Gold Miners: Why Apparent Strength is Just a Facade
Despite everyone saying the bottom is in, and that gold and miners are set for takeoff, the signs still point south. The real question: how low can they go?
Let’s take a look at some price targets for where the GDX and GDXJ mining ETFs might land up.
With the miners attempting to reclaim Pride Rock, it won’t be long until the GDX ETF is singing Hakuna Matata.
Rising U.S. Treasury yields? No problem.
A reinvigorated USD Index? Who cares.
But while strength is often viewed through the eyes of the beholder, the GDX ETF is far from being The Lion King. Sure, its bravery in the face of familiar foes is reason for optimism. However, we’ve seen this movie before. While the recent rally may resemble Mufasa, beneath the surface, the GDX ETF’s tepid price action looks a lot like Simba.
If you analyze the chart below, you can see that the GDX ETF moved to the upper level of my initial target range. However, with the Mar. 19 close eliciting a sell signal from the stochastic oscillator (the black and red lines at the bottom section of the chart), a historical reenactment (repeat of the early-2021 performance) could deliver another sharp move lower.
In addition, the shape of the early-January swoon is eerily similar to today’s price action. Case in point: back in January, the GDX ETF enjoyed a material daily rally, consolidated , then sunk like a stone. Because of that, the recent move higher and a few days of back-and-forth trading ( consolidation ) is nothing to write home about.
To explain, I wrote on Mar. 18:
Mining stocks followed gold higher, and they moved to the upper part of my previous target area, but not yet to its upper border. As you may recall, I mentioned the possibility of GDX moving to the $34 – $35 area and my original target for this rally was slightly below $34.
The GDX ETF now encountered the strongest combination of resistance areas, while the Stochastic indicator moved above the 80-level. Technically, the situation is now much more bearish in the GDX ETF chart than it was at the beginning of the year. Back in January, the GDX ETF was only at the declining blue resistance line.
Now, in addition to being very close to the above-mentioned line it’s also at:
- The neck level of the previously broken broad head and shoulders pattern
- The 50-day moving average
- The previous (late-February) highs.
Consequently, it’s highly likely that we’ve either just seen a top or one is close at hand.
But if we’re headed for a GDX ETF cliff, how far could we fall?
Well, while the S&P 500 is a key variable in the equation, there are three reasons why the GDX ETF might form an interim bottom at roughly ~$27.50 (assuming no big decline in the general stock market ):
- The GDX ETF previously bottomed at the 38.2% and 50.0% Fibonacci retracement levels. And with the 61.8% level next in line, the GDX ETF is likely to garner similar support.
- The GDX ETFs late-March 2020 high should also elicit buying pressure.
- If we copy the magnitude of the late-February/early-March decline and add it to the early-March bottom, it corresponds with the GDX ETF bottoming at roughly $27.50.
Keep in mind though: the interim downside target is based on the assumption of a steady S&P 500 . If the stock market plunges, all bets are off. For context, when the S&P 500 plunged in March 2020, the GDX ETF fell below $17, and it took less than two weeks for it to move as low from $29.67. As a result, U.S. equities have the potential to make the miners’ forthcoming swoon all the more painful.
If gold forms an interim bottom close to $1,600, this could also trigger a corrective upswing in the mining stocks, but it’s too early to say for sure whether that’s going to be the case or not.
Also supporting the potential move, the GDX ETF’s head and shoulders pattern – marked by the shaded green boxes above – signals further weakness ahead.
I wrote previously:
Ever since the mid-September breakdown below the 50-day moving average , the GDX ETF was unable to trigger a substantial and lasting move above this MA. The times when the GDX was able to move above it were also the times when the biggest short-term declines started.
The most recent move higher only made the similarity of this shoulder portion of the bearish head-and-shoulders pattern to the left shoulder) bigger. This means that when the GDX breaks below the neck level of the pattern in a decisive way, the implications are likely to be extremely bearish for the next several weeks or months.
Turning to the junior gold miners , the GDXJ ETF will likely be the worst performer during the upcoming swoon. Why so? Well, due to its strong correlation with the S&P 500, a swift correction of U.S. equities will likely sink the juniors in the process.
What’s more, erratic signals from the MACD indicator epitomizes the GDXJ ETF’s heightened volatility.
Please see below:
To explain, I wrote on Mar. 12:
The above chart is a big red warning flag for beginner investors . The flag reads: “verify the efficiency of a given tool on a given market, before applying it”.
The bottom part of the above chart features the MACD indicator . Normally, when the indicator line (black) crosses its signal line (red), we have a signal. If it’s moves above the signal line, it’s a buy sign, and if it moves below it, it’s a sell sign.
If one actually looks at what happened after the previous “buy signals” in the recent months, they will see that in 5 out of 6 cases, these “buy signals” practically marked the exact tops, thus being very effective sell signals! In the remaining case, it was a good indication that the easy part of the corrective upswing was over.
I’m not only describing the above due to its educational value, but because we actually saw a “buy signal” from the MACD, which was quite likely really a sell signal.
More importantly though, the MACD indicator is far from a light switch. While false buy signals often precede material drawdowns, the reversals don’t occur overnight. As a result, it’s perfectly normal for the GDXJ ETF to trade sideways or slightly higher for a few days before moving lower. This is what we saw last week
But how low could the GDXJ ETF go?
Well, just like the GDX ETF, the S&P 500 is an important variable . However, absent an equity rout, the juniors could form an interim bottom in the $34 to $36 range and if the stocks show strength, juniors could form the interim bottom higher, close to the $42.5 level. For context, the above-mentioned ranges coincide with the 50% and 61.8% Fibonacci retracement levels and the GDXJ ETF’s previous highs (including the late-March/early-April high in case of the lower target area). Thus, the S&P 500 will likely need to roll over for the weakness to persist beyond these levels.
Some people (especially the permabulls that have been bullish on gold for all of 2021, suffering significant losses – directly and in missed opportunities) will say that the final bottom is already in. And this might very well be the case, but it seems highly unlikely to me. On a side note, please keep in mind that I’m neither a permabull nor a permabear for the precious metals sector, nor have I ever been. Let me emphasize that I’m currently bearish (for the time being), but earlier this month, we went long mining stocks on March 4 and exited this trade on March 11.
Another reason (in addition to the myriads of signals coming not only from mining stocks, but from gold, silver, USD Index, stocks, their ratios, and many fundamental observations) is the situation in the Gold Miners Bullish Percent Index ($BPGDM), which is not yet at the levels that triggered a major reversal in the past. The Index is now back above 27. However, far from a medium-term bottom, the latest reading is still more than 17 points above the 2016 and 2020 lows.
Back in 2016 (after the top), and in March 2020, the buying opportunity didn’t present itself until the $BPGDM was below 10.
Thus, with sentiment still relatively elevated, it will take more negativity for the index to find the true bottom.
The excessive bullishness was present at the 2016 top as well and it didn’t cause the situation to be any less bearish in reality. All markets periodically get ahead of themselves regardless of how bullish the long-term outlook really is. Then, they correct. If the upswing was significant, the correction is also quite often significant.
Please note that back in 2016, there was an additional quick upswing before the slide and this additional upswing had caused the $BPGDM to move up once again for a few days. It then declined once again. We saw something similar also in the middle of 2020. In this case, the move up took the index once again to the 100 level, while in 2016 this wasn’t the case. But still, the similarity remains present.
Back in 2016, when we saw this phenomenon, it was already after the top, and right before the big decline. Based on the decline from above 350 to below 280, we know that a significant decline is definitely taking place.
But has it already run its course?
Well, in 2016 and early 2020, the HUI Index continued to move lower until it declined below the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement level. The emphasis goes on “below” as this retracement might not trigger the final bottom. Case in point: back in 2020, the HUI Index undershot the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement level and gave back nearly all of its prior rally. And using the 2016 and 2020 analogues as anchors, this time around, the HUI Index is likely to decline below 231. In addition, if the current decline is more similar to the 2020 one, the HUI Index could move to 150 or so, especially if it coincides with a significant drawdown of U.S. equities.
Moreover, let’s keep in mind that an unwinding of NASDAQ speculation could deliver a fierce blow to the gold miners. Back in 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, the NASDAQ lost nearly 80% of its value, while gold miners lost more than 50% of their value.
Please see below:
Right now, the two long-term channels above (the solid blue and red dashed lines) show that the NASDAQ is trading well above both historical trends.
Back in 1998, the NASDAQ’s last hurrah occurred after the index declined to its 200-day moving average (which was also slightly above the upper border of the rising trend channel marked with red dashed lines).
And what happened in the first half of 2020? Well, we saw an identical formation.
The similarity between these two periods is also evident if one looks at the MACD indicator . There has been no other, even remotely similar, situation where this indicator would soar so high.
Furthermore, and because the devil is in the details, the gold miners’ 1999 top actually preceded the 2000 NASDAQ bubble bursting. It’s clear that miners (the XAU Index serves as a proxy) are on the left side of the dashed vertical line, while the tech stock top is on its right side. However, it’s important to note that it was stocks’ slide that exacerbated miners’ decline. Right now, the mining stocks are already declining, and the tech stocks continue to rally. Two decades ago, tech stocks topped about 6 months after miners. This might spoil the party of the tech stock bulls, but miners topped about 6 months ago…
Also supporting the 2000 analogue, today’s volume trends are eerily similar. If you analyze the red arrows on the chart above, you can see that the abnormal spike in the MACD indicator coincided with an abnormal spike in volume. Thus, mounting pressure implies a cataclysmic reversal could be forthcoming.
Interestingly, two decades ago, miners bottomed more or less when the NASDAQ declined to its previous lows, created by the very first slide. We have yet to see the “first slide” this time. But, if the history continues to repeat itself and tech stocks decline sharply and then correct some of the decline, when they finally move lower once again, we might see THE bottom in the mining stocks. Of course, betting on the above scenario based on the XAU-NASDAQ link alone would not be reasonable, but if other factors also confirm this indication, this could really take place.
Either way, the above does a great job at illustrating the kind of link between the general stock market and the precious metals market that I expect to see also this time. PMs and miners declined during the first part of the stocks’ (here: tech stocks) decline, but then they bottomed and rallied despite the continuation of stocks’ freefall.
Even more ominous, the MACD indicator is now eliciting a clear sell signal . And displaying a reading that preceded the dot-com bust in 2000, the NASDAQ Composite – and indirectly, the PMs – continue to sail toward the perfect storm.
As further evidence, the HUI Index/S&P 500 ratio has broken below critical support.
Please see below:
When the line above is rising, it means that the HUI Index is outperforming the S&P 500. When the line above is falling, it means that the S&P 500 is outperforming the HUI Index. If you analyze the right side of the chart, you can see that the ratio has broken below its rising support line. For context, the last time a breakdown of this magnitude occurred, the ratio plunged from late-2017 to late-2018. Thus, the development is profoundly bearish.
For further context, the ratio is mirroring the behavior that we witnessed in early 2018. After breaking below its rising support line, the ratio rallied back to the initial breakdown level (which then became resistance) before suffering a sharp decline. And with two-thirds of the analogue already complete today – with the ratio rallying back to its initial breakdown level (now resistance) last week – a sharp reversal could occur sooner rather than later.
In addition, because last week’s bounce was merely a technical development, the HUI Index’s recent strength is nothing to write home about. What’s more, the early-2018 top in the HUI Index/S&P 500 ratio is precisely when the USD Index began its massive upswing. Thus, with history likely to rhyme again, the outlook for the PMs remains profoundly bearish.
Moreover, please note that the HUI to S&P 500 ratio broke below the neck level (red, dashed line) of a broad head-and-shoulders pattern and it verified this breakdown by moving temporarily back to it. The target for the ratio based on this formation is at about 0.05 (slightly above it). Consequently, if the S&P 500 doesn’t decline at all (it just closed the week at 3913.10), the ratio at 0.05 would imply the HUI Index at about 196. However, if the S&P 500 declined to about 3,200 or so (its late-2020 lows) and the ratio moved to about 0.05, it would imply the HUI Index at about 160 – very close to its 2020 lows.
In conclusion, with the miners’ recent confidence likely to fade, it’s only a matter of time before they show their true colors. With the USD Index raring to go and U.S. Treasury yields seemingly exploding on a daily basis, the PMs recent move higher is akin to swimming against a strengthening current: while they’re making progress, each stroke requires more and more energy. In addition, if a drawdown of U.S. equities enters the equation, the metaphor will be akin to swimming against a tsunami. The bottom line? Long positions in the PMs offers more risk than reward over the next several weeks or so. However, once the medium-term climax is complete, it will be smooth sailing once again.
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Przemyslaw Radomski, CFA
Sunshine Profits: Effective Investment through Diligence & Care
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All essays, research and information found above represent analyses and opinions of Przemyslaw Radomski, CFA and Sunshine Profits’ associates only. As such, it may prove wrong and be subject to change without notice. Opinions and analyses are based on data available to authors of respective essays at the time of writing. Although the information provided above is based on careful research and sources that are deemed to be accurate, Przemyslaw Radomski, CFA and his associates do not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the data or information reported. The opinions published above are neither an offer nor a recommendation to purchase or sell any securities. Mr. Radomski is not a Registered Securities Advisor. By reading Przemyslaw Radomski’s, CFA reports you fully agree that he will not be held responsible or liable for any decisions you make regarding any information provided in these reports. Investing, trading and speculation in any financial markets may involve high risk of loss. Przemyslaw Radomski, CFA, Sunshine Profits’ employees and affiliates as well as members of their families may have a short or long position in any securities, including those mentioned in any of the reports or essays, and may make additional purchases and/or sales of those securities without notice.