Friday, September 18, 2009
Barrick Gold and their "blown up" hedge book
The market Grim Reaper extracted it's price from ABX last week. But to understand how ABX blew up their hedge book, you first need to go back to 2001. So let's go and look back at gold. I'll use a price of $300 for gold in the calculations, because that, then, was about the price.
In December of 2001, psychology on gold had become so negative, that even one of the largest sellers of gold to the retail market, Blanchard and Company, Inc. sent a glossy, hugely footnoted 53 page brochure written by its chairman, Donald W. Doyle, Jr. to all of its current, former, and prospective clients, entitled Gold Bullion: Caught in a Bear Trap. The ending conclusion was: "Sell your gold and take advantage of your tax losses. At some point in the future, you'll be able to buy a whole lot more for a whole lot less."
The non-movement of gold, after 9/11 had made even the staunchest bull on gold throw in the towel, and even quit making markets in gold American Eagles.
Ironically, a couple years later Blanchard was suing JP Morgan for suppressing the price of gold. I suppose a rate of 1.5%, with no margin calls, and deferred payments would make you wonder. So did the Federal Reserve take a page from JP Morgan, or did JP Morgan take a page from the Federal Reserve, and were they then complicit in suppressing the price of gold?
Back in 2002, the price of gold reflected on how well the Federal Reserve was currently doing its job. Judging by the price of gold today, you could still say it does! But today, nobody wants to admit that. Gold is just another asset class!
Maybe the Federal Reserve had read the 1,572 page novel Crashmaker. And this line in the book:
"'You've figured out what we're doing?!" Stillwell was momentarily taken aback. 'Clever girl. Well, we can't be too careful, can we? We have to keep the price low to lull the masses. Once they doubt the solvency of the system, and the price spurts up, there'll be no stopping it.'"
So suppress the price. Call JP Morgan and let them do your bidding with help from ABX!
On December 14, 2001 American Barricks completed its merger with Homestake Mining. The press release stated,
"Barrick's Premium Gold Sales Program will continue to provide security during periods of low gold prices while maintaining flexibility to participate in higher spot prices. With the inclusion of Homestake's hedge position, the Program is very much in line with its historic parameters. The Program had 18.3 million ounces in spot deferred contracts at average price of $345 an ounce at the end of the third quarter this year. The Program is expected to generate approximately $200 million annually in premiums for the Company, continuing a 14-year track record in which the Program has earned an additional $2 billion in revenue, or an average $68 per ounce premium to the spot price. Going forward, a portion of Barrick's annual production is expected to be sold into the spot market. This will provide additional participation in a rising gold price environment while the Program continues to assure strong cash flows. The combined Company now has a reserve base of 84.3 million ounces and is expected to produce approximately 5.7 million ounces of gold at a cash cost of about $165 per ounce in 2002."
So over a 14 year period of time, ABX's speculated on lower gold prices by shorting gold by selling future contracts at around $68 above the then current average of the spot price of gold. This had been highly advantageous, as they have profited with the higher future sales, while the lower cost of the physical metal, has allowed ABX to steal Homestake Mining on the cheap, and drive out other less efficient unhedged competitors. Notice how ABX bragged about getting another $2 billion dollars by selling forward contracts over those 14 years. ABX then had a reserve base of 83.7 million ounces, they had every incentive to decrease their hedging, because they now had swallowed up a competitor who had been driven out of the marketplace.
But their hedging was already too much, and they never foresaw gold continuing its rise. Their hedge turned into a debacle.
On February 20, 2002 Newmont Mining (NEM) finished its acquisition of Normandy Mining and Franco-Nevada Mining Corp. to become the world's largest gold producer. This gold deal was announced in November of 2001. Newmont Mining did not hedge its gold production, but Normandy did, so Newmont effectively stopped Normandy's future shortselling, ridding the marketplace of one of the largest forward sellers of gold. But they still had to work down their book. The supply/demand equation in gold was then changing.
Who was left to sell? Just the World's biggest idiots--the Central Banks who attempted to control the gold market by leasing gold at stupid rates.
Remember what Mark Twain said, A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain. The world's Central Banks have been no different, in 2001 with respect to the price of gold. They have been huge sellers of gold when it has fallen, selling no gold when the price spiked to over $850 an ounce twenty years before that in 1981, and selling 250 tons a year from 1996-2001 when gold was below $300 an ounce.
Then Central banks were then left with about 2.5 million 400-ounce bars in their vaults, or about $300 billion dollars of gold at then price of gold at $300 ounce. Of the International Monetary Funds $279 billion in cash at the same time, they had gold reserves of $28 billion. At that time, we were told that the US government has 262 million ounces of gold in Fort Knox, worth about $78 billion with gold at the then price of $300. This $78 billion of gold was protected by armored guards, 20 ton bank vault doors, and state of the art security and secrecy. So between all these banks, in 2001 we had about $400 billion dollars of gold, which at first blush, may seem to be an awful lot of money back then. Now Bernanke hands out $500 billion to oversea banks and he doesn't even know who gets it! But let's put that figure in context with the stock market from 2000-2002. From the start of summer in 2000, to the start of summer in 2001, everybodys darling, Lucent dropped from 63 to 6, losing over $175 billion in value. From the start of fall in 2000, to the start of fall in 2001 Janus assets under management went from 324 billion, to 170 billion, lopping off $150 million of shareholder value. From the start of Spring in 2001 to the start of Winter, the good crooks at Enron took $75 billion of shareholder money. Now we have $400 billion of losses, while the gold stays in the ground. Thank goodness, though, that the good folks at Cisco weren't guarding the gold reserves. From Labor day in 2000, to Labor day in 2001, Cisco's stock price lost over $400 billion in shareholder money in less than a year!
Even then, $400 billion wasn't a lot of money. Those in the stock market, were like our Federal Reserve today. After all, it was just paper!
Another fundamental change in the outlook for gold in 2001 was the diminished leasing of gold. It its simplest form, gold is borrowed from central banks at a lease rate of around 1%. The gold is then sold, and the proceeds invested in treasury bills that were paying upwards of 5%, making a 400 basis point spread on the money. When the gold needed to be returned, the lessee bought the physical gold in the marketplace or produced it from production. As long as gold stayed the same or declined in value this was a highly profitable trade, as many traders did not hedge in the forward market against a price increase in gold. Now that has changed. The interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve after the stock market crash of 2000-2001 had narrowed the spread between lease rate and treasury bills to less than 100 basis points. Lease rates in other metals had also spiked dramatically in the other metals in February of 2002, indicating substantial nervousness by the shortsellers of these metals. It is important to remember that the gold producers call these short sales "hedges" when in fact, they are speculations on the drop in the price of gold. In fact, in 1999 the gold companies who did one half of the total mine output, had shorted over 158% of the entire production that year! Lastly, much of these transactions are completed in the derivative market, where these derivatives are designed by Wall Street "experts" to accommodate the short basis of the speculators. And who was the bullion bank that accommodated them with their derivatives? JP Morgan, even then, doing the Government's bidding.
But why would the Government want the price of gold to be suppressed? Because times were different then. Gold now is supposedly some barbarous relic. A dinosaur from a different age. But didn't they just find one a few days ago? Maybe it's just Gollum! (What do you expect on the day when Frodo Baggins rings the opening bell on the NYSE!)
But with the stock market crash of 2000-02, people wanted hard assets. With low rates, they went into housing, and real estate, and then, you had investors buy gold. Now with the crash of real estate, and despite the stock market roaring back 60% from its lows, gold still has a bid.
What does that mean?
In 2002, we saw how the demand situation was changing, but companies like ABX couldn't extricate themselves from their hedges because their positions were too great.
And ABX had its perfect partner to hedge with. JP Morgan, prevaricator in chief. In February of 2007, ABX CEO said this in a conference call, "elimination of all non-project related hedge contracts allows the company to benefit fully from higher gold prices at its operating mines."
So last week, ABX raises $4 billion in a stock offering, led by JP Morgan, to help rid itself of their hedge book. $1.9 billion to eliminate fixed price contracts, $1 billion to get rid of some floating rate contracts, and a $5.6 billion charge against earnings.
It took ABX seven years to recognize, what anyone could plainly see in 2002--that gold was going higher. And then another two years to eliminate its hedges at a $5.6 billion cost, even though they said they didn't have any! A perfect partner for our Government and a NY Investment bank! If ABX was supposedly the best and the brightest, what do you think will happen to those that are still short stocks? Oh that's right--these experts say we are still in a bear market rally!
Markets are still the same. Two sides to every trade!
But just think about where gold will be in a few more years. Because we aren't even remotely close to giddy in prices.
But there is another fundamental shift in gold, and that is China.
A billion people, being encouraged by the Chinese government to buy gold and silver.
So far, gold's rally has always behaved. What happens when it doesn't?
And who is going to try and sell gold to stop its rise, when the entire world knows that you cannot trust Bernanke, Geithner or Treasury to act responsibly?
Posted by Palmoni at 8:48 AM