Gold Bullion and the Currency Wars

Why gold is a weapon not a relic…

THERE’S A WAR going on behind the scenes among the world’s currencies. Chris Mancini, an analyst with the $400 million Gabelli Gold Fund, believes that gold will emerge the victor. In this interview with The Gold Report, Mancini makes his case for why gold is a currency and not just a relic and why his fund doesn’t own bullion.

The Gold Report: You recently wrote, “Gold mining companies are no different from any other company in that company managements must determine the most effective way to return capital to shareholders.”

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In an environment where there haven’t been corresponding increases in equity prices to the price of gold, how does a management group effectively grow per-share value for shareholders?

Chris Mancini: If you’re too big and don’t think that you can grow on a per-share basis, the answer is to return some of the cash to shareholders through a dividend. If a company doesn’t have high-quality, high-return-on-capital, low-risk projects to deploy that cash flow into, then a portion should be returned to shareholders as a dividend.

TGR: A lot of senior producers, and even midtiers, are focusing on grade. Irrespective of all things, the higher the grade, the better the economic return.

Chris Mancini: That’s the key. A higher-grade deposit means processing fewer tons to get out the same number of ounces without the capital intensity of a big, bulk-tonnage, low-grade operation. The cost per ounce is also lower given that not as many tons need to be processed to recover the same amount of metal.

TGR: You don’t hear many pundits predicting a falling gold price in 2013, yet we continue to see volatility in the space. What’s your forecast for the gold price in 2013?

Chris Mancini: We’re very constructive on the gold price in all currencies. All over the world, money is being printed, and gold is the one currency that can’t be reprinted or replicated. The money that’s being printed will ultimately lose its purchasing power, and gold should retain its purchasing power. Gold should continue to go up relative to currencies that will be losing their value. More debt leads to more money printing, and more money printing leads to continued devaluation of currency. It’s a positive macroeconomic environment for gold.

TGR: Some investors don’t view gold as a currency. They view it as a metal, a relic.

Chris Mancini: Historically, gold has been the ultimate currency and, at some point in the future, will again be the ultimate currency. It’s not legal tender, but that still doesn’t mean it’s not something that will hold its value over time relative to paper.

TGR: Utah and a couple of other states have actually passed legislation that gold is considered a currency.

Chris Mancini: In some states, you can bring in gold or silver and get goods for that gold or silver. The problem with that is federal tax. If you buy gold and it appreciates in value and there’s a gain on that gold, when you sell or transfer that gold, then there is a federal tax on that transaction. Until that goes away, it will be hard to use gold as a real currency in the US

TGR: Even in a world that hasn’t descended to a serious level of crisis, gold can still be appreciating as a currency.

Chris Mancini: It is a currency war. Currencies are devalued against one another. Recently, the Japanese elected the Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe. One of his talking points during the election was that the Japanese economy is uncompetitive because the yen is too strong. Abe’s theme is more monetary and fiscal stimulus, and a weaker yen. He and the Japanese people think that the country needs a much weaker currency in order to be competitive in the world economy. That’s also why the Swiss agreed to their money printing exercise—in order to stop their currency from appreciating more and more.

TGR: It does feel like a race down the hill when you talk about it like that.

Chris Mancini: If the Japanese, Swiss, and other Europeans print more and more money to make their currencies less valuable, ultimately the US is going to be uncompetitive from a manufacturing perspective. It gives the US impetus to also print more money.

TGR: We’re talking about trillions of Dollars of deficit. It’s almost beyond comprehension. Because you value gold as currency, why don’t you hold any bullion in the fund?

Chris Mancini: Gold miners are undervalued relative to bullion, and investors can get bullion cheaper themselves. They shouldn’t be paying us to own bullion. Bullion is a savings instrument. Gold equities are investments.

TGR: The fund’s No. 1 holding, at about 12%, is heavily involved in Africa. I’ve traveled to Africa and was very impressed with the mineral wealth there. Yet some investors are not comfortable with that location. Why are you?

Chris Mancini: When a company comes into a community, builds a mine and employs people, it liberates those people from poverty. They’re building skill sets that they have for the rest of their lives.

A well-respected institutional mining company comes into a region, employs people, educates people, liberates people—those people want that company to be there. It greatly reduces jurisdictional risk when you have that much local support.

TGR: Yet, there are places in Africa without that support. There are roving bands of thugs that are creating problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali. Do you see these as temporary blips in an otherwise bullish and opportunistic area, or do you see this as a long-term thorn in the side of companies working in those areas?

Chris Mancini: They’re not necessarily blips, but they’re not meaningful to the operations. A place like Mali or the Congo is vast. As long as there are no specific problems near a company’s mines, it’s a non-event.

TGR: Do you routinely look for companies with a lot of management ownership?

Chris Mancini: That’s something that’s important to us. We look for skin in the game in the form of shares, not options, because we do want to see companies paying bigger dividends. If managers own shares, then they’ll benefit when dividends are paid out, too.

TGR: One of the things that is compelling about a lot of midtier producers is that they are nimble. They can pare back a little bit. They’re small enough to decide to stick to where they’re having explorational success with their own assets. We’re seeing that with several of these midtier companies. As an investor, it makes them more attractive in some ways than the seniors.

Chris Mancini: Yes, I agree. They don’t have the overhead of the seniors. The seniors almost have to buy something in Nevada, for example, because they currently have all of the overhead in Nevada and they have to sustain it. That’s not the case with these small, single-asset companies.

TGR: Do you have some final thoughts for us on the mining space?

Chris Mancini: It’s been a difficult year. Yet, while this is an extremely volatile sector, it can be volatile on the upside, as well as the downside. Our hope is that in the coming year, it moves fast and furiously on the upside and the environment is more constructive for gold and for gold miners.

TGR: Excellent. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

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