How COVID-19 Shutdowns Impact the Gold Supply Chain
Chains are only as strong as their weakest link—and recent COVID-19 shutdowns have affected every link in the gold supply chain, from producers to end-users.
Increased investor demand for gold coupled with a constrained supply has led to high prices and a bullish market, which has been operating despite these pressures on the supply chain.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Sprott Physical Bullion Trust and it outlines the gold supply chain and the impacts COVID shutdowns have had on the gold market.
The Ripple Effect: Stalling a Supply Chain
Disruptions to the gold supply chain have rippled all the way from the mine to the investor:
Some gold mines halted production due to the high-risk to COVID-19 exposure, reducing the supply of gold. In many nations, operations had to shut down as a result of COVID-19 based legal restrictions.
Strict travel regulations restricted the shipment of gold and increased the costs of delivery as less air routes were available and medical supplies were prioritized.
Refineries depend on gold production for input. A reduction in incoming gold and the suspension of labor work shortened the supply of refined gold.
- Metal Traders
Towards the other end of the gold supply chain, traders have faced both constrained supply and increased cost of delivery. These increased costs have translated over to end-users.
- The End Users
Higher demand, lower supply, and increased costs have resulted in higher prices for buyers of gold.
Gold: A Safe Haven for Investors
As the virus spread around the world threatening populations and economies, investors turned to safe-haven investments such as gold to hedge against an economic lockdown.
This increase in investor demand affected the four primary financial markets for gold:
- Futures Contracts:
A futures contract is an agreement for the delivery of gold at a fixed price in the future. These contracts are standardized by futures exchanges such as COMEX. During the initial periods of the pandemic, the price of gold futures spiked to reach a high of US$70 above the spot price.
- Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs):
An ETF is an investment fund traded on stock exchanges. ETFs hold assets such as stocks, bonds, and commodities such as gold. From the beginning of 2020 to June, the amount of gold held by ETFs massively increased, from 83 million oz to 103 million oz. The SPDR Gold Trust is a great example of how the surge in ETF demand for gold has played out—the organization was forced to lease gold from the Bank of England when it couldn’t buy enough from suppliers.
- Physical Gold for Commerce and Finance:
The London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) is a market where gold is physically traded over-the-counter. The LBMA recorded 6,573 transfers of gold amounting to 29.2 million oz ($46.4 billion)—all in March 2020. This was the largest amount of monthly transfers since 1996.
- Coins and Small Bars:
One ounce American Gold Eagle coins serve as a good proxy for the demand for physical gold from retail investors. The COINGEAG Index, which tracks the premium price of 1 oz. Gold Eagles, spiked during the early stages of the lockdown.
Each one of these markets requires access to physical gold. COVID-19 restrictions have disrupted shipping and delivery options, making it harder to access gold. The market for gold has been functioning nonetheless.
So how does gold get to customers during a time of crisis?
Gold’s Journey: From the Ground to the Vault
Gold ore goes through several stages before being ready for the market.
Gold must be released from other minerals to produce a doré bar—a semi-pure alloy of gold that needs further purification to meet investment standards. Doré bars are typically produced at mine sites and transported to refiners.
Refineries are responsible for turning semi-pure gold alloys into refined, pure, gold. In addition to reprocessing doré bars from mines, refiners also recycle gold from scrap materials. Although gold mining is geographically diverse and occurs in all continents except Antarctica, there are only a handful of gold refineries around the world.
Once it’s refined, gold is transported to financial hubs around the world. There are three main ways gold travels the world, each with their own costs and benefits:
- Commercial Flights:
Cheapest of the three options, commercial flights are useful in transporting gold over established passenger routes. However, the volume of gold carried by a commercial flight is typically small and subject to spacing priorities.
- Cargo Planes:
At a relatively moderate cost, cargo planes carry medium to large amounts of gold along established trade routes. The space dedicated to cargo determines the cost, with higher volumes leading to higher shipping prices.
- Chartered Airlines:
Chartered airlines offer a wider range of travel routes with dedicated shipping space and services tailored to customer demand. However, they charge a high price for these conveniences.
- Commercial Flights:
After reaching its destination via air, armored trucks with security personnel move the gold to vaults and customers in financial hubs around the world.
The World’s Biggest Gold Hubs
The U.K.’s bullion banks hold the world’s biggest commercial stockpiles of gold, equal to 10 months of global gold mine output. London is the largest gold hub, with numerous vaults dedicated to gold and other precious metals.
Four of the largest gold refineries in the world are located in Switzerland, making it an important part of the gold supply chain. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai are surprising additions and remain significant traders of gold despite having no mines within their borders.
COVID-19: The Perfect Storm for Gold?
As countries took stringent safety measures such as travel restrictions and border closures, the number of commercial flights dropped exponentially across the world. For the few commercial airlines that still operated, gold was a low-priority cargo as space was dedicated to medical supplies.
This impeded the flow of gold through the supply chain, increasing the cost of delivery and the price of gold. However, thanks to the diverse geography of gold mining, some countries did not halt production—this helped avoid a complete stall in the supply of gold.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created the perfect storm for gold by disrupting the global supply chain while investor demand for gold exploded. Despite heightened delivery risks and disruptions, the gold market has managed to continue operating thus far.
Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production
Global steel production has tripled over the past 50 years, with China’s steel production eclipsing the rest of the world.
Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production
From the bronze age to the iron age, metals have defined eras of human history. If our current era had to be defined similarly, it would undoubtedly be known as the steel age.
Steel is the foundation of our buildings, vehicles, and industries, with its rates of production and consumption often seen as markers for a nation’s development. Today, it is the world’s most commonly used metal and most recycled material, with 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel produced in 2020.
This infographic uses data from the World Steel Association to visualize 50 years of crude steel production, showcasing our world’s unrelenting creation of this essential material.
The State of Steel Production
Global steel production has more than tripled over the past 50 years, despite nations like the U.S. and Russia scaling down their domestic production and relying more on imports. Meanwhile, China and India have consistently grown their production to become the top two steel producing nations.
Below are the world’s current top crude steel producing nations by 2020 production.
|Rank||Country||Steel Production (2020, Mt)|
|#5||🇺🇸 United States||72.7|
|#6||🇰🇷 South Korea||67.1|
Source: World Steel Association. *Estimates.
Despite its current dominance, China could be preparing to scale back domestic steel production to curb overproduction risks and ensure it can reach carbon neutrality by 2060.
As iron ore and steel prices have skyrocketed in the last year, U.S. demand could soon lessen depending on the Biden administration’s actions. A potential infrastructure bill would bring investment into America’s steel mills to build supply for the future, and any walkbalk on the Trump administration’s 2018 tariffs on imported steel could further soften supply constraints.
Steel’s Secret: Infinite Recyclability
Made up primarily of iron ore, steel is an alloy which also contains less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and other trace elements. While the defining difference might seem small, steel can be 1,000x stronger than iron.
However, steel’s true strength lies in its infinite recyclability with no loss of quality. No matter the grade or application, steel can always be recycled, with new steel products containing 30% recycled steel on average.
The alloy’s magnetic properties make it easy to recover from waste streams, and nearly 100% of the steel industry’s co-products can be used in other manufacturing or electricity generation.
It’s fitting then that steel makes up essential parts of various sustainable energy technologies:
- The average wind turbine is made of 80% steel on average (140 metric tons).
- Steel is used in the base, pumps, tanks, and heat exchangers of solar power installations.
- Electrical steel is at the heart of the generators and motors of electric and hybrid vehicles.
The Steel Industry’s Future Sustainability
Considering the crucial role steel plays in just about every industry, it’s no wonder that prices are surging to record highs. However, steel producers are thinking about long-term sustainability, and are working to make fossil-fuel-free steel a reality by completely removing coal from the metallurgical process.
While the industry has already cut down the average energy intensity per metric ton produced from 50 gigajoules to 20 gigajoules since the 1960s, steel-producing giants like ArcelorMittal are going further and laying out their plans for carbon-neutral steel production by 2050.
Steel consumption and demand is only set to continue rising as the world’s economy gradually reopens, especially as Rio Tinto’s new development of atomized steel powder could bring about the next evolution in 3D printing.
As the industry continues to innovate in both sustainability and usability, steel will continue to be a vital material across industries that we can infinitely recycle and rely on.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes With Mining Stocks (Part 5: Funding Strength)
A mining company’s past projects and funding strength are interlinked. This infographic outlines how a company’s ability to raise capital can determine the fate of a mining stock.
A mining company’s past projects and funding strength are interlinked, and can provide clues as to its potential success.
A good track record can provide better opportunities to raise capital, but the company must still ensure it times its financing with the market, protects its shareholders, and demonstrates value creation from the funding it receives.
Part 5: The Role of Funding Strength
We’ve partnered with Eclipse Gold Mining on an infographic series to show you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.
Part 5 of the series highlights six things to keep in mind when analyzing a company’s project history and funding ability.
View all five parts of the series:
- 1. Common mistakes made with the team
- 2. Common mistakes made with the business plan
- 3. Common mistakes with the jurisdiction of the project
- 4. Common mistakes with the project and technical risks
- 5. Common mistakes with raising money
Part 5: Raising Capital and Funding Strength
So what must investors evaluate when it comes to funding strength?
Here are six important areas to cover.
1. Past Project Success: Veteran vs. Recruit
A history of success in mining helps to attract capital from knowledgeable investors. Having an experienced team provides confidence and opens up opportunities to raise additional capital on more favorable terms.
- A team with past experience and success in similar projects
- A history of past projects creating value for shareholders
- A clear understanding of the building blocks of a successful project
A company with successful past projects instills confidence in investors and indicates the company knows how to make future projects successful, as well.
2. Well-balanced Financing: Shareholder Friendly vs. Banker Friendly
Companies need to balance between large investors and protecting retail shareholders. Management with skin in the game ensures they find a balance between serving the interests of both of these unique groups.
- Clear communication with shareholders regarding the company’s financing plans
- High levels of insider ownership ensures management has faith in the company’s direction, and is less likely to make decisions which hurt shareholders
- Share dilution is done in a limited capacity and only when it helps finance new projects that will create more value for shareholders
Mining companies need to find a balance between keeping their current shareholders happy while also offering attractive financing options to attract further investors.
3. A Liquid Stock: Hot Spot vs. Ghost Town
Lack of liquidity in a stock can be a major problem when it comes to attracting investment. It can limit investments from bigger players like funds and savvy investors. Investors prefer liquid stocks that are easily traded, as this allows them to capitalize on market trends.
- A liquid stock ensures shareholders are able to buy and sell shares at their expected price
- More liquid stocks often trade at better valuations than their illiquid counterparts
- High liquidity can help avoid price crashes during times of market instability
Liquidity makes all the difference when it comes to attracting investors and ensuring they’re comfortable holding a company’s stock.
4. Timing the Market: On Time vs. Too Late or Too Early
Raising capital at the wrong time can result in little interest from investors. Companies in tune with market cycles can raise capital to capture rising interest in the commodity they’re mining.
Being On Time:
- Raising capital near the start of a commodity’s bull market can attract interest from speculators looking to capitalize on price trends
- If timed well, the attention around a commodity can attract investors
- Well-timed financing will instill confidence in shareholders, who will be more likely to hold onto their stock
- Raising capital at the right time during bull markets is less expensive for the company and reduces risk for investors
Companies need to time when they raise capital in order to maximize the amount raised.
5. Where is the Money Going? Money Well Spent vs. Well Wasted
How a company spends its money plays a crucial role in whether the company is generating more value or just keeping the lights on. Investors should always try to determine if management is simply in it for a quick buck, or if they truly believe in their projects and the quality of the ore the company is mining.
Money Well Spent:
- Raised capital goes towards expanding projects and operations
- Efficient use of capital can increase revenue and keep shareholders happy with dividend hikes and share buybacks
- By showing tangible results from previous investments, a company can more easily raise capital in the future
Raised capital needs to be allocated wisely in order to support projects and generate value for shareholders.
6. Additional Capital: Back for More vs. Tapped Out
Mining is a capital intensive process, and unless the company has access to a treasure trove, funding is crucial to advancing any project. Companies that demonstrate consistency in their ability to create value at every stage will find it easier to raise capital when it’s necessary.
Back For More:
- Raise more capital when necessary to fund further development on a project
- Able to show the value they generated from previous funding when looking to raise capital a second time
- Attract future shareholders easily by treating current shareholders well
Every mining project requires numerous financings. However, if management proves they spend capital in a way that creates value, investors will likely offer more funding during difficult or unexpected times.
Wealth Creation and Funding Strength
Mining companies that develop significant assets can create massive amounts of wealth, but often the company will not see cash flow for years. This is why it is so important to have funding strength: an ability to raise capital and build value to harvest later.
It is a challenging process to build a mining company, but management that has the ability to treat their shareholders and raise money can see their dreams built.
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