Well, that whole fiscal cliff thing was more like stumbling over the threshold of a door rather than plunging from great heights, but with the world's central bankers having managed to whistle past the graveyard of a complete financial meltdown again, the prospects for gold may not be as precious as they were once believed. Analysts think a normalization of economic activity lessens the investment attractiveness of the yellow metal and offers a reason why prices have peeled back from their highs last year.
Gold miners had a lousy 2012, with Barrick Gold (NYSE:GOLD) down 28% over the past year, Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) down 25%, and Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI) off 20%. I noted just yesterday that Yamana Gold (NYSE:AUY) was the exception rather than the rule in gold stocks, being one of the very few to post gains last year.
And we're not seeing 2013 off to a good start, either. Where the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is actually up 2% so far, gold stocks, particularly the junior miners, are being hit hard. Gold Reserve (OTC:GDRZF) is down almost 15% already, followed closely by Tanzanian Royalty Exploration (NYSEMKT:TRX) at 13%, while slightly larger Gold Resource (NYSEMKT:GORO) is off 8%. Seems all of gold is losing its glitter.
At least the prospects for a better year and a less shaky global economy have begun to stabilize the airline industry, which is the best performing sector over the past week, rising 8.5%. Admittedly there's a long way to go yet, but they're starting on the right foot, and regional airline Republic Airways (NASDAQ: RJET) gained a lot of altitude soaring 32% after upping its guidance for the coming quarter, but Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) and Skywest (NASDAQ:SKYW) are also higher at 10% and 7%, respectively.
Although some analysts anticipate gold continuing to fall, I'm not so sure. Central banks last year went on a buying binge to hedge against a financial conflagration, and while improving economies would suggest that would ease, I expect financially strapped European governments hard-pressed to sell their best performing assets. According to the World Gold Council, the world's central banks bought a total 97.6 metric tons of gold in the third quarter.
Indeed, China and India are still seen as big buyers, with the former buying 91% more gold from Hong Kong in November than it did in October, while premiums on gold bullion shipments to India just hit a two-month high.
So while I'm bullish on a big player like Yamana, and own some smaller miners like Primero Mining (NYSE:PPP), I also think juniors like Gold Resource ought to do well. The impetus for rising gold prices might not be as strong as last year, but central bank buying puts something of a floor underneath prices, and you can call me skeptical that we're out of the woods yet on the world financial stage. Gold prices can easily spike again.
I'm not so confident in the airline industry's ability to maintain its rebound. A just-released report by Boyd Group International sees the industry suffering a 1.5% to 2% drop in traffic this year as flights, capacity, and passengers fall well under estimates posited by the FAA. But there will be some bright stars in the constellation, as Republic's better outlook suggests. It will likely be the regional airlines that do well.
That segment of the industry has suffered more than most during the downturn, with Pinnacle Airlines going bankrupt and Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) shutting down three different carriers over the past two years. Yet Delta just announced it wants to buy Pinnacle out of bankruptcy, giving it an opportunity to have regional air service beyond just Skywest or other smaller players. Delta had provided the regional airline with the financing it needed to operate while it reorganized.
With American Airlines parent AMR in bankruptcy as well, the opportunity to merger with US Airways (NYSE: LCC) may be its most attractive option, though as the industry report suggests, all this consolidation under way is going to constrict capacity and traffic. I expect I'll be following Warren Buffett's time-tested advice to avoid airlines at all costs.