The recent drop in gold prices is a confirmation, or a revelation, to investors of the battle between the physical and paper gold markets. In this interview with The Gold Report, Brien Lundin, editor of Gold Newsletter, predicts the timing of a handoff from Asian physical demand to Western speculative demand and assesses the readiness of the junior market to respond to a revival in commodity prices. Plus, in a tip to Father's Day, he discusses his efforts to groom the next generation of investors.
The Gold Report: In your latest newsletter, you advocate that gold investors pay close attention to the Federal Reserve meeting taking place on June 18. What are you looking for out of that meeting?
Brien Lundin: The main driver for gold right now is quantitative easing (QE). An investor trying to figure out where the gold market is heading in the near to intermediate term needs to focus on QE. Investors should look for clues to the future prospects of the Fed's QE program—that's what's going to drive gold in the short and intermediate term. The question really is: To QE or not to QE? The next Fed meeting will be a prime indicator of that, and the one after that and the one after that.
My general view is that the reports of a resurgent U.S. economy are way ahead of themselves and some data points are indicating that the recovery is not that robust and may even be in danger. The jobs numbers will shed some light on this. If such a scenario develops, then the snap back for gold would be pretty dramatic. A weakening U.S. economy would be bullish for gold because it's bullish for continued QE, and that's the real factor for gold going forward.
TGR: Besides the jobs numbers and the Fed meeting minutes, what indicators are you watching to get some insight into whether the economy really is improving?
BL: People need to listen to the Fed. The Fed is trying to be more open and transparent, despite the typical central banker doublespeak. But it is looking at two numbers right now: Jobs and inflation. The jobs number is predominant because every indicator that economists currently use to measure inflation is showing no significant inflation. Now, the consumer price index (CPI) is not the CPI of our fathers, and it has been jiggered here and there to underreport price inflation. Regardless, until we start seeing price inflation in the CPI, the Fed will be more conducive to easing. The unemployment numbers, however, are where we'll see some real action or perhaps some tapering if the unemployment rate starts to improve.
TGR: What's your take on the price behavior in the precious metals markets? Where do we go from here?
BL: I think the big price action that's happened in gold over the last six weeks or so is a big revelation. It has revealed the character of the modern gold market, which has developed into a West versus East or paper gold versus real gold market. In the West, there are speculators who invest in the future exchanges primarily. They are more concerned about the short-term direction for gold and the other precious metals. The future exchanges are really nothing more than an opinion poll on the price of gold. It's not really a place where real metal gets bought and sold but, rather, the futures market is a place to trade derivatives. In a real sense, it is fractional reserve investing.
In mid-April, when we had the big smackdown in gold, over 400 tons sold on the Comex. In a matter of an hour or two the amount of metal sold exceeded, by over 100 tons, the amount of gold in the Comex warehouse. The Comex trading on that day had no relation to the physical markets. Conversely, the price drop resulting from that selloff spurred physical demand throughout the world, but particularly in price-sensitive markets in Asia.
One of the things people looked at throughout all of this was the big drawdown in the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of physical gold. Since the beginning of the year, the remarkable drawdown in the ETFs amounted to around 370 tonnes of gold. Over that same timeframe, I estimate that more than 600 tonnes of gold have been consumed in China alone. And that doesn't include the huge demand in India or the rest of Asia. It also doesn't include the surging physical demand for gold in the Western markets or the renewed central bank demand. If you add it all up, I think that price smash in April did nothing but increase global gold demand.