Sunday, April 26, 2009

No Need to Over-React to Swine Flu!

The global panic reaction to the swine flu spreading in Mexico is unwarranted. People should not over-react. I did over-react myself as I myself did rush to buy some surgical masks for me and my family, just in case I will need them and they run out. But rationality took over me over the weekend and I now believe this will be a non-event. Let me explain:

  1. It is NOT flu season. It's late spring and early summer in the Northern hemisphere. There are good reasons that flu does not spread during the summer time. Of course, the southern hemisphere may need to worry about this swine flu outbreak a bit more than we do. But so far no case is discovered in the southern hemisphere.
  2. If this swine flu is a bad one, it's already too late to contain and it should already spread widely globally. But so far the spread is very limited. Even in Mexico, most of the cases are confined in Mexico City. There are so far only 1600 cases out of a population of 20 million. The US so far has only 20 cases, all very mild. Again now is simply not the flu season.
  3. Death rate seems to be high in Mexico city, 80+ deaths out of 1600 cases. But it could be due to the fact that now is not flu season and it is not easy for the flu to spread. The individuals catching the flu must be in poor health conditions to start with. So it is not surprising that those weak enough to catch the flu in a non-flu season could also die easily.

Let's all use some good sanitary practices: avoid shaking hands; wash hands frequently; stay at home if you are sick, etc. But let's do not panic un-necessarily. Remember that flu kills due the the over-reaction of one's immune system.

Full Disclosure: The author has neither a long position nor a short position in the swine flu.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The True Rationale of Commodities Supply and Demand

The price of rhodium staged an impressive rally in recent weeks. At the bottom of recent commodities sell off at the end of October, 08, rhodium dropped to $750 per ounce, from the high of $10,000 just a few months ago. Since the October bottom, rhodium price has raised to $1650 per ounce, a surge of up 120%, while gold is up only 25%, silver up 36%, platinum is up 58% and palladium is up 38%. Clearly rhodium has been the best performing precious metal.

But if you ask the metals analysts, they will tell a bearish story. Rhodium has no investment demand, as the metal is extremely hard to buy and sell, and there is no futures trading on rhodium. Rhodium's demand is purely industrial, with auto sector accounts for over 90% of the total. The auto sales are weak, so the rhodium demand should be weak and the price must drop.

Analysts get one thing wrong. For an easily hoarded metal like rhodium, the true industry demand does NOT equal to the immediate consumption need. The true demand is how much industry users are willing to buy, at current price, NOT how much their current needs are. Analysts have confused purchase demand, the force that drives price, with consumption demand, which doesn't affect price.

Like wise, the true supply of the metal is NOT how much the mining companies have produced, but rather, how much they are willing to sell, at current price. I suspect some South African PGM mines may hold back some of their rhodium to wait for a better price in the future.

As the metal is dirt cheap now, industry users will want to buy more, much more than they would need for the next 3 months, 6 months or even 10 years. The cost is minimal to store rhodium for long term. It makes perfect economic sense to buy extra at $1600/oz, so you can buy less when the price runs up to $10,000 again. It's common sense people should buy more when things are cheap, and buy less when they are expensive.

Such rationales, as well as the fact that PGM prices rallied strongly off their recent lows, are proofs that the bearish calls on the PGM metals, such as bearish calls made by the Fortis Group, do not reflect the reality and are completely unfounded. Investors would do better looking at the complete picture and do not let the analysts do the thinking for you.

The same rationale can be applied to other easily hoarded commodities, like industrial base metals: copper, zinc, nickel, cobalt, aluminum. That might be the reason why most commodities bottomed at roughly the same time, and then all rallied up since. People in the industry understand they can not expect prices to stay low forever. If prices are lower than marginal production cost, producers will have to cut back and prices must go up to reflect the real cost. So it is prudent for industry users to buy more, hoard more for their future needs, if they can, while the prices are low.

One exception is coal, as coal is cheap and bulky. It is costly to store large quantity of coal if it is not used soon. That's why coal price hasn't recovered yet like other commodities do. I would caution about buying coal stocks now, like BTU, ACI, CNX, MEE and JRCC.

The Chinese government understands the economic principles of commodities pricing. There are reports that China has been aggressively spending out its US dollar reserves to buy and stockpile all sorts of industrial materials. Some speculate that China's purchases could be the reason behind recent surge of copper price. Copper is unique as its price never significantly fall below production cost, and few producers actually cut copper production as they are still making profits. For example, Southern Copper Corp. (PCU) could still break even in Q4, 08. Read "copper standard" on recent China speculations in copper.

If China and other countries are stockpiling industry raw materials, then it's a good bet that dry bulk shipping stocks will continue to be bullish, as you need ships to transport bulk materials around the world. All shipping stocks are still dirt cheap to buy, like EXM, EGLE, DRYS, TBSI, GNK, NM, DSX, OCNF, SBLK. My favorite shippers are EXM, EGLE, TBSI, due to their high ratio of shipping capacity versus current market capital, and DRYS due to its asset of ultra deep water drilling rigs. Watch Transocean (RIG) to get an idea on deep water oil drilling.

The biggest metal story is about my favorite metal palladium. On sunday April 19, CBS 60 Minutes carried a special TV program about the science that will shape our energy future: Cold Fusion! You can watch it or read it. Read my previous comment on the breaking news.

The 60 Minutes program, titled "Cold Fusion is Hot Again", is a powerful endorsement on the science of LENR, Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, previously known as Cold Fusion, an important physics discovery previously discredited, but picked up research interests again as new evidences have convinced many former cold fusion skeptics.

It's an impressive CBS report to watch or read. CBS contacted American Physical Society, who sent Dr. Robert Duncan to help to make a determination. Dr. Duncan was a cold fusion skeptic. They flew him to the Israel lab to spend several days there. Let him scrutinize every detail and ask tough questions. At the end, Dr. Duncan was totally impressed and convinced by the compelling cold fusion experimental evidences. The fact that CBS brought alone a skeptical physicist to visit the cold fusion researchers and convinced him that the experiments were legitimate is pretty impressive. On the other side, Dr. Richard Garwin's claim in the TV program that the researchers measured the input energy wrong for 20 years (?!), was decidedly unimpressive. Watch the program and judge by yourself.

Cold fusion relies on the precious metal palladium. Successful commercialization of cold fusion will mean humanity will have a cheap and virtually inexhaustible new energy source, and hence we can put the threat of Peak Oil Crisis behind us. If you are concerned about our energy future, if you care about our children's future, you need to contact politicians and urge them for support of cold fusion research. This science was suppressed for 20 years. We can not allow it to be suppressed any more, for our children, as Peak Oil has already become the reality.

Cold fusion will take some time to be developed into a commercial reality. But when it does, palladium price could go up to unimaginably high level. Such a great investment is worth buying and holding patiently for long term. So now is time to buy any physical palladium you can lay your hands on. It is also a good time to buy stocks of Stillwater Mining (SWC) and North American Palladium (PAL). They are the only PGM producers in North America. As I explained, when things are priced ridiculously low, it is a good time to buy.

Full disclosure: The author is heavily invested in palladium mining stocks SWC and PAL and own AAUK. I also hold large stakes in shipping stocks EXM, EGLE, DRYS, TBSI, GNK, and ETF shares of USO, UNG and SLV.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Russian Checkmate on Platinum and Palladium Is Looming!

The palladium bull case is getting better by the day, as the Russians are finally going to make their checkmate move, tomorrow:

Russia to launch platinum, palladium futures trade
MOSCOW, April 14 (Reuters) - Russia's RTS exchange will launch trading in
platinum and palladium futures contracts from April 15, adding to existing
contracts on gold <0#gdrts:> and silver <0#svrts:>, the exchange said on Tuesday.

The contracts are initially for three and six months and will be settled in cash based on the morning fixing on the London Platinum and Palladium Market, RTS said in a statement.

This is an interesting move, in light of recent news that ETF Securities physical platinum and palladium funds will be traded in the US market, which I believe is very bullish. A new Russian platinum and palladium futures market is the ultimate Russian Checkmate, and the best thing I can hope for, on top of all bullish factors in palladium. Norilsk Nickel (NILSY.PK) must have played a key role in pushing for the new PGM futures market, as they are the world's largest palladium producer. Let me explain why.

Granted, the Russian PGM futures contracts will be cash settled so there is no physical metals demand. But precisely because it is a paper market with no physical limit, it can send the metal prices to unimaginable high levels. The Dutch Tulip Mania happened precisely because cash settled paper derivative contracts, instead of physical flowers, were traded.

A cash-settled PGM futures market has no physical limit and allows more participants, both on the long and short side. Once the longs and shorts established their positions, each side will do their best to move the settlement price to their benefits. As the settlement price is decided by the platinum and palladium spot price, there is huge incentive to manipulate the narrowly traded platinum and palladium spot market for profit.

When a thinly traded physical metal market is manipulated, more often than not, the long side will win, by cornering the market. The short side has limited quantity of physical metal available to sell to depress the price, while the long side can bid for as many ounces as their cash allows them! It is almost a sure thing the longs will win and the shorts will lose. The longs could only lose if they are too greedy and killed by margin, or if they do not have enough capital to bid and drive up the thinly traded physical metal spot market, or if their counter-parties, the shorts, could not perform and could not pay up on the terms of the contracts.

How thin is the spot market of platinum and palladium? The annual supply and demand of each of the metals is roughly 7 million ounces, the bulk of which are contracted out between suppliers and users, leaving no more than one million ounces of each metal available to be sold in the spot market in a year, or roughly $1.2B in platinum and $0.23B in palladium, at current prices. Those are pocket changes in today's financial markets where trillion dollars of trades are conducted every day. Any hedge fund could easily corner this market for profits.

I believe this could be the start of a Russian Checkmate in palladium and platinum. Investors should now position themselves by acquiring any physical platinum and palladium they can find in the market, and by loading up shares of two primary palladium producers, Stillwater Mining (SWC) and North American Palladium (PAL), and maybe some South African PGM producers as well: Anglo Platinum (AAUK), Impala Platinum (IMPUY.PK), Platinum Group Metals (PLG), and Anooraq Resources (ANO).

I have been watching Colossus Minerals (CSIMF.PK) since it was first pitched by Mr. James West, publisher of Midas Letter. I wasn't totally convinced by James West's pitch so I never bought. But I encourage the readers to do their own DD to decide if it is good.

Are industry users of PGM metals aware of the looming Russian Checkmate? Auto makers like General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Toyota (TM) must immediately prepare themselves for the extreme PGM price volatility and possible supply disruption as the Russian PGM futures start trading on April 15, 09. They must purchase and accumulate a strategic stockpile to safeguard their supply, or they will lose, as investors who act promptly will become winners.

Full Disclosure: The author is heavily invested in SWC and PAL, and own positions in AAUK and ANO. I do not own positions of other stocks mentioned. I own other positions unrelated to discussion in this article, like shipping stocks EXM, EGLE, DRYS, TBSI and GNK; precious metals stocks SSRI, PAAS; and ETFs like USO, UNG and SLV.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Latest On Precious Metals and Commodities

The news over the weekend was that IMF is going to sell 403.3 metric tons of gold. Wow! 400 tons of gold!

Except that it is old news. IMF has been making a lot of noise of selling 403.3 metric tons of gold for nearly a year now (some say for over a decade!). So what exactly is new? They never sold an ounce of gold. I will believe the IMF gold sell when it happens.

But such an expired old joke was enough to knock gold price down $25 on Monday, or -2.8%. Silver was down even more, -5.0%. Was IMF going to sell silver as well, or what?

There must be too many speculators and not enough serious investors in gold and silver. If you are serious about buying gold and silver as safe haven assets, then you should buy the physical metal, take delivery and hold for long term as an insurance for your financial security. Monday's gold/silver plummet proves that speculators still dominate the gold market; sentiments, rather than fundamentals, are still the driving force behind gold price. Even James Sinclair, the most outspoken gold bug, got so frustrated that he almost gave up attempts to persuade people to demand gold delivery from the COMEX.

Mean while, London based ETF Securities had just made US filings for platinum and palladium trust. Read the SEC filings for platinum and palladium. This is the first step in introducing the ETFs for physical platinum and palladium into the US market. This is extremely important and very bullish for the platinum and palladium metal, as demand from US investors could absorb a considerable amount of available PGM metals, and could trigger panic hoardings by industry users as they fear a looming shortage due to booming investment demand.

Jim Rogers summed up successful investments in three words: Skeptics, Curiosity and Persistence. My favorite precious metal is palladium as my study convinced me this metal has the most bullish supply/demand fundamentals among all precious metals. Norilsk Nickel (NILSY.PK) in Russia supplies 45% of the world's palladium. So every day I watch closely any news coming from Norilsk Nickel in Russia.

As I watched, the news from Russia keeps getting better for the palladium bull story:

  • Russia could suspend platinum/palladium export due to bureaucratic confusions. The confusion was due to conflicting laws and presidential decrees. The unspoken truth is if the Russians have a high incentive to export, the bureaucracy can be sorted out quickly. But as current prices of palladium and platinum are so low, there is absolutely no incentive for the Russians to speed up the exportation of the precious metals. Logically, they would rather drag their feet on the issue, and watch the metal prices skyrocket in an ensuring shortage. Then they can resume the exportation at much higher prices.

In a previous article I discussed why fundamentals of palladium are getting better. The recent science break through in Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) could attract more investment interest in palladium as it will become a critical strategic metal for the future energy needs.

Besides buying physical palladium metal, you can buy shares of two mining stocks: Stillwater Mining (SWC) and North American Palladium (PAL). People have complained about the difficulty in buying and selling physical palladium, as the premium is too high and the buy/sell spread is too wide. Complain no more, folks! You will soon be able to directly buy and sell shares in a palladium ETF, just like GLD for gold and SLV for silver.

Talking about ETFs, I am not a big fan of any ETF. Why invest in physical precious metals, if the metals are not in your direct control, and free of counter-party risks? Many people questioned whether SLV really holds the silver. But to their credit, SLV has been tracking silver spot price rather precisely so far. So long as SLV continue to track silver spot price, you may feel safe to hold SLV positions. But just don't hold it for too long. Holding physical metals is still the safest investment, when there is so much mistrust in the system.

On other commodities, crude oil price has already bottomed as OPEC's production cut is beginning to take effect. You may buy some US Oil Fund, USO on dips. Mean while, I believe it is time to massively load up US Natural Gas Fund, UNG, as there is very little further down side. Natural gas producers are cutting production aggressively at current price level. From an energy point of view, current natural gas price is equivalent to roughly $23 per barrel oil. That's rather cheap compare with crude oil price. Unfortunately, for oil and gas, you have to buy the ETFs as it is impossible to take physical delivery of these two things.

Full Disclosure: The author is heavily invested in SWC and PAL, and hold positions in silver stocks SSRI and PAAS. I also hold positions in AAUK, USO and UNG. I am also heavily invested in shipping stocks EXM, EGLE, DRYS, TBSI, GNK.