Eric Coffin says picking the best mining companies is about management and good projects.
[This article originally appeared on The Gold Report and is republished here with permission.]
Eric Coffin, longtime editor of the Hard Rock Analyst group of publications, has seen the all-time highs in the junior mining space, and the current three-year bear market has taught him to adjust his expectations. He says the companies he follows that have performed recently all had a specific event—a bigger resource number, a new economic study or even a discovery—that prompted the market to rerate the stock. Coffin says that, as always, it is about solid management and good projects, but it's no longer about who has the biggest copper or gold resource, it's about which company has a resource that makes sense. In this interview with The Gold Report, he suggests some companies with resources that not only make sense but could make even more sense to larger companies.
The Gold Report: At the subscriber investment summit in Toronto in March 2015, you had a talk titled "Life in a Zero Yield World." What is wrong with that world?
Eric Coffin: A zero yield world is the result of four or five years of central banks essentially buying the hell out of the bond market, which is what the European Central Bank (ECB) is doing right now. And buying those bonds, also known as quantitative easing (QE), drives down yields. QE has helped the U.S. and will probably help the European economies but it creates a lot of distortions.
We tend to see a lot of money driven into high-risk areas, like heavily leveraged commodity and exchange-traded funds (ETF) bets and things like art and collectibles, because there are these large money pools that can raise capital at close to zero rates, and that tends to make people take greater risks. How that ends remains to be seen, but central bankers realize that they need to start weaning economies off of QE because when you generate that much risk capital and start creating that many distortions, it quite often doesn't end well.
TGR: Can these economies successfully be weaned off QE?
EC: Maybe. On one side there is the "wealth effect," which is the positive impact on the economy from people seeing their portfolios get larger. And that was always part of the plan. Most economists describe the wealth effect as a side effect of QE, but I don't think policy makers at the U.S. Federal Reserve or the ECB think that way.
The problem with the wealth effect is it mainly benefits—you guessed it—the already wealthy. I think that is why it hasn't generated higher growth yet or higher inflation except in "one percenter playgrounds" like the fine art market. The U.S. economy is not doing that great overall and the ECB is trying to climb out of its fourth recession in the last five or six years. In both cases much of the money driving these economies is washing in and out of the equity markets and traders are focused on what central bankers are going to do.
In the last few months we have seen huge market swings based on things said by either U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen or ECB President Mario Draghi. It's not healthy. If we step back and take a 10,000-foot view of the markets, anybody with a finance background knows that an ECB rate cut, or for that matter a Fed rate boost of 25 or 50 basis points, is not going to make any difference in the real world.
But with so much of the money chasing bureaucratic decisions, it is creating distortions, and now the Fed has got to find a way to carefully ease out of QE. But if the Fed surprises the markets, the markets are going to get clobbered. It's a tightrope walk for Yellen.