08 September 2009

Barrick Capitulates

Barrick Gold and their bullion bank partner J.P. Morgan were the target of lawsuits by the gold bulls, most recently Blanchard and Company, for price manipulation through the use of forward sales in their hedge book. The contention was that the selling was being used to manipulate the price of gold.

Barrick's initial defense was that if they were acting in conjunction with the central banks, they were therefore immune from prosecution since the central banks are immune from prosecution. Details of that story are here. The public document that Blanchard had put forward was shocking in its implications indeed, and can be seen here.

Almost as shocking as the complete lack of interest and follow up in such a potential scandal by the financial community, market regulators, and the media.

One has to wonder what Barrick's management now sees in the precious metal markets, in order to accept this significant shareholder dilution to take down those fixed price contracts now.

On a related note, one of the current largest holders of the gold ETF (GLD) is now reported to be J.P Morgan, which is also a holder of one of the largest short gold positions on the COMEX. There was a bit of a row last year when it was revealed that the rules of the exchange would allow holders of short gold positions to make delivery good in, wait for it, the GLD ETF rather than in physical bullion.

In an ideal, efficient market there would have been transparency and symmetric disclosure of information under the auspices of the CFTC and the SEC, rather than cross accusations and lawsuits. The exact details of what had transpired are not known as the Blanchard lawsuit was settled.

The CFTC seems to be finally willing to act to place position limits on some of the commodity markets, such as oil, that have been the subject of speculative manipulation in recent years. Perhaps some day this will also include other reforms, and will include all the commodity markets.

How sweet it must be for the 'gold bugs' who had repeatedly cautioned Barrick's management on their use of hedges and fixed priced arrangement with the bullion banks.

Although for a large shareholder or group of shareholders in Barrick, one would think that a much more complete disclosure of the nature of this loss and the counter parties would be expected. How involved was J. P. Morgan? Was the Federal Reserve or any other central bank an actual counterparty or collaborator as Barrick apparently claimed in court in 2003? Does this have anything to do with China's recent position on derivatives obligations held by its State Owned Enterprises?

It does sound like there is now a Barrick put under the price of gold, in addition to the China put, that is, a floor under the price of the metal in the front month or spot markets.

In these opaque markets one can still only wonder what is really going on behind the scenes, in a number of financial arrangements. Yes we can.

Barrick to Sell $3 Billion in Stock to Buy Back Hedges
By Cameron French
Tuesday, September 8, 2009

TORONTO -- Barrick Gold, the world's biggest gold producer, said on Tuesday it will issue $3 billion in stock and use the proceeds to buy back all of its fixed-price gold hedges and a portion of its floating hedges.

Barrick will take a $5.6 billion charge on its third-quarter earnings as a result of the move.

During times of weak prices, gold miners often sell a portion of their future production to protect, or hedge, against the possibility that prices will fall.

When prices rise, as they have done since 2001, the company suffers because value of the future production they've sold does not increase with the gold price. (The central banks of the world have turned from net sellers to buyers of gold this year, led by the BRIC countries who wish to hedge their reserves against a declining dollar - Jesse)

"The gold hedge book has been a particular concern among our shareholders and the broader market, which we believe has obscured the many positive developments within the company," Barrick Chief Executive Aaron Regent said in a statement.

Barrick stopped hedging, or forward-selling, its gold in 2003.

It exited its production hedge book two years ago, and the company has faced repeated questions from analysts and shareholders since then about its plans for the remaining 9.5 million ounces it had hedged to finance projects.

The equity deal comes as a resurgent gold price and healing credit markets have prompted investors to snap up gold stocks, bullion and equity.

The metal's price hovered just below $1,000 an ounce on Tuesday.

Barrick will issue 81.2 million shares at $36.95 a share, a 6 percent discount to the stock's New York closing price of $39.30 on Tuesday.

The company will use $1.9 billion of the proceeds to eliminate all of its fixed-price gold contracts -- on which the company effectively lost money every time the gold price rose -- by purchasing gold on the open market and delivering it into the contracts.

It will use about $1 billion to eliminate some of its floating spot price contracts. (Are they buying them out from the counterparties? Is J. P. Morgan one of them? - Jesse)

After the deal, Barrick will still hold floating hedges with a negative mark-to-market value of $2.7 billion, but the $5.6 billion charge will remove it from the balance sheet. (It sound as if they are writing them off as a loss - Jesse)

Bill O'Neill, a partner at LOGIC Advisors in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, said the deal would not likely have a material impact on the gold market. (Off the cuff, the Barrick statement implies that they will be purchasing 4% of total world production in the open market for bullion which is already tight at these prices in addition to taking an enormous amount of forward selling off the market. Unless, of course, they can take delivery directly from existing reserves, such as from the Fed via the IMF. - Jesse)