James West: Gold’s Value Stands the Test of Time

James West: Gold’s Value Stands the Test of Time
Source: Interviewed by Gordon Holmes, The Gold Report 3/5/10

Midas Letter publisher James West believes gold is the store of value everybody resorts to when times are rough. In this exclusive interview with The Gold Report, he acknowledges that producers represent a very well-performing, blue-chip investment, but also looks for those juniors where capital appreciation happens on the scale of hundreds of a percent almost overnight.

The Gold Report: James, your work is based upon macroeconomic views. Can you give us some insights into how this plays into your thinking?

James West: Sure. Our viewpoint at midasletter.com, from a macroeconomic scheme on a global basis, first and foremost, is that gold is the standard by which all currency and all things of value are measured ultimately. Gold is the only thing on earth that has for 5,000 years maintained some kind of value whereby it can be traded in exchange for materials and for services, labor and real estate. And so, there’s really not been one currency in the form of paper or coin that hasn’t actually been made of gold or represented a deposit of gold that has lasted more than 100 years as a global standard.

We’re seeing the U.S. dollar deteriorate in value over time. On a daily basis it’s like what Brien Lundin says about watching the fluctuations in prices of currencies in gold, “Don’t focus on the bobbing cork because you will lose sight of the rising tide.” He’s the first guy who I heard say that so I will have to give him credit for that. And that is really a great statement; for example, they raised interest rates by a quarter of 1%, and of course, gold takes a dive on that news, and the dollar bumps upwards, and everybody goes, “Ah, the dollar is saved, everything is back on track, the economy is good, America will rescue itself.” And, all it’s going to take is another job report—we have lost another 400,000 jobs—and the markets are going to go in the other direction.

Yet, in the macro sense of time, if you look at how gold has performed against other currencies, it has risen in value on average somewhere in the range of US$87 per year since 2002; so in that sense, you could say the value of the currency against which it’s measured has deteriorated to an equal degree over the last 10 years or so. And so, to me and to a lot of people, gold is the store of value everybody resorts to when times are rough and when currencies become untrustworthy. So, we see that in times of national disaster, political upheaval, war and pestilence, the price of gold goes up because demand goes through the roof. People get a little bit scared and they know that whereas currencies can ultimately be inflated to the point of worthlessness, with gold there’s always a finite quantity that can never really be added to—without great effort and great expansion of collective effort worldwide. And so all the gold that’s been mined is more or less still around and very little has been lost through deterioration. The one thing that maintains its appeal in terms of something representative of value no matter what happens is gold.

So, if you adopt that attitude, and form your strategy in terms of wealth preservation and investment and evaluate the performance of world currencies and world markets, well, then you start to see all kinds of other truths emerge. That helps you have a much clearer picture, a much more realistic picture of how the world actually works.

So, we can’t really talk about gold without referencing the work of GATA, the Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee and Bill Murphy. They have single-handedly—very stridently, energetically and enthusiastically—pointed out the fact that the United States Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have arguably, over the last 100 years at differing times and in different degrees of manipulation, used various devices to manipulate the precise price of gold to the system to preserve the illusion that currencies are in good shape and that interest rates are justified in either being very high or very low. From that standpoint you see how the bond markets work and how governments finance their own debt. It’s very important to them how the shape of their currencies look to the rest of the world and one way to create that perception is to manipulate the price of gold.

There are a lot of guys out there that say, “Well, the price of gold is manipulated; who cares?” Or, “the price of gold has not been manipulated; that’s all conspiracy theory, and that’s just complete bull.”

But no matter what your thinking is, you come back to the realization that if you throw out the idea that the statistics put forth by governments and the value of currencies issued by various tracking outlets—Standard & Poor’s, Bloomberg’s—are easily manipulated when the price of gold is manipulated. And so, when these massive short positions in the derivatives market—either short against or long for gold—materialize by these big banks that are essentially both the originating party and the counter-party in these transactions, these massive transactions in the futures market form the price for the spot price of gold. You can see how the price of gold can easily be manipulated because the spot price is influenced by the growing demand, which is influenced by what the futures markets are doing. So, the mainstream news says, “Oh, the futures are down 15% this week; well, gold futures are up 20% over this period of time” and that forms the impression in the minds of investors that gold is desirable and currencies are not or vice versa.

TGR: So obviously, you’re a bull on gold; are you recommending buying bullion, or are you recommending buying gold-producing stocks or juniors?

JW: Well, I always refrain from giving a blanket recommendation. Different portfolios obviously have different levels of risk tolerance, depending on your age and income, what your ambitions and goals are for yourself financially. I can give you a risk profile that determines whether bullion, producing stocks or junior exploration stocks is appropriate.

It is my view that gold bullion is preferable at all times only in terms of your liquid portfolio because you don’t have currency risks with gold. You’ve got the risk of fluctuations in small bite-sized periods of time like on a daily basis or on a monthly basis. But if you look at a chart of gold on any given year, for the last 10 years, the price has risen steadily in the one-year period. So those price fluctuations, up and down, that run the gamut from $50 to $200 over the 35- to 45-day window really don’t add up to much when you’re talking strictly about owning gold bullion for capital preservation.

And the detractors of owning gold bullion like to say, “Hey, this stuff never pays a dividend and has no cash flow; you shouldn’t own gold for investment.” To which, I say, “Well, no, you don’t own gold for investment, even though, arguably, it does pay a dividend in that it has risen in value $87 per year for the past eight years, and so you can take that value out of your gold holdings, and there you would have your dividend. But gold itself does not function that way; it doesn’t function like a public company. It doesn’t decide when to issue stock or when to issue dividends. And so it’s really disingenuous to compare gold to investment that way—the bullion I’m talking about now—because that’s irrelevant.

I think people should own gold for the capital preservation, ultra-conservative side of their portfolio, much better than owning bonds or some fixed incomes where even fixed incomes are running the risk of blowing up in your face at some point in their evolution and wiping out all the capital they were supposed to preserve.

In terms of conservative investment, I think that senior gold producers are a good bet because in periods of history like this they tend to have a general increase in price. Barrick (NYSE:ABX) has traded in the range for the last five years more or less. Every time the price of gold goes up, instead of letting that value accrue to their share price, they issue stock to cover a hedge, or a hedge book, or something like that. But they don’t let the value accrue, so you can invest in gold producers and you will see incremental value increase. For example, I’ve got a portfolio of senior gold producers, which I started tracking two years ago. In this portfolio, I have 10 stocks including Barrick, Newmont (NYSE:NEM), Agnico-Eagle (TSX:AEM), Kinross Gold (K.TO; NYSE:KGC), Goldcorp (NYSE:GG, TSX:G), Anglo Gold-Ashanti (NYSE:AU;JSE:ANG;ASX:AGG; LSE:AGD), Gold Fields (NYSE:GFI), Eldorado (NYSE:EGO;TSX:ELD) and Randgold Resources (Nasdaq:GOLD). Since January 2008 these companies—the group basket of 10 companies—have gone up 38%.

It’s a conservative investment portfolio where the risk of the company evaporating from the face of the planet is minimal, considering the business they’re in. If you look at new municipal bonds or all of the things that have blown up in everybody’s face in the last two years—real estate, other commodities, etc.—the gold producers represent a very well-performing, blue-chip investment.

Now, in terms of higher risk capital—the Midas Letter itself focuses on capital sufficiency where we view our entire portfolio as a risk portfolio. That’s our tolerance because I am a young man; I don’t have to worry about retiring any time soon. I don’t have a large family to support; I don’t have kids going to a university. I don’t have a mortgage because I don’t believe in credit. And so my portfolio is all about looking for a company based on continuous monitoring of what’s happening in the juniors space where capital appreciation happens on the scale of hundreds of a percent almost overnight.

I am going to look for stocks sub-one dollar in hopes that the bulk of the ones I recommend are going to go up by 1%, 2%, 3%, 400% within 6 to 12 months, and we’re going to be able to exit that investment. For our part, we don’t care whether a company puts the mine into production or not. We don’t care whether they find any gold or not; all we’re interested in is buying the stock that is going to appreciate within that timeframe.

And so that’s really contrary to industry where everybody says, “Oh, you got to look at the people; you’ve got to look at the project.” Well, that’s all true, but really, what you’ve got to look for is the stock going to go up 1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%, 600% in 6 to 12 months and the factors that make that determination.

For example, I am going to talk about the company that’s performed the best for us in the last 18-month window, even though we’ve now exited our position, and that’s been Ventana Gold (TSX:VEN). We recommended that to our subscribers in January 2008, I believe, at under a dollar. I think it was 80 cents. We built a position at that point; we started to exit that position when the stock went over $10, and we actually sold some at $14, which was close to the high. And so our performance on that stock is in excess of 1,000% in less than 12 months because we exited that position within 12 months.

So, obviously we don’t recommend a Ventana every month. So now I’m looking at a portfolio here that we started on February 8, 2008, and we only have two open positions. And this portfolio is up 96.87%. So, that’s one-year performance on a basket of 10 stocks that’s done 96%—and there are still a couple of open positions that are flat. That’s why we haven’t sold them, because we hate to sell stocks flat.

I’ve got the other portfolio, which we call our “Top 10 for 2009,” and we’ve got a couple of open positions in this one, but the average performance with a basket of 10 stocks is up 157.7%, and within that portfolio, the average is low by our estimation. The highest performer was Colossus Minerals (TSX:CSI), which has appreciated 341% since our first recommendation. We recommended that at $1.10, and it’s now trading at $4.86.

TGR: Are you still in that position or have you closed it out?

JW: No, we’re flat on Colossus. We actually got out higher than $4.86; we got out in $5 to $5.60 range, and so we did actually quite a bit better on that. I’m going to make a caveat on all that I’m saying here—it’s not a fair assessment to say that to a newsletter subscriber who’s going to get out at the top, or before, when we do. We tell people when and why we’re buying, but we don’t necessarily say it’s time to sell because selling—triggering a sell is, again, portfolio-specific, depending on the investor. So, if you are an investor who’s desperate for money because you live in the United States and the house you bought at the high of $1.5 million is now worth less than $750,000, and you’ve got to come up with some mortgage money, well, obviously you are going to have different reasons affecting your buy and sell decisions in your portfolio than somebody who has paid cash for everything and lives in South America, and the financial crisis is just an anomaly in the news for them.

TGR: James, can you give us a couple of stocks that you like?

JW: I’m going to start with North America—I’ll go by region as opposed to commodity. In North America, the one that I like the most recently—and not least of which because I bought 50,000 shares at 20 cents—is Western Pacific Resources (TSX.V:WRP) . The reason I like this company is because the exploration team, which was previously with Nevada Pacific, and then left U.S. Gold (TSX:UXG, NYSE.A:UXG), after U.S. Gold took over Nevada Pacific, and these guys staked a property in Nevada for $28,000 that has produced 600,000 ounces of gold historically and has a historic resource that we can’t really talk about because it’s not really 43-101.

So, this is a company with an exploration team and a financial team behind it that has historically and repeatedly taken a startup, put a few properties into it, explored the properties and discarded or amended their exploration portfolio in time. But ultimately, they have added sufficient value to the share price in a relatively short period of time so that investors are able to exit those investments in 6-12-18 months at 1%, 2%, 3%, 400%. So, they fit our profile, and Western Pacific is the latest offering from this group, which includes Simon Ridgeway, Mario Satlander, Ralph Rushton and Warren Smith, who is actually the president of the company. These guys have done just a bang-up job on other companies, all of which have done very well and appreciated in value for their shareholders—Northland Resources (TSX:NAU), Fortuna Silver (FVI.TO), etc.

TGR: They have serial success stories.

JW: Yes, they’re serial entrepreneurs with a track record of adding value. So, I like Western Pacific. Another one in that group is Focus Ventures (TSX.V:FCV). They’re in Peru, and they’re drilling right now. They’re drilling a stage-two program, and I happened to be on their property just the week before they started drilling their stage one; so I was able to actually visit the underground workings. They’re working on a mine just 38 kilometers north of Juarez, which is within 35 kilometers of the 10 million ounce Pierina deposit owned by Barrick Gold; so they’re drilling on similar geology that suggests the owners of the mine have been underground mining this mine at the rate of 150 tons per day for 28 years without any sort of exploration. These guys are now going in with modern, best practices, exploration techniques because after all the data evaluation, they believe there is true potential for a million-ounce disseminated deposit. And so, again, looking at the exploration team and the financial team, this is a company that is going to perform well, and, in fact, since we first recommended it, shortly after my visit, the company has now doubled in value, and a lot of our subscribers exited the investment at the double and so pocketed 100%.

TGR: Any others on your radar?

JW: There’s one more in North America that I would like to talk about quickly, and that is Mosquito Consolidated Gold Mines (TSX.V:MSQ). Mosquito actually owns the largest molybdenum deposit in the world, in Idaho, called the Tumo Deposit. Molybdenum has sort of fallen out of favor but a lot of the metal analysts around the world are looking at developments and saying, “Well, given the availability of molybdenum and its requirement in the production of steel, I’m sure steel demand has gone down dramatically in the downturn.” There’s a lot of analysis out there to suggest that this won’t return to euphoric levels of $40/pound—where it was at the height of the commodities bubble—and be profitable to mine. The deposit is valued at a minimum of $16 billion with all the discounts for net present value in an economic pre-feasibility study that was updated last year. Brian McClain, the president of the company, has been able to attract the Chinese investor, who is the president of a company that is one of the biggest—now, I’m not sure whether it’s steel manufacturing or a commodities group in general—but these are guys who can raise the $2 billion that is necessary to put this deposit into production on the scale that it needs to be in.

So, certainly when the price of molybdenum goes to where it’s going to go—and considering the fact that the market value of Mosquito is below $100 million—this is an opportunity where molybdenum goes up and these guys announce that they’ve got the money to put this thing into production, this is a stock that could go from a dollar to $20 in 6 to 12 months, and will be a 1%, 2%, 3%, 4%, 5%, 600% return for investors in that timeframe.

In Colombia right now, I do like Antioquia Gold (TSX,V:AGD). I just came back from a site visit. In Antioquia, they’ve got a mesothermal deposit where they’ve had some very encouraging intercepts. They just drilled a shallow program, and they’re going to start drilling again in March, April at the latest. Mesothermal deposits, by nature, get much richer the deeper they go. And being in Colombia—and in the Antioquia Basallate—the potential for a world-class deposit is very good, especially considering what has happened with Ventana and Grade Star. And Antioquia Gold has a 5,000-acre package on this property where they have 40, over 40, traditional “garimpeiros” (artisanal gold miners) operations, and where they still got garimpeiros pulling ore out veins that they chase. And so, Antioquia Gold, they’re going to start this next drill program; that makes them a very hot one to me because they’re in the 40 to 50 cent range right now, and if they hit anything that looks like Ventana or Grade Star—this is a stock that is going to do 500% to 600% in the 6 to 12 month period very easily.

TGR: Well, it seems to be under a little pressure here. The stock has drifted back to what looks like a base. Any particular reason for that or is it just the run-up in the Colombian stocks and some profit taking?

JW: Yes, exactly; they did a private placement and, by my calculations, I think that closed in September.

Now, I believe you’re going to see the price of Antioquia appreciate in the very near term on increasing volume as the company comes closer to drilling because there are a lot of newsletter writers following the deal. On the tour I went on, there was Bob Moriarty, Thom Calandra from Ticker Tracks, and just a raft of investors and institutional brokers from around the world who were all very impressed with the methodology being employed by Antioquia; they’re very methodical. In terms of the social aspect, which is huge in Colombia when putting the money together, they’ve already dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s. They’ve got all kinds of programs running for the area in which they’re working.

From an environmental standpoint, they’re already doing the baseline studies. This is a company that is getting ready for the “big win.” They’re doing it properly, and you look at the management team and, here again, you’ve got guys with a history of bringing value to companies that they manage.

TGR: Great. This has been quite an interview today. I appreciate your giving us the time.

Publisher of the Midas Letter, James West has devoted 20 years to helping small companies in the resource sector—helping them raise money, further their projects, build their identities and get their stories in front of investors on the lookout for quality investments with excellent returns.

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