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Following a week that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average gain 275 points despite horrendous economic data, the index closed out Friday unchanged from the day before. The biggest loser on the day, however, was aluminum producer Alcoa's (NYSE: AA ) stock, which pulled back 1.2%, putting it within striking distance of its 52-week lows again.
Although I've been (incorrectly) calling a top for a while now, perhaps it was the lack of consumer confidence as measured by the University of Michigan's survey that finally did in the index's inexorable climb. The survey plunged to 72.3 from 78.6, the lowest level in nine months, and said to be the biggest miss to expectations in the survey's history. Of course, retail sales for March also fell, adding to the drumbeat of negativity we've seen, which is why the stock market's continued rise is so incongruous. Apparently the Federal Reserve's pumping of tens of billions of dollars into the economy, along with Japan's recent opening of the floodgates, is all that's necessary to artificially levitate the markets.
I maintain it's all going to end badly, and sooner rather than later. In the meantime, commodities are getting crushed, and gold has officially reached bear-market territory, but Alcoa's own earnings -- and not just macroeconomic issues -- have played a role in its performance since they were released. It may have beaten estimates for profits, but revenues came in weak and guidance seemed a head-scratcher, leading analysts to question whether the aluminum producer wasn't wearing rose-colored glasses.
Since Alcoa's unofficial kickoff to the earnings seasons, its stock is down 2%. Yet year to date it's off 5%, a wide divergence from the overall performance of the Dow, which is up 13%, and that's just a torrid pace that can't be maintained.
As I mentioned before, though, gold is now in bear territory, having fallen 21% from its peak. It fell more than $63 an ounce on Friday, or more than 4%, to close trading at just over $1,500 an ounce (intraday it was as low as $1,480 an ounce). That's a level it hasn't seen since July 2011, as traders seek better returns elsewhere.
The consequence, however, is that precious-metals miners and streamers are being taken down, too. The world's largest gold miner, Barrick Gold (NYSE: ABX ) tumbled 9% yesterday, but it has the added problem of having its huge Pascua-Lama project in Chile being placed on hold as it looks at delays measured in months (at least) before it's able to start up again.
The worst performer in the sector was NovaGold Resources (NYSEMKT: NG ) , which fell 13% yesterday as it scrambles to make sense of its Donlin Gold project in Alaska, the biggest known undeveloped gold deposit anywhere. The joint venture with Barrick has essentially been in limbo since NovaGold's partner said last year it no longer made economic sense to pursue it.
About the only positive thing the miner can hang its hat on is despite the rising costs associated with the project and the falling price of gold is that Barrick's woes at Pascua-Lama might encourage them to return. It's a slim hope to be sure, and that's probably why the stock tumbled so hard. NovaGold is running out of places to turn to.
Still a glittering opportunity?
While virtually every name in the precious metal fell yesterday in line with gold's percentage drop, or worse, gold streamer Sandstorm Gold (NYSEMKT: SAND ) really took it on the chin, falling more than 8% despite reporting a few days earlier a sharp jump in proven and probable reserves at its Aurizona Gold Mine in Brazil. It represents one of the streamer's best opportunities for the future, as it has the opportunity to buy 17% of the gold produced for the life of mine at $400 an ounce on an inflation-adjusted basis.
Like the miners it partners with, Sandstorm enjoyed a huge run-up in its stock price, only to have it come crashing down around it as gold prices tumbled. Shares are down 46% from their 52-week high and have lost more than 30% year to date. Because it's a streamer, though, and not a miner, it incurs less risk than they do, even as it's highly dependent on its partners to come through and fulfill their agreements. If they run into regulatory or other problems as Barrick has, Sandstorm will feel the effects just as much.
Regardless, it seems Sandstorm should still be able to ride out the storm in gold, and the dramatic decline in its stock may prove an attractive entry point for investors.
Ready for a resurrection
Materials industries are traditionally known for their high barriers to entry, and the aluminum industry is no exception. Controlling about 15% of global production in this highly consolidated industry, Alcoa is in prime position to take advantage of growth that some expect will lead to total industry revenue approaching $160 billion by 2017. Based on this prospect and several other company-specific factors, Alcoa is certainly worth a closer look. For a Foolish investment perspective on this global giant simply click here now to get started.