What Was I Thinking? (Part III)

IF HOLLYWOOD can keep reworking the same idea with different numbers instead of coming up with fresh ones, why can’t columnists working at New Year? The Outcrop by Robin Bromby.
What Was I Thinking? (Part III) What Was I Thinking? (Part III) What Was I Thinking? (Part III) What Was I Thinking? (Part III) What Was I Thinking? (Part III)


Staff Reporter

If they can get paying customers back into the cinemas with Hangover Part III, so this writer can stretch an idea at this news-deficient time of the year.

So, yet again, some self-bestowed bouquets and brickbats.

Let’s wind the clock back 12 months and re-examine my crystal ball-gazing in "What Was I Thinking? (The Sequel)" to the 2012 column of the same name, which appeared in this space a year ago.

Prediction 1

One year ago I pronounced the beginning of 2013 would see a commodities rally but it wouldn’t last, that the US national debt would go through $US17 trillion (when I checked this morning it was $17,231,768,855,399.92) and that Europe would remain a busted flush, important given it is China’s biggest export market.

Did we have a rally? Yes, a few metals bounced up a bit but you cannot look back on 2013 (in terms of base metals, anyway – and certainly not for gold and silver) with any sense of satisfaction.

Growth in the US and Europe is tentative at best, while China remains a question mark.

Nickel is down in the dumps and it could be worse: in their 2014 forecasts, JP Morgan analysts consider the Indonesian ban on exporting unprocessed mineral commodities.

It may help nickel gain some ground but the analysts also consider Indonesia reversing its position (they’re desperate in Jakarta about balance of payments, so knees might weaken on the export ban).

If that reversal takes place, expect what JP Morgan calls “a large price swoon”.

Aluminium is a mess, copper has question marks and the new enthusiasm for zinc could be a little previous, if that rebound is delayed until 2015 rather than occurring as some hope this year.

Prediction 2

China would keep buying gold and silver, I said. Oh boy, did it ever?

But then I spoiled it all by asserting that 2013 would be the year when Beijing updated its official gold holdings. No such figure was forthcoming.

But in July we did get an educated guess that the People’s Bank of China had somewhere between 4000 and 6000 tonnes of the yellow one in its vaults, quite a lot more than the 1054t disclosed in 2009.

The estimate came from Ronald-Peter Stoeferle, who was formerly the gold guru at Erste Bank in Vienna but was now working for one of those Liechtenstein-based advisory firms, this one called Incrementum.

Even the lower estimate of 4000t would put China second in the world (over Germany’s 3391t ) and with only the US ahead.

That 6000t figure has been flashed on all the gold bug websites since 2012.

But, for 2014, I predict that China will not (repeat, not) announce its official gold reserves.

The reason: my guess is that it wants to wait until it has overtaken the official US holdings (8133t ) and then deliver the knockout blow.

Unless, of course, it already has somewhere north of 8134t. China is all about asserting its new power and influence: what better way than to trump Washington on gold?

Prediction 3

Shareholders in your average junior gold stock would not benefit from any upward movement in the gold price.

That one did get tested as gold lost 24% for the year.

Prediction 4

The year 2013 would be a fad-free year. Not like 2007 (uranium), 2008 (phosphate), 2011 (rare earths) and 2012 (graphite). I think we can agree that was right (I had to get something right).

Prediction 5

Uranium would make steady gains as the world woke up to the looming shortage as the megatonnes to megawatts supply came to an end.

Well, there was no more weapons-grade uranium available but the uranium price slumped (spot is now $34.50 per pound) and the world slumbered on in regard to nuclear power needs.


So shall we all agree it’s probably for the best that I don’t make any predictions for 2014?

Oh, all right, just one or two.

We’ll end 2014 pretty well as we began.

That is, metal prices sluggish, oil oversupply (thanks shale!), China will keep stacking up the gold bars and one day the West will rue the day, tin will be the best performing base metal and the Abbott government will do nothing for the mining industry.

And, incidentally, will be so scared of its own shadow it will do little about anything, if the performance so far is any guide (Malcolm Fraser redux).