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Signs point to Yes
By Jon Nadler

One quarter of a million US private sector jobs (the most in seven years) were lost in November as the economic downturn accelerated. Add the ISM's November non-manufacturing sector record shrinkage figures to that bit of news, and you get the general background picture for the markets as today's sessions got underway. Think Edvard Munch's "The Scream" for starters. And now the focus turns to pricing in more news of the same kind for the weeks ahead in December. Beginning with Friday's jobs numbers - expected to reveal some 320,000 lost nonfarm jobs.

The markets are certainly looking for a hefty half-point Fed rate cut in less than two weeks. However, generous moves of a similar nature are also expected from the BoE and the ECB and are seen as likely sterilizing the potential short-term impact of the accommodation on the US dollar. The greenback was maintaining above the 87 level on the index, while crude oil remained near $47 per barrel. One hundred bucks cheaper than the same barrel's price tag in early July. The de facto tax cut being enjoyed by consumers suddenly able to borrow mortgage money for under 5% and fill up their cars with $1.65 per gallon gas is providing some comfort, but the debate is already raging on as to whether this is a potentially new paradigm, or just a fleeting buying opportunity.

New York gold prices started out under renewed selling pressure but recovered later in the morning along with a turnaround in the Dow. Lows came near $762.00 and the bounce off that level brought values back to near $777 before noon. How much progress can be achieved in the next day or two is still in question, however. India appears to have once again shifted into neutral and is apparently awaiting buying windows near $745 at this point. Silver turned positive on the day, erasing earlier losses on the same Dow rally, and were trading near $9.60 per ounce.

Platinum treaded water near $805, while palladium rose $3 to $173 per ounce. Disastrous slides in auto sales in recent weeks have put a damper on the outlook for noble metals (see below). While US automaker chiefs pulled a nice PR stunt and drove to DC in hybrid vehicles in order to appear more credible when extending their hats, the UAW was seen as making major concessions on the compensation front in order for its members to keep receiving...any compensation at all, going forward...

We mentioned at the end of November that this (and January) will be the months when various intense crystal ball-gazing and Magic 8-Ball shaking sessions will yield some numbers that their participants distill out of the cloudy innards and hope that they come to pass.

This is a hazardous occupation (and not just for one's eyes), at best. But, thus far, the surveys have certainly been more 'on the ball' so-to-speak than the astronomical price assurances readers have been getting from other quarters. Since at least 1980.

Our old (but quite young) friend Jan Harvey, over at Thomson Reuters, brings us the results of the latest precious metals price projection survey for 2009. Not exactly the rosy picture that the perma-bulls are churning out day after day, despite the accelerating deflation signals. Falls in copper, lead, nickel, aluminum, and stories of Freeport McMoran dividend suspensions and output cuts all hit today and underscored the true picture. As for 2009, here is what the people who actually work in this industry have to say:

"Prices of precious metals platinum, palladium and silver, which have significant industrial uses, are expected to slump next year as demand sags in line with economic growth, a Reuters survey showed.

However, gold should fare better than the industrial precious metals as investors buy bullion as a haven from risk, especially if the dollar recovery loses traction. A poll of a dozen analysts showed 2009 gold forecasts down just 9 percent.

This fall is dwarfed by cuts in price forecasts for the other precious metals. Analysts have cut their median 2009 silver forecast more than 40 percent since July to $10 an ounce, and slashed their palladium forecasts by half to $225 an ounce.

Platinum forecasts have been cut by nearly 50 percent to $1,050 an ounce from $2,025. The new view is down over 30 percent from $1,577 forecast for 2008, but above the current spot platinum <XPT=> price of around $800 an ounce.

"We have had a huge hit on the back of a deterioration on the demand side for autocatalysts," said Stephen Briggs, a metals strategist at RBS Global Banking & Markets.

"But the market is pricing in much of the worst now and in doing so it has brought prices down to levels where producers are struggling to make money.

"The fear must be now that projects in the future will be postponed, delayed or cancelled," he said.

Platinum has slumped 65 percent from an all-time high of $2,290 an ounce hit in March this year on the back of expected supply problems linked to a power shortage in South Africa, source of four out of five ounces of the world's platinum.

Investors have been spooked by a spate of poor car sales numbers from around the world, most notably in North America. U.S. car sales fell to 25-year lows in October, while November sales in Europe and Asia have tumbled.

Major carmakers including GM <GM.N> and Toyota <7203.T> have said they will cut output in response.

Platinum prices are particularly exposed to falling car sales, as around half the global supply of the metal is consumed by automakers for use in catalytic converters.

The survey of a dozen analysts also showed gold price forecasts have been cut by just under 9 percent for 2009 to an average $849 an ounce, from a previous view of $930 in July. The year-on-year fall in gold prices will also be softer than the decline in other metals, with the median gold forecast of $849 only 3 percent off the $874 predicted for this year.

Analysts point to falling inflation as a reason for gold's decline.

"Normally when you have a move from inflation fears to worries about disinflation and deflation, gold should suffer," Societe Generale commodities strategist Jesper Dannesboe said. The direction of the dollar will also be closely eyed.

A recovery in the U.S. currency from the historic lows it plumbed against the euro earlier this year helped pressure spot gold <XAU=> from a high of $1,030.80 in March to around $775. As gold is often bought as a hedge against dollar weakness, any move in the currency will have a significant effect on bullion prices.

However, analysts are divided over whether the dollar can hold onto its gains, or will weaken once again -- which would provide significant support for gold.

"We think the U.S. dollar has gone a bit too high and we see it falling back again through 2009," said Citi analyst David Thurtell, whose bank in October forecast gold at $950 an ounce next year. A number of supportive fundamental factors remain for bullion, he added. "Mine supply is also quite constrained, even though most mines are still quite profitable," he said. "And investment demand is still quite strong."

We will hopefully be able to bring you some of the views of participants at the 3rd Annual China Gold Summit before the weekend. Stay tuned. Signs point to "Yes."

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