Who’s seeking to sink gold?

This article is originally from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/whos-seeking-to-sink-gold/story-fnciihm9-1226739260094

ROBIN BROMBY

THE AUSTRALIAN

OCTOBER 14, 2013 12:00AM

OCCASIONALLY it’s useful to be reminded that not everything in the metals markets revolves around China.

That country has an interest in lower gold prices (making it cheaper to buy up much of the world’s supply) but Beijing seems unlikely to have been involved in “unusual” events on Friday in New York. Out of the blue, just after the opening at Comex, there was placed a sell order covering two million ounces, an order so big it triggered an automatic 10-second trading interruption (and a $US30 an ounce fall in the metal’s price).

If you were to round up the usual suspects, your first instinct would be to pull in the Federal Reserve and other central bankers along with the funds that do their bidding. After all, gold is the enemy of the money printers. The more money being created out of thin air, the more people trust those yellow bars.

There was a huge order unloaded on October 1, too, and then we had that episode in April when, within two hours, 13.4 million ounces was unloaded through Comex. Someone is determined to knock the stuffing out of gold.

Then, on the base metals scene, it was General Motors giving lead a boost. The carmaker is dropping the lithium-ion battery from its Malibu hybrids and going back to lead-acid ones, finding them cheaper, taking up less boot space and lowering the risk of battery fire. Roger Bade at London broker Whitman Howard commented that GM’s decision might prove right those analysts who have lead as their top pick. “There is a spark of life left in the old dog after all,” he said.

In fact, lead was the best performer at the London Metal Exchange on Friday, up 1.3 per cent to $US2102 a tonne.

But are we being foolish looking for the next big thing? Bade, incidentally, suspects so. In his latest quarterly review, he sees the metals market as drifting into a 1980s-1990s scenario of well-supplied commodity markets. “So investors better adjust to the fact that rampant commodity prices aren’t going to bail out poor assets — or poor managements,” he says.

Bade thinks investors will tire of poor returns from the mining sector and turn back to the more consumer-oriented sectors of the stockmarket.

Stephen Briggs at BNP Paribas likes lead, too. Along with tin and zinc, he thinks the three are now more attractive than copper. Lead is still heading for a 13,000-tonne surplus this year but inventories at LME and Shanghai warehouses have been dropping, declining 71,000 tonnes so far this year.

An eye for tungsten

MARK Saxon, who did geology at the University of Melbourne and spent time on the payroll at the late Pasminco, has an eye for commodities soon to be in demand. He now runs Toronto-listed Tasman Metals, which has (in Sweden) the world’s fourth largest heavy rare-earth deposit, located just an overnight truck journey from all those rare-earth consuming industries in Germany.

Now Tasman has picked up six tungsten projects in Sweden. Saxon sees tungsten as being in the same category as rare earths: a critical industrial metal controlled by Chinese miners.

Niuminco Group (NIU), which has been previously focused solely on Papua New Guinea gold, now clearly likes tungsten (and tin) and has declared unconditional its takeover of unlisted TNT Mines, which owns tin and tungsten mines in Tasmania, including the mine that started in 1931 and gave its name to one of the great names of Australian mining, Aberfoyle Tin.

TNT was demerged from phosphate hopeful Minemakers (MAK) in 2011 but failed to get an IPO off the ground.

Black Fire Minerals (BFE) reports work by a Chinese company on its Nevada project showed commercial-grade tungsten can be produced. And after an unsteady start in 2011 — a remote rare-earth project in Greenland that could be reached only by boat or helicopter — Plymouth Minerals (PLH) has acquired an advanced tin-tungsten project in Spain. That country was an important source of Nazi Germany’s tungsten needs until the Allies cut off the transport link.

Who knows, we might even see Newcrest Mining (NCM) dust off its tungsten project just 10km from the Telfer plant.