In The Lead – Apocalypse (Not) Now

by Jon Nadler, Kitco Metals Inc. on December 2, 2011 · 0 comments

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Precious Metals CommentaryThe prolonged and recently aggravated European debt crisis has now resulted in a forced rethink of the very foundations of the union. French President Sarkozy has asserted that his country and Germany will now aim to propose a revamp of the original treaty towards a paradigm that includes a "convergence" of some type that is designed to avert the demise of the region’s common currency.

Translated into plain English the "convergence" plan means that the union will be pushed towards some kind of fiscal common platform or at least towards stricter regulatory tenets that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for any single member nation to gorge itself on too much debt in the future. Markets, of course, cheered the proposals with their usual "risk-on!" and "buy everything!" display of speculative optimism this morning.

Albeit German Chancellor Merkel remained steadfast in her declarations that no eurozone bonds should see the light of day and that the ECB should not take on an expanded role in the region’s attempts to resolve the mess. Her preferred path towards ‘daylight’ from this quagmire is to get the region to strengthen its economic ties. ECB President Mario Draghi adopted a somewhat ‘softer’ tone however and was interpreted as leaving the door slightly cracked towards a possibly more interventionist European central bank if certain fiscal union principles are indeed cobbled together.

All of this remains to be seen, as we head towards a pivotal EU meeting slated for one week from today. In the meantime, whatever the markets do is largely based on conjecture and the ebb/flow of risk on/off sentiments from day to day. Hanging onto every headline and darting in diametrically opposite directions in the wake thereof has defined investor behavior of late. That is not likely to change any time soon.

Today’s example comes from an optimistic interpretation of a proposal (as in: not a done deal) to funnel European central bank loans through the IMF and endow the troubled countries with as much as a fifth of a trillion euros. The bonds of two of the potential beneficiaries (Italy and Spain) of such a lending scheme rallied today as did the usual suspects in various other (commodity and equity) markets. Risk is on at least for the better part of today or until the next scary headline hits the wires.

Gold continued to exhibit the same patterns of risk asset behavior that copper, oil, and equities have been displaying while the European saga has been unfolding. Today was a day to start on a positive footing at least for the initial part of the trading morning. Gold opened $12 higher at $1,757 while silver bounced 80 cents higher to $33.53 the ounce. Within less than half an hour, and in the wake of US economic news and cautious words coming from Ms. Merkel, the former was ahead by only $3 while the latter showed only 39 cents’ worth of gains.

Chancellor Merkel dismissed the odds of a quick-fix to the debt debacle this morning by comparing it to a marathon that might take years and not weeks or months to reach the finish line. Speculators and other quick-buck makers were reminded that this is a process and not an imminent event. In a way, Ms. Merkel’s metaphor was a direct rebuke of the words coming from an agitated Tony Blair who declared that Europe has "only weeks left to solve its crisis." Other sources posted headlines such as "Only 10 days left to save the euro!"

Take zat, Herr Blair! Therefore, any opinions of the extremely confident or desperate kind that you might run across when you read various doomsday-flavored newsletters ought to be taken with an equal dose of skepticism when it comes to declarations of the demise or fiat currencies, of the EU, or the inverse, as well. No Koombaya, but no TEOTWAWKI either. It is more like the Ramayana; 50,000 lines of verse that take some time to read and digest. As regards the yellow metal and declarations about it — which are also more than abundant at this time of the year- the principal question remains just how much of the fear and distrust present in the markets has already been priced into $1,700+ bullion. Some feel it is not nearly enough, others feel it is more than ample.

Call it profit-taking, call it book-squaring, call it news-based trading, the result is the same: volatility remains an integral part of the metals’ markets and to a degree that is not comforting to traditional buyers of same. Back in the day, a metals trader might go home and tell ‘wild’ tales of a $1 gain in silver or of a $20 move in gold to incredulous family members. Nowadays, it’s as routine an event in either metal, or either direction, as brushing one’s teeth.

Platinum advanced $3 to the $1,564 mark and palladium continued its monster rally with a 3% rise to $652 the ounce. Rhodium remained slightly lower at $1,625 after having slipped $25 yesterday. In the background, the US dollar narrowed earlier losses to trade at 78.20 on the trade-weighted index and dollar-bullish traders are seen as still having the upper hand at the moment, despite minor setback against the euro this week, Black gold gained nearly $1 and traded near $101 per barrel while copper staged a 2% advance. Once again, the tallies showed palladium leading the pack of gainers in percentage terms.

Partially lost in the wave of news from Europe was the fact that the US economy added 120,000 jobs last month and that (more importantly) the joblessness level in America fell to a 30-month low at 8.6%. Critics were quick to point out that the shrinkage in the unemployment rate was due to more than 300,000 people having stopped searching for jobs. However, such critics were remiss in noting that US firms continued to hire folks at a modest but steady clip.

America’s labor force has increased by about one million positions in the period August-October. Add to that the fact that the latest ISM data revealed a modest gain in November (rising to 52.7% and remaining above the 50% dividing line for the 28th consecutive month) and the following words of a couple of Fed officials make some sense. Philly Fed President Plosser opined that the US is not headed back into recession, while St. Louis Fed head Bullard said the recent data suggests that monetary policy makers should not rush to ease further but should instead adopt a wait-and-see attitude. US economic growth came in at the 2% level in Q3 and might rev up to 3-3.5% in 2012, thus making a QE3 maneuver questionable.

As we head into the weekend, we turn to the market-related musings coming from Standard Bank. Analyst Steven Barrow leaves us with words of wisdom (and possible strategy) to keep handy in coming days:

"There’s a huge week coming up next week, including the EU summit and monetary policy meetings from the ECB, MPC, RBA, BoC and RBNZ. There’s also the first dollar auction from the ECB under the new lower-rate structure…Our general bias is still to be somewhat risk averse on a longer-term basis but, notwithstanding today’s payrolls, risk aversion might not return rapidly…The question is whether to start positioning for more risk aversion this side of year-end given that liquidity is so thin and, for a short-time at least, euro zone policymakers might persuade the markets that they are on top of the problem (as the central banks seemed to do on Wednesday). With this in mind, it is probably not best to try getting involved on either the long or the short side of risk assets right now. If we see some sort of huge risk-rally into year-end, with euro/dollar around 1.40, for instance, it might be very tempting to act this side of the New Year."

"This side" now entails but 19 opportunities to "get it right" in the near-term. Tick…tick…tick…

Have a pleasant weekend,

Jon Nadler
Senior Metals Analyst — Kitco Metals

Jon Nadler
Senior Analyst

Kitco Metals Inc.
North America

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in precious metal products, commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.

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