The past few years have been miserable for precious metals investors, but 2016 has been a bonanza thus far.
The SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) gained 15.95% during the first three months of the year during the biggest three-month surge in gold prices since 1986. Gold easily outperformed global and U.S. stocks, which gained between 0.51% and 0.97%, respectively.
GLD, with $32.57 billion in assets, is the world’s largest gold bullion ETF. Each share is designed to track 1/10 the price of one ounce of gold.
A weak start for the global stock market this year helped lift not just gold but silver prices too. The iShares Silver Trust (SLV) gained 11.30% during the first quarter.
Precious metals are typically viewed as a safe haven when stocks and other asset prices are falling in value and the global economy is suffering. But despite the surge in gold and silver this year, the economic backdrop isn’t necessarily dire.
The U.S. employment market recorded job growth topping 200,000 during March, easing concerns of weakness in the broader economy.
“The March U.S. labor market report wasn’t a blowout print, but it was good enough all around,” said Christopher Vecchio, Currency Analyst at DailyFX. An uptick in the job participation rate also signaled that more people are re-entering the work force.
While few assets have outperformed precious metals of late, mining stocks have been one of the rare exceptions.
The Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (GDX), which tracks a small basket of 37 global mining stocks, surged 45.55% during the first quarter. The Direxion Gold Miners Bull 3x ETF (NUGT), which aims for triple the daily performance of mining stocks, soared 141.10% and has been one of the top-performing ETFs for the year.
As a group, gold miners have been beating most other industry sectors and ETFs along with the broader U.S. stock market.
Although the S&P 500 (SPY) has eked out a gain of 1.33% since the start of the year, the number of companies issuing negative earnings guidance is at its second highest level since 2006, according to FactSet. In addition, global merger and acquisition activity has cooled off substantially, putting a lid on stock prices.
Global M&A in the first quarter fell 24% from the comparable quarter a year ago to $597.4 billion, according to Mergermarket. That was the lowest first-quarter level for corporate M&A in two years.
Meanwhile, hedge funds and speculators have been increasing their precious metals exposure and held over 160,000 contracts during the final week of March. That was the highest level since early 2015, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Exchange-traded products that aim for 200% and 300% daily exposure to precious metals have been big winners this year so far.
The VelocityShares 3x Long Silver ETN (USLV) gained 30.38% while the ProShares Ultra Gold ETF (UGL) jumped 33.50%. Both products are designed as short-term trading instruments that magnify the performance of gold and silver bullion.
The resurgence in precious metals has also been a boost to investment vehicles focusing on countries with heavy exposure to the mining sector and to commodities. The iShares MSCI Peru ETF (EPU) is up 28.94%, while the South Africa ETF (EZA) is up almost 12% year to date.
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