Like any epic tale, the final story of the precious-metals bull market of the 21st century will be divided into chapters.
Chapter 1 was comprised of a rather gradual and widely underestimated climb from beneath $300 per ounce to peak beyond $700 in 2006. Chapter 2 was the first big gut check: a 16-month corrective phase that shook this Fool's confidence enough to sell a few positions.
When gold rocketed higher in Chapter 3 on its way to breach $1,000, the world began to take notice ... just in time for gold to sucker-punch a flock of eager investors with the onset of a brutal 18-month correction (you guessed it: Chapter 4).
Knowing where we stand
My favorite college professor once said to me: "To know where you're going, you first have to know where you are." We are in the early stages of Chapter 5, which I perceive as the next major upward phase of this multiyear event. I have stated before that successive chapters will usher in greater degrees of volatility in gold prices, and I expect bold counter-directional moves within Chapter 5 that some will interpret as new chapters.
Amid all the clatter of a gold overload, I still observe some investors awaiting a huge pullback before initiating their dollar-defensive positions. If the prior chapters are any guide, though, then Marc Faber's pronouncement of a new floor at $1,000 must be taken seriously. Notwithstanding a possible retest of the $1,000 mark, I see Chapter 5 taking gold prices to anywhere from $1,250 to $1,650 per ounce before the onset of another major corrective phase. The key driver of how this all plays out, of course, remains the fate of the U.S. dollar.
Fresh from a particularly embarrassing chapter in its own history, the world's largest gold miner has become the herald of an important secondary driver of future gold prices. Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) CEO Aaron Regent has been drawing attention to a looming shortfall in global mine supply for months, and this week he dropped something of a bombshell by declaring his view that the world has passed the "peak gold" mark.
As I have noted, very large gold deposits are becoming much harder to find, and production from traditional heavyweight South Africa has been in terminal decline since 1970. Regent notes that global mine production has declined 10% in the last decade, having peaked in 2000. According to one analyst, exploration budgets have tripled over the same period. They're looking harder, spending more, and finding less ... and this can only lead to upward pressure on gold prices in the long term.
Buckle up for a wild ride
Whether you're a seasoned precious-metals investor or a price-wary newcomer, the latest exchange-traded fund offering provides an exciting opportunity to position yourself for the broader trends underfoot. The launch of the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF (NYSE: GDXJ ) this week is an exercise in cruel timing, since the thought of piling into the junior miners and explorers after the run they've had lately is enough to give a Fool vertigo.
This ETF is bound to see some volatility, but I believe that the potential reward is an effective counterpoint to its unpredictable nature.
As major miners like Barrick struggle to replace reserves in a peak-gold world, and larger midtier miners approach the culmination of their growth spurts, I believe that the role of junior exploration and mining companies in locating greenfield deposits and advancing them toward production will become increasingly significant to the sector at large. In the context of a trend toward increasing consolidation, also, juniors offer potential upside as attractive takeover targets or partners in lucrative joint ventures.
Potential stars of future chapters
The new ETF's name is incomplete, since primary silver producers Hecla Mining (NYSE: HL ) , Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) , and Silver Standard Resources (Nasdaq: SSRI ) figure prominently in the top 10 holdings. The ETF's underlying index permits companies that derive (or will derive) at least 50% of their revenue from gold or silver. Since I have argued consistently that silver is more precious than gold, this inclusion suits me just fine.
On the gold side, the list is topped by New Gold, which recently scored a highly motivated Barrick Gold as a likely joint venture partner for its El Morro project. Further down the list of ETF holdings are shares of several high-quality gold companies that I have highlighted as attractive takeover targets, including Rubicon Minerals (AMEX: RBY ) , with its Red Lake gold bonanza, and NovaGold Resources (AMEX: NG ) , with its 29-million-ounce Donlin Creek treasure.
On the one hand, I do not envy the dilemma faced by investors just now seeking gold and silver exposure at these unprecedented prices, but as one who owns 13 of the 38 equities held by this new junior mining ETF, I can at least appreciate that finding the right exposure for future chapters has just become a whole lot easier.
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