What a difference a year makes.
If you’d said to an educated mining investor in July of 2018 - when the gold price was at less than US$1,250 an ounce - that things were likely to turn decidedly bullish but that the only serious gold miners of any scale listed in London would be Australian, you’d have been laughed out of the room.
There’s that matter of bullishness on gold for a start.
Back in 2018 the only way for gold was down, the dollar was on a roll and the Fed was making manly noises about continuing to push interest rates higher. Today’s six year highs seemed like a distant dream then, when the expectation was fully that gold would go down below US$1,200 (it duly did, in September) and keep on sinking.
Whether or not it was pressure from President Trump that did it, the Fed has dramatically changed tack. Not only are rates no longer going up, there’s every expectation that they will go down imminently, on a weakening outlook for global trade.
And, with Iran increasingly isolated and cornered, and lashing out at international shipping on a fairly regular basis, that old safe haven saw is also looking increasingly attractive.
Fine then, commodity prices can turn on a dime, and gold, although it attracts all sorts of conspiracy theorists, generally trades on a rational basis.
More outlandish is the departure of London’s gold miners.
The home of the am and pm fix is now without a serious home-grown gold producer, and the Australians Resolute and Centamin, capitalised respectively at around £700mln and £1.3bn are as close as it gets. Seasoned investors will know that Resolute has an outstanding pedigree in gold mining, having made a success of what were previously thought to be difficult assets in West Africa, but that it is a thoroughly Australian company. Centamin likewise has its roots in firmly in Australia, and is largely a one-trick pony with assets in Egypt.
True, mining is such an international business these days that’s it’s hard really to categorise any company solely by nationality.
And there are also the numerous secondary listings that blur the boundaries of international markets – thus 100 shares in Kirkland Lake Gold, a multi-billion dollar company, changed hands via the London stock exchange on 2nd January, for example, with a further 100 shares traded on 4th.
But gold miners of any scale listed in the UK, nurtured and supported here, are now all but gone. Centamin is the only one capitalised at over £1bn.
Yes, there’s also Petropavlovsk, so weighed down by debt that its market capitalisation is largely notional. There’s Acacia, about to disappear into the waiting arms of Mark Bristow, the man who took Randgold, the one real champion, out of the equation when he submerged it into Barrick at the start of the year. There's Highland, only now beginning to wriggle free from the grip of Roman Abramovich.
And now there’s Resolute, a fine destination for UK investment capital, to be sure, but hardly a standard bearer for London itself.
So, with the gold price bubbling away at US$1,425, where is the UK investor to turn? Sure, the big boys and the institutions can take their dollar and play in any market, where they can take their pick of a wealth of famous names from Barrick to Newmont to Newcrest, to Detour, to Endeavour, to B2Gold, to Kirkland, to AngloGold, to Royal Gold and Kinross, billion dollar companies all.
For the smaller player in London though, there are only two options. A gold ETF for direct exposure to the spot gold price, or one of the mid-tier or junior companies, where the leverage is usually much greater, as is the risk.
At this level, at least, the London market remains alive and well. Some of the more favoured choices for investors in recent months have been Ariana (LON:AAU), Scotgold (LON:SGZ), Greatland Gold (LON:GGP), ECR Minerals (LON:ECR), Shanta Gold (LON:SHG), Rockfire (LON:ROCK), Chaarat (LON:CGH), Katoro (LON:KAT), IronRidge (LON:IRR), Mineral and Financial (LON:MAFL), Landore (LON:LND) and Goldplat (LON:GDP).
They may not command quite the combined market capitalisation of their larger overseas peers, but they offer plenty of scope for those seeking upside.
They also offer evidence that one year on, London’s gold investing scene is still alive and kicking, even if it is radically different.