike Beley and Richard Barclay were senior managers and directors at El Dorado in its early days. (Both Beley and Barclay are Hawthorne Directors; Beley is also Chairman, while Barclay is also President and CEO). They helped raise a lot of money and bring mines into production. They also were able to do the same thing with Bema, which Kinross Gold Corporation (K.TO) (NYSE:KGC) eventually bought for something like $3 billion.
When financiers look at companies, they’ve learned that the real important thing in juniors is management. Metals mining has a few different ways to go at it and all, but it’s not very exotic. So the likelihood of seeing their monies do well is really going to fall on the management team’s shoulders. It stands out when you have a management team that has demonstrated at least once—and these gentlemen have done it twice—the ability to develop a company and bring it into production. And let’s not forget that for every little junior that looks for metals and goes into production, 95 or so don’t go the whole nine yards. That stands out. That is always what impressed me about these gentlemen, why I used to be involved, and put money in El Dorado and Bema, and why I would want to associate with their company now. They are clearly standouts as managers in an industry where failure is the norm.
TGR: What do you think about Bravo Venture Group (TSX.V:BVG)?
PG: There is another company that’s made just outstanding discoveries and demonstrated an understanding of the deposits. They continue to put out great drill results—excellent results of deposits that are developing very nicely. And also, it's a company with the ability to demonstrate that they have enough support out there despite terrible financing conditions. They’ve been able to complete a financing recently that is going to move them forward. And they’re in a very good area of the world; as I said earlier, Canada and America are the safest places to look right now. So Bravo Ventures, too, I believe is one of the companies that will move forward to production. I suspect that they may not want to run the production, though, so there may be a sale or some type of a joint venture.
TGR: How about Bravo’s management team?
PG: Really what got me interested is somebody I worked with in the past and offered me an opportunity to do so again. As I said, I make my bets on management, and even some great management teams still don’t go all nine yards. But just like the quarterback is the most important position on a football team, management is in juniors. I go a long way back with Robert Swenarchuk, who’s head of Bravo’s Corporate Development and a member of Board of Directors. He is the one who made me interested in this and showed me why this deposit could develop. He was right. I’m a people better, and especially in the junior markets, and there again is another reason—because I have such faith in somebody who has an active role in the company.
TGR: You also follow ATW Gold Corp. (TSX.V:ATW).
PG: Just like you find out who your real friends are during tough times, you learn which people really know what they’re doing during tough times. It was easy when everything was flying; even the pigs were flying. ATW was able to secure a very advanced-stage mine that its previous owners had to liquidate because they had financial problems, and then brought in a very top-line management team that had experience in that area. On top of that, several months ago they switched their currency from Australian dollars to Canadian dollars. So they used the currency situation to make a gain of almost $1.5 million and at the same time avoid having to go the market and advance their project.
Here, too, is management. I’ve known Graham Harris, one of ATW’s Directors, for almost 20 years. He’s always been a straight shooter, particularly when he was in the financial arena, and finding a straight shooter in the financial arena is like finding a needle in a haystack. So I’ve always had confidence in his honesty. He was very excited about this project. He brought me in about a year ago; it just keeps being advanced. We should be in production there in short order. If you notice, I’m trying to concentrate on companies that are either close to going into production or are in production now.
And there again, in my opinion, they are going to be a survivor of the juniors’ dismay and then be there when the market eventually rebounds and comes into a bull market again. They will be among the leaders in the juniors segment.
TGR: Do you have any other companies under that umbrella?
PG: My favorite, favorite company—and it is my largest personal holding so I speak from a biased standpoint—is Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. (TSX:NDM) (AMEX:NAK). It has the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in the world. It’s in Alaska. The numbers are crazy—94 million ounces of gold, 72 billion pounds of copper. It is currently in a venture with Anglo Gold where Anglo can purchase 50% of the project by spending up to $1.4 billion. They’ve already spent a couple hundred million in further developing the project and advancing it to a pre-feasibility study.
It also has a 19.9% ownership by Rio Tinto. It had a 10% ownership by Mitsubishi, but Mitsubishi has been buying shares continuously in the open market lately. I suspect they’re heading to 19.9% ownership too.
If and when the market returns to people interested in precious metals or even base metals, there’s no question that at least one of those companies will want to own at least half, if not the whole deposit. Northern Dynasty’s stock came down a lot because all stocks came down. It is ridiculously priced at few dollars a share, but I believe when this eventually is done it will sell for multiples of where it is now.
TGR: Why wouldn’t Anglo buy it now while the price is depressed?
PG: Like everybody else, they don’t think time is against them. They realize this is a bear market. They also realize that they’re going to need current management’s support. Current management has about 20% of the stock; and as I said, their opposition—which are competitors—Rio has almost 20%. So unless they made a very favorably valued price, they’re not going to be able to buy it at current prices or anything close to that.
Hunter Dickinson, which manages this Northern Dynasty, is one of the biggest players in the junior- to-mid-size producers and exploration companies. They know they have to work with all these potential bidders; so they have not really played one against another—but sooner or later it will be one against another. So no one is rushing to drive the price up, but if Mitsubishi is able to acquire 20%, and Rio and management have 20% each, if and when a bidding war starts, there’s only about a 40% float out there. That will be when we really prosper as a shareholder. You need to sit back and accumulate a stock like this now and go on that expectation of what I said turns out be true.
TGR: So, how close is Northern Dynasty to production?
PG: It’s approaching pre-feasibility. We won’t see production for a few more years at least, but it’s so large. It’s 25% of the copper needs for the United States, and it’s on the top of every major producer’s list. We could still see someone else come out from left field that currently doesn’t have a position, but the ones I’ve mentioned certainly have the lead in potentially acquiring the additional stake. The problem for all three of them is that they know they can’t make a low-ball bid, but when they do make a bid for it, they want a bid that’s not going to cause a battle. Since nothing is moving now, they’re just waiting until someone else makes the first move. That’s the difficult part, but you have to speculate that eventually someone will. And when they do you’re going to get a multiple return on what you’re paying for it now.
TGR: In a worldwide recession, given the price of copper, wouldn’t the copper component discount the gold?
PG: The beauty of having so many million ounces of gold is that you can sell the copper for whatever you get, and you get the gold for almost nothing. It’s such a huge deposit; it’s been described as they still will not find the whole deposit by the time our grandchildren are adults. That’s how huge it is. We’re all living on the expectation that someday things will get better than they are now. If and when they do, the demand for the metal will come back again.
There’s an interesting thing about the base metals and even copper. Despite a tremendous slowdown in the world, copper has managed to still be about twice the price it was at the lows of the last big recessions in the ’80s and ’90s. One of the reasons I think that has happened is that most of the major, highly valued deposits had been discovered and drilled off. So one of the reasons copper is not dropping so much is because the operational costs to develop copper is higher than it was several years ago. We’re probably within 10% or 15% of that absolute bottom. It doesn’t mean you start buying now, because it may be a while before it can raise its head. But we’re closer to the end of the decline in copper than we are in the U.S. stock market.
And I must make the point that even if and when I become bullish on equities again, someone is going to have to be over-weighted in foreign stocks. One of the first things I’m looking to do once I believe markets have bottomed is to buy Canadian banks.
TGR: What is it you like about the Canadian banks?
PG: Of all the banking systems around the world, the Canadian banks (outside of Toronto Dominion) is the only group of banks that didn’t get heavily involved in all the CDS markets and all these derivatives. So the Canadian banking system is one of the places I think will be fairly safe to enter once the equity market has bottomed. They’re on my shopping list right now to eventually look at, but I think they will continue to decline somewhat until the markets themselves bottom.
TGR: One of your blogs suggests that uranium has bottomed out and we’re going to see it up in triple digits in 24 to 36 months. What about this year?
PG: I don’t know so much about the price in 2009. Uranium has seen its worst days in my view. I do believe we’ve seen the bottom and I believe it can tick up. The real factor will be how much the new U.S. administration is truly going to look at alternative energy. It’s one thing to say it during a campaign, but how much will Obama turn to alternative energy? When oil was hitting $140 and $150 and Congress was hauling in the principals of oil companies at $150, they can’t haul them in any more at $40. So I don’t know if they’re going to do what so many other administrations have done—and that is to kick the can down the road and let somebody else worry about energy concerns.
That said, it seems to be a serious concern of the current administration, and I think people will realize when all is said and done that the most efficient and effective and perhaps fastest way to increase abilities of getting energy outside of fossil fuels is nuclear energy. And it’s certainly happening around the world. Therefore, I think the uranium price will work its way higher, and I also think it’s only a question of when we’re going to see more nuclear plants built in the United States. Not so long ago, people thought we’d never see that.
A Bronx native, Peter Grandich hit Wall Street 25 years ago after starting an investors' club while working as a warehouse manager and launching his now-famous publication, The Grandich Letter, which grew to become a leading newsletter analyzing the metals and mining sectors within global stock and bond markets. After only three years on Wall Street, Peter was Vice President of Investment Strategy for Philips, Appel and Walden, a top New York Stock Exchange member firm. He was dubbed “the Wall Street Whiz Kid” after he forecast the 1987 stock market crash weeks before it happened. He then predicted that the market would reach a new all-time high within two years. It did. He said that 2000 would see the end of great mega bull market of the ’80s and ’90s. It was. As long ago as 2001, he thought U.S. banks had gone “overboard in making loans that required near-perfect economic conditions in order to avoid substantial bankruptcies” and expressed concern that some of them “seem to have hidden their problems from the average investor.” In October 2007, he warned investors to “man your battle stations” and prepare for the “unprecedented economic tsunami” that would hit America beginning in 2008. Jay Taylor (Gold, Energy & Technology Stocks newsletter publisher) considers Peter “most remarkable for a successful Wall Street pro…unashamedly independent and outspoken about his views, which frequently are anything but politically correct.”
AGORACOM, North America’s only small-cap community built to serve the needs of serious small-cap and micro-cap investors, acquired www.Grandich.com, home of The Grandich Letter, in October, and named Peter “Chief Commentator.”
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