New covid variant spooks markets; gold un-moved but fundamentals solid

New Covid Variant Spooks Markets Gold Un Moved But Fundamentals Solid


US and Canadian stock markets fell sharply on Friday in reaction to a new coronavirus variant originating in South Africa.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had its worst day of the year, at one point dropping over 1,000 points before recovering about 100 points at time of writing. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq each lost 2.2% while in Canada, the S&P/ TSX composite index sold off nearly 500 points, as the price of oil tumbled over 10% on demand destruction fears.

The World Health Organization on Friday declared the new South African strain of covid-19 a “variant of concern” and named it omicron. The WHO defines a variant of concern as one that shows genetic changes that in theory could give it the potential to affect transmissibility, severity of disease, or how well vaccines or treatments work on the virus.

Up to now the most serious version of covid has been the delta variant.  

According to a report by CNBC, South African scientists identified a new variant they say is behind a recent spike in infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. The covid mutation was also detected in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Cases in South Africa ballooned to 1,200 on Wednesday and 2,465 on Thursday, compared to a daily count of just over 200 in recent weeks. Scientists are worried that “omicron” has a high number of mutations (30) in the coronavirus’ spike protein which could affect how easily it spreads.

This concern was enough to prompt British authorities to make travelers arriving in the UK from South Africa and neighboring countries to self-isolate for 10 days. The United States will also restrict travel from the region starting Monday. CNBC quoted an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London saying that the new variant has an “unprecedented” number of mutations and that compared to previous variants, the South African version might evade current vaccines.

That could trigger widespread travel restrictions and renewed curbs on social activity, potentially even lockdowns, throwing a wrench into the machinery of economic recovery for most of the world’s major economies.

Investors and traders didn’t like what they were hearing and on Friday they sold off risky assets like stocks and bitcoin, which was down over $4,600 at time of writing, or 7.5%, to $54,292.

Bond yields also fell sharply, with benchmark US Treasuries on track for their biggest drop since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. The yield on the 10-year slipped over 15 basis points to 1.485% while the 30-year fell to 1.826%, in mid-day trading Friday. Yields move in the opposite direction of bond prices, which typically rise on market uncertainty.

To us at AOTH it’s all good for gold.

There is a strong correlation between rising gold prices and falling bond yields, although gold’s performance Friday was oddly weak. Despite climbing to $1,814 per ounce at the start of the session, strong selling pressure pushed the precious metal to an intra-day low of $1,784; it was changing hands for around $1,791, at time of writing.

5-year spot gold. Source: Kitco

Gold has been on a run, a week ago trading at its highest level since June. The latest US inflation data (6.2% in October) has reinforced concerns over rising prices, especially after seeing the central banks’ approach to soothe the situation.

While a growing number of Federal Reserve officials have indicated they are open to tapering the Fed’s bond-buying program, if inflation holds, and would move more quickly to raise interest rates, the latest covid variant scare appears to be pouring cold water on that notion.

Bloomberg reports that Money-markets pushed back the timing of a first 25-basis-point rate increase by the Federal Reserve to September from June, while briefly pricing out any more hikes unit 2023…

It’s a similar story in the U.K. where the Bank of England is now expected to tighten policy in February instead of next month. Wagers that the European Central Bank will raise its deposit rate by the end of next year were also slashed…

With gold widely seen as a hedge against inflation, it makes sense for the safe-haven metal to be in demand.

It’s also important to note that gold has been rallying despite a stronger US dollar, which competes with gold as a safe store of value. This indicates that investors have looked past this to focus on its traditional role as an inflation hedge.

In the near term, there’s optimism that rising price levels could offer more support for the gold market.

Analysts at UBS have lifted their gold price forecasts, highlighting risks of further strength in inflation in early 2022. The Swiss investment bank’s March-end gold price target was raised to $1,800/oz, up from $1,700.

While some, including UBS, are predicting a moderation in inflation expectations for the coming year, this will likely take longer than most have anticipated.

The Fed’s official line is that inflation is “transitory” based on supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic. We don’t buy it. Sure, we accept the idea that high demand for products and services in countries coming out of the pandemic has led to supply shortages and higher prices in a number of industries. But there are several inflation manifestations that simply cannot be called temporary or transitory. We have reported on most, if not all of them.

To recap, an energy crunch has pushed coal and natural gas prices to record highs. We also have energy inflation because of too massive a shift to renewables and a de-investment in fossil fuels, before renewable energy is ready to take the place of oil, natural gas and coal. The problem isn’t about to sort itself out anytime soon, because even though solar and wind power are getting less expensive, many parts of the world still depend on coal and natural gas as a primary source, or as a backup.

Research from Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, quoted by BNN Bloomberg, shows that food inflation in Canada is close to 5%, well above the normal 1-2%. A similar trend is happening in the United States. In September food prices jumped 0.9% with the largest rise since April 2020 driven by a surge in meat costs.

It isn’t only retail food shoppers that are feeling the pinch of climbing prices. Recently the Green Markets North American Fertilizer Index hit a record high, rising 7.9% to US$996.32 per ton, and blasting past its 2008 peak. Higher fertilizer prices are usually passed onto the end user, the buyer of grains, fruits, vegetables and meats, for the grower/ farmer/ rancher to preserve his profit margin. This is precisely what we see happening right now.

Climate change is affecting not only the prices of agricultural commodities and food, but the entire commodities complex. As global temperatures warm, practically everything that is grown or mined is impacted. The prices of a number of industrial metals, including copper, zinc, nickel and aluminum, have seen healthy gains this year due to a constellation of factors, including robust demand from top commodities buyer China.

As for what the new coronavirus variant could mean for gold, we see a “rinse and repeat” scenario taking place.

If the new stain turns out to be as potent as it seems, central banks will shrink away from monetary tightening, instead choosing to fall back on their current dovish monetary policies (low interest rates, bond-buying, money-printing), which are great for precious metals.

Depending on how quickly and to what extent it spreads, US states (and Canadian provinces) may be forced to re-instate mask mandates, social distancing measures, school closures, etc., to prevent health care systems from being overloaded. If stimulus check disbursements continue, along with potentially hundreds of billions in new stimulus measures to fight a strengthened pandemic, it could easily push inflation higher.

Note that in 2008, “quantifornication” i.e., rock-bottom interest rates and the monthly purchases of mortgage-backed securities and government bonds did not cause inflation, so the idea that tapering QE will stop inflation doesn’t make sense, imo.

Finally there is a good amount of geopolitical risk in the world right now that should boost safe-haven demand for gold.

Despite a friendly online meeting between US President Biden and Chinese President Xi, the US government recently added a dozen more Chinese companies to its restricted trade list, citing concerns that some of the firms are help to develop the Chinese military’s quantum computing program.

Tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan are also ratcheting up, after five US lawmakers this week arrived in Taiwan to meet with government officials. Beijing considers the island to be a renegade province and has made re-unification with the Motherland a top priority.

Meanwhile over in Belarus, there are fears that Russia is trying to sow chaos in the landlocked Eastern European country as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine to the south. The European Union has blamed Minsk, the capital and seat of government, for flying in thousands of Middle Eastern migrants, who are hoping to make it to Europe, yet instead are stranded on the border between Belarus and Poland in terrible conditions. This week Ukraine reportedly deployed 8,500 troops to the Belarusian border in anticipation of a clash with Russia, which according to the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, has massed 92,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders and is preparing for an attack by the end of January or early February.

The world is clearly getting more dangerous and when combined with the resurgent threat of a covid variant that may be resistant to current vaccines, investors should be looking at safe investments that won’t be diminished by inflation yet offer solid growth potential. Junior gold stocks are an excellent choice in this type of environment and four of my favorites — all of them are undervalued and offer major exploration upside — are listed below.

Goldshore Resources (TSXV: GSHR) (OTC: GSHRF) (FRA: 8X00) has embarked on an extensive 100,000-meter drill program on its flagship Moss Lake project that will run for about a year until mid-2022.

Results of drilling so far have not disappointed, giving us a glimpse of what may be a significant mineralized system within northwestern Ontario, a historically productive gold-mining province. From the first three holes reported, the highlight was MMD-21-001, which was mineralized over 550m. This corresponds to an estimated true thickness of 422m and a 52% increase over the historical resource model.

Several higher-grade zones were identified:

57.00m at 1.20 g/t Au from 4.0m and36.00m at 1.15 g/t Au from 182.0m in MMD-21-003
31.00m at 1.18 g/t Au from 122.0m and16.30m at 2.09 g/t Au from 350.7m in MMD-21-001
 35.00m at 1.09 g/t Au from 100.0m in MMD-21-002

The three holes reported here represent only 2.3% of the planned 100,000 meters of drilling scheduled to be completed by the end of Q2 of 2022 as the drill program ramps-up from two to four drill rigs.

The property is located in an excellent jurisdiction with a number of major gold deposits nearby, including Kirkland Lake Gold’s Detour project with 15.7Moz proven and probable reserves at 0.82 g/t Au, New Gold’s Rainy River with 2.6Moz P&P at 1.06 g/t Au, and Cote (IAMGOLD & Sumitomo) with 7.3Moz P&P at 1.0 g/t Au.

Moss Lake itself hosts a number of gold and base metal rich deposits. These include the Moss Lake deposit, the East Coldstream deposit, the historically producing North Coldstream mine and the Hamlin zone, all of which occur over a mineralized trend exceeding 20 km in length.

Goldshore Resources has five properties located in northwestern Ontario, a district prized for its gold endowment.

Magna Gold’s (TSXV: MGR) (OTCQB: MGLQF) flagship San Francisco project in Sonora, Mexico, resumed production in Q3 2020 and achieved commercial production earlier this year.

Located 150 km north of Hermosillo, this 47,395-hectare property consists of two previously mined open pits (San Francisco and Chicharra) and associated heap leaching facilities.

The mine was previously operated from 1995 through 2000. During that time, approximately 13.5 million tonnes of ore at a grade of 1.13 g/t Au were treated by heap leaching, and 300,834 ounces of gold were recovered.

Magna Gold’s gold and silver properties in Mexico

An updated prefeasibility study (PFS) on the property last September showed total proven and probable reserves of 47.6 million tonnes, graded at 0.495 g/t Au, leaving 758,000 ounces of contained gold. Now at full capacity, the San Francisco mine is capable of producing as much as 90,000 ounces annually.

There is also ample room for resource expansion, with an estimated upside of 3Moz gold and 50Moz silver.

Meanwhile, Magna has also been advancing several of its other precious metals assets across Mexico. The next area of exploration focus is Chihuahua, where its newly acquired Margarita silver project is situated. The project is a low-intermediate sulfidation epithermal Ag-Pb-Zn system, which can be traced to many of Mexico’s producing silver mines.

Drilling programs are also planned at the San Judas and Veta Tierra gold projects, and the La Pima silver project.

In the southern part of the Golden Triangle in northwestern British Columbia, Dolly Varden Silver Corp’s (TSXV: DV) (OTC: DOLLF), silver project of the same name lies in an area well known for its base and precious metals deposits.

The property hosts four historically active silver mines: Dolly Varden, Torbrit, North Star and Wolf.

Dolly Varden project location

Historical records show that the Torbrit mine produced 18.5 million ounces of silver at an average recovered grade of 13.58 oz per tonne between 1949 and 1959, while the Dolly Varden mine had 1.5 million ounces at an average grade of 35.7 oz per tonne in the early 1920s.

Altogether, about 20 million ounces of silver were produced from the two historical mines over a 40-year period, with assays of ore as high as 2,200 oz (over 72 kg) per tonne.

Now, under Dolly Varden’s control, the path to restoring these silver mines back to production has begun, much like how Skeena Resources is reawakening the Eskay Creek mine up north.

An updated NI 43-101 resource estimate completed by the company in 2019 revealed 32.9Moz silver in indicated resources and 11.477Moz inferred, for a total of 44Moz silver, adjacent to the historical deposits.

An aggressive two-year drilling campaign is underway to expand these resources. Last year’s drilling returned consistent intervals of high-grade silver mineralization at the Torbrit silver deposit, which Dolly Varden believes has the potential to support economically attractive underground bulk-mining.

The company also hasn’t ruled out a gold discovery consistent with the +1 million-ounce resource at the adjacent Homestake property, in addition to the potential for another Torbrit-like silver discovery.

About 170 km northeast of Reno, Nevada, Getchell Gold (CSE: GTCH) (OTCQB: GGLDF) is in the midst of a drill campaign at the advanced-stage Fondaway Canyon project, comprising 170 unpatented lode claims in Churchill County.

The property has been the subject of multiple exploration campaigns dating back to the late 1980s and early ‘90s, with nearly 50,000m of drilling completed. It covers 12 known veins, including five mineralized areas — Colorado, Halfmoon, Paperweight, Silica Ridge and Hamburger Hill.

Map of Fondaway Canyon showing 2021 drill locations

The latest technical report on Fondaway Canyon (2017) provided an estimate of 409,000 oz indicated gold resources grading 6.18 g/t Au and 660,000 oz inferred grading 6.4 g/t Au, for a combined 1.1 million oz. Up to 80% of these ounces are within Colorado, Paperweight and Halfmoon, with the remainder found in parallel veins or splays off the main veins.

Five of the six holes drilled as part of a 2,000m program intersected significant gold intercepts within the Central Area, which is considered by company management to be the “nexus for the gold-mineralizing system” observed at Fondaway.

Following up on the drilling success, which Getchell says “blew the potential of the project wide open” by producing a revised geological interpretation for Fondaway that extrapolated the continuity of the gold mineralization over extensive distances, the company decided to proceed with a drill program twice the size this year.

The 2021 program is designed to complete sufficient infill drilling to confirm this new geological model, thus elevating the resource estimate from the current 1.1Moz. Getchell will also continue stepping out from known gold intercepts to expand the geological model.

The results so far have been promising, with the latest drill hole returning one of the best cumulative series of gold intercepts in the project’s 45-year history. This was also the seventh consecutive hole to hit substantive mineralization, with more results still to come.

Richard (Rick) Mills
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Richard does not own shares of Goldshore Resources (TSXV: GSHR), Magna Gold (TSXV: MGR), Dolly Varden Silver Corp’s (TSXV: DV).

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