Where have all the gold bugs gone

Commentary: Huge shift among gold timers from bull to bear

By Mark Hulbert

March 17, 2009


ANNANDALE, Va. (MarketWatch) -- Call it the retreat of the gold bugs.

Over the past three weeks, the editor of the average gold timing newsletter I monitor has hastily jumped off the bullish bandwagon. And a not insignificant number have taken the occasion to furthermore jump onto the bearish bandwagon.

At least from the point of view of contrarian analysis, this is good news for gold


Consider the Hulbert Gold Newsletter Sentiment Index (HGNSI), which reflects the average recommended gold market exposure among a subset of short-term gold timing newsletters tracked by the Hulbert Financial Digest. The HGNSI's latest reading is minus 16.5%, which means that the editor of the average gold timing newsletter is recommending that his subscribers allocate 16.5% of their gold portfolios to shorting the market.

Three weeks ago, in contrast, the HGNSI stood at 60.9%. So in just 15 trading sessions, the average recommended gold market exposure has fallen by more than 77 percentage points.

What sins did gold bullion commit to elicit this huge of a reaction? Failing to rise convincingly above the psychologically important $1,000 barrier, apparently: Spot gold in the futures market was able to close above that level for just one day (Feb. 20), and only barely at that ($1,001.70). And it then dropped.

Still, gold didn't fall off a cliff. It's currently just 8% below its Feb. 20 close, after all. Declines of that magnitude typically do not lead to such marked shifts in sentiment from bulls to bears.

Just take sentiment in the stock market. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a comparable amount -- 8%-- between Feb. 26 and March 9. But the average recommended stock market exposure among short-term stock market timing newsletters fell over this period by a grand total of just 4.5 percentage points. That's a far cry from the 77 percentage points by which gold sentiment fell during its recent 8% decline.

To be sure, the 4.5 percentage point drop in recommended stock market exposure is itself surprisingly modest, which is one of the reasons that contrarians suspect that the bear market is not yet over. But the plunge in gold sentiment has been as exaggerated as the drop in stock sentiment has been muted. Contrarians therefore believe that gold's recent decline is more likely to prove a correction within a longer-term up move than the beginning of a major bear market