South African gold stocks, anyone?
November 14 2003
You may recall, or if not, you may have heard, that
during the gold bull market of the late 1970s many South African
gold mining companies were very kind to investors, paying annual
dividends almost equal to what their shares were trading for earlier
that decade. Some think it may happen again; but, I am sorry to
say, it won’t.
Until 1971, the price of gold was arbitrarily fixed against the
US dollar, and set at $35 an ounce. When Nixon closed the gold window
and the gold price was allowed to float, it had to increase to account
for inflation of the US Dollar that was never accounted for in a
fixed gold price: an ounce of gold was certainly worth a lot more
than thirty-five 1971-dollars. The market had to figure out, over
time, just how many current dollars an ounce of gold was worth.
When the gold price increased from $35 an ounce in
1971 to $700 an ounce in 1980, its price also increased in all the
currencies that were fixed against the dollar.
The South African Rand was one such currency, and
it remained pegged against the dollar for most of the 1970s. This
increase in the Rand-gold price was a windfall for the South African
gold mining industry, which, at the time, was the source of about
75% of the world’s gold production. The result was an increase
in the operating margins of South African gold mining companies
and the humungous cash flows were dutifully paid out to shareholders,
hence the large dividends.
However, this twenty-fold increase in the gold price
over the course of ten years played havoc on South Africa’s
small economy. South Africa’s Central Bank Reserves increased
more than five-fold just between 1978 and 1980. While the Rand-Dollar
exchange rate remained fixed, the real, effective Rand exchange
rate with the country’s major trading partners increased almost
30% from 1978 to 1981. So while the South African gold mining industry
was minting coin, companies in the manufacturing sector, especially
those with export contracts, were getting creamed.
In an attempt to deal with the volatility of its
currency, the South African Government introduced a dual currency
system and went as far as gradually allowing the Rand to seek its
own trading range after 1979, albeit under heavy scrutiny and much
This time around the gold price is not trying to catch up with more
than two decades’ worth of monetary inflation. Rather, the
increase in the gold price is a result of a declining Dollar, which
in turn is merely a correction of an artificial Dollar-bull market
that developed during the 90s. Also, unlike the 70s, when many currencies
were fixed against the Dollar, most currencies today are free floating.
So while a lot of people are talking about the gold
price and its correlation to the US Dollar, I don’t think
many people understand that what we are facing is not so much a
bull market in gold, but a bear market in the Dollar. This means
that while the Dollar-gold price will increase, the gold price may
not increase as much, if at all, in other currencies.
It’s true that South Africa no longer produces
75% of the world’s gold, but minerals still account for almost
30% of South African exports, of which gold constitutes about half,
so its economy is still very sensitive to the price of gold. It
is very likely, then, that the Rand will continue to appreciate
against the Dollar as the Dollar-gold price continues to increase.
The implication is that the Rand-gold price is unlikely to increase
as much as the Dollar-gold price.
The Dollar will not only decline against other currencies,
but also against gold, platinum, nickel, etc. South Africa exports
many of these commodities and therefore the Rand is likely to appreciate
more against the Dollar than many other currencies. The ultimate
Rand-Dollar exchange rate will depend on the relative upward pressure
from a declining Dollar and the downward pressure from monetary
inflation of the Rand.
Ultimately the full benefit of a higher Dollar-gold
price will not show up in the operating margins of the South African
gold mining sector, as it did in the 70s, because much of it will
be lost in the exchange rate adjustment between the Dollar and the
Rand. South African gold stocks therefore do not offer the same
upside potential as they did in the 70s, but they still come with
a good portion of political and social risk. I think I’ll
Investors will get maximum benefit from the increase
in the Dollar-gold price by investing in gold mining companies whose
portfolios are exclusively US based, as these will reap the full
benefit of a declining Dollar. Sadly, there aren’t too many
Another way to go, for those with a speculating budget, is to invest
in junior exploration companies that are exploring in Nevada and
Alaska. Alternatively, play it safe by owning physical gold.
Paul van Eeden
Paul van Eeden works primarily to find investments for his
own portfolio and shares his investment ideas with subscribers to his weekly
investment publication. For more information please visit his website (www.paulvaneeden.com)
or contact his publisher at (800) 528-0559 or (602) 252-4477.
This letter/article is not intended to meet your specific individual investment
needs and it is not tailored to your personal financial situation. Nothing contained
herein constitutes, is intended, or deemed to be -- either implied or otherwise
-- investment advice. This letter/article reflects the personal views and opinions
of Paul van Eeden and that is all it purports to be. While the information herein
is believed to be accurate and reliable it is not guaranteed or implied to be
so. The information herein may not be complete or correct; it is provided in
good faith but without any legal responsibility or obligation to provide future
updates. Neither Paul van Eeden, nor anyone else, accepts any responsibility,
or assumes any liability, whatsoever, for any direct, indirect or consequential
loss arising from the use of the information in this letter/article. The information
contained herein is subject to change without notice, may become outdated and
will not be updated. Paul van Eeden, entities that he controls, family, friends,
employees, associates, and others may have positions in securities mentioned,
or discussed, in this letter/article. While every attempt is made to avoid conflicts
of interest, such conflicts do arise from time to time. Whenever a conflict
of interest arises, every attempt is made to resolve such conflict in the best
possible interest of all parties, but you should not assume that your interest
would be placed ahead of anyone else’s interest in the event of a conflict
of interest. No part of this letter/article may be reproduced, copied, emailed,
faxed, or distributed (in any form) without the express written permission of
Paul van Eeden. Everything contained herein is subject to international copyright