Last week I returned from Zurich, where I spoke at the European Gold Forum. Investor sentiment for the yellow metal was particularly strong on negative real interest rates and heightened geopolitical uncertainty in the U.S., Europe, Middle East and South Africa. A poll taken during the conference showed that 85 % of attendees were bullish on gold, with a forecast of $1,495 an ounce by the end of the year.
The upcoming presidential election in France is certainly raising concerns among many international investors. On one end of the political spectrum is Marie Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate who, if elected, might very well pursue a “Frexit.” On the other end is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a socialist of such extreme views that he makes Bernie Sanders look like Ronald Reagan. I was shocked to read that Mélenchon has pledged to implement a top tax rate of 100 %—and even more shocked to learn that he’s moving up in the polls. An insane 100 % tax rate would surely return the country to medieval-era feudalism, which is just another name for slavery. All the wealth naturally goes to the very top, and corruption thrives.
It’s important to recognize that in civil law countries such as France, hard line socialism is much more likely to take hold. Just look at South Africa. While in Zurich, I had the pleasure to speak with Tim Wood, executive director of the Denver Gold Group and former associate of South Africa’s Chamber of Mines. According to Tim, the poor government policies of South Africa’s socialist president, Jacob Zuma, is driving business out of the country and has led to the resignations of several members of parliament. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of Johannesburg demanding Zuma to step down, especially following his firing of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. The rand, meanwhile, has plummeted and the country was recently downgraded to “junk” status.
One of the consequences of a weaker rand has been stronger gold priced in the local currency and higher South African gold mining stocks, as measured by the FTSE/JSE Africa Gold Mining Index. Among the gold companies that have seen some huge daily moves in recent days are Sibanye Gold and Harmony Gold.
South African gold stocks look very attractive in the short term. Over the long term, however, producers might find it increasingly difficult to operate efficiently and profitably in such a mismanaged jurisdiction.