Skip to main content

Inside the Market Analysts insist the rally in mining stocks is a blip that won't last

Glencore’s Bracemac-McLeod zinc mine in Quebec.

Valerian Mazataud/Bloomberg

What is happening in the mining sector is not quite man bites dog, but it's close.

As metal prices and mining shares climb steadily higher, many of the industry analysts who can normally be counted upon to take a sunny view of the sector are raining pessimism on the upward moves.

The result is an odd combination of rising commodity prices, surging share values – and dour, skeptical observers.

Story continues below advertisement

"Is it time to get excited?" Heath Jansen, the widely followed mining analyst at Citigroup, asked in a research note Tuesday.

His answer: "Despite the positive short-term momentum, we remain cautious."

He's not alone. "This year will be another difficult year for commodities," Paul Robinson, director of consultancy CRU Group, said earlier this month.

Colin Hamilton, head of commodities research at investment banker Macquarie Group, concurs. "In line with many market commentators, we feel recent price moves have been difficult to justify from a fundamental perspective," he wrote in a Financial Times column this week.

This is not the way things normally work.

Over the past four years, as the mining sector has suffered one blow after another, analysts have rallied around whatever positives they can find.

While most were never outright bullish, they tended to predict flat to modestly rising metal prices. For instance, a Macquarie report from mid-2014 foresaw neutral to good prospects for nine out of 15 metals and other raw materials. In fact, prices for 14 out of the 15 commodities fell over the months in question.

Analysts were also slow to pick up on the severity of the problems at major miners. At the start of 2015, their "buy" recommendations outweighed their "sell" recommendations for Glencore PLC and Anglo American PLC – two companies that would proceed to lose more than two-thirds of their value during the year.

Given analysts' failure to foresee the full extent of the commodity slump, it would be natural to assume that they would welcome the sector's rebound since the start of 2016 as evidence that sanity has returned.

Most metal prices have moved up since Jan. 1, with gold, silver, zinc and tin notching double-digit gains in percentage terms. Many mining stocks have simultaneously shot upwards. Shares of Glencore, Anglo American, Teck Resources Ltd. and Barrick Gold Corp. have all advanced more than 50 per cent in recent weeks.

However, analysts are less than impressed by the outbreak of good news. Most insist it's a blip rather than a lasting trend.

"The miners, in our view, really need to step up and demonstrate a pathway on how to deliver sustainable value creation at the current commodity prices," the Citigroup team wrote. "Otherwise, the future looks poor as the miners have a significant amount of debt to work off with no apparent solutions, except that commodity prices may go up and bail them out."

Mr. Hamilton at Macquarie attributed the recent climb to improving sentiment around China's slowing economy, combined with further loosening by central banks.

Story continues below advertisement

But, unless the Chinese government executes a U-turn and suddenly starts encouraging property development again, he thinks the outlook for the rest of the year is not great. "We do not think the overarching challenges in commodity markets are set to significantly diminish," he said.

His feelings are echoed by Jeffrey Currie, head of commodity research at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. In reports published earlier this month, he argued that the raw materials rout is still alive and snarling and will inevitably drag prices even lower.

Goldman sees gold falling to $1,000 (U.S.) an ounce over the next year from its current level around $1,225. The investment bank is equally downbeat about iron ore, which has surged to around $60 a ton. Goldman figures it will fade back to $35 a ton by the end of the year.

The skeptics say commodity markets are still awash with production, and higher prices simply delay the inevitable closings that must occur to balance supply and demand. But, for now, share prices beg to differ.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter