Finally, after months - nay, years - of dismal performance, gold mining stocks look good. Producers, I mean, not juniors.
Proxied by the Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (NYSEARCA:GDX), these stocks are up better than 56 percent since the top of the year. That's certainly good absolute performance, but it's also good on a relative basis - relative to gold, that is.
The attractiveness of gold mining stocks traditionally boils down to leverage. Miners are bellwethers of sorts, traditionally rising earlier and faster than metal in bull cycles and swooning sooner and quicker in downturns. Leverage has been negative for GDX since 2010. You can see from the chart below that the mining ETF's relative strength turned down months ahead of the 2011 price peak in the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEARCA:GLD).
Bottoming action in late 2015 then presaged the 17 percent rise in GLD this year.
There's another more compelling chart illustrating the resurgence in the miners. If you plot the price ratio of GLD to GDX, you get a graphic representation of investors' favor. As the ratio rises, bullion becomes the preferred exposure for gold punters; when the ratio falls, mining stocks are fancied.
Just last week, the ratio broke through a key support level after cascading below the 200-day moving average, the first such occurrence in years.
Clearly, investors like gold now, but they love gold mining shares. And why not? Several of the big names in the GDX portfolio have washed themselves clean of the dirt that once sullied their balance sheets. That allows more of gold's price buoyancy to percolate to the bottom line. A 10 percent rise in bullion could translate to a 50 percent hike in company cash flows. Now, that's leverage.
And how does that translate to GDX's price? GDX is dancing at the $22 level now. Long-term charts show a triple-top breakout pointing to a $36 objective. Patient investors are likely to use April price pullbacks to bargain shop, then ride the fund's typical bullish seasonality and lighten up on their positions in August.