On Playing Gold…

Sign Up for Kuppy’s Korner Updates

If you’d like to subscribe to Kuppy’s Korner, please enter your email

Last year, I wrote Part 1 of The Great Macro Dreamscape (Part 2 is coming). To summarize, my view is that the coming decade will be the best of times if you can trade and profit from Global Macro, or the worst of times if you’re a peasant trying to survive the Global Macro. Since then, I’ve tried to envision the perfect asset for the coming storm on the horizon. What does well in chaos?? What profits on fear?? What asset will dramatically out-perform the toxic brew of fiscal, monetary, and governmental chaos that seems almost inevitable??

There are no perfect choices in this world—especially in the world I envision. However, I have millennia of history telling me that in times of crisis, people reach for precious metals to protect themselves—first slowly, then in a panic. Gold doesn’t rally against a dying currency, as much as the market cap of gold swells when denominated in that currency. Capital flees and effectively goes to sleep in the form of precious metals—until stability returns, and capital can be returned to the economy again.

Don’t get worried that this is another doom-porn blog post about gold. I wouldn’t do that to you. I see opportunity in chaos. Let others do the fear and despair part. I only want to win.

So, what wins when gold goes up?? We all know that you can play futures, but financial leverage cuts both ways—besides, no one wants to get margin called on one of the inevitable pullbacks. Miners are a joke. They have no leverage to gold. Every pitch is the same, mostly ending in sorrow. 

Royalty companies have become the instrument of choice, but Franco Nevada’s (FNV – USA) experience in Panama instructs us that the royalty companies take on the same jurisdictional risks as the miners. Eventually, everyone will realize that the royalty companies are just sophisticated Return-of-Capital “Ponzi Schemes,” masquerading as gold leverage. They raise capital at one multiple, invest it in an asset at a much lower multiple, harvesting the spread for shareholders. It works as long as the Ponzi economics continue to work, but it isn’t sustainable. If they can’t keep raising capital, the impairments will catch up with them and bury the scheme. In the increasingly volatile world I envision, there will be many more Panama-like situations, which will collapse the multiple and end these “Ponzi Schemes.” This isn’t my asset either.

Besides, while I think that gold goes dramatically higher, I don’t really want to play that aspect—it’s almost secondary in my mind. When I try and think it all through, the gold price is really just an indicator for the global level of fear, with a floor at the cost of production. I want to play the fear—the visceral and instinctual panic into metals and out of paper. I think that’s the better trade—especially as the elites find ways to cap the price of gold, or at least divert people’s attention from it.

With that in mind, I thought I’d mention that A-Mark Precious Metals (AMRK – USA), is currently my favorite idea in the markets, and the recent gold move to new all-time highs, makes this idea unusually timely. AMRK is how I’m intending to ‘play’ gold.

What is AMRK? It’s a dominant wholesale dealer in precious metals, with a substantial presence in sales to retail consumers, along with ownership in two mints (Silver Towne and Sunshine). They’re fully hedged against metal price moves, and instead earn a spread between the price that they pay and the price that they charge customers, usually referenced to the spot price. You likely know many of their retail-facing brands if you have ever bought precious metals online.

March 2024 Investor Presentation

To give you a sense for the size of this business, in Fiscal 2023, they sold approximately 2.6 million ounces of gold and 156 million ounces of silver, for total revenues of $9.287 billion. The business has many verticals, but at its core, the business thrives on increased transaction volumes, along with increases in spreads between their purchase and sales price.

As I believe we’ve seen since 2020, people tend to buy precious metals during periods of fear. Think back over the past four years, we’ve seen; COVID, lockdowns, QE insanity, George Floyd riots, election chaos, Jan 6, Russia invading Ukraine, and Silicon Vally Bank detonating, just to name a few crazy moments. Each of them has led to spikes in web traffic. Not only do crises lead to demand for metals, but the spreads over spot prices frequently expand, driving profits for AMRK.

To give you a sense of the economics here, in each of the three years from Fiscal 2021-2023, the company earned approximately $7.00 a share per year on average—after many adjustments, including non-cash amortization, gains on remeasurement, and a stock split. Please review the financials if you want to better understand these adjustments. However, I’m comfortable in saying that in times of fear, individuals reach for metals, causing spreads and volumes expand, hence AMRK does quite well.

Let’s fast forward to the past three quarters. Until a few weeks ago, gold was rangebound and nothing much was happening to scare people. Think about how mellow things have been, when compared to the constant fear over the past few years. During this more benign period, earnings have been trending in the $2.50 to $3.00 a share annual range. I think this is something of a baseline for the business. With the shares closing at $32.73 on Friday, that would imply a 11 to 13 times earnings multiple for this business, which simply seems low, for trough earnings, given the amazingly high returns on capital that the business has had over the years, even during periods where results have been weaker.

However, what’s important, is to know what you’re playing for. In an environment where demand for metals may expand back to the levels of the past three years, I think AMRK can earn up to $10.00 a share. This higher earnings level is a function of recent acquisitions, a larger balance sheet which can hold more inventory, a reduced share count after recent buybacks and capacity expansions at their own mints. Should the company be able to earn this $10.00 a share, I don’t see why a 25-times multiple (representing $250 a share) is unreasonable—especially as I believe the royalty companies are inferior businesses with depleting mine-lives, and substantially higher risk profiles, yet they trade at higher multiples. In my mind, AMRK trades cheaply, only because most investors do not yet know about it or associate it with the preferred way to “play” gold. Please, don’t take this as investment advice.

I think that will soon change. AMRK functions like an exchange—the sort of business that historically has had rather elevated earnings multiples. This is because the business prospers on volumes. Meanwhile, the elevated returns on capital, allow them to fund acquisitions, customer growth, buybacks, and dividends. How many gold miners have buybacks?? Most miners have anemic dividends at best. They’re capital destructive. Money goes into a hole—never to return. Why would anyone want a shitty miner, when they can own the precious metals exchange and prosper off increased volumes and spreads instead?? When this reality becomes better known, I think that AMRK will trade at a premium multiple to the sector, especially as the market cap expands, allowing it to be added to additional passive indexes.

In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that future predictions are speculative and may not fulfill themselves. Moreover, I expect calendar Q1 earnings to be soft, likely down from calendar Q4 results. This is a function of reduced transaction volumes, as indicated by the web traffic that we monitor, along with reduced spreads. However, that is all backwards looking now that gold is making new highs.

That said, it’s important to give you a sense of how spreads matter in this business, in fiscal 2023 and 2022, AMRK earned a gross profit margin of 3.16% and 3.21% respectively on revenue. Meanwhile, in the second quarter of fiscal 2024, the gross profit margin declined to 2.21% of revenue. While this all sounds like a handful of basis points, it’s quite material in terms of the business’ profitability, showing the important of volatility and customer demand, that drives spreads. 

Additionally, Wall Street has historically struggled to understand the business, as the spikes in demand come in unpredictable waves, tied to discrete events. As a result, individual quarters tend to show incredible variability in earnings, mostly driven by changes in spreads. I think that investors will either try and predict the individual quarters, and end up disappointed, or look at the earnings on a multi-quarter basis and take a holistic view that average earnings can be quite strong, with occasional troughs. Meanwhile, those troughs can be used by AMRK to buy competitors and grow the business through using cut-throat pricing to attract new retail customers—as AMRK has demonstrated over the past few quarters.

Wrapping this posting up, I like the high level of insider ownership, the ability of the business to continue to grow through acquisitions, while not materially growing the share-count, the buybacks and dividends, and the torque to transaction volumes as individuals reach for precious metals as the world goes crazy. While I’m only modeling a return to demand trends that existed in the past three years, clearly the business can do a whole lot better should “Project Zimbabwe” become a reality.  

The holy grail of precious metal investors has been a business that has upside torque to prices, yet doesn’t have the drama of mining. Despite an exhaustive search, only AMRK checks that box for me. As far as I’m concerned, there are plenty of gold equities that are suitable for trading, but only AMRK is suitable for owning through the cycle. As the next gold cycle appears to be kicking off, AMRK is my favorite idea in my book.


Disclosure: We are long shares of AMRK and FNV.


Information or statements provided in this blog (“Communication”) are opinions of the author and may not represent the opinions of Praetorian PR LLC or its affiliates (collectively, referred to as “Praetorian”).  Furthermore, the information is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not represent investment advice.  No information is warranted by Praetorian as to completeness or accuracy, expressed or implied, and Praetorian assumes no obligation to update or revise such information if the information becomes inaccurate or obsolete.  Certain information may be based on third party sources and, although believed to be reliable at the time of publication, has not been independently verified and Praetorian is not responsible for third-party errors.

The investments discussed herein are not meant to be indicative or reflective of the portfolio managed by Praetorian but rather meant to exemplify the execution of certain aspects of the investment strategy of the author or Praetorian.  While these examples may reflect successful trading, not all trades are successful and profitable.  As such, the examples contained herein should not be viewed as representative of all trades made by Praetorian or the author. Nothing set forth herein shall constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to purchase, any securities.

External links, if any, may re-direct you to a privately-owned web page or site (“site”) created, operated and maintained by a third-party, which may not be affiliated with Praetorian. The views and opinions expressed on the site, other than those presented by Praetorian, are solely those of the author of the site and should not be attributed to Praetorian. We have not verified the information and opinions found on the site, nor do we make any representations as to its accuracy and completeness as to the third-party information.  Further, Praetorian does not endorse any of the third-party’s products and services, or its privacy and security policies, which may differ from ours. We recommend that you review the third-party’s policies, terms, and conditions to fully understand what information may be collected and maintained as a result of your visit to this web site.


Sign Up for Kuppy’s Korner Updates

If you’d like to subscribe to Kuppy’s Korner, please enter your email

Sign Up for Kuppy’s Korner Updates

If you’d like to subscribe to Kuppy’s Korner, please enter your email

Related Posts