Written by: Przemyslaw Radomski, CFA
Indicators are pointing to gold and mining ETFs running out of breath. They don’t seem to have what it takes to the move to the finish line.
Despite gold, silver and mining stocks’ recent corrective upswings, the precious metals are running out of steam. After bursting off of the lows – while failing to recognize that it’s a marathon and not a sprint – the precious metals’ late-week breather signals that their stamina isn’t what it used to be.
Moreover, with false breakouts and sanguine sentiment causing an adrenaline rush that’s likely to fade, the precious metals’ transformation from stalwart to sloth could leave investors feeling increasingly dejected.
Case in point: with the HUI Index (a proxy for gold mining stocks ) already verifying the breakdown below the neckline of its bearish H&S pattern – which didn’t occur until later in 2008 – the miners’ outlook is actually more bearish now than it was then.
Please see below:
To explain, note that the 2007 – 2008 and the 2009 – 2012 head and shoulders patterns didn’t have the right shoulders all the way up to the line that was parallel to the line connecting the bottoms. I marked those lines with green in the above-mentioned formations. In the current case, I marked those lines with orange. Now, in both cases, the final top – the right shoulder – formed close to the price where the left shoulder topped. And in early 2020, the left shoulder topped at 303.02.
That’s why I previously wrote that “it wouldn’t be surprising to see a move to about 300 in the HUI Index”. And that’s exactly what we saw – the recent high was slightly above 299.
This means that the recent rally is not a game-changer, but rather a part of a long-term pattern that’s not visible when one focuses on the short-term only.
The thing is that the vast majority of individual investors and – sadly – quite many analysts focus on the trees while forgetting about the forest. During the walk, this might result in getting lost, and the implications are no different in the investment landscape.
From the day-to-day perspective, a weekly – let alone monthly – rally seems like a huge deal. However, once one zooms out and looks at the situation from a broad perspective, it’s clear that:
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (-Ecclesiastes 1:9)
The rally is very likely the right shoulder of a broad head and shoulders formation. “Very likely” and not “certainly”, because the HUI Index needs to break to new yearly lows in order to complete the pattern – for now, it’s just potential. However, given the situation in the USD Index (i.a. the positions of futures traders as seen in the CoT report , and the technical situation in it), it seems very likely that this formation will indeed be completed. Especially when (not if) the general stock market tumbles.
In addition, three of the biggest declines in the mining stocks (I’m using the HUI Index as a proxy here), all started with broad, multi-month head-and-shoulders patterns. And in all three cases, the size of the decline exceeded the size of the head of the pattern.
Can we see gold stocks as low as we saw them last year? Yes.
Can we see gold stocks even lower than at their 2020 lows? Again, yes.
Of course, it’s far from being a sure bet, but the above chart shows that it’s not irrational to expect these kind of price levels before the final bottom is reached. This means that a $24 target on the GDX ETF is likely conservative.
In addition, mining stocks are currently flirting with two bearish scenarios:
- If things develop as they did in 2000 and 2012-2013, gold stocks are likely to bottom close to their early 2020 high.
- If things develop like in 2008 (which might be the case, given the extremely high participation of the investment public in the stock market and other markets), gold stocks could re-test (or break slightly below) their 2016 low.
I know, I know, this seems too unreal to be true… But wasn’t the same said about silver moving below its 2015 bottom in 2020? And yet, it happened.
Keep in mind though: scenario #2 most likely requires equities to participate. In 2008 and 2020, the sharp drawdowns in the HUI Index coincided with significant drawdowns of the S&P 500 . However, with the words ‘all-time high’ becoming commonplace across U.S. equities, the likelihood of a three-peat remains relatively high.
Senior Miners: GDX ETF
Moving on to the GDX ETF, the senior miners were unable to hold the upper trendline of their corrective zigzag pattern. Similar to the price action in late 2020/early 2021, the GDX ETF rallied slightly above the upper trendline of its roughly one-and-a-half-month channel before eventually rolling over. More importantly, though, the GDX ETF’s failure in early 2021 ended up being a prelude to the senior miners’ severe drawdown.
Please see below:
Furthermore, with the senior miners likely to peak in the coming days, the GDX ETF is poised to move from the right shoulder of its bearish H&S pattern. Following in the HUI Index’s footsteps, the GDX ETF’s correction back to the high of its left shoulder signals that the upward momentum has likely run its course.
If that wasn’t enough, the GDX ETF’s stochastic oscillator is also flashing a clear sell signal. If you analyze the two red arrows positioned at the bottom of the chart above, you can see that the black line has once again crossed the red line from above. As a result, the GDX ETF’s days are likely numbered.
Junior Miners: GDXJ ETF
As further evidence on this bearish scenario, let’s take a look at other proxies for the mining stocks. When analyzed through the lens of the GDXJ ETF, the junior miners remain significant underperformers.
Please see below:
To explain, the GDXJ ETF is now back below its late-Feb. highs - please note how weak it remains relative to other proxies for mining stocks. Unlike the HUI or the GDX, the GDXJ didn’t move visibly above its late-Feb. highs and it had already invalidated this small breakout.
Moreover, the GDXJ/GDX ratio has been declining since the beginning of the year, which is remarkable because the general stock market hasn’t plunged yet. This tells us that when stocks finally slide, the ratio is likely to decline in a truly profound manner – perhaps similarly to what we saw last year.
So, how low could the GDXJ ETF go?
Well, absent an equity rout, the juniors could form an interim bottom in the $34 to $36 range. Conversely, if 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.
Also, contrasting the GDX ETF’s false breakout, both the HUI and the XAU indices ended the week below the necklines of their previous (based on the rising necklines) bearish H&S patterns. Moreover, if you analyze the right side of the charts below, while both the HUI and XAU indices initially bounced above their necklines, investors quickly sold the rallies.
Mirroring the GDX ETF, both indices are also eliciting sell signals from their stochastic oscillators. And with the GDX ETF the only wolf still howling at the moon, expect the senior miners to follow the rest of the pack lower in the near future.
Also, eliciting bearish undertones, the HUI Index/S&P 500 ratio has recorded a major, confirmed breakdown. And with the ratio nowhere near recapturing its former glory, it’s another sign that the GDX ETF is a significant outlier.
Please see below:
When the ratio presented on the above chart 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.
Playing out as I expected, a sharp move lower was followed by a corrective upswing back to the now confirmed breakdown level (which is now resistance). Mirroring the behavior that we witnessed in early 2018, after breaking below its rising support line, the HUI Index/S&P 500 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, the current move lower still has plenty of room to run. Likewise, 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, the greenback could spoil the miners’ party once again.
In addition, 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, 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.
All in all, the implications of mining stocks’ relative performance to gold and the general stock market are currently bearish.
But if we’re headed for a GDX ETF cliff, how far could we fall?
Well, 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: if the stock market plunges, all bets are off. Why so? Well, because when the S&P 500 plunged in March 2020, the GDX ETF moved from $29.67 to below $17 in less than two weeks. As a result, U.S. equities have the potential to make the miners’ forthcoming swoon all the more painful.
The Gold Miners Bullish Percent Index ($BPGDM)
As another reliable indicator (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) the Gold Miners Bullish Percent Index ($BPGDM) isn’t at levels that trigger a major reversal. The Index is now approaching 47. However, far from a medium-term bottom, the latest reading is still more than 37 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 the 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 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.
Circling back to the NASDAQ Composite, the unwinding of excessive speculation could deliver a fierce blow to the gold miners. Case in point: when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the NASDAQ lost nearly 80% of its value, while the 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 ( gold , silver , and mining stocks) 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 flashing a clear sell signal . And because the current reading is analogous to the one that preceded the dot-com bust, the NASDAQ Composite – and indirectly, the PMs – continues to sail toward the perfect storm.
With all of that said: how will we know when a medium-term buying opportunity presents itself?
We view price target levels as guidelines and the same goes for the Gold Miners Bullish Percent Index (below 10), but the final confirmation will likely be gold’s strength against the ongoing USDX rally. At many vital bottoms in gold, that’s exactly what happened, including the March bottom.
In conclusion, with the gold miners running low on strength, stamina and staying power, their fragile foundation is already crumbling beneath the surface. With the HUI, XAU and GDXJ proxies unable to match wits with the GDX ETF, the lone survivor is unlikely to put up much of a fight going forward. Moreover, with the USD Index poised to bounce off of the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement level (the precious metals have a strong negative correlation with the U.S. dollar), the foursome are likely to huff and puff their way to lower prices. However, after a period of medium-term recovery, the precious metals will be ready to run with the bulls once again.
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