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Gold Equity Investors Strike Gold: Opinion

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

By Frank Holmes

NEW YORK ( TheStreet ) -- Gold prices passed the $1,500 per ounce mark for the first time ever in mid-April of this year and have set up shop around $1,525 to $1,550 an ounce aside from a couple of short pullbacks in early May. So far in 2011, it's been relatively status quo for those investors who've embraced gold as a way to protect themselves from currency debasement, excessive money printing and inflation as prices have increased 7.67%. BofA-Merrill Lynch analysts are forecasting gold prices could fall to $1,400 an ounce during seasonal weakness in July before rebounding as high as $1,650 an ounce by early fall.

While the party continues for gold bullion prices, stocks of gold companies have been a no-show. The NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index (HUI) has fallen more than 13% year-to-date and the Philadelphia Gold & Silver Index (XAU) has toppled more than 16%. Companies such as High River Gold Mines, Jaguar Mining (JAG) and NovaGold Resources (NG) are off more than 45% from 2007 to 2008 highs.

This underperformance has been exacerbated in recent weeks, making it a hot topic of discussion among investors, analysts and portfolio managers. This chart shows gold equities of all market capitalization sizes were holding up quite well until late April. That's when global sentiment toward equities, not just gold shares, began to waver and prices dropped off a cliff.

For the purposes of this chart, CIBC qualifies seniors as companies with market capitalizations above $10 billion, intermediates as those between $10 billion and $2 billion, and juniors as those below $2 billion. Non-producing companies are excluded.

Now, short-term aberrations in markets are common, and this isn't the first time gold bullion and gold equity prices have diverged. Gold equities underperformed gold bullion in 2000 and 2008 during times of extreme market negativity and uncertainty. These previous instances have been merely temporary setbacks and markets generally reverted back to their long-term trends. According to J.P. Morgan research, gold equities have climbed an astounding 1,400% off of their 2000 lows while the S&P 500 Index has seen an 11% decline.

Here's the same chart from above but it has been extended out to the beginning of 2009. You can see that with the exception of the seniors, gold equities have far outpaced gold bullion performance by more than 2-to-1.

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