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Three years ago, I offered you 700 billion reasons to hold gold. Since that time, gold has nearly doubled in price, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI), unfortunately, has only managed to scrape its way to a 4% advance. Today, with Europe preparing to give you 600 billion new reasons to gain or maintain some position in gold, along comes the State of Qatar to remind you that gold mining equities may provide the most cost-effective means available to build that exposure.
Qatar's golden imperative
An article in London's Daily Telegraph over the weekend trumpeted the stunning revelation that "gaining access to physical gold" has become the "top strategic priority" for Qatar's sovereign wealth fund. The Qatar Investment Authority will target as much as $10 billion of total investments in gold producers.
I remember when $10 billion sounded like a lot of money, and I credit the same global debt crisis that's fueling gold's rise for vanquishing the shock value of such an enormous sum. The Qatar Investment Authority ranks 12th among the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, so this intended investment implies an astonishing 12.5% of the fund's recently estimated tally of about $80 billion under management!
Furthermore, in the surprisingly small-scale equity market for gold producers, this is a monster capital injection that will yield a palpable impact. To place this development within its proper context, I tallied the total market capitalization of all 30 equities currently held by the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSE: GDX ) . The resulting total market capitalization of $257 billion -- dominated of course by the behemoth trio of Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) , Goldcorp (NYSE: GG ) , and Newmont Mining (NYSE: NEM ) -- fails to render Qatar's intended investment in the industry an inconsequential sum.
On the contrary, the move would place Qatar's sovereign wealth fund on a similar plane with Sprott Asset Management. With $10 billion already under management, and popular bullion proxy Sprott Physical Gold Trust (NYSE: PHYS ) among its public offerings, Sprott has grown into a dominant financial force within the industry. But as of this weekend, notice has been served: Qatar wants to capture a similar-sized slice of the market.
Contestant No. 1
First to take the stage as a lucky recipient of Qatar's transformative capital injection -- with a $1 billion investment also announced over the weekend -- is European Goldfields (OTC: EGFDF). With flagship assets in debt-ravaged Greece, the investment was hailed as a meaningful show of support for Greece's ailing economy, as well as for the company in particular. Qatar's fund will furnish the miner with a $600 million low-interest loan to develop its full project pipeline -- most notably a pair of advanced-stage gold projects in Greece called Olympias and Skouries. Olympias appears the more attractive of the two, boasting an impressively high grade of 8.7 grams per tonne for 3.8 million ounces of underground gold reserves. The Skouries project adds an additional 3.6 million ounces of gold to the company's pipeline, though at a far lower grade. The company has one mine already in production (Stratoni) and another advanced development project in Romania (Certej).
In addition to the $600 million secured loan, Qatar Holdings (a subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority) may provide a further $150 million unsecured loan and will have the option to raise its total equity stake in the company from 9.9% to 30%.
As for likely recipients of subsequent capital injections within Qatar's bullish buying spree, sources familiar with the matter indicated only that the fund has focused some interest on opportunities in Russia and Africa. Given the geographical proximity of those regions to Qatar, such a focus makes perfect sense for a nation that just announced "gaining access to physical gold" as its "top strategic priority."
A mere taste of what's to come
Although noteworthy institutional inflows into gold remain far less common than one might imagine given gold's phenomenal price performance, Qatar is certainly not alone in developing an enhanced interest in physical gold as a strategic asset. Fools may recall that China's state-owned gold miner China National Gold Group struck a deal with Coeur d'Alene Mines (NYSE: CDE ) for roughly 50% of life-of-mine gold production from Coeur's Kensington mine in Alaska.
I also find it worth noting that China reportedly allocated an additional $200 billion in capital to its own sovereign wealth fund this year. Given earlier investments in multiple gold vehicles -- including the SPDR Gold Trust (NYSE: GLD ) and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX ) -- I expect further forays into gold for China's significantly enhanced sovereign wealth fund.
Earlier this year, while insisting that $1,500 was "just the beginning" in this epic bull market for gold, I posited that "we have barely scratched the surface in terms of adjusting prevailing asset allocation models worldwide to adequately reflect the fully resurgent currency role and safe-haven status of gold and silver." Quite unfortunately, I foresee persistent debt woes and structural impairment continuing to plague key world economies and their currencies, coupled with seemingly inevitable fiscal and monetary interventions that serve only to delay an inevitable currency crisis. I submit that world governments from China to Qatar are increasingly attuned to the disappointing long-term outlook for the major reserve currencies and are preparing themselves accordingly through exposure to gold.
Until moves like the University of Texas' endowment fund's decision to forge a 5% allocation to physical gold become the norm rather than the rare exception, the upside potential for gold's continued advance remains well beyond the expectations of most casual observers. The recent sell-off among gold miners has yielded a glaring opportunity for latecomers to gain exposure at valuations I never thought we'd see again. I urge Fools to consider at least some modicum of investment exposure to gold and silver, and I invite them to tap into an extraordinary resource of collective intelligence on the sector that thrives within the CAPS blogs.